5 Things Dancers Do to Stay Strong

5 Things Dancers Do to Stay Strong

Our dancers are back to the studio – and to peak performance shape – after summer break. Here, five company members share the healthy habits that keep them en pointe through eight-hour dance days.

5 Things Dancers Do to Stay StrongJulia Erickson, principal dancer

“Dancers have to stretch as a practice, obviously, but it’s also important to work out the kinks that remain even once you feel “stretched out.” I would call it opening up areas of connective tissue tension. For example, I use these things called Yamuna balls, which are little half domes that you stand on. You put them on various points on your foot and stand on them for a total of, maybe, five minutes. It basically helps release things throughout your entire body. It becomes a part of your practice. It’s really easy and it becomes very empowering. I think a lot of chronic health issues show up as a result of neglect. The more you can open stuff up and release little things that are habitually bound down – you’re caring for yourself. Just like anything else – with diet, with saving money – it’s incremental change. It becomes addictive because you realize how good it is for you and how much better you feel once you do it.”




Alexandra Kochis, principal dancer

“I think that one of my most important healthy daily regimes is the simple act of getting out, getting moving and getting sweating at least once everyday. Taking morning ballet class is the starting point of most of my days and the hour and a half of introspective time reserved solely for me to focus on my own body and my connectedness to it is a luxury for which I am incredibly grateful. On the days when I don’t get out and do something that gets my blood pumping, I feel just a little less present. And, though sometimes it takes a bit of cajoling to get up the motivation to take that hike or get to the pool, I always feel glad that I did and my body and outlook on life are the better for it.”






Luca Sbrizzi, principal dancer

“I’m one of those dancers that is constantly thinking about how to recover quicker, feel less sore, release tight muscles  – in the studio but especially at home. I have dozens of recovery tools from balls, rollers, massagers, etc. But there is one that I always come back to. It’s called a yantra mat. It’s an acupressure mat. It was a Christmas gift from a former PBT dancer. It became a staple during my long and stressful back injury and recovery. And I still use it consistently. Not only does it help me with back pain, but it reduces stress, improves circulation and lowers blood pressure.  It’s truly a wonder. I noticed that if I lay on it for just 10 minutes it will actually give me a boost of energy, but if I lay on it for 30-40 minutes it will relax me like nothing else will. It’s slightly painful to use at first, but once you pass that stage you will notice amazing results.”





Joanna Schmidt, corps de ballet dancer

“Maintaining good posture is easy to forget about but, as a dancer, it’s a necessity. I remember as a student, my ballet teachers would walk by me and pull my shoulders back even when I wasn’t in class. I try to think about the way I carry myself even when I’m not dancing. Having good posture takes pressure off of your bones and ligaments, engages and tones your abdominals, and it’s even been proven to put you in a better mood! Of course I slouch sometimes, but then I think of how great Audrey Hepburn always looked and I’m motivated again.”






Cooper Verona, corps de ballet dancer

“There are so many workout and diet theories out there; it’s confusing!  And we all just want to be told the absolute perfect thing we can do. That’s not gonna happen. So, I think the one thing people can learn from dancers is to listen to their own bodies more. Knowledge of how your body works helps a ton, but common sense usually prevails.  Also, drink lots of water.  Seriously, it’s the cure to everything. And no one drinks enough.”








Interested in more tips for training like a dancer? Sign up for a PBT School Community Division ballet, conditioning or dance fitness class today!

The Perfect Fit: Julia Erickson’s Pointe Shoe Process

A dazzling pointe shoe takes the place of the traditional glass slipper when PBT’s Prince searches fair and wide for his perfect match. Even outside the fairytale, finding the perfect pointe shoe fit is a Cinderella story unto itself  in the reality of a professional ballerina.

When a ballerina first unwraps a pair of brand-new pointe shoes, they won’t remain that way for long. To the untrained eye, it seems absurd to sew, step on and scratch a flawless new pair of pink satin pointe shoes. But, achieving that perfect fit is an incredibly individualized process that often entails sewing, super glue, specifications and even arm strength.

