A Day in the Life of PBT Principal Julia Erickson
Easily qualifying as the polar opposite of a desk job, the typical work day of a dancer entails a full day on their feet – or toes – either stretching, warming up or dancing during rehearsal. Leading up to a mixed repertoire production like PBT’s Unspoken, the rehearsal day also brings a shuffling of choreographic styles throughout the day. Generally, PBT dancers begin the day with company class and continue with six hours of rehearsal in the weeks leading up to the performance. Here, PBT Principal Julia Erickson shares some glimpses into her daily routine and perspective on Unspoken.
Breakfast – 7:30 a.m.
Today’s breakfast consists of toast with nut butter and ricotta cheese that Julia describes as one “big concoction.”
“I can’t just eat something plain; it’s kind of in my nature to doctor something up. I like doing that because it’s healthy carbs…complete protein, and some healthy fats,” Julia said, adding that she also starts the morning with a few vitamins washed down with a mixture of water and tumeric, a natural anti-inflammatory. “As dancers we are always seeking out ways to benefit our performance and make ourselves a little bit healthier and stronger.”
Daily Ballet Class – 9:15-10:45 a.m.
Every day, PBT dancers begin their morning with a two-hour ballet technique class, where dancers warm up their bodies with barre and center work.
“We work really hard in class, but it’s also a time to warm up for your day and just do what you need to do. It’s a time sometimes to push hard but other times to ebb back a little bit, so it’s really up to the individual dancer to be able to gauge what they need to do in class. But, it’s fundamental.”
Serenade Rehearsal – 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
“Now, class is over and rehearsal’s about to begin. The first rehearsal is Serenade. It’s a Balanchine ballet, it’s neo-classical, and we wear these long tulle skirts,” Julia said.
“There’s a lot of hurry up and go in your average rehearsal day, so we have to do a lot of eating on the run,” Julia said. “The foods that I choose to eat throughout the day, I choose mainly because they’re high-energy foods, but also they’re not going to weigh me down too much…My blood is really needed to go to my brain and my muscles throughout the rehearsal day, so I think it’s important that the food that I eat supports that. So I’ll eat yogurt, fruit, a lot of nuts, my own nutrition bar that I developed for this express purpose, crackers…I experiment a lot, but it’s always usually in the mini meal form, that way I can eat something and be digesting it while I’m dancing and it’s not a problem.”
Jardin Aux Lilas Rehearsal – 12:30-2 p.m.
“It’s more of an Edwardian kind of staid, undercurrent of emotion,” Julia said. “There is a plot…it’s basically about unrequited love. I play the other woman, or I think my official title is An Episode from His Past. him being the gentleman. You’ll see….if you come to the show!”
“Throughout the day I’ll drink a lot of water…sometimes I’ll add some Emergen-C or some sort of electrolyte tab or coconut water to my water just to replenish all of the potassium and electrolytes that are leaving my body because I’m sweating so much,” she said. “It also, I think, encourages me to drink more water, which is vital for muscle recovery and all of that.”
Lunch + Crosstraining – 2-3 p.m.
“For our break, I generally just put my feet up. I’ll eat a small meal, and start warming up for the next rehearsal usually about 20 minutes before it starts. If I do want to go out, if I have an easier day, I’ll go out and get a tea or a coffee. But, it’s usually just a moment to recoup,” she said. “I also do Pilates and Gyrotonic a few times a week as a supplemental cross training for ballet, because they’re both really helpful modalities. Today, I actually did Pilates, which I wouldn’t be able to do that every day, but it’s a nice break in that it re-centers you and helps you structurally, helps you get centered and strong…. Even though it’s a sacrifice to use my lunch hour to do it, it’s absolutely worthwhile.”
Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes Rehearsal
“It’s an incredible piece of music that we’re dancing to…it’s very playful, but very complicated musically. It’s a very intelligent ballet; I mean, Mark Morris is an incredibly intelligent choreographer. It’s a smart person’s ballet. It’s challenging to the dancer and the viewer, and there are a lot of interesting patterns going on, patterns within the music and themes that he creates for his dance. It’s very fun and very playful,” Julia said. “There’s a lot of awareness going on between me and the people that I’m dancing with onstage. And I like that, because ultimately dance is about communicating with people you’re dancing with and with the audience, so I think Mark Morris really gets that.”
Pointe Shoe Maintenance
Much of a female dancer’s day focuses on caring for and adjusting their pointe shoes for the best support for their feet. Dancers also switch and sew ribbons three to four times a week from their old to new pointe shoes as they wear out.
“Throughout the day we have to change our pointe shoes, because they get sweaty and they get malleable, and you need support, so you need to change them….So I have a big bag of pointe shoes. I’m constantly changing the padding in them too to keep your feet as healthy as possible,“ she said. “I use these handy wipes that people use in their kitchen as a toe padding. And I also use little toe spacers just to keep my toes aligned in the box of the pointe shoe.”
Rehearsing 3 Styles in One Day
“I love dancing a mixed rep. I mean it’s challenging for a dancer, because you can’t just be into a certain type of port de bras or a certain stylistic approach and then keep doing that the entire evening. You have to take it one ballet at a time. I think it’s a welcome challenge for dancers…it’s a great combination of choreographers’ works, so it’s fulfilling as a dancer to be able to do so many different styles in one evening,” Julia said. You have to recalculate how you’re going to execute a port de bras. When we’re doing the Mark Morris ballet, our hand is straighter; we’re leading from the middle finger more. When we’re doing a Balanchine ballet, there’s more play in the hand and more curvature in the finger. It’s just the different choreographers’ styles. I think that once a piece of choreography is in your body, there’s a cuing that happens with the music, so we know.”
End of the Day – 6 p.m.
After stretching, Julia usually heads home to a shower, dinner and more stretching before unwinding for the night.
“I’m stretching all the time. It’s kind of something that we love to do…I love to listen to music and cook. That is a great release for me. It doesn’t have anything to do with dancing, although it is kind of like kitchen choreography, I think…It’s a nice way to take a breath and then you have something to show for it that’s hopefully delicious…I just kind of experiment; there’s never a recipe really, or if there is, I usually stray from it,” Julia said, adding that she cooks with lots of kale and sweet potatoes.
A Snapshot of Julia’s Day