No matter what level of dancer you are, walking into a new dance or fitness class can be intimidating. The unfamiliar faces, expert instructors, the varying levels of flexibility, and people who seem to quickly and easily adapt to new choreography can sometimes cloud your mind, distracting you from the reasons you signed up in the first place: to have fun and get healthy.
It becomes even more frustrating when you begin to feel like you are the only person there who can’t touch your toes or perform a high kick. While some people are naturally flexible, other people have to work hard for it. You may even feel like you are spending more time doing flexibility exercises than dancing. Which is why it is important to remember that even those expert fitness instructors and dance teachers had to practice, train, and adopt a healthy stretching routine for their flexibility.
So if you are ready to finally experience the same delayed onset muscle soreness and higher range of motion you witness from other, this blog explores how loosening those tight muscles, increasing blood flow, and starting a regular stretching routine will increase your range of motion.
What is Flexibility and Why Do Dancers Need It?
Being flexible means that the joints in your body have the ability to move through various ranges of motion without pain or restriction. But normal joint flexibility is different for every body, so many individuals have to work to maintain a full range of motion. Ultimately, the process of increasing your flexibility allows your body to perform daily tasks and physical activity without injury, soreness, high muscle fatigue, or pain.
It’s when our muscles, tendons, or ligaments are tight, that they restrict the body’s joints, causing discomfort and a limited range of motion. So at the end of the day whether you are a professional dancer or dipping your toes in by taking a beginner dance class for the first time its as simple as our joints require movement. So by stretching tight hamstrings or warming up your hip flexors, you are allowing your body to loosen tight muscles and protect joints from injury. But what type of flexibility exercises are best for your specific range of motion.
The body’s range of motion without movement is called static flexibility. Static flexibility is how far someone can turn, bend, or reach and then hold that position for 30 seconds. You may have also heard it called passive flexibility, which can be expanded by practicing a variety of static stretches.
Moving the muscles and joints through their full range of motion by doing movements is called dynamic flexibility. The benefit of increasing dynamic flexibility through dynamic stretching is to warm up the soft tissues that will help the body reach its full potential when performing daily living activities as well as physical activities like sports, exercise, and dancing.
When we train the body to push to its maximum range of motion, we are using active flexibility training. For instance, holding a stretch to the point where muscles are firing and burning, to stimulate the muscle groups and improve balance and strength.
What Are The Benefits of Being Flexible for Dancing?
Improving flexibility can positively impact a person’s life and health. Just like other athletes, dancers find it vital to warm up their soft tissues and muscles using stretches prior to activating them through further movements.
If a dancer does not perform a stretching routine before practice and performance, they can risk a dance-related injury, muscle imbalances, soreness, fatigue, and joint pain. If a dancer does not stretch or adopt a flexibility training routine, it can negatively impact their performance and long-term ability to continue to dance.
Improved Muscle Condition
When you take a dance class you rely on your connective tissue muscles to perform a particular set of moves and hold challenging positions. Stretching increases blood flow and trains muscles to work harder and become stronger, ultimately helping you to become stronger and better at performance techniques in your dance.
A lot of people take having good balance for granted, but people who dance know that in order to perform difficult routines and challenging choreography, it’s essential to be able to maintain balance. Stretching for flexibility trains your muscles to hold positions for longer, which will increase your balance over time and help you be a better dancer.
Daily stretching prepares your mind and body for dance practice and performance. Being flexible allows your body to perform more advanced movements but also allows you to do those simple steps for longer periods of time over and over again.
Your entire body is stronger, healthier, and more equipped to perform choreography that shows the aesthetic beauty of the body and a mastery of technique. All of which is essential in a dance routine.
Stretching the muscles in your back, neck, and shoulders can greatly improve your flexibility and as a result improve your posture. Good posture is important in many types of dance, particularly ballet and ballroom dancing.
Performing flexibility exercises before and after dancing helps you maintain a strong, healthy body. If you want to be capable of dancing for years, even into old age, it’s crucial to work on flexibility through static, dynamic, and active stretching.
There are a lot of benefits of dancing, from minimizing stress in your life to increasing athletic performance. If you do not properly stretch to gain flexibility, you risk injury. Severe injuries, muscular injuries, abnormal stress on the body can shorten your years spent dancing.
