For dancers, stretching is one of those things that fall into the "second-nature" category—at some point each day, you'll likely be found in a split, a straddle, or with your leg up on the barre. But stretching incorrectly can cause some serious problems. Dance Spirit turned to athletic trainer and acupuncturist Megan Richardson, who's on staff at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, for advice on how to safely execute three common dancer stretches.
For the longest time, dancers were expected to be thin above all. Well-meaning dance teachers used to warn against dancers "getting too bulky." A "serious" dancer wouldn't dream of partaking in any other kind of sport or physical activity—let alone (gasp!) weightlifting.
When it comes to injury-prone body parts, knees reign supreme for dancers. But a little strengthening can go a long way in preventing painful outcomes. We turned to Dirk Hartog, a physical therapist with Westside Dance Physical Therapy in NYC, for three exercises that'll support and stabilize your knees.
It's the rite of passage every young ballerina dreams of: getting her first pair of pointe shoes. But it's important to remember that a lot (and we mean a lot) of hard work and technique-honing leads up to this moment—not to mention getting the green light from your teacher. Dance Spirit turned to Jenna Lavin, former Miami City Ballet dancer and principal of the pre-professional division at Ballet Academy East in NYC, for three exercises meant to strengthen, train, and stabilize the muscles you'll be using once you're on pointe.
Ever since starting her professional career, Broadway dancer Amber Ardolino has cupped. Using the holistic wellness practice to improve performance and take care of her body, Ardolino cupped before it was cool—even beating the 2016 Rio Olympics' purple polka-dotted athletes to the punch. But Ardolino's only one dancer who has put this therapy to regular use. Dance Spirit asked Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, and performance rehab specialist with St. Vincent Sports Performance who works with Indianapolis' Dance Kaleidoscope; and Thomas Droge, Chinese-medicine doctor and founder of Pathfinder Institute in NYC, to explain the ins and outs of cupping therapy.
Amber Ardolino in "Hamilton" (courtesy Ardolino)
Knee pain is, unfortunately, just one of those things that happens when you're a dancer. But how can you be sure that an annoying pinch here or a crunch there isn't something more serious? Dance Spirit turned to Marijeanne Liederbach, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS—who is also director of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone, research assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, and owner of PT Plus in NYC—for a crash course on knee problems.
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.
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.
Surely you’ve heard of Physique 57 by now. The barre-based classes—held at six studios, including locations in NYC, the Hamptons and Beverly Hills—are frequented by celebrities such as Kelly Ripa, Zooey Deschanel and Emmy Rossum. And the stars are heading to Physique for a reason: The 57-minute classes hit every muscle in your body, and they do so without the use of any crazy-heavy weights, which is a plus for young dancers. “It can be dangerous to lift heavy weights during adolescence,” says dancer, personal trainer and NYC-based Physique 57 instructor Jessica Rochwarger. “The pressure can fuse your growth plates, which can ultimately stunt your growth.”
These four exercises—all Physique 57 staples—focus on the muscle groups you may be neglecting during your dance classes. “They work your opposing muscles and complement the body parts you’re already working,” Jessica says. “They’ll help your body become more balanced, which will make you a stronger, better dancer.”
What You'll Need: A yoga mat, a playground ball and a chair.
What you're working: your seat, hips and waistline.
Begin seated with your left leg at a 90-degree angle in front of you and your right leg at a 90-degree angle behind you, keeping your right thigh as far behind you as possible. Your hands can be on the floor in front of you for stability—or, to make the exercise harder, bring them into prayer position in front of your chest.
Keeping your abs engaged, raise your right leg slightly off the floor and pulse it up and down 20 to 30 times.
Jessica says: "The key is to keep pressing your front hip down."
What you're working: your thighs, core, back and balance.
Jessica says: “You’re working your turnout muscles. And the lower you go, the more you’re working your thighs.”
What you're working: your abs.
In a seated position, place a cushion (like a rolled-up yoga mat) behind your lower back and lower your torso onto it, keeping your head, neck and shoulders lifted. Point your feet and place them on a ball in front of you with your knees bent and your arms lifted by your sides.
the ball away from your body.
Keeping your navel pulled down, exhale as you return to the starting position. Repeat 30 to 60 times.
Jessica says: “When you return to starting position, don’t sit all the way up. If you come all the way up, you’re using momentum, not muscle. Keep your abs hugged in tight.”
The Deli Slicer
What you're working: your seat, hamstrings, and obliques.
Lie down on your right side with your right arm extended under your head and your left palm on the floor in front of your chest for support. Bend your knees in toward your chest at a 90-degree angle to your upper body. Lift your feet off the floor, keeping your knees on the ground, your feet together and your shoulders and hips in line with each other. Press your left palm into the floor to engage your oblique muscles.
Straighten your left leg, pressing it up and out behind you on a diagonal as far back as possible while keeping your hips stacked and abdominals engaged. Then bring your leg back in. Think of your top knee sliding along the inside of your bottom leg like a deli slicer as you bend and straighten the top leg. Repeat 15 times slowly and 20 times quickly, then switch sides.
Jessica Rochwarger is an instructor at Physique 57 in NYC. She holds a degree in dance from Barnard College and is a NASM-certified personal trainer and AFAA-certified group trainer.
Photography by Nathan Sayers
Warm weather is here, which means it’s sundress and bikini season. But it’s not just about looking good on the beach or in a halter—you need strong arms to get through those summer intensive classes and Nationals performances, too! “Upper body strength is important for dancers,” says dancer, personal trainer and NYC-based Physique 57 instructor Jessica Rochwarger. “We focus so much on our lower bodies, but it’s crucial to find balance. You need strong muscles for beautiful port de bras and to stay strong during partner work.”
Sculpting shapely arms doesn’t mean you have to spend hours lifting heavy dumbbells or bench-pressing your pas de deux partner. Instead, try these five exercises from the über-popular barre-based Physique 57 workout—and let the compliments start pouring in!
*Do 15–20 reps of each exercise. Build to 2–3 sets as you get stronger.
Sit on the floor with your feet flat on the ground, your knees bent and your hands shoulders-width apart a few inches behind you. Straighten your arms and lift your toes and seat off the ground so you’re balancing on your hands and your heels.
Bend your elbows, lowering your upper body toward the floor. Hover slightly above the ground—don’t let your seat touch—and then push back up using only your tricep muscles.
Jessica says: “Make sure your hips stay back throughout the exercise to keep the burn in the arms.”
Tricep Can Cans
Begin in the same starting position as the tricep dips. Bring your right knee in toward your chest—keeping the leg bent at a 90-degree angle and the foot pointed—as you bend your arms so your seat hovers over the floor.
Jessica says: “Keeping your grounded foot flexed throughout the exercise helps you shift your weight back toward your hands, which will really work the triceps.”
As you straighten your arms, extend your right leg upward at a 45-degree angle.
Bend your arms again as you kick your right leg straight up toward the sky.
Straighten your arms, bringing your right leg back to 45 degrees. Do the entire sequence 15 times, and then switch legs.
Overhead Tricep Presses
*You’ll need: a set of 3-lb. weights and one 5- to 8-lb. weight.
Sit on the ground in a comfortable position (Jessica recommends kneeling), keeping your abs tight. Hold one 5- to 8-lb. weight vertically in your hands. Raise your arms, keeping your elbows slightly bent but tight by your ears.
Maintain a loose grip on the weight and slowly drop it back behind your head.
Return to the starting position.
Jessica says: “Don’t stick your rib cage out—keep it in tight and think about your core. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, maintaining a tall, proud posture.”
Holding a 3-lb. weight in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and your upper body hinged forward on a diagonal, with your elbows lifted behind you and bent at 90 degrees. Keep your knees soft and your gaze forward.
Extend your hands backward, pointing your pinky fingers to the ceiling to straighten your arms. Return to the starting position.
Begin in the same position as the tricep kickbacks. Hold a 3-lb. weight in each hand with your arms straight behind you, palms facing up.
Pulse your hands upward, keeping your arms straight and your abs tight.
Jessica Rochwarger is an instructor at Physique 57 in NYC. She holds a degree in dance from Barnard College and is a personal trainer certified by the NASM and AFAA.
Photography by Nathan Sayers
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In the 1990s, actress Suzanne Somers turned the funky-looking ThighMaster into a fitness hit. And we get it! It’s crucial, especially for dancers, to tone those inner thighs. “The inner thigh, like any upper leg area, helps stabilize the knee joint,” says dancer, personal trainer and group fitness instructor Deborah Horton. “It’s important to work your turnout from your hip, which is a problem for many dancers—they try to work it from their knees. Having strong inner thighs will help with that rotation.”
But you don’t need a bulky piece of equipment (sorry, Suzanne) to get your legs whipped into shape. Try these no-fuss exercises, created by Horton exclusively for you!
Standing Plié Squat
Start in a wide second-position plié, turned out, with your arms in second position and your palms facing up.
Squeeze your thighs and glutes as you straighten your legs and raise your arms overhead.
Return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 reps at a quick pace.
Make it harder! At the end of each set, hold the plié position and do 20 small pulses up and down.
Really feel the burn: After the plié pulses, stay low and pulse your knees forward 20 times.
Only for the advanced: At the end of the series, lift your heels and squeeze your inner thighs up into relevé, raising your arms straight above your head. Hold for 10 counts.
Horton says: “Make sure your lower core is engaged throughout the series and your hips stay directly beneath your shoulders.”
Stand in first position relevé with your hands on your hips.
Do small plié pulses, remaining in relevé, for 20 counts, and then hold in plié for 20 counts.
Finish by straightening your knees and lifting your arms overhead. Hold for 20 counts. Do three sets.
Horton says: “Focus on your lower core and keeping your hips and shoulders open.”
Leg Lifts in First Position
Begin in first position with your hands on your hips. Extend your flexed left foot forward, shifting your balance onto your right leg.
Bring your left leg back to the starting position without letting it come all the way to the floor. Repeat 20 times. Then switch sides. Do two sets on each side.
Make it harder! At the end of the set, keep your left leg lifted and do 20 pulses upward.
The Straddle Squeeze
Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Lift your legs straight up to form
a 90-degree angle with your torso, flexing your feet in first position. Beat your right foot forward into fifth position.
Beat your left foot forward into fifth position.
Point your toes and open your legs into a wide second.
Squeeze your inner thighs and lift your legs back to the starting position. Do three sets of 20.
Horton says: “Contract your core and push your lower back into the floor. Having your palms by your sides will help stabilize your hips.”
Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Lift your legs straight up, with your feet flexed in first position.
Plié your legs, keeping them turned out with your heels together. Your hips and shoulder blades should stay flat on the ground.
Push your heels back toward the ceiling slowly, like you’re pushing resistance away from you. Repeat the series 20 times. Do three sets.
Lean on your right elbow with your left knee bent and foot on the ground. Lift your right leg off the ground slightly, flexing your foot to activate your leg muscles.
Lift your right leg a few inches higher. Lower your right leg to the starting position. Don’t let it touch the floor. Repeat 20 times and then switch sides. Do at least two sets per side.
Horton says: “Stabilize your core and push down into your right shoulder. For extra difficulty, you can hold a book or something weighted on your working leg.”
Make it harder! Instead of resting on your elbow, do the exercise in a lifted side plank, either on your forearm or the palm of your right hand.
Photography by Erin Baiano. Hair and makeup by Ananda Khan. Modeled by Deborah Horton. Deborah Horton is a dancer, personal trainer and AFAA-certified group fitness instructor in NYC. Most recently, she created a customized workout for the new “Blood Type Workout” series.
If your idea of stretching is sitting in a split for five minutes while you watch TV, it’s time to revamp your routine. “Dancers tend to focus on static stretches,” says Brynn Jinnett, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and the founder and creator of Refine Method in NYC. “Many dancers don’t do enough to improve the mobility of their joints.”
The next time you’re stretching, try these dynamic exercises. “They target areas that counteract what you do when you dance,” Brynn says. “Think turn in, not turnout.”
Brynn says: “This move will strengthen and stretch your ankle joints, lowering your risk of ankle sprains or strains. Don’t expect to feel a strong stretch. You’re creating a range of motion, not tugging on a muscle.”
Leaning forward with your hands on a chair or stool, stand on your left leg with your knee straight. Extend your right leg behind you, with your knee bent.
