Text by Evan McKie  

The Ways to Treat My Body Carefully

10th. Issue
Serial Report from Stuttgart by Evan McKie (Principal at The Stuttgart Ballet)

Isadora Duncan was once quoted saying, '"The dancer's body is the luminous manifestation of the soul'' and when referring to her body stated, "My motto - sans limites."  I believe that the amount of work and energy you put into something almost always ends up coming back to you in life. A prime example of this is how people treat their bodies. The body is the vessel which gives us means to live and dancers, especially, are acutely aware of how our anatomies react to different factors.  We are, after all, always expected to not just rehearse but also to perform at the highest level physically possible at any given moment. Most athletes are constantly on the lookout for ways to recognize the body's natural instincts and push beyond its limits. I have always tried to play with my body and what it reacts and responds to. The body is not an easy thing to master because it is alive and always changing but there are some things that I am constantly reminded of in my quest to sync my mind and my anatomy.


If I have been out too late or have not slept, I have to remind myself that my mind has to remain 'positive' while approaching steps and situations otherwise my emotional system becomes too erratic and my dancing and mood suffers. There are often times when we, as dancers, haven't eaten the 'perfect' breakfast and/or we have an ache or a pain that is causing us to feel ''under the weather.''  But it is very possible to train the mind to just relax, stay focused and remember the beautiful reasons ''why'' we dance in the first place. I used to get stressed about auditioning for a new choreographer or preparing for a technically challenging role but I have noticed that the ONE thing that must be in good, stable working order is the mind. A particular coach at The National Ballet of Canada also likes to remind me that when the mind is relaxed then the body often knows what to do by itself. When the mind is stressed or tense, the body can shut down. I do a lot of things to give my mind a break, like watching a stupid TV show, reading a LOT, going for a quiet walk in the or just doing something (anything!) I would never normally do. By doing other creative things outside of the studio, like photography, I can also re-balance my head. At some point in my life I will probably start meditating too for its health benefits.

CONDITIONING of the body.
Everybody has to find what works for them in order to improve as a dancer. Obviously class with a teacher you like is mandatory but most dancers find ways to supplement their training too. Growing up, the only sport I was good at and enjoyed was swimming. (anything with a ball or a puck was fun too but I hated standing around waiting for it to come at me…Honestly, I wanted to do pirouettes instead.) Anyway, I still swim during a lot of my free time and I love to follow that with sauna, steam baths and cold showers. Stuttgart has lots of mineral baths that I like to visit. I love to go to the gym too because it is a different environment for the body to tackle. I do lots of cross-trainer for the ankle-knee-hip alignment and I love to do weights once a week. I used to get injured more often until I discovered that Pilates works very well to strengthen the hard-to-get-to deeper muscles that a dancer like me so desperately needs!  I have a flexible back and hip-area and am quite double-jointed so Pilates (especially on the reformer) turns me into a new person at the barre the next day. Some people like gyrotonics and others love yoga but I enjoy Pilates and how the exercises were created and methodized in such an organic way.

I am a ''foodie''. I go out to eat fairly often and when I am on tour I love to try the new locations in each city. It's interesting to see how the body reacts in Italy while eating pasta, cheese and such compared to the fish, almost no dairy and lots of beef and rice that's part of Japanese cuisine. Each culture has health benefits in it's national cuisine and it's great to be able to enjoy them first-hand. When I am cooking for myself, I try to eat lots of locally-grown bio food. If I have to be in very good physical shape then I spend a lot more time eating chicken, fish and vegetables.  When I danced Nureyev's ''Sleeping Beauty'' or ''Onegin'' for the first time, I often had a whey-protein shake to speed up my body's recovery period and get my muscles ready for the next day of rehearsals. But honestly, I really, really, really LOVE to devour chocolate and sometimes Haribo Gummi-bears when I have a craving!!! I save all the chocolate from fans and friends in a special drawer in the theatre and sometimes I raid it! I don't really eat fried foods that much but when I have time I love to watch cooking shows like ''cupcake wars'' and a German show called ''promi-dinner'' where a bunch of sort-of-famous people get together and cook for each other. Sometimes the meals they make are a disaster!!!! When I throw a dinner party, it often involves a Swiss-raclette because then everybody can cook for themselves right on the table! The most important lesson I've learned is to eat breakfast!! It makes the metabolism go faster and is necessary to get the most out of my mind and body throughout the day.

Because dancers are so aware of what the body feels like when it 'high' or 'low' because of adrenaline or stress, it is common for some to keep looking for ways to satisfy the need to either be really 'in control' of the body or really ''out of control…''  I must say that I think drugs for anybody are a risky business that rarely turns out well in the end. We have all seen dancers of the past and even some in the present who have been over-stimulated and lose themselves at a certain point. It is not my business to comment on them except to wish them well for the future. As far as alcohol goes, I can drink a lot being a pretty big guy and I have had some crazy experiences, especially in Russia, but I don't drink all the time. My preference is a really good Gin Tonic or a heavy, full-bodied red wine and my muscles are ok with that too if I don't drink every day. Caffeine is a big part of my life but I really doubt that coffee is good for athletes. If I drink too much coffee, I am happy but my body behaves erratically for a couple of hours which isn't great. I love green tea…all day, everyday and I like how it helps me focus and I suppose it is a great way to detox. :) I really don't like to take too much ibuprofen because it is not good for tendon-health but every now and then it is necessary to perform. I take a lot of echinacea for the immune system and vitamin C for recovery of the muscles!

WATCHING and learning.
I get the best ideas about how to treat my body (and how not to) from other people! Watching how friends move in class or how athletes warm up before a game or race is interesting to me. Everybody has different needs but we can learn a lot from each other. I, for one, don't use body-rollers or things like that very much because I am rarely THAT tight. I spend time doing stabilizing exercises for my feet, ankles, shoulders and anything that is flexible. I watch how my favorite physio-therapists massage me and ask them to describe how and what they are doing so I have a clearer idea of how to manipulate my own body if I am ever alone somewhere and away from the hands of a masseur. I also find that my technique has always improved from watching some of my favorite dancers in class over the years. We are all trying to find ways to treat our bodies with respect while getting more out of them. It is a daily task but one that can bring many rewards.

evan.jpg Evan McKie

Evan McKie is a Principal Dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet and a resident guest artist with the National Ballet of Canada. He has performed with the Paris Opera Ballet, The Tokyo Ballet, Ballet de Santiago de Chile and Universal Ballet in Seoul.
McKie is Canadian and was born in Toronto in 1983. He has been nominated for Dance Europe Magazine's 'critics choice' list many times over the past ten years and is also the recipient of the ApuliArte Prize for artistic achievement.
McKie is also a visual artist and a part-time writer. He is an honorary advisory board member at Dance Magazine, US.
Evan is thrilled to be a spokesperson for the Chacott brand.

Twitter http://twitter.com/EVANMcKIE
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