As with any physical activity or sport, dance requires us to take special care with our bodies. Athletes need to warm up their bodies and make sure their muscles are properly cared for after their workouts; dancers are no different. Dancing can actually cause quite of bit of strain since a lot of the movements push our bodies out of normal alignment. However, we can effectively prevent or reduce the chance of certain injuries by warming up and stretching before we dance. There are also things we can do after dance sessions to treat our muscles. We can also do certain stretches and exercises when we’re not dancing. I will list some exercises and activities you can do to make sure you’re in the best condition you can be to dance!
When you dance, you’re going to be on your feet for a long time, so you might as well prepare for that by walking around! Before you start your class or lesson, you can warm up by walking around the dance floor a few times. You can even run a place a little. Not only will this warm up your feet, but it will start up your heart rate a bit. Walking will also help to warm up your knees and ankles. Walking is also a great activity to keep you active and conditioned while you’re not on the dance floor (and if you feel ready you could even upgrade to running!).
Another great way to warm up your ankles is to roll them. While sitting, roll each ankle around in a circular motion for a few seconds and switch directions. Another thing you can do is pretend you are writing out every letter of the alphabet with your big toe. If you do this consistently for both ankles, you should be good to go! A good ankle warm up is great because it reduces the chance of you seriously injuring yourself in case you slip or something – your ankles will be stronger!
Speaking of building strength, it’s always a good idea to strengthen the muscles that you use the most while you dance. You don’t have to go into full “bodybuilder” mode while you are conditioning your muscles, but you may notice some improvement with your dancing if you focus on certain muscle groups like your core, arms, hamstrings, calves, etc. Just even just the smallest bit of exercise could make a difference, and could also reduce some strain on your body because you will be stronger and able to engage in more movements. Your instructors can also help you with conditioning exercises and give you some ideas. For example: calf raises are good for strengthening your calf muscles which you definitely use a lot when you dance.
Going along with conditioning muscles, our shoulders are a very important body part to work on, especially if you are a ballroom dancer. Ballroom dancers spend a lot of time in dance frame, which means they need to have stable arms and shoulders (especially leads). If there are aches or pains in our shoulder/back area, it can make the rest of our dance experience very uncomfortable. Therefore, rolling and stretching your shoulders and arms before and after a dance session can be beneficial by reducing some minor injuries. It doesn’t take too much time to do!
Working on Flexibility
Stretching to improve your flexibility can help improve your range of motion. For example, if you do stretches for your hip flexors you will be able to put more movement into your hips, especially when focusing on Cuban motion. If you also stretch out your arms and shoulders, you will be able to elongate certain movements, making them look bigger and stronger. It’s also a good idea to stretch your calves, hamstrings, quads, or other muscles on your lower body if you are going to do any dance that requires you to lunge or kick. The same thing also goes for your back – stretch it out if you plan on doing any back bends! Good flexibility has perks other than just making you look good on the dance floor; it’s also another way to prevent injuries! For instance, let’s say you bend your back a little too far during practice. If you have good flexibility in your back, chances are you won’t be hurt so badly, whereas an inflexible back would suffer more.
Cross training is when you engage in another type of activity in order to improve fitness or performance in your main sport/activity. In this case where your main sport would be dance, cross training could be a variety of different activities. Some things that are good for dancers are yoga, Pilates, or taking classes in a completely different dance style. Even the walking and running that I mentioned earlier could be considered as cross training if you do it regularly. Another perk of cross training is that you may discover an additional hobby or sport that you really like! As always, remember to take care with your cross training activities and never push yourself too hard.
Don’t Forget to Cool Down
As with any good workout, it’s always best to cool down when you are done. After exercise, a cool-down session brings your heart rate back down to normal. It’s good to bring your heart rate down before doing normal activities otherwise you could get dizzy. There are many ways you can cool down; it just involves doing some low-intensity activity. Usually, the best way to cool down after a dance lesson is to do a few light stretches or walk around.
Hopefully reading this has given you some ideas for warming up and stretching before and after dancing. As with any physical activity, always remember that you don’t have to overdo it. Overstretching and overexerting sore muscles and joints can be counterproductive and make things even worse. Finally, make sure you see a doctor physical therapist for any injures or problems you have. Even minor discomfort can lead to bigger issues. Always take care of yourself!
Happy Dancing! ^_^