Developing Your Dancer’s Whole Body and Spirit will Improve on Dance Techniques and Reduce Injuries
Whether you run a studio or lead a school squad, you are working with some very dedicated dancers. Many start off as toddlers in the intro to tap and ballet classes, get hooked, and quickly progress to modern and hip hop dance. Their appreciation for all types of creative movement often lands them in the studio and on practice floors up to eight hours a week. As we all admire this dedication and applaud their commitment and disciple, we must also keep a lookout for burnout, stress and injuries.
Sometimes taking time away from choreography and focusing on the whole body and spirit can help refocus a dancer. There are several fun ways to do this.
Many studios, instructors and coaches add cross-training elements into their schedules. The most important area for added attention is strengthening the body’s core. These are the upper and lower abdominals, obliques (sides of stomach) and the back muscles along the spine. When the core is strong and engaged the smaller muscles in the body do less work, resulting in fewer injuries. It also allows dancers to hold their head up straight and have better posture, which reduces strain on the knees and the back.
The simplest way to build a strong core is to bring core workouts in to dance time. Strengthening routines can be done for 15 minutes during a class or in a full 30 to 40 minute class outside of choreography each week. Basic core strengthening exercises include planks, burpees, cobra, crunches, v ups and back extensions. As the dancers start to build their cores, other strength training exercises using body weight—such as squats, pushups, dips and lunges—can be added.
Another effective core training technique is Pilates. It usually requires equipment, so you may have to make a monthly pilgrimage to a local studio or gym. Pilates exercises are driven from the core and target specific muscles. This helps create body awareness and identifies areas of weakness and strength. Practicing Pilates will help a dancer with proper turnout and enhance strong technique and precision in movements.
Yoga is another great cross-discipline for dancers. It promotes both physical and emotional growth. The body flow movements of yoga help elongate and strengthen muscles, and its foot-centric approach helps dancers truly be in touch with their feet as they connect and move across a floor. The focus on relaxation and breathing techniques can help a dancer learn how to cope with the anxieties and stress that come with performing.
It may be difficult or challenging to find dance instructors and coaches who are knowledgeable in multiple fitness disciplines. Do not let this be a set back—these skilled instructors are in your community and may even be one of your dancer’s parents. Seek out assistance from these specialty instructors because networking can increase community awareness for your studio or dance team. Some instructors may be willing to swap time—donating their skill and time for a weekly segment with your dancers in exchange for a dance instructor who will work with their clients.
Bringing additional commitments to conditioning may sound daunting or overwhelming to parents and dancers. However, taking time away from choreography and practicing for performances to focus on the whole bodies and minds of your dancers will have payoffs. You will see less injuries and your dancers’ technique, precision, stamina and love for dance will greatly improve.