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Conditioning and Cross-training For Dancers

 

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Photo: jillfit.com

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

Besides helping you nail more athletic choreography, cross-training can help reduce fatigue and injuries while improving the muscular shape of your body. {2} The idea of cross-training may be new to some dancers. It can be incredibly beneficial, especially during the off season. If you are a collegiate dancer, cross-training can be a very effective way to stay in shape during semester breaks and holidays.

Since we are at the beginning of what is normally the summer break for most collegiate dancers, and breaks in the performing season for company dancers, I felt it fitting to focus my article this month on various cross-training techniques that are effective in keeping dancers in shape during their breaks. In addition, we will focus on recommendations for conditioning, as dancers are quite willing to subject themselves to new or specific methods outside the studio, but often do not know what to do when.

Why isn’t dance class enough? While regular class is essential to excel in a specific dance technique, it bypasses certain muscle groups and it does not raise your heart rate sufficiently. {2}

An individualized cross-training program can help improve areas of weakness and increase fitness levels such as strength, flexibility or cardiorespiratory endurance.

The idea is to work differently than you work in your dance classes but have your cross-training activities compliment your specific style or genre of dance. Dance conditioning also needs to achieve a highly developed sense of balance, timing, rhythm, and orientation in space. {1}

Conditioning concepts include:

Principle of Specificity:

This principle states that the adaptation of the body to training depends on the type of training you undertake. Essentially, if you stretch, you are working on flexibility. If you are lifting weights, you are working on strength, and so on. {1} The Dynaband ® is a fantastic tool to apply resistance to various dance movements. Using free weights or circuit weight training, however, would not allow dancers to perform dance-specific exercises per se.

Principle of Progressive Overload:

Begin gradually and build slowly, and do what dancers do so well, listen to your body! If you do not gradually increase the stress on the musculature throughout your conditioning program, you will plateau. {1} Dancers are great adapters – we are trained to ‘get it’ (i.e. the step, the combination, etc.) quickly – time is money! Hitting that plateau may happen for dancers sooner than later during the conditioning efforts so pay attention to how your body is feeling at every session.

Change your intensity (heavier weights or more resistance), volume (increase the reps or sets) and frequency (train at regular intervals).

Principle of Periodization:

Allow for gradual progression but mix that with periods of rest so that the body can regenerate both physically and mentally from the stresses of training. {1}

Cross-Training

The key to cross-training is to know what to do and when to do it – the best time is to use it to get in shape or recover from an injury. The point of cross-training is to ENHANCE your current fitness level without adding undue stress to your body. Avoid exhausting routines, extreme positions and sweltering heat. {2}

Cross-training concepts include:

Aerobic Conditioning:

Dancers are sprinters. We produce rapid bursts of high-intensity exercise that is time-limited and is therefore anaerobic.{2} Technique classes do not generally work on aerobic fitness. Adding an aerobic activity to your training program by working on the elliptical machine, swimming, spinning on the stationary bike or power walking can increase the diameter of the less bulky type A or fast-twitch muscle fibers. This type of training gives your body a sleeker, longer look {2}.

Strength training:

Strengthening your muscles can help you move more effortlessly while increasing range of motion and speed. However, make sure you balance your strength training with flexibility as well, since every time you strengthen a muscle, you also shorten it. Great activities that offer a balance are Pilates and the Gyrotonic Expansion System. {2}

Range of Motion Training:

Dancers have been known to sit in a straddle split for an hour while watching the television only to discover a muscle fiber tear in the adductors (inner thigh muscles). {2} In addition, if you have joint laxity or are a hypermobile dancer, you do not need more stretching, you need to balance your flexibility with strength training so you can keep your fabulous range of motion without incurring injury to your joints. Balance static stretches with dynamic and ballistic stretching. {3}

Remember, though, to use cross-training and conditioning methods realistically. A heavy performance and class schedule does not necessarily warrant frequent trips to the gym or to your Pilates practitioner. However, it’s fine to combine cross-training with daily technique class if you feel up to it and your dance schedule does not exceed five hours per day. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for an overuse injury. {2}

Cross training and conditioning can help you in various situations both during and after the season or for an intense summer program. Many schools have begun to add cross-training to their curriculum, breeding a new generation of savvy dancers who are comfortable going to the gym or seeking out other ways to improve their overall fitness. {2}

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong!

Janine Bryant
Eastern University Dance
jbryant3@eastern.edu

 

1. Franklin, Eric, Conditioning for Dance: training for peak performance in all dance forms, Human Kinetics, 2004, pp. 3-11.
2. Hamilton, Linda H., PhD, The Dancer’s Way: the New York City Ballet guide to mind, body, and nutrition, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008, pp. 71-87.
3. Peterson, Judith R., Dance Medicine and Science: head to toe a dancer’s guide to health, Princeton Book Company, 2011, pp. 150-155.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Co-Director of the Eastern University Dance Program, or ‘Prof B.’, as her students call her, teaches courses for Dance, Biokinetics and the Campolo College of Graduate Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than twenty years. Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986. In the early 1980’s, Janine was a scholarship student at the Martha Graham School and studied with Martha Graham, Diane Gray, Kevin Keenan, Yuriko, Pearl Lang, Peggy Lyman, Ethel Winter, Jacqueline Bulglisi, Don Foreman, Marianne Bachmann, and Armgard Von Barteleben. While in New York, Janine danced with the Pearl Lang Dance Company and appeared in the cast of Ms. Lang’s “The Beloved”, filmed at Brooklyn College. Janine also worked with Lynne Lesniak and Dancers, an offshoot of the Alwin Nikolai Company.

In addition to her studies at the Graham School in New York, Janine was also on scholarship at the Peridance Center where she worked with Igal Perry, Miguel Moore and Zvi Gottheiner. Independently, Janine studied with Finis Jhung, David Howard and Madame Gabriella Darvash (Kirov technique). She also worked with Kathy Grant in New York to learn the Pilates method. As a member of Philadelphia Dance Theatre, Janine was chosen to dance the solo role of Doris Humphrey’s “The Call and Breath of Fire” and was personally coached by Ernestine Stodelle in New York and at her home in Connecticut for the role.

In the fall of 1990, Janine was one of two Americans accepted to study at The Royal Academy of Dancing in London, and earned her Elementary Executant Certification and her Pre-Elementary Teaching Certification. Both certifications are recognized in 52 countries worldwide. IN 1991, Janine founded The Professional School (TPS) in Turnersville, NJ, and directed the school through 2002. TPS was a technique-based studio where many of her high school seniors received college scholarships and several won the University of the Arts’ Presidential Merit Scholarship worth $20,000. She has been a frequent guest lecturer at The University of the Arts where she received their prestigious Silver Star Alumni Award in 1996. The Silver Star Alumni award has been bestowed upon nearly 100 graduates of the University’s College of Art and Design and College of Performing Arts. The honorees are selected because they are role models and represent educational and artistic excellence that the University’s faculty works hard to achieve.

Janine was a visiting guest artist for the Black Rock Dance Company in Reno, Nevada, where she created new works and taught master classes. She was recently added to the guest faculty of DeSales University for their Summer Intensive programs. Janine is a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science and Dance UK and is currently earning her PhD in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom. Her research focuses on the aging dancer and range of motion. Janine is passionate about teaching solid technique grounded in sound anatomic and biomechanical principles at a university level. Janine lives in Audubon, PA with her husband, two sons and two cats.

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