As children, parents and carers spend lots of time and money committing to dance lessons, even when they take joy from watching rather than doing. Taking children to dancing lessons requires energy and time, not to mention additional funds for competitions, costumes and extra performances. For a child, it is not until later that they see dance lessons in the same way, as an investment. Only then do they see that time, money and energy go to waste when they do not make the most of their dance lessons.
It is understandable that every dancer experiences a rut in their training, where they may not want to attend classes or feel they are not improving at the rate they should be. Despite this, it is not the dancers that stretch the most, sweat more or practice at home at all hours that necessarily get the most out of their dance classes either. The correct mental attitude is hugely important in dance training, to understand the purpose of dance for yourself and how to experience it in the best possible way.
When dancers become older, their adult freedom equates to a similar responsibility for themselves, be it getting themselves to classes, paying for their own training or beginning to assist with the teaching at the local dance studio. With these aspects comes heightened responsibility, for learning, fuelling and directing your dancing. It goes without saying that dancers must therefore arrive early and prepared for class, being focused and dedicated to the class, taking and applying corrections that are given to the class and spending time on the parts that need the most improvement, even if that means going back to basics.
Making mistakes is a large part of dance training; it will mean you will discover something new about the dancing body, through listening, watching, or error, even if this feels uncomfortable. Don’t forget to enjoy the process and thank your teachers for giving you the tools to better yourself and work hard in each class you take.
The aesthetics of ballet are continuing to evolve, however something which has remained a constant is the appearance of the foot when it is fully pointed. The ankle joint has limited movement outwards and inwards, however the adjustments of the foot’s position can make a big difference to how it looks to the audience.
The foot as an extension of the ankle can elongate an arabesque or alternatively turn it inwards and demonstrate a weaker foot by sickling. When the foot is pointed in a neutral position an invisible line can be traced up through the floor, foot and into the ankle. Whilst this is technically correct, a winged shape can be seen as more desirable in that the toes are pointed outwards, extending the line. Sickling the foot might indicate poor training or weakness in the ankle, as well as demonstrating a more unsightly line.
The ankle has a slightly larger range of motion inwards, so students may be prone to sickling regardless. Genetics or anatomy can also contribute to a student’s tendency to sickle, and injuries can occur when the foot is both sickled and weight-bearing. This pulls the tendons of the ankle out of alignment, yet injury can occur when winging the foot too. Sickling can even be the intention for some choreographers, if that is what the movement or piece demands, yet for the majority of times, improving ankle strength and stability will minimise sickling.
If the foot winging is supporting weight, this too pulls the ankle joint out of alignment. Dancers may force their heels forward with tendus, instead of using their turnout. This places stress on the tendons on the inside of the foot and twists the knee joints. Despite this, winging could be encouraged in non-weight bearing positions in order to improve individual aesthetics and enhance the line – and limited turn out – the dancer is creating. Turn out must be fully engaged however, so as not to solely rely on the shape of the foot.
A dancer of any calibre can face pressures in the dance studio, from themselves, their peers and even their dance teachers. Pressures can take hold in many forms, such as healing after injuries, aspiring to create the ‘ideal’ dancing body shape and changes in the behaviour of dance teachers. Each has an effect on both your dancing and performance, hindering the creation and maintenance of a healthy mind and body, which is paramount to excelling in and enjoying dance.
Often teachers can appear unfriendly and cold, not offering encouragement or help to young dancers. This can stem the enthusiasm a young dancer has for dance and can be detrimental to their progress as a dancer. A dance teacher’s decision to teach is a result of wanting to pass on their knowledge and aid other dancers, so erratic behaviour can often seem odd. They can be overly critical of your work however they usually have many students they are working with at one time, so try not to take their attitude personally.
While there are often jarring relationships with dance teachers, this can also occur on a personal level with yourself. Aspiring to be a thin waif-like dancer is unhealthy and can lead to dieting, starving and an eating disorder, which can ultimately be dangerous. Fortunately, there is now more emphasis on creating a strong body which is fit and ready to take on the challenges of dance, not likely to collapse afterwards. Teachers are now more focused on healthy eating to prevent disorders, and promote dance alongside wellbeing for the body and mind.
Similar pressures of this type on the self can also occur as a result of injuries, especially those that are slower to heal. As a dancer the mentality is to power through the class whatever the cost, due to lifelong mantras such as ‘the show must go on’ and ‘no pain, no gain’. An ethos of this sort is now becoming less common, as ultimately it is of the upmost importance that the body and mind heals following an injury.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Dancers cannot just be fit to dance. Dance fitness in itself is not as wholesome as if the body undertook a wide range of physical activities to maintain fitness as a whole, whilst complementing that obtained through dance.
