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Pilates Aids Professional Dancer

Pilates does a dancer good; look at those gorgeous, open shoulders!

Dance and Pilates have had a strong relationship since Joseph Pilates began teaching his technique in New York City in the 1920s. Pilates training can help dancers avoid injuries and improve their technique with its focus on strong but flexible muscles, breath, and core strength.  Although dance in and of itself is a great form of exercise, classes do not always perfectly prepare the body for the demands of performance and can often leave some muscle groups over worked, and others neglected and weak.  Pilates training can make a huge difference in a dancer’s performance ability and even help her/him stay in shape during the off season.

Professional dancer, Erica Day, knows first hand the benefits of Pilates for dance as it has helped her through injuries, improve her dance technique, and train as an aerial dancer! In this interview, Erica lets us know first hand just how much Pilates has helped her in her blossoming career!

Q: How long have you been dancing?

A: I have been dancing since the age of 3! At 4 it was about 2 hours a week and of course, as I got older the training became more and more serious. By the time I reached high school age I was taking over 20 hours of dance per week.

Q: Tell us about your experience as a professional dancer

A: I worked for Celebrity Cruise lines as a dancer for a 6 months, travelling in Europe and then the Caribbean. After that I moved to NYC for the International Student Visa Program (ISVP) at Broadway Dance Center. It was a great year to meet people and study new things. While in NYC I was given the opportunity to perform as a back up dancer for recording artists Sir Ari Gold and Lily Halpern, opening for the tour Waitin4U featuring teenage heartthrobs Cody Simpson and Greyson Chance. For the past year I have been employed with Norwegian Cruise line as Dancer, Dance Captain and Aerialist. Those contracts have taken me to Alaska, Panama Canal, Egypt, Israel, Turkey , all over the Mediterranean and all over the Caribbean. It has been an amazing time and I’m so excited about what the future brings!

Q: When did you start doing Pilates?

A: When I entered the International Student Visa Program at Broadway Dance Center, they offered Mat Pilates, which I started to take about twice a week.

Q: Did you start Pilates to rehab an injury?

A: When I was about 18-22 I would have these “episodes” where my knees would give out and my pelvis would shift out of alignment and I’d be on my stomach on the floor unable to stand up. At one point, I had an X-Ray done and my pelvis was way out of alignment, tilted forward 40 degrees! Obviously not a great thing for a dancer who needs to be able to dance, shift weight, and balance all day. I saw many doctors and no one really knew why it was happening but chalked it up to me not having a strong enough core or knowing how to use it properly. It was then that I realized, I can really focus in on what it means to work from my core or I can continue on the way I am and probably not be able to dance in a few years. I chose to focus with Pilates.

Q: What do you enjoy about Pilates

A: I enjoy knowing that my body is getting realigned as the class goes on in a safe manner, I love the low impact but difficulty of the moves, I love feeling the burn and having the parts I’m working on shake and I love how it shapes my body. It’s also a great way to get me connected to my breath!

Q: Absolutely, breath is so important in maintaining stamina in dance, and life! Have you felt a difference in your dancing since starting Pilates?

A: Practicing Pilates has definitely made me stronger and more aware of my body at all times. It has given me a better sense of alignment and awareness which makes some of the more challenging aspects of my performance happen with more ease.

Q: Do you think Pilates has helped you avoid injuries?

A: MOST DEFINITELY! I started the reformer last year and took a handful of privates and classes right before I was called from Norwegian Cruiseline to fly immediately to Toronto to train in aerial dancing, including Spanish Web and Bungee. You need to have the strongest core to really execute the tricks safely and in a 7 month period I stayed completely injury free! As a person who suffered from lower back injuries consistently in my late teens to early 20s, that was a huuuuge feat. Without the Pilates background who knows what could have happened.

Q: In your opinion, why is Pilates a great compliment to dancing

A: From an esthetic point of view, Pilates shaped and toned my body like no other exercise program has, including lifting weights, running, and Yoga. My lines became leaner and longer. My ankles actually became stronger!

Q: Has Pilates helped you become a more proficient dancer?

A: Unfortunately as a young girl no one really talked to me about how important my core is. So here I was whipping out all of these difficult tricks without an understanding of safety and where movement comes from. Now when I dance, I know to engage my lower core and “zip everything up” creating a really strong safe casing around my abdomen and lower back area. It’s starting to become second nature and I find when my balance is unsteady, I just think about laying down on the reformer or floor and “zipping” everything up. When I focus on that I can hold things for days. Pilates has really helped my control and added a calmness to my dancing. There is no need to be frantic because I know my core is there for me. 

Thank you to Erica for sharing her experience with Pilates and dance! If you are interested in learning more about how Pilates can help you avoid injuries and improve your performance, contact hayley@betterbodybuffalo.com!