Before any class or rehearsal, dancers must first take time to prepare their bodies for the rigors of their craft. Dance of any form is a strenuous athletic activity that involves the use of almost every part of your body, including muscles, tendons and joints. Failing to properly warm up can lead to decreased performance and more injuries.
The purpose of your dance warm-up is to increase your heart rate, blood flow, muscle elasticity and range of motion. It also improves flexibility and endurance, and even helps you focus.
Warming up before dance can take many forms, from dynamic exercises like running in place or jumping jacks, to static exercises that isolate certain muscle groups and prepare them for the workout ahead.
Most classes or rehearsals will include a warm-up, but if you feel you aren’t devoting enough time to it, do some stretching on your own before class. During long competition or recital days, it is important to stretch all day long, as your body will inevitably cool down between performances.
A basic dance warm-up should involve working through the entire body, focusing on your neck and shoulders, core, back, hips and hamstrings. An optimal warm-up period could last for up to 40 minutes.
Before you isolate individual muscle groups with stretching, start your warm-up with a simple cardio routine. This releases oxygenated blood to the muscles and prepares them for stretching. Stretches are best performed when the muscles have been warmed up.
Stretches should be gentle and held for 30 – 40 seconds, without bouncing.
Begin with roll-downs (a gradual, forward flexing of the spine) and plié’s, which stretch your spine and hamstrings. Next, begin a series of neck rolls.
Continue stretching your core and back with a back stretch.
Lunges prepare your body for performing splits.
Finally, perform center, right and left splits, deepening each stretch deliberately until you can achieve your optimal flexibility.
Junior All-Stars coach Melissa Sue Anderson says that the most important thing for any student to remember during warm-up time, and always, is that you should never compare yourself to other people in the room. Remember that every dancer has strengths and weaknesses; some people are naturally flexible, others have to work a little harder at it. Don’t waste warm-up time comparing yourself to others. Rather than having a positive impact, you will likely push yourself in the wrong ways and compromise your technique.
She also recommends that you keep working on any stretches that you find difficult. Try to hold them a little longer each time, and like everything in dance, practice makes perfect.
Melissa Sue explains that cooling down and eating right are important, too. After a dance session, do a cool-down that mimics your warm-up, but use more soothing movements that are gentle to your muscles. Do a slow head stretch, roll your shoulders and stretch your hamstrings again.
Then your body must be refueled with healthy food. When you sweat you lose essential nutrients like potassium, so drinking water or a sports drink and eating healthy carbs is the best way to recover and avoid sore and fatigued muscles.