Be your own masseuse. 

After a long day of class and rehearsal, a dancer’s body craves a little TLC. Massage has been proven to increase circulation, unravel muscle knots, gently loosen tight fascia and create an overall sense of relaxation and balance. “The more you move, the more you need to release to address imbalances,” says Erika Kalkan, a physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases. A professional massage isn’t always an option, because of tight schedules, finances or location. Luckily, self-massage can be very effective; you just need to have the right tools and know how to use them.

If you try to use your own hands to massage yourself, you’ll find it’s difficult to reach certain areas and to apply enough pressure. Tools like foam rollers and tennis balls are popular among dancers because they let you use your own body weight to work deeply into muscle tissue. Balls work best for smaller, pinpointed areas while rollers are better suited for bigger muscles and allover relief. When using a tool, Kalkan suggests less motion and more sustained pressure with deep breathing. Instead of chatting with friends while casually rolling your calf on a ball, focus on what you are doing and visualize muscles releasing.

Here, Kalkan outlines self-massage techniques for treating commonly tight areas in dancers. Roll slowly across the area, and pause on tighter spots for about 20 seconds or until a slight release is felt. These exercises work best on a warmed-up body and can be done daily or as needed.

To Release the IT Band and TFL

Dancers frequently have tight iliotibial (IT) bands—thick bands of fascia running along the outside of the thighs—and tensor fascia latae (TFL)—small muscles near the outside of the front hip joint. If left untreated, it can cause knee pain and restrict hip mobility.

Lying on your side, place a foam roller under the outside of your bottom thigh, about three inches above the knee. Taking weight into your hands, slowly roll the roller up toward the hip, stopping before going over the hipbones. Roll back down to just above the knee, and repeat 8–10 full rolls, stopping to breathe into tighter spots.

If the pain is extreme, try a softer roller, taking more weight into your hands, or placing the top foot on the floor to relieve some pressure. If more release is needed, go for a harder roller, or try slowly bending and straightening the bottom knee.

To Release the Piriformis 

Overuse of the piriformis (a deep central gluteus muscle) can be caused by weak turnout muscles (deep rotators) and can cause painful compression on the sciatic nerve.

Lying on your back, open the right leg into a turned-out passé, and place a ball (tennis ball or smaller) directly under the center of the passé leg’s glute muscle. Move around a little to find a tight spot, then stay there and breathe, imagining the muscles relaxing over the ball.

Stop and reposition the ball if tingling or numbness shoots down the leg.

You can also try sitting on top of a foam roller, one leg in a turned-out passé position, and rolling very slightly up and down.

To Release Pectorals

Overused and often overlooked, tight pectoral muscles contribute to forward shoulder and head posture, which throws off alignment.

Hold a small squishy ball or soft tennis ball against a wall, just below shoulder level. Facing the wall, lean forward until the ball touches slightly below your right collarbone, near (but not in) the armpit. Lean in more to increase pressure and hold for 20–30 seconds, while breathing. Move ball slightly toward the sternum and repeat.

Release pressure and move the ball if arm or fingers feel tingly or numb. 

To Release Calves and Foot Arches

Calves and feet get tight from relevés, jumping and pointing the feet. If left unaddressed, this can lead to Achilles tendon issues, foot pronation and improper foot and ankle mechanics.

Small diameter rollers and small balls work best here. For calves, sit down and place the tool underneath the lower leg, slightly below the knee. Roll the ball/roller down toward the ankle, pausing on tighter areas. Be sure to roll over the central, inside and outside muscle fibers, and take note of which areas are tightest.

To release arches, stand and place the device under center of the foot, rolling very slowly toward toes, then back toward the heel, again pausing in spots for 20–30 seconds. Strong pressure can be applied on the feet, as long as the ball is on the meaty part of the muscles, not directly on bones. Again roll central, medial and lateral part of the arch. DT

Jen Peters is a private Pilates instructor and a former dancer with Jennifer Muller/The Works.

Photo by Jacob Pritchard for Pointe

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

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

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

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

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox