By Chris Kuzia
Every day students moan when I say “Let’s warm up!” Right away I hear, “Do we have to?”, “Can’t we just go straight to working on our dances?” or “I don’t need to warm up, I’m okay.” What they fail to understand is that warming up is necessary to prevent injuries. If your students are just like mine, or if you need some tips on how to warm up well, this post is for you!
The three main reasons to warm up are: to get the muscles ready to work, to put the muscles through the range of flexibility needed in the motions to follow, and to prepare the muscles for an increased usage of strength.
To get your muscles ready to work, your heart rate has to be increased. Increasing the heart rate raises the body’s temperature and increases blood flow to the muscles which produces more heat and pliancy. A dancer should also pay special attention to the spine, shoulders, and hip joints during a warm up because more is demanded of these joints in dancing than in everyday life. While warming up on the floor is a bit easier, it is important to prepare the body for shifting weight, changing levels, and moving in space. Be sure to also warm up in a standing position.
For flexibility, you should include stretching in your warm up, but be careful not to push your limit or try to exceed your range of stretch until the end of class. Never use bouncing, it can cause muscle strain. Gentle, mild stretching is key to the warming process. General body warming before class will allow the muscles to stretch more easily and with less soreness after class. Warming up increases the rate at which nerve impulses are transmitted to the muscles and so prepares them to work at full strength. Joints are moved by muscle contraction. It is important for dancers to work for strength through the entire range of movement. The dancer who works only on flexibility in a warm up and in class without an effort to develop strength, will not be able to capitalize on the stretch to achieve that last few degrees of extension, and he or she will be more prone to injury.
Balancing muscles is also important to a warm up. Muscles work in pairs. The joints they protect will be more prone to injury if one group is stronger than the other. Be sensitive to your body. Dancers need to know what kind of bodies they have: whether they are tight or flexible, with little or a lot of turn-out, hyper-extended knees, or particular strengths and weaknesses. Age is a factor too. It takes longer to warm-up as you get older. A warm up is important for giving yourself the individual attention that is not available in class. Becoming sensitive to the inner signals of the body is a key issue in dancing. Students have to think for themselves, adapt exercises to their bodies, know what an exercise is for, and ask if they don’t know. There is no universal warm up, but there seems to be universal advice: Know your body, how it works, and what it needs.