Here, PBT Principal Julia Erickson shares her tricks for perfecting her pointe shoes.

Julia Erickson, PBT Principal Dancer

Current Pointe Shoe Style: Gaynor Minden, Size 10.24m

First Pair of Pointe Shoes:  Bloch Supremas

Design Customizations:
-Reinforcing material sewn into arch of shoe 
-Sides cut down (to show the shape of the foot)

Pointe Shoe Rotation: 6-8 pairs of prepared shoes with few retirees due to the durability of the shoe

Tools of the Trade: blue handy wipes, elasticized ribbons, toe spacers

Since PBT Principal Julia Erickson switched to Gaynor Minden, she’s dropped significant time from her pointe shoe prep.  And, amid an average eight-hour rehearsal day, every minute is precious.

The ballet equivalent of high-tech equipment, Gaynor Minden uses high-tech polymers to construct the shank (sole of the shoe) and box (hard toe of the shoe) as opposed to the layers of papers, fabrics and glue traditionally used to handcraft pointe shoes.

“I think that these are the evolution (of pointe shoes). Gaynors distribute the support, because of the material….Honestly, I think these extend the life of my career,” said Erickson, adding that the shoes provide additional support and comfort for chronic arthritis in her second metatarsal.

With her previous style of shoes, Erickson used to cut the inside shank (or sole) at the arch of her foot, but her new style doesn’t require that sort of tailoring. Sewing on new ribbons and loosening them up with some light bending sums up of the extent of hercurrent pointe shoe prep.

“You don’t cut it; it’s designed to bend, she said. “These are very consistently made.”

As a Gaynor Minden artist, Erickson now helps advocate the brand, a fairly new trend in pointe shoe styles, for other professional dancers.

 “I like dancing in them, and they’re so much easier,” Erickson said. “(As professional ballerinas) we are very sensitive to our shoe needs, and we are very particular, kind of Princess and the Pea style….The best shoes are the pair that you’re not thinking about…they’re a vehicle for you to be the best dancer you can be.”

The Perfect Fit: Christine Schwaner’s Pointe Shoe Process

A dazzling pointe shoe takes the place of the traditional glass slipper when PBT’s prince searches fair and wide for his perfect match. Even outside the fairytale, finding the perfect pointe shoe fit is a Cinderella story unto itself  in the reality of a professional ballerina.

When a ballerina first unwraps a pair of brand-new pointe shoes, they won’t remain that way for long. To the untrained eye, it seems absurd to sew, step on and scratch a flawless new pair of pink satin pointe shoes. But, achieving that perfect fit is an incredibly individualized process that often entails sewing, super glue, specifications and even arm strength.

Here, PBT Principal Christine Schwaner shares her tricks for perfecting her pointe shoes.

Christine Schwaner, PBT Principal Dancer

Current Pointe Shoe Style:  Freed Maltese Cross, Size 4.5

First Pair of Pointe Shoes:  A Brazilian pointe shoe followed by Chacott’s, her first pair of pointe shoes in the U.S.

Design Customizations:  Longer vamp (length from toe to opening of shoe), an arc-shaped side cut, higher heel extension (to keep the shoe on the foot)

Pointe Shoe Rotation: 2 pairs of prepared pointe shoes with 4-5 new pairs a week

Tools of the Trade:  Hot glue, scissors, hand-sewn ribbons & elastic, Ouch Pouch toe pads

Although pointe shoe preparations are an extremely personal process, PBT Principal Christine Schwaner does entrust one important step to her husband, PBT Soloist Alexandre Silva.

Since she orders shoes with the hardest shank – or sole – strength available, Schwaner calls on her husband to contribute some arm strength. With her guidance, he cuts the shank where it hits the arch of her foot to make sure “the point breaks in the right spot.”

Before cutting, Schwaner usually preps each pair with some hot glue in the toe to extend the life of the shoe. Schwaner finishes up by sewing elastics into her ribbons for performances, and banging the box of the shoes on a hard surface to muffle tapping.

