Safety: Ballet Dance

Safety

  • Always adequately warm-up your body and stretch out your muscles before beginning any dance class. (Even if the teacher includes a warm-up in his or her class it is best to do your own anyways!)
  • Make sure you have the correct shoes and attire on. Note that socks can be very slippery on certain dance floors.
  • Do not take a class that is beyond your skill level. (See our skill level chart to make sure you know where you stand.) Without knowing the basics you will not be able to safely learn more advanced skills and could injure yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry especially hoop or dangling earrings and sharp rings.
  • Drink plenty of water (avoid sugary drinks) and make sure you eat a healthy meal/snack prior to class. With the correct nutrients you will have the energy and strength to perform at your highest potential.
  • Be respectful and polite to your teacher and fellow dancers so that everyone has a positive experience.

Warm Up and Stretching

By Toni Branner (Director of TheGoSite Board Of Experts)
Exercise Physiologist, Wellness Coach, Author, and Speaker
Site Manager for TheGoSite Fitness and Wellness Sites

Both competitive and recreational athletes often make the mistake of equating the words "warm-up" and "stretching." They comprise two separate parts of your workout. Although stretching exercises can be included in the pre-workout routine, the most important goal when preparing to exercise should be to increase the body temperature and to prepare the muscles, connective tissue, neurological and circulatory system to safely accommodate more intense exercise. Stretching cold can be more harmful than not stretching at all. The best time to stretch is after cardiovascular exercise or a muscular workout when the body temperature is elevated and joints are lubricated. The goal of stretching is to optimize joint range of motion but maintain stability in the joint. It is crucial to do the stretches correctly and to avoid unsafe positions.

For these reasons the warm-up phase is divided into two parts: The circulatory (thermal) warm-up followed by the stretching warm-up. The final stretch is reserved for the end of your workout.

The Circulatory/Thermal Warm-up

The circulatory or thermal warm-up should be designed to raise local and core temperature and to increase blood flow to the working muscles. Because of this increase in temperature and blood saturation, a proper warm-up improves performance and reduces injury. Improved blood flow is necessary so that enough oxygen and nutrients are carried to the cells and so that the additional waste products produced can be adequately removed. The heart also has time to adjust to the increased demand. Studies show that beginning too quickly can cause abnormal heart rhythms. The higher body temperature allows nerve impulses to travel faster which maximizes coordination. In addition, the metabolic reactions that produce fuel for the activity occur more quickly and more efficiently. In the muscle, the mechanical efficiency of contraction is enhanced and the contraction itself is quicker and more forceful. Muscles are more elastic and extensibility of tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue is increased.

These physiologic principles make a strong case for not omitting the thermal/circulatory warm-up. It is especially important when exercise is performed in a cool or cold environment. Extremely cold surroundings may require a ten to fifteen minute circulatory warm-up. On a summer day three minutes might be enough. If an active warm-up is not possible or convenient, a passive warm-up such as a hot bath/shower or applied heat can also be effective.

Practically, the circulatory warm-up is simple. It is accomplished by performing rhythmic, continuous movement of medium intensity for four to fifteen minutes. Usually a light sweat is a good sign that you are warm. It is always a good idea to mimic some of the movements which you will be doing in your workout. Examples of proper circulatory warm-ups include:

  • Walking with arm movements
  • Slow cycling, swimming or jogging
  • Mild rope skipping
  • Low intensity, low impact aerobic dance routine

Movements specific to your sport. For example: Swinging motion without the baseball bat or golf club, then add the bat and club and swing with no ball….simulating what is to come in the real game or practice.

Remember that no stretching should be included during this segment. The circulatory warm-up should continue until a light perspiration is present. At this point you should not feel tired or out of breath. Your heart rate and respiration rate are slightly elevated, your muscles are warmer, and you are ready to proceed to the next portion of your workout.

Benefits of a Circulatory/Thermal Warm-up

  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate, blood flow, and rate of breathing
  • Blood flow sent to working muscles
  • Increased metabolic rate (more fuel for activity)
  • Faster transmission of nerve impulses
  • Decreases chance of soreness caused by a build up of lactic acid
  • Increased synovial fluid in the joints
  • Increased speed and force of muscle contractions
  • Decreased risk of acute injuries to muscles and connective tissues
  • The Stretching Warm-up

    Mild stretching exercises, Myofascial Release and Dynamic Stretching can follow the circulatory warm-up. A proper stretch at the beginning and end of your workout can improve flexibility, function, and performance, as well as reduce injuries. The muscles are still not as warm as they should be, therefore, more intense stretching is better left for the end of the workout. Warm tissues stretch more easily, providing more permanent results and less risk of injury. Although athletes may require this phase, non-ballistic activities like walking, swimming and cycling may not require a stretching warm-up. Just start slowly and gradually build intensity as your body warms up. Stretching cold is worse than not stretching at all. If your time is limited, save your stretching until the end of your workout.

