The last thing any dancer needs is for their joints to lock or to pull a muscle during a dance recital. When it comes to avoiding injuries and mastering the most complicated dance steps, flexibility is everything for dancers. That’s why dancers are so strongly encouraged to stretch before any performance and certainly before a recital. Dancing can be quite the workout, and going from inactivity straight into dancing can have a jarring effect on the body and cause stiffness or even sprains. Stretching regularly will increase flexibility and make it easier to move from resting to dancing with grace.
Here are some of the best stretches to improve flexibility.
Kneeling Quad Stretch
Quad stretches are common for runners or athletes. Typically, quad stretching involves standing straight, holding one foot in your hand and lifting the foot to your rear while keeping your knees together. For dancers, however, the kneeling quad stretch is a great way to increase flexibility along the inner thigh and hamstrings. For a kneeling quad stretch, you start by kneeling. Next, you carefully bring your foot out and place it on the ground, so that your left leg has a 90 degree angle at the knee. While maintaining a straight back, move your hips towards your leg and hold the position for 10 seconds before repeating the motion with the other side.
Start by sitting on the floor with your feet flat on the ground. Now drop your knees to your sides and press the soles of your feet together. Move your feet as close to your groin as possible without causing discomfort--this is important. Many dancers take the “no pain, no gain” adage too literally and hurt themselves in an effort to push themselves. Listen to your body and let it tell you its limits. After that, press your elbows down to pin your knees to the ground for 10 seconds. Make sure to keep your back straight and to sit into your hips as you work. This stretch will loosen up your muscles and allow you more flexibility in the hips.
This classic stretch can be done in either a sitting or standing position, but it’s safest while sitting. Stretch one leg out in front of you with your heel pressed into the ground. Keeping your back straight, lean forward and extend your arm until you can reach your toe or can’t stretch any further. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds and then repeat on the other leg. This stretch is a great way to strengthen your back and sides and to loosen your limbs.
Children love to brag about their ability to do the splits, and if done in a safe way, splits can help boost flexibility. It’s important not to push the splits further than you feel that you can go, or you may pull or strain the muscles in your inner thigh. Start in a lunge position and make sure your back shin is flat on the ground at the knee. Your front knee should never extend beyond your front ankle. Keeping your torso straight, start to move your pelvis down and push forward until you’re in a splits position. Feel free to use a wall or a barre for extra support here.
This is a popular stretch for ballet dancers and yoga practitioners alike. It relieves back pain and flexes muscles in your quads and knees. Start in a kneeling position with your legs apart. Then place your hands on your lower back and carefully lean backward until you start to feel the pose in your thighs. Hold the pose for about 30 seconds before repeating.
It’s just as important to cool down after dancing as it is to warm up. This helps your muscles adjust to the change from the strenuous activity of dancing to resting more or less. Talk to your dance instructor about the best stretches to warm you up and cool down. As always, know your limits and be gentle with them. The more you practice these stretches, the more your flexibility will increase and those limits will start to expand. Pushing your body too hard is never healthy and often results in injury.