“It’s very time consuming,” she said. “I don’t remember watching TV without having a pointe shoe in my hand.”

Schwaner’s perfect pointe shoe came with the help of a visiting representative from Freed, who gave her a one-on-one fitting at PBT.

“She personalized the pointe shoes. That was a bonus,” she said. “I think pointe shoes are just beautiful. It still amazes me that how we train ourselves to go on the tiptoe of the foot…how graceful you have to be.”

For Schwaner, the pointe shoe acts in tandem with the costumes, makeup and choreography onstage.

“It’s all involved to build the role,” she said. “The pointe shoe, for me, is like the floor. It’s your partner as well. You count on that…I need to have that connection. It’s become very personal that way….Once they’re good to me, I’m very loyal.”


The Perfect Fit: How Alexandra Kochis Breaks in her Pointe Shoes

When a ballerina unwraps a shiny new pair of pointe shoes, they won’t stay that way for long. To the untrained eye, it seems absurd to sew, step on and scratch a satiny pair of $80+ shoes. But for a ballerina, finding the perfect pointe shoe is a Cinderella story of sorts. It starts with choosing a style and manufacturer, like Freed, Capezio or Gaynor Minden, that fits the shape of her foot. Next, comes some DIY refinement. Each ballerina must figure out how to break in her pointe shoes to customize her fit and support her personal dancing style. It’s an incredibly individualized process that often entails sewing, super glue and even arm strength. Here, PBT Principal Dancer Alexandra Kochis takes us through her process.

Septime Webre's Cinderella
Artists: Alexandra Kochis & Christopher Budzynski | Photo by: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis, PBT Principal dancer

Current Pointe Shoe Style: Freeds, Maker U, Size 4

First Pair of Pointe Shoes: Capezio Contempras, Size 1c

Retired Pointe Shoes: Average 50 pairs a season  

Order Specifications:
-No X (for narrow width)
-Size 4 with heel pin (to make them ¼ size bigger)
-Sides cut down (to show the shape of the foot)
-Elastic drawstring and U-shaped vamp

Tools of the Trade: Shellac, superglue, blue handy wipes, construction-strength tin snips, needle & crochet thread, hand-sewn flexer ribbons

Organization System: Kochis names each pair in alphabetized order based on different themes (fruit, candy, etc.)  

Somewhere in London, at the Freed pointe shoe factory, there is a maker who hand crafts each pair of Alexandra Kochis’ Maker U pointe shoes.

“It’s a really old-school industry; it’s sort of a labor of love,” Kochis said of the traditionally hand-made craft, which requires six-month lead time for ordering.

But despite the personalized care, each time Kochis unwraps a new pair of pointe shoes, they’re likely to vary slightly from other pairs of the same style. That’s why she’s developed her own roughly 10-step process to personally tailor each pair to her exact preferences.

Starting with a basic, stock-strength shanked shoe, Kochis uses utility-strength scissors to cut the shank – or sole of the pointe shoe – where it hits the arch of her foot for flexibility. Kochis then takes up needle and thread to sew elastics to her ribbons and darn around the toe, enclosing the platform with a circle of small stitches. This creates resistance and keeps her evenly balanced on the box of her shoes.

“It evens out every pair. It gives me a real platform to work on,” she said.

As her shoes break in from use, Kochis sprays shellac and applies super glue inside the pointe shoe to reinforce high-stress areas.

“I like them soft, so I’ll wear them a lot longer,” she said. “When it’s super hard, I feel kind of out of touch with the floor.”

Leaving the satin on the toe’s platform to wear on its own, Kochis scrapes the bottoms with an old-fashioned cobbler’s leather scraper to make the shoes less slippery. Before sliding in her feet, Kochis wraps her toes in blue handy wipes for padding.

Kochis usually spends an hour a week to break in and maintain a rotation of 12-14 pairs of pointe shoes to choose from for rehearsals and performances. She chooses pointe shoes based on the choreography, going for a softer pair for jumps, for example, and a harder pair for turns.

