exercise and body conditioning ♡

Allergic to the Couch Potato

“Hey, how about you run around the block a few times and then come back to us?”

This is a line I often hear when I am on holiday. I was not blessed with the couch potato gene and unfortunately too much free time can make me slightly crazy.

I remember one of my favourite teachers at ballet school saying to our class, “it takes double the time to get back to the fitness level you were in, in relation to the days you take off, so four days of rest is eight days to get back into the condition you were in before the break.” This is why it is important to maintain some upkeep in physical condition while on holiday.

Pointes in the lounge

Pointes in the lounge

At fear of sounding just like a health food TV commercial, it’s all about balance. I’m not talking about throwing myself fanatically into extreme workouts every time a holiday comes looming. Like a used battery, holidays are a great time to mentally and physically recharge. Rest is very important. 10 days of vacation time was bestowed upon the NZ ballet dancers after our season of Coppelia. Once a day I have kept up some form of physical exercise. Here are examples of the type of things I do to maintain physical fitness during time off. I write this from my lounge room floor where I am currently typing whilst sitting in side splits…

Side split writing + my terrible bunion that made it into the shot!

Side split writing + my terrible bunion that made it into the shot!

Dancing requires a combination of strength, endurance, flexibility and core balance. Fellow dancer and ex roommate, Mayu Tanigaito has been my inspiration on the flexibility side of things. Every night when I shared a flat with this incredibly talented dancer she would spend the last part of her evening stretching. I have copied! I spend 20 minutes or more each night stretching. It’s such an incidental way of maintaining physical health with the comfort of being at home and watching a movie, reading (or writing a blog on your laptop) at the same time.

The best part of a holiday, for me, is catching up with family and friends abroad! My dad and I love going for long bike rides around Melbourne. Occasionally I like to head to the aquatic centre to fit some swimming in as well. I am never opposed to a 20-30 minute run around my neighbouring suburbs also. Upon waking and making those first steps through the house it is not uncommon for a member of my family to find me using a bookshelf in the lounge room as a makeshift ballet barre to do a little classical training. Mainly I stick to non-dance related exercise and a mixture of Pilates and stretching.

Next week, rehearsals for our upcoming ‘Allegro’ season begin! There are bound to be some sore muscles as we switch from a highly classical performance season to a mixture of dance styles, some being very contemporary. As I always say, my camera is ready to capture some exciting shots of this season in progress and I look forward to sharing them in the weeks ahead!

Tonia 🙂

Silver Linings

The reflection of a silver lining can shine upon ourselves an image that we don’t necessarily see in the moment of action.

A little Disney mania on my dressing room spot!

A little Disney mania on my dressing room spot!

After performing in Rotorua earlier this week we have now reached Auckland. The disposition of being human naturally has its ups and downs and it’s part of a dancers job to consistently perform as well as possible. Attention to detail and constant self-correction can sometimes become muddled with perfectionism. Our show in Rotorua was so rewarding. It was one of those performances where you feel that everything comes together. A big thanks to all who attended the show too, the audience was fantastic!

There are occasions when this feeling of personal triumph does not always occur. As dancers are constantly trying to improve their performance and perfect the art form, we can find ourselves getting caught up in little details. Don’t get me wrong; it is most often the little details of a show that can make a performance stand out in the right way. However, over my years in the company I have found ways of turning my negative thoughts about a performance that hasn’t gone as well as I would hope into positive ones.

Perspective is vital. Perhaps just one step in the entire show didn’t work as well as it normally would, or I felt a little more tired than normal and therefore felt that I could have done better. This is where those shiny, silver linings come into play. It’s important in these moments to stay true to the main goal. There is no reason to be negative about these things when there is so much more to feel good about. Focusing on the positive moments in the performance and the absolute love of performing is so essential. I will never give in to these negative thoughts.

Stretching!! For daily images check out toniaroselooker on Instagram!

Stretching!! For daily images check out toniaroselooker on Instagram!

I also meditate daily. It’s a time when I can find some internal quiet and stillness and I find it really helps me refocus my body and mind. I understand that this method does not necessarily work for everyone but it’s a personal preference of mine and in this incredibly busy and technological based world it’s my chance to detach myself momentarily from external stimulus and focus internally. Dancers not only need to take good care of their bodies but also their minds and this is a practice that assists me to perform at my best.

Over the next 2 days we perform here in Takapuna! I think I’m going to walk along the beachfront to the theatre and take in the beautiful scenery! Tonia 🙂

A glance behind the scenes!

With the curtain down on Coppelia in Invercargill, we bussed through the drizzly, South Island rain to find ourselves in our next performance destination, Dunedin. Thank you so much to the Invercargill audience. It was wonderful to receive such warm applause and it was a joy to perform this up-lifting ballet to an equally up-lifting crowd.

With 2 days off in Dunedin what mischief are we all going to get up to? Well, there is one door list that everybody is trying to get their name on- physio! We are fortunate enough to have one physiotherapist that travels to some of the main centres that we journey to. Our bodies are our tools, so maintaining health and fitness is a must to continue to perform at our best. Unfortunately there are one or two dancers maintaining more serious injuries this tour. For this reason there will always be backup casts and covers for every role in the ballet. Therefore, as well as learning the parts we have been cast to perform, we also will usually have between 2-4 and sometimes more roles to understudy in case of emergency. As the saying goes- the show must go on!

I have heard stories from friends in other companies of people waiting in costume and makeup side stage in case someone has to come off due to precariously performing on a nearly broken foot etc. Luckily, that is not the case this season. The prevention of this, however, is what is so highly beneficial about having physio available whilst on the road. I am probably getting irrationally excited about getting my calf muscle released tomorrow but it’s these body maintenance resources that help us continue to do what we love- perform!

As well as physio appointments, a day off is usually spent going to a café for brunch, window-shopping, hitting the gym and relaxing in front of the tv. Today I did all of the above (except the gym oops). Brunch to celebrate fellow colleague Maree’s birthday and my felafel wrap was delicious. Window-shopping turned into a search for the perfect ankle boot for fellow dancer, Lori, and may I say, Dunedin, you have some very chic shops! I then thoroughly enjoyed catching the latest episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ with a cup of tea and my motel roomie- Maree. Feeling very well rested. Looking forward to getting back under the stage lights soon! Until then, Tonia 🙂

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree's birthday in Dunedin.

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree’s birthday in Dunedin.

The U.S.A Countdown

A slightly belated happy new year to all! I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

It was wonderful to have time with friends and family on holiday. The call of the RNZB studios was strong though and it is marvellous to be back at work. With only 3 weeks until we jet set to the U.S.A taking a range of different dance works there is much to be rehearsed in little time. The pieces in this overseas tour hold an immense depth of meaning to me. Stunning music, a diverse range of movement styles and an opportunity to be completely wrapped up in dance all day, every day. It’s a dance lovers dream come true. I am completely infatuated with my work.

Sleep time dreams of choreography are woken early. Beginning with a fresh espresso and a bowl of cereal with fruit I head to work to begin my ritual warm up before class. It’s quiet in the studio in the early hours. Stretching dancers are dotted around on the floor, headphones in, pilates foam rollers and therobands out. There’s a quiet determination and focus. Everyone ready to work together to rehearse and polish the upcoming show.

After class a full day of rehearsals commence. We spend almost 6 hours a day rehearsing and this time is never wasted. It can be tough work, but oh so rewarding. I don’t believe I could ever find an apt way to properly describe the feeling of being on stage, after weeks of rehearsal and claiming the reward that a show brings. However, over the next couple of weeks I will be writing little entries leading up to this U.S.A tour and hopefully getting a little more practice taking photos. I look forward to writing my little musings on life in 2014.

Tonia 🙂

The Secret Lives of Pointe Shoes

The Secret Lives of Pointe shoes, or rather, the answers to many commonly asked questions and some unknown tips that keep me happily on my toes.

Pointe shoes are the main form of footwear for any classical female dancer. On average, during rehearsals I would go through one to two pairs of shoes per week. This number varies dramatically depending on the performance season we are in. For example, in an incredibly pointe shoe orientated ballet such as Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake I would commonly go through one or two pairs of shoes in just one show alone. In a more contemporary season however, I would sometimes only use 2 pairs of pointe shoes for the entire season. With a single pair of shoes costing between $60-$120 it’s easy to see that this becomes a pricey business. Luckily, the RNZB provide the dancers with shoes so this is not an expense that the dancers need to worry about.

Gone are the days when I shoved my little 9 year old feet into plastic cups stuffed with tissue and tried to imagine them as beautiful, shiny, satin pointe shoes. Back then, to own a pair would be like finding pure gold. Nowadays a little of that notion has changed but not greatly. There is still nothing quite like holding a fresh pair of shoes for the first time, the smell of the new fabric and the knowledge that your next class is going to feel fantastic!

Image by Tonia Looker

So how and why do a beautiful looking pair of shoes like the ones above end up looking like the ones pictured below?

Image by Tonia Looker

All feet come in different shapes and sizes. Therefore, even when two people may fit the same size shoe it will look and feel completely different. A pointe shoe needs to hug a dancers foot perfectly to allow them to utilize their technique to their best ability. For this reason each dancer has their own unique way of ‘breaking in’ their pointe shoes. It is dependent on where their foot naturally bends, how hard they like their shoes and where they may have sore spots such as bunions etc. My left foot is much noticeably longer than my right foot which means that I have a slightly different process preparing a shoe for my right foot than my left. You can see this difference in the picture below.

Image by Tonia Looker

So, what happens to these unmarked, shining beauties? I go through the process of shaping the shoes to my feet. Firstly I sew ribbons and elastics to my shoes. The elastics give me extra support and hold the shoe tightly to my heels so I can comfortably rise on and off my toes without the shoe slipping off. I sew ribbon, aligning it with my arch so that the shoe pulls tight at a natural bend point. I have been asked if the rumours are true. Do dancers use dental floss to sew their ribbons? In my case and that of many others in the company- yes! I learnt to use dental floss due to its strength and ease through the fabric of the shoe. I feel safe in the knowledge that my ribbons aren’t unravelling or falling off thanks to the floss strength. I must admit to being very obsessive with my ribbons. Never has a ribbon come unstuck or untucked and fingers crossed it never does.

After 45 minutes of sewing comes the fun part! Shaping my shoes. I tear 1/3 of the upper sole out of my shoe to allow it to bend comfortably with my arch. Sometimes, depending on the variants in shoe this may involve using pliers to remove a nail or two that holds the soles in place.

Stop! Hammer time. I have custom altered my pointe shoes to better fit my feet. Like the majority of females in the company I wear Bloch shoes in Heritage. Made an inch higher in the vamp (top front of the shoe) to properly support my arches. This causes a slight problem when it comes to bunions though. Yes, nasty bunions that get squished inside a shoe. That’s where my trusty hammer comes to the rescue. I bash the top of my shoe (as pictured below) until it’s nice and mushy and can mould around my foot with ease. This also stops any nasty bunion pain! I always have to be careful not to get too carried away and ruin the shoe by hitting too close to the top. It’s vital that stays solid to balance on my toes.

Lastly, I bend my shoes lightly, allowing me to rely on the strength of my feet to roll through every part of my foot from flat standing to pointe and back again. Voila! That is my pointe shoe method.

I would love to answer any questions that anyone may have! There is so much to cover on the topic that I could end up boring everyone with a mini novel. However, anything I haven’t covered, please ask!