It is almost that time of year again; the time to break out the warm ups and break in the pointe shoes! September signifies new beginnings throughout the world of dance, and while it is crucial to start focusing your time on training, rehearsing, and performing, an essential, yet surprisingly over-looked activity that can greatly facilitate your dancing is cross-training.
Training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance, especially in a main sport.
I recently discovered that by becoming active in another sport, my abilities in dance would be strengthened tremendously. I say ‘recently’ because for the longest time, I had no thoughts whatsoever of adding supplementary training to my already hectic dance schedule. The minute I decided to pursue a professional career in ballet, there was no tearing me away from the dance studio. I took countless amounts of ballet technique classes, pointe classes, even contemporary and jazz classes. But of course, as I grew older and wiser, I soon realized that I would need to put in double the amount of effort if I wanted to keep my body in tip-top shape and to continue developing as a strong, healthy ballet dancer.
That is why this past summer I invested in my very first cross-training curriculum. Initially, I decided that I was going to become a runner…
…and by “becoming a runner” I mean that I am that person who sprints for about one minute, decides that was good enough, and walks the rest of the way. In any regard, I became a walker; a person seeking a physically strengthening activity, but whom also wants to enjoy oneself. Anyway, walking, more so than running, is a great example of a cross-training activity dancers can participate in. It works the muscles in your legs, but not to the point of utter exhaustion, and it also maintains a healthy cardiovascular and respiratory system. Unlike running, walking does not put too much stress on your ankles, knees, or hips. Also, I personally find walking to be very therapeutic. I’ll go outside either in the early morning or just before sunset and let my thoughts pour out of my head, Fun fact: I get a lot of my writing ideas when I’m on my walks. Walking, either by yourself or with a friend, can be an excellent cross-training activity to do, especially in the warmer months. I definitely recommend it.
After receiving some physical and mental benefits from my daily walks, I concluded that it was time to add another cross-training workout to my curriculum. I joined a Pilates/Yoga class. I attended my first Hour of Power Pilates class at Mystic Yoga, located in Hazleton, PA, just two days ago. I was not quite sure what to expect going in to it, but I am so thankful I took the class because it was exactly what I was looking for; exactly what a dancer needs.
- The beginning of class was focused on a lot of upper body movement and strength. In ballet class, we tend to focus on the lower half of our body almost always. The upper body is an afterthought, so when I was pushing myself to contort in all these new positions where all of my weight was in my arms, I’m not going to lie to you, I was in pain! But it also felt great to use new muscles and to know that I’ll be able to gain more upper body strength after attending more classes.
- The next portion of class was focused on flexibility and balance. It was nice to get back into my comfort zone for a few exercises. Of course, this is where ballet helped me out a lot! The only part that I was not used to was having to keep my legs turned in, instead of turned out. Turning in your legs uses an entirely different group of muscles in your legs therefore being able to turn in is just as critical as being able to turn out.
- The third portion of the class was focused on core strength. This is where the real Pilates came into play. By this point in the class, I was more or less exhausted, but was still expected to do at least 40 bicycles, 40 sit-ups, and 20 pushups.
- Lastly, the fourth portion of the class was focused on relaxation and meditation. The instructor turned off the lights, I closed my eyes, and was then advised to ask for whatever it was I needed in my life at that moment. I asked for peace. We also did small, slow movements of rolling the neck, ankle joints, and wrists to loosen everything up before the class came to an end.
Thus far, walking and Pilates are my only two cross-training activities. Not only can I see the positive results in the ballet studio, but I am much happier with my body and mentality in general now that I have even more time to focus on my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
There are plenty more cross-training activities you can dive into to improve your abilities in dance than just the two I had mentioned. Swimming, golfing, biking, playing tennis, and even walking your dog can help you progress further as a strong dancer! Choose an activity that interests YOU and you will be reaping the benefits in no time!