For now at least, Kochis has achieved her perfect pointe shoe fit. She hasn’t altered her order for nearly 10 years.

“In ballet, your feet are like your hands, you have to be able to have the most tactility and control onstage…your shoe hopefully will be like a natural continuation of your foot…When you have that style…you covet those shoes.”

Here is her process in pictures:

 How to break in pointe shoes - Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Alexandra Kochis
















The Perfect Fit: Principals Share Secrets to Pointe Shoe Prep

Dancer: JoAnna Schmidt | Photo: Aimee DiAndrea  

A dazzling pointe shoe takes the place of the traditional glass slipper when PBT’s Prince searches fair and wide for his perfect match. Even outside the fairytale, finding the perfect pointe shoe fit is a Cinderella story unto itself  in the reality of a professional ballerina. Here, PBT’s three principal ballerinas share their tricks for perfecting their pointe shoes. Read more here:

Julia Erickson
Alexandra Kochis
Christine Schwaner  

A Day in the Life of PBT Principal Julia Erickson


Easily qualifying as the polar opposite of a desk job, the typical work day of a dancer entails a full day on their feet – or toes –  either stretching, warming up or dancing during rehearsal.  Leading up to a mixed repertoire production like PBT’s Unspoken, the rehearsal day also brings a shuffling of choreographic styles throughout the day. Generally, PBT dancers begin the day with company class and continue with six hours of rehearsal in the weeks leading up to the performance.  Here, PBT Principal Julia Erickson shares some glimpses into her daily routine and perspective on Unspoken.

Breakfast – 7:30 a.m.

Today’s breakfast consists of toast with nut butter and ricotta cheese that Julia describes as one “big concoction.”

“I can’t just eat something plain; it’s kind of in my nature to doctor something up. I like doing that because it’s healthy carbs…complete protein, and some healthy fats,” Julia said, adding that she also starts the morning with a few vitamins washed down with a mixture of water and tumeric, a natural anti-inflammatory.  “As dancers we are always seeking out ways to benefit our performance and make ourselves a little bit healthier and stronger.”

Daily Ballet Class – 9:15-10:45 a.m.
Every  day, PBT dancers begin their morning with a two-hour ballet technique class, where dancers warm up their bodies with barre and center work.

“We work really hard in class, but it’s also a time to warm up for your day and just do what you need to do. It’s a time sometimes to push hard but other times to ebb back a little bit, so it’s really up to the individual dancer to be able to gauge what they need to do in class. But, it’s fundamental.”

Serenade Rehearsal – 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“Now, class is over and rehearsal’s about to begin. The first rehearsal is Serenade. It’s a Balanchine ballet, it’s neo-classical, and we wear these long tulle skirts,” Julia said.

Snack Breaks

“There’s a lot of hurry up and go in your average rehearsal day, so we have to do a lot of eating on the run,” Julia said.  “The foods that I choose to eat throughout the day, I choose mainly  because they’re high-energy foods, but also they’re not going to weigh me down too much…My blood is really needed to go to my brain and my muscles throughout the rehearsal day, so I think it’s important that the food that I eat supports that. So I’ll eat yogurt, fruit, a lot of nuts, my own nutrition bar that I developed for this express purpose, crackers…I experiment a lot, but it’s always usually in the mini meal form, that way I can eat something and be digesting it while I’m dancing and it’s not a problem.”

Jardin Aux Lilas Rehearsal – 12:30-2 p.m.

“It’s more of an Edwardian kind of staid, undercurrent of emotion,” Julia said. “There is a plot…it’s basically about unrequited love. I play the other woman, or I think my official title is An Episode from His Past. him being the gentleman. You’ll see….if you come to the show!”


“Throughout the day I’ll drink a lot of water…sometimes I’ll add some Emergen-C or some sort of electrolyte tab or coconut water to my water just to replenish all of the potassium and electrolytes that are leaving my body because I’m sweating so much,” she said. “It also, I think, encourages me to drink more water, which is vital for muscle recovery and all of that.”