There are so many external factors in our lives that cause stress. From work, family, relationships, and all the emotions attached to worrying about day-to-day life, we certainly do not want to add injuries or additional stress to an already overwhelmed mindset.
It’s important to find something that brings you joy, provides a mental escape, and is downright fun. Dancing improves mental health, ultimately improving your quality of life. In order to continue your life dancing, increased flexibility is essential.
How Can You Improve Your Flexibility If You’re Not Very Flexible Already?
While some people are naturally flexible, if you do not fall into that blessed category, flexibility will simply not appear overnight. To improve flexibility for your performance in dance class, you need to work for it by practicing and beginning a flexibility training program.
Even something as simple as starting small increments of increased stretching and flexibility exercise each day will improve your physical performance. Here are a few other easy ways to incorporate flexibility training into your life:
- foam rolling
- arm circles
- hip circles
- leg swings
- strength training
- hamstring stretch
When stretching to increase flexibility, it is important to listen to your body. If you feel pain or excessive discomfort beyond just pushing your muscles to engage, then take a break or try a new technique.
What Are Some Common Stretching Exercises That Dancers Use to Improve Their Flexibility?
Dancers use a combination of static stretching, dynamic stretching, and ballistic stretching to warm up the body before dancing.
Taking a note from professional dancers in how they perform active isolated stretching and exercises to engage opposing muscle groups is a good way for dancers of any performance level to improve their flexibility.
Let’s look at six stretching exercises you can immediately include into your everyday activities. You can hold these stretches for anywhere between 10 seconds to 3 minutes in time as your body allows without strain or discomfort.
Standing and Seated Hamstring Stretches
Stand with your knees hip width apart, slightly bend your knees with your arms by your side. Bend forward at the hips and reach your arms down toward the toes, and if possible around the backs of your legs and hold.
Sitting with your legs outstretched in front of you, reach your arms forward to touch your toes. Allowing your head to fall down toward your lap. Hamstring stretching isolates your neck, back, glutes, hamstring, and calf muscles.
The piriformis muscle is located on the outer side of your glute muscles and your hip flexors. This muscle is responsible for the mobility of your hips and their ability to move and have an optimal range of motion for dancing.
Sit on the floor with both legs outstretched in front of you. Starting with your right leg, cross it over your left leg with your right foot planting directly down onto the floor. Place your right hand on the floor behind you and twist your torso toward the right. Repeat with your left leg.
When people sit crossed legged often, they cause tightness in their hips. Hip flexibility is essential for dancing. So, to work out those tight hips, perform the frog stretch.
Get on all fours with your legs spread a little wider than shoulder length apart. With your toes turned out, stretch your inner thighs toward the floor while leaning backward to sit back into your hips. Your chest should come forward, arms stretched in front of you and your face down toward the floor.
To train for flexibility in the hips, glutes, back, and thighs, the butterfly stretch begins by sitting down on the floor with your back upright and the soles of your feet together. With each knee out to the side, you use your hands to hold onto your feet, and slowly lean forward as closely to your feet as possible while remaining a straight back, pressing the knees down toward the floor for optimal stretch.
Inner Thigh Stretch
Beginning in the seated position with the bottoms of your feet together. Stretch your right leg out to the side with the left leg remaining in place. With straight, upright posture, reach your left arm over your head, and reach toward your right, outstretched toes. Repeat on your left leg. This works out your inner thighs, obliques, arms, and back.
Lay down on your stomach with legs outstretched behind you, resting on your elbows in front of you. Bend at the knee, lifting your right leg up and reaching behind with your right arm to hold your leg, pulling your foot toward your butt. Repeat on your left side. This works your glutes and outer thighs.
You will find by incorporating just a few of these exercises for stretching immediately into your life you can improve range of motion, gain improved balance, maintain joint health, and feel happier and healthier, all of which will improve your life as a dancer.
Are You Ready to Take A Professional Dance Class in Raleigh to Improve Flexibility?
If you’re ready to start your journey as a dancer or to include some fun, exciting dance lessons into your life to increase your body’s flexibility, our expert dance instructors at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Raleigh would love to get you moving on the dance floor!