Flexibility And Stretching For Beginning Dancers

Posted on: 3 February 2015

Along with exceptional agility and muscle tone, the trait that often comes to mind when thinking about ballet dancers is flexibility. One of the most intimidating things that turn aspiring dancers away is the flexibility required to dance effectively. To make matters worse, most people don't fully understand how to improve their range of motion.

That's why beginning dancers need to take their stretching and flexibility training seriously, especially before ballet classes. Fortunately, an understanding of static stretching, dynamic stretching, and yoga is all that's required. 

Static Stretching

The basic notion of holding stretches for an extended period of time to increase range of motion is called static stretching. Typically, these stretches are held for approximately 30 seconds or longer to be considered static. However, the major defining factor of a static stretch is that there is no movement during the stretch.

In the past, these exercises were often done before physical activity. However, recent studies show that this can reduce your athletic performance and should instead be done after a workout. Important static stretches for dancers include:

  • Hamstring Stretches--While sitting on the floor, extend one leg out while curling another inward or behind you. Without bending your knee, reach down and touch your toes. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Calf Stretches--After performing hamstring stretches, reach to your toes while in the same position. Then, pull the toes gently toward your body, forcing your calves to extend. Again, hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Quadriceps Stretches--While in a standing position, reach behind your back and raise your foot to your hand. Then, pull up and back on your foot to bend your knee completely. Work to keep your knee even with or behind the knee on your standing leg.

Dynamic Stretching

The opposite of static stretching, dynamic stretching involves movement designed to extend your muscles through a wider range of motion than normal. This is done through the repetition of difficult movements that become easier as the stretch progresses. The best time to perform dynamic stretching is before a workout.

In a ballet studio, the easiest way to perform dynamic stretches is through the use of the barre. The support you gain by using the barre allows you to perform a number of movements that make the process of dance easier, such as:

  • Hip Swivels--While facing the barre, extend your leg out away from your body. Then, bring the leg in front of your torso to the other side, progressing as far as you can. 
  • Leg Kicks--Turn your body parallel to the barre. Place one hand on the barre, then extend your leg out from your body. Attempt to raise your toes as high as possible, then swing your leg back behind you. 

The Benefits of Yoga

Most stretching efforts should take place immediately before or after a workout. Yoga, on the other hand, offers dancers a way to increase their flexibility as a stand-alone workout. It's also a great way to aid balance and recovery after a particularly difficult session.

While there are a number of different yoga variants, the most beneficial to dancers involves holding various balance poses. Since yoga is very similar to static stretching, you wouldn't want to go through a difficult progression right before dancing. However, utilizing yoga on off-days and after workouts is a great way to foster muscle recovery, balance, and range of motion.

Stretching and flexibility training are important tools in any dancer's regimen. For beginning dancers, many techniques that are inaccessible at first become easier over time--as long as you take your stretching seriously. By beginning this process early in your training, your development as a dancer becomes significantly easier.