Dance Cross-Training Myths De-Bunked- Part 2

Welcome back for round 2.

Yesterday, I talked about a number of dance training myths that I think it’s time we put to rest. If you haven’t read PART 1 <— Click there.

Contrary to popular belief, strength-training is actually GOOD. You won’t grow big unsightly(??) muscles all of a sudden. You’ll retain your flexibility, and your technique is bound to actually improve, not deteriorate.

But before I continue with the myth de-bunkery, what does cross-training even mean?

The Merriam Webster dictionary states that to cross-train is “to engage in various sports or exercises especially for well-rounded health and muscular development”.

Or, as our good friend Wikipedia defines an athlete cross-training:

…An athlete training in sports other than the one that athlete competes in with a goal of improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to negate the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.”

Dancing does a poor job of building a well-balanced body. In fact it does just the opposite, propagating some pretty extreme muscle imbalances. The nature of dance requires us to maintain much of this asymmetry (turnout, for example), but causes us to become over-trained and injured far too often.

Another manner in which the “dance system” fails us, is when dance teachers use what are comparable to scare tactics on their students in the summer. During the summer, or any“off season” when regular classes stop running, dancers are encouraged to keep dancing as much as possible for fear that we might get “out of shape”.  As it turns out (get it? turnout? Ha Ha…), getting a little out of dancer shape isn’t a bad idea.

It could be that the instructors do genuinely believe that dancing constantly, without ever taking a break, is the best way to train. Perhaps… But I think dancers and their parents should also be aware that dance schools don’t make as much money in the summer, and as such, they need market with a sense of urgency to attract students to their school . By claiming that, “If you don’t dance in the summer you will lose all your technique and get out of shape!”, dancers often feel obligated to dance in the summer.

When summer rolled around, I always stressed about finding a good summer program, and felt guilty if I didn’t do “enough” dancing.

In reality, the best thing you can do during the summer is to participate in fewer dance classes, and cross-train with other complimentary activities instead. Activities that don’t train your body the same way dance does.

I remember the summer that I didn’t take one single dance class. Instead I did yoga classes twice per week, and trained for a triathlon. While this is far from what I’d call “ideal” cross-training for a dancer, this regime did give my dancer muscles a nice break, and I actually came back to dance classes with noticeably improved technique.

Funny how that works, eh?

Let’s now take a closer look at these dance-training myths, and hang them out to dry:

1)      Strength training (lifting weights), will make your dance technique worse.

WRONG.

Strength training (properly…) will help to improve muscle imbalances, which will prevent  injuries and actually help to improve your technique! Using the same muscles OVER AND OVER causes some muscles to shorten, and others to become weak. Your body gets really “smart” by compensating, and creates shifty movement patterns to work around the tight and weak muscles.

For example, a few posts ago, I talked about how when I was young I walked with my right foot pointing 45 degrees to the side to alleviate the intense pain I felt in my hip. Things like this lead to the alarmingly high rate of dance injuries.

By addressing your muscles imbalances, your body will move more efficiently, and with less pain. By being injured less you’ll get to spend more time actually dancing and excelling at your art form, and less time recovering from injuries.

As Matthew Wyon puts it, “The goal of supplemental training is for the dancer to have a greater physical and mental “reserve” than the dance performance requires, thereby allowing the dancer’s “energies” to be directed toward the aesthetic components of performance and not just the fundamentals of the movement.” (2010)

2)      Strength training will reduce flexibility, and create big unsightly muscles.

FALSE.

Though I realize this is an n=1 example, I weight train 3-4 times per week, and can still do the splits. Granted, since I stopped dancing and stretching regularly, my flexibility has decreased, but in no way do I feel that training with weights caused me lose any flexibility.

Dancers have a huge imbalance between strength and flexibility. Most of us are hypermobile, which can be pretty dangerous. It may sound counter intuitive, but strength training intelligently will help improve both the mobility and stability around joints, which can help you lift your leg higher without actually increasing the flexibility of the muscle itself.

Will your muscles become big and unsightly if trained? Not unless you’re training like a body-builder and taking steroids. Seriously. The fact is, it takes a lot of work to get “big and bulky” muscles, especially for a woman. And the type of training required to get that “look” probably won’t help your dancing in any way.

3)      Doing anything BUT dancing will cause your dance technique to become worse.

FALSE.

I think I’ve already tackled this one, but I’ll say it again- Giving your dancer muscles a break will allow your body to perform better when you return back to dance mode. If you leave a light bulb on for too long, what happens? It burns out. Your body works the same way.

By only dancing, all the time, and never trying to address the toll it takes,  massive muscle imbalances can form.  Attempting to repair your body by strength training is especially helpful to if you have reached a technical plateau, or if you suffer from the same injury over and over (which for me, and for many dancers, was my lower back).

4)      During the summer, dancers should try to dance as much as possible to retain technique.

