Stretching might not be as fun as working on turns or split leaps but for a dancer, it’s a discipline that often gets ignored. Frequently, dancers just want to jump right into dance class and not take time to stretch. However, running into class and trying to toss your leg over your head with cold muscles isn’t a good idea and can easily lead to injury. That’s why it’s important for dancers, no matter what age, level or degree of flexibility, need to stretch before and after dance class.
So what’s all this fuss about stretching? Besides preventing injury, stretching helps dancers find correct alignment, improve flexibility, and strengthen muscles necessary for class and overall performance. For dancers, that’s a pretty big deal! Here’s a little tutorial on the two main types of stretching:
A stretch that’s held in a particular position. Basically, you hold the stretch without moving. For example, lying on your back with one leg extended in the air and slowly easing your leg toward your chest to stretch your hamstrings. Once you’ve held the position, you move to the next stretch. If you want to produce long-term flexibility, you can’t go wrong with static stretching. In order to get your body prepared, however, this method should only be done after your muscles are warmed up.
This means moving your body to the limits of your range of motion from one stretch to another without stopping. It’s often used in choreographed warm-ups during class and can involve anything from circling the ankle and shoulders to swinging the arms legs without jerking or bouncing. The best dynamic stretch is one that will prepare you for a dance exercise you’re about to do in class.
Now that you know the difference between two types of stretching, let’s talk about the benefits. What do you gain from all this? Good news, dancers – plenty! Here’s what happens when you stretch regularly:
Increases Muscle Length And FlexibilityThe more you stretch over time, the more you’ll create length so you can do things like kick your leg higher to the front. You’ll also prevent muscle bulk in places like the calf muscles. So instead of short and bulky, you’ll create strong, elongated muscles – exactly what a dancer wants!
Improvement In Dance Class And Performances
Stretching enables you to loosen the muscles and gets your whole body better prepared for dance classes and performances. Because your muscles are warmed up, you’re putting less energy into your joints and more into your movements. You have more energy to dance for longer periods of time – a win-win!
Promotes Blood Circulation And Relieves Pain
You can’t see it but stretching every day increases blood flow to your muscles, improving circulation throughout your body. Feeling a little achy from dancing the day before? Do a five-minute stretch to relieve pain and pressure in your muscles and joints. Got plantar fasciitis? Perform foot stretches to alleviate the pain. Shin splints? Flex your calves and you’ll feel the relief. Stretching overall produces shorter recovery time and reduced muscle soreness.
Helps Prevent Joint Degeneration
Regular stretching helps prevent joint diseases like arthritis down the road. Since stretching improves blood supply to your joints, you have better range of motion which slows down degeneration of the joints and gives you better freedom of movement. So if you want to dance for life, stretch for life!
Tight muscles and joints can lead to poor posture, and no one wants to see or be a slouchy dancer. If you consistently stretch the muscles in your shoulders, lower back and chest, you’ll have better alignment and posture.
Decreases and Manages Stress
When you’re stressed, it can have a ripple effect in your body’s muscles and build up a lot of unwelcome tension. It’s those days in particular when you need to take time out to stretch, from your face to your feet.
While stretching plays a huge role in the success of a dancer, it’s an essential practice for anyone who wants to protect their mobility and independence. Besides making your muscles longer and leaner, healthy stretched muscles also improve your balance, range of motion, and help you avoid falls.
Stretching once a day isn’t going to make you magically stronger and more flexible overnight. It’s something you have to work at daily and remain committed. As a dancer, you can never be too stretched for time to stretch. So make it a priority. You’ll see a big difference in your dance classes and performances. And that’s not a stretch!
Original Article - Impact Dance Staff
This article was originally published on November 20 2019