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