Dancer’s Pose: Ballerinas Cross Train with Yoga

I came to my yoga practice in a fortuitous, off-hand way. I was living in New York City, struggling to make it as a writer, and in between my internship and waiting tables, I’d take dance classes at Dance New Amsterdam, an eclectic studio in Manhattan’s Financial District of all places.

The classes were outstanding, the energy of the studio buzzed as is typical of a NYC dance-haus; I could take modern in all of it’s raw, barefoot glory one day, and then throw my body through the perils of classical ballet class the next. I noticed yoga was also offered at Dance New Amsterdam, and decided, on a whim, to give the class a try.

After I found myself in downward facing dog for the first time at that studio, something in me changed. Something struck a chord; but it was more than that – it was almost like a window I never knew I possessed was opened and a bevy of bluebirds flew in. I was hooked on yoga.

My first yoga teacher was a dancer by trade who moonlighted as a yoga instructor. I know that her choreographic way of teaching was the initial draw for me and certainly the instigator for my yoga-loving lifestyle. So I was interested in exploring the relationship that dancers in the Denver area had with yoga – did they feel the same way I did about it? Did they ever use yoga to cross train, calm their minds, and strengthen their bodies in ways beyond what the ballet barre has to offer?

Half Moon Yoga Studio in Denver’s historic Santa Fe Art District facilitated such an opportunity for Ballet Nouveau Colorado ballerina Sarah Tallman and I. Tallman and I took class together on a sunny spring Monday, and chatted about the influence of yoga on her as a dancer after our chi was aligned and our spirits were chilled.  Tallman provided a really beautiful insight into the influence of yoga on a professional dancer:

How long have you been practicing yoga?

I started practicing yoga at a summer program 16 years ago. As part of our training, yoga was offered 2 days a week at 6:30am! I realized very quickly how wonderful the practice was, and how it helped to ground my body and focus my mind for a full day of classes and rehearsals.

How does yoga compare/contrast with dance?
Yoga and dance are similar in that both are focused in finding power in the body through exercises that help to elongate, and align the physical body, as well as to  create as much symmetry and balance. Yoga has an obvious spiritual side, while my experience in dance has an uncanny human aspect.  The non-competitive nature of yoga is an excellent diversion for anybody working in a competitive world.

In what ways do you find yoga beneficial to your mind and body as a professional dancer?

As a ballerina, yoga is a perfect cross-training practice. Using my body in a different way allows me to access my muscles  more efficiently, thereby positively affecting my ongoing training and performance  as a dancer. I’m particularly fond of hip openers that help me to access turn-out, and shoulder and back strengthening poses that help me as a partner. Yin yoga is a great class for particularly stressful rehearsal periods. Stretching deeply into the fascia of the muscle is bliss for a dancer!

The spiritual aspects of yoga help me to stay focused in my job. The breathing techniques in yoga enhance my performance as a dancer, and help my mind and body to stay calm, which is essential for strength, and performance management. If I’m dancing a particularly stressful role, or physically demanding role ( like Rock Ballets!) I know I can slow my heart rate and stay strong throughout the performance. Yoga is also a great reminder of how much power I truly have in my body, and how much or how little energy I need to use in rehearsal and performance. Economy of movement and energy is hugely important for a dancer.

Tallman was absolutely inspirational to take class with, and her take on yoga is something the studio’s owners, Elise Fabricant and Jared David Paul, would likely agree with. The duo started this community art and yoga studio after inspiration struck during a backpacking trip in the Himalayas of Nepal.

Paul is an artist and Fabricant a yogini, but both hold a very peaceful demeanor and above all else,  a strong respect for building a community, cultivating positive energy, and bringing peace through the combination of artistic expression and yogic philosophy. The walls in the yoga studio are covered in artwork and lack mirrors – providing a truly special space where those practicing can deeply focus, meditate, and enjoy the moment.

Classes are intimate, cultivating a unique opportunity in a metropolis like Denver to really get to know the yoga teachers and fellow yoginis. Additionally, Half Moon offers classes for an astoundingly affordable $10, showcasing that this studio is wholeheartedly committed to keeping yoga available to anyone in the community who wants to participate. With a wide variety of class styles, from prenatal to dharma, hatha to vinyasa, Half Moon is the dream studio we all wish was in Denver but just didn’t know about yet.

Check out Half Moon Yoga Studio’s blog for information on upcoming workshops, thoughts on meditation, and loads of other inspirational tidbits. During First Friday art walks, Half Moon has free class in the studio space, providing a truly interactive way to jumpstart your good juju before making the rounds to surrounding galleries and taco joints.

This First Friday, April 6, is the perfect opportunity to hop into crow pose in this funky space. And don’t miss Sarah Tallman and her fellow om-shanti-om-chanting dancers in BNC’s Rock Ballets the following weekend at the Performing Arts Complex at PCS, Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. With all of this goodness flowing around the city of Denver, your artistic chakras are sure to align.


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