From Zumba to salsa, dance-based fitness classes are everywhere. But how do dancers and ballerinas themselves stay in shape? Here we speak to leading ladies at some of London's top shows to get their insider fitness tips.
1. Use the plank to tighten and tone. ‘A simple plank every day is very good for your whole body to strengthen. Just one minute during the whole day. You can also build up to two minutes when you feel you are getting fitter and stronger,’ explains Tierney Heap, a dancer in the Royal Opera House’s corps de ballet.
2. Try juicing. Charlotte Gooch, who plays Penny in Piccadilly Theatre’s Dirty Dancing, fills her fridge with vegetables, salad, eggs, and yogurt. But her secret is juicing. ‘I have recently become a big fan. It’s great for energy levels, provides lots of vitamins and nutrients, and doesn’t pile on the pounds,’ she says.
3. Sample pilates, the exercise of choice. ‘Pilates is a particularly useful part of my training. I would recommend it for dancers and non-dancers alike. Starting the day off with pilates gets me energised and gets my body centred,’ says Darcel Frederick-Osei, a dancer in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.
4. Or brave a bit of Bollywood. Carol Furtado, a lead dancer in Merchants of Bollywood at Sadler’s Wells, recommends Bollywood dancing. It’s ‘a high energy fitness workout – great cardio – that has you sweating in no time. It’s also a great deal of fun, which is more important because if people don’t enjoy their workout session, they’re more likely to slack off.’
5. Tone the bum with squats. Amy Thornton, dance captain of Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, notes that running after 29 kids definitely keeps her fit. But recently, she’s become obsessed with squats. ‘I’m determined to get a J.Lo bum. I like to do three sets of 20 every day. If I’m feeling extra hardcore, I will tie a resistance band around my legs, just above the knee. It’s a killer.’
6. Chill tired muscles. Tierney stresses the importance of handling any pain or niggles. ‘Tired muscles must be treated with massages as often as you can. I like to put my legs in a huge bucket of ice and cold water for 12 minutes – painful, but worth it. Lying down with your legs up to drain them is another way of treating sore calves,’ she says.
7. Start the day with porridge. Darcel prepares her’s on the stove top. ‘I don’t like microwave packets. And I use water instead of milk because it makes it lighter. I add honey and cinnamon, then I chop a banana on top.’
8. Enjoy cinnamon. Carol begins her day with black coffee to energise her metabolism. She also turns to spice. ‘I like to nibble on cinnamon sticks as I enjoy its zingy flavour. It prevents me from snacking between meals and my metabolism benefits from the boost.’
9. Incorporate protein. Several of the dancers focus on protein in the evenings. Darcel recommends turkey breast steaks as they cook quickly. She pan fries them with olive oil, chopped onion, and light soy sauce. ‘I have that with boiled and sliced sweet potato and steamed broccoli.’
10. Add in wheatgrass. ‘Every morning I have a shot of wheatgrass. I have a busy work schedule, and so I find it keeps my immune system strong, my energy levels high. It’s full of nutrients and great for our digestive systems,’ says Amy. She adds it to a smoothie, or to a glass of water when running late. ‘Be warned: it’s not exactly the nicest of tastes!’
11. Try some ballet moves. It’s no surprise that full-time dancers spend their days dancing. ‘We start with half an hour barre, into centre exercises including, pirouettes, adage, and then into jumping,’ says Tierney. If you want to incorporate dancing fitness into your life, try one of London’s many classes, such as Ballet-tone, barrecore, BalletBeFit or City Academy.
12. And have fun. ‘Challenge yourself. Take a dance class. They aren’t just for professionals. It’s all about finding things that excite you so you look forward to doing it,’ says Darcel.
Danae Mercer is a freelance journalist. Follow her @DanaeMercer.