jitters & rituals

Before an especially nerve-wracking performance, I listen to Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  I’m not proud of it, but when I first began competing at Youth America Grand Prix in 2004, Hailie was 8 years old, 8 Mile was still (sort of) relevant, and the rap anthem’s carpe minutam memorandum wound my nerves into sanction.  What can I say?  Slim Shady did and does provide my chill.  Everyone has their rituals, and today we’re peeking into the pre-show mind of The Joffrey Ballet’s Mahallia Ward to spy on hers…IMG_2950

MW: Before my first performance of the season, as I was reacquainting myself with pre-show rituals and jitters, I became highly aware of the annoying and almost comical amount of nervous chatter occupying my mind. I alternated between fruitless attempts at calm, and moments of amused observation:

“It’ll feel so good to be on stage again. Dress rehearsal was bad so…that’s good right? Whatever, don’t think about it…What to eat…? Just relax, you got this. You’re a pro…yeah right…no you are. Shut up.

“Ugh! Adrenaline my old friend, I don’t like you. What use are my legs in a fight or flight situation if they have melted into puddles of jelly??! C’mon, strength, energy…Just breathe…ahh yes…oh this would make a cool blog post! This is what you love. This is the fun part! Enjoy it! Just rip up the stage! But take it easy. No stress. But it’s normal to stress, everyone’s stressing inside. So don’t worry. You should probably reinforce the ribbons on your shoes one more time though, just to be sure…

Ok these shoes only have to last one. more. show. Crap they’re buckling. Grrr. Time to plank…60, 59, 58, 57… Nice. Remember just breathe…this is no. big. deal. Just pretend you do this all the time, like you have something way harder to do tomorrow. This is nothing. A breeze! A breezy breeze. Should I pee one more time?

And on and on…
IMG_2915IMG_2947The nerves come with the gig, but I find performing much more enjoyable when I am able to relax and quieten this high strung inner dialogue. 

Here are some ideas to help de-stress and prepare mentally for the stage.

1) Take a nap. During the break between rehearsals and show time, one can find a number of Joffrey’s dancers sprawled out beneath their dressing tables, zipped to the chin in warmups, refueling with some zzz’s.

2) Get out of the building. After rehearsing in a dark theater all day, a dose of fresh air and natural light help me clear my mind and feel energized.

3) Pull out your favorite mindless craft. During our run of The Nutcracker one can find dancers sitting on the pt room floor, make-up half finished, surrounded by crayons and Nutcracker themed coloring pages. Sometimes it helps to focus on staying within the lines rather than worry about (enter favorite performance nightmare here). Crocheting also does the trick. And these coloring books are awesome.

4. Take a shower. A hot shower before a show is like magic. It’s warming, relaxing and makes hair easier to twist. It’s a great way to “reset” and freshen up before going on stage.

5) Give yourself lots of makeup time. For me, putting on my stage makeup is like a meditation. Doing a clean job helps me feel prepared and beautiful and centered in my character. Allowing lots of time minimizes smudges and spills and the stress of sticky eyelash situations.


For more tips and tricks, head over here.

all photos by Mahallia Ward.

tips & tricks

Labor day parties have been had and hungover, the first brisk evening of the season greeted us last night here in RI, and like it or not we are more than a week into September.  Do you know what that means?  Back to school ballet!  With the new season fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite tips and tricks for making studio life a bit easier.


1. Bent Bobby Pins.  To create Wendy Darling’s intricate braided hairstyle for Peter Pan last season, mucho de bobby pins were stuck into my head.  The only thing was, the pesky little braids kept slipping out from under those teeny metal mouths.  Thank goodness my dressing room buddy/long time role model, Emily Bromberg of Miami City Ballet, showed me this trick.  We took all of my bobby pins and bent them a bit in the middle, creating a slight arch that tightens the middle of the pin and makes it very difficult for hair to slip through.  If you have straight hair light mine, this trick is especially helpful!  The design also works even better if you use the pins the way they are actually supposed to be used, flat side up, contrary to popular belief that the ridged side sits on top.


2. Rescue Remedy Spray.  I have never been a nervous dancer.  Save for my one experience doing Solo Girl in Agon two seasons ago, stage fright has kept its distance from me throughout my entire dancing career, which I credit mostly to my competition-baby past.  But even though I’m not freaking out, throwing up or losing sleep before a big performance, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate a little extra relaxation prior to hitting the stage.  A few of my friends swear by Bach’s Rescue Remedy, and last season I finally gave in and decided to try it.  I was amazed by how much more control I felt on stage!  My pirouettes were smoother and my cheeks were much less shaky- a strange side effect to being tense that I never thought I’d get rid of.  A few spritzes on the tongue 20 minutes before a performance, and you’re cool as a cucumber!  Just don’t go overboard- this stuff does contain a small amount of alcohol, and nobody wants to be drunk in a tutu…pick it up at Whole Foods or any health food store.


3. 2nd Skin Squares.  These little puppies save my life when blister or corn disasters strike.  They are technically burn pads, but these rubbery blue squares work wonders for all types of raw ballerina foot ailments.  And they are super cheap on Amazon.  Grab a tub of these and you’ll be the most popular girl in the locker room.


4. The Tights Bra.  There is no way to make this thing look attractive, but boy does it make magic happen.  For bustier bunheads like myself, the average leotard just does not offer adequate support.  Take an old(ish, but not too stretched out) pair of tights and cut off the legs, leaving yourself a bit of length to work with.  Following the shape of your favorite leotard neckline, cut out the top of your bra, using the crotch area as a head hole.   Remember to be careful, those straps will thin out as soon as you put it on, so always go slightly thicker than you’d like.  Pop this guy on underneath your leotard and BOOM.  Sturdier bust.  Those babies are down for the count.  You’re welcome.