What Dancers Want: Summer Intensive Wellness

To help with sore muscles, Kiara Williams likes to keep stick-on heating pads in her bag during the day and use gel ice packs at night.

As dancers become more educated about their bodies (and hope to extend their careers as long as possible), they focus on health and wellness products to stay fit and prevent injury. We spoke with three dancers about what tools they use to maintain healthy, flexible bodies during long days at summer intensives.

Cambria Dancu

Senior in the Charlotte Ballet

Pre-Professional Program

DRN: What trends have you noticed in summer intensive warm-ups?

CD: Trash-bag pants and shorts are very popular, as well as booties to put over your ballet or pointe shoes to keep your feet warm. I’ve had problems with shin splints, so I’ll usually wear legwarmers that go all the way up to my thigh and end in a stirrup at the bottom. A lot of high school dancers wear black warm-ups because they go with whatever you’re wearing that day.

DRN: Were there any items that you learned to take with you to summer intensives?

CD: My first summer, I didn’t bring any Band-Aids, and I ended up running to the drugstore every three days to get more. I now love 2nd Skin gel squares to tape onto my blisters—they’re the best product to stay on the foot. I’ve also started shellacking my pointe shoes to help them last longer through the intensive. And you can never have enough warm-ups with you—sweatshirts, thin sweatpants, thick cotton stirrup leggings, warm socks and legwarmers are my go-to items.

DRN: Are there any differences in what you need for a ballet intensive versus a contemporary intensive?

CD: For ballet intensives, I usually focus on foot care—for blisters, for example—but for my contemporary intensive, I was suddenly using all these different muscles, and I was extremely sore! I started using foam rollers, as well as Tiger Balm for my muscles. Epsom-salt baths are also great at the end of the day.

Kiara Williams

Junior Dance Major at the University of Michigan

DRN: What products are a must during long days of contemporary dance?

KW: I always have a small green spiky ball with me to roll out my feet, and a tennis ball for other body parts. Reusable gel ice packs are great to keep in the freezer, so I can pull them out at the end of the day and ice anything that is sore or bruised. On the go, I use stick-on heating pads for my lower back, and Arnica Gel is a lifesaver as well.

DRN: What warm-ups do you wear at the beginning of class?

KW: I wear a lot of layers over my basic leotard or tank top and shorts, so I usually have on two or three lightweight long-sleeve shirts, a sweater or sweatshirt, and sweatpants. The sweatpants need to be stretchy and sweat-wicking so I can easily move in them. I also love to wear a jumper with warm socks before class. The jumper is a stretchy nylon material on the outside, but also fuzzy on the inside to keep me warm.

DRN: Do you have any suggestions for what dance retailers could be providing for summer intensives?

KW: Definitely more athletic-wear warm-ups would be great, such as sweat-wicking sweatpants, and to provide those in more toned-down, muted colors, like grays and blues, rather than neon.

I’m also always looking for breathable, long-sleeve T-shirts that are formfitting and stay in place, rather than riding up the torso when I move. I usually go online to see what I might be forgetting to pack, so a shopping list [from my local store] would definitely be helpful.

Ashley Chin-Mark

Senior Ballet Major at the University of Utah

DRN: What is your favorite wellness tool to have in your dance bag?

ACM: Foam rollers are definitely the best tool for self-care during long intensives. When I was younger, I started off with a softer roller, but I’ve graduated to an extra-firm trigger-point roller. I also love a massage stick with spiky balls that I can roll all over my body, especially my back and calves.

DRN: How do you care for your body during your weekly breaks?

ACM: Whenever you have a weekend or Sunday off during a summer intensive, it’s important to stretch and cross-train on those days. I usually have my yoga equipment with me to take yoga classes on weekends, and I also love the TheraBand elastic stretching strap with loops. Even during the week, when I’m on my morning or lunch break, I do strengthening exercises with a TheraBand. I start with a weaker band in the morning, then use a stronger one in the afternoon when my muscles are warmer.

DRN: What products do you use on sore or injured muscles?

ACM: My legs will not only get sore, but sometimes the tissues will swell, so I’ve started using compression sleeves during lunch or at night to keep my legs from falling asleep. My electric heating pad is also so important for soreness and aches, and I’ve learned to always pack my multivitamins to keep up proper nutrition.

Amy Smith is a dance teacher and writer based in Greensboro, NC.


Photo courtesy of Kirk Donaldson

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