Flexibility is a building block of ballet – it allows for a wider range of motion, helps protect against injury and enables more elegant lines. And the crazy thing about flexibility is that no matter how far you can stretch already, there’s always more to be done! Stretching to improve flexibility is a critical part of your dance development.
If you’re sweating over a stubborn hamstring that won’t budge or a back that just refuses to arch, fret no more. The best way to improve your flexibility is to consistently stretch – every day if you can swing it – because just stretching once every other week just won’t cut it. And as always, don’t push your body further than it can go! If a stretch hurts, that’s not a sign you’re improving – it’s a sign you’re damaging your muscles and tendons, so move into deeper stretches gradually. Here are two stretches that are very effective for improving your flexibility.
The stretch, “The Superman,” comes from DanceTeacher Connect and is a great way to improve back flexibility. First, lay down on the ground flat on your stomach. Then, raise your upper body off the ground as high as possible without using your arms for support – your chest and back muscles should pull you up. Go as high as you can, then return to the start. The blog recommends repeating this movement three times then resting to build the muscles around your spine, thereby improving your back flexibility.
Hip Flexor Stretch
DanceSpirit magazine has a great list of dynamic stretches that dancers can do. Brynn Jinnett, creator of Refine Method in New York City, told the magazine that dancers focus too much on static stretches and don’t do enough dynamic stretches that can improve their overall range of motion. Try their hip flexor stretch for greater hip and hamstring flexibility and deeper splits. First, kneel on your right knee with your left leg in front of you and bend it perpendicular to the floor. Push forward gently with your hips, like you’re lunging, while squeezing your glutes. Hold for a second, then return to the starting position.
Stacey Nemour, a flexibility guru, reminded dancers that it’s important to stretch with correct form, to relax and never force the muscles or bounce during stretching. So be careful not to overwork your muscles and gradually up the intensity of your stretching routine.
You start each class with a group warm up exercise, which helps prepare the muscles and minds of your students for the practice ahead. Your students expect that each class will begin the same way, and they try to perform the movements in unison with each other. When it comes to competitions, though, this go-to warm up is a little less reliable. Your dancers might travel separately to the competition venue, or maybe there’s limited space, and it ends up that each of your dancers’ stretches on their own, off in a corner or hallway, or in pairs.
While independent stretching before competitions is unproblematic for advanced, experienced dancers, a group warm up exercise before competitions can be incredibly beneficial. Just make sure that you take up as little space as possible and choose a warm-up location that’s away from high-traffic areas.
Boost Performance and Reduce Injury
The main goal of warming up is to raise the body’s temperature by a few degrees, noted Jan Dunn in a post for 4Dancers.org. By increasing body temperature, you lubricate your joints, boost blood flow to your muscles, raise your breathing rate and strengthen your mind-body connection. A warm-up that is not done properly or is insufficient can lead to injury and hurt a dancer’s performance.
Younger or inexperienced dancers likely do not have a thorough understanding of what a correct and effective warm-up entails. By leading a group warm-up with all of your dancers before a competition, you can ensure that each and every one of your students has fully prepared their muscles to perform safely and at their best.
Nerves are high before a competition, and when a student is off on her own stretching and watching dancers from other studios warm-up, her nerves can jump up even higher.
“Getting engrossed in others’ dancing could make you nervous or subliminally lower your expectations for yourself,” wrote Amy Brandt for Pointe Magazine.
A group warm-up before a competition allows your students to focus on you and each other, and not the dancers they’re competing against. By following your warm-up instructions, they can focus on their own skills and better drown out noisy distractions.
An effective warm up exercise routine includes a variety of movements and stretches, and it’s much easier for dancers to forget certain movements if they’re warming up independently. A thorough warm-up involves three stages, passive, general and specific, explained Dance Advantage.
The passive warm-up is simply making gentle movements while wearing legwarmers and other layers to raise body temperature. The general warm-up, which is 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio, is likely the warm-up stage most skipped over by dancers, according to the site. And the specific stage is when unique movements are done to work the main muscle groups that will be taxed during the performance, and includes barre and center work.
