ARE YOU FIT TO DANCE?
While the formal dance class has long been viewed as the foundation of training, traditional training methods alone are insufficient to fully prepare the dancer for more intense and physically demanding aspects of performance.
All aspects of physical conditioning are necessary to reduce fatigue, improve general energy levels and improve capacity in dance classes to sustain technique and jumping ability. Research has shown that a more physically fit dancer is essentially a better dancer.
The components of fitness are:
The greater a dancer’s aerobic capacity, the longer they can work at moderate heart rates before becoming fatigued. The average dance class is too intermittent in nature for positive aerobic effect to occur. A significant rise in heart rate will stress the aerobic energy system, and can be maintained for about 30 minutes, three times a week on average.
Anaerobic activity uses exercise that is of a maximal, ‘all-out’ effort for short periods of time.
Strenuous exercise produces lactic acid, which lowers the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body and hinders muscle function. In order to raise the body’s threshold for lactate accumulation in the blood, and thus train the dancer’s tolerance for strenuous exercise, three minutes of rest to every one minute of high-intensity exercise is recommended.
Five minutes of rest to every one minute of high-intensity exercise is recommended for training the energy sources that allow quick bursts of energy for the fastest muscle actions.
In the dance world, strength training is sometimes misunderstood as a hindrance to flexibility. In reality, strength training can lead to better dancing and reduce the risk of injury. Strength training can involve very heavy weights/resistance with minimal repetitions for a relatively short amount of time, or exercises can involve light weights/resistance with many repetitions for a prolonged time.
Plyometric (jump) training has been shown to have a positive effect in dancers. However, plyometric training should be approached gradually and systematically to avoid injury. A good starting point is to design exercises in which dancers are encouraged to jump in a neutral position without emphasizing dance technique, but instead simply focusing on jumping higher.
Flexibility is an important element of physical fitness. Holding muscles in a stretched position for a prolonged amount of time causes the muscle fibers to become accustomed to the new length, therefore increasing flexibility. For it to be beneficial, the specific muscle group being stretched needs to be isolated.
Dance fitness also involves balance, agility, coordination and skill. The use of imagery and visualization improves neural pathways, which makes for easier and more efficient movement. Dancers become more skilled at engaging only the muscles required to produce a certain movement, which conserves energy and reduces fatigue.
Appropriate ratios of lean muscle mass to fat mass are key factors that can contribute to optimizing physical performance. According to the World Health Organization, healthy body compositions range from 17 to 25% body fat for females and below 15% for males (but not too low as a certain amount of fat is essential for daily healthy function). Suitable measures of body fat are important for dancers to jump higher, turn faster, and physically survive long days of training, rehearsing, and performing.
The importance of rest in dance training cannot be stressed enough. Proper recovery from physical training has many benefits. Excessive training, or overtraining, results in no effect or even negative effects on a dancer’s performance.
Source: International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS)