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  • Jennifer Milner

A Dancer's Holiday Wish List


You know the drill: you open a gift from sweet Aunt Sue, watching her grin happily in anticipation as you scramble through the wrapping, tear open the box, and find - a a Nutcracker.

Like you haven't gotten three each Christmas since you were six. Which was about the age you stopped wanting them as a gift.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in a dancer’s life: injuries, shrinking company budgets, and an ever-increasing competition field will keep you literally and emotionally on your toes. But one thing is certain: everyone (and I mean EVERYone) will buy you something dance-related for Christmas/Hanukkah/birthdays/Easter/Valentines Day. So this year, make your list (no need to check it twice) and gently pass it on to loved ones - things you can REALLY use in your profession. Here are a few of my top suggestions:*

This calf roller. I’m not kidding, don’t buy another one. Buy this one. If you persuade a loved one to invest in ONE thing for you this year, buy this. At the PT clinic I worked at in New York, the line to use this thing by the company dancers would sometimes be out the door. I’ve persuaded half a dozen dancers to buy it and they all thank me for it; they travel it to summer intensives/on tour/to visit Aunt Sue. One of my dancers calls it her “Precious”, and in one notable instance a dancer who will remain anonymous took hers to summer intensive, hid it under her bed, and used it when roommates were otherwise occupied so she wouldn’t have to share it and risk it breaking down. Seriously, this thing is great and will save your calves/achilles/feet/sanity. If you’re lucky enough to get one I’m happy to talk you through my favorite ways to use it.

These release balls. They’re larger than a tennis ball and slightly softer, and can be used much like a foam roller but are even better, I think. They also travel more easily! I’m a huge fan of these for use on your glutes/piriformis area, along your IT band, across your hamstrings, into your hip flexors, and more. Not too hard, not too soft, just right.

These weird little half balls. These tiny little bosu-looking things are pricey, but great for your Christmas list and even better for your tootsies. They come with an instructional video on how to use them to release your feet; I like to stand and melt on them for a few minutes at a time, and I’ve shared them with many clients. I’ve even seen good results in dancers using them to help improve their arch.

This stretching strap. Listen, there's an entire other blog post to be had about stretching straps -especially the stretchy, theraband-type ones. But here's the short version: use a strap that doesn't stretch or give, especially if you are younger and still growing. Using a stretchy strap can either 1) make you hold your muscles to keep from falling to far into the stretch; or 2) allow you to "hang" so far in the stretch that you're actually stretching the ligaments/connective tissue and not the muscles. Just get this strap instead.

Something from Progressing Ballet Technique. This one’s hard to pin down: it can be a monthly online subscription, or a set of DVDs, but the overall concept is trying to improve your strength and technique outside of the classroom. Think of it as ballet-informed cross-training, with physioballs, BOSU, and more. It’s especially great if you don’t live near someone like myself and don’t have access to one-on-one help.

Now let’s talk about books. There are a ton of great memoirs and biographies out there, but my personal favorite is Jenifer Ringer’s Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet.

As a principal at New York City Ballet, Jenifer struggled quite publicly with an eating disorder and her book is an incredibly gracious, honest, and encouraging look into that world of great beauty and vulnerability. Her descriptions of working on her favorite Balanchine and Robbins pieces alone are worth the price of the book, but I think it’s a must-have for any aspiring dancer who second-guesses herself or self worth. Very inspirational.

As far as “supplemental” books, my two favorites are The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition by Linda Hamilton, and Conditioning for Dance by Eric Franklin. The first book is a great overall look at how top professionals stay healthy in their career; the second is an easy-to-use conditioning book by someone who’s studied and worked with dancers for decades. Eric’s moves are easy to understand, incredibly helpful, and require no more equipment than a theraband.

There you have it - my top picks for your holiday wish list. Throw a few of these on your list, and you will, indeed, be having a very happy new year!

What would you add? Let me know in the comments below!

*I do not have any affiliate links here. This is stuff I just really love. And I’ve linked to Amazon when possible just ‘cause most people use it somewhat regularly, but your Aunt Sue can buy it wherever she’d like.


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