Schoolbooks? Check. Dance clothes? Check. Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Check, check and check. Dancers have to schlep a lot of stuff, but the way you schlep it matters. A poorly organized bag can lead to serious neck and back pain—and bad posture, to boot. Here’s how to pack a bag that won’t send you crawling to the chiropractor.
Step 1: Function First
Traditional backpacks may not be your favorite fashion accessory, but they’re worth the slight style sacrifice. Backpacks provide even weight distribution, helping to protect your back and neck from strains. Pick a bag that has adjustable straps and is made of lightweight material.
Step 2: The Heavy Stuff
Pack your heaviest items—like your schoolbooks and dance shoes—on the bottom. Carrying weight closer to the base of your spine causes a less significant change in posture than carrying it up by your neck and shoulders.
(Photo by Andrej Popov/Thinkstock)
Step 3: Even Steven
Distribute the rest of your supplies evenly across the backpack. Make use of side pockets to keep things balanced, minimizing the change in your posture while you’re carrying the pack.
Step 4: Weight Check
Ideally, your bag should weigh less than 10 percent of your body weight, and definitely
no more than 15 percent.
Step 5: Carry On!
Don’t waste all that careful packing with improper carrying technique. Use both straps, and adjust them so the bag sits close to your body. This will help reduce postural sway (how much the natural curvature of your spine is exaggerated by carrying a heavy load), and decrease stress on the muscles supporting your spine.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Need a confidence boost? Stand tall! Research shows that people who sit or stand up straight with their shoulders back and chests out feel better about themselves. Click here for exercises to improve you posture!
Did You Know?
According to a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, stalking a stranger on Facebook can make you more nervous to meet that person face to face. So instead of scrolling through the profile of the new girl joining your studio, hold off on the friend request until you actually get to know her.
“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)
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)
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.
“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.
Leonard says: “Hold your abs and glutes tight to keep your body in one line.”
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).
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.
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.
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