Is there anything less sexy?
Actually yes, there is… But let’s not go there.
Today I’m going to share an excerpt from the warm-up chapter of Dance Stronger.
Dance Stronger is a 4 week training program for dancers, a 150 page Ebook, and a supportive community full of kick-ass dancers.
I want to share a key idea with you from the warm-up chapter that I think is essential for a successful warm-up.
It’s not fancy. It’s not sexy. It’s a growth mindest.
Here’s an excerpt from the warm-up chapter of the new Dance Stronger book/program:
Change Your Warm-Up Mindset, Prevent Injuries, Dance Better
If you want the truth about how I used to warm-up for dance through the majority of my dance career (which I will refer to as “back then”), it’s that I didn’t care about warming up, nor did I care to learn. I felt invincible.
“Back then”, warm-up was always stressed by teachers as important and I knew at the time that I should be doing it better. The problem was we weren’t ever shown HOW.
“Don’t just sit there, you should be warming up!” is not helpful guidance.
Much like being told “don’t forget to breathe!”, “make sure you warm-up!”, was a common plea from my dance teachers. To do our own warm-up before class was expected of us despite being given zero guidance on how and no explanation of why.
So, my “warm-up” generally went something like this:
1. Sit in the splits for at least a few minutes in each direction. Maybe over-splits if I felt like showing off. I also liked to throw in a nice long hamstring stretch for good measure.
2. Stretch out the top of my foot, or rather, crush it into a more pointed position. Sometimes I got a strong friend to stretch my feet for me. I never had a foot-stretcher, but you can bet I would have used one excessively.
3. Rub some Tiger Balm on my sore spots. Tiger Balm was my warm-up in a can.
4. Pop my hips. If I didn’t get a decent cavitation, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to get my leg as high. This took some playing around with different positions until I got the right “pop”.
5. Maybe throw in some leg swings. Maybe.
6. Sometimes I did some “abs” (which was more like lying on the floor moving around my arms and legs).
This warm-up was also the exact warm-up (minus the leg-swings and abs) I performed the day I injured my hamstring in a Jazz warm-up- Not even the meat of the class!
I just couldn’t be bothered to warm-up. I didn’t know how. I didn’t care.
Sadly, this warm-up is quite common. Why? I believe it is because we see warming up as a chore, and to make warming up for dance more effective we first need to change how we perceive it.
As I mentioned above, I injured myself during a dance warm-up. But wait, isn’t warm-up supposed to help you prevent injuries? And you definitely shouldn’t get hurt WHILE warming up, right?
What if I told you that you might need to warm-up for your dance warm-up? Would you think that was excessive?
Because of the unique demands of a dance-specific warm-up (i.e. the warming-up portion of a dance class), I suggest that dancers should be doing a general warm-up or, movement preparation, before even starting the dance warm-up.
A general movement prep is exactly what it sounds like- It prepares your body for movement, in general.
The dance specific warm-up (ballet barre, Jazz center warm-up, Graham warm-up, etc) is to prepare you for the dance-specific movement that will happen in class, rehearsal, or performance.
The point of a general movement preparation is to prepare your body for the fundamental movements it struggles with so that they can be better integrated into your dancing.
If you can’t write the individual letters of the alphabet, how do you expect to write complex sentences with fancy words and sophisticated punctuation?
What is the goal of warming up?
While you may read in other resources that the primary goal of warming-up is to prevent injuries, I want you to consider that this could be holding you back.
Is it possible that by simply shifting your warm-up mindset you could get much more out of it? I believe so.
Stop worrying about injury prevention, and you’ll free yourself from injuries.
That sounds a bit crazy, I know.
Here’s why injury prevention as your primary warm-up goal doesn’t work: Injury prevention isn’t tangible and immediately appreciable.
Injury prevention isn’t easily seen as a process.
Injury prevention is an idea, something that exists in the future that we’ll never know we have achieved successfully until near the end of our dance careers and we realize that, “Hey, I didn’t majorly injure my back! I don’t need hip replacements! All that injury prevention and warming up must have worked!”.
Injury prevention as the goal for warm-up isn’t motivating because dancers feel invincible and simply don’t care enough. Injury prevention doesn’t give us instant satisfaction. Injury prevention is an idea that we only appreciate after becoming injured.
For this reason, I invite you to drop the injury prevention goal, and choose a different one that instantly rewards you. Don’t worry, you’ll still prevent injuries.
A motivating goal is one that makes you want to warm-up rather than makes you see it as a chore, and must be one that is tangibly achievable, short and long-term, and focuses on the process not the final destination.
The movements you choose to do in a warm-up must make you feel good. You must be able to notice a difference in how you feel during and after your warm-up in order to want to warm-up every time before you dance, and before a training session.
You’re allowed to enjoy warming up.
Since I started thinking about warming-up as a pleasurable, somatic experience rather than as a chore, my efforts to warm-up have become more consistent and thus my progress in training more linear, and my chronic pain flare-ups more rare.
Your warm-up should make you feel perceptibly different. Not just warm, but more “present” in your body. More reflexive. More intuitive. More genuine.
And when your movement is more genuine, and less strained, you will not become injured.
Because of the ease and enjoyment dancing brings you, dance will reduce your stress, rather than creating more of it. This idea, to me, should be considered as much a part of the global injury prevention solution as the evidence-based factors proven in studies.
So I hope you can begin to think of warming up as less of a chore and more of an exploration, a healing practice, and a pleasure, knowing how good it can make you feel both during and afterwards.
Focus on the process, not the final destination. Enjoy the journey, because the time of arrival at is at this point in your life, inconceivable.
It is after all the sides of the mountains that sustain the most life, not the peaks.