If you can, begin preparing your body for the challenges of dancing all day at least one month to two weeks before you’re back in the studio on a more regular basis. At Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, associate artistic director Matthew Rushing devised a five-week virtual conditioning program for reacclimating company members to full days of rehearsal. “We’d start the day with a brief meditation or body scan, then hear from nutritionists, then do floor barre and/or Gyrokinesis, ballet or modern, and cardio classes,” he says. “As the weeks went on, we added in more strength training and had anatomy classes.”
Of course, not every dancer has the resources for such a thorough program. But Rushing says the takeaways from the Ailey dancers’ conditioning intensive can be applied to any dancer’s post-pandemic comeback: “It’s not just cardiovascular fitness that takes a hit from training at home,” Rushing says. “When you’ve been sitting for a long period, the glutes and hamstrings get ‘sleepy’ and weak.” Make sure your reconditioning plan includes plenty of stability and strength work for the glutes and thighs (think clamshells and bridges), and gradually increases cardio to rebuild respiratory stamina.
Rushing brought in nutritionists to talk with the Ailey dancers because fueling with enough calories and nutrients is part of getting fitter at any time—but especially now. Trying to lose weight put on during quarantine by eating less will make your comeback slower and shakier, says Dr. Natalia Rodriguez of Zion Physical Therapy in New York City. Her colleague (and fellow former professional dancer) Dr. Ana Wu suggests keeping up with one main feature of dancing at home: not looking in the mirror! Your body will gradually change as your dancing hours ramp back up. Be patient, rather than trying to rush that process along.