Brenda Himelfarb
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

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July 28, 2012
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Vail Dance Fest turns 'spectator sport' into a 'spectacular sport'

With all that is being talked about these days regarding the amount of exercise one must do to prevent weight gain (and any other conditions that might occur if you do not shake your booty) comes scientific research that watching dance-related programs can help you move it. That's right, shows such as "Dancing with the Stars" not only provide entertainment but also have been proven to produce "enhanced muscle-specific motor responses in viewers."

With two weeks of the Vail International Dance Festival beginning tonight, this has to be music to your ears! Imagine the muscle tone you can get with all of the programs on tap.

According to researchers led by Corinne Jola, for the University of Surrey, as part of the Watching Dance Project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, an increased muscle-specific response in viewers occurred, even though the viewers were not trained in the type of dance they were watching.

"This is the first study to show that visual experience alone triggers muscle-specific motor resonance in the brain of spectators in response to watching dance-specific formal moments for which they have no motor expertise," Jola said.

Essentially, just by watching dance, the viewer's muscles mimic the motion of the dancers. There appears to be no conscious effort on the viewer's part. What's more, you don't even have to know how to dance. So, assuming you attend at least half of the performances taking place at the dance festival, within one week you might become somewhat of a hard body, considering the exceptional and varied programs that will be presented. Your muscles will have a field day.

For instance, New York City Ballet MOVES opens the festival and includes pieces by Jerome Robbins, Ulysses Dove and George Balanchine.

New York Times critic Claudia La Rocco once defined Robbins' "In the Night" as "bringing ballet into the ballroom."

Elizabeth Gorgas, of Pointe magazine, characterized Dove's "Red Angel," with music by Richard Einhorn, as "a cyclone of contemporary ballet for two couples, set to a ferocious score for electric violin."

And Balanchine's ballet "Sonatine," set to music with Maurice Ravel's Sonatine for Piano, has been described by some as an "expansive, energetic and explosive dance spectrum."

These pieces alone, including others being presented that evening, will work your muscles into a frenzy.

The festival continues with another night with New York City Ballet MOVES, followed by a special, one-time-only performance titled "UpClose: Stravinsky by Balanchine," focusing on the magnificent ballets created by Balanchine to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Peter Martins, ballet master and chief of the New York City Ballet, and Damian Woetzel, artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival, will host the evening.

Evenings of ballet continue with two international evening of dance, a program titled "NOW," which is an evening of premieres; "Dance for $20.12," featuring a variety of festival artists; and the Martha Graham Dance Company, referred to by the Washington Post as "one of the seven wonders of the artistic universe."

According to the research, ballet spectators show larger responses in the arm muscles compared with when they watch other performances, so by this time, you might see a bit of toning in your triceps.

Can you even imagine how the dancers fair? They make everything look so easy.

Take the leap, for instance. More important than the height of the leap is the dancer's ability to sustain a momentary pose in midair and then make a quiet and controlled landing. Speed, too, is critical. When a ballerina dances en pointe, notice how quickly she is able to go on and off pointe. The quicker she gets up on her toes, the harder it is on her legs. Line is one of the most significant aspects in the dancer's technique: The dancer's whole body, including the head, shoulders, arms, torso, hips and legs, should be in perfect alignment. This takes years and years of practice.

Prior to age 16, those who are considering becoming professional dancers take 20 to 30 hours of technique classes per week during a school year and 30 to 35 hours a week in the summer. This does not include rehearsals.

A typical day for Daniel Ulbricht, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and Carla Korbes, principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, begins at 10:30 in the morning with, perhaps, a class, followed by a rehearsal - a break for lunch at some point and then a warm-up before a show. And whether or not it's a "show" day, most dancers spend nine to 11 hours staying in shape with, perhaps, a technique or Pilates class, going to the gym, teaching dance or even getting a massage. It's simply a way of life for a professional ballet dancer.

But, unlike ballet, to which mostly your arm muscles respond, ballroom dancing gets your core, the back of the thighs and the buttocks muscles moving. So with the "Ballroom Spectacular," featuring couples such as Delyan Terziev and Boriana Deltcheva, World Cup professional Latin champions, and Mikhail Zharinov and Galina Detkina, American smooth champions, you should start feeling the burn.

The "Dance TV" evening will put the finishing touch on your spectator-muscle-toning experience. Back by popular demand, this evening features performances by stars from popular dance shows including Allison, tWitch and Alex from "So You Think You Can Dance," Anna Trebunskaya and Jonathan Roberts as seen on "Dancing With the Stars," Poreotics and Funkdation from "America's Best Dance Crew" and Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, who appeared on "Live from Lincoln Center."

It's the passion that keeps dancers - no matter their genre - returning to the dance studio day after day. It's the joy and love dancers reap from, perhaps, a pirouette or tango or hip-hop that keeps them so dedicated.

That dedication is what makes us want to watch dance. And if your muscles actually get stimulated while watching - hey, it's just a bonus.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 28, 2012 04:14PM Published Jul 28, 2012 04:10PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.