Improve Flexibility

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Flexibility is an aspect of dance that will help you improve in many areas. It is something you can work on at home between dance classes. Push yourself to gain a greater range of flexibility. Listen to your body and identify your limitations. Stay consistent and disciplined to overcome them.

Warm Up
Always warm up your muscles before you stretch.

Get Started
While stretching, gradually increase how far your muscles are stretched. Hold each stretch for about 20 seconds (time varies from person to person). Holding the stretch will deactivate your muscle spindles, and you should feel a release in the muscle being stretched. Then, you can push the stretch a little further until your muscle spindles activate, and your stretch is naturally stopped. Hold this stretch for a moment and then relax.

Do Not Overstretch
If your muscles start to quiver at any point during your stretching, back off a little. Quivering means your muscles are being overworked.

Watch Your Range
If your range of motion starts to decrease, you have stretched too far. Let your muscles rest and heal.

Young Dancers
While you are still growing, your range of flexibility will probably vary. It is normal to experience a loss of flexibility during growth spurts. Bones grow faster than muscles, and it may take some time to regain your full range. Your body will even out, just keep stretching.

Basic Types of Stretching
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
The method of contacting and releasing muscles to gain flexibility.

With a partner: Lay on your back, or stand up against a wall. Lift one leg, and have your partner hold it. Then, contract your muscles as your partner pushes your leg toward your chest. Hold this for a few seconds, then relax, and have your partner push your leg closer to your chest. You can repeat this several times, moving the leg a little higher each time.

Caution: This method of stretching is effective but can cause injury if not done properly. Your partner should be credentialed as a personal trainer or physical therapist.

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
This method of stretching is similar to PNF, but is safer because you control the range of motion.

Lay on your back, pull your leg toward your chest with your hands or an exercise band. Contract and release muscles, then push, stretch farther, and repeat.

Caution: Pay close attention to how your muscles are feeling so that you don’t over stretch. You can pull a muscle, so use caution. Never yank on your leg.

Method of holding a stretch for a long time.

Method of repeating the movement of a stretch.

Example: reaching forward to touch your toes, then pull back and repeat.

Caution: Keep your movements smooth and controlled, or you will activate your muscle spindles-which is the opposite of what you want.

*Always consult a medical professional before starting a new type of exercise.

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Health and Fitness for Dancers

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By Mario Raspanti

The rhythm that a consistent dance regimen provides for a dancer helps build and maintain the muscles that are used in dance. For both aspiring professionals and recreational dancers, maintaining a daily, let alone a weekly or monthly dance practice regimen can be a real challenge. This is especially true for those that are too busy studying or making ends meet to devote a lot of time to dance.

Caroline Holden, dance teacher and Pilates instructor at the Stoughton Center for Performing Arts, took a few minutes to answer some common questions dancers face regarding dance practice and maintaining fitness.

Q: What should professionals, students, and recreational dancers do to maintain health and fitness during down time?
A: Resting is paramount for any athlete. Muscles need to recover. That being said, keeping the body stretched and strengthened is important. Pilates and yoga are good examples of regiments that keep the body stretched and strengthened. As most dance is anaerobic, an aerobic exercise regimen is also recommended for overall health.

Q: What do competitive dancers and aspiring professionals lose during extended breaks from dance training and practice, and what can dancers do to maintain muscle strength during extended breaks between practices and/or performances?
A: Muscle length and strength are easily lost. However, keep in mind that it takes two times as long to lose muscle as it takes to gain it. Eat lean proteins and stretch and strengthen.

Q: What exercises do you recommend for those that have very little time to dance regularly?
A: Every dancer will have exercises that suit them best. Ask your dance teacher, “If I only have five minutes, what exercises would be best for my body?”

Q: What muscles benefit from dance? What muscles get the most work/stress put on them during dance? What dances are the most physically taxing?
A: Ballet required turn-out which is not a natural position for the body to hold. If ballet positions are done incorrectly they can and will damage the joints of the leg as well as the hips. That said, dancers tend to overtax their hip flexors and
glutes. The entire body benefits from dance training –especially the muscles of the leg.

Q: What dances, exercises, and stretches are good and necessary for warm-up?
A: Pilates, footwork (tondires etc.), developés, are all part of a traditional warm up for ballet, jazz, and modern dancers. Many teachers expect a dancer to be slightly warm and stretched before they begin class in order for class to be most beneficial.

Q: What foods should dancers avoid during periods of extended rest?
A: Dancers are fueling their instrument. You get out what you put in. Be mindful. Lean proteins are always recommended.

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