You do know that stretching in itself is not a warm up, riiiight?
Years ago, it was considered a safe practice to stretch as a way of getting warmed up, but nowadays health and fitness experts uniformly agree that it is unsafe, whether for sports or any type of dance. However, stretching is an important part of getting ready to dance- or for cooling down after you dance.
Time and time again I’ve seen dancers just jump right into full on dancing without any sort of warm up at all, let along stretching. In the past, I was frequently guilty of doing this, too…but not any more! Though this might occasionally fly when you’re twenty, or that rare instance when you’re super late for a gig, it’s definitely not a good or healthy habit to be in. You want a long career, right? And to be able to dance without pain? This might sound crazy to you, many dancers, even seasoned professionals don’t know how to stretch properly.
Stretching is absolutely necessary for your body’s performance- whether you’re on a playing field, doing every day tasks or on a stage. Stretching helps our muscles stay limber, elongated and flexible. As dancers, these three things grant us a greater range of motion, which is important for our technique overall, and in general is essential proper posture, as well as our off-stage well being. Every one of us has a different physiology-and some are definitely more limber than others. Many of us can go easily into the splits naturally, while others have a hard time doing a simple lunge. No matter how “tight” your body feels you can still increase your flexibility by stretching properly and safely… and by working up to being more elastic slowly.
Let me say this one more time: stretching in itself is not a warm up.
Here are some hints to help you stretch safely and effectively:
Ready, Set, Go!
If you’re about to begin a stretching regimen, make sure you have everything you need: a place where you can really spread out, a fluffy towel or yoga matt, resistance bands and/or a balance ball if you use them…and ample space. Make sure you’re well hydrated. If you’d like to work at home by yourself, make sure that you have done some aerobic dancing before you stretch, or taken a very brisk walk.
Before You Stretch
After about five or ten minutes of walking or dancing, begin to move your limbs slowly, deliberately and gently by doing modified dance movements before you focus on stretching.
Never ever stretch cold muscles, do not force your body into a stretch, and please don’t bounce when you are stretching. This is and called ballistic stretching, and could make injuries more likely. Holding a static stretch (where you stay in the same position for some time) can be injurious if your muscles are not already warmed up. Passive stretching, the kind where you use a ball or a strap to assist your muscles to stretch is far more gentle that either of the previous two.
Ease Into Stretching Slowly
This means before each session, as well as pacing yourself and not taking on more than you can initially handle! A good way to begin a weekly stretching practice is to aim for a couple of ten or fifteen minute stretching sessions each week. If you are in regular dance classes, this may already be covered, but if not, make sure to ease into working each major muscle group for maximum results.
There are many awesome resources on DVD as well as online which will help you identify certain muscle groups and the stretches that help you target specific areas, but there’s nothing like getting feedback from a live teacher! If you are unsure how to begin a safe stretching practice, or are working towards definite fitness goals, get some instruction. You can’t go wrong with Yoga or Pilates, but even a “stretch and tone” class at a local fitness center would probably be beneficial.
Make Stretching A Regular Part Of Your Dance Practice
Once you’ve gotten used to stretching, your body will crave it, so be sure to warm up properly- and then stretch before and after each rehearsal, and show as well as at dance classes.