Beneficial Exercises Every Dancer Should Know

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We’re all being asked to stay in due to the coronavirus pandemic and none of us are really working right now. So how do you maintain your form and well being? Staying productive at home seems to be one of the best things we can do for our dance careers while they may be temporarily on hold. If you’re in search of ways to keep your mind and body fresh for when the world is ready to hire you, here’s a look at some common issues that create havoc on a commercial dancer’s body and the exercises to combat them. These exercises can be done anywhere and on a budget.

Work the trusty squat.
One of the most foundational and well-known exercises out there is the basic squat. There’s nothing like it because it’s a full-body exercise that has multiple benefits. Not only is it an amazing glute workout that keeps the booty in shape, but it also strengthens the thighs to keep the legs strong for dancing in heels and it’s an effective way to see if your joints are aligned. 

Exercise: Line up your knees over your toes pointing forward, keep your chest up and sit low into your squat. In a correct squat, the angle of your shins should be the same as your back. Try it standing profile or parallel to a mirror to check out your form. Try sets of 10.

Strengthen feet and ankles.
Ballet barre and reformer pilates are my go-to over the years to keep my feet and ankles strong and limber. If it’s the same for you, practicing some ballet barre is one of the best ways to maintain the health of your joints especially for dancing in heels. Remember to push through your feet and articulate the joints.

Exercise one: Grab a theraband and do a series of strengthening exercises. Tie the band into a loop and anchor the knot by closing it in a door low to the ground. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and start by placing the band on the outside of a flexed foot with the door on the opposite side. Then use your foot to stretch the band in reps of 10. With the same foot, sit the opposite way and do reps in the other direction. 

Exercise two: Point and flex with the loop under the ball of the foot while holding the knot, then reverse it by trapping the knot in the door, loop it over the top of a flexed foot, and do small flexes.

Balance the outside of the legs.
Dancing is not always a balanced exercise. Unless dancers cross-train, most will experience muscle imbalances because every style uses the body in a specific way. For example, in ballet class, a dancer will work their turn out but not necessarily neutral or turned in positions. A tap dancer could experience compression in the spine because of the repetitive motion of exerting force into the ground. 

Dancers often assume they have knee problems when in actuality, the pain they experience is due to tightness in the thighs or hips. To combat this, use a combination of loosening the outsides of the hip and thighs and strengthening the glutes. There are various exercises that strengthen glute medius and minimus (the sides of the glute) that can be done at home including side lunges, single leg squats, and side leg lifts. You can utilize the theraband again. 

Exercise one: Trap the knot in the door, wrap the opposite ankle, and use the leg to pull away to the side. 

Exercise two: To loosen the outsides of the legs, use a foam roller to massage from underneath the hip bone all the way down the shin skipping the knee. 

Maintain a healthy neck.
In commercial dance, we use our necks A LOT. Every style that I trained over the years required some amount of head and neck choreography. Choreography is all about how movement looks, not so much how it feels. After years of working, I found myself with chronic neck pain and a tight and weak neck. If your neck is too tight, you need to loosen the muscles before strengthening. This theory also goes for the entire body. 

Exercise one: Use the foam roller or balls to loosen up the traps and the back of the neck. Then stretch and roll out the pec muscles. 

For most of us, the common neck imbalance presents with pain in the back of the neck. But in actuality, the anterior muscles are pulling the system forward and the back is tight and weak. To combat this imbalance, we need to strengthen the back of the neck. 

Exercise two: Using the theraband, untie the loop and trap the middle in the door. You need to make a knot in the middle to keep it stable. Standing feet hip-width distance facing the band, grab the tails with arms straight by your sides. Engage the abs and sweep the arms back for a standing chest expansion exercise. Keep the ribcage closed but open at the collarbones and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Sweep the arms back for reps of 10.

Increasingly, dancers are asked to audition and work in heels, dance on concrete and other non-sprung floors, and perform some pretty extreme movement. As a result, recovery and strength training becomes more and more important. Our bodies need to be healthy and strong to support everything we put ourselves through. This type of maintenance takes time, which most of us have more of right now. Carve out some time and get it in.

*This post was originally published on April 7, 2020. It has since been updated.

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Kerry Wee
As a 17-year commercial dance veteran, Kerry Wee has first-hand knowledge of LA’s dance scene and has worked on tours, TV, film, commercials, and music videos. She has danced for artists such as Taylor Swift, Motley Crue, Carrie Underwood, and Shakira, trains clients like FKA Twigs and Colleen Ballinger, and teaches aerial arts.
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