Many dancers are fans of swimming, as it maintains stamina and works the muscles of the entire body in a low-impact way, as much as Pilates helps to keep the core strong with little to no impact. If you are not currently working in dance and auditioning widely, it is important to keep your body in peak physical condition so it is constantly ready to be used to the best of its ability. Auditioning in peak condition shows directors strength and provides the confidence to attack any movement. It is difficult to anticipate how vigorous auditions will be, so being as fit as possible prepares you for anything.
In this instance, cross-training is of ultimate use. Integrating cardio training into your workout schedule boosts energy and complements the requirements of dance with its short bursts of activity. Additional training, through extended cardio sessions for example, then improves endurance for full-out dance combinations or longer variations. The body will also be able to recover quicker afterwards, providing more peace of mind during intense auditions. 30 minutes of cardio a few times a week is usually what is recommended, however interval training is even more beneficial than steady paces, as high intensive intervals closely mimic the varied aerobic demands of dance classes and auditions.
Working with your body in different ways can help to identify weak and imbalanced areas, and means your body is ready for anything, not just the dance technique you have trained in your whole life. A variety of exercise techniques will improve overall strength, especially to keep the body active and attentive to changes, adapting quickly. However, do be wary of letting your cross-training become overly time-consuming or draining on your number one priority of dance, instead of complementing what is already taking place. Avoid overtraining and take one day off per week for rejuvenation.
You have successfully auditioned and booked your first professional dancing job! Whilst this is hugely exciting and a great achievement, don’t make first-time mistakes that could reflect negatively on you as a professional dancer… Some mistakes are common, some you only learn once you have been there and have done that.
Before you start the job, receive your contract or agreement terms in writing from your employer. In your eagerness and excitement this may not be the first thing you think of, but having this in a hard format protects both you and your employer. Whether you are a freelancer or a full-time company dancer, read through your contract thoroughly.
Of course you will want to bound into the studio on your first day of rehearsals, but be wary of being over eager. In your aim to please everyone don’t let yourself be taken advantage of – taking on too much could be detrimental to your dancing. Don’t nab the first spot at the barre or place in the room you set your sights on either. Existing dancers in the company or on the job may have already claimed these – dancers are very territorial! – and you don’t want to start with rubbing another dancer up the wrong way.
Anticipate everything you will need when you start your new job, especially food and drink to fuel you through the long, intense days. When you are rehearsing there is often no telling how long the day will go on for so stock your dance bag with plenty of high-energy, nutritious snacks. Make sure you have spare everything, and also be prepared for injuries – they can affect anyone and everyone.
And remember… muscles don’t like having to go from cold to dancing full out, even when you are excited about starting!
Dancing barefoot for modern or contemporary dance doesn’t come without its pitfalls – ballet dancers certainly suffer but that’s not to say contemporary dancers don’t too! Many dancers opt for socks, or their costume may demand them to be worn, however to fully feel the floor beneath you – and to move in response to that – requires barefoot dance. Despite this, dancers may still encounter problems along the way.
Hard skin on the soles of your feet is a good thing to help you turn and slide, although it takes a long time to build up. As a dancer your feet may not look as attractive as possible in summer sandals, however you can use a foot file or pumice stone to pare the hard skin down. If calluses develop some dancers may soak their feet in Epsom salt, or use vaseline overnight to keep the skin from cracking. This can also be done if your feet are prone to splitting. Splitting the skin in and around the toes is difficult to bandage and splits can reopen, deepen or become infected. Here, prevention is the best cure by keeping your feet moisturised, but clean and dry.
Contemporary dancers may also suffer from floor burns – although they are common they still need a little attention in order to prevent them worsening. You can relieve a painful floor burn by running cold water over the wound, but don’t use ice or lotions. Overall, ensure your feet receive the relevant care they need by spending time with your feet on a daily basis and be alert for potential problems. You can really spoil your feet by soaking them in a foot bath — especially if your feet are tired or sore — and by applying moisture treatments to ensure they are receiving the best possible care for dance.
Related: Our range of foot thongs and dance socks.
We are all aware of how good dance is for us. As a non-verbal method of communication utilising the body’s movements, often to music, there are many dance styles practised around the world. Originally these would have represented different ways of life, different cultures, ethnicities, belief systems, social structures, and traditions, but today it seems all dance styles are danced everywhere! It is arguable too that the individual and communal benefits of dance go far deeper than the common perception of dancing just for fun.
Alongside the beneficial physical expression of dance, the emotional, mental and physical health benefits of dance are too interrelated, and are key to personal development. Warming up, stretching and the actual physicality of dance aids our fitness and wellbeing, as well as releasing endorphins to boost our mood. Dance – as a cardiovascular activity – improves circulation, boosts memory and increases energy levels, as well as improving flexibility and toning that body.
Beyond advantages of dance for the body, dance also develops personal skills and character building for children at an early age, elements which then transfer to other areas of their lives later on. Dancing teaches discipline, consistency, perseverance and creativity, and encourages them to express themselves artistically. Dance is something which is very personal to each individual, and connecting with the self is something which can also come from dance.
Dance is for everyone, and everyone can benefit from the positives of dance. Age and social circumstances are trivial in terms of dance: even on a basic level it keeps us fit and happy, and also promotes engagement with others. It contributes to us physically while giving us another way to communicate what is on the inside, and express our feelings through bodily movements.
Do your knees hurt when you land from a jump, go downstairs, do grands pliés, or sit with them bent for long periods of time? “Jumper’s knee” could be the problem, a strain of the patellar tendon that runs from the lower kneecap to the upper shin. It is common in male ballet dancers and basketball players, who also jump a lot.
Other problems with the patella include pain from subluxation, where it goes out and back in, and dislocation where it goes all the way out and stays out. These conditions are common in adolescent females with hypermobility, especially in ballet dancers who turn out from the knee rather than the hip.
The juvenile version of the Jumper’s Knee, occurs at the other end of the patellar tendon, where it attaches to the growth plate, which is called Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease. It is a condition often seen in young (mostly male) athletes where they strain the attachment of the patellar tendon at its insertion to the growth plate on the upper tibia. It forms a swollen, tender lump below the knee and is related to running and jumping. It tends to come and go but disappears when growth is over.
In Jumper’s Knee, the pain usually comes from a specific point in the attachment of the tendon to the tip of the patella and not from the knee joint itself. Most of the time it is a chronic, ongoing condition that slowly gets worse with time. The diagnosis can be confirmed by injecting local anesthetic into the sore spot: if it relieves the pain, then the diagnosis is confirmed. It occurs from tightness of the quadriceps mechanism and weakness when the muscle lengthens as you plié. The condition is usually due to one part of the tendon that has pulled loose from the patella and has failed to heal, and must be treated.
The key principles of alignment will help to prevent dancers from getting injured; during ballet classes you may hear, “knees over toes”, “turn out from the hip” and “don’t curl your toes up” but the principles are the same for any dance discipline. Keeping your legs strong and aligned properly means you are using them correctly and have less chance of injury.
When correcting alignment, begin with the hips. All rotation must come from the hip joints, not the knees, ankles or feet. The pelvis must be neutral, which is the safest position to work from. If the hip bones are forward, they are in an anterior tilt with an arched lower back; if they are titled backward the hips are in a posterior tilt, and tucked under. The knees should match the direction of the toes, which can be checked during pliés – the knees should track over the toes and the feet should not be rolling in.
It is important to keep the feet strong – imagine the foot is nailed to the floor, through the heel and each side of the ball of the foot. This reduces risk of injury and prevents the feet from rolling, which is especially important en pointe. The toes should be straight and lengthened on the floor which encourages articulation and secure, correct pointe work. When the dancer moves to demi pointe, ensure the work is not sickled by continuing to lift the arches. The weight should be centered over the first two toes to help strengthen the muscles on the outside of the ankle, and guard against ankle sprain.
Once the legs and feet are aligned correctly, it is important to keep your weight over your toes, and not to swing back into the heels. Don’t lift the heels, but ensure your weight is in the balls of your feet ready to move.
In maintaining your health as a dancer it is important to consider all of the aspects of health which are equally as important as each other. For example nutrition through food and drink is used for the body’s every function, from muscle contraction to nerve impulses, with many nutrients taking on more than one job in the body. For instance, calcium is well known for being a hugely important part of bone health but is also critical for creating an electric impulse that travels down a nerve, and for allowing a muscle to relax after contracting.
Make sure the body is not overworked by doing too much too soon, and make physical changes gradually. Research has found that dancers tend to get injured when they have a dramatic change in their workload, either a rapid increase in the amount of dancing or a quick transition to a new style of dance for which the body is unprepared. Introduce your body to the change by taking time to increase the volume and/or intensity of physical load. This could mean gradually increasing the number of classes or styles you take or it could be increasing the number of repetitions of class combinations.
Cross-training also aids the body, simply because dance is so physical and dancers need to behave more like athletes when it comes to conditioning. A great way to make sure you are maximising physical potential, and reducing opportunity for injury, is by exercising in ways that are unlike exercise through dancing. This can improve cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance and muscular strength. The same muscles are used over and over through technique classes or specific repertoire, and there is little chance to improve the strength and endurance of the muscles that are not critical for current work.
Make sure you rest too! Rest is the time the body takes to heal and improve function. If you are feeling exhausted, decrease the amount of dancing or replace it with low-impact activity like Pilates or floor-based barre. Rest is necessary to prevent fatigue, which is a major factor for injuries and one of the most preventable. Rest is also important for your immune system so help your body boost immune functions by getting enough sleep.
Image courtesy of Adria Richards.