"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.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

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

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

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

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

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

Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: My 5-year-old daughter is pigeon-toed. Do you have any suggestions to help her correct this?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brennan Booker

While leading a rehearsal of Balanchine's Serenade, Stacey Calvert can't help but join in, marking at the front of the studio with a grin on her face. It's a Friday morning at the University of South Carolina—where Calvert taught and staged works for 17 years—and the dancers are preparing for the annual spring performance, Ballet Stars of New York, during which the students are joined by several New York City Ballet dancers who perform soloist and principal roles each year. Calvert had helped organize the event since 2005, bringing to Columbia, South Carolina, such dancers as Lauren Lovette, Jared Angle and Sara Mearns, who grew up in the area and trained at Calvert's mom's studio. As a George Balanchine Trust répétiteur, Calvert clearly is a master at the choreography, and as a former NYCB soloist herself—she retired in 2000 after a 17-year career—the steps are firmly embedded in her muscle memory.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox