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  • Jennifer Milner

A Dancer's Wish List 2020

Usually this is the place where I make a joke about everyone being knee-deep in the Land of the Sweets, and how exhausted you are, always at the theatre. But it’s 2020, and we know nothing is “usual” about it, so let’s take a second to acknowledge there are an awful lot of you facing the holidays with no small amount of trepidation.

I am with you. I am grieving for the 9 (NINE!) different productions of The Nutcracker I see every year to support all my dancers. I am sorry so many of you aren’t getting to be onstage right now, complaining about your stupid Marzipan hats and puffing your way through Snow.

It’s a completely different holiday season, and my annual list reflects that. I’ve spent the past month or so checking in with my dancers scattered across the globe, asking what they’ve found helpful as they adapt to this new live/hybrid class reality most of us face. Dancing on home floors, figuring out how to optimize Zoom time, adjusting to not having dressing rooms at the studio - these are all problems my dancers have been trouble-shooting, and they’ve sent me some wonderful solutions.

And like 2020, this list is much more about where you can invest your time and energy right now in what feels like a time of limited options. So bear with me as I list some off-the-beaten-path ideas for gifts, including lots of virtual options. And feel free to share away with this list! If you’re wondering what you missed from years past, check out my lists from 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 for some really excellent ideas as well.

And bless your heart Aunt Sue (see previous lists), if you want to bedazzle, then by gum, go ahead and bedazzle. It’s 2020.

Many people have turned to cross-training or conditioning classes while in quarantine or on furlough, which is great - mostly. I asked my trainer friend Jason Harrison his suggestions for getting that home gym set up, and he encouraged asking for something like these adjustable dumbbells by Bowflex. Don’t faint at the sticker price - suggest that your roomies all go in on a set with you, or perhaps ask for cash towards a set. With just this one set, you’ll have all the weights you’d really need and won’t be constantly buying bigger weights as you progress in your training. These are definitely an investment, but worthwhile and space-saving!

To that I would just add a jump rope. Jump rope is excellent cardio, it’s not dependent on the weather, and requires very little space. Plus, it’s a great place to work on your jump landing technique. Pick up something basic and it’ll do you just fine.

And speaking of worthwhile investments, Jason also begs dancers to invest in a pair of training shoes - as in, not running shoes, but shoes built for training that have a minimal sole, like these.

Finally in the training arena, invest in a trainer. Honestly, with everyone being on Zoom, there’s no reason not to. Good trainers can work you out with a water bottle and canned corn, so you don’t need fancy equipment (though most dancers have a ton of gear in the corner!) But more importantly, good trainers can watch your form and make sure you’re doing the exercises well, so when you’re back on your own in a gym you know what you’re doing. Have I mentioned Jason Harrison? He's outstanding, understands dancers, and is online.

Next, a few items that acknowledge that no one is lingering in the dressing room any more and traveling light is at a premium!

Everyone should be carrying their own yoga mats everywhere, and even if you’re not doing a conditioning class lots of studios are asking you to bring a mat if you’ll be sitting on the floor. This bag by Yoga Outlet leaves your hands free to carry all your other dancer stuff. And while we’re at it, if you’ve had your mat for a while, it’s probably time for a new one! So add that to your list.

Looking to travel light? Check out these reusable bags by Baggu. One of my dancers says, “These reusable grocery bags are so great for ballet class as well. They are large and light enough to fit a laptop, a change of clothes, sanitation wipes, warm ups, anything extra one might need for class / studio rentals. helps me get in and out of the studio fast!”

Find yourself spending the bulk of your social life (or work life) online? Yeah, welcome to 2020, right? I’m not hugely concerned with how I look on-camera (yep, that’s me with no makeup All. The. Time.) but I do find a little flattering light goes a long way with morale. Check out this ring light, which can clip to your lap top or a table, or stand independently.

You know I love my calf roller and list it every year, but if you’ve already got one or are looking to target different areas, did you know the Theragun has a mini version now? Yes, it’s still expensive, but not AS crazy expensive. And it’s perfect for being quarantined in an itty bitty dorm room.

Speaking of itty bitty rooms and quarantine, if you’ve held out on getting a dance floor for home, it might be time to bite the bullet - I imagine people will be popping in and out of quarantine fairly regularly over the winter. Harlequin makes a very reasonably priced dance mat that’s easy to put down and pick up, and has just enough room for a basic barre class.

