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Alberta Ballet Ballerina, Reilley McKinlay Talks Life as a Dancer and Dealing with Chronic Calf Pain


Reilley McKinlay, dancer with the Alberta Ballet, hails from Seattle, Washington where she grew up training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in addition to her academic studies. At the age of 19, she moved to Toronto for a year to continue training at Canada’s National Ballet School. In 2008, McKinlay was offered a contract with Alberta Ballet to begin her professional dancing career and is currently in her 10th season dancing with the celebrated ballet company. During her time with the Alberta Ballet she met her now husband, who is also a dancer. They recently purchased their first house and are happy to call Calgary home. 

T: What do you love most about what you do?

RM: I am so fortunate that I get to do what I love everyday as my job. My favourite part of my job is getting to dance with my husband. There is such a natural trust that comes with our partnership while dancing. We have a very open line of communication and it’s also easy to laugh and have a good time. I specifically enjoy pas de deux work including doing crazy lifts. 🙂

T: How do you get ready for opening night?

RM: To be ready for opening night it’s more about being prepared ahead of time rather than a particular pre-show ritual. My day before a show is not really any different than my normal days when it comes to meals or working out. I intentionally eat the same lunch before shows that I usually do at work so my body is comfortable with what it is digesting. I always wait to eat dinner until after the show so I can have a big meal and replenish what I’ve lost during the day. My pre-show ritual is more about being organized with the right pair of pointe shoes ready and making sure I am confident with any costume quick changes, etc. that take place during the performance. I start getting ready 1.5-2 hours before showtime so that I can do my hair, makeup, warm myself up, put my costume and pointe shoes on, and go over the choreography without ever feeling rushed. I always have music going in my change room on my little portable speaker. It depends on what I’m feeling that day but during Nutcracker it’s always Christmas carols, but never the Nutcracker score. I really only leave the theatre to take my dog for a quick walk on the grounds to get a bit of fresh air during our break that is between rehearsal and the show. We also have physio and chiro available, so I like to get a bit of treatment to make sure any last minute aches and pains are taken care of. The only other thing I always do before a show is, at places call, I find my husband and we kiss for good luck. After all that’s done, it’s show time!!

T: Let’s talk about the inevitable battle of performing at a high level – how did your pain start?

RM: The pain that I am currently treating with my Thermotex is a chronic calf pain that comes from overuse. It started because of all the pointe work and intricate footwork I am required to do as a female dancer.

T: How about your methodology / treatment plan for pain?

RM: My treatment plan for my calf pain includes using my Thermotex in the morning before work to warm it up for the day and then again in the evening after I am done dancing to calm everything down. I also ice if it is extremely sore in addition to cupping and dry needling. 

T: How has Thermotex supported you with your pain?

RM: Thermotex has helped my pain by penetrating deeper into muscles than I am able to on my own. I find calves specifically a problem for female dancers as you expect so much from them. Not only do you rely on them for your everyday movement, you depend on them for jumping, keeping you on pointe when you have your pointe shoes on, and they are one of the main muscles that keeps your feet pointed for the aesthetically pleasing line you see in ballet. After all that, they don’t always get the love and attention they deserve and when you do, a simple massage does not reach the belly of the muscle and problem areas all that well. That’s where Thermotex has come in for me and really allowed the muscle to receive the attention it needs to recover properly. 

T: What does ‘wellness’ mean to you?

RM: To me wellness means a content body and mind. To be truly content, my body must be well nourished and exercised. My body feels it’s best when I have moved whether that is dancing, Pilates, or simply taking my dog for a walk. For wellness of my mind, I feel like a healthy balance between work and life is key. 

T: Any final comments?

RM: I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to use Thermotex. It has been a wonderful experience and discovery for my body. I will definitely be recommending the product to fellow dancers and am hoping to get a pet bed for my 11 year old Toy Fox Terrier.

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Thermotex Platinum Far Infrared Heating Pad – All Purpose

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