Be your own masseuse. 

After a long day of class and rehearsal, a dancer’s body craves a little TLC. Massage has been proven to increase circulation, unravel muscle knots, gently loosen tight fascia and create an overall sense of relaxation and balance. “The more you move, the more you need to release to address imbalances,” says Erika Kalkan, a physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases. A professional massage isn’t always an option, because of tight schedules, finances or location. Luckily, self-massage can be very effective; you just need to have the right tools and know how to use them.

If you try to use your own hands to massage yourself, you’ll find it’s difficult to reach certain areas and to apply enough pressure. Tools like foam rollers and tennis balls are popular among dancers because they let you use your own body weight to work deeply into muscle tissue. Balls work best for smaller, pinpointed areas while rollers are better suited for bigger muscles and allover relief. When using a tool, Kalkan suggests less motion and more sustained pressure with deep breathing. Instead of chatting with friends while casually rolling your calf on a ball, focus on what you are doing and visualize muscles releasing.

Here, Kalkan outlines self-massage techniques for treating commonly tight areas in dancers. Roll slowly across the area, and pause on tighter spots for about 20 seconds or until a slight release is felt. These exercises work best on a warmed-up body and can be done daily or as needed.

To Release the IT Band and TFL

Dancers frequently have tight iliotibial (IT) bands—thick bands of fascia running along the outside of the thighs—and tensor fascia latae (TFL)—small muscles near the outside of the front hip joint. If left untreated, it can cause knee pain and restrict hip mobility.

Lying on your side, place a foam roller under the outside of your bottom thigh, about three inches above the knee. Taking weight into your hands, slowly roll the roller up toward the hip, stopping before going over the hipbones. Roll back down to just above the knee, and repeat 8–10 full rolls, stopping to breathe into tighter spots.

If the pain is extreme, try a softer roller, taking more weight into your hands, or placing the top foot on the floor to relieve some pressure. If more release is needed, go for a harder roller, or try slowly bending and straightening the bottom knee.

To Release the Piriformis 

Overuse of the piriformis (a deep central gluteus muscle) can be caused by weak turnout muscles (deep rotators) and can cause painful compression on the sciatic nerve.

Lying on your back, open the right leg into a turned-out passé, and place a ball (tennis ball or smaller) directly under the center of the passé leg’s glute muscle. Move around a little to find a tight spot, then stay there and breathe, imagining the muscles relaxing over the ball.

Stop and reposition the ball if tingling or numbness shoots down the leg.

You can also try sitting on top of a foam roller, one leg in a turned-out passé position, and rolling very slightly up and down.

To Release Pectorals

Overused and often overlooked, tight pectoral muscles contribute to forward shoulder and head posture, which throws off alignment.

Hold a small squishy ball or soft tennis ball against a wall, just below shoulder level. Facing the wall, lean forward until the ball touches slightly below your right collarbone, near (but not in) the armpit. Lean in more to increase pressure and hold for 20–30 seconds, while breathing. Move ball slightly toward the sternum and repeat.

Release pressure and move the ball if arm or fingers feel tingly or numb. 

To Release Calves and Foot Arches

Calves and feet get tight from relevés, jumping and pointing the feet. If left unaddressed, this can lead to Achilles tendon issues, foot pronation and improper foot and ankle mechanics.

Small diameter rollers and small balls work best here. For calves, sit down and place the tool underneath the lower leg, slightly below the knee. Roll the ball/roller down toward the ankle, pausing on tighter areas. Be sure to roll over the central, inside and outside muscle fibers, and take note of which areas are tightest.

To release arches, stand and place the device under center of the foot, rolling very slowly toward toes, then back toward the heel, again pausing in spots for 20–30 seconds. Strong pressure can be applied on the feet, as long as the ball is on the meaty part of the muscles, not directly on bones. Again roll central, medial and lateral part of the arch. DT

Jen Peters is a private Pilates instructor and a former dancer with Jennifer Muller/The Works.

Photo by Jacob Pritchard for Pointe

How-To

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

Next Page
How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored