To keep their precious instruments in top condition (and injury-free), tappers must develop a sound stretching practice that incorporates strengthening exercises, especially for the lower extremities and core muscles—the abdomen, hips, buttocks and lower back areas. “Most tappers’ lower extremity injuries are significantly influenced by the strength of their core,” says Megan Richardson, a clinical specialist and certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. Stretching on a regular basis—both before and after dancing—will help with overall movement, allowing the smaller muscles to better articulate the fancy footwork involved in tap dancing. “Most importantly, stretching their calf muscles, quadriceps and hamstrings will help prevent stress fractures and overuse injuries,” says Richardson.
It’s also vital for tap dancers to stretch out each foot and set of toes, adds Richardson. Strengthening the feet will help develop extra muscle to cushion each foot while in motion. One of the most beneficial exercises for tappers is “doming” their feet, advises Richardson. To do this exercise, sit in a chair with your back straight and knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep bare feet flat on the floor while sliding (or scrunching) the toes back toward the heels, so that the top part of the arches rise into a dome shape. Make sure that your body weight is evenly distributed across the feet and avoid letting the toes curl under. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then release, relax and do five more repetitions. Tap dancers should build onto this exercise slowly until they are able to do 100 reps daily. If done correctly on a regular basis, this exercise will strengthen the muscles between the metatarsal bones and better equip the balls of the feet to absorb forces, says Richardson.