Muscle care for dancers

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It always seems a little harder in winter to keep fit and flexible for dancing. Cold weather, cold buildings and head colds conspire against us. We know we should warm up before dancing, and usually the brisk walk from train station to milonga is sufficient, but what if you drive everywhere, or sit all day, or have niggling muscle aches that bother you on the dancefloor? This is when the cooldown after dancing and maintenance between going to classes and milongas become important.

I’m a big fan of doing a simple stretch routine a couple of times a week. All the better if the stretches target the muscles we use in dancing – without needing any particular equipment, snazzy outfit or expensive exercise class! As with all stretches, they should be done when you’re warm and not immediately before dancing. The day before or after is perfect.

Here’s some ideas for simple, quick routines that work on glutes, hips and calves. The first two need a bit of floor space. The calf ones can be done anywhere. As with all stretches, only move within your natural range of motion – don’t push it so you feel pain or over extend your joints.

Disclaimer: I’m not a health professional. If you have a medical condition, joint problems, or any concerns about doing stretch routines, please consult your GP, a physiotherapist or other qualified healthcare specialist first.

Glutes

The big muscles on your bottom work hard in daily life, let alone when dancing. If you sit all day then go to a milonga no doubt you’ll be familiar with what unhappy glutes feel like. Easy, relaxed glutes help to minimise tension in the lower back and knees, reducing fatigue on the dancefloor.

A simple stretch for these big muscles is to lay on your back with the right leg bent at the knee, foot on the floor. Bring the left leg up and tuck its foot in front of the bent knee, so the leg is almost at a right angle. Grasp your hands around the thigh of the right leg and pull it gently towards your chest. You’ll feel a deep stretch in the left buttock. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the left side.

This video shows this popular stretch then explains a variation which produces deeper results. It’s a little wordy but easy to follow. Skip to 02:36 if you just want the variation.

Hips

Oh boy, do these work hard for us dancers! When our backs are tight our hips have to bear it. When our legs are tired our hips tense up. Easing tight glutes will help a lot but there is a nice yoga pose that specifically targets the hips: the eka pada rajakapotasana, or “king pigeon” pose.

I’m not crazy about yoga (despite being married to a former yoga teacher!) but I respect it and borrow poses when they’re useful. The king pigeon pose is a great one for dancers. It uses your own weight to gently open the hips and stretch the muscles. It’s best done after you’ve stretched the glutes a bit first (see above).

Here’s a great video that explains how to do king pigeon. (You don’t need a yoga mat or blocks to do it, on the floor or a blanket with a firm cushion in place of blocks is fine). The instructor starts via downward facing dog but you can skip this*. She continues to an advanced variation at 03:20, stop there to keep it basic.

*In a yoga class environment you’d probably start in downward facing dog. For stretching purposes, you don’t need to do this. It’s not essential for the pose. Just be sure to go slowly.

Calves

After feet, calf muscles take a hammering for both leaders and followers in tango, particularly if you have any knee issues. I swear by foot rolling to help release and prevent tight calves, targeted stretching and, of course, wearing the right shoes (that’s a whole article in itself that I’ll save for another day!).

Here’s a quick and simple stretch and variation, something you’ll see runners often do. It’s versatile as it’s done standing – you just need a wall or countertop. The step variation at 01:20 can be done on stairs and escalators so it’s quite easy to fit into your day.

Further reading

If this has piqued your interest, here’s a technical article on calves, glutes and the wrong way to point your feet as a dancer. It includes a video of a clever floor-based stretch that utilises a ball to apply pressure on the calves.
http://danceproject.ca/muscles-youre-using-wrong-calf-edition/#.VqZYi24njIw

And finally

I couldn’t resist using this wonderful photo. Be like a lion, streeeetch!

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Wishing you all good dance health,

Amy

 

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