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How Two Joffrey Ballet Dancers Add Running To Their Routines

Dancers by day and runners by night? Two members of Chicago's renowned dance company share what running looks like for a dancer.

Ballet-based barre classes have become a popular way for people to break up the monotony of run training or supply a new fitness challenge. But for Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk, running is their way to break up dance training: Both are professional dancers at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, and they say running improves their day job.

Wozniak started dancing at age 7 and joined the Joffrey in 2001. She says she started with 5K events that raised money for charities—the same thing that led Adamczyk into running. He has danced since age 10 and joined the Joffrey in 2003. Both started running regularly about eight years ago.

“I also got into running partly because of our physical therapists,” Wozniak says. “A lot of them are runners, and you hear conversations about it while they’re working on you.”

For Adamczyk, dancing and running complement each other.

“Running adds strength, agility and power,” he says. “Ballet helps me with running control, breathing and posture.”

RELATED: Strength Train Like a Dancer—The Barre Circuit Workout

The two worlds overlap in other ways.

“Preparing for a performance can be the same thing as preparing for a long run or a marathon,” Wozniak says. “You have that adrenaline. You have a little bit of fear.” Unlike many other runners, though, professional dancers must account for their financial well-being any time they lace up their running shoes.

“Our body is our instrument for our job,” Adamczyk says. “The dance always comes first.” Dancers pursue their own forms of alternative exercise, often low-impact options such as ellipticals and swimming. With inherent dangers like car collisions, wrenched ankles or fractured wrists, running can be seen as a risk in the dance world.

“I definitely have heard some people say, ‘Oh, dancers aren’t supposed to run. It’s not good for their bodies,’” Wozniak says.

The more frequent but less dramatic detriment: Running tightens muscles in ways that decrease the flexibility that is crucial for dancers. Adamczyk and Wozniak ensure they maintain optimal form with rigorous pre-run and post-run regimens.

“I go for a lengthy walk before I try to run,” Adamczyk says. “It’s not like I open my door and I’m off running.”

Adamczyk says he figured out that he needed a more minimalist shoe because he’s accustomed to spending his days barefoot or in dance shoes with little support. Yet he says that the impact injuries some dancers worry about are exactly the reason he incorporates running into his life.

The repetition of his legs landing on hard surfaces mimics some of the forceful movements in jump-heavy dance programs. Plus, runs deliver longer cardio sessions.

“With ballet, it’s like doing sprints,” he says. “Yes, we dance with great intensity, but it’s never for very long. A minute and a half max.”

Wozniak says the balance is simply a priority list. “If I know that I am going to be dancing a lot, going to be doing a lot of tough exercise at work, I slow down on the running.”

In the past few years, Adamczyk and Wozniak have pushed their mileage enough to compete in local half marathons. Wozniak clocked a 2:04:49 at the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, but she missed her goal of a sub-2 time.

The longer distances aid her dancing even though she runs just 2 or 3 miles a couple times a week during the dance season.

“Mentally, I think when you’re like, I’ve got 12 more miles to go, learning to have that strength in your mind to get your body through that is great.”