Here is a big secret. The dancers warm-up is ESSENTIAL!
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents or students complain about their class spending way too much time at the ballet barre or too much time “just stretching”. To the untrained eye, it may just look like your dancer is stretching for 40 minutes or spending the majority of ballet class standing at the barre. But the dancers warm-up is so much more than stretches!
There is a method to our madness! As teachers we understand that the secret to a dancers progress, advancement and eventually success with their dance goals lies in that warm-up time! This is why many teachers often create a set warm-up, that is always the same quick-moving progression. This way students can memorize the sequence and then be able to focus deeper on the technique involved. This warm-up time should be used to connect with, isolate and strengthen each muscle needed for your particular dance style. Professional and advanced level dancers often refer to their warm-up time as their chance to “find their muscles”!
The warm-up should be a combination of strengthening exercises, isolations of specific muscle groups, the development of the small muscles needed to advance as a dancer in that specific style. Today’s dancer must master a balance of strength and flexibility, with a keen ability to connect with and isolate every single muscle with grace and ease. It takes time to develop those small muscles and deep connections in the body. Some dancers can develop these quickly and some may require years and years to build. But even once they are strong… you must keep them strong or they can go away! As they say, “use it or lose it!”
I often share with my students that dancers like musicians must be dedicated to practicing their scales. For dancers instruments are their bodies and you can’t play the piano without practicing perfect scales, right? These exercises, although seemingly boring to a young dancer, are essential for your advancement as a dancer. In a few years, you will thank me! Ballet dancers from beginning to professional levels start ballet class the same way and often with the same basic Plie combinations. Tap teachers often begin every tap class with a series of toe taps, flaps and shuffles, even in an advanced level class. Jazz and Modern classes always go back to the basics of isolations and moving through the spine.
The warm-up should begin by getting the large muscles moving, arms and legs moving together and the heart rate elevated to help the joints become lubricated and prepared for the impact of the dance steps. This may be achieved with calisthenic style exercises like jumping jacks, plies with arm movements, swings or large movements through the spine. In a modern class you should expect to see movement through the spine with contractions and arm swings. In tap and ballet the focus is more on the feet, ankle, shin and calf strength. In ballet, you should expect to be at the barre completing these exercises to strengthen the feet and learning an awareness of how to work through, articulate and point the foot correctly. In Jazz, Modern or Contemporary class you should see isolations of the smaller muscle groups such as the neck, shoulders, rib cage and back. Many times these teachers will use Ballet strengthening fundamentals, but put a twist on the exercise by taking the dancer off-center or working through parallel. As these style require extreme flexibility you should also expect to see a large amount of stretching. In addition to exercises to help strengthen the Gluts, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Calves, Piriformis, Psoas, Adductors and Abductors are all essential. You might recognize elements of Yoga and Pilates, this is so helpful to a dancer. A dancer’s core is their biggest asset, therefore many sit-ups and core exercises should be completed!
As a teacher this warm-up time is a crucial element in your dancers education. I feel proud that dancers leave my classes with a well-developed knowledge base of warm-up exercises and could perform them on their own if necessary. Done regularly and with focus on quality muscular connect, a dancer can progress their skills on the dance floor quickly as well as their strength and flexibility!
Parents, If you notice that your dancer just walks in the classroom and starts learning choreography immediately, I would be worried! Would you want to pay for a year of violin lessons, only to find out that your child only knows how to play one song? I would expect that your expectations are that they have learned the foundations of music, the notes and the instrument and can then look at other sheet music at the same level and play that particular song as well, Right? Well the same expectations should apply to your child’s dance education.
So parents, next time your dancer gets in the car and says, “class was boring today mom, we just stretched for most of the class and my legs hurt” you will then know how to refocus their energy in a positive direction… and you can smile to yourself. They have a great teacher!
So dancers, next time you are feeling lazy and want to walk into the classroom and ask your teacher to skip the warm-ups… think again my friend! Remember that it’s in your best interest to always spend time on yourself and your technique. Strong, connected and stretched muscles are the secret to a long dance career!
I will leave you today with this well-known quote:
“The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.”
– Thomas Edison
Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!