Do You Even Stretch (Correctly)?

A vital part of a dancer’s life is stretching. You’re constantly told “Don’t forget to stretch!” whether it’s before, after or even in between classes. It is vital in increasing your flexibility, but is also important in helping avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However were you aware that there are several types of stretching and not performing these stretches correctly could actually reduce your flexibility. Resulting in pain and no gain, which no one wants.Stretch

Firstly, all stretches should be held for at least 10 seconds, if you are unable to perform the stretch for this long don’t push yourself to begin with. Holding a stretch for any long than this can ‘shorten’ your muscles and tighten them up. This is because your brain holds ‘muscle memory’. When you stretch you should feel it and it will feel slightly uncomfortable, so holding the stretch for less than 10 seconds will cause you r brain to think that you are performing a move which is damaging your muscles, causing the brain to prevent you doing this movement again and tightening the muscles. Holding the stretch for at least 10 seconds however will encourage your muscles to lengthen.

Types of stretching

Secondly, there are several different types of stretches, which can be used for different reasons:

  • Ballistic stretching
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Active stretching
  • Passive stretching
  • Static stretching
  • Isometric stretching
  • PNF stretching

I will be discussing these techniques and how they can be carried out.

Ballistic Stretching

Ballistic stretching involves a light bouncing movement in the stretch. This uses the momentum of the body to force the part of the body that is being stretched past its normal range of motion. One example is sitting down with your legs stretched out in front and bouncing over them to touch your toes. This type of stretching is not recommended as it is not seen as being useful and can lead to injury as there is little control over the movement.

Dynamic Stretching

This type of stretching can also be called natural stretching. A good example of this type of stretching is leg raises or arm swings. These stretches move your body to the limits of their ranges. they are very useful for warm ups and should be performed in set of 8 repetitions.

Active Stretching

This type of stretching is probably one of the most commonly used. To carry out this stretch you need to get into your stretch and hold it using only your muscles. For example, sitting down with your legs stretch out and stretching over with your head on your knees. This stretch will actively increase your flexibility and must be held for at least 10 seconds.

Passive Stretching 

For passive stretching you will need to get into your stretching position and hold it there with either another part of your body or another object. A good example of this stretch is the splits. This type of stretching is good for relieving an injury (as long as your doctor says it’s ok) or to cool down after class.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is very similar to passive stretching except you do not have anything else helping you hold the position. You stretch to the furthest point you can and hold it there, not pushing past this point.

Isometric Stretching

Isometric stretching is a more complex form of stretching that involves resistance of muscles through contracting the stretched muscle. It is a quick way of increasing flexibility but must be approached carefully. To perform this stretch you will need to apply resistance to your leg for example either by holding onto it, using some form of apparatus (such as a wall or anything that won’t move) or ask someone to help you. You will then tense the muscle (for at least 10 seconds) by trying to push away from the resistance holding your leg in place. Then relax for at least 20 seconds.

PNF Stretching

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is currently the fastest way to build up flexibility, however it should be approached with caution as if performed incorrectly it can cause injury. This stretch works best with a partner and combines isometric stretching and passive stretching. The muscle is stretched isometrically and is then relaxed for 2-3 seconds before being held in a passive stretch for at least 10 seconds. A good way to perform the passive part of the stretch is getting a friend to hold, the leg for example, in the stretch position. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before repeating.

Stretch over legs

As this is quite a long post if you want more information on these stretches, particularly on isometric and PNF stretching and how they work, have a look at this website: http://people.bath.ac.uk/masrjb/Stretch/stretching_4.html

 

All of my information i have provided has come from the IDTA anatomy and physiology course.

 

All images are from: dancemagazine.com

So, You Want to Start Dance Classes?

blog imageWhether you are looking to start dance classes or are looking for a new dance school to attend, there are several things you need to consider.

Firstly, you can start dance classes no matter what age you are. Most schools will do classes for students from the age of 2 and many schools may offer adult classes, which are a fantastic way to keep fit.

You need to consider what style of dance you are wanting to take up and if you are looking to do several classes ensure the school can provide these classes. If you are unsure on what dance style you would like to take classes in, taster lessons are usually available allowing you to ay per class before committing to paying for classes per term.

Even if you are confident with what which dance style you want to take up i would highly recommend that you take part in a few taster sessions. This will let you get to know the dance school and their teaching methods. You may look round the studio and believe it to be the right place but the style of teaching might not be right for you.

Make sure the size of the classes are not too big, and if they are large classes they have more than one teacher. This is particularly important for young children as they will require more attention and one teacher will not be able to give enough attention to each child.

The biggest piece of advice i can give you is to shop around, every dance school is different, classes vary, the exam board used and what the school can offer you; from dance competition to end of year shows. Each person may be looking for something different so make sure you know what you want before fully enrolling in a class.

Everything You Need to Know Before Going en Pointe

Being told you are ready to go up on en pointe is possibly one of the most exciting times of a ballet dancer’s life. You are finally dancing with the big girls and suddenly feel like a professional, and so you should, it takes a lot of hard work to get your body ready to go en pointe. It’s not just your feet that need to be strong but your ankles, abdominal muscles,  just about every muscle in your leg and your mind.

However, as exciting as pointe work seems, it is important that your body IS ready and you are under the watchful eye of your dance teacher. Here are a few points to think about when going en pointe.

Ballet-Pointe-Shoes

1. Knowing your ready – Your dance teacher should tell you when you are ready to go en pointe, but i see so many young girls in pointe shoes before they are ready, so here are a few things to make sure your teacher is looking for:

Firstly you should be at least 11 years of age, any younger than this and you can seriously damage your feet not matter how strong they are. Secondly you should be able to rise high up onto demi-pointe with your weight equally distributed over your toes and no sickling in the ankle.

2. It isn’t as easy and pain-free as it looks – You are going to stand on your toes, it isn’t going to feel comfortable. When getting pointe shoes fitted make sure you try on several pairs to make sure you find a comfotable pair for you. This will allow you to work harder an dbuild up your strength and technique allowing you to advance.

Remember, once you are en pointe in class always have some plasters to hand. Blisters and sores are common and you will get them, making sure they are cushioned and protected will allow you to keep dancing without those blisters rubbing.ballet-on-point

3. Allow plenty of time for your pointe shoe fitting – Pointe shoe fittings can be very unpredictable. Usually a fitting will take around an hour, however with your first fitting this could become considerably longer to ensure you choose the right shoe. Don’t try and get fitted in between other appointments you may have as you may spend two or more hours getting fitted.

4. Don’t buy pointe shoes online – Especially not your first pair! Many dance teachers would strongly advise against buying your pointe shoes online full stop, this is because every shoes is different and while you are younger your feet will be growing. It also means that you will not be able to try them on and see how they feel, they may arrive and be extremely uncomfortable that you can’t wear them, don’t pointe shoes do not come cheap.

5. Be patient – Some of your class mate may pick up moves quicker than other, you may even be one of these people! But if you are learning slower than others don’t worry, you will get there in the end, it’s important to listen to your teacher and only attempt new things once you are told you are ready.