Muscle Is a Lifestyle

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“Being a dancer is a way of life, you can’t turn it off or put it on hold once you’ve ‘left the office’ for the day.”

Sara Antkowiak

Activity: Dancer

Q: How long have you been dancing and how did you get started?

My mom started me quite young – I was only about 2 and on stage by 3 ½ – never an ounce of stage fright or apprehension. I had a great deal of energy as a child and I was very social, so dance seemed like a perfect outlet for me.

Q: What genre did you study?

I have studied Classical Ballet, Pointe, Classical Jazz, Musical Theatre Jazz, Modern, Polynesian/Hawaiian, African, Tap.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to dance professionally?

I never thought it was an option until I was in college surrounded by theatre majors. My parents were a chemist and aerospace engineer so I was always interested in science and biology. This led me to enter college pre-med even though I had danced intensively throughout high school in a pre-professional ballet company. Luckily I had incredible teachers in that company to prepare me for what would eventually become my career (Mihailo Djuric, John Prinz, Christine Jacques, Susan Duffy, and Ralph Hamilton). After a few semesters at college I thought, well, I’m only young once. I could always go back to school to be a doctor. There are older doctors – not exactly older dancers.

Q: Do you dance with a company? If so, what is the name of the company and how many years have you been a part of it?

I’ve performed in NYC as a freelance dancer for the past ten years. I have been fortunate to dance in The Metropolitan Opera, concerts at Lincoln Center, touring musicals and more. Some of my most memorable shows have been with Bartlett Sher, Mary Zimmerman, Robert LePage, Mark Dendy, Gabe Barre, and Jerry Mitchell.

Q: What sacrifices have you made to dance?

There are so many – where do I start!?! I certainly eat well, make sure I get plenty of sleep each night, no ice skating/skiing/random sports that may be hazardous. I have also missed many weddings, holidays, and special events due to performance schedules. Being a dancer is a way of life, you can’t turn it off or put it on hold once you’ve ‘left the office’ for the day. There is constant stretching, conditioning, and warming up to stay limber and strong and prevent injuries. I remember giving myself barre at home over holiday breaks, or warming up in all sorts of odd places before shows- you just try to find something to use as a barre –even a wall with enough room to do leg swings.

Q: What is the most exciting thing you’ve done with dance?

The National Tour of Pippin was my first show after moving here. I got my equity card, worked with Stephen Schwartz, performed at Goodspeed, then went on the road for many months as a dancer and aerialist in the show. It was one of the best times of my performing career. The cast was incredibly close and many of us are still good friends to this day.

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Q: Dancers have short lived careers on stage and often are relatively young when they retire. When you retire, will you continue to work in the industry? if so, why?

A little while ago I began to transition into acting. I still have a strong connection to the dance world though and I currently teach Ballet, Modern and Jazz at the New York Film Academy. I also choreograph for musicals, plays, and film. I know I will use this aspect of my creativity, artistry, and technical training for the rest of my life.

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Q: Have you made any changes in your overall diet throughout your years of dance? If so, how did you determine what changes to make?

As a child and young adult I did dance and gymnastics 7 days a week. I would eat an absurd amount of food every day – not a care in the world about what it was (I loooved cookies and sweets). As I grew older, I paid more careful attention to eating healthy foods with lots of nutritional value. Now I primarily eat all whole foods – lots of veggies, fruit, nuts, whole grains. I have cut out most dairy, sugar, white flour, and any artificial colors/flavors/ingredients. I feel different and have more energy. I honestly don’t crave really sweet desserts anymore! I bake all sorts of ultra-healthy cookies/bars/muffins using different flours (nut flour, wheat flour, etc) and veggie/fruit purees to sweeten or add nutritional value.

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Q: Tell me about one of your greatest accomplishments as a dancer?

Growing up in NH watching musicals, dance companies, various shows on DVDs over and over or seeing them live in Boston or NYC…and then growing up to actually work with the directors or choreographers of these shows and become friends with the dancers has been a bit mind-blowing at times.

Q: Have you ever had a serious injury, if so, what was the driving force to continue dancing?

Luckily, I am a very healthy person. I never had any serious injuries besides some flare-ups in the lower back and hip due to tightness. Rest and yoga healed both issues. As a dancer, I am very in-tune with my body and know when something is out of alignment. Yoga has made me even more aware about unevenness and has increased my overall flexibility. I am an artist and I love to dance – it is so deeply rooted in my being that there is no doubt in my mind that dance will forever be a part of my life.

Q: What advice would you give any young girl that wanted to become a professional dancer?

Pace yourself, don’t push too hard- be patient with where you are and work safely and methodically to improve in every area of your dancing. Watch as much dance as you can, videos, youtube, live performances especially. Notice how different dancers move and use their bodies. I see too many dancers who just want it now – they end up over-stretching or tearing a hamstring, over-rotating causing severe knee problems, working out too much or too long and not giving their muscles proper rest and time to recover. Relax, work properly, strive to be better than yesterday.

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Q: You have to stay in shape as a dancer, what things other than dancing do you do to stay in shape?

I do yoga, pilates, and lots of walking.

Q: Do you have any regrets of missed opportunities?

Sure, every audition I didn’t book! No, honestly, I always wanted to be a ballroom dancer. I was obsessed with ballroom in high school – saw Burn the Floor and Forever Tango a few too many times. I love every single thing about it and I really think I would have a natural inclination for it. I’ll have to become famous to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars- then I’ll finally have my turn at ballroom!

Q: Why did you want to be a part of MCBMI?

I think this is a fantastic campaign because the women involved are from so many different backgrounds involving personal fitness and well-being. Different ages, body types, goals, diets, personal workouts. It is fascinating to read about the different women and compare their individual stories. They certainly all have the passion and drive to live these lifestyles as healthy, confident, proud women.