Every dancer dreams of the perfect flexibility. But most don’t know it can be attained with simple flexibility exercises and keeping some do’s and don’ts in mind.
Flexibility is defined as full range movement without any pain or discomfort. Whether you dance in classical, modern, hip-hop, jazz or ballet, you require a lot of strength and flexibility to create and express art through your bodies.
There is always that one person in every class who can lounge around in splits just as effortlessly as they do an arabesque. Though you may not bend backward or lift your leg toward the sky in daily life, an increase in flexibility achieved through the tips below can help you have a fitter, flexible body and avoid routine injuries.
Why Flexibility is Important for Dancers
Whether you are a dancer or not, improving your flexibility has a lot of benefits for your body. Your bones are in proper alignment giving your muscles, joints, ligaments and vital organs function well. People with poor flexibility are prone to injuries that include strained muscles, fractured bones, torn ligaments, and strained muscles.
Tightness and stiff muscles are bad for dancers as well.
Professional dancers understand that flexibility is one of the most important physical aspects to become a good dancer. The dance should appear effortless, and the dancer should be able to go from one step to another seamlessly.
Flexibility elongates your lines and enriches the look of your dancing. Flexibility allows your body to have a good range of motion and helps in proper alignment of the bones, which results in a good posture.
With flexibility, dancing becomes easier, requires less effort because you are not fighting with your muscles and focusing your energy on controlling your movements and expression. Of course, as a ballerina, you look nicer with beautiful reaches and bends, which is an added advantage.
Having a good posture helps exude confidence and positivity- both in dance and in real life!
In short, to get your leg high in Adagio, you need to learn to maintain a good ballet posture and keep your hip flexible and in line with your leg. You need to train your body to improve its flexibility- otherwise, you won’t progress and will waste your time.
Flexibility is as necessary as alignment; you may have heard from many people that flexibility will come to you naturally. You may not need to work on flexibility initially, but sooner or later you will feel that you have reached your limit. To progress further, you need to work on your flexibility and maintain it consistently.
Flexibility is all about listening to your body. There are many exercises that you can do to improve your flexibility. A frog, a cat, a dog, and a butterfly- we are not talking about animals or insects here! These are all stretching exercises that can help you improve your flexibility.
Start with Gaynor Minden Dancer’s Dozen – a specially designed pouch that fits well in your dance bag comes with 2 different exercise bands and a nifty flip card booklet with illustrations.
Here are some of the exercises that you can try.
- Butterfly Stretch- Helps to elongate the muscles in the groin and inner thigh. Regular practicing of this stretch will help you increase flexibility and allow you to press your knees easily to the ground.
- Ceiling and Toe Touch- This stretch provides an effective stretch for the back, sides, arms, and legs. A simple exercise that can be done in both sitting and standing position.
- Kneeling Quad Stretch- This stretch helps improve flexibility along inner thigh and hamstrings.
- Shoulder and Arm Stretch- This exercise focuses on flexibility in the shoulders and arms.
- Piano Toes- Try flexing your toes as if playing piano, using each toe separately. This short foot exercise helps in keeping foot arches flexible.
- Shimmy Squat- Shuffling in squat position helps maintain hip alignment and foot arch height at the same time.
- Ankle Exercises with Resistance Bands- Ballet Strap helps in flexing your ankles and calves, which should be a part of your daily routine.
- Toe Curls- the simple flexing of your toes can help in improving the entire foot muscles' flexibility. Try these with American Dance Supply Ankle Strap to maximize its impact.
- Calf- Raises through Plie- This is a stretching and strengthening exercise for feet and calve. It is an excellent way to work through these muscles in tandem. This exercise helps create stability in ankle’s ligaments.
- Lower Back Stretches- The simple exercise if bringing your feet up together while you are lying down helps in stretching your lower back and hip muscles.
- Upper Back Stretches- This exercise helps in stretching upper back as well as quadriceps.
- Bridge P- To stretch out upper back and shoulders, this is also an arm strengthening exercise.
- Stretching for Arabesque/Attitude- To increase your splits as well as back flexibility, improving the line of arabesque/attitude and extending your quadriceps, this Bloch resistance band may come in handy.
- Standing Straddle Stretch- this exercise helps in stretching your inner thigh, as well as your entire spine.
- Frog Stretch- Sit in frog style and if possible, walk in this position- an excellent way to improve hip movement, middle splits, and turnouts.
Tips to Improve Flexibility
Here are some tips to improve flexibility.
- Practice your Stretches Every Day- All good dancers would vouch for this tip. Flexibility improves with constant practice, even when you are not dancing. Every day you practice, you will see the improvement the next day.
- Consult a Physiotherapist- A physiotherapist will help you understand your body better. Each one of us has some limitations and its possible to overcome some of them while you have to work your way around some issues. A physio will help you with exercises, even massages and pain relieving techniques.
- Use Right Quality Conditioning Accessories- Foam rollers help you when you roll your calves, thighs, and quads. They also help in releasing neck and shoulder tension so you can gain more flexibility.
- Breathe- Whenever you are stretching, don’t forget to breathe! Deep breathing allows oxygen to reach all parts of your body. Focus on each part of your body while stretching and gently relax your body. Body awareness is very critical for flexibility. It helps in perfecting your dance moves too!
- Try Yoga and Pilates- If you can afford to spend some time, yoga and Pilates combine all the above techniques as well as tips, and you should definitely give it a try.
- Focus on your Nutrition too- Certain foods help in improving muscle flexibility here is a whole lot of fitness and nutrition information on the same!
While you are thinking about your next move, we also have a list of flexibility books that can help you attain the agility every dancer craves.
Flexibility No No’s
Keep these pointers in mind on what NOT to do while working on your flexibility.
- Remember that Safety is the Key- don't try the quick fixes on the internet. There is no shortcut to elongate your muscles quickly. You may resort to dangerous and extreme stretching methods, which can hurt your bodies in the long run. Flexibility is a long drawn process.
- Don’t do anything without Warm-ups- Cold muscles can’t be limber. If you want to avoid injuries and see results, always warm up with a few cardio exercises and then gradually ease into a stretch position.
- Focus on Technique- don’t focus on how often you are stretching and for how long. Instead, focus on maintaining good body posture while stretching.
- Don't Overstretch- the positions will take their own time to come to you. Focus on progressive overload on your muscle capacity. Increase a little tension and stretch at every session.
- Don't Overdo just before a Performance- if you stretch too much before a dance performance, you will tire your muscles out and may not be able to reach your maximum potential.
- Avoid Prolonged Stretches- don’t listen to old wives tales like keeping your toes tucked under a piano to improve flexibility in arches. Don't hold any stretch longer than 20 minutes.
- Don't Ignore your Body’s Signals- if there is a sudden sharp pain, listen to your body. Bouncing or jerking can lead to injury. Stop before it is painful.
- Don’t do it all Alone all the Time- when practicing some serious stretching, make sure you have someone around. It could be your buddy, teammate, dance teacher or even your parents. You can also ask them to help you with some stretches.
It's a myth that flexibility can be achieved only if practiced from a young age. The truth is, irrespective of age; any dancer can become more flexible if they learn to do it properly and commit themselves to it. Just like our different body types, we have different types of flexibility. The key is to remember that how you start does not determine how you finish. Just because you can't touch your toes in the beginning while everyone else could, does not mean you won't be doing the perfect penche soon.
This blog is not meant to be professional advice –Please consult your health professional before any new exercise regimen to reduce the risk of injury.