Get ready for bikini season like a dancer: Rachel Berman talks about performing as a streaker in From Sea to Shining Sea
The former member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company shares her diet-and-exercise regimen
Fri May 9 2014
Photograph: Daniel Roberts
Streakers aren’t just reserved for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute gala. Earlier this spring, when the Paul Taylor Dance Company revived From Sea to Shining Sea with dozens of alumni members, Rachel Berman performed the spiciest role of them all: the streaker. There was, she stressed, theatrical lighting. “It wasn’t like I had to run through Lincoln Center Plaza or something,” she says. But she did have to get in shape. Here’s how she got bikini-ready.
I remember seeing you at a performance and thinking, Wow, she looks amazing. And then when you ran out as the streaker, my first thought was, Right—that is funny.
Oh, the incentive. [Laughs]
Why did you agree to do it?
I have to totally be honest. I did ask for it. In my time, we didn’t revive Sea. But the last time they did it, in 2006, I went with my husband. I didn’t know the piece very well, and when I saw Amy Young come out, I jabbed him in the gut. I was like, “Hey, Amy was naked!” He was like, “What? Where?” It’s fast. For years, he was like, “I can’t believe I missed Amy naked.” When this whole idea came back, I was still working there in development. I just left Taylor in December to start at Dance/NYC. Sharon [Kinney, who staged the dance] came into town, and they were figuring out casting, and she said, “What do you want to do?” I was sort of half-joking, and I said, “I want to be the streaker.” She said, “Really? Would you do it the real way?” I was like, “Of course!” It became a challenge, and when they went to talk to Paul, he was like, “Is she gonna do it the real way?” Even the wardrobe mistress came to me and was like, “There are options here. The bra-and-panty option; there’s a bodysuit option.” I’m like, “No—I’m not wearing those things!” [Laughs] So I asked for it, and I couldn’t back out. Even Paul kept saying, “You’re the brave one.” It’s five seconds. It was so much fun.
Were you naked during the rehearsals?
Only once we got to dress rehearsal at Lincoln Center. We had one day of rehearsal. I was like, My part’s easy. What do I have to learn? We had rehearsal that Friday before, and then we were bused up to Lincoln Center and then we had dress rehearsal. The funny thing is that as we were getting closer—we’ll get into my diet in a second, but I was worried about other things too. I was like, Oh, it’s winter, and maybe I should be tan. I kept getting advice from people: “Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to shave or wax?” I was like, Oh my God, I have to think about these things! Somebody told me to get a tan. I was like, I’m Hawaiian too—I should be darker! I actually got a spray tan for the first time in my life. I’m almost embarrassed to say it. I’m Hawaiian. I went several different weekends to try different shades. I had this whole scenario in my head: I was like, All right, I’ll get the spray tan again on the Saturday so on the Sunday, I’ll look great and then literally, Thursday night, I realized, Oh my God. Tomorrow is dress rehearsal. That’s when they’re taking pictures! I should have done the spray tan now! Suddenly I realized, Oh, I have to be naked tomorrow—not just on Sunday. So I did the dress rehearsal the real way, but not in the studio.
How did you get in shape for this?
I did more than I normally do. I turned 50 in November, and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve got to get in shape. I’ve been saying this for years. I sit too much. I need to move more. Every so often I’ll take a class or teach a class. I actually dance hula a little bit on the side still, but I made a concerted effort and I have to say, I’m like the biggest procrastinator so as much as I kept thinking, I’m going to get in shape for 50, that didn’t really happen. It was more like when 2014 struck, I was like, Oh my God now it’s coming. The big reunion. My naked moment onstage. I made a more concerted effort to go to the gym. I’m a sweater. I love to sweat so I go, not to Bikram, but warm vinyasa. There’s a place, Prana Power Yoga, and it’s warm. You walk out totally drenched, but it’s not Bikram-hot. I amped that up and a lot of the dancers in the company kept saying, “All right, this is what you do…” I’m lucky; I was always a skinny kid, and as long as I was dancing, I didn’t really think about it. I’m not a bad eater. I don’t eat more than I have my whole life, but I just sit more. I’m sedentary and I’m older. Dammit, it really does matter! So just moving more and going to the gym and to yoga. I was like, I’m going to not eat carbs. That really does work too. Dammit. Now I’m going to sound like an infomercial. Do you know those NutriBullet things? They’re really great. They’re like a mini-blender and you put greens and vegetables and fruit and fill it to a line with water and blend it up and that’s my breakfast. I’ll throw kale and bananas and apples and strawberries in there. That’s kind of my breakfast drink.
What do you do at the gym?
More cardio. Go on the treadmill or the elliptical. I’m not a big runner. I always think, God, didn’t I do Esplanade enough? But run/walking on the treadmill. It depends on the day. I learned this from the guys on tour: You do chest and triceps one day; back and biceps another day. Some weights. Nothing huge. And of course, I was most concerned about the gluteus maximus. So doing more squats and all those glute machines. And actually more legs. When I was in the company, I would accompany the guys to the gym sometimes on tour, but I wouldn’t think about doing legs because Paul’s work was so athletic. I didn’t want to build my legs up more, but I started thinking, I have to tone them.
Why do you like to sweat?
It just makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’m just a natural sweater. Patrick Corbin and I were sweaters together. We danced together so much and we would leave puddles in places. In a piece like Roses, where you never leave the stage, we would do our duet and you’d have to stand in a nice pose and lean against each other and we would just have a stream running down the floor. But once Paul said, “I don’t trust people who don’t sweat.” That always made me feel better.
How much weight did you lose?
I don’t own a scale. Like I said, I never really had a problem, but my clothes definitely feel different—which makes me all excited. I put on my jeans, and go, “Look they’re loose!” I’m not sure. I don’t know if it’s so much weight, but I do feel things have toned up. I feel better too. I have my blended veggies in the morning, and I eat more salads. I’m trying to keep it going into bikini weather. I was home for my birthday in November wearing the one-piece. This summer I can go back to the bikini.
Did Paul say anything to you after the performance?
He did that pat on the back, and like, “Oh, the brave one.” I think he was overwhelmed too. There were so many people from his past and all these faces. There was dress rehearsal in the theater—we ran it twice— and after the first one, he came up onstage and you could just tell he was like, Oh my God. All these people, and I know them but I don’t know them and ahhhh.… We signed something for him and made a whole to-do and he got all shy and, “Let’s do it again!” kind of thing. I saw him backstage right after we finished, and he was mobbed with people and he nodded and said, “That was the best it’s ever been.” One day when we passed in the hall—I’m not sure if it was the rehearsal day or performance—he said, “Oh, there's the brave one,” with that grin on his face. I said, "Did it look okay, Paul?" Obviously talking about my body, not any dancing, and he said, “It looked gggreat!” It was really nice and kind of creepy.
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)