Hi everybody! Today we talk about conditioning and how to maximise it to further develop your career as a dancer. I hope here you will find your conditioning answers. I’ll see you again on Sunday with more.
Why Does Conditioning Work?
One of my favorite teachers always says that you can’t just “get through” a combination. You have to do more than that. Once you’ve established the ability to get through it, then you can start focusing on your technique and perfecting the steps. So really, you need to be aware of two layers of work to make it through a combination or piece of choreography.
These two paths to success don’t have specific types of exercises that go along with them. Any conditioning you do can work toward both goals. However, it is apparent that the goal of getting through a combination must be completed prior to the goal of perfecting the dance.
It is no secret that conditioning serves the main purpose of physically getting you through a combination. I repeat, developing the cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility to simply be able to do the steps is not the goal of a ballet class or any rehearsal. The goal is to perfect the movement, which you should already be able to do, to make it more appealing to an audience.
For example, a football player would be terrible at ballet. While he most likely has the physical endurance needed to complete the steps, he has never learned the nuances, technique nor elements of training needed to do it correctly. So, ballet class is an important part of our training. Sports-like conditioning only won’t do the trick.
In this post I teach you about the different ways you can work towards developing the attributes needed to simply complete the steps.
We all know that feeling when your calves are burning, your turnout muscles are super sore, or you’re on the cliff of injury. You can never dance well, can you? You’re distracted, disabled and struggling. These difficulties can be prevented using various strategies to protect your body from the potential injuries known in ballet.
Massage is one of these avenues of prevention. Below are some tools that are always great to have in your dancer toolbox:
- foam roller
- tennis ball
- lacrosse ball
- small bouncy ball
- rolling pin
Every one of these tools can be used to stimulate and release the tightness and soreness in your body, when they are applied in a dynamic fashion to a muscle for an extended period of time. This is otherwise known as “rolling out.”
Using a tool can help release tightness and the feeling of pulling of certain muscles and tendons that threaten to cause injuries later on. More importantly, a tool can help relieve soreness and improve intrinsic flexibility of your muscles. This can help with your feet, pointework, articulation, turnout and more.
Everybody finds strengthening is a good conditioning method but not enough people apply it specifically and know how it works. I will explain: the theory of strengthening is to break down muscle fiber, allow a recovery time for them to build up again, and after this you have more muscle mass and thus more blood vessels for increased circulation in those of oxygen. The building up is the soreness you feel, because the muscle fiber is essentially torn microscopically while lactic acid collects there, until the tissue is regenerated.
Below I have listed the exercise sections of class and the elements of technique which serve to strengthen each area in the best way. Take note that not all muscles are listed here; just some main areas to focus on at first. The more advanced you get with your strength and endurance, the longer the list of areas to strengthening you need to have – and also the greater the number of repetitions and resistance (weight you are pulling/pushing against) you need to have.
- Hips: turnout
- Placement: abdominals
- Arabesque: lower back, glutes
- Adagio: inner thighs, hips
- Hyper-extension: hamstrings
- Tendus/Dégagés: feet
- Turns: calves
- Jumps: feet, calves, abdominals
- Adagio in center: hamstrings
Once you have developed these areas thoroughly, it will be easier to get through long combinations that require extreme amounts of strength.
It seems that having flexibility is not as essential to get through a combination for that we rely more on strengthening and cardiovascular endurance. Obviously though, it is still useful.
Just like massage, stretching can help reduce injuries and make a combination less painful to complete. If you have a muscle that is pulling on another muscle or tendon because it is tight, that can cause pain and eventually injuries.
More specifically, stretching can compensate the overuse of a muscle. For example, I tend to overuse my quadriceps when I am dancing. I do lots of quad stretches to prevent the fronts of my thighs from overdeveloping (by this I mean, getting proportionately too large for the rest of my body ). You can prevent bulking in many ways other than just thinking of “relaxing” the muscles.
This is probably the most well-known part of dance endurance. In long jumping combinations, especially petit allegros, you need some serious cardio to push through. Below are some realistic aerobic-exercise ideas for acquiring better cardiovascular endurance:
- Use the elliptical at the gym
- Go for a bike ride
- Do 50 jumping jacks before ballet class
- Go swimming
All of these ideas will improve your cardiovascular condition without overworking your dance muscles or putting pressure on joints – both of which are bad for your technique and health.
Thanks for reading today’s post! I hope you find it helpful. I’ll see you on Sunday.