A thorough, multi-stage warm-up is the best preparation before a competition.
Dancers get injured from time to time. It might be due to an overly rigorous practice schedule, an accidental fall, a nutritional deficit, or some other reason. However, when it does happen, it can be immensely frustrating and poorly timed. Dancers may have a big performance in a few weeks or may be looking to audition for a prestigious dance group. Whatever the event is, dance injuries aren’t fun. Consider these five common dance injuries and how to avoid them.
1. Lumbosacral Injuries
If you aren’t a dancer, you might think dancers most commonly experience injuries involving the ankles, hips and knees. While those areas are commonly affected by dance, the spine is also affected. Most often, dancers deal with lower back issues from the amount of movement they do during practice and performances. According to the Centers for Orthopaedics, most spine injuries for dancers are lumbosacral and involve intense pain. This injury can be caused by poor stability, uneven leg length, bad technique, scoliosis and even high heels. According to Dance Teacher magazine, some dancers may have lordosis, which can cause muscle spasms that make them more vulnerable to spine injuries. Following proper dancing techniques, stretching, and building core, pelvic and hip strength can help dancers avoid this common injury.
2. Snapping Hip Injuries
This injury sounds just like its name. Dancers will hear, and feel, a loud popping noise in their hip as they dance. This snap is the illiotibial band shifting over the upper leg bone and snapping. It can be incredibly painful, but there are usually a few warning signs. Most commonly, this happens when the IT band is too tight and hasn’t been stretched or warmed up properly. It can also be caused by weak muscles on the outside of the hips and lordosis. Dancers can prevent this these dance injuries by toning and strengthening all of the pelvic stabilizers, such as the hip flexors, abductors and and adductors, as well as working on the lower abdominal muscles and the core.
3. Achilles Tendonitis
Some people forget about the Achilles tendon and its importance on the body. It’s the longest tendon and connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. Dancers tend to overuse this muscle, which leads to tendonitis. Usually this injury occurs if dancers experience frequent shin splints or lower their arches during warm ups, such as barre exercises. Overtraining, dancing on a hard floor and lack of stretching can also lead to this injury, which can be immensely painful and debilitating when it occurs.
4. Neck Strain
Many dancers forget about the stress they can put on their necks when they dance. However, a common dancing injury is neck strain, especially for dancers who do a lot of varied choreography. Dancers can prevent from straining their neck by lengthening it and elongating the spine when they move, instead of collapsing it.
5. Rotator Cuff Injuries
Most dances involve plenty of arm movement. If dancers continuously use their arms during practices and performances, they may end up with an overuse rotator cuff injury. This overuse can cause tendons to strain and tear, leading to intense pressure in the shoulders. Teachers should discuss proper form with students as well as the mechanics of movement. If a dancer is able to understand where the scapula is, he or she is less likely to point an arm in that direction.
As with any injury or health issue, please consult your physician. These tips are meant to be informational only, and should never replace the advice of a licensed medical practitioner.
When you stay out late and neglect your studies in school, you’re hindering your ability to perform well academically. The same holds true for certain bad habits that dancers have. If you’re skimping on sleep or eating poorly, you could unintentionally be holding yourself back from your true performance potential. Here’s how to improve as a dancer by breaking these five bad habits.
1. Not sleeping enough
Sometimes it might seem like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Whether you’re a high school student trying to balance dance and homework or a pre-professional struggling to maintain relationships while attending a conservatory, it’s absolutely essential that you stick to a strict sleep schedule. Aim for at least seven or eight hours per night – otherwise, you’ll be sluggish, easily distracted and impatient.
“People who don’t get adequate sleep – an hour or two fewer than what they really need – have a much harder time achieving a healthy body weight in the long term,” Emily Harrison, a dietician for the Centre for Dance Nutrition, explained to Dance Spirit magazine.
2. Eating poorly
Cupcakes at school and greasy pizza on the weekend are tempting, but dancers need to adhere to a healthy diet, just like any other athletes. Ensure that you’re eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods with protein and fiber. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a sweet treat once in a while, but it shouldn’t be a regular habit.
On a related note, it’s important that you’re eating enough to support your active lifestyle. Skipping meals in an attempt to lose weight will surely backfire – it’s better to eat smart than to not eat at all.
3. Skipping warm-up or cool-down
If you’re late for class, you may be tempted to do a few simple stretches before jumping into the action. Or if you have big plans after rehearsal, you may rush off without letting your body cool down. Both of these bad habits can seriously harm your body in the long-run. Skipping warm-up makes you more prone to injuries.
“Warming up increases blood flow to all muscles in the body, which makes them more pliable,” Julie Green, physical therapist for Pennsylvania Ballet, told Dance Spirit magazine.
Similarly, taking the time to cool down will give your muscles and heart the time they need to return to normal after a long workout.
4. Dancing through an injury
According to a study by Safe Kids Worldwide, 42 percent of athletes have hidden or downplayed an injury so they could continue performing. While you probably don’t want to take time off from dance, even small injuries can become big problems if you don’t give them time to heal. If you’re ever in pain during class, don’t just push through it. Talk with your teacher and visit a doctor if necessary. You need to give your body time to recuperate if you want to be able to dance to the best of your ability.
5. Not hydrating
Many people are guilty of not drinking enough water on a regular basis, but you shouldn’t be one of them. Because dancers lose water through their sweat, it’s easy for them to become dehydrated. When this happens, you’ll be tired, nauseous and prone to cramping. Protect your body – and your performance – by drinking at least eight glasses of fluid each day. Most of this should be water. Steer clear of sugary drinks or caffeinated beverages.
There are many reasons that dancers seek to improve their flexibility. Maybe they’re just starting out and want to do their first split. Or sometimes more advanced students need a greater range of flexibility to nail complicated tricks. Whatever students’ motivations may be, dance instructors should be able to provide sound advice on how dancers can safely improve flexibility. Here are some tips on flexibility for dancers to share with your performers.
“Work to gradually increase flexibility.”
Why Safety is Key
It’s essential that dance teachers show their students safe ways to increase flexibility because there are so many “quick fixes” on the Internet. Students who want to quickly elongate their muscles often turn to dangerous and extreme stretching methods, which can hurt their bodies in the long run. Explain to your students the consequences of improper stretching methods and work with them to gradually improve flexibility.
Always Warm Up
Young students may be tempted to jump right into difficult stretches, but cold muscles aren’t going to be limber. If dancers want to see results and avoid injuries, they should always start their stretching sessions by warming up with a few cardio exercises and then ease themselves into the pose.
In the video below, Virginia from Encore Gymnastics shows how students can gradually improve their splits, starting with light stretches on the front and back legs.
As Virginia points out in the video, proper form is key when it comes to an effective stretch. For this reason, dancers should focus on maintaining good body posture while stretching.
Students also need to be thinking about how often they’re stretching and for how long. Leigh Heflin, who works at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center, explained to Dance Teacher magazine that different people will need to stretch more often, depending on their body’s natural predisposition. Dancers who are a little more limber might only need to stretch three times each week, where less-flexible students would benefit from five sessions.
It’s also important for students to slowly increase their stretching. Dancers shouldn’t try to “overstretch,” as demonstrated in the video, until their bodies are ready.
“You have to progressively overload that capacity on your muscle,” Heflin noted. “Increase tension and stretch every week. You can’t expect to be there right away.”
The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science recommended that students aim for three to five reps of 30-second static stretches per session. This will help stretch the muscle tissue at a safe, progressive rate.
Flexibility No No’s
In addition to providing dancers with these helpful pointers, teachers should explain to their students what not to do when stretching. Here are some don’ts when it comes to flexibility for dancers:
Don’t stretch too much before a performance, as this can reduce your ability to jump.
Avoid prolonged stretches, which are held for 20 minutes or more.
Don’t push through sharp, searing or severe pain.
Dynamic and static stretching are preferable to ballistic stretches. Bouncing or jerking your muscles can lead to injury.
If your muscles are particularly tight, use a foam roller on them instead of stretching further.
Nothing ruins the beautiful lines of a ballerina than slumping shoulders. However, studies have shown that up to 40 percent of kids have poor posture, whether as a result of heavy backpacks, too much TV time or just a general disposition toward slouching. As you teach your young dancers, it’s essential that you work with them to maintain proper posture. Not only will this help them to appear graceful and elegant, but it will also mitigate their risk of back injury. Here are five suggestions on how to improve posture in dance.
1. Use a Visual
Many dancers need to see concepts demonstrated to fully understand them, which is why instructors are always dancing along with their students. The same principle holds true with learning proper posture.
“Most dancers learn visually, so they’ll try to mimic proper body position, but often they don’t understand the roots of where it’s coming from,” Chelsie Hightower, a performer on “Dancing with The Stars,” explained to Dance Spirit.
For this reason, it’s often helpful to show your students pictures or videos of proper posture. You may want to consider showing them an old recital video where a few dancers had really good posture and others were slouching. Another option is to use a TV episode, like one from “DWTS” or “Dance Moms,” where the dancers worked on posture.
2. Stretch it Out
One way to effectively and safely realign trouble areas is stretching. Search the Internet for corrective stretches, or use these ones suggested by Best Health magazine:
Chest and shoulder stretch: This activity is often helpful for dancers who slump forward. Have them lie on their backs with their arms stretched outward and elbows bent into a bench-press position. Instruct your dancers to squeeze their shoulder blades together without arching their backs. Hold the position for 10 seconds, and repeat 4 times.
Butt bridge: Another area of the body that can get misaligned is the hips. To help dancers strengthen their mid-section, ask them to lie on their backs with their knees bent and feet on the floor. Have them squeeze their butts and push their hips toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 seconds, and repeat four times.
3. Try Core Exercises
Exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles can also help to improve posture. You may want to work a few Pilates exercises into your classes. These can be as simple as a few sets of crunches, but they can go a long way toward straightening out dancers’ lines.
4. Help from Props
On a Dance.net forum, some dance teachers explained that they work on posture during class by using props. A small ball or bean bag can serve as a physical reminder for dancers to keep their arms straight or shoulders back. Get creative with your use of props for a fun lesson that will work wonders for your slouchers.
5. Practice Makes Perfect
Unfortunately, your dancers will continue to struggle with their posture if they forget about it the minute the leave the studio. Holding yourself upright is a full-time job, and they’ll need to be conscious of their posture throughout the day if they want to improve their dance skills. Brainstorm ways that your students can remind themselves to sit up straight in class, stop slouching in front of the TV and relax those shoulders during meals. Maybe they can set a reminder on their phones or enlist a friend to monitor their position throughout the day.
If your dancers follow these five easy steps, they’ll be on their way toward more elegant lines, straighter arms and over-all better technique.
How many times have you had a dancer cramp up during class and not be able to continue? Probably too many to count. When students, especially beginners, are pushing themselves a little too hard, their bodies will probably fight back. Muscle cramps, especially those in the feet and back, are painful and sometimes crippling to dancers, so it’s important that you know how to treat muscle cramps for your dancers, relax the muscle during class and prevent the problem in the future.
Quick Fixes for Tight Muscles
When one of your students gets a cramp during class, the first thing you should do is to get him or her something to drink. Individuals should drink 64 ounces of water every day – that’s approximately four bottles of water – and dancers should consume even more. DanceTeacher magazine explained that when students get dehydrated, their bodies aren’t able to keep with the pace of class, leading to cramps. Make sure that your dancers are taking regular water breaks throughout rehearsal to prevent these issues.
The next thing your dancer needs to do is relax the muscle that’s cramped. Have the student take deep breaths and massage the muscle with a foam roller.
“It really helps to breathe anytime you’re dancing and you feel like you’re getting exhausted,” Megan Richardson, a certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, told DanceTeacher magazine. “It calms [the] nervous system so those overstimulated muscles relax.”
Once the dancer can walk, have her slowly take a lap around the studio. It might seem counterintuitive, but walking will help leg muscles to stretch out from their contracted position. For foot cramps, encourage your dancer to do a few ankle circles and toe curls to help those muscles relax.
Target Problem Areas with Stretching
To prevent muscle cramps or spasms in the future, show your dancers some preventive stretches and encourage them to designate a little extra time to warm up and cool down. Before class, dynamic stretches will be the most beneficial, as they get the blood pumping with low-intensity movement.
“Even walking or biking to class is an ideal way to get the blood moving and raise the body’s temperature,” Jennifer Gamboa, president of the rehabilitation facility Body Dynamics, told Dance magazine. “Simply put, the body needs movement to get ready to dance.”
Gamboa recommended having your students try leg brushes, arm circles, trunk rotations and traveling lunges to get their bodies warmed up before class. Once the rehearsal is finished, that’s the time to focus on static stretching, where you work on lengthening certain muscles.
Banish Cramps with a Preventative Diet
Your dancers’ diets are equally as important in preventing muscle cramps. Encourage your students to eat foods rich in electrolytes, which will help to replace nutrients lost through sweat. Bananas, kiwi and yogurt are all packed with potassium, which can help to ward off cramps. Some other good choices are whole grains, apricots and avocados for magnesium, nuts and vegetable juice for sodium, and broccoli, milk and cheese for calcium.
“The best time to eat is 30 to 45 minutes after exercise, because that’s when the body is at its prime time to uptake all the nutrients,” Allison Wagner Eble, Cincinnati Ballet’s registered dietitian, told DanceTeacher magazine.
Sports drinks are a good way to replace electrolytes in a pinch, but healthy foods also provide other valuable nutrients that will contribute to overall wellness. Plus, sports drinks often contain high levels of added sugar, which can be harmful to the body when consumed in excess.
If you’re looking for a way to switch up the dance warm-up for your class, consider incorporating some yoga poses into your routine. Yoga is great for flexibility and balance, and it also relieves stress and helps kids to focus. Here are some of the benefits dancers can gain from practicing yoga and some of the best poses to warm up with.
Why dancers should be yogis
Almost every type of dancer, from ballet to hip-hop, can benefit from regular yoga practice. ISport explained that one of the biggest gains will be in flexibility. Yoga can help young dancers target their problem areas and keep those muscles lean. It’s a great practice for impatient young dancers, because yoga poses can gradually stretch muscles and prevent tears. ISport also pointed out that yoga is a great way to build upper body and core strength. Warming up with yoga is helpful in teaching students proper breathing techniques as well. Yoga emphasizes deep breaths from the diaphragm that won’t alter the alignment of the spine and ribs.
Best poses for warm up
To best incorporate yoga into your class warm up, start with some deep breathing exercises. Encourage your students to relax and focus on their breathing. This will help them to shake off distractions and release stress they’re carrying. You’ll probably want to move through a few basic poses – forward bends, downward dog, plank – to get them started. Once you feel everyone is ready, try these poses together.
Big Toe Pose: In this variation of a forward fold, you’ll keep your legs as straight as possible and grab your big toes with the index and middle fingers of each hand. Have students alternate between pressing their chest to their thighs and stretching up into a table-top position. YogaWiz explained that this is a great exercise to stretch the hamstrings and calves.
Triangle Pose: Begin with your feet about three feet apart, with one foot facing forward and the other perpendicular to it. With arms outstretched, move your torso toward the front-pointing foot, then reach down with your front hand and rest it on the floor or your calf, and extend the top arm toward the ceiling. You’re stretching the front and back of your legs with this pose and also opening up your hips and chest, according to YogaWiz.
Tree Pose: This is a great balance exercise that kids will enjoy. Stand with your feet together, then draw one leg up and place the sole of your foot against your inner thigh or calf – getting your leg up high isn’t super important, but don’t place your foot on or near the knee. If you want an extra challenge, raise both arms above your head. Make sure to switch legs to optimize the stretch and open your hips.