In the not so distant past, classical dancers were told that activities such as jogging, cycling, lifting weights and even swimming were potentially harmful to their classical line. Fears of 'bulking up the thighs and shoulders were commonly expressed by ballet teachers, and students were warned of the dangers of becoming too 'muscly'.
These are certainly valid concerns in regards to the classical aesthetic, but they now seem a bit dated. Dancers today are far more aware and educated about how to train and which methods to use in order to achieve their desired outcomes.
Cross-training was present from the beginning of my own ballet training, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I was on a youth baseball team as a boy in the US and would go straight from baseball practice to ballet class. I never failed to raise the eyebrows of the ballet teachers and students as I wore my baseball uniform as dance kit for class.
I realise now that I had made a significant connection between the two activities and how they benefited each other. As a direct result of my ballet training, my speed, coordination and flexibility noticeably improved when I played baseball. I also believe that, in return, the sport helped keep me grounded in a masculine physicality at a time when the ballet classes I was participating in were almost completely female.
Early into my career with Birmingham Royal Ballet I was plagued with a series of injuries. Some of these were unavoidable, but others were simply down to poor preparation. My career had stalled and my self-confidence was low. Then, at 25, I discovered boxing training and started working on it seriously, side by side with ballet. The positive results were immediate as my career began to progress again and my injuries became less frequent each following season.
Boxing improved my strength and stamina, but also provided psychological advantages I hadn’t expected. I found new confidence in my physical ability, and no longer worried if I would tire at the end of a pas de deux or fall apart in the 'coda'. Because of my training, I knew I could do what I needed to do, and more. I also discovered that by working on something else physically in my free time, I could return to ballet with a renewed mental vigour.