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How Strength Training Helped Dancer Elisa Clark Return to the Stage

How Strength Training Helped Dancer Elisa Clark Return to the Stage
How Strength Training Helped Dancer Elisa Clark Return to the Stage
Elise Clark in ‘L’Allegro’, image by Elaine Mayson Elaine Mayson / Mark Morris Dance Group

When the pandemic strike in March 2020, Elisa Clark stopped using dance course. She experienced retired from comprehensive-time dancing when she left Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2017, right after a occupation that included dancing with the Lar Lubovitch Organization and the Mark Morris Dance Team. Considering the fact that then, her profession has shifted a lot more broadly to instructing, coaching, and directing rehearsals, with scattered freelance performances in amongst. Her past time on phase was in February of 2020 and, like numerous dancers for the duration of the unsure days of darkish theaters, she imagined that probably that’d be it. She was in her 40s, pursuing new endeavors, and why would she want to do pliés about Zoom if she didn’t have to?

But in November 2021, she approved an surprising invitation to return to the stage with the Mark Morris Dance Group for their March 24-27 operate of Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at BAM – a position she hasn’t danced in 10 a long time. The Challenge: she was out of shape. L’Allegro is Morris’ opus – a two-act piece with an hour and forty-five minutes of dancing – and Clark was heading to be hopping into rehearsals with dancers who experienced been having Zoom and in-individual lessons each individual working day for the previous two several years. The resolution: Clark linked with trainers Andrew Schaeffer and Antoine Simmons who transpired to be pursuing a circumstance examine centered on how strength-teaching can aid lengthen a dancer’s job. They skilled her for no cost, 3 times a 7 days, from December 30-March 4, monitoring her progress alongside the way.   

This was no simple endeavor to choose on, emotionally or bodily. Observer spoke with Clark, as properly as with Schaeffer and Simmons, to listen to about the lengths it will take to get again in efficiency-completely ready shape at her age and at this stage of her occupation for a piece as demanding as L’Allegro.

Why did you choose to return to L’Allegro? 

Clark: This was the initial operate of Mark’s that I ever learned and done, and it was also a person of the initial operates of his that I experienced at any time seen live – it is what created me want to sign up for his corporation. It is not always the situation that a dancer has the opportunity to execute a get the job done early in their career, and then the chance to revisit that exact same do the job in the direction of the conclude. This is a comprehensive-circle moment for me for which I am pretty grateful.

Did you have any hesitation about agreeing to do this? 

Clark: I was not sure. I experienced these thoughts of “Can I physically even do it?” “Wouldn’t it be terrific to just sit back and enjoy the exhibit?” But I was hired by the business to assistance with an audition, and revisiting the materials and staying again in the studio with my colleagues, that produced me genuinely want to do this. At the time I agreed, I started off to get fired up and I experienced time to plan how to get again in form. But it also felt challenging.

What form of cross-teaching have you done to keep in condition in the past?

Clark: Typically yoga, I would discover a yoga studio to acquire course in every city we ever toured.  

Why did you determine to do strength-instruction? 

Clark: I talked with a person of my bodily therapists, Marissa Schaeffer [Andrew’s wife], about acquiring back again in shape, and she bought me to look at strength-education. I realized I needed to get back into a plan of using course, but also that I required a great deal extra than that.

Andrew and Antoine, why did you want to get the job done with Elisa? 

Simmons: Andrew and I have talked a ton about the lifestyle of dance and how to introduce what we do into that society. We seriously thought it would be interesting to perform 1 on one particular with a dancer, especially someone who hadn’t danced in a lengthy time or was at the tail end of their career, and introduce toughness instruction to them and see what the outcome would be. Our belief, backed up by substantial study, is that energy education can prolong a dancer’s vocation, as perfectly as avert injury. 

Schaeffer: We also feel that there will be effectiveness added benefits. From a investigate point of view, it’s a methods away from getting out if we can quantify what we think about “performance” to mean and then to see if energy schooling helps 1 execute better. But we do believe that that if dancers are more robust, they will conduct much better. 

How did the coaching get the job done?

Simmons: We started off with an assessment to set a baseline. We produced her do a solitary-leg hop test to see how far she could jump on one leg, we calculated her vertical leap height, had her do a squat endurance exam, and a single-leg relevé stamina take a look at. Then in coaching, I focused a lot more on unilateral, single-leg work and main do the job and Andrew centered additional on standard power-schooling – including large loads and looking at how she could handle it. 

Schaeffer: We know the harm rates for dancers – lower-extremity, knees, ankles – so we realized we had been heading to do much more lessen overall body than higher system. We centered our schooling on what analysis tells us is the most useful for dancers. 

What had been the effects?

Schaeffer: Elisa added 8 inches to her correct leg hop, 7 inches to her left leg. She included about ¾ of an inch to her vertical bounce. She also included a few reps to her relevé endurance test.

Elisa, what was training like for you?

Clark: The lifting of weights was enjoyable to me mainly because it was various. It was a totally diverse entryway into my system – deadlifts, squats keeping a kettlebell, back squats with a barbell. And it was beneficial that there was so significantly conversation with Antoine and Andrew about how all of this supports dancers, and an over-all psychological effectively-becoming method to it all. 

What is your just take away from this expertise? 

Clark: Strength education has aided me experience related and structured, and, in the same way, returning to complete in L’Allegro also lets me to really feel linked and arranged. Experience the connection to other individuals – to my amazing solid mates, crew and staff at MMDG, and to the audience and sensation organized as it relates to dwelling completely in my reason and staying a section of some thing larger than oneself. I have no doubts that the brilliance of L’Allegro will provide some substantially desired healing to every person who ordeals it, no matter if it is euphoric, transcendent, fleeting, or existence-modifying.

What is following this for you? 

Clark: I hope to return to the present I was performing in February of 2020, Happy Hour with Monica Invoice Barnes and Organization. But this education has been extremely effective to my body and my health general, not just for the toughness and endurance it takes to dance L’Allegro, but for educating and for every day existence. I really feel in different ways just walking to the prepare. I’m not sure it’s sustainable to maintain training this way if I’m not dancing entire time, but I’m feeling genuinely excellent physically, and it is just great to know that persons are fascinated in seeking me to dance with them. 

How Strength Training Helped Dancer Elisa Clark Return to the Stage