Yes, we all know dancers are strong. But sometimes it takes a truly epic workout video to remind us JUST HOW INSANELY STRONG they actually are.
Behold, National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina's oh-so-casual pre-class exercise:
While I've trained in many dance styles (including ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop and Indian dance), my new love is Zumba! This Latin and international dance-inspired fitness program incorporates easy-to-follow choreography to get your heart rate up with intense exercises to keep your muscles working. This weekend I was licensed to teach Zumba, which will be a nice added activity to my awesome summer internship at Dance Spirit. Here are ten reasons that I’m obsessed—and why you should be too!
1. It feels like a party. After a long day of classes, work or my DS internship, the last thing I want to do is spend an hour on the treadmill. Zumba is all about “partying yourself into shape.” Now, who doesn’t like a good dance party?
2. It’s the perfect class to take with friends. While I love group fitness classes like step aerobics, I’m often so focused on trying to avoid falling off the step that I don’t pay attention to anyone around me. Zumba is another story. My friends and I claim our territory in the back of the classroom, salsa with each other and sing along to the music. Zumba is social (although my friends and I might go a little overboard).
3. It uses international music. Where else can you dance to salsa, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia, bollywood, bhangra, belly dancing, African and hip-hop music in one class? At my Zumba instructor training session, I learned that at least 70% of the music used in class should be international.
4. It’s for everyone. There’s no ideal body type for Zumba. You can be male or female, tall or short, young or old, a professional dancer or someone with two left feet. I’ve even seen a girl dance alongside her mother and grandmother in class, each of them kickin’ it to the best of their ability.
5. It’s my favorite form of cardio. No amount of Britney Spears (and I absolutely live for anything Britney) can seem to get me through an hour on the treadmill, elliptical or bike. But I actually look forward to getting my heart rate up for 60 minutes of Zumba class.
6. I don’t even realize all the calories I’m burning. I don’t think I’ve ever left a Zumba class where I haven’t been dripping with sweat. And I love sweating! It shows that I’ve had a productive workout.
7. It works out my core. I get more than just a cardio workout—I’m strengthening my muscles as well!
8. My brain gets a workout too. I often find my mind wandering while running or bicycling, but in Zumba, I’m 100% focused on the choreography. While it’s simple enough to follow along (even for absolute beginners), I still have to pay attention to timing, my form and my alignment, especially during the strengthening exercises. It’s one of the only fitness classes where I can completely tune everything else out and focus on having fun.
9. It’s perfect for dancers. While other exercise classes, like kickboxing or step aerobics, incorporate basic combinations and choreography, Zumba is one of the few classes that builds up to an entire routine. It’s based on repetition, so it’s easy to follow, but I still feel like I’m in a dance class as opposed to just a fitness class.
10. It makes me smile. Don’t get me wrong, I love feeling like Superwoman in a good kickboxing class, but Zumba involves a more feel-good approach that I can definitely appreciate.
We all know that girl who basically lives in crop tops and sports bras to show off her insanely chiseled abs. But strong stomach muscles aren't just amazing fashion accessories—they're also the key to everything from powerful jumps to proper technique. Dance Spirit spoke with Jessica Sander, a personal trainer in NYC, about the most effective exercises to help you score your dream core.
As dancers, we talk a lot about “finding our centers”—but what does that actually mean? It refers to the invisible pole of support in your core that makes you feel like you could
balance for days. Once you experience the freedom that sense of stability can provide, you’ll want to find a way to access it every time you dance. Professional dancer and Figure 4 Barre instructor Lindsey L. Miller shares three stabilizing exercises to help you conquer even the toughest balance challenges.
The Toe-Heel Rock
Purpose: This exercise strengthens the muscles in your ankle to promote stability in relevé.
(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)
Stand sideways about one foot away from a wall. Lightly touch the wall with your right hand and lift your left leg to a parallel coupé. Place your left hand on your left hip.
Rock forward onto the toes of your right foot, lifting your right heel as high as you can.
Miller Says: “When balancing on your heel, it’s natural to want to stick out your butt. To keep your weight centered over your foot, think of almost tucking your pelvis.”
Rock backward to the starting position, then lift the ball of your right foot off the floor as high as you can, keeping your body upright and your hips centered over your foot.
Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Because dancers’ big toes tend to be stronger than their pinky toes, rocking back to the heel often looks like this, with the pinky-toe side of the foot tilted toward the floor.
Focus on lifting up the pinky-toe side so your metatarsal stays even.
Purpose: This exercise helps you access your deep transverse abdominal muscles, which are essential to balance.
(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)
Stand with your back against a wall, your feet parallel and hips-width apart and your arms by your sides.
Curve your head forward and begin to roll down through your spine. Keep your hips and heels connected to the wall.
Miller Says: “It’s difficult not to fall forward during this exercise. To find your balance, focus on contracting your lower abs and pressing your hips and heels into the wall behind you.”
Once you reach the bottom of the roll-down, grab on to opposite elbows to keep from relying on the floor for balance.
Beginning at the base of your spine, roll your body back up to the starting position.
Repeat two more times.
The Horizontal Tilt
Purpose: This exercise promotes balance in turnout by strengthening your oblique muscles and the external rotators in your hip.
Begin in a “T” position, standing on a straight, parallel right leg with your left leg reaching behind you (foot flexed and parallel). Tilt your torso forward, so your body—from the crown of your head to your heel—forms a straight line parallel to the floor. Reach your arms toward the floor with your palms facing each other.
Bend your right leg, making sure your knee tracks over the center of your right foot and your left leg stays in line with your torso. Hold the rest of your body still.
(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)
Miller Says: “To give yourself an even greater balance challenge, try looking up at your top hand when you unfold into the turned-out position.”
Stretch your right leg to return to the starting position.
Open and unfold your body by turning out your left leg and reaching your left arm to the ceiling, so your body faces out instead of down. Gaze down at your right arm as you continue to reach it toward the floor, and squeeze your abdominals. Hold for a count of three.
Return to the starting position.
Repeat five times, then switch legs.
Pain, Pain, Go Away...
Injuries: Many dancers accept them as a necessary evil, just “part of the job.” But what if they didn’t have to be? Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA, has developed an injury prevention program in collaboration with doctors from Boston Children’s Hospital. Dance Spirit chatted with the school’s director of dance, Michael Owen, and director of physical therapy, Susan Kinney, about four rules of injury prevention.
Students at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts cross-train in a TRX Suspension Training class targeted at dancers. (Photo by Amanda Grazioli)
CROSS-TRAIN. “Bodies crave muscular balance,” Kinney says. But dancers tend to work the same muscle groups repeatedly and ignore others, which can lead to injuries. Through proper cross-training, you can strengthen underused muscles, while also stretching overused muscles.
Talk to your teacher at the first sign of injury. "If you catch it early, it's gone early," Owen says. (Photo by Nanette Grebe/thinkstock.com)
STUDY ANATOMY. “It’s important for dancers to be aware of which muscles they’re using, and why,” Owen says. An anatomical understanding of dance will help you internalize your teacher’s corrections, because you’ll appreciate the physical consequences (injuries!) of improper technique.
MODIFY. “There’s no shame in modifying!” Kinney stresses. Modifications to technique, such as not going on relevé due to foot pain, allow your body to heal without keeping you from the studio.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. “The body will know when something isn’t right,” Kinney says. Early symptoms of pain and discomfort are warning signs of potentially more serious injuries.
(Illustration by Eastnine Inc./thinkstock.com)
Did you know?
Controlling your playlist while you exercise can have real benefits. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that individuals who controlled the music they listened to were able to exercise longer than those who passively listened to music playing in the background. The researchers call this effect jymmin, a mix between gym and jamming. So next time you’re feelin’ the burn, make sure you’ve got your best playlist ready to go
(Photo by Dave King/thinkstock.com)
Don’t pour out the liquid at the top of your yogurt cup! It’s filled with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and probiotics. If it weirds you out, try stirring it in or saving it for a smoothie.
Between academic classes, dance classes, homework and trying to hang on to a social life, you’re busy every day. With a schedule like that, who has time to hit the gym? But just because you can’t log a sweat session on the treadmill or hit the free weights doesn’t mean you can’t tone up a few times a week. DS sought out Rachel Piskin, co-founder of ChaiseFitness, to find out which exercises are ideal for dancers who can only spare 10 minutes a day.
You'll Need: A Thera-Band
Exercise 1: Banded Pliés
Where you'll feel the burn: glutes and thighs
Fold your Thera-Band in half and hold one end in each hand. Stand in a wide second position, with your legs turned out, and extend your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height.Plié as you reach your arms overhead, keeping them straight. Return to the starting position. Repeat 20 times.
Exercise 2: Heel Lifts
Where you'll feel the burn: thighs
Begin in the same starting position as Exercise 1.
