Dancers are known for their strength and grace, but they don’t come without hard work. In addition to daily dance classes and rehearsals, dancers build strength through alternate methods such as yoga and Pilates. Both of these practices give dancers the extra boost they need to be better, stronger dancers and move ahead in their careers.
Yoga teaches practitioners how to link breath and movement, which is a very powerful tool for dancers. Working with conscious breathing adds more power to certain moves such as turns and jumps. An in breath helps with expansive moves and buoyancy – helpful when it’s time to leap across stage, while an out breath adds power to bends or grounded moves. Yoga teaches us how to live more fully in our bodies, to inhabit each and every cell while building strength, balance and coordination.Yoga has another obvious benefit; a relaxed state of mind.What dancer couldn’t use a little of that? Let’s face it; dancing is a very stressful career.
Says dancer Jennifer Stahl: In yoga (especially vinyasa) I was finally able to find a feeling of fullness to my movement—something I had struggled to attain in modern class, but never quite “got.” Once I became used to finding length in every position during the slow flow through the poses, I could translate that sensation back to the studio, and became able to move bigger, with longer lines. Yoga taught me to really feel what was going on in my body, and to become aware of where I was placing it in space.
Core strength is a key element for dancers, especially during quick moves and turns. Joseph Pilates, a fitness pioneer in his time, developed the Pilates system, which uses specialized equipment and exercises to develop and strengthen what he called the “powerhouse”, the muscles of the abdominals, lower back and buttocks. Other benefits include improved posture, and fewer back problems. The Pilates method has long been an inside secret for many dancers, but is now recognized as important and necessary- Pacific Northwest Ballet has two Pilates studios available to its dancers. (Read more about Pilates at PNB here).
Says Alexandra Dickson, ex-PNB soloist and Pilates Conditioning Manager at PNB: “I didn’t realize the power I was getting from Pilates until I did it three times a week after my pregnancy,” recalled Dickson during a recent break from private and semi-private workouts with clients. “I got back to the ballet and we opened with ‘Swan Lake’ (a demanding performance). I couldn’t have a made it back without the Pilates work.”
However, yoga and Pilates aren’t just for dancers; anyone can benefit from either practice. Both are particularly helpful to prevent and correct back pain issues. The benefits include:
• greater strength and flexibility
• improved balance and coordination
• improved state of mind
• increased breathing capacity
• improved posture
• greater core strength
• improved overall strength, flexibility and coordination
Strength and grace don’t come naturally, but there are tried and true techniques available for anyone (dancer or not) who wants more of either.