Warming up and stretching should be the first thing a dancers does when entering a studio, whether it's for a one-hour class or five hour rehearsal. A thorough warm-up will not only help to prevent injuries, but will also help to prevent long-term wear and tear on the joints and muscles.
Although the barre work is intended to help warm up the body, dancers should warm up before class even starts. Arrive at least 15 minutes before class starts to give yourself enough time to be properly warmed up.
A Cardio Jolt
Many athletes, including dancers, use stretching as a warm-up. This can in fact increase your chance of injury, since you're putting strain on muscles and connective tissue that have not been properly prepared. Before any stretching can occur, the body temperature needs to be raised which increases blood flow, making muscles, tendons and ligaments more elastic and less likely to be damaged.
Lightly jog around the studio or using a skipping rope for five minutes will get your heart rate up and increase body temperature. This quick cardio warm-up should get you sweating, but shouldn't be so intense that you are too tired for class.
Feet and Ankles
Once your body is warm, it's important to get your muscles and joints moving in a way that is similar to the movements you are about to do in class. Warming up the feet and ankles are especially important for dancers, since ballet puts a lot of strain on the feet.
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Slowly point and flex your feet, emphasizing each step along the way and pausing for a moment when your feet are fully pointed and then again once they are fully flexed.
Ankles can be difficult to warm up, but are one of the most injured joints in a dancer. First, do about 15 small, slow circles with the ankles, both clockwise and counterclockwise. Then, using the barre for balance, place one foot directly behind the other so the toes of one foot are placed directly behind the heel of your other foot. Slowly behind your knees and feel the stretch on the back of your ankle, or Achilles tendon. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and change feet.
Pressing up on the ball of the foot not only warm up the ankle joint, but will also help to strengthen the muscles around the ankle. Place the ball of one foot on the edge of a step, so your heel can be dropped down. Then, press up through the foot until you're on the ball, or in three-quarter point. Repeat 10 to 15 times and switch feet.
Legs and Hips
Ballet dancers tend to have tight calf muscles since most of the movements use a pointed foot which shortens the muscle. Use a lunge position with a straight back leg to stretch out that muscle. Hold the position for about 30 seconds and then switch legs.
To warm up the knee joint and thigh muscles, do lunges where the back knee drops towards the floor without touch down. Do 10 to 15 lunges alternating legs.
The turned out position of the legs and feet that is crucial in ballet actually comes from the hips, so it is also important to get the hip joints moving as part of your warm up. Using the barre for balance, face the barre and lift one leg off the ground with your knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Swing your knee out to the side at the hip and then bring it back in front of you. Let the bottom half of your leg relax and swing freely. The movement should be quick, but still have a relaxed, rhythmic feeling to it. Repeat about 10 times and then switch legs.