Dynamic Movement

By Andrew Stone
Posted On Dec 16, 2016
Dynamic Movement

Fitness requires that we get moving. Dancing insists that we be moved. If you’re looking to revolutionize your body while stirring your soul, there’s no better discipline than dance training. Meet five world-class performers—each a legend in their own right—who’ve danced their way into extraordinary lives.

By Andrew C. Stone 

The human body is a network of interdependent systems, designed to engage the world. We inhabit our bodies for only so long, and our job is to take advantage of them while we can. While many individuals push their stamina and test their strength through rigorous sessions at the gym, there’s a much older—and arguably more meaningful— path to health and happiness: the art of dance. As a physical discipline, dancing fosters long, lean muscles and beautiful proportion. The respiratory system reaps the benefits of intense cardiovascular engagement; the brain enjoys a cognitive boost from committing steps to memory. More than mere exercise, dancing is a physical expression of our emotional state. It’s playful, artistic, and has as much to do with lightness as it does strength. Science cites an increase in the brain chemical dopamine when engaged in such exertion, which offers a natural lift in the spirit. Meanwhile, romantics point out that body, mind, and soul come into alignment whenever music plays and we move along with it. There are as many answers to the question “Why do you dance?” as there are dancers. To truly understand, one need only watch a performer take to the stage and inhabit a song entirely. Words may prove insufficient, yet the answers will be there, plain as day.

for Identity

“If i had to do it all over again, I’d definitely come back as a dancer,” says Chita Rivera, one of Broadway’s most iconic triple-threats, who has worked consistently since the 1950s. “Dancing is a connection of the spirit and space, and interpretation without words. It can bring people together as nothing else can, because language limits.”

Rivera—a two-time Tony winner, Kennedy Center Awards Honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009—first appeared on Broadway in 1953, in the musi­cal Can-Can. Through subsequent decades of celebrated performance, she won over audiences in shows such as West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. “You’re pretty lucky when things come your way and you’re ready for them,” Rivera says. “Being ready means tak­ing care of yourself and having a good background—in my case, dance. You have to be ready for whatever comes your way. Dance makes everything strong and healthy.”

Long, lithe, and agelessly energetic, Rivera finds no reason to slow down. “You can’t just sit, because you’ll spread into nothing,” she laughs. “The body has to live. When you just do a twirl or swish your hips or kick a leg, that’s freedom. When oxygen is running through you, you stay much healthier.”

 

 “We think We can fly; We throw our bodies into all sorts of distortions.” –Chita Rivera 

 

Although her looks and buoyant personality belie her age, she will turn 80 this October. Normally she would have kept the milestone hush-hush, but the Broadway community wouldn’t hear of it. “They came to me about doing a celebration of my birthday,” Rivera says. “I said, ‘No, there will be no loud drumming.’ I can’t fathom this age. But everyone kept on insisting. Finally, I said I would do it, so long as I do not sit in an audience while others pay homage. I’m a do-er, more than a receiver.” Rivera insisted that the one-night-only show be a benefit for Broadway Cares?Equity Fights AIDS—an organization she’s been a part of since the early ’80s. The star-packed evening, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele, will be a high-flying send-up of Rivera’s shows, starring Rivera herself. “I think about how lucky I’ve been—Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bye Bye Birdie, Can-Can,” she says. “There are a lot of memories. When I hear the overture of West Side Story, I still get goose pimples.” It’s a daunting task, to encapsulate Rivera’s career within one dazzling night of programming. The one essential element: laughter. “Dancers have a sense of humor—what we do is stupid sometimes,” she says. “We think we can fly; we throw our bodies into all sorts of distortions. But with technique, we can do it. You have to have a tremendous sense of humor, because life’s a bitch and then you die.”

“Dancing is going to make you move and stand differently.” –Salim Gauwloos

 

for Inspiration

Choreographer Salim Gauwloos is a cool customer, through and through. But one thing he won’t stand for is a self-defeating attitude. “We need to stop putting limits on ourselves,” insists the handsome Belgian dancer. “Don’t knock anything until you’ve tried it. The things you don’t want to do often wind up being the things you love the most.”

Gauwloos’ impressive career includes stints in Aida on Broadway, Mambo Kings, and various New York City Opera productions; collaborations with esteemed international dance troupes and ballet companies; teaching engagements at the world’s top dance centers and festivals; and video work with pop icons. He famously appeared alongside Madonna in the video for “Vogue,” and was featured in both the film Truth or Dare and as a dancer on the Blond Ambition Tour. “Auditioning for Madonna took me on an entirely different path,” Gauwloos says. “All of the dancers on that tour were so young, raw, and fearless. Madonna’s work ethic changed me a lot. I’ve never seen anyone work that hard.”

Gauwloos is frequently hired to create fluid movement in ad campaigns for brands such as Longchamp and Revlon, and loves working with models—particularly his friend, super-model Coco Rocha. “Coco Rocha is the Martha Graham of modeling,” he insists. “The gestures are always expressive and perfect. She also started a union to protect young models… and she’s always on time. I learned that from Madonna, too: Always be on time.”

These days, Gauwloos instructs students across the globe, including popular classes at New York’s Broadway Dance Center. His classes offer a mixture of yoga, jazz, and modern movements, stressing the notion of a full-body workout. “In the beginning, dancing can feel uncomfortable,” he admits. “You have to find the right teacher. It’s different than going to a gym. Dancing is going to make you move and stand dif­ferently. You’ll be more gracious, and physically healthier as well. Once you learn how to stretch and move and connect with the music, you connect with something higher.”

Eastern medicine has helped Gauwloos reach his personal health goals and counter life’s aches and pains. “I wish I had done more yoga and stretching when I was younger,” he says. “I didn’t eat properly, and never stretched. I now do a lot of meditation and have learned to listen to my body.” He passes the notion of confidently inhabiting the body onto everyone he meets, including those closest to him. “My mom is 82, and I say, ‘Mom, shoulders back!’” he says. “Even that changes you, spiritually and mentally.”

 

for Intensity

“Not many people have the opportunity to do what I do, so I don’t take it for granted,” says Paloma Herrera, 37. A principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre for 22 years, Buenos Aires-born dance prodigy Herrera is the picture of strength, grace, and balance. “Every day is like a miracle,” she says. “It’s been my dream company to work with since the very beginning of my career, which is why I’ve stayed such a long time.” Twenty-two years is indeed a long time—practically unheard of in the high impact world of ballet. “I’ve been very lucky,” Herrera insists. “Throughout the time I’ve been with the company, I have seen many dancers need surgery or have to stop altogether. I’ve never had anything— something for which I am very thankful.” The rigorous performance schedules, travel demands, and physical feats of a ballerina’s life can cause significant wear and tear on any body, but Herrera keeps things simple and rarely veers from her primary passion: performing. “I try to be really in tune with my body,” she says. “As soon as I feel something, I listen to my body. This is my tool, my bubble, and I use it a lot. I push as much as I can, but I also give it thanks.” Herrera has also never been one to push her luck when it comes to the things she puts in her body. “I don’t drink or smoke and I eat very healthy, and that works for me,” she says. “Some dancers smoke and drink a lot, and they are great. Everybody is different. For me, this has worked. I don’t feel like I am missing anything.” Herrera has made a ritual of going to the theater early for concentration and stretching. She also began a yoga practice ten years ago and has become an absolute Bikram yoga devotee. “We travel all over, and Bikram is the same everywhere—Japan, Taipei, Korea. I can take the class, even if I don’t speak the language.” She’s not one to make—or easily accept—excuses when it comes to getting in shape. “It’s never too late for anything,” Herrera says. “There’s always room for improvement—room to do better and more.” No matter your skill level or age, she wholeheartedly believes you’ll find your bliss in a ballet class, yoga class, or any sort of instruction that gets the body moving. “It will bring you joy, energy, and stamina, and help you to get rid of the, ‘Oh my God, I have to do this, this, and that!’ feeling. What a great thing! Once you get into it, it’s not an obligation. You will want to do it.”

 

“I don’t drink or smoke and I eat very healthy, and that works for me.” – Paloma Herrera

 

for Love
“If i told someone i was a ballroom dancer, they’d laugh and say, ‘What’s your real job?’” says Tony Dovolani of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, noting how little the public knew about the world of competitive dance before his hit show came on the air. “I have been representing the United States as a dancer since 1998, and no one in America knew.” Dovolani, who was born in Kosovo, began folk dancing as a young boy, and trained professionally in his teens upon arriving in the United States. In 2005, he was selected as one of the elite dance professionals paired alongside celebrities for the primetime smash, Dancing with the Stars. “Ballroom has grown in popularity by 400 percent since Dancing with the Stars began,” Dovolani says. “The industry has definitely been affected in a great way, and people are discovering its beauty. It’s clear that the American public needed something positive on television… which is great. I get to do something I love on national TV.” After 16 seasons, Dovolani has been able  to parlay his popularity into lucrative side businesses—film roles (Shall We Dance?), hosting gigs (Extra!), and Dance With Me Studios (dancewithmeusa.com), which he co-founded with fellow DWTS stars Maksim and Val Chmerkovskiy. “The show’s impact is mind boggling,” Dovolani says. Dance With Me Studios—located in Manhattan, Long Island, New Jersey, and Stamford, CT—serve the dual purpose of relaxing guests and firing up their senses. “You can tell you’re somewhere special, from the chandeliers-down,” he says. “We want you to escape from everyday life.” Dovolani and team offer private and group lessons, and tailor programs for participants’ interests and skill level. “The body is a direct result of the soul,” he says. “When you start feeling good, your body starts
waking up, performing in a certain way.” Dance With Me offers a fitness program that trades on the muscle-lengthening techniques of dance. “Everybody desires a dancer’s body, when the muscles look elongated and beautiful,” Dovolani says. “Here, we work on the small muscles, the firing muscles. In class, you’re going to burn 273 calories. We attack the right muscles—you’re never going to be sore.” Dovolani and team discuss every aspect of health with clients, including hydration, diet, and learning how to honor one’s self. “Dancing keeps things light, fun, and exciting,” he insists. “When you’re inspired, things get a lot easier to do.”

