Dancing is incredibly demanding on the body.
Whether you're doing ballet or flamenco, ballroom or hip-hop, there is incredible strength and flexibility required to practice and perform. Proper and consistent stretching is one of the best things you can do for your body as a dancer, a fact that is especially true in these times of working from home and extended quarantine. For many of us, there's a lot less walking around and a lot more sitting at a table, desk, or (shudder) on the couch for hours at a time.
So here are some stretching tips and pointers to help your joints and muscles stay healthy over the long haul of this grueling passion!
1. Make stretching a habit
One of the easiest things to do when you wrap up a rehearsal is hop in your car and leave the studio. This is a mistake! Just as you don't dive into the most demanding portions of your dance the moment you step into class, you shouldn't go from 100 miles per hour to zero miles per hour when the class wraps up.
Think about stretching after class like warming up before class. Consistent stretching, even if it's only for five or 10 minutes, should be a regular habit. It'll go a long way.
2. Don't neglect certain areas of your body
Stretch your whole body — not just one area. It doesn't make a lot of sense to stretch out your calves, hamstrings, and feet while abandoning your shoulders, neck, and back. One method we've seen is to stretch your body out from top to bottom, everything from your neck down to your feet, hitting all the corresponding muscle groups so that you're not leaving anything out. An imbalance in muscle care might lead to injury.
3. Feeling uncomfortable is OK — but don't push through intense pain
Everybody knows stretching a muscle, especially a tight one, can be a bit uncomfortable, but you should stop immediately if you feel intense pain. The last thing you want to do while stretching is injure a muscle or worsen a preexisting injury!
4. The foam roller is your friend
A foam roller can help reduce muscle inflammation, increase blood flow and range of motion, and much more. The popularity of foam rolling has surged recently, so there's no shortage of resources out there to help you find new ways to use the foam roller, and there are a lot of ways to use this simple tool. Best of all: they're incredibly cheap!
5. Stretching with a partner can work wonders
There's no way to get around the fact that some stretches are impossible to do alone, so grab a partner! Partner hamstring stretches come to mind first; the hamstrings are one of the most important muscles in your leg, and solo stretching this group can be quite difficult. Back stretches are also great with a partner and get much deeper work in than going it alone.
Dance Magazine has compiled an excellent page called "The Dancer's Ultimate Guide to Stretching," a thorough resource covering everything from specific stretches to incorporating yoga and more.
Hopefully these tips and pointers will help you out as you continue to dance in whatever capacity during these strange times! Always remember to consult professionals as needed, especially when dealing with injuries or pain.