WRONG. AGAIN…

If you want to come back fresher than ever to dance classes, cross-train during the summer months to avoid burnout and over-training. This is a good time to focus on other activities you enjoy, not only to rest your body, but your mind too.

So what do I recommend for cross-training purposes? If you can afford it, work with a trainer who knows the dancer’s body, and who can properly assess your strengths, weaknesses and imbalances, and put together a program specifically for you and your needs. Lift some freakin’ weights. Squat, lunge, deadlift, push-up, and row.

To get a better idea of what I mean by strength training, check out my free 4 week program. Go ahead, >> CLICK ME<< . Just enter your email address, and a robot monkey will send you the secret password to access the program instantly.You will see video examples of the kinds of exercises I have my dancers do.

There’s a long way to go before the role of strength training becomes clear in the dance world. When it does, I believe we will see a reduction in the amount of injuries, and an increase in new, innovative, and strength based choreography. I can’t wait! Let’s start dancing stronger

 

 

References:

Wyon, M. (2010). Preparing to perform periodization and dance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science

 

Dance Cross-Training Myths De-Bunked- Part 1

FIRST POST OF 2013!!!

I hope you had an excellent time (d)ring(k)ing in the new year. I spent the night rocking out to my good friend Joe’s band at the Watermark Irish Pub (right across from where the National Ballet trains), drinking rum and cokes, and eating red velvet cake. For the first time! OMG red velvet cake is my new favorite cake. Or maybe I just really, really liked the cream cheese icing. Cream cheese icing is my weakness.

Let me take a moment to  forget about that sweet, delicious cake before I continue…

Mmmmmmm. Ok. Aaaand I’m good to go.

Now, I can’t think of a better way to dedicate the first DTP blog post of the new year, than to some myth de-bunkery. Let’s get our heads straight in 2013.

If you are a regular stalker (follower?), then you know that there is a lot evidence pointing to the efficacy of dancers performing strength training to correct muscle imbalances and build full-body strength, among other benefits.

If this is your first time reading this blog, then welcome, and might I suggest you’ll want to go back in time and read THIS and THIS, to get caught up. And THIS too.

To over-simplify in a huge way: Strong dancer good. Weak dancer bad.

But I want to get a little more into the why, what, when and how of cross-training for dancers. We already know the who- It’s YOU!

The problem is that dance is an art-form firmly rooted in tradition.  I love tradition (what would Christmas be without delicious egg nog and nanaimo squares??), but there are some dance traditions that I think it’s time we let go of in favor of new, healthier habits.

We are now in the era we call “post-modern” dance, where choreography is becoming more challenging and physical. Our dance training, however, is failing to prepare us for the physically-challenging.  Only those with superior genetics seem to be able to keep up. The current dance training system is failing us.

Speaking from experience, I graduated from Ryerson’s dance program feeling unprepared physically for the caliber of dancing I longed to perform. I could plead ignorance then, not having discovered the whole “strength-training thing” yet, but now I can’t. I know there is a way I could have stepped up my game, and I was just touching on it before I became injured and was forced to stop dancing.

Here’s the key to dancing success: Lots and lots of deadlifts. Just kidding (but I’m kind of not).

I apologize for the vertical video. Still haven’t figured out filming with my iPhone yet.

Though I would be remiss to not mention that there are other aspects of our dance education and training system which could be improved, I want to focus on my area of expertise– Cross-training. Strength training for dancers in particular.

I was told some questionable things, as a young dancer. Up until recently, I took these things as gospel, and they shaped the dancer I became- A chronically injured one. Not the most hire-able kind of dancer. Only now do I realize that I, and countless other dancers, were eating up that sweet Soylent Green. Maybe you were eating from the same plate as I was too…

Were you told that participating in activities other than dancing would ruin your dance technique, and that doing so was a sign that you were not committed enough to your dance training? I was.

Were you urged to dance as much as possible during the summer, because if you didn’t  your dance technique would be worse when you returned to regular classes in the fall? I was.

And were you ever educated that there were measures you could take to actually prevent the injuries that we dancers have come to accept as inevitable? I wasn’t.

Did you have teachers who preached that to dance was to be in pain every day? Yep.

I believed it all and I didn’t question any of it. What did it get me? Too many injuries and a dance career cut short. Maybe some of you can relate?

But I have good news for you! There is a way to prevent injuries, dance more efficiently, and keep up with the choreographic challenges of the 21st century. All it requires is the simple addition of a little something called cross-training, and you should try it! It’s time to debunk those dance training myths once and for all.

Which I will do. In part 2 of this article. Tomorrow.

You can look forward to seeing these myths punched in the jejunum:

 

1)      Lifting weights will make your dance technique worse.

2)      Strength training will reduce your flexibility, and create big unsightly muscles.

3)      Doing anything BUT dancing will cause your dance technique to become worse.

4)      During the summer, dancers should try to keep dancing as much as possible to retain technique.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow! Have a wonderful day.