Bend your standing leg, pointing your knee inward. Be sure to keep your heel and pinky
toe on the ground.
Return to the starting position.
Bend your standing leg again, driving the knee over the middle of the foot. Return to the starting position.
Bend your standing leg again, this time pointing your knee outward, keeping your big toe on the ground.
Return to the starting position.
Brynn says: “As you press forward, don’t arch your lower back.”
With your right arm raised, push forward gently into your left leg, keeping your left arm by your side. Squeeze your glute muscles and press forward with your hips. Don’t allow any movement in your lower back.
Return to the starting position.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet together, flat on the floor. Open your arms to your sides, bending your elbows to 90 degrees, palms facing up.
Slowly slide your arms up toward your head. Stop when any part of your upper body loses contact with the floor.
Get onto all fours. Cross your right foot behind your left leg, resting it slightly above the calf.
Maintain a neutral spine and keep your hands on the floor as you sit backward into your right hip.
Return to starting position.
Internal Rotation/Hip Stretch
Brynn says: “Stop as soon as you feel resistance.”
your forehead resting on your hands
and your legs extended behind you. Bend your knees to 90 degrees, lifting your
feet toward the ceiling.
Maud Arnold (by Tadeo Arnold)
At DS we spend our days fawning over Lauren Froderman’s fabulous legs, Ashly Costa’s impressive abs and Maud Arnold’s awesome curves—so naturally we wanted to know how these pros stay in such great shape. Turns out, they work hard to maintain their totally toned bodies. But they’ve also found ways to keep fitness fun. So what are their go-to exercises for feeling good and looking great? Read on!
Maud Arnold, tap dancer
Workout she swears by: Cuerpaso, a class designed by her brother, Tadeo, a celebrity fitness trainer. “It’s a full-body workout that uses a soccer ball and Latin dance moves to tone all of your hot spots. Cuerpaso targets my ‘problem areas’—my stomach, thighs and butt. Plus, my brother doesn’t let me slack off, so I get results fast. I love being challenged physically, feeling like the workout is nearly impossible, and then realizing I’m actually able to do it.”
How it helps her dancing: “It makes me stronger overall. If I can squat 45 pounds, holding my own weight tap dancing feels like a breeze. My core is solid, and I’ve built major stamina.”
Her favorite way to get sweaty: “In tap class with lots of other dancers and no air conditioning. I feel like I’m accomplishing something when I’m dripping with sweat.”
Her best fitness tip: “Being healthy is a lifestyle, not something you do when you feel like it. Commit!”
Amy (copyright Miami Dolphins, LTD)
Amy, Miami Dolphins cheerleader
Workout she swears by: Indoor cycling classes. “They give fast results and you feel great at the end of class. It’s also up to you to choose how hard to push yourself.”
How it helps her dancing: “We perform on the sidelines of every home game—that’s up to four hours at a time. Cycling helps build endurance, which we need from the start of the game to the final seconds.”
Her favorite way to get sweaty: “Going for a morning jog before the sun gets too brutal. It feels wonderful to exercise outside while enjoying a cool breeze.”
Her best fitness tip: “If you want to be healthy inside and out, you need to give your body the natural fuel it needs: food! The foods you eat will ultimately get you the results you want. Treat your body with respect, and it will love you back.”
Lauren Froderman (by Vince Trupsin)
Lauren Froderman, winner, “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 7
Workout she swears by: “I love the elliptical machine!”
How it helps her dancing: “Having slim, strong legs improves my extensions and helps me move in a grounded, swift, powerful way. I get that from the elliptical.”
Her favorite way to get sweaty: “I love trying different exercise classes, like Zumba, indoor cycling and barre method.”
Her best fitness tip: “Stay hydrated and stay motivated. Results don’t happen overnight, but you’ll feel better every time you get up and do something to stay in shape.”
Anderson in George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (by Paul Kolnik)
Marika Anderson, corps de ballet member, New York City Ballet
Workout she swears by: Gyrotonic, a holistic approach to exercise designed to increase strength, flexibility and energy.
How it helps her dancing: “It lengthens and strengthens my body, and it has taught me how to use my muscles differently. My trainer has a good eye and comes to the ballet often, so she can offer tips on how to strengthen certain areas.”
