While dancing is a very active and demanding type of exercise in and of itself, it is standard practice in today’s dance business for teachers to urge, if not mandate, that their students complement their dance instruction with additional exercise to stay fit outside of the studio.
While most active non-dancers have an almost limitless selection of sports and activities to keep healthy (jogging, swimming, biking, tennis, basketball, hockey, skiing, boxing, aerobics, weights, rollerblading, volleyball, karate, and rowing, to mention a few!) For full-time dance students, especially ballet students like me, distinguishing between advantageous ‘good’ activities and damaging or risky ones can be difficult. Severe dancers often prohibit many sports mentioned above since they might develop the “wrong” muscles, add unneeded bulk, and even go against the training and technique we strive for in class.
This is not to argue that other sports should be ignored entirely. If your teacher thinks it’s okay, go for it! However, if your school, like mine, firmly advises that certain sports be excluded from your activities, what are we to do?
For one thing, walking is quite acceptable. But let’s be honest. There are more enjoyable approaches to exercise. You have to walk for a long time before you’ve done anything remotely resembling ‘exercise,’ and then there’s the weather. You may not be in the same situation as me. Perhaps you live in Broome or California and have gorgeous sunny weather 80% of the year (in which case, how would you feel about house swapping? ), but I’m sure fellow Melbourne residents will agree with me when I say that on a scale of ‘1’ to ‘Antarctica,’ Melbourne weather is definitely on the colder side. I’ll walk as long as I have a jumper and it’s not too hard. But as soon as it rains, I’m inside and under a blanket faster than you can say ‘umbrella.’ You may also count me out if it’s windy…
As a result, my available walking time is limited, which leads us to option number two – the Gym. What a fantastic thing the Gym is. An air-conditioned, roomy, weather-proof facility with music and showers, as well as an abundance of exercise equipment and helpful instructors.:) If you are okay with paying monthly fees and sharing your workout space with many other sweating individuals, the Gym is a terrific method to stay fit between sessions. There are, of course, downsides; we can’t use at least half of the equipment. Boys are encouraged to use the weights, but girls are not, and most of the other machines (such as the cycling and rowing simulators) present the same issue as the actual sports. The stepper and treadmill build quads if you only use the treadmill for walking and don’t utilize an incline (but… zzz!). But, if your Gym is as good as mine, you can always bring your earbuds and plug them into the TVs to watch a show or music videos. That gets your mind off the boredom of long-distance walking. Then there’s the fantastic option of attending a few lessons. My ballet teacher was kind enough to take us all to the gym one day and advise us on what we should and shouldn’t do, which classes to attend and which to avoid. So, assuming that your Gym provides these programs, here are a couple that is a pleasant ways to exercise without interfering with your dancing.
Pilates is always a good choice; it is arguably the form of exercise that most closely resembles dance in terms of the muscles used and the activities performed. If your Gym has a pilates class, that’s a terrific way to get some extra exercise that won’t affect your dancing but might even help you improve!
Another excellent option is yoga, which, like pilates, complements dancing by increasing flexibility, posture, and turn-out, among other benefits. However, make sure you choose the proper yoga, as some classes are less valuable than others. Furthermore, different kinds of yoga are more useful for different dancing styles; for example, a jazz dancer may benefit more from one class than a ballet dancer and vice versa.
If your Gym also has Abs courses, this is a terrific way to add variety to your routine while also building strong core muscles!!… Perfect for pas de deux/partner work. And if any of the exercises target the wrong muscles (at my Gym, we have a couple that activates the quads, such as stomach crunches with the legs ‘cycling’ in the air), you can adapt them (I keep my feet on the ground for that one).
And if you’re okay with changing a little bit, try the Zumba/Aerobics classes; they’re a lot of fun (as long as you get a competent teacher)! And it’s an opportunity just to let loose and do a lesson without overthinking your technique.
Body Pump could be better because it focuses too much on weights and involves many squats and other steps that will lead to muscle gain in the wrong areas. I recommend you avoid any classes that feature heavy or prolonged weightlifting for the girls (a style that uses the small hand weights now and then is okay, like the Abs classes sometimes do). Cycling/spinning lessons aren’t the best option (plus, if you’re anything like me, your quadriceps would probably go into shock with that much use, haha!). Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be able to tell which classes are appropriate, even if you end up in ‘Quadriceps of Steel’ or some such nightmare class! …feel free to experiment:) The beautiful thing about the Gym is that no one will judge you for doing things a bit differently.
Finally, we arrive at one of my favorite gym activities: the spa/sauna!!
Okay, so it does not exercise 😀 However, spas (or hot tubs) elevate the heart rate while dilating blood vessels and fostering better circulation, all of which are beneficial to the body, not to mention their muscle-relieving effects. If you’re feeling achy, a soak in the spa may help relieve aches and pains and relax tight muscles. As for saunas, as long as they are used sparingly (you don’t want to dry yourself out! ), they provide many of the benefits of exercise. In addition to raising your heart rate and improving circulation, the heat boosts your core temperature and causes you to burn energy simply by sitting there!
If you’re not in the mood for any of the classes mentioned above or activities, you can always head over to the mats and give yourself a floor barre. You know your weaknesses better than anybody else, whether flexibility or strength in a specific area or if an overall body workout is the greatest thing you can do, so put yourself through the paces. The benefits of floor barre are numerous; not only does it allow us to hone the technique used in class and go through the motions in greater detail and at our own pace, but it also allows for better alignment without the stress of gravity on the body. In addition, it lengthens the muscles and will enable us to focus on correct muscle isolation and fine-tuning strengths in a way that a regular, fast-paced class cannot.
Learn more: Five Easy Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep