You've seen them: dancers, still recovering from a holiday food coma, shuffling into class in a woozy, post-vacation stupor. (You may even know the feeling yourself.) It's all they can do to make it through their classes, and by day two, they're stiff, sore and moaning about it.

“Winter break is the worst," says Rubén Graciani, chair of dance and associate artistic director, Conservatory of Performing Arts, at Point Park University. Not many students take a January intensive, and with no school for about four weeks, it's just long enough to fall seriously out of shape—especially if dancers aren't cross-training.

“The biggest thing is stamina," he says. “Jumping into that schedule—11 to 13 technique classes a week—it's really hard on their bodies."


As a teacher, you don't have time to waste. It's a new year, and performance and recital season is looming. You need your dancers back to the level they were performing at before break, so they can continue to progress. Julie Green, physical therapist for Pennsylvania Ballet, recommends some adjustments you can make and advice you can offer to get students back in shape quickly and safely.

Use it, so you don't lose it.

Before vacation, remind dancers that it's true what they say about an ounce of prevention. The less fitness they lose over break, the less they'll have to struggle to regain afterward. And while some rest and recovery is important, Green says, “There's no benefit to lying on the couch for four weeks."

Strength goes fast. The exact amount of muscle a dancer loses during a break will vary, but Green says they'll notice it most in dance-specific muscles like calves, inner thighs and hip rotators. The best way to ease a rough reentry into an intense program is to take a few classes before getting back to school. “Start with one class a day for the week before diving into your full schedule. Going zero to 60 is hard."

If they can't take classes, Graciani asks his students to at least give themselves a mini-barre in their kitchen a few times before returning to school, just to wake up their feet and turnout muscles. “If you just do 20 tendus each leg each direction and then walk around and do 20 with pliés and dégagés, that makes a difference," he says.

And cross-training should be non-negotiable. Green suggests classic, low-impact cardio options, like swimming, using the elliptical or biking, plus Pilates for maintaining deep core strength. Since dance classes are usually anaerobic, cross-training can actually send students back to class in better cardiovascular condition than when they left (depending on how much cross-training they do year-round). Plus, using the body differently gives muscles overworked by dancing a chance to recover.

Ease students back into it.

When dancers return to a rigorous training schedule after a long break, they can feel stiff and weak and lack stamina. As much as you might like to dive right in, kicking their butts the first class won't do them any favors.

“Gradual ramping back up is important," says Green. That is especially true for ballet class. “No matter how much cross-training a dancer does, they're probably not doing jumps and pointe work over break," she says.

After gauging his dancers' energy, Graciani, for instance, might cut back the intensity of his class to 60 percent the first day. “I might do more at the end of the class," he says. “Take 10 minutes to stretch or do a cooldown."

“Warm them up longer," is Green's advice. Focus especially on the muscles that are specific to dance that they haven't been using, like the hips, inner thighs and feet. And definitely build in time at the end of class to stretch. “I like rolling out with foam rollers to flush out lactic acid," she says. It is ideal to do this immediately after dancing, while muscles are still warm.

After that, encourage dancers to practice self-care. Taking a warm Epsom salt bath or lying on your back and propping tired legs up against the wall (another way to drain lactic acid) can feel refreshing. Skip the ice, though, Green says, unless there's an injury. If you're sore, the main goal is to circulate blood to muscles to flush them out, not decrease circulation. Moist heat works best.

Beware of Fresh Flexibility

A funny thing can happen when dancers get back to class after a break. Sometimes they feel more flexible than before. Physical therapist Julie Green says it's not an illusion, but it poses a risk.

Constantly working and stretching muscles causes microtraumas, or tiny tears in muscle fibers. Rest lets muscles heal, so after a break, a dancer may feel able to work into her flexibility in a way she couldn't before. But discourage her from overdoing it, or she'll be sore and stiff the next day. Green says, “You have to be careful if you're at a new end range you haven't used before."


Thinkstock

Q: My studio is growing quickly. I'd like to bring in someone to take over the majority of teaching and manage the curriculum and performance teams, while I run the business side. What's the best way to do this?

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio
Thinkstock

Most dancers are taught from a young age that no matter what happens onstage, the show must go on! Costume rips? Don't stop dancing. Forget the choreography? Don't stop dancing. Fall down? Get back up, but for the love of all things holy, don't stop dancing!

Anna White, teacher and studio director at Melinda Leigh Performing Arts Center in Mobile, Alabama, breaks down how she conveys this message to her students.

Keep reading... Show less
Videos

This month's winner is a lyrical piece to "Wounded Animal" by Mary Lambert, performed at the Turn It Up Dance Challenge. Before setting the movement, Ashley Zelano, choreographer and artistic director at the Fierce Dance Academy in New Castle, Delaware, took a cautious approach with the 11 teenage dancers. The song describes the despair felt in a relationship where one party can't fully commit. But she understood that her teenage students might not relate to what inspires her as an adult.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Nathalie Van Empel, courtesy of BYU CFAC

It's been a good month for choreographer and teacher Nick Palmquist. While he's been on DT's radar for quite some time, he burst onto the social-media scene in late November when the biggest professional ballet stars in the country participated in the #nickpalmquistchallenge. Prompted by Palmquist's choreography, stars from Marcelo Gomes to Stella Abrera were digging into the sultry stylized movement of the Steps on Broadway commercial jazz teacher, and sharing it on social media. He now has 38.4K followers and counting.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Keren Kraizer, courtesy of Assaf

As a child—with no formal dance training—Roy Assaf knew the transformative power of an audience. Starting from the age of 5, he would prepare dances for family gatherings. "I remember that all the guests would form a circle around me," he says, "and I would execute what I had prepared for that event." Now, as one of the most exciting and wholly original choreographic voices today, Assaf has harnessed that ability to transfix onlookers by creating straight-from-the-gut, highly physical dances that intimate complex inner narratives. The bodies in his Israel-based company weave, rebound, change direction, pant heavily and always move with purpose.

His newest work premiered December 6–10 in New York City. This time, instead of choreographing on his core company of a handful of dancers, he created a work on all 24 of the Juilliard third-year dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

Q: I'm looking to hire new instructors. How can I create a competitive job listing?

A: We've found the best way to attract qualified applicants for teaching positions at our studio is to be as specific as possible with our expectations, while communicating what makes our studio a great place to work.

Here's an example of a job description we've used when seeking teachers:

Lead Dance Instructor: Tap/Jazz/Contemporary; Choreography for Dance Teams.

Kathy Blake Dance Studios is seeking new instructors to join our faculty. Our performing arts school, located in the Souhegan Valley of New Hampshire, has an emphasis on excellence and love for the art of dance, with a student base aged 2 to adult. We pride ourselves on paying our teachers well, offering a professionally managed front office and fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration among our staff.

We have an immediate opening for a dance instructor whose specialty is teaching intermediate to advanced tap, jazz and/or contemporary, as well as choreographing for competitive dance teams. We are seeking a creative, forward-thinking teacher who brings out the best in dancers. Schedule of 5 to 10-plus classes a week, based on availability. Position begins in August (or sooner, based on teacher availability). The school year runs from September through June. Pay is competitive and commensurate with experience and credentials.

Interested instructors: Please e-mail or reply to this ad with a current resumé and phone number, as well as what you love about teaching and what matters most to you in working for a dance studio.

Can't teach on our regular schedule? Please let us know if you'd like to be considered for our guest-artist master-class events.

Kathy Blake (Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire) and Suzanne Blake Gerety co-founded DanceStudioOwner.com.

popular
Thinkstock

These four holiday dance videos are the break you need from the madness of the season. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be recharged enough to dive back into another night of Nutcracker performances. (Yikes—hang in there guys!) Check 'em out, and share your favorite funny holiday dance videos with us on our Facebook page.

XOXO

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored