Dance Conditioning classes are not usually the first thing dancers choose to do. And while they may not have the artistry of a dance class, dance conditioning, when done correctly and consistently, can dramatically improve your dance performance. During this time of “stay at home” orders, dancers have the opportunity to improve their technique and help prevent injury through dance conditioning.
Early in my career as an educator in dance, I strictly focused on dance movement without getting much into the science behind it.
During my 20 years as a studio owner, conditioning was always part of our program for our serious dancers and it wasn’t until I started teaching dancers outside of my own program that I realized how important dance conditioning was, and how it contributed to solid technique and injury prevention. For the last 6 months I have focused my continuing education as a dance professional specifically on conditioning and the science behind movement. I recently obtained DancemED specialist certification under the mentorship of Dr. Alexis Sams and attended the Neurokinetic Therapy Training Course in preparation for certification NKT.
Why is dance conditioning so important? Many times, dancers that are seriously focused students want to take as many classes as they can. In most cases, ballet technique is where they build their foundation of movement and take ballet several times a week. And while ballet builds a solid foundation of technique for dancers, it’s primarily done turned out. Over time, if you are focusing on building muscle and brain/body connection in a turned out position, you’re not working opposing muscle groups and overuse injury becomes an issue. The dancer is then usually sent to physical therapy and ordered to rest. The problem is that when your brain sends a signal to your body to “perform” a movement, the neurokinetic chain will go to the most familiar path. It takes 700 repetitions to correct a dysfunctional movement pattern. So even though the dancer is going to PT and doing the exercises, when they are dancing, the new pattern has not been reprogramed and hinders rapid improvement. A great example of this is a dancer who does a backbend. A backbend done correctly should maintain a parallel position the entire time. Most dancers know this, and despite “trying” to maintain the parallel position, many end up turned out by the time their hands touch the ground. As dancers, we stretch in both turned out and parallel positions, but often dancers do not strengthen these opposing muscle groups and so the body reverts back to the path of least resistance (ending up turned out). In a backbend, when your feet are turned out, alignment is compromised, knees pronate and can cause knee, ankle, and hip issues.
How do you go about creating an effective conditioning program?
I encourage dancers to focus on the trunk, hip/pelvis, knee and foot/ankle muscle groups since they all play vital roles in dance technique of any genre. A conditioning program is different than a stretch class. Agility, balance, speed, coordination, power, and reaction time are skills that should be considered when creating a dance conditioning program to optimize performance in dance. Make sure that the person that is creating the conditioning program is trained in both functional movement and dance so that the program is safe & effective. Consulting an athletic trainer or Physical Therapist with a dance background may be beneficial.
- Find exercises that are simple, yet effective, in targeting a specific muscle groups.
- Some simple props can help activate muscle groups and provide stability. Resistance bands, tennis balls, yoga blocks, ropes, sliders are some examples.
- Proper form overrides EVERYTHING! As dancers, we naturally want to do everything bigger, better, and higher which often leads to compromised form. Remind dancers that sometimes the smaller, refined, visual movement will yield better results. Props can also be used to help maintain form.
- Consistency is key. Like anything else, you get better and stronger with practice. Set up a conditioning schedule and track it!
- Rotate skills and drills! While conditioning is key, it is also important that you vary the exercise to ensure complete training and muscle shock, maximizing stimulation and training benefits. Change it up every 6-8 weeks.
- Slow & Steady wins every time. Do not overdo conditioning. While you may be a little sore, if your conditioning program is interfering with your dance performance due to tight, fatigued muscles, it will be counterproductive.
- Self care: Roll & Recover. Perform myofascial release, so your body works at optimum levels. Self massage and lymphatic drainage helps dancers perform and feel their best.
Most dance conditioning programs can be done in a small space & once you have a program in place, it does not require a teacher at every session. I do advise an instructor to check in/evaluate students to ensure proper form and execution, but well trained dancers that are committed to their craft can condition on their own. So in this pandemic, while at home, one of the best ways a dancer can improve their dance skills is with consistent dance conditioning. I will be hosting a Dance Conditioning class online April 23rd and I am always available for private sessions with dancers, teachers, and studio owners who want Acceler8 Training. I will be hosting a Dance Conditioning Class 101 online April 23rd and I am always available for private sessions with dancers, teachers, and studio owners. Follow up classes will be held in May & June that will have specific focus, in depth discussions and progressive exercises to help teacher create a program that is best for their dancers.