Many dance teachers prepare for a chorus of ughhh’s when they ask their dancers to do a warm up before a competition day or recital. We get it… it’s kind of annoying sometimes! BUT there’s a method to this madness. Read along to hear evidence behind why warm ups are needed and how to make your warm quick and efficient!
First, warming up increases dancers’ overall body temperature, something we want increased before we go straight into high intensity exercise (like a dance routine). By increasing body temperature, we increase the temperature of our muscles and this aids in helping our body adapt to performing under stress. By stress we mean athletic activities like dance!
Second, warming up increases heart rate and therefore blood flow to muscles and joints. This benefits dancers because we need blood to supply our muscles with oxygen and other things in order to contract. Muscles need energy to be able to perform and we need our supply system aka our blood vessels, to deliver those things.
Thirdly, including a warm up ensures that during the routine, our body is using the aerobic energy system. Stay with me here.. science coming through: we have 3 main energy systems to use. One fast (only seconds), one medium (minutes), and one slow and long (hours). We want the system that has the most capacity to give us energy to be the one we use. Here enters the aerobic energy system and voila! We now have the energy needed to get through our dance routine without losing that spark.
Lastly, warming up connects our brain to our body! By mentally easing into the demands of exercise, we are better prepared to perform. Just like our body needs easing into exercise, so does our brain!
Okay, now you know the ‘sciency’ stuff behind a warm up… let’s get into the HOW. Here we have a choose your own adventure of warm ups for any type of dance demands.
Step 1: 2-5 minutes of light aerobic activity. Jogging, jumping, box stepping you name it, as long as you do it at a moderately fast pace.
Step 2: 2-5 minutes of dynamic stretching. No, not 2 minute holds of every stretch in the book. Get moving! Move the joints through their full range of motion. Do the stretch, but move through it! Think standing toe touch but do it while walking. This step may vary depending on the flexibility demands of your piece, tailor this to what you need to be able to do.
Step 3: 5 minutes of activation. Let’s get those muscles working. This can be a paired down version of your choreography. This could also be a short ballet barre. This could also be some squats, hinges, and pushups. Make it yours.
Step 4: 2-8 minutes of balance & power. Because dancers use their balance and body awareness so much, we include this in a warm up. Double leg, single leg balance. Adage. Turns. Whatever your body needs! Very last: do your jumps and demanding moves. Get comfortable and confident with those!
And there you have it, ready to go in about 15-20 minutes. Now there are some stipulations… HAVE FUN, make it MEANINGFUL, and SET GOALS.