Dancer to Dancer
Ray Hesselink teaching a class at Steps on Broadway (courtesy Hesselink)

In "Sunday Candy," one of Caleb Teicher's popular "Chance Raps | Caleb Taps" videos, the Bessie Award-winning performer has as much to say with his upper body as he does with his feet. In one section, his hands whack the air in front of him as though he's at a drum set; in another, they point skyward to accent Chance the Rapper's lyrics with the precise lines of a jazz or musical theater routine. His arms help propel him off the ground for a one-footed wing, but also add style to a mambo-inspired step. The grace and musicality of his upper body in contrast to such busy footwork is a multisensory delight. It's also a lesson in how tap dancers can use their arms to their full potential.

With so much focus on your feet during tap work, it's easy to forget the importance of using your upper body properly. "You need your whole body in order to achieve the sounds you're trying to make," says Ray Hesselink, a popular teacher at Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway, and the Juilliard School in NYC. "When you dance, you're sending your energy in multiple directions, so when you don't use your arms, there's a certain heaviness, a slump, to your dancing."

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Your Body

“Stop slouching!” We’ve all heard it before, whether from our moms, our ballet teachers or both. And it’s pretty solid advice: Good posture protects your back by decreasing stress on the joints, muscles and ligaments that support your spine. Plus, it helps you look and feel more confident and energized.

But like all good things, picture-perfect posture doesn’t happen overnight—it takes a bit of effort. DS turned to Rachel Piskin, co-founder of ChaiseFitness, for four exercises that will have you standing taller in no time.

You'll need: a Thera-Band

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Ribcage Wrap

1. Stand in a shallow first position. Wrap the Thera-Band around the back

of your rib cage and cross it in front of your body. Holding one end of the band in each hand, extend your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, with your palms flat and facing down.

2 Open your arms to the side, keeping them at shoulder height. Piskin says: “As you open your arms, imagine your chest expanding without allowing your rib cage to pop forward.”

3. Slowly return your arms to the starting position, with control. Repeat 8–10 times.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Bow and Arrow Stretch

1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Standing

in a shallow first position, extend your left arm straight out to the side with the palm facing down. Bring your right fist into the center of your rib cage with your right elbow pointing straight out to the side, like you’re preparing to shoot a bow and arrow.

2. Pull the right end of the Thera-Band across your chest so that it reaches your right armpit, turning your head toward your left arm at the same time. Piskin says: “Don’t lift your shoulders. Keep them pressed down as you pull the band across your body.”

3. Return to the starting position, with control. Repeat 8–10 times on each side.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Plié and Relevé

1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Standing in a shallow first position, bring your arms overhead, holding them shoulders-width apart with your palms facing forward. Feel your spine extend both up and down as you demi-plié.

2. Push through the floor to straighten your legs and lift into a relevé, keeping your arms stretched overhead. Repeat 20 times. Piskin says: “Don’t allow the band to slacken. Create tension by pulling it slightly outward throughout this exercise.”

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Arabesque Lift

1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Extend your right leg behind you in a shallow lunge, with your feet slightly turned out and your left leg slightly bent. Extend your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, with your palms facing down.

2. Pushing off the floor, straighten your left leg and extend your right leg in a low arabesque, while lifting your arms overhead.

3. Lower your arms and legs to the starting position. Repeat 8–10 times on each leg. Piskin says: “Really engage your core as you push off the floor, so that you don’t lose your alignment in the transition.”

Click here to watch Rachel walk through these exercises.

 

 

 

 

 

Your Body

“There’s nothing worse than trying to partner a dancer who has a loose upper body,” says Mary Leonard, owner of the U.S. Athletic Training Center in NYC. Don’t be that girl! Solve this common problem by giving your pectorals a boost. These muscles, which sit directly underneath your chest, need to be toned like any other muscle in your body, and doing so will improve your partnering skills. Plus, Leonard says, “toned pecs help you look stronger without adding bulk.” All photos by Erin Baiano.

1) Push-Ups

Begin in a plank position, with your hands planted in a triangle (index fingers and thumbs touching). Create a long, straight line from your head to your heels.

Bend your elbows, lowering your body as far as you can without losing your alignment. Then, initiating from your pecs, push back up.

Leonard says: “Hold your abs and glutes tight to keep your body in one line.”

If this feels too intense, drop your knees to the floor. Whichever position you choose, aim for 20 push-ups.

2) Thera-Band Fly: You’ll need one light-resistance Thera-Band

Plant your feet in a sturdy parallel stance. Wrap the Thera-Band around the back of your waist, holding the ends firmly in each hand. Start with your arms in second position. Bring your hands together as though you’re moving around the edge of a large circle from second to first position. When your hands meet, twist them so that the palms face up. Hold for 2 seconds, and then return to starting position. Aim for 20–25 reps.

3) Dumbbell Wide Fly: You’ll need two 3- to 8-lb. weights (choose what’s comfortable for you).

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground, hips-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand with your arms in second position floating just above the floor, palms facing up.

Contract your pecs to bring your hands above your head. When they meet, twist your wrists so your palms face the ground. Hold for 2 seconds, then return to the starting position.

Leonard says: “Make sure you move slowly, as though the air were really thick.”

4) Overhead Pulls

Lie flat on your back as in the last exercise. Crisscross the weights over each other and hold them behind your head, just above the floor, with a slight bend in the elbows. Keep your core tight so you don’t arch your back.

On an exhale, press the weights up to the ceiling until they’re directly above your face. Slowly return to the starting position.

Leonard says: “Your shoulders should be down, and your wrists should stay straight and strong.”

Click here to see Mary Leonard walk Karla through these exercises.

 

Your Body

Have you ever wondered how contemporary ballet queen Drew Jacoby got her lithe legs or commercial diva Comfort Fedoke chiseled her arms? DS asked a few pros with particularly toned physiques for their fitness secrets and go-to moves. Read on—and then get moving!

Muscular Arms

Dancer: Comfort Fedoke

Where You’ve Seen Her: Comfort was a finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 4 and an All-Star on Season 7. She also has featured roles in the upcoming films Footloose and Honey 2.

Secret to Her Success: “I go to the gym almost every morning and I focus on my arms,” Comfort says. “I do arm curls with free weights and I spend lots of time practicing my popping and locking because it forces me to flex and release my muscles. I also do 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups every night.”

Go-To Move: “The Fresno, a popping move, tones my entire arm at once,” she says. “Extend your arms to the front or the sides, flex all your muscles at the same time and then release them at the same time. It should feel like it does when you ball your fist up and release it.”

Ripped Abs

Dancer: Rachele Brooke Smith

Where You’ve Seen Her: Rachele played the lead role in Center Stage: Turn It Up and she will star in the upcoming film The Beach Bar. She recently danced in Burlesque and on “Glee,” and she’s a guest teacher with L.A. DanceMagic.

Secrets to Her Success: “I love Cardio Barre, hot yoga, riding my bike and walking,” Rachele says. “I only spend 10 minutes a day doing ab-specific moves. But I focus on keeping my abs contracted during every type of workout, even when I’m dancing or walking around. Exhale each time you contract your stomach muscles and hold ab moves longer than you normally would.”

Go-To Moves: “Hold a plank position for at least 30 seconds and then do five push-ups. Then, flip onto your back and lift your upper body and legs into a V-sit-up position and hold that for at least 30 seconds. Then do a few crunches before you roll over and start again.”

Supple and Strong Legs

Dancer: Drew Jacoby

Where You’ve Seen Her: Drew is one half of Jacoby & Pronk. She has also performed with Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and more. This spring, she’ll perform at Youth America Grand Prix galas in several cities.

Secret to her success: “It’s important to exercise the weak areas of your body so you don’t overuse the strong areas,” Drew says. “I run, swim, bike and do Pilates so I can work on the areas that don’t get as much attention when I’m dancing.”

Go-To Move: Drew has naturally muscular outer thighs, so she uses bridges to strengthen the rest of her thighs. To try a bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your sides, palms down. Push your hips toward the ceiling, leaving your arms, feet and shoulders on the floor. Hold that pose for one breath, then lower your hips to the floor.

Head-to-Toe Tone

Dancer: Erica Jimbo

Where You’ve Seen Her: dancing with Pilobolus since 2009

Secrets to Her Success: “I do Wushu—a type of kung fu—at least three times a week. It helps me strengthen all over. I also do yoga, Pilates, and various core and back workouts.”

Go-To Move: One of Erica’s favorite exercises simultaneously tones her arms, shoulders, abs, back and more. To try it, place your hands on the sides of an exercise ball and extend your legs so you’re in a push-up position. Make sure your shoulders are over your hands, your legs are straight and your feet are together. Inhale, bracing your abs and back. As you exhale, slowly extend your arms and push the ball forward as far as you can while maintaining your form. Hold for one breath. Inhale and slowly roll the ball back to the starting position. Keep your shoulders in place throughout the movment. Work up to 8 to 10 reps.

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