Safe partner-work demands you put in some time at the gym. Peter Frame—former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and founder of the School of American Ballet's strength training program—says, "Even advanced dancers forget about placement once they're lifting. They're doing the work, but you'll see shoulders and weight distribution out of whack." Want centered, controlled partnering? Grab a mat and dumbbells to try Frame's top three pre-partnering exercises.
Photos by Jonah Rosenberg. Modeled by Samuel Melnikov.
Lying Back Extension
"When you're lifting a partner, stabilization of the spine is the most important thing," Frame says. "This is a simple exercise to strengthen your back, preparing you to maintain a stable spine while moving your partner around."
1. Lie on your stomach on the mat, with your arms by your sides.
2. Focusing on your core, slowly lift your head and arms up off the mat. Don't arch your lower back, open your rib cage, or let your shoulders drift up.
3. Move your arms around to the side and then above your head to lift your torso up and away from the mat.
Advanced version! Try the exercise with a 3-pound or 5-pound weight in each hand.
Single-Leg Spinal Stabilization
According to Frame, "This is a classic way to build stability of the spine and strengthen the core."
1. Lie on your back with your arms on the ground and your feet and knees touching in parallel, close to your torso. Lift your buttocks and lower back by tilting the pelvis up slowly one vertebra at a time, with your arms resting on the mat.
2. Release one foot from the mat, extending that leg out so it's level with your other knee.
3. Bend your lifted leg, returning to the bridge position. Repeat with your other leg, 8 reps total.
Advanced version! Lift your arms off the mat, extending them in alignment with your spine.
Standing Shoulder Press/Bicep Curl
"This exercise brings spinal awareness, lifting and lengthening, and shoulder placement together," Frame says. "It mimics lifting a partner over your head."
1. Stand with your arms by your sides, holding 10–15-pound dumbbells (or whatever feels comfortable based on your age and strength level).
2. Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle, engaging the biceps and maintaining shoulder placement. Do 8 reps total.
3. Maintaining the 90-degree angle and parallel position, lift the upper arms so your hands and elbows are in front of you.
4. Straighten your arms for 8 reps, keeping your rib cage closed and spine aligned. Your hands should be slightly behind your head and your elbows should be in your peripheral vision.
A version of this story appeared in the November 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "3...2...1... Liftoff."