 

“Everybody desires a dancer’s body, when the muscles look elongated and beautiful . . .” – Tony Dovolani

 

for Possibility
Should you wonder if it’s too late to pursue a dream, chat with Trinity Hamilton, a life-long dancer who came out of retirement to play La Belle in Cirque Du Soleil’s Mystère at
Treasure Island in Las Vegas. Hamilton, a dancer since age four, trained with the Chicago City Ballet and spent years dancing with the Joffrey Ballet’s production of Billboards. After decades on stage, Hamilton encountered a series of medical issues, and agreed to accept the position of Ballet Director and resident choreographer
with the New Tampa Dance Theater in Florida. “I wasn’t ready to fully retire from the stage,” she admits. “I saw Cirque du Soleil as a spectator, and found it to be a magical place outside of the real world.” And with that, a dream was born. “I wanted to be a part of that magic,” she says. “I put it on my vision board. Once I got some answers to medical questions, I got into the right shape and was able to perform once more. I went after the chance, and had the honor of becoming a part of it.” Now, Hamilton performs yearround, ten shows a week, in what she considers one of the most rigorous challenges of her career. “I have to maintain my energy level, and be very conscious of injury prevention,” she says. To keep herself in peak condition, Hamilton uses the Pilates “Reformer” and gyrotonics. “Gyrotonics helps with posture and the core,” she says. “We do the same moves every night, so one leg becomes more dominant and the other becomes a ‘kick leg.’ Pilates and gyrotonics help make sure everything stays the same.” Hamilton often meets women who lament giving up their dance training. “It’s never too late to start,” she insists. “Some of the spunkiest students I’ve had are 65 years old.” From the delicacy of hand gestures, to the poise with which we present ourselves, Hamilton sees the benefits of dance in every corner of life. “It’s not about how high you kick, or how perfectly you execute steps,” she says. “It’s about enjoying the ability to move, and feeling graceful.”

 

“Gyrotonics helps with posture and the core center, and also keeps the body balanced . . . ” -Trinity Hamilton

 

 . . .forEver

Board-certified sports medicine physical therapist Dr. Scott Weiss—a world-class martial artist who nearly made the 1988 Olympic team for taekwando—has tended to the world’s most elite athletes and dancers for more than fifteen years. Having worked with the Joffrey Ballet and Dancing with the Star’s Kym Johnson, as well as the Olympians of the 2012 London games, Weiss knows the dancer’s body as well as anyone on earth. “Dancing requires that you really let go, mentally and physically,” he says. “I took a 20-class course with Alvin Ailey that went through everything from tap and jazz to capoeira, and it challenged me in a way nothing else has.” Dr. Weiss notes that dance training enhances your proprioception— the neuromuscular awareness of the body—while improving posture and lengthening the look of muscles. At the same time, he notes a host of potential physical stressors that any dancer will want to remain aware of. First and foremost, while other sports will warrant cleats, dance classes often ask you to go barefoot. “Dance can be really stressful to the lower extremities,” he says. “I recommend strength and flexibility work prior to any kind of dance class—cross-training that focuses on the lower body.” Among the common injuries sustained by dancers are: lower extremity and lower back issues; hip, knee, ankle, and foot strain; “snapping syndrome” in joints; meniscal and patella femural tears; sprains in the knee, ankle, and foot bunions; and planter fasciitis in the foot. These challenges can arise in all sorts of dancers—from the amateur to the pro—and Weiss always suggests the rules of “when you feel something, say something.” “A little injury that may feel like nothing today could grow in three weeks,” he says. “Never hesitate to speak to a professional. Initially, if you feel like something is off, go for the RICE Method—rest, ice, compression, and elevation.” Dr. Weiss urges dancers of every level to “train within the confines of their bodies,” stay flexible, and warm up properly. And of course, keep it about you. “Don’t try to do what the guy next to you is doing,” he urges. ?

 

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