    Myofascial Release

    Fascia is a thin tissue that covers all the organs of the body. It covers every muscle and every fiber in each muscle. You store stress and tension in your muscles and connective tissue. This causes them to become stiff and locked which results in discomfort and pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, “It is thought that tightness within the fascia (connective tissues) causes restriction of muscle and other tissues, resulting in back pain and loss of motion. Injuries, stress, inflammation, trauma and poor posture supposedly contribute to this tightness.” Myofascial Release loosens and frees this connective tissue. This means that any physical condition the tightness of the fascia is exaggerating can be relieved by Myofascial Release. This is thought to include fibromyalgia, a slew of muscular and joint pains, fatigue, tensions, and even some of the physical side effects of old age. It is also thought to help with injuries and other sustained physical damage.

    Myofascial release is used to equalize muscle tension throughout the body. You use your own body weight to roll on a round foam roller to improve muscular balance and performance. This technique massages away restrictions to normal soft tissue extensibility. Simply by using your own body weight on the rolls, you will be reducing pain and tension, and restoring normal muscle length and balance. Optimum muscle balance helps to provide optimum joint motion leading to optimum performance.

    Dynamic Stretching

    Dynamic Stretching involves moving slowly and with control through a range of motion with the goal of improving the joint’s functional capacity for movement. You must have completed a thermal warm-up for this to be safe. To make it effective it should be multi-directional, and challenge your stability and coordination. For example, in a lunging calf stretch (gastrocnemius), slowly bend your back knee, lifting your heel off the floor. Now straighten the knee slowly and press the heel back into the floor. Repeat several times. Other examples are: walking knee hugs, crossovers (grapevine), elbow to instep, lateral lunges, walking quad pulls, skips, and walking forward kicks.

    Final Stretch

    The final stretch is the last segment of your workout and should consist of five to fifteen minutes of myofascial release, stretching and relaxation exercises. This will improve your flexibility and may reduce the chance of delayed onset muscle soreness. Since your muscles and connective tissue are completely warm, it is okay to stretch using more tension than you did in the stretching warm-up. Always move slowly into the stretched position, hold at least 10 seconds and release slowly from the position. In addition to increasing or maintaining flexibility, this stretching serves as a final cool-down from the aerobic and muscular conditioning exercises. After the final stretch you should feel slightly fatigued but not exhausted. Your body temperature and heart rate should be close to your resting levels and the majority of perspiration should have evaporated.

    Benefits of a Proper Stretching Program

    • Improved posture and body symmetry
    • Increased range of motion for each joint
    • Minimize low back pain and problems
    • Delay onset of muscle fatigue
    • Minimize soreness
    • Promote relaxation and reduce anxiety

    Types of Stretching

    Ballistic stretching consists of quick, repetitive, bouncing type movements. Although this method is somewhat effective, the increased range of motion is achieved through a series of jerks and pulls on the resistant muscle tissue. The momentum can result in damage to muscle and connective tissue and may be responsible for increased muscle soreness.

    Static stretching involves gradually going into a position of stretch until tension is felt. The position is then held for ten to thirty seconds or even longer. Optimal gains have been reported with four sets of 12-18 seconds per stretch. If your time is limited, hold each stretch 10-15 seconds. Since static stretching is more controlled, there is less chance of exceeding the limits of the tissue thereby creating injury.

    Dynamic Stretching involves moving slowly and with control through a range of motion. You must have completed a thermal warm-up for this to be safe. For example, in a lunging calf stretch (gastrocnemius), slowly bend your back knee, lifting your heel off the floor. Now straighten the knee slowly and press the heel back into the floor. Repeat several times.

    Contract and Relax methods involve contraction of muscles or muscle groups for five to ten seconds followed by relaxing and stretching. Traditionally, this procedure has been utilized by therapists and personal trainers for rehabilitation purposes. If carefully instructed and supervised, contract/relax methods can be effective in flexibility programs. Some of the positions require a partner, however, which increases the risk of overstretching and consequent injury.
    Sport Specific Stretching methods simulate the positions required for your sport. Gymnastics and Football are examples of sports that require extreme positions and possible force. A specific stretching program can prepare the body for this trauma.

    General Rules for Stretching Safely

    Avoid extreme hyperextension of the Spine (arching the back) –This position places the back in a vulnerable position. The disks pull away in the front and spinal processes can grind against each other. A small amount of active and passive back extension is necessary to maintain back health. A cautious approach is necessary to avoid injury.

    Avoid Forceful Locking of any Joint – When stretching, performing muscular conditioning exercises, lifting weights, or any other activity it is important to keep the knees and other joints "softened" to guard against unnecessary stretching or tearing of ligaments and connective tissue.

    Never Force a Movement – Do not place your body in unnatural positions and do not perform movements which cause discomfort. Notice signs that you may be overextending your limits.