Nimble, flexible, lithe, willowy, wraith-like...adjectives used to describe dancers often allude to rail-thin feather-light physiques. But words like strong, powerful, commanding and explosive describe some of the world's greatest dancers, and muscular strength is the underlying attribute that enables them to perform at their peak.
Strength and Joint Health
In order to express themselves artistically, dancers stretch their joints to super-human lengths so they can please the eye as they fly across the stage in a panoply of amazing planes and angles. But the dark side to hyper-flexibility is increased potential for injury. Supplemental strength training improves dancing while preventing injury. Muscle strengthening exercises promote joint integrity by balancing muscle tension. Active stretching exercises that contract one muscle group while stretching the opposing group strengthen and stretch muscles simultaneously. For example, stretching the quadriceps from the hip while contracting the gluteals and hamstrings lends stability at the hip joint.
Core Muscle Strength
The core muscles stabilize the spine, trunk and pelvis, preventing back injury and allowing for powerful rotational movement. Exercise regimens like Pilates have been embraced by dancers because they promote functional core strength and spinal health. Strong abdominal, low back and pelvic floor muscles are critical for powerful rotational movements like the pirouette, the tour-jete and the fouette . Pilates training also promotes hip and pelvic integrity, balancing the deleterious effects of lateral hip rotation, or turnout.
Strength and Explosive Movement
Dancers are required to perform repeated explosive polymetric movements with minimal foot support. Ballet dancers in particular are vulnerable to foot and ankle injuries. Reduced muscular strength has been association with an increased risk for injury in dancers. A report by Yannis Koutedakis of Thessaly University in Trikala, Greece cites a study in which dancers participating in a strength training program for quadriceps and hamstrings showed markedly less fatigue after dance training than a control group. The author concluded that dance and studio work alone is not enough to protect dancers from the negative effects of fatigue.
Strength for Lifts and Balance
Strength is foundational to all dynamic movement. Elaborate lifts, acrobatics and amazing balance are all integral to a winning dance performance. Dancers who fail to recognize the importance of strength in realizing their potential may never reach it. Fear of bulking up often steers dancers away from the weight room. But injury or inability to execute strong movements is the trade-off for failure to pursue muscular strength.
- Journal of Dance Medicine and Science: The Significance of Muscular Strength in Dance
- Koutedakis, Yannis, Thessaly University Department of Sport and Exercise Science: Muscular Strength in Dance
- Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, May 2009: Effect of Partner's Improvisational Training on Dancers' Muscular Strength
- Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Muscular Strength: Applications for Dancers
- International Association for Dance Medicine and Science: Stretching for Dance