Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fitness role model du jour: Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso, the Cuban prima ballerina assoluta, was one of the great ballerinas of the 20th century, though she's not so well known in the US because after the revolution in Cuba she wasn't seen much in this country. Her most famous role was Giselle. Here are some clips of her dancing the same entrechat sequence from the second act.

In the first of the clips, filmed in the early 60s, she was 43. In the last she was in her 70s. Still en pointe, still able to keep up with the music, still exquisite. Whenever I think about hanging up my pointe shoes, I remember Alicia Alonso and her incredible career of 50-plus years.

From a fitness standpoint, I think one of the keys to her amazing longevity as a dancer is that for a ballerina she had a very muscular build and feet that were more notable for their strength than their flexibility. This was actually pretty standard in the dance world pre-Balanchine ... and guess what? Those ballerinas had longer careers. These days if a female dancer is still with a company at age 40 it's pretty unusual, but that didn't use to be the case and I'm convinced it's largely because of the current craze for ballerinas with long, thin limbs and hyperextended joints. That kind of body just can't take the repetitive stress of dancing the way a stronger, better aligned body can.

Oh, and did I mention that Alicia Alonso was very nearly blind? That part boggles my mind even more than her age because I am so dependent on my eyesight when I dance. Try balancing on one leg with your eyes closed, and you'll see what I mean. Most people can't do it for more than a few seconds. You can? Great! Now try it on releve, with your working leg in back coupe. And if that's a piece of cake, get out your pointes and knock yourself out. Seriously, I can't even imagine how she did it.