Lunch + Crosstraining – 2-3 p.m.

“For our break, I generally just put my feet up. I’ll eat a small meal, and start warming up for the next rehearsal usually about 20 minutes before it starts. If I do want to go out, if I have an easier day, I’ll go out and get a tea or a coffee. But, it’s usually just a moment to recoup,” she said. “I also do Pilates and Gyrotonic a few times a week as a supplemental cross training for ballet, because they’re both really helpful modalities. Today, I actually did Pilates, which I wouldn’t be able to do that every day, but it’s a nice break in that it re-centers you and helps you structurally, helps you get centered and strong…. Even though it’s a sacrifice to use my lunch hour to do it, it’s absolutely worthwhile.”

Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes Rehearsal 

“It’s an incredible piece of music that we’re dancing to…it’s very playful, but very complicated musically. It’s a very intelligent ballet; I mean, Mark Morris is an incredibly intelligent choreographer. It’s a smart person’s ballet. It’s challenging to the dancer and the viewer, and there are a lot of interesting patterns going on, patterns within the music and themes that he creates for his dance. It’s very fun and very playful,” Julia said. “There’s a lot of awareness going on between me and the people that I’m dancing with onstage. And I like that, because ultimately dance is about communicating with people you’re dancing with and with the audience, so I think Mark Morris really gets that.”

Pointe Shoe Maintenance

Much of a female dancer’s day focuses on caring for and adjusting their pointe shoes for the best support for their feet. Dancers also switch and sew ribbons three to four times a week from their old to new pointe shoes as they wear out.

“Throughout the day we have to change our pointe shoes, because they get sweaty and they get malleable, and you need support, so you need to change them….So I have a big bag of pointe shoes. I’m constantly changing the padding in them too to keep your feet as healthy as possible,“ she said. “I use these handy wipes that people use in their kitchen as a toe padding. And I also use little toe spacers just to keep my toes aligned in the box of the pointe shoe.”

Rehearsing 3 Styles in One Day

“I love dancing a mixed rep. I mean it’s challenging for a dancer, because you can’t just be into a certain type of port de bras or a certain stylistic approach and then keep doing that the entire evening. You have to take it one ballet at a time. I think it’s a welcome challenge for dancers…it’s a great combination of choreographers’ works, so it’s fulfilling as a dancer to be able to do so many different styles in one evening,” Julia said. You have to recalculate how you’re going to execute a port de bras. When we’re doing the Mark Morris ballet, our hand is straighter; we’re leading from the middle finger more. When we’re doing a Balanchine ballet, there’s more play in the hand and more curvature in the finger. It’s just the different choreographers’ styles. I think that once a piece of choreography is in your body, there’s a cuing that happens with the music, so we know.”

End of the Day –  6 p.m.
After  stretching, Julia usually heads home to a shower, dinner and more stretching before unwinding  for the night. 

“I’m stretching all the time. It’s kind of something that we love to do…I love to listen to music and cook. That is a great release for me. It doesn’t have anything to do with dancing, although it is kind of like kitchen choreography, I think…It’s a nice way to take a breath and then you have something to show for it that’s hopefully delicious…I just kind of experiment; there’s never a recipe really, or if there is, I usually stray from it,” Julia said, adding that she cooks with lots of kale and sweet potatoes.


 A Snapshot of Julia’s Day 





PBT’s Danielle Downey Stays on Pointe for the Cancan

Sponsors address a theater of audience members
Moulin Rouge - The Ballet Studio Rehearsal.jpg

Swishing skirts, high-kicking choreography…and the rond de jambe? Surprisingly, the chorus line staple, the Cancan, incorporates classical ballet influences from the quick circles of the lower leg to the flying splits of the grande ecart. Today, all Moulin Rouge® performers must bring a solid base in classical ballet training. PBT dancer Danielle Downey offers her take on staying on pointe for Moulin Rouge®  – The Ballet.

