By Anne Marie Melendez, Ballet Austin Company Dancer
The third day is always the worst. Your alarm goes off in the morning and the simple action of rolling over to shut it off is painful. Your neck is stiff, your arms are aching, your back spasms, and your abdominal muscles feel torn. And then, you try to stand up.
First Day Back
Coming back to work as a professional dancer after a three month layoff (sometimes longer!) can be similar to your “First Day of School.” It’s both exciting and slightly scary. The whole crew is back together, there are lots of hugs and “How was your summer?” inquiries, as well as welcoming the few new faces. You’re a little bit worried about how out of shape you might be and wonder how well your legs are going to hold you up as the day goes on. But on Day 1, there is always a buzz of energy that comes with the beginning of a new season. The excitement of new repertoire to work on, new opportunities, and the new goals we have set for ourselves. And we’re not tired yet.
Company class starts promptly at 9 am and is always taught by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. Day 1 feels familiar, regardless of how much dancing you did over the summer, Day 1 is the time to ease back into the daily grind. This season was no different.
What Do You Do All Summer?
Every one of us approaches our summer layoff differently, while always trying to stay in shape in some form or another. A handful of the dancers teach at the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, including Orlando Julius Canova and Christopher Swaim. Some dancers take on other dance projects or opportunities, whether local, or off to some other parts of the world. For instance, this summer Oren Porterfield, Jordan Moser, Jaime Lynn Witts and Ed Carr performed in Asheville, North Carolina with Nick Kepley’s Motion Dance Theatre. Ashley Lynn Sherman just returned from an intense three weeks at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, while Preston Patterson co-directed and choreographed for the Southern Illinois Music Festival.
Some of us take on other projects outside of the dance field, such as my husband Paul Michael Bloodgood, who continued finishing up his first feature length documentary film, Trenches of Rock, which is currently undergoing sound editing/mixing as well as color correction. And others, while still trying to stay in shape, incorporate huge life events into our summers, such as Grace Morton and Ian Bethany who were married in a beautiful Seattle ceremony this past July.
The 2015/16 Season
The 2015/16 season starts us off with Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, one of my personal favorites. For most of the company, rehearsals start off with a bang. Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, usually starts rehearsing the larger group sections right away. For a production like Hamlet, this meant starting with scenes like Ophelia’s Funeral and the opening Wedding scene. We need time with these scenes to get the material out to the dancers, but also to have time to clarify and clean steps. Sometimes Stephen takes the opportunity in these early rehearsals to make small adjustments and changes to choreography. The nuts and bolts of the ballet remain the same, but the nuances evolve and grow with each restaging.
From Day 1, the men cast as Hamlet (Frank Shott & Paul Michael Bloodgood) and Laertes (Christopher Swaim & Jordan Moser) start fencing rehearsals. Since not all of the ballets in our repertoire involve fencing, and since it involves swinging sharp objects, it’s a good idea to start these rehearsals early… And slowly.
Week one is generally about getting a good bulk of the material laid out and to slowly work through it before we start layering our characters on top of the movement. Week one often times also includes our first costume fittings. Though the costumes for Hamlet are already built, wardrobe has a limited amount of time to make repairs and adjustments for specific dancers.
The Third Day
My Third Day Theory is basically that the third day of new movement or choreography is the day you are the most sore. This seems to remain true whenever we start a new rep or have a new visiting choreographer. With new material you inevitably are using new muscle groups that you may not have been using the same way a week ago. Or the high probability that there is lots of repetition as we learn a new phrase of choreography. Nothing prepares you for dancing all day, like dancing all day. And this isn’t the type of gym where you might have a “leg day,” and then focus on a different muscle group the next. Everyday is “leg day” in ballet.
The tools are still all there, but what we lack most is stamina. I think general stamina problems like jumping for long periods of time, and calf endurance are pretty common across the studio. For the men, it’s also often lifting/partnering stamina. Lifting weights at the gym isn’t quite the same as lifting a woman all day long. A human body’s weight distribution isn’t as evenly balanced as free weights, and free weights don’t change shape and position when you lift them.
And for the ladies, it’s the pointe shoes. “Little Pink Coffins,” as I like to call them (thank you Allisyn Paino for that one,) are really brutal that first week back. By Friday afternoon you can usually find the ladies lying on the floor with their swollen feet up in the air and looking forward to their evening ice bucket.
As the week rounds up, we’re still sore, but usually not as bad as Day 3. But I find it a welcome fatigue. A reminder of the muscles I still have and the years of experience and training behind me. There is something gratifying about working your body that hard and feeling like you really earned your weekend rest, or your Friday night pizza, or your glass of wine, or whatever it is you personally look forward to on Friday. The first week back always reminds me that what I do for a living is quite a special and remarkable thing.
So, cheers to surviving Week 1! Get some rest, ice your feet and we’ll see you back at the barre bright and early Monday morning!