The Dancers Warm-up...

Every dancer would agree that the enjoyment of dancing is not derived from watching others dance, while letting your own injuries heal. Equally, your enjoyment of dancing is not really enhanced by having to dance through minor pains and injuries. Yet these situations seem to occur all too often in the practice of social dancing.

The social dance floor is a much different place to dance than, for instance, a stage where you might be the only performer. You not only have to deal with your movements but in couples dance you will have to deal with your partners as well. If that were not enough, you will have to traffic a floor that is filled with many other dancers. Those dancers will be of many skill levels and some will have no dance skills at all. Some may be drunk drivers and others will not know dance etiquite. There is really no way to totally avoid injury in this situation but you can certainly limit the frequency and severity by doing things that help your body deal with the elements. A warm-up in preparation to dance is one of those things...

There are many ways to warm-up prior to any activity but the most effective way will include stretching and conditioning exercises that focus on the muscles and other soft tissues you will be stressing during physical activity. We expect our feet and other body parts to simply act upon command when we social dance without any preparation at all. If you are in your younger years you can probably get away with a certain amount of body abuse before it catches up with you but the years will teach you to shepard your resources. If you are like me and intend to be dancing well into your later years then I suggest you make sure to allow time before heading out to dance for a dance specific warm-up.

A good warm-up program should be designed with the dances you will be doing in mind. If the dance is a smooth slow dance requiring a lot of reaching and striding then stretching the arms and legs out slowly to increase flexability is a must. If your muscles are too tight then they are more prone to tear or pull. If the dances are fast and require quick muscle action then your warm-up needs to build stregnth and develop body and foot speed. The three main functions of a warm-up are: 1) to prepare the muscles to work, 2) to put the muscles through the range of flexibility needed in the actions to follow, and 3) to prepare the muscles for an increased output of strength.

Make sure to exercise from head to toe (literally). Do not forget ankles, shoulders, head and neck, etc. These are areas sometimes overlooked but always very important. Remember that warming up is an injury prevention measure and cannot be omitted--ever! Core stregnth is of utmost importance in dance so make sure you use your abdomen as your powerpoint. Posture is primary as proper body alignment will enable you to access your muscles and core efficiently.

In designing a warm-up program you can ask for help from a dance instructor with a broad background to help you. You can also find books at a bookstore that show some examples of exercises that you can try. Taking a Yoga or Pilates class can increase your balance and body control while building core strength as well. What ever you do - do it often and always before heading out to dance. Make sure to consult with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program.

Happy, Healthy Dancing!!


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