"Students need more than just ballet technique to become ballet dancers, especially the men,” says Jacqui Haas, athletic director for the Cincinnati Ballet. “Many dancers should be much stronger.”

Strength training is essential for building a solid foundation for dancing, especially partner work. Male dancers not only need to execute complicated movement—double tours or lifting a lady high overhead—they also must look good doing it. They may worry that bulking up will ruin a lean, aesthetically pleasing line or decrease flexibility, but with a little extra time and the right exercises, your male students can embody both proper form and function.

 

Start Young

To avoid injury later on, strength training should begin when the dancers are 8–12 years old, before they start taking partnering class. At the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, young boys start with push-ups, pull-ups and crab walks, exercises that use their own bodies instead of weights. “This makes sure they are strong enough before starting with weights,” says Homer Bryant, director of CMDC’s pre-professional program. He incorporates weights at 12 or 13 years old, and boys do at least three hours of strength training per week. Length and frequency increase as the boys get older.

 

Keeping Their Figures

To create long, lean muscles without building bulk, use heavier weights and low repetition. “This develops strength but not muscle mass,” says Scott Hagnas, a trainer who has worked with the men of Oregon Ballet Theatre. “Pick a weight with which your student can only do the exercise four or five times.” The nervous system becomes more efficient at using the muscle he already has, so he can lift more weight without getting any bigger.

Dancers often fear that building muscle will make them tighter, but having flexibility without an equal amount of strength may lead to injury. For example, if a student’s shoulders are hypermobile, but he doesn’t have strength to support that mobility, partnering can result in painful strains or dislocation.

 

Full-Body Focus

Remember that lifting doesn’t happen solely with the arms, so it’s important to focus on developing a strong core. Plan exercises that target the large muscle groups of the legs as well, like deep lunges and squats. Hagnas also suggests working a single arm or leg at a time to help combat muscle imbalances most dancers have. If one leg is weaker, a dancer should do the exercise on that side first, and never do more reps or use heavier weights on his strong side than what his weaker side could handle.

 

Making the Time

Strength training is most effective when boys have a separate class several times a week. But if your schedule or space doesn’t allow for an added class, you can still incorporate strengthening into technique classes, like Bryant. “Boys take ballet class wearing five-pound ankle weights,” he says. “Or I have younger students do pliés and tendus on a trampoline, which takes more control.” Even adding just a few exercises to weekly training will develop a male dancer’s overall strength and confidence. DT

 

Strength-Training Exercises

Transform your male students into perfect partners with these exercises suggested by Scott Hagnas, who has trained the men of Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Jacqui Haas, director of dance medicine for the Cincinnati Ballet.

 

Dumbbell Split-Squat

This exercise works the upper thighs and hips, and it is ideal for students with strength imbalances of the legs and hips.

* In a lunge position facing away from a 10-inch platform—a step or a stacked mat—hold dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides. Place your back foot on the platform.

* Lower straight down, to a count of three, into a deep lunge. Let your back leg bend until your back knee lightly brushes the floor. Keep your torso vertical and tall. Don’t allow your front knee to track sideways or forward—it should stay directly above your foot.

* As you feel your back knee touch, straighten your standing leg, and imagine being lifted like a puppet on a string—don’t lean forward! Do 3 sets. Start with 8–10 reps, and over several weeks reduce to 4–6 reps, increasing the weight used each session.

 

Single-Arm Twisting Push-Press

This exercise works the arms and back muscles. It mimics the way a male dancer moves while lifting a female dancer overhead.

* Hold a dumbbell in your right hand at the shoulder. Your elbow is tucked in tight to your side. Stand tall with the left foot about 12 inches in front of the right.

* Keeping your core tight, dip slightly down while rotating about 45 degrees to the right. Explode upward reversing the rotation to the left. Keep your feet planted. This powerful drive should originate from the hip and launch the right arm upward. Continue pressing the dumbbell up until the arm is straight overhead. The shoulder blades should stay down and back.

* Lower the dumbbell back to the shoulder slowly to start the next rep. Repeat 4–7 times before switching sides. Do three to five complete sets of both sides.

 

Shoulder-Stabilizing Exercises

This exercise combats hypermobility of a male dancer’s shoulders. External rotation targets the muscles at the back of the shoulder joint, and internal rotation targets the front.

 

External Rotation

* With elbows flexed at 90 degrees by your sides, hold an elastic band tight in both hands.

* Rotate your arms outward, keeping the elbows snug at your waist. Hold 2–4 counts, keeping the front of the chest open. Repeat 3 sets of 12.

 

Internal Rotation

* Begin in the same position, but reverse the band. Hold it in one hand, with resistance coming from the outside of the body, tied to a supported structure.

* While exhaling, pull inward against the resistance of the band, keeping the elbow at the waist. Hold 2–4 counts; repeat 3 sets of 12—focus on keeping your shoulder down. Repeat on opposite arm.

 

Bounding Exercise

Target the upper body and shoulder muscles by doing push-ups with your hands on a small trampoline. This requires more power and control than a run-of-the-mill push-up, and it takes more work to stabilize the shoulders.

 

Kaitlyn Burch is a writer, dance teacher and choreographer based in Portland, OR.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox