Dancer Health
Sebastian Grubb runs Sebastian's Functional Fitness in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Grubb

Fitness trainer, professional dancer and cross-training expert Sebastian Grubb weighs in on why it's essential for dancers to build their upper-body strength.

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Dancer Health
Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Sydney Magruder, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

"If you don't have strong abdominal muscles, you sag into your lower back, your pelvis usually tips and you're hanging out and slumped into your hip joints," says Deborah Vogel, movement analyst, neuromuscular expert and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City. "It just has this whole chain reaction."

The effects of poor core strength can be dire for dancers: from weak and tight hip flexors, which negatively impact extensions, to lower-back discomfort and misaligned shoulders and necks. "Having well-toned abdominals for your posture is the primary reason why you should do stabilizing exercises," says Vogel. "It will allow you to bring your pelvis into correct alignment and good posture."

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Dancer Health
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."

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A qualified personal trainer can help create a workout regimen that meets your body and classroom needs.As a teacher, you already know you need to look outside the studio for regular workouts. If you've trained primarily as a dancer, however, establishing a gym routine beyond using aerobic machines can be intimidating. It's tough to know where to begin.

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Dance Teachers Trending
FSU maintains a cutting-edge conditioning studio. Photo by Meagan Helman, courtesy of FSU

When Florida State University professor Tom Welsh arrived in Tallahassee in 1991, dance science was uncharted territory. "Mostly, it was technique teachers who were looking for ways to keep their dancers dancing," he says. "It was just a field people imagined could happen." He immediately set to work building the university's dance science program from the ground up. Over the course of his 26 years at FSU, Welsh has created a successful dance science model, based on four elements: collaboration with physical therapists, a state-of-the-art conditioning studio, injury prevention and management initiatives and devoting time to research.

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Biking develops strength in the quadriceps and glutes. Working at a lower resistance will enable dancers to avoid building bulky muscles.

An elliptical gives you an intense cardio workout without the impact on your joints. Adjustments to the incline and resistance can add variety to the workout.

Pilates stabilizes the core and targets specific muscle groups for increased strength and flexibility.

Swimming’s gravity-free environment allows you to build strength and endurance without putting pressure on the joints.

Yoga helps elongate muscles while strengthening them, and can be especially helpful for developing stability in the muscles of the feet.

Photos: Thinkstock

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Photo by Emily Giacalone; modeled by Morgana Phlaum

“I think I pulled a muscle." We've all said it, but what does it mean? There are many aches and pains that accompany a dancer's daily practice, but there are important differences between muscle soreness and a strained or “pulled" muscle. While both require a balance of rest and carefully planned exertion, a strained muscle has distinct symptoms that will tell you quickly that it is more than just back-from-vacation soreness.

“Muscles like to be warm," says Megan Richardson, a certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “They don't like to stretch and do explosive movements while cold." When you saunter into the studio before class and flop down into the splits, or practice your variation on cold muscles, you're setting yourself up for a strain.

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Weight-training regimens like CrossFit can help build muscle and stabilize joints to prevent injury. Thinkstock

Steph Lee, a dancer with Renegade Performance Group in New York City, spent more than 10 years of her dance career fighting recurring injuries. It wasn't until she added CrossFit—the heavy-lifting, loud-grunting, specialized gym workout that has taken the world by storm—to her cross-training routine of Pilates and yoga that she found some relief. “Nothing helped my injuries more quickly than starting a strength-training routine," Lee says. “I did 10 to 12 hours of strength and mobility work every week for almost five months to focus on getting stronger and overcoming my injuries."

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