Supporting Dancer Health through a Challenging Spring Season

by Caroline Dickie
April 2, 2024

Audiences are in for a treat this June as The National Ballet of Canada presents two virtuosic full-length productions, Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote and George Balanchine’s Jewels. Individually, each production is colourful, joyous and notoriously difficult. Together, they make for a demanding season that will see the entire dancer roster working at the peak of their physical powers. Enter the company’s inhouse Dancer Health and Wellness Programme, whose many services include cross-training with Pilates and a personalized training program called the Dancer Screen, sponsored by Merrithew®.

“The Dancer Screen helps our team assess each dancer to determine or predict any potential future injury,” says Head Athletic Therapist Paul Papoutsakis. “We use range of motion, strength, balance and functional movements to screen and help plan a program that will address any deficiencies we discover.”

The Dancer Screen is generously sponsored by Merrithew, the Canadian company behind the renowned STOTT PILATES® method. For the past 35 years, Merrithew has manufactured Pilates equipment and crafted mind-body education tailored to meet the fitness community’s dynamic needs. Pilates originated early in the 20th century as a form of body conditioning and injury recovery primarily for dancers. Today, it is a popular and rewarding practice for the general population as well. Pilates is particularly good at offsetting or mitigating repetitive use of the same muscle groups.

“Pilates is beneficial because it strengthens the body in different ways than ballet in terms of movement and loads, so it prepares the dancers for stylistic variations in the repertoire and the higher workload of their rehearsals,” says Paul.

The National Ballet’s Spring Season has stylistic variation and high workload in abundance. Jewels alone has three unique styles of dance across its three acts, from the French romanticism of Emeralds to the American jazz of Rubies and the Russian classicism of Diamonds. Performed in full, Jewels offers two hours of non-stop dancing with multiple principal roles, exquisite solos and ensemble work.

As an added demand, the dancers will perform Jewels on the heels of Don Quixote, a fast-paced story ballet with some of the most thrilling choreographic passages in the classical repertoire. Carlos Acosta’s version, making its North American debut, is particularly energetic with standout opportunities for the entire dancer roster.

“Cardiovascular fitness will be important for the dancers to maintain the high levels of output expected from them throughout May’s rehearsal period, where they are pushing nearly 100% without the ability to increase their workload gradually and peak for one specific event, as they would for the Olympics,” says Paul. “The pace requires strength and power with the stamina to repeat frequently. Their ability to recover will be the key during this time, with a focus on sleep, nutrition, maintenance treatments as well as cold therapy and other therapeutic modalities.”

Pilates, with its emphasis on alignment, control and the isolation of targeted muscle groups, helps the dancers both prepare and recover from the demands of the season. When Pilates is part of an individualized training program, as with the Dancer Screen, it becomes even more powerful as a complementary practice. 

With gratitude to our corporate partner, Merrithew.

Don Quixote is onstage June 1 – 9, 2024. Learn more

Jewels is onstage June 15 – 22, 2024. Learn more

Don Quixote