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Why dancers and dance teachers cannot ignore fitness?
With their lean, muscular bodies, agility and continuously being on their toes, dancers are considered physically fit, and most parents, as well as dancers themselves, don't think about fitness.
You may or may not be a professional dancer yet, but if you are studying seriously to be one, or competing often, you are technically an athlete in training.
Be it ballet, jazz, ballroom, tap, hip-hop or any other dance form, and dance training has some "fitness holes", technique classes, rehearsals, and regular dancing sessions are not enough.
Today’s dancers are unfit and, more importantly, not as healthy as they could be. They are not prepared for the high level of demands made by choreographers, and juggling between school or work and their dance sessions, fitness often gets ignored or sidelined.
The training methods used for various dance movements are not enough to help dancers prepare for the more physically demanding aspects of performance.
For any dancer, the physical, as well as psychological well-being is the base of their artistic expression. To dance well, a dancer needs to focus on all aspects of fitness. Good fitness ensures that dancers are less prone to injuries, can enhance their performance, and push their physical abilities. All this helps in prolonging their career and ensures dancers live a happier, fuller life.
Your dance class may immensely helpful in improving certain aspects of your fitness levels- like flexibility, agility, muscular endurance, but not all dancers are at the same fitness levels when they begin.
The individual fitness requirements of each dancer's body are different and need to be addressed outside of the classroom. A typical dance class may or may not share the same focus on cardiovascular training- for example.
It may not incorporate training principles like overload, for example. (The Overload Principle is a basic sports fitness training concept. It means that to improve; athletes must continually work harder as their bodies adjust to existing workouts.)
There are 7 reasons why you need to focus on fitness:
Dancers don't focus on cardio until they are deep into rehearsals and performance – by then, it may be too late. Often dancers lack the stamina required for the performance (which might lead to injury). Unless an aerobic dance class is taken, an average dance technique class is too intermittent for any positive aerobic effect to occur.
Although technique classes can be modified to involve some degree of aerobic work using simple, repetitive movements, unless the dancer is extremely unfit at the start, there is little change in a dancer’s aerobic capacity only by dancing alone.
To improve cardiovascular fitness, 20-45 minutes of aerobic exercise, 3-7 times a week is recommended. The dancers should workout more in the off-season than in the peak of performance season to avoid overtraining and injury. Dance instructors should encourage students in other activities like walking, jogging, cycling, stair climbing, or swimming outside of class.
Every dance teacher, as well as the dancer, wants to go "all- out" when it comes to performance. Dancing your heart out is possible only if you are trained for short bursts of high-intensity interval training.
Dance teachers may ask-
“What about the pointed toes? What happens with so much power in the foot? Where is the turnout? Won’t all this undo my training? Its dancers not track and field athletes I am coaching!”
The technical training may or may not train for these short bursts of energy demanding moves, and dancers may risk injuries due to fatigue if they go in unprepared. Anaerobic movements are not going to replace the traditional dance methods, but they do add functional support for the physiological needs of today’s dancer, who has to be as much an athlete as an artist.
For anaerobic fitness is associated with high intensity, maximal, short bursts of activity and a dancer can opt for sprint training, interval training, ply metrics, and dance-specific repetitive movement phases with faster, more dynamic movements for increasing the power to their performances.
There are concerns in the dancing fraternity that too much muscle strength will negatively affect the aesthetic appearance of a dancer as well as his/her flexibility. Nothing can be farther from the truth though. Endurance training leads to reduced occurrences of dance injuries, and also leads to better dancing without interfering with the artistic or aesthetic demands of the dance.
Strength/endurance training helps to improve the muscles' ability to produce a continuous movement without overtiring.
Strength training may involve heavy, or light weights or resistance training with repetition stretched over time. Each strength training program can be aimed at a specific goal. Depending on the intensity (low/ high) resistance (heavy/ light) and frequency of repetition, workouts interspersed with recovery periods of different duration helps in improving the muscle strength.
Some common exercises for strength /endurance training are static (held) exercises with some resistance, partnered assisted activities with some resistance, Pilates, and yoga.
A dancer’s wellness begins with strength training - read more here!
Flexibility is an essential element for dancers.
It compliments muscular strength, builds efficiency in movement, coordination and prevents injuries. A dancer benefits the most by incorporating different methods of stretching – static (holding), dynamic (moving through the stretch_ and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF- alternate contraction and relaxation) in the workout routine.
You have to be careful with the way you stretch. The muscle being focussed on needs to be carefully isolated and breathing correctly is equally important. With regular flexibility workouts, muscle fibers become more pliable to the new length.
But it is essential to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of stretch. Contrary to widespread practice, stretching to full range should be carried out when the body is warm, preferably after the dance class.
To read more on how to improve your flexibility as a dancer, read this article.
Dance fitness also involves balance, coordination, agility, and skill. Though this aspect of fitness is addressed quite often in most dance technique classes, having a separate fitness plan focussing on neuromuscular coordination help in improving control and application of the right muscles at the right time.
Most dance forms expect dancers to develop efficiency in movements, so the positions look effortless and not forced.
Through imagery, visualization, a dancer can improve neural pathways, so the movements are voluntary and instinctive, and don't' feel memorized and tutored. Motor learning and motor control is an essential element of fitness routines for professional dancers around the world, irrespective of the type of dance.
Meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation exercises, somatic techniques like (Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, tai chi, Pilates, yoga) are very helpful in improving neuromuscular coordination.
Body image issues plague most dancers from time to time. Two dancers have the same height, weight and overall fitness levels may still differ when it comes to the body fat percentage.
Healthy lean muscle mass to fat mass ratio is a critical indicator of a dancer's future physical performance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthy body compositions range from 17 to 25% of body fat and below 15% for males. Worried about fat? Don't be, because a certain amount of fat is essential for daily healthy functioning of your body. Read about diet and fitness here.
Dancers, who wish to jump higher, turn faster, and survive extended, tiring training and rehearsal sessions and still perform at their peak on the D-day, need to have an optimal body composition which is unique to them.
Appropriate energy intake in the form of nutritious diet and consumption of calories in the way of correct fitness routine helps dancers achieve the right body composition.
Your fitness levels also determine your ability to recover faster from the grueling, physically and mentally exhausting routine that you follow in pursuit of dancing excellence.
Rest is vital to accelerate muscle regeneration, recovery and decrease fatigue that might cause injuries.
Overtraining negatively affects a dancer's performance.
To reverse the effects of overtraining, diet, hydration, proper rest and a night of restful sleep is required.
Years ago, it was said that best dancers have two talents that set them ahead of their contemporaries- deep understanding of expressions, and physical and psychological prowess to accomplish it to perfection. A dancer who can jump higher, balance longer is not necessarily a better dancer, unless she is fit to be consistent in the long run.
A fitter dancer is always a better dancer.
https://www.iadms.org/page/303- Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS), IADMS and Sarah Irvine, MSc, Emma Redding, Ph.D., and Sonia Rafferty, MSc
Poster adapted from https://www.iadms.org/store/ViewProduct.aspx?id=6397659&hhSearchTerms=%2522rafferty%2522