How to Build Stamina for Mask-Mandated Competitions & Block Scheduling
As pandemic-related safety restrictions ease and dancers return to competition and convention stages, many dancers will face new obstacles, mainly, performing in masks and performing all your routines at once. While you’ve probably trained and rehearsed in a mask, performing onstage in one—in front of judges and an audience, and with all that performance-induced adrenaline—will likely require more stamina. And with many competitions now relying on block scheduling to aid social-distancing requirements, you may find yourself relying on your stamina more than ever before.
So, to help you manage the stress of having to get through your already-impossible jazz group with a mask on after performing five other routines, Dance Spirit spoke with expert teacher-trainers for some advice. Here are their recommendations.
Certified yoga instructor and Broadway performer/choreographer Beth Crandall says in her experience, practicing yoga flows, with a focus on breathing—inhaling and exhaling with each transition—has increased her capacity for prolonged physical output.
But building stamina isn’t just a physical pursuit, she says: “I strongly believe that building stamina is also about cultivating mental strength and resilience,” Crandall explains. Pranayama, for example, which is the practice of conscious breathing exercises, “has this incredible calming effect on the nervous system,” she says, which can help reduce the anxiety we sometimes feel when we’re nearing the edge of our cardiovascular threshold.
Crandall adds: “Everything in yoga is progressive, so as your stamina and strength increase, you can gradually load physical postures or lengthen a cycle of breath.” And as you graduate to more challenging yoga postures, the focus on breath keeps the mind centered, she says—building mental strength, confidence and willpower.
Here are some yoga poses Crandall recommends:
•warrior I, II or III (virabhadrasana I, II or II)
•extended side angle (utthita parsvakonasana)
•side plank (vasisthasana)
•chair pose (utkatasana)
•boat pose (navasana)
According to former performer Desirée Errico, who now runs the YouTube channel Dansique Fitness, and teaches conditioning classes at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, almost all Pilates exercises aid in building stamina. “It’s all about getting in touch with your deep core muscles, and moving in a very controlled way,” she says. “If you’re doing Pilates exercises properly, it takes tons of concentration, muscle engagement and control—which is why it’s so efficient in building stamina.”
Like yoga, Pilates requires you to focus on the physical and mental aspects of completing an exercise. The combination provides a full mind–body workout. And the expectation of executing movements in a controlled manner can help build the mental fortitude needed to get through a performance, especially while masked.
“I’m a huge believer in cross-training for dancers,” Errico says, whose classes mix Pilates and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). “Usually, I have a set number of Pilates-based exercises that we do for 45 seconds, and then we rest for 15 seconds in between each exercise. Studies have shown these shorter bursts of intense intervals contribute to stamina improvement.”
In addition to cross-training, yoga and Pilates, be sure to also get plenty of rest, Crandall says. Without it, you won’t be able to reap the benefits of the stamina you’re building. “Taking time for self-care, reflection and rest is of the utmost importance,” she says.