Tonight I mentioned to some students of mine that I go to the gym a couple of times a week. They seemed surprised at this given that I teach dance 6 days a week. It’s true, I am up on my feet and dancing 6 days a week and on the go for 10-12 hours a day, every day. I certainly burn a lot of calories! However, it is very important for a dancer to stay fit and healthy so that they can perform at their best and this takes more than hours and hours of cardio every week.
So why the gym? Strength!
I see my personal trainer, Pete, twice a week and head to the gym to follow his program on my own at least twice a week on top of that. These are not long sessions at only 30 mins a visit but the length of time is not important as long as you are doing your exercises properly. Pete takes me through a series of circuits designed to work my legs, arms, shoulders, core and back all at the same time. We focus on ‘whole of body’ exercises because whilst dancers tend to get very strong legs they are only every lifting their own bodies rather than building muscle through resistance training.
Why is it important for a dance teacher to do resistance training if they are only ever lifting their own bodies?
When your legs are strong they are able to lift and spring you off the ground more quickly and in a more controlled fashion. Also, having extra strength makes it easier to hold positions for longer and dance for a longer period of time without losing form.
If a dancers arms, shoulders and back are strong it is more comfortable remaining in dance position for an extended time. Lifts also become a lot easier as you can support your self once you are in position.
So why the Physiotherapist/Pilates? Injury prevention!
As dance teachers we need to avoid injury wherever possible. An injury can mean time off work, loss of income and most importantly a downturn in our students learning. If we are away from the studio for even a week that could be up to 30 students that miss out on their lessons and are a week further away from their dancing goals!
I attend weekly Clinical Pilates classes with a trained physiotherapist religiously. This helps to keep my core strong and prevents back and neck injuries. Many dancers suffer from back and neck problems but it’s not generally caused by dancing. The fascinating thing is that people that make good dancers are often predisposed to having these types of injuries due to their natural level flexibility. When we are young we are flexible, double jointed in many cases. Little girls that are very flexible (hyper mobile is the technical term) should be encouraged to play sports that involve muscle building exercises like rugby, netball, tennis and rowing but instead we often send them to dance class which doesn’t necessarily make them stronger but further stretches and pulls at their joints.
At the same time boys that are big and strong are encouraged to do rugby, football, wrestling whereas they need to be working on their flexibility to prevent tears, strains and dislocations. My physiotherapist once said “if all little ballet girls took up football and all football boys took up ballet I would be out of a job and they would be very healthy!”
A good diet. Most of the time…
A body that is fed bad food simply doesn’t work as well as a body that is fed well, it’s that simple. For dance teachers to have the energy to be teaching 5-6 days a week with the energy and enthusiasm that our students love we need to ensure we have a well balanced diet of fruit, veg, meats, fish and good carbs. I make sure I have raw fruit and veg whenever I can and I very lightly steam vegetables when I cook them to try and get all of the nutrients I can.
But we’re not good all the time… If there’s one thing dance teachers love more than dancing it’s chocolate. I have never met a dance teacher that doesn’t love the stuff. It’s our kryptonite and we tend to receive a lot of it from students as thank you presents. We allow ourselves to eat some naughty things as long as we are on track with our exercises and getting lots of good food in general.