By Kalyn Oden, Houston Ballet PR Intern
Let’s talk about Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive’s strength and conditioning program that the dancers participated in this season. This blog will not only give a perspective on the strength and conditioning training the dancers undertake but also about the coach himself.
First, a little about the trainer and his qualifications.
Akihiro Kawasaki is originally from Ibaraki, Japan. Kawasaki began his training in health and fitness while living in Japan and actively playing sports. “I became interested in the strength and conditioning field when I was 19. I have some certifications and a lot of experience before starting work as a strength and conditioning coach,” states Kawasaki. He then wanted to further his education in health and fitness in the United States. While continuing his studies at University of Alabama at Birmingham, graduating with a B.S. in Exercise Science, in the mechanics of the human body and more of the medical side of personal training, he met his wife who had been a professional dancer.
While attending his wife’s performances, he was drawn to the world of ballet. The ballet career path draws individuals who are strong, flexible, demanding, disciplined and hard working professionals. Kawasaki states, “I became especially interested in the mechanics of ballet movements and the partnering skill of male dancers. The way ballet dancers move is more complex and complicated than other sports.” Being introduced to the world of ballet gave him the incentive to study more about the human body and the body’s capability. His knowledge of how the human body works combined with his understanding of the importance of nutrition enable him to provide better care to help keep clients’ bodies healthy and to prevent injuries, along with being able to offer better guidance.
Now I am sure you are wondering, “So, how does this apply to the dancers?”
Kawasaki has created exercises specifically for dancers that will help strengthen the muscles efficiently to prepare them for the strenuous movements on stage. This style of muscle strengthening takes a specific understanding of how dancers’ movements are complex, yet graceful, and demanding. His strength and conditioning classes at Houston Ballet are creative and fun for the dancers to participate in while utilizing resources such as: their own body weight, balance balls, and various sizes of dumbbells, among other resources.
Kawasaki not only instructs the dancers on proper form but also reiterates the importance of nutrition, diet and hydration. Kawasaki begins each session by asking the dancers, “What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner? And how much sleep have you received today?” By asking these questions, he helps the dancers better understand the importance of taking care of themselves by what they eat, the crucial role of rest for the entire body and the best way to take in the necessary nutrients. He also helps keep them motivated to reach their goals and achieve their full potential. One of Kawasaki’s philosophies is, “it is essential for student dancers to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology in order to be able to practice self care, to rehabilitate, and to choose training exercises for their practice and performance in ballet.”
Kawasaki has taught both male and female dancers about the importance of the human body and how to take care of it. This year at Houston Ballet, Kawasaki mainly taught male dancers, or danseurs (as they are known in French). Danseurs have to be able to be powerful and graceful with every move yet “make his female partner look beautiful at the same time.” Kawasaki has designed different exercises for male dancers to improve personal ballet technique and strengthen partnering skills. Kawasaki works with Houston Ballet’s instructors to help the dancers with any weaknesses and to improve dance technique through strength and conditioning.
After the dancers strenuous yet productive session with Kawasaki, he teaches the importance of conditioning, resting the muscles and how to help prevent injuries after exercising. One way of helping the muscles relax is the practice of Yamuna Body Rolling or YBR. YBR is a component of bone stimulation which posits that if the bones are in correct alignment, then the muscle then will function correctly. Having the muscle properly function assists in relieving pain, preventing injuries and reducing unnecessary stress. YBR uses various balls to target specific areas of the body; the balls then become the hands of the therapist. By using the various balls for specific areas of the body, the person’s weight creates the traction, movement and release on the ball. This then results in Yamuna Body Rolling. YBR also compliments the goals of Yoga.
As with any professional sport, these dancers work hard on a daily basis to better themselves in their performances. During the ‘off-season’, the dancers continue to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. They rely on the help of health professionals/trainers such as Kawasaki to reach personal goals, minimize injuries and keep the body healthy. Kawasaki asserts that understanding human physiology will “produce more great, strong and reliable dancers in order to bring the level of Houston Ballet or other ballet companies higher and better.”
Kawasaki always reminds his students, “Where there is a will, there is THE way. This is because it is only your own way — not the same as others. You are the one who opens a door for your path in your future.”