Humans are made to move. Our health, in part, depends on it. Yet, the benefits go well beyond the physical. To move is to take up space in the world, to experience the corporealness and totality of one’s being. It also serves as an emotional release, a form of self-expression that—at times—can feel more pure, more primal, than language. “The body says what words cannot,” mused the modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. Indeed, this is perhaps nowhere more the case than in the general realm of professional dance, where the gestural vocabulary is so powerfully articulate that its effects ripple out, moving mere spectators to catharsis.
Thus, to delve deeper into the relationship between health, wellbeing and movement, we sought out the experts: Lorrin Brubaker, Daisy Jacobson and Nayomi Van Brunt, three principals at L.A. Dance Project. Founded in 2012 by former New York City Ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied, the company is known for its experimental performances and vibrant, often soulful choreography—fertile ground, no doubt, to explore our subject matter.
Below, an edited version of our conversation.
Your jobs are so physically demanding. How do you make sure you are taking adequate care of yourself?
When working any job that is extremely demanding, you have to find time to rest, especially at night. I know that my body needs time to process information and rebuild muscles. Sleep is really the key here. During the day, it is important that I remember to breathe, roll out my muscles and stretch my body. And, of course, I make sure to give my body the nutrients it needs with a balanced breakfast, nutrient-rich snacks and a healthy lunch and dinner.
Though I’m not even half as physically active at the moment as I usually am when I’m working, I still practice many of my rituals to calm my body and mind. Every morning, I take a class and warm up for the day. I’ve been taking ballet classes since I was six. They’re a comfort for me—like a warm blanket. They’re something that gets me ready for my day and makes me feel prepared. I find I feel so much better after I’ve moved. I’m also big into clean skincare, and I love my morning and evening skin rituals.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Dancing has always been a release for my sometimes-crippling anxiety. I suffer from anxiety attacks that started in college at Juilliard. Going to therapy, taking long baths, quality time with my boyfriend and DANCING are my key remedies. Literally, moving through my feelings keeps me sane. When I dance, I feel like what I’m doing is greater than me.
Photo of Nayomi
Photo of Daisy
"Moving through my feelings keeps me sane."
What do you feel when you dance?
Nayomi Van Brunt
When I’m performing, I experience a lot of different emotions: excitement, nerves, peace, joy and adrenaline. I love to be fully present. My favorite part about dancing is the freedom I feel. There are performances where I feel like I’m in a zone. That means not being in my head and letting my body take over. I don’t like performing when I’m overthinking things.
Photo of Lorrin
It depends. When working on technique, I typically focus on perfecting my form. That process, to me, feels very academic and straightforward. When rehearsing, I begin to invest more into the world of the work. Sometimes it can be meditative, other times stressful, and still other times, euphoric. It depends on the choreographer and the work. When it comes to performing, I experience an incredible amount of uneasiness before going on stage. I really try to stay present and invested, but the adrenaline adds a layer of feeling that I can’t describe. It’s somewhere between fear and pleasure.
Performing is pure ecstasy for me! I’m extremely nervous before every show and then BOOM! Once it starts, I feel joyful—as if there’s nowhere else worth being or even thinking about at that moment. Rehearsing can be stressful sometimes, but also the most exciting. We push ourselves by learning new steps or choreography. It is where we connect with our colleagues and dance together. It can also be difficult and tedious at times, but it is so gratifying you help create what was in the choreographer’s mind.
How do you experience the relationship between wellbeing and movement?
I believe it is necessary to move for the sake of wellbeing. Dancing works your brain and your body, simultaneously. When exercising, you only need to think about executing a simple instruction. When dancing, there are thousands of methods to approach each movement so it requires more thinking.
Dancing is definitely a form of self-care. I find I’d be lost without it. It helps me understand both my body and the world around me. I’m nicer to myself when I’m dancing. I can empathize with others when I see them dance. Dancing shows everything, it’s vulnerable and naked. When I’m performing, I feel as though my body is useful and what it’s doing is important. I feel the most beautiful when I dance.
"I feel the most beautiful when I dance."
How do you deal with pain? How do you know when to push through and when to listen to your body?
It’s a fine line, but it’s important to trust your gut feeling. One misjudgment could affect the course of your career. As a dancer, you’re likely to experience some sort of pain on a daily basis. I try to combat it with rest, massages, physical therapy, creams and baths. The natureofthings body balm actually helped manage my soreness while we were performing.
Dancing is all about sensation and self/spacial awareness, so it goes without saying that you must learn to listen to your body. Knowing when to push through pain is personal to everyone. We are all afraid of getting injured. Sometimes you can push through a little bit and you’ll be fine. Other times, that little bit could lead to a severe injury. It’s important to be able to know when to stop. Luckily, at LADP, we have a great physical therapist to communicate with when a problem arises. I don’t believe you should ever ignore pain. I believe you should work with it in a way that is healthy.
It’s important to know the difference between an injury and chronic pain. I learned the hard way through my teen years. Getting injured can be scary and confusing. For me, it’s important to stay calm and be proactive about seeing a physical therapist or massage therapist right away. I encounter small injuries all the time and they are usually from overuse. Sometimes all you need is to rest and recover for a few days.