Her favorite way to get sweaty: Bikram yoga.
Her best fitness tip: “Find something that inspires you and that you connect with. Otherwise, working out can be a struggle.”
Ashly Costa (by Omi)
Ashly Costa, professional, “Dancing with the Stars”
Workout she swears by: Core work. “I do a mix of Pilates, planks with twists on each side and sit-ups on an exercise ball. I love the burn that comes from core exercises, and if you work consistently, you see real results.”
How it helps her dancing: “As a dancer, your abs are some of your most important assets. Core strength helps you maintain good form and posture in all dance styles. Without a strong core, I can’t dance my best.”
Her favorite way to get sweaty: “Dancing the jive!”
Her best fitness tip: “Do something you love that also challenges you.”
These Are A Few of Our Favorite Sweat Songs
Whether you’re stretching or strength training, a good workout playlist can make all the difference in your moves—and your motivation! Here’s what the stars are working out to right now.
•“Take Him Out” by Mya, featuring Spice; and “Diva” by Beyoncé —Maud Arnold
•“One minute I’ll be rocking out to Jennifer Lopez and David Guetta, and then I’ll switch to country songs by Luke Bryan. Any song with a great beat is perfect for working out.” —Amy
•“Wild Ones” by Flo Rida, featuring Sia —Lauren Froderman
•“DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” by Usher, featuring Pitbull —Ashly Costa
•“Anything by Billy Idol, Michael Jackson or The Beatles.” —Marika Anderson
You spend your days jumping, leaping, bending, twisting and generally putting a ton of stress on your knees. But be kind to them—they’re two of your most important body parts! One of the best ways to avoid knee pain is to strengthen the muscles surrounding your kneecaps. “These exercises will help improve your alignment, which is essential for knee health,” says DS fitness consultant Michelle Rodriguez, who is the founder of Manhattan Physio Group in NYC. “Many knee injuries can be avoided if you pay careful attention to always keeping the knee over the middle of the foot, regardless of whether you’re in parallel or turned out.”
Bridge with Pillow Squeeze
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Place a folded pillow between your knees.
Press into your heels to lift your pelvis off the ground until it’s level with your knees. Don’t let the pillow drop! Keep the sides of your pelvis level and your belly button pulled into your spine as you lower your hips to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
With your hips lifted in the bridge position, straighten one knee. Keep the rest of your body level and stable.
Keeping your hips elevated, bend your knee, and slowly lower your foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side. Repeat five times on each side.
Double Leg Squat (that’s “chair pose” for you yoga buffs!)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Begin to squat by reaching your sit bones back past your heels and bending your knees to 100 degrees. Keep your weight in your heels and reach your arms forward to counter-balance your weight. Make sure your kneecaps don’t pass beyond your second and third toes. Press into your heels and activate your glute muscles to return to standing, bringing your hips in line with your shoulders and lowering your arms to your sides. Repeat 10–15 times.
Parallel Pliés with Heel Taps
Stand on your right leg with your left leg extended in front of you, a few inches off the ground. Hold your left arm out to the side for balance.
Bend your right knee—be sure to align your kneecap directly over your second and third toes—as you reach your left foot to the ground in front of you, lightly tapping your heel to the floor.
Straighten your right knee as you lift your left leg, reaching your left foot out to the side.
Plié your right leg as you tap your left heel to the floor. Your right leg should be doing all the work.
Repeat to the front and side, completing 10 reps each and then switching to the opposite side. Pay attention to proper alignment throughout the exercise. Your working knee should bend directly over your toes.
Michelle Rodriguez, MPT, OCS, CMPT, is the founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group. She is a physical therapist specializing in orthopedic manual therapy and dance rehabilitation.
Photography by Sibté Hassan. Hair and makeup by Chuck Jensen for Mark Edward Inc. modeled by nikeva stapleton.
Nikeva Stapleton is a graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. She is currently a freelance dancer and model in NYC.
If you’re traveling and can’t make it to a dance class—or even to the hotel gym—that doesn’t mean you have to skip your workout. DS asked four fitness pros who specialize in dance for their favorite dancer-specific exercises. These moves will keep you toned all over, and none of them require any props or equipment. Happy sweating!