I’d like to circle back to the whole cross-training thing now. There are so many options for conditioning online that it can be overwhelming. Fortunately, I have some really smart friends who host subscription platforms for getting great guided workouts and classes put together by dance medicine professionals!

Pivot Dancer is a knowledge sharing platform which provides evidence-based content, including courses, virtual consultation and classes to the dance community. They bring together experts from around the world to give you unprecedented access to knowledge acquired through years of experience in dance and science. Online classes are pay-as-you-go or subscription based, whichever works better for you.

Dansebridge Online is online crosstraining program for pre-professional and professional dancers. Launched in 2019 by physical therapist Danelle Dickson, it provides a step by step comprehensive workout for dancers that are short on time but want big results. Sign up on the waitlist for the next round!

And if you’re looking for a sort of boot camp for getting healthy and in shape, the Dance Ready Project designed a 3-week virtual winter conditioning program for dancers from January 4th-22nd called Dance Ready Conditioning. Each day will consist of 2-3 hours of live training in floor barre, Gyrokinesis, modern, ballet, cardio and bodyweight conditioning. Faculty includes such dance giants as Renee Robinson, Clifton Brown, Bradley Shelver, Akua Noni Parker, Alexandria Johnson, Dr. Sheyi and Dr. Marissa Schaeffer.

Last in this online-class-section is The Ellové Technique. These conditioning classes were designed specifically for dancers by thoughtful dance medicine professionals. I’ve done their online classes often during quarantine and love the way they make me feel. The price point can’t be beat, either, for the quality you’re getting!

And while we’re asking loved ones to spend money on your health, this might be a great time to have an expert help you with the way you fuel your body. I have two nutritionists whom I absolutely adore:

Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LDN, LD, CD uses food-as-medicine nutrition strategies to maximize performance for artistic athletes at all levels. She works with dancers to learn how to eat, not how to diet, using individualized approaches to support health, recovery, and mood. Kristin works with dancers who have underlying medical conditions and those who want to dance stronger and longer. She offers a complimentary 30-minute consultation, which can be scheduled here.

Monika Saigal, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian, and a former professional dancer. Monika is passionate about helping dancers learn how to nourish their mind and body to improve performance, prevent injury, and develop a healthy relationship with food. To better address the health needs of dancers, Monika also developed the Head to Pointe® workshop series which includes nutrition and self-care workshops for dancers as well as specialized trainings for dance educators, staff, parents, and healthcare professionals on eating disorder awareness and prevention.

I have one last suggestion along these take-care-of-yourself lines. I’d like you to take a long, hard look at your pointe shoes. Do you love them? Like, LOVE love them? Are they the absolute best shoes ever possible for your feet? If the answer is an uncertain “Maybe?” then ask for a consultation with The Pointe Shop! A consultation is free with a purchase of pointe shoes, and the virtual consultation is quick and easy and right on the money. I’ve watched several of my dancers go through the process and I love the entire staff. Get your shoes re-assessed and use this weird time to find the perfect pointe shoe for yourself. You’re welcome!

One of the things I’ve spent much of 2020 grieving over is the Broadway shutdown. I have many dear friends who have gone months without a job with no end in sight. And I know lots of us are missing getting our Broadway fix! Lucky for you, some enterprising Broadway dressers (the people who maintain your costumes, help with quick changes, and basically take care of you better than your mom ever did) have put together some virtual backstage tours. Head over Broadway Undressed and you can purchase tickets for an online session with dressers who have worked dozens of Broadway shows. They’ll give you the inside scoop on what it’s like behind the scenes during a big show, share some funny stories, and answer all your questions on life inside a big show. You’ll really love it!

I could go on and on with ways to support the arts, invest in local companies, and take care of yourself, but you get the gist. 2020 is the year for investing in mental health and physical performance enhancement and perhaps, just perhaps learning to be ok with not having everything planned out all the time.

These are my top suggestions for the times we’re in, and I know not everything fits in an Amazon box but those are the gifts that keep on giving. For now, go back through this list and my old lists and tell me - did you discover anything this year that I absolutely need to add to the list? Please share!

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