Flexibility. All dancers strive for it and, thankfully, all dancers can attain it.
As a dance teacher and coach I frequently hear dancers say, “I’m not built that way” or “my hips won’t move like that.” But, contrary to popular belief, flexibility isn’t completely determined by genetic makeup. Genetics can certainly play a role in overall range of motion, but do not override practice, persistence, and patience when it comes to improving flexibility.
After all, dancers must practice balance to add rotations in a pirouette, or work on leg strength to jump higher in a toe touch or grand jeté. The same principle applies to flexibility – in order to advance, dancers must incorporate stretches into daily practice. You might be thinking, “I stretch all the time, why don’t I have my split yet?” Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Not only do dancers need to focus on frequency of stretching, but also form and sequence. In other words, it’s not just about how often you stretch, but howyou stretch and in what order. Let me break it down for you.
First things first: there are several different kinds of stretching that you can incorporate into your daily routine. The most common type of stretching is static stretching. Static stretching involves holding a specific stretch for 15-30 seconds, slowly moving deeper and deeper into the stretch with each breath. Dynamic stretching involves warming up the body through full range of joint motion. Leg swings and hip circles are common examples. Dynamic stretching can have a huge impact on body preparedness for strenuous activity. Ballistic stretching involves bouncing while holding a stretch. Ballistic stretching should be avoided, as it puts a harmful strain on tendons, joints, and muscles.
To optimize team flexibility, use the correct stretching technique at the ideal time during your practice schedule. Below I’ve detailed some stretches you can incorporate with details on when they should be executed:
Dynamic Stretching – Dynamic stretching should be used during your warmup. First, increase heart rate for 5-10 minutes through light jogging or jumping jacks. Then, move into dynamic stretching. Shoulder rolls, arms swings, and torso twists are all examples of upper body dynamic stretches. For the lower body we have leg swings, hip circles, half squats, and lunges forward and back. Inch worms are a great activity to incorporate muscle groups in the upper and lower body while working into the core. Dynamic stretching keeps muscles warm and engaged because it helps to keep the heart rate up.
Static Stretching – Static stretching should be used during your cool-down. Static stretches should be held for a minimum of 15 – 30 seconds. If you would like to see more increase in flexibility in a particular muscle group, then increase the time the stretch is held to 30-60 seconds. By doing static stretches at the end of your practices you are able to push the muscles further because they are at their warmest.
Partner Stretching – Partner stretches are one of the best ways to insure that each dancer on your team is pushing themselves. Stretching with a partner can quickly increase flexibility because it keeps constant pressure on the muscle group being stretched. Partner stretches are static stretches, but the amount of intensity is increased by adding the partner. It is important that partners communicate with each other throughout the stretching process. Nothing should ever be pushed quickly into place. Pressure from the person stretching the dancer should be constant. Dancers should ease into the stretch, keep pressure consistently throughout the stretch and all the while maintain proper technique.
Many of the stretches that you are currently incorporating in your practices are correct; the timing in which they are used is what may need to be adjusted. By placing stretches throughout your practices in the time frame suggested above, the muscle groups are being stretched at the ideal time to optimize your flexibility.