Dancer Health

3 Exercises to Improve Women’s Partnering

Photo by Emily Giacalone; modeled by Caitlin Dutton-Reaver and Jennifer Roit

The pressure for female dancers to be slim and feather-light is often at odds with their need to be strong. This contradiction is especially misleading in partnering. "Sometimes, a woman who has more muscle mass may weigh more but is actually easier to lift because she's stronger," says Matt Kent, associate artistic director of Pilobolus. "You don't want to be a sack of sand. Any male Pilobolus dancer can tell you the difference between lifting with a woman who has that kind of strength and one who doesn't."


Emily Kent (Matt's wife), who teaches master classes in the company's acrobatic technique, says it often isn't even the partner's job to do the lifting. Take, for example, when choreography has a dancer wrap around her partner's waist or shoulders. “You're responsible for holding yourself up on them," Emily says. That requires an immense amount of strength and stability throughout the core, shoulders and legs

In a company like Pilobolus, where often the women are the ones doing the lifting, Matt says female dancers who audition should be able to do at least one pull-up, hold a plank for minutes on end and whiz through all variations of push-ups—no knees. That is the base level of fitness that needs to be built before the dancer can begin her dream gig.

Beth Lewis, for example, who toured with Pilobolus from 2009 to 2012, started out not only trained as a dancer, but in soccer, gymnastics, martial arts and swimming, as well. Today, she has multiple certifications in functional strength training and teaches fitness and rowing classes in New York City. She recommends three functional strength exercises for female dancers—whose flexibility can often exceed their strength—specifically to improve their partnering. And she recommends rowing for dancers looking for a no-impact way to build leg strength.

Maintain a natural curve in the lower back. (No tucked pelvis!)

Pause Goblet Squat

For leg and hip strength while facilitating hip mobility. “Sometimes you have to get under another human to lift them," Lewis says. “If your legs aren't strong enough, it's either not going to happen or the lifting dancer will be injured."

1. Use a medium-size dumbbell or kettlebell, starting around 15 pounds. “Don't be afraid to grab something with a little weight,"

Lewis says. “This will not make your legs bulky."

Do not relax into your flexibility at the bottom of the squat. This won't help you get stronger.

2. Hold it up to your collar bone with both hands, elbows out to the side, in what's known as a front rack position. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, toes turned out only about 30 degrees.

3. Take three counts to bend the knees, lowering straight down to the bottom of your squat. Allow the torso to tip slightly forward, and go as low as you can while keeping constant tension in the legs. Imagine ripping the floor apart with your feet. Hold three counts at the lowest point, then come up on one count. Do five or six reps, three or four times.

For this exercise, be careful not to arch the lumbar spine.

Kneeling Pallof Press

For core strength that goes beyond the abs and obliques to build stability in the entire trunk, including the lats, gluteus medius and minimus, adductors and more. Being able to hold a rigid trunk makes a dancer feel lighter when lifted.

1. Attach a medium-resistance band

(ideally one with a handle) to a stable anchor, like a barre. The band should be parallel to the floor.

2. Pulling the band, step away from the barre to create some resistance, and come down to your knees with your body perpendicular to the barre and parallel to the band.

This exercise can be done standing, for a more advanced variation.

3. Bring the band across your chest and hold it at the center of your breastbone, fingers interlaced around the handle. Drop the rib cage, squeeze the knees against each other and keep a long neck with shoulders down.

4. Press the handle forward, straight out in front of your breastbone without allowing the trunk to twist. Straighten the elbows and hold for two counts before bringing it back to your chest without giving in to the resistance. Do two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Push-up, Plus

For building upper-body strength and shoulder stability, both essential to lift and be lifted.

1. Start in a regular push-up position, with shoulders over the wrists, either with legs straight or on your knees, the head in line with the neck (not hanging down).

2. Lower down slowly, for at least three counts. Let the shoulder blades come together slightly on your back, keeping the tops of the shoulders away from your ears. Elbows go out to the sides to engage the pectorals.

3. Hold for a count at the bottom, then press up in a single count.

4. At the top of the push-up, spread your shoulder blades apart and curve the back, thinking of creating a dome in your upper back to activate your shoulder stabilizers.

5. Return to the starting position. Start with a couple sets of four to eight reps. Just make sure you aren't sacrificing technique.

If your stomach is leading on the way down, drop to your knees. You are still building strength this way.

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox