This post was recently updated on December 1 2016
I’m going to rant just a little bit about something that frustrates me. Namely, dance fitness is not the same as “fitness for dancers”.
The photo was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was recently studying Thai massage. Gotta love Asia.
I feel that I have permission to rant because I have much more to contribute that I do to complain about. The rule: Ranting is not warranted unless you have something actionable and useful to follow up with.
Do dancers need to be more “fit”?
I’m kind of tired of answering this question, so I’ll let Sonia Rafferty do it:
“Studies have shown that performing dance in itself elicits only limited stimuli for positive fitness adaptations; professional dancers often demonstrate fitness values similar to those obtained from healthy sedentary individuals of comparable age.” (Rafferty, 2010)
“While technique classes focus on neuro-muscular coordination, the length of a traditional class may not be adequate to meet all of the dancer’s conditioning needs. The amount of space available, the numbers of students, and the time required for teaching and correcting also have an impact on work rate… Therefore, conditioning work over and above daily technique class has been recommended.“ (Rafferty, 2010)
What she said.
Unfortunately, some (the majority of, I’d say) dancers just don’t seem to get it because the message doesn’t reach them. As such, dancers end up wasting their time on well-intentioned exercises routines that aren’t serving them, just plain dancing too much and not resting, or, as will be the topic today, using dance-fitness as a means of cross-training.
“Dance for fitness” vs. “dancers getting more fit”
Dance fitness, as defined by Monika-pedia, is an exercise form for the general public who want to “get fit” by “working the same muscles dancers use” while completely separating the art from dancing, reducing it to a means to a vain end. Many people find the idea of using dance-like movements to get fit appealing because they can pretend they aren’t actually exercising while they get sweaty and burn calories, and might even be convinced that they are learning how to dance.
(Monika-pedia does not care about your feelings and is a rather sarcastic source).
The truth is, if you are serious about actually improving your fitness and movement mechanics to excel at dance, “dance fitness” is the last thing you should be doing.
I’m talking about the likes of Zumba, Barre Fitness, and Jazzercise, which are great for people who, if they weren’t at the class, would be sitting on the couch eating Tim Tams.
That said, if you find something that gets you moving, you get desirous results from it, and you love it, then who am I to tell you to do otherwise?
But keep your goals in mind, and make sure your actions are congruent with them.
If you are a dancer and you are spending your precious, limited time participating in dance fitness classes, thinking you’re cross-training, you’re failing at your goal and wasting your time.
If you are a classically trained ballet dancer, and you take barre fitness to work-out… Please tell me you can see what isn’t working about that sentence.
And then there are people who use dance fitness to get a “dancer’s body”. In barre fitness classes, and the Ballet Beautiful program, for example, you don’t learn how to do ballet technique, but you replicate moves that make it look like you’re doing something ballet-like, stripping it of the artistry that actually makes ballet beautiful, hoping it will help you to develop “long lean muscles” that ballet dancers have.
To make a muscle longer requires that the bone also becomes longer, stretching won’t accomplish this.
You’ll have to get Gattaca on your femur if you want longer thigh muscles.
And to make a muscle “leaner” requires wasting of the tissues through disuse and caloric deficit, something a particular style of exercise can’t do, no matter what the claim may be.
To make a muscle “bulky”, aka increase in size, requires intentionally training with high repetitions, high volume, and moderate intensity (like a body-builder would choose), while eating heaps of protein and carbohydrates to create a caloric surplus (more in than out). In dance the stimulus to the muscles is not at all sufficient to create extreme hypertrophy (aka “bulk”), but it is enough to create hypertonicity. If ballet does make ballet dancers bulky, then we would probably see more bulky ballerinas.
Whether a dancer develops larger muscles is influenced strongly by genetics, and other forms of training they have done prior to, or in conjunction with their dancing. Misinforming dancers these truths often does more harm than good and can lead to feelings of shame about their bodies, which, along with other negative emotional experiences, research is correlating with injury risk and inability to cope with injury.
And if you think that having muscle or lifting weights will make you less flexible, just fast forward to 3:30 and check out my friend Renaldo being a badass:
But wait! How can he do the splits with all that bulk? His muscles must be long and lean enough… Actually, Renaldo’s a tall dude, so his muscles ARE pretty long. And he doesn’t have much body fat, does he, so he IS lean. Do you nomesayin’?
What’s the point, Monika?
As a dancer, and if you are serious about becoming the best dancer you can be, you should be informed and choose critically the methods you are using to cross-train. The hours you have available to participate in something other than dancing are limited, use them intelligently. Chances are if you’re using a barre class to keep “in shape”, that hour and a half could be better used recovering with a nap. I’m 100% serious about that.
What should you do to cross train? I can’t tell you exactly what, nor do I want to. Every dancer is a human with unique needs. Get assessed. Identify your individual limiting factors and address them. Too, every dance style has different physical requirements that should be considered and trained outside regular class time.
Please don’t misconstrue fitness for dancers as dance fitness, as the two are completely different.
When is it ok to do dance fitness classes? If you meet the following criteria, it’s probably reasonable to participate in a dance fitness class:
- You are you a regular person who doesn’t dance seriously or as a career choice
- You just want to move around a bit and work up a sweat
- You think the idea of dance is nice, definitely more appealing that jogging
- Don’t have any goals in particular, or they are vague, like, you just want to get “in shape” and “tone up”
- You don’t care much about getting stronger, developing muscle, being athletic, or dead-lifting mad weight
- You aren’t worried about improving your efficiency and quality of movement, because ain’t nobody got time for that, you just want to sweat and feel the burn.
Be my guest and Zumba yourself silly.
As for the rest of you…
Well, I can’t tell you what to do. But I can steer you in the direction of a resource that I created (shameless plug warning). I’ll leave you with my recommendation to check out Dance Stronger, a multi-media resource (ebook + online program) I created with the goal of sharing a philosophy and method for using supplementary training to support your dancing.
Questions? Comments? Abuse? Let ‘er rip.