By Kevin Sateri
Dancers are athletes. We condition ourselves to be physically strong so that we may be able to have our body keep up with the physical demands that are required from dancing. We also tend to overdevelop some parts of the body. Here are 5 muscle groups that we can pay attention to in order to prevent overuse of these muscles.
1. Trapezius – Ok, this is probably the most overused area of the body for anyone, not just dancers. We hold our stress and tension here. We are told to relax our shoulders. We tend to raise up this area when driving, on the computer, cooking, carrying, and yes, when dancing. The trapezius (traps) run between your neck and shoulders, the area where your tank top strap sits on. So when a dance teacher says to relax your shoulders, often it’s releasing the traps in order for the shoulders to fall back down. Awareness and reminders are the best way to release them, as well as engaging your lateral muscles (“lats”) when in 2nd position with your arms, turning, etc.
2. Quadriceps – The Quads can take over. Focus on using the smaller muscles around it….inner thighs, hamstrings, etc. Avoid having the hamstrings get too tight or knee issues can arise. Stretch the quads, roll them out with a foam roller, and massage them.
3. Glutes – Let’s face it: the glutes are used tremendously when dancing. They are necessary, but making sure they don’t get too tight helps to avoid back and sciatica pain that can be crippling to dancing. Always stretch the glutes and piriformis after extensive dancing with the classic figure 4 stretch on your back, a yoga inspired pigeon stretch, etc.
4. Calves – Our calves are used whenever we are in relevé, or are on the balls of our feet with the heels lifted off the floor. Stretching and rolling them out with a foam roller or other device helps the calves from getting too tight and bulky looking.
5. Feet – We use our feet for everything in dance – it’s important to slowly stretch them out, which is why ballet barre exercises were designed in the order they are performed in class. Warming up the feet is essential to keeping them strong, flexible, and active.
Pilates is one of the best ways to be able to connect with isolating certain muscles, so that the dominant ones don’t always do the work, creating imbalances in our body. It will also help stretch, strengthen, and lengthen the muscles properly so you feel stronger, leaner, and less likely to cause injury. Notice when your muscles get overused, and then consciously release them and/or stretch them to stay the strongest dancer you can possibly be.
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