The dance class has been shown to be fairly ‘stop start’ or intermittent in nature and as a result dancers’ cardiovascular training needs may not be simply met by participating in class or rehearsal. Furthermore, dancers face increasing demands from choreographers, pushing their bodies to the limits in terms of technique, skill and versatility. For this reason it is important for dancers to consider taking up additional fitness training, and to ask important questions regarding the type of extra training their individual body needs. A good place to start might be to identify areas that require improvement or strengthening. Screening for example is one way you can identify areas that require focus; whether this be in relation to cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscular endurance, strength or power. Although the dance class may innately contribute to improvements in certain aspects of fitness (i.e. flexibility, agility, muscular endurance), depending on the individual dancer’s body some of these aspects may need to be addressed outside of the classroom in their own time. Importantly, a typical dance class does not share the same focus on cardiovascular intensity, nor does it necessarily incorporate training principles such as overload. Overload is needed in order for physiological adaptions to occur and therefore the dance class alone may not facilitate such changes. Additional training has other benefits too. We know that fatigue increases the risk of sustaining an injury in dance, and as increased fitness may help to delay the onset of fatigue it could in turn help to reduce this risk.
So what form of extra training should you do? The most important answer to this question is it should be tailored to your own specific needs; there is no magic formula or generic plan and previous injury, illness and current workload should be considered. To get you thinking about additional training methods and to also dispel some common myths, we have put the spotlight on just a few types of supplementary training.
Since the 1920’s dancers have subjectively reported the benefits of engaging in the Pilates method alongside their dance training. In recent years scientific research has also started to evidence these benefits. Studies have shown that Pilates can help to improve alignment, flexibility and muscular strength in dancers, and due to its focus on fluid and controlled movements it is often a natural choice for dancers. More hypermobile or flexible dancers might wish to choose Pilates-based exercise in order to encourage greater strength and control.
There is little scientific research to support the benefits of yoga in dance specifically, however dancers do tend to naturally choose yoga as a form of supplementary training. An unpublished study reported improvements in hip flexion range of motion after a four week intervention and suggested that yoga can offer additional educational benefits. Dancers who are naturally less flexible may benefit from practicing yoga due to its focus on dynamic stretching. Previous or existing injuries should be considered before attending class.
Aerobic and endurance training
It is important for dancers to have good aerobic power to enable them to dance for longer and at lower heart rates before becoming fatigued. Although the dance class can contribute to improvements in aerobic power, due to the intermittent nature of class, additional cardiovascular training such as running or swimming can be useful. Running is a cheap and effective way of training aerobically but if you are recovering from an injury and want to avoid loaded weight bearing activities, swimming is a great alternative.
It is important for dancers to have power in their legs for both jumping and travelling sequences. Plyometric or jump training aims to increase power (speed and strength) by incorporating exercises in which the muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time. One study found that such training did improve subjective measures of dancer’s jumping including height, ability to point feet and overall jump ability as assessed by experienced dance faculty members. Again, it is important to consider injury history and workload before engaging in plyometric training. Some dancers are concerned that working on strength in this way may lead to developing ‘bulky muscles’ and compromising aesthetic quality. There is little evidence to support this idea, and the pros of plyometric training seem to outweigh the potential cons.
A more somatic approach
Although somatic techniques do not immediately spring to mind when considering supplementary training, practices such as the Feldenkrais Method which aim to increase kinaesthetic self- awareness through movement (without placing extreme stress on the body) can be helpful during busy work periods. Practices such as the Feldenkrais Method can also be of benefit to individuals troubled with stress and anxiety.
*The extra stress placed on the body through supplementary training can cause temporary fatigue. You should aim to leave at least two weeks between end of training and any scheduled performance periods.
Amelia Wilkinson, Dance Science Graduate Intern & Administrative Intern for Health
For more information take a look at these resources.
Beck, S., Redding, E., & Wyon, M. A. (2015). Methodological considerations for documenting the energy demand of dance activity: a review. Frontiers in psychology, 6.
Kefallonitou, M, M., (2014). The effects of Yin Yoga practice on dancers’ range of joint motion : a biomechanical and perceptual investigation (Unpublished thesis). Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London.
McKinnon, M., & Etlin-Stein, H. (2015, November 09) Pilates: A natural choice for dancers [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/231658/Pilates-A-natural-choice-for-dancers.
Rafferty, S. (2010). Considerations for integrating fitness into dance training.Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 14(2), 45-49.
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