Stretching: A Dancer’s Best Friend

Stretching is one of the most important things we do in our dance classes! I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but do you know why? The benefits of stretching regularly include increased flexibility and range of motion, longer, cleaner lines in movement, and decreased risk of injury and muscle soreness.

When discussing stretching, flexibility is the first thing that often comes to mind. It is import to know that there are two type of flexibility and, therefore, two different ways of stretching. The two types of flexibility are dynamic flexibility and static flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is the body’s natural ability to move a joint by contracting a muscle. An example of this would be the maximal height of a dancer’s grand battement, which is basically a high kick. Static flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch when an external force is placed upon it. An example of this would be the maximal height of a dancer’s grand battement when they use their hand to pull it even higher.

Dynamic stretching uses dance-specific movements to prepare the body for activity. These stretches aid in building muscle mass and muscle memory. They replicate patterns required during dance and provide neuromuscular training to improve coordination. We often utilize dynamic stretching in class by doing barre combinations and floor work. Doing developpe to the front and side at the barre dynamically stretches the hamstrings as it reaches maximal height. Doing petite and grand battement across the floor helps to increase the muscle’s ability to bring the leg higher and higher. These stretches help with increasing range of motion and help to create longer, cleaner lines when dancing.

Static stretching involves elongating a muscle to its tolerance using an external force such as a wall, the floor, the barre, or even a friend. We often utilize static stretching in class by doing a number of stretches such as straddle stretching, downward dog, and pike stretching.  These stretches are crucial in the improvement of any dancer because they produce long-term results in muscle length and flexibility, whereas dynamic stretching does not. These stretches are also important because they aid in injury prevention and decrease muscle soreness. This is because they are a more gentle stretch and are less likely to cause muscle, tendon, or connective tissue strain.

So, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of how and why we stretch, what should you do with all this information? STRETCH! Encourage your dancers to not only utilize their class stretch time, but to make stretching a part of their daily routine. Oh, and did I mention that stretching is not just for dancers? So stretch with them! This could be a great way to spend some quality time with your dancer every day! Stretching should happen after the body is warm because it allows the muscles and tendons to be more pliable and stretch further. A 5 to 10 minute warm-up before stretching should be done. This can include running, doing jumping jacks, or any other activity that increases the heart rate. A 10 to 20 minute stretch each day is recommended.

Below are links to two different stretching videos. The first video is about 20 minutes long and includes a number of stretches to allow for a full body stretch. This video is beginner-friendly. The second video is only about 12 minutes long and also allows for a full body stretch. It also emphasizes a calm meditative atmosphere. This video might be a little on the advanced side, but please encourage your dancer (and yourself) to do their best! If you make it a goal to do one of these videos, just once or twice a week, you will find they get easier to do each time!

Flexibility is the first step to being a better dancer and having healthier, stronger muscles. Hopefully this blog has helped you better understand why we stretch and has given you some tips on better stretching technique.  Now, go get your stretch on!

Video One:

Video Two:

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