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Home > Technique

The Five Secrets to Flexibility

As dancers, we know that being limber is just as important as being strong. Without the proper flexibility we aren’t able to accomplish the advanced movement dance requires. Some of us got lucky in the DNA bank but most have to work really hard at gaining flexibility. Stretching involves many hours of consistency and effort. To help guide the dancer in their quest for a more flexible body, we’ve compiled The Five Secrets to Flexibility:

1) Stretching Agenda

Dancers need to put aside time to attend to their stretching as often as possible. The best time to do this is in the span of a dance class. Get to class early for pre-stretches. It is important that stretching is done before class, during class and most definitely after class. Stretching while warm will give the most progress. Muscles don’t easily respond to stretching when they are cold!

2) Stretching Technique

Start by stretching the neck, and literally move down the body focusing on specific areas one by one. Stretching in this way allows the body to ease into deeper stretches. Think: how can you work on hamstring stretches if your neck and back are tense and inflexible? The body will only gain flexibility if it is stretched properly and in it’s entirely. Try stretching in ascending order:

  • Start with the neck and spine; gently roll the head while standing with perfect posture.
  • Move down to the shoulders, back and rib cage with isolation moves and rolls. Bring arms forward and round back, then hold them behind and roll chest back. Roll shoulders forward and backward.
  • Stretch the arms by opening them both out to either side and bend the fingers downward at the wrists. Don’t forget bicep stretches as well, lift the elbow straight up in the air and pull it down with the opposite arm, then bring arm across chest and hold with opposite arm.
  • Stretch the sides by bending one arm over head reaching for the other side; keep the hips squared.
  • Concentrate on the back. Do a forward bend and hang there with the neck relaxed, roll up slowly. Also try laying on the back and lifting the legs to touch the ground above the head. This is a great spinal stretch.
  • Stretch the hips by sitting in “Indian Style” and laying down as far forward as possible.
  • Work on the hamstrings by sitting on the ground with the feet straight out in front. Sit up straight, bring the arms up, flex the feet then bend forward with a flat back.
  • Open the legs out to second and stretch the inner thighs, do a side bend toward either leg.
  • Also bring the body forward in this position with a goal to lay the chest on the ground, reach forward as far as possible and hold. This can also be done against a wall for more resistance.
  • Work the quadriceps by sitting on the knees (while leaving the calves underneath the body), lay the torso back as far as possible, try to lay on the ground or at least on the elbows.
  • Do a split to the left and to the right. If a split hasn’t been achieved yet then still try and hold it. Try bending either the front or the back leg if the spilt isn’t yet developed, and try reaching the body over the leg with a flat back.
  • Also try to roll through the middle split and land in “frog” position. Or just lye on the stomach and bend both knees so feet are together (frog position). This is a great stretch for turn-out.

    Each of these stretches will be uncomfortable initially, but with dedication there will be improvement.

    3) The Committed Stretcher

    Stretch as often as possible. Stretch while watching TV, doing homework, reading…. Putting as much effort into stretching as dancing, is what it takes to see real results.
    A dancer who doesn’t dedicate several days a week to stretching just isn’t going to see the payoff. Remember that no matter how strong of a dancer you may be, if your flexibility needs work then your dancing suffers!

    4) Stretching on the Clock

    Deep stretching requires a good amount of time. Each stretch has to be held literally, for a few minutes a piece. Rushing a stretch won’t help progress. A good idea is to get a timer, and time each stretch. Relax the muscle while in the depth of each stretch. Then hold it for until the timer rings. The idea is to feel comfortable in each stretch.

    5) Supplemental Stretching

    Take a class just for stretching! Try Pilates, Yoga or stretch classes. These classes can be found at the local gym, private studios, parks and recreation centers or the local community college. Really commit to these classes and learn the art of stretching in it’s own right.

    Let’s face it, dancers who are not limber are left behind. Being limber is necessary in dance so treat it as a high priority! Take the time to focus to get the results desired. Remember though: be kind to the body. Pushing the muscles to quick and enduring pain is counter-productive. The idea is to gently stretch the muscles, not injure them. Overstretched injured muscles are full of scar tissue that is permanent and un-pliable… So take care, be committed and stay focused: improvement is inevitable!

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