Anyone who has taught in a studio without air conditioning or heating appreciates climate control. But with some dancers griping about the heat and others shivering during pliés, you may wonder which temperature optimizes performance.
Professional opinions vary by a few degrees, ranging from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Stephanie Blackwell, a certified personal trainer with the Indiana Pacemates, the dance team of the Indiana Pacers, says that 65 to 67 is sufficiently warm for body temperature to increase normally during warm-up and to keep muscles warm during class. Other experts urge teachers to follow the preference of each class. Whatever temperature you choose, it is important to understand the physical ramifications of every climate.
Resist the temptation to crank the AC on sweltering days. Keeping the body warm increases blood flow to the muscles and raises core temperature, safeguarding against muscle pulls and strains. Rob Blackwell, an Indianapolis-based sports conditioning specialist, recommends that you have all your dancers engage in a concentrated warm-up for a minimum of 15 minutes prior to any kind of stretching or dancing, especially if you don’t have thermostat control. When giving corrections and between the barre and the center, make sure that the class continues moving or stretching.
To stay warm, you can also permit students to wear extra clothing or “junk” such as legwarmers or shorts for the first part of class and during any breaks. Anna Owsley, an athletic trainer with St. Vincent’s Sports Medicine in Indianapolis who specializes in dance, recommends dancewear made of such fabrics as treated polyester that wick moisture away from the body. This slows down the cooling process as it keeps dancers dry.
Be sure to consider your dancers’ opinions, too. Elaine Winslow-Redmond, MS, ATC, now head athletic trainer and program director for the Radio City Rockettes, sets temperature based on the consensus of the group. However, remember that professionals and experienced dancers tend to be more in tune with their bodies. Be wary of younger students begging for cooler air.
It’s no surprise that dancers prefer to take class in a warm room, because they usually feel safer pushing their flexibility if they’re not feeling chilled. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that since warm is good, hot must be better. Sweat is not a measure of how warm a dancer’s muscles are, nor does it indicate how strenuous your class is or how hard a dancer is working.
The amount a dancer perspires has more to do with body chemistry than anything else, and over-sweating can actually work against a dancer, leading to dehydration, a condition in which the body loses water and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, causing cramps and spasms. Moreover, exercising in a hot room burns fewer calories, because it takes less energy to warm up the body, explains Owsley. In a cooler environment, it takes more calories to increase the metabolic rate and raise body temperature. The calorie difference is minor, though, unless students are working in extreme temperatures, the way, for example, football players do.
The next time your students complain that it is too hot or too cold, use the opportunity to educate them about how different environments affect physical activity and how they can protect themselves (arriving to class early to warm up, for instance). Part of maturing as a dancer is learning to be responsible for one’s own body.
Freelance writer Jennifer Shoup lives in Indianapolis, IN.