For the National Ballet’s Greta Hodgkinson, staying ready means a disciplined routine, reliable essentials, and mental clarity.

For Greta Hodgkinson, the dream of becoming a renowned ballerina became a reality as she worked her way up to become The National Ballet of Canada’s Principal Dancer. From touring the world to working with the best in the business, she is at the top of her industry. 

While captivating in its deceptively effortless performance, the sheer athleticism of dancers tends to be disguised by the whimsy of the performer. Make no mistake, they are elite athletes. 

Here, Hodgkinson shares a few of the routines and essentials that keep her prepared. 

Do you have any pre-show rituals, superstitions, or good luck routines?

I’m actually pretty superstitious so I always put my make-up on in a certain order and then warm up with some key exercises. I put my pointe shoes on and then tie and re-tie them at least 20 times before stepping on stage. I’m completely shoe obsessed! I need to make sure they are broken in properly for the role I’m dancing (not too soft and not too hard) and that they’re comfortable. For example, in Giselle (which I’ll be dancing this November) I need very soft and pliable pointe shoes to not make a sound when I’m jumping while also being able to roll through my feet onto and off of pointe seamlessly.

How do you get in the right headspace before a show?

I do a lot of visualization before a performance. I think through the ballet from beginning to end a few times and see myself executing everything the way I imagine it should be. Then I let all the weeks of rehearsal and preparation go so that I can live in the moment onstage. I find this helps with any nervous excitement I might feel. I like to stand alone for a few minutes on stage before the curtain goes up to take some deep breaths and centre myself. When the curtain goes up, I am ready to go! 

Greta Hodgkinson
Can you take us through your gym bag? What are the essentials that you rely on?

I have two bags in order to hold various pairs of pointe shoes (at least four pairs broken in and ready to use at a time), second skin adhesive, toe tape, a foot roller, a Fletcher Pilates towel (for exercises), various sizes of massage balls (a baseball, a golf ball, etc.), a shoe scraper, muscle rub, a sewing kit, my “booties” (slippers I wear to walk the halls between rehearsals that keep my feet warm), and a back roller. I carry all of this plus my exercise mat with me to each rehearsal in case I need to change shoes, re-tape my toes, or do some stretching after rehearsal. 

What are some things that you always have on you when you are travelling in order to stay healthy?

I always travel with my back and foot roller so I can give myself a massage on the go, a travel pillow (especially for long flights), Advil (a must-have for inflammation after a long flight or rehearsal), and my sleep mask to ensure I can sleep well in a new place. 

What do you use to recover from injuries or sore muscles? 

I see a physiotherapist every day and try to get a massage once a week. This helps to keep me healthy and injury-free. Epsom salt baths are also a good relaxing tool after long rehearsal days and performances. I also use Woodblock medicated balm and an awesome rub that I bought in Japan on sore muscles. They work miracles! 

What are your go-to stretches and exercises?

I believe it’s important to work the muscles first and then stretch them out once you’re warmed up. I like to start my day doing a gentle spine warm up, rolling down and up to a standing position. Then I lie down on my back and do the “bridge” exercise to engage my stomach, glute muscles, and hamstrings. Lying on my side, I’ll do some leg lifts for the outside and inside leg muscles and then the “banana” (lifting the feet and shoulders up off the floor simultaneously) to engage the entire core and obliques. Then I stretch my hamstrings and glutes, do some neck and ankle rolls, and my body will start to feel warmed up.

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