By Danielle Downey 

Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet features high kicking legs, frilly skirts, and the familiar sounds of beautiful Parisian music. It comes with no surprise the Moulin Rouge® was the birthplace of the modern Cancan dance. The Cancan is a very high energy dance that was performed on the stage of Moulin Rouge. At the time, the choreography was considered scandalous and seductive. Today the Cancan is recognized worldwide as an evolved form of entertainment, but the choreography used in Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet includes many iconic choreographic moves that were performed on the actual Moulin Rouge® stage.

As a member of the corps de ballet, I have been spent many years training to dance in unison with other dancers and stand in a perfectly straight line. I thought these skills would prepare me well for the Cancan, but it proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated.

I consider myself to be one of the more flexible dancers, but every rehearsal, choreographer Jorden Morris reminds us that our legs aren’t high enough until we are kicking our noses. When I saw a picture of another one of his Cancan dancers doing just that, I started stretching my hamstrings multiple times throughout the rehearsal days.

The notorious Cancan music brings with it an effortless energy, but its fast tempo has been one of my biggest battles as a tall dancer. Getting my legs all the way up (to my nose!?…) and back down in time with the music is quite a challenge. We are also in pointe shoes, which is an added element of difficultly that the dancers in the cabaret most likely didn’t have to deal with. Getting on and off of pointe with every kick takes a little extra time and coordination, but I think it is aesthetically appealing and if done right could make our legs look longer.

We have spent many hours and weeks perfecting our lines, our kicks, and the infamous pinwheel, but I am now beginning to incorporate the performance aspect of it in the way I think a cabaret showgirl would present herself at the Moulin Rouge®. I think that once we trade our mesh practice skirts for the costumes, the bright lights above the stage and the shaking of big frilly petticoat skirts will better help us transform into Cancan girls of the Moulin Rouge®.

The Cancan show in Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet is one of my favorite scenes in the performance. I really hope that when the audience watches this fun and flirty scene of kicks, screams, and top hats, that they will feel transported from the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh to the Moulin Rouge® in Paris.

In the spirit of the Moulin Rouge of Paris, Moulin Rouge® is a registered trademark of Moulin Rouge S.A.

Happy New Year! 5 Dancer Resolutions for 2013

From dance to diet, five PBT dancers share the goals they’re striving for in the New Year:

Julia Erickson

“Worry less, Love more, Try new restaurants, Make up new Barre flavors and Give myself more free time!”

JoAnna Schmidt

“I made a declaration that this year my resolution would be not to sugar coat the things I say so much. It’s a bad habit of mine and I want to be more straight forward instead.”

Amanda Cochrane

“My resolution for the year is to stretch more. (Maybe it will make my cancan kicks higher for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet!)”

Joe Parr

“To never lose sight or the order of my priorities which are faith, family, and ballet. And my second one is to not miss any more action on stage!”

Corey Bourbonniere
“For the New Year, I gave up soda!”

Eva Trapp’s “Everything Lovely About Fall Stew”

On a recent rainy Fall evening, PBT Soloist Eva Trapp needed a family-style meal to warm up a group of friends during a pumpkin-carving party. The result was Eva’s “Everything Lovely About Fall Stew,” a hearty and healthy blend of pumpkin, squash and fresh veggies.

“It’s a ton of very fall flavors,” Trapp said. “I eat predominantly vegetables just because they’re power foods…(My cooking style) is just super healthy, and I like everything really fresh. I can taste the difference.” For this hearty fall stew, Trapp used peppers from her garden and a variety of fresh, local produce.


-Acorn Squash
-Sweet potatoes
-Green peppers
-1 red pepper
-Vegetable broth
-2 cans of Great Northern beans
-2 cans stewed tomatoes with juice
-1 can pumpkin puree
-Salt & pepper to taste
-1/8 tsp. cinnamon
-Sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Finely chop vegetables and combine with remaining ingredients. Bring stew to a boil and then reduce to simmer for two hours. *Reserve mushrooms and pumpkin until later in the cooking process. Eva served her “Everything Lovely About Fall” stew over orzo pasta with rolls on the side.