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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Milner

Strategizing Your Training Season

As a new season starts in schools and companies everywhere, I make time to chat with each of my dancers about the upcoming year. Starting a fresh season is an excellent time to evaluate where you are, where you’d like to be next year, and what I can do to help you accomplish that.

How do we figure it out? Here’s a list of questions I ask my dancers; consider talking through them with your own trainer!

How have you improved since this time last year? Make sure to look at the good and acknowledge how you’ve gotten stronger or improved in artistry or technique.

What areas need work? What new critiques are you hearing from teachers or directors? Let’s see how your out-of-studio training can address them.

How has your dance training changed? Did you switch studios? Why? Is your dance schedule increasing significantly? How many hours a day are you on pointe? Taking privates with a new ballet coach? Share what changes have been made so your trainer has an accurate picture of your studio time.

How’s your health? Do you have new injuries? While rehabbing an injury should be left to a medical professional, it’s good to discuss injuries with trainers and coaches, as injuries are often a result of underlying weaknesses or wonky dance technique. Figuring out what repetitive motions may have led to an injury will help us program your time in the training center.

And speaking of health - don't discount your mental health. If you're struggling, tell your trainer. It's helpful to know your mental state as we work to support you as a dancer. While we are not qualified to give mental health advice, we can help you find a qualified professional who understands dancers. Anxiety, burnout, stress, depression - these can affect your physical health, and are NOT something you should just "learn to live with".

What are your goals? Is this your year to really tackle your pirouettes? Are you trying to “level up” your adagio? Improve your big jumps? Let’s look at what issues you’d like to tackle over the next several months. The best dancers often come into my sessions with clear goals, and together we work to make them happen.

Where would you like to be next summer? Next fall? If you’re aiming to transition from a local school to a year-round boarding school, that will absolutely inform how we approach your training. If you’re looking to be at a specific summer intensive, we need to plan for that. And if you’re hoping for a contract next fall, let's discuss how to help you get there!

When will be your busy times? When is your schedule lighter? It’s important to look at the arc of your schedule to see when we can push you more, and when we need to ease back and make sure you’re staying healthy. The time to add in extra cardio to be Snow ready isn’t November! Working with someone who understands the importance of periodization is key to keeping you healthy and maintaining peak performance levels.

And on that subject - if your trainer doesn’t dwell full-time in the ballet world, take a minute to explain it. Are you hoping to make a move to a new company this year? Be sure to outline your audition season as well as your performance schedule. Knowing when you’ll be busy filming submission videos, when you’ll be traveling to company auditions, etc., will help your trainer plan efficiently. Talk through rehearsal schedules, tech week, etc.: the more tools you give your trainer to understand the demands on the body, the more efficiently they can program your workouts.

What will the choreography demands be this year? If you’re competing in YAGP with Gamzatti, that’s a very different set of requirements than Raymonda’s Dream variation. One of my dancers will be performing Balanchine’s Serenade in the spring having never danced Balanchine, and that’ll be in the back of my mind the next several months as I get her ready to move in a bit of a different way. Tackling Forsythe or a new Twyla Tharp role? Are you hoping to get Snow Queen? Share what new demands may be made on your body. If your trainer doesn't know a lot of dance choreography, share things like, "Fast choreography with lots of weight changes", or "I'll be doing a bunch of floor work" or "this variation has lots of big jumps and is long!" There's no such thing as too much information.

All these questions may have obvious answers to you, but your trainer may not know what you’d say. Or perhaps these are things you haven’t really thought about! Either way, taking some time at the start of this new season to chat with your trainer. A few minutes of discussion and planning will give your trainer the tools he or she needs to help you achieve and maintain your peak performance level.

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