Notes from the Barre: Proper Stretching To Achieve a Balanced Body
It is half time in ballet class. After forty minutes of barre work, the teacher tells the dancers to stretch before they begin to work on pirouettes and jumps. On queue, the dancers take to the floor and sit in the ever popular straddle position. Unfortunately, it is likely they will remain in that position until they begin the next combination.
Dancers need to look at the whole body – not neglect some muscle groups in favor of others. They need flexibility, strength and stability in order to achieve a more balanced body. To reach the extreme positions that are demanded in contemporary choreography, dancers are in constant pursuit of the perfect stretch.
Below are some guidelines for a safe stretching regimen, one that increases muscle flexibility without compromising the stability needed for balances and the power needed for jumps.
Static stretching involves taking the limb to a position where tightness is felt, then holding that position for more than 30 seconds. This only works if you are already warmed up. Stretching a cold muscle rarely targets the muscle belly and it can lead to overstretching the ligaments and tendons, which may create joint instability. It decreases the muscle’s ability to contract, resulting in less power and available strength. Scientists have found that static stretching before exercise can reduce strength in the stretched muscles by 5.5 percent, maybe more if the stretch is held longer than 90 seconds.
The limb is never held in a specific position for a prolonged period of time. Instead, it is taken through its range of motion, from full contraction to full extension, at a controlled, slow to moderate speed. After a general five-minute warm up, proceed with lunge walks and knee bends. While increasing your heart rate and circulation and raising your body’s temperature, your muscles are warming up as they loosen up.
Stretching with Foam Rollers
Sometimes stretching alone will not help tightness caused by tension in the connective tissue that supports and protects the muscles. Soft tissue that has become restricted can be released by using a foam roller. This can be done on cold muscles prior to class or post-activity to release inhibited muscles.
If injuries occur, immediately consult a health-care professional.
Good Shepherd Physical Therapy – Bethlehem/Performing Arts Rehabilitation Center has a dedicated rehabilitation team who understands and caters to the unique needs of dancers. Learn more.