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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