Q&a with artistic director christopher powney and healthcare manager karen sheriff

Q&A with Artistic Director Christopher Powney and Healthcare Manager Karen Sheriff

On our Instagram Stories, we gave our followers the chance to ask their questions on how to train from home during lockdown to Artistic Director, Christopher Powney and Healthcare Manager, Karen Sheriff. Below is the transcription of this Q&A session, which includes advice for ballet students on learning without a teacher, practising in small spaces, avoiding injury and staying motivated during the coronavirus outbreak.


1. How long should I be training a day and what kind of things should I be doing?

Karen Sheriff: Firstly know your starting point and know your end goal.

Do work that is appropriate for you and maintainable as consistency is more important than one very hard session which you then can not maintain.

Any training is better than none but you need to build in rest days (one to three a week depending on your level of training) and make sure you are mindful of how you are responding to training – are you very sore, fatigued? Allow yourself rest.

The kind of things you will do will also relate to your end goal – strength, stamina etc. and your space.


 2. How can I work on my ballet and improve when I haven’t got a teacher to correct me? 

Christopher Powney: I completely understand how difficult this is however, there are a few things you can do…

* Teach yourself – Remember all of the corrections you have been given by your teachers and try to apply them

* Film yourself – When you play it back you can be your own teacher. Our teachers use this method during class as it’s an excellent teaching tool

* There are many teachers setting barres (in small spaces) on social media. So many people are trying to help out and realise that everyone is struggling with space and being on their own. Be careful that what you follow is appropriate to your level otherwise you risk hurting yourself


3. What are the best stretches to do?

KS: This is a tricky one to answer as the answer is very individual, according to the area you want to focus on. In general, don’t overstretch (holding it for more 30-60s), make sure you focus on the whole body so you remain balanced (right to left) and supple. Also don’t use partner stretching to force range.


4. How much should you be stretching during isolation? How much is too much?

KS: Flexibility is important to a dancer, but we also focus on strength at the School. Once you have achieved your desired range, you need strength to be able to maximise this/hold this line to utilise it to best of your ability. So we also advocate a mix of strength alongside daily mobility training whilst off School. Aim for around 30 mins a day total on the areas you want to focus on.


5. How can I stay motivated? 

CP: I think this is something many people will struggle with in the coming weeks and something I completely sympathise with. I would suggest that you set up a routine for each day and try to think of small achievable targets. Try and vary your days and weeks with different approaches to staying fit or training. Many of your colleagues and company dancers in the UK and internationally will sharing their ideas on social media.

KS: Break down your day into small sections (see the ‘Pomodoro’ technique) and remember the bigger picture wherever possible.

* Use online platforms and have fun with any exercise that you choose

* Exercise with friends online, go outside when you can and get some vitamin D

* Stay connected with your friends and family to help stay positive

* Unexpected ‘time out’ can be really good to help focus you on some areas of technique or training you don’t have time to do usually.

* Finally, still reward yourself for any daily efforts you make.


6. How can I practise without much room? 

CP: I would recommend working on elements of class such as barre work, port de bras, épaulement, or fitness such as strength and conditioning or stretching. Another excellent teaching tool is visualisation. Visualising yourself dancing specific steps or combinations helps to strengthen the signal from the brain to the muscles.


7. Do you have any tips on how to practise turns on a slippery hardwood floor? 

CP: I wouldn’t recommend it as you risk injuring yourself, as it depends how slippery the floor is and what shoes you are wearing. If in doubt, wait until you are back in the studio. There are many other things you can practise and focus on.


8. Which should I prioritise, school or ballet? I want to enter full time training next year.

CP: A very good question. Finding the right balance is key. Academics are extremely important but exercise and maintaining your training is equally important if you want to take on full time training next year. Maybe reproducing a similar weekly timetable to the one you follow at school is a good starting place. Physical activity each day is good for your brain and will also help you to concentrate on you academics.


9. What should a daily diet be like at home, since we are dancing less?

KS: It’s best to follow the diet principles as you were before – a balanced and ‘rainbow’ plate. Aim for 8 portions of fruit and veg a day. If you are training less you may want to reduce slightly the carbohydrate portion (from 1/3 to 1/4 on your plate) and substitute this with more fruit or vegetables and protein. In general it’s very important to think of food as essential fuel, and micronutrients and calories are very important for immunity, growth and development of a young dancer.


10. Is running good for dancers?

KS: Absolutely yes, as long as you have no injuries. We give a running programme to our students in holiday breaks to maintain some cardiovascular fitness but also importantly some bone stimulus through your lower legs, which is very important for maintaining bone strength to prevent injury when you return to dance.


11. Is it OK to let my body rest a little, not exercising everyday but doing some yoga?

KS: Yoga can be a lovely way to do flexibility and balance work in a mindful and controlled way, especially with regards to breath control. ‘Relative rest’ from heavy dance loads is very important and something we advocate for all of our dancers in holiday periods but then introducing some level of more dynamic exercise with more ‘load’, alongside this, as the break continues, so that you are less likely to have injuries when you return to dance training.


12. Are there any workout videos that you would recommend to stay in shape?

KS: There are so many great videos online at the moment. Think about what your focus is – is it stamina, flexibility, specific strengthening, or ballet technique and this will help focus your search.


13. How can we make sure we don’t injure ourselves when we do return to ballet? 

KS: By keeping healthy with nutrition, undertaking sensible training loads, recognising the constraints of space and social distancing at the moment, so being sensible, and returning slowly back into ballet. Your teachers should lead a slow and ‘periodised’ approach of return to dance to make sure your body has time to adapt again to ballet loads whilst you train.

CP: I think your teacher will carefully structure your return to full fitness and classes. Make sure you follow your teacher’s advice.