When it comes to teaching our young dancers how to taking care of their bodies there are many topics to cover. Self-awareness, confidence, proper eating, caring for injuries, and of course stretching! It is important that our dancers learn at a young age how to properly prepare their bodies for activity not only to achieve excellence, but to avoid injury and long term damage.
Why do we stretch?
Proper stretching affects our form, alignment and technique. As dancers this is important because it enables us to become stronger turners, leapers and overall performers.
What do I do before I stretch?
Never stretch cold muscles. Always warm up with 2-3 minutes of cardio. It can be as simple as running in place or jumping up and down in one spot.
When do we stretch?
It is best to stretch before and after our classes as well as outside of the dance studio. The longer we stretch, the more flexible we become. Students wishing to improve their split should practice at least once a day for 30 seconds per leg. For a challenge, bend down and touch your nose to your knee or lean backwards in a port de bras while in frontal split form.
How do we stretch?
Never bounce or bob and remember to breathe!
Suggestions for the stretching dancer:
Lower back and core:
Lower body to floor, holding your torso up with your arms as a seal would. For strength building, hold arms in fifth position (“holding the sun”). Repeat for three sets.
For a lower back stretch, kneel on the ground on your hands and knees (similar to cat or dog) and pull up lower back in arch. Next, sink your back down as low as you can with knees and arms remaining intact. Repeat for five sets.
Hamstrings and Quads:
Perform a right and left split (see above for additional split challenges for advanced students). Hold each for at least 30 seconds regardless of how far down you can go. Do not forget to turn out your front and back leg and remember to POINT your toes.
Another option for newer dancer is to sit upright on the floor and put legs together out in front of you with toes pointed. Pull up as far as you can go and then proceed to bend over to touch your toes, keeping back straight and knees straight on the floor. Hold toes for 30 seconds. Repeat with flexed feet and alternate.
When do we STOP stretching?
If unnatural pain begins to form in your stretch of choice, it is most likely your body telling you to STOP. Always do preparation stretches before going into splits and other advanced stretches.
DO NOT OVER STRETCH. When joints are pushed beyond their limits or natural range of motion there is always a risk of damaging the surrounding tissues. Young dancers face a very serious risk from over stretching as their bones that are not fully developed. Long term, over stretching can carry higher risk of developing arthritic symptoms due to wear and tear on the cartilage. According to Athletic Physical Therapy: All dancers should use the following three stretches to avoid injury:
"1. Piriformis Stretch: Laying on your back, maintain a neutral spine position. Bend one leg up and across your body, use your arms to pull your knee and foot into your chest, keeping your shoulders square.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch: Stand in a wide lunge with your back foot on demi pointe. Keep your hips/pelvis either straight or slightly pushed forward. Bend your front knee slowly until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip of your back leg.
3. Internal Rotation Stretch: Lay down on your back. Keep spine in neutral and move your feet away from your body keeping your knees together. You should feel a gentle stretch on the outside of your hips. If you feel pain in your groin, stop. Each stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds, and performed 2-3 times."