Encouraging students to stay active during vacation will help them smoothly return to dance in the fall.

Running keeps Ailey’s Alicia Graf Mack strong during off-season.

The leggy and lean Alicia Graf Mack needs to keep herself in top form when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has time off. When she returns to rehearsal in the fall, her body must be prepared for a jam-packed season that lasts nearly seven months. “Ailey is an extremely athletic company,” she says. “I have been jogging for over 10 years, and it definitely keeps my stamina strong.”

It’s tempting for dancers to cut all physical activity out of their summer break plans. But while students don’t necessarily have to continue taking regular classes, they should consider taking up activities that will keep them in shape. If stamina and muscle strength aren’t maintained during these months off, it may be physically difficult—and dangerous—to jump into a full dance schedule in the fall. Working out during the summer helps dancers safely transition back into class, while giving them the opportunity to get out of the studio.


Jogging is a simple and free way to burn calories and build stamina, but dancers have to be careful. Running puts pressure on the hips, knees and ankles—joints already overworked in dance training. Because of this, Los Angeles Ballet physical therapist Susanne Thom advises against running until bone structures have matured (typically between ages 17 and 19). She also cautions those who are extremely hypermobile or have a history of stress fractures, knee pain or eating disorders, because they are more susceptible to recurring injuries and stress fractures.

Wearing shoes specifically for running and running on a track will help absorb some of the impact. “Dancers should never run on concrete,” says Thom. The hard surface often slopes slightly, throwing off correct running form. Regardless of surface, dancers should watch that they’re running in parallel position, not turned out, and end all jogs with stretches for the quadriceps and calves. Ultimately, a dancer should listen to her body as intently as she does in the studio. “If my knee is hurting or my hip is tight, I will walk,” says Graf Mack. “I will still get the same benefits.”


Although it may not always burn as many calories, biking has many of the same cardiovascular benefits as running, but it “puts less stress on the ankles, feet and knees,” says Thom. Her clients use indoor training bikes so they can adjust the machine’s measurements to their bodies. But Julie O’Connell, director of Performing Arts Medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, prefers outdoor bikes for dancers. She finds that stationary bikers are tempted to set the resistance level unnecessarily high, which leads to bulky thighs. Working on a regular bike removes this temptation and gives dancers a chance to exercise outdoors. Finding a bike suited for the dancer’s body will allow her to exercise safely—good fit means the knee isn’t hyperextended when the pedal is in its lowest position. And like with running, the quadriceps should be stretched out afterward to avoid overbuilt muscles.


O’Connell strongly recommends swimming to her dancing patients. Unlike running and biking, which mostly work the lower body, swimming activates all of the major muscle groups, including the arms, legs and core. It also puts little weight on the joints, which makes it especially safe for dancers coming back from injury or those who have musculoskeletal problems, says Thom. To promote healthy bone density, it should be paired with exercise that does put some weight on the joints, such as yoga, Gyrotonic and Pilates. And as with most sports, dancers should be aware of their alignment, since swimming movements are very repetitive. Thom advises taking a lesson with a coach to learn correct technique. DT

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor in Seattle.

Safe Summer Training

DON'T EXERCISE EVERY DAY: The body needs a break from physical activity. “There should be at least one day of rest per week,” says Julie O’Connell of Athletico Physical Therapy. “They need time to let their bodies recover.”

STAY HYDRATED: Summer heat and sun will increase water loss. O’Connell recommends drinking 15–20 ounces of water 2–3 hours before exercise, and 8–10 ounces every 15 minutes of aerobic activity.

LEARN WHAT YOUR BODY CAN HANDLE: One of the biggest mistakes Los Angeles Ballet physical therapist Susanne Thom sees is overtraining. Pay attention to what your body can take in terms of mileage, time and intensity, and listen intently.

STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH: Alternate cardio with targeted, low-impact activities like Pilates, Gyrotonic or yoga, which promote lean muscle by using the body’s own weight and stretching throughout. Some studios offer outdoor yoga or stand-up paddleboard yoga (yoga on a paddleboard in water) as a fun summertime activity.

Photo by Andrew Eccles, courtesy of Ailey

Show Comments ()
Photos by Amy Kelkenberg

Whether a dancer has too much or too little, turnout can be one of the most frustrating aspects of technique. Students often feel they must achieve 180-degree rotation to become successful in the field. In reality, the average person only has 45 degrees of external rotation in each leg, meaning their first position should be no greater than 90 degrees.

Because range of motion in the hip is ultimately determined by the joint's structure, it is impossible for dancers to increase their structural turnout. Often, though, students do not use what they have to the greatest potential. By maximizing their mobility they will find greater ease within movement, improve lines and, most important, prevent injuries caused by forcing the joints.

Deborah Vogel, co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City, says the best way to unlock external rotation is to balance out muscle strength and flexibility. “Dancers are working the turnout all the time. They're always engaged and focused so much on using it. The minute they learn how to release those muscles they bring everything into balance," she says. “That middle is where dancers last the longest."

Here, Vogel suggests exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles that activate turnout:

Sitting Stretch: For Stretching Turnout Muscles at the Back of the Pelvis

Sit on the edge of a chair with knees at a 90-degree angle and feet flat on the floor. Cross the right ankle onto the left knee. Lace your hands together and nestle them under the right knee, lightly pressing energy into your hands and toward the floor (though the knee should not actually move). Sit up straight—some may already feel tension here.

With a flat back, bring the belly button toward your legs. Continue gently pressing the right knee into your clasped hands.

Experiment with turning the upper body toward the knee or the foot to stretch different muscles.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Jim Lafferty

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Via Kenedy Kalls Instagram

Dancers have a language all their own. From French technical terms to scatting out choreography dynamics, it's a wonder any nondancers understand a word we say! Perhaps some of the most confusing dancer terms are the various foods we use to describe our feet. To help dance outsiders out, DT broke down the foods that are commonplace in dancer lingo. Share them with your loved ones, so they can better understand the weird and wonderful breed of dancer that you are.

Keep reading... Show less

Injuries can be devastating to a dance career, but you can reduce their occurrence or avoid them—if you know what to look for. To learn why certain injuries happen and what can be done to prevent them, we consulted a group of experts: Jacqui Greene Hass, director of Pilates and Dance Medicine at Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Therapy Services; Marijeanne Liederbach, director of research and education at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries; Jennifer Deckert, assistant professor at University of Wyoming (holds an MFA in ballet pedagogy and has presented at the International Association for Medicine and Science); and Michael Kelly Bruce, associate professor at The Ohio State University (certified in Pilates and specializes in conditioning).

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Image via Michaels' Instagram

We all know and love Mia Michaels. She's a fearless choreographer and teacher, who's inspired a generation of dancers with her unique style, grace and brilliance. What's not to love? And now we can't help but gush over a personal confession she recently shared on Instagram.

Bottom line: No matter your age, size or shape, don't wait to love your body or yourself.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health

I recently started back in modern dance after a long hiatus—I stopped dancing at age 11 and went back two years ago at age 24. I've found that when I'm on the floor, I can't open to a very wide second. Also, if I'm sitting in butterfly on the floor with my feet together, my knees are some distance from the ground. What can I do to loosen my hips?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Standing on stage is as important as moving. Photo by Arthur Coopchik

When your students are onstage, every dance step matters, of course. But so does every non-dance step. The simple act of being onstage—whether standing still, walking to a position or running from one place to another—requires a constant presence. And as Kitty Carter, of Kitty Carter's Dance Factory in Dallas, Texas, points out, "walking and running are actually part of the dance. They act as transitions from step to step." So teaching your students to understand the importance of active stillness and pedestrian choreography is essential, and it will help them see the "big picture" of a performance. But it's not easy.

Keep reading... Show less





Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!