Exercise 3: Pull the Sword
Where you'll feel the burn: back muscles and triceps
Stand in parallel with both feet on top of the Thera-Band, hips-distance apart. Hold the long end of the band in your left hand, in front of your right thigh. Keep your right hand on your hip.
Pull the band on a diagonal toward the ceiling, bending the elbow as you pull and then extending your arm straight. Return to the starting position. Do two sets of 12 and then repeat on the opposite side.
Exercise 4: Arm-Extension Curtsy
Where you'll feel the burn: arms, glutes and hamstrings
Stand on the middle of the band with your left foot, turned out. Point your right leg behind you, staying on the ball of your foot so you’re in a curtsy position. Hold one end of the band in each hand, with your arms by your sides.
Piskin says: “Keep your back leg parallel to the floor. As you curtsy, you should feel like you’re crossing your legs in a chair—this will engage and sculpt your glutes and hamstrings. You can make it harder by pulsing 10 times in the low curtsy position.”
Exercise 5: Bicep Cross Curtsy
Where you'll feel the burn: biceps and glutes
Begin in the same starting position as Exercise 4, but cross the band in front of you and hold one end in each hand, with your palms facing the ceiling.
Exercise 6: Arabesque Arm Extensions
Where you'll feel the burn: upper back, thighs and glutes
Stand on the center of the band with your left foot, bending your left leg slightly. Hold an end of the band in each hand and tendu your right foot back. Keep your focus on the ground in front of you.
Photography by Erin Baiano; hair and makeup by Chuck Jensen for Mark Edward Inc., modeled by Rachel Piskin.
Whether you’re rocking pink tights or booty shorts, a pair of toned hamstrings can be your best accessory onstage. Strong hamstrings give you a long, lean look by evening out your thighs and keeping your quads from getting bulky. Even better? They power développés that reach toward the sky, not the horizon. “Once your leg passes 90 degrees, it’s the hamstrings—not the quads—that hold it there,” says Jessica Sander, a personal trainer and freelance dancer in NYC. “They’re the keys to high extensions.”
Build these exercises into your routine three to four times a week, and you’ll start to see—and feel—results in about a month. Just make sure you don’t simply go through the motions. “The hamstrings don’t always fire on their own—other parts of the body like to take the work,” warns Sander. “So for all of these, pay close attention to your form.”
1. a stability ball
2. a set of 10-lb. weights
Do each move 15–20 times. Rest, then repeat.
Stand in parallel with your feet directly under your hips. Hold a 10-lb. weight in each hand, with your palms facing your thighs.
Hinge from your hips with a flat back and lower the weights to just above your feet, keeping your hands close to your shins and your head in line with your spine. Initiate from your hamstrings to slowly return to the standing position.
Sander says: “In the flat back position, let your legs be relaxed, but pull your abs in.”
Lie on your back with one leg reaching straight up to the ceiling, and the opposite foot flat on the floor with the knee bent.
Slowly raise your hips until your knees, hips and shoulders come into a straight diagonal line, then return to the floor. Switch legs after a set of 15–20 reps. You should feel the burn in your supporting leg.
Quadraped Hamstring Curl
Start on your hands and knees, making sure your hips are over your knees and your shoulders are over your wrists. Reach one leg straight back, lifting it off the floor so it’s parallel to the ground and in line with your hip.Without letting your quad drop or your hips move, engage your glutes and bend your working knee until your shin is perpendicular to the floor, then straighten. Switch legs after a set of 15–20 reps.Sander says: “Keep your abs pulling up the whole time so your back doesn’t arch.”
Start by lying on your back, with your knees bent in tight and a stability ball under your heels, as close to you as possible.
As you exhale, press your feet into the ball to lift your hips. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed—there should be space between your chest and chin.
Keeping your core engaged, straighten your legs to roll the ball away from you, and then draw it back. Repeat 15–20 times. The goal is to keep your hips up in the air the entire time, but if you need to modify the exercise, you can come down between repetitions.
Watch it! Click here to see Jessica Sander walk our fabulously fit model, Elizabeth Yilmaz, through these moves.
Jessica Sander, a personal trainer certified by ACE, AFFA and Stott Pilates, holds a BFA in dance from Towson University. Elizabeth Yilmaz is a freelance dancer based in NYC.
Photography by Erin Baiano. Hair and makeup by Chuck Jensen for Mark Edward Inc. Modeled by Elizabeth Yilmaz. Clothing provided by Jo+Jax.