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Precious Adams: Called to the barre

CC Claire Coakley

Precious Adams' charm is as impressive as her extension. She has a serious talent but smiles at herself ,and her fellow dancers and coaches praise her humour. From Detroit, Michigan, she's trained in Toronto, Monaco and Moscow and is now a junior soloist at the English National Ballet. As the pandemic dims the performing arts' live shows, Precious stays lit. Here she shares ballet's benefits for mind, body and soul…

Power of the dance

I think of my body as a fibre-optic network

“Being a ballet dancer is like having fibre-optic cables running from your brain through your entire body. I like thinking of my body as a fibre-optic network and I'm checking the laser pulses within it to make sure everything is working where I want, as quickly as I want and as consistently as I want. That's what, as dancers, we're doing in training. We're conditioning it; getting the wiring to move how we want it to move.

Sometimes I saved a single step by thinking about my big toenail and it kept me on balance. These messages that I'm sending down to a sensation in my big toe to keep me on balance are micro-messages, sensations more than words.

Building strength and stamina

At the beginning and end of my day I add in workout routines, and I often do more technical work with a sports scientist or personal trainer who will prepare my strength in accordance with the role I'm going to perform. Dancers want to be as functionally strong as possible in every possible way. The more mobility you have physically the better a dancer you are. I do cardio, weight training, aerobics, everything.

For example, when I did George Balanchine work I did lots of extra cardio. [In January, Precious performed the Fascinatin' Rhythm solo from Balanchine's Who Cares.] His work is very fast so I did less strength training and extra cardio at all the rehearsals to ensure I had enough stamina to finish strong. 

At each rehearsal we'd speed up the music a little more. It's about pushing yourself to the edge and it's more exciting to watch anyways. Even then, at the end you feel half dead. I don't know how I do the whole ballet without throwing up.

Keep it flexible

I focus on how much I can change my flexibility. When I was younger, I did a Russian style of training which gave me an expansive port de bras and gymnastics helped me gain flexibility, too. Now I have to stretch everything, always, or I lose a lot of range. And after performing I'm on a high, like a runner's high. I use protein shakes, balance eating and an ice bath. That's a normal part of training – a mix of ice baths and protein shakes.

I let my mind wander and wonder what I'm having for dinner

I went to see a therapist when I was in Russia (at 16) for my anxiety about performing badly. She told me to look into mindfulness, start meditating. I'm naturally wired to be anxious and nervous in front of a lot of people but, for some reason, I wanted to be a performer. It's kind of crazy but it worked out in the end. Meditation helps me focus my mind in life a little bit more and helps me be present.

Do I ever think about my shopping list on stage? If you're in the spotlight it's different but if I'm in the back, I'm the first person to let my mind wander and wonder what I'm having for dinner. As for my anxiety, looking back I think it was more about hormones and being a teenager!

Being crazy determined worked

I'm somewhat hard-headed and you have to put your heart, soul and blood, sweat and tears into this. Every little girl wants to be a ballerina but, as you get older, it's harder, more competitive. Some people quit. My teacher at Michigan's Academy of Russian Classical Ballet, Sergey Rayevskiy, once said: 'You can tell by a kid's physical ability and how their mind works whether they will make it or not.' That's what he saw in me. She's crazy determined, he said, so it's going to work out for her.

Career highlights

They include being cast as the Chosen One in Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring in 2019. It's raw, powerful and spiritual. I had an out-of-body experience, with the power of the music, the set design and lighting, and everything else. It's really fascinating and amazing being a ballet dancer and I love it. It's what I'm supposed to be doing.

The joy of live

I've been surprised to hear some people say they prefer the digital experience of watching performances. The reasons they gave are having the best seat, sound quality, camera angles, seeing the original cast [Hamilton was an example], and not having to deal with annoying people and toilet queues. 

In one of the last shows I remember before lockdown, some audience members started having an argument across the auditorium in the middle of the show. I thought it was exciting! You're just not going to get that when you're controlling your environment 100 percent. I think we lose the authenticity if it's not live. Like Instagram, you're seeing the highlight reel. But I guess everybody wants different things.

We've been training in support groups of eight within the company, wearing masks, ahead of starting a digital season. I can sum up how we feel returning to the studio, and having the space: grateful.

Hot yoga detoxes body and mind

During lockdown I got even more into my yoga practices; mixing it up depending on what my body needs. If I have emotional or physical tension pent up, hot yoga releases a lot and detoxes the body and mind. My balcony gets very hot on some days in the morning, when the sun's out, and it’s perfect for that. I miss the proper hot yoga studios in the US. Red Yoga was amazing because somehow they engineered the studios to be very hot in certain parts of the room for the people who could bear it. And the room never stinks; which is ideal! I like yin for deep stretching; sometimes it's like having a deep sports massage but allowing your body to naturally release.

When the stars align

Ballet can express those things that are beyond words. It's the quality within the dancing. You can see nuances of quality in people doing the exact same steps but so differently. There are so many sensations and emotions that can be compounded within a single ballet. When all those things come together – the dancer, the music, costumes, lighting – you might see a magical moment during the performance as if the stars are aligned. When the dancer hits something so precisely it's like magic and everything on either side looks imperfect.

Precious turned director

I filmed myself for Superdry and took part in Swans For Relief.

I am just entering into the middle, peak years of my career and hope to be a part of some incredible works that shape an exciting and accessible future of ballet, dance and live theatre experiences. I love that brands are using more real people and their stories to give context to their products. Something that is just beautiful is just that, but something beautiful with a contextual body has lasting beauty and value.”

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Precious Adams: Called to the barre

CC Claire Coakley

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