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Cross Training with Pilates for Dancers

Cross Training with Pilates for Dancers

At one time, wisdom dictated that dancers didn’t do any other sort of movement besides dance. In fact, cross training referred engaging in other types of dance. So a ballerina may dabble in tap or a lyrical jazz dancer might add hip hop to their repertoire.

These days though, there is growing evidence for the benefit of cross training with Pilates for dancers. 

This is due in part to the fact that the workload for most dancers has increased and they’re required to have bodies that are stronger, more resilient, and with increased stability.

Cross Training with Pilates for Dancers

Of course, Pilates was initially developed in the 1920s by the physical trainer Joseph Pilates. It was primarily used as a source of rehabilitation for soldiers returning from war, as well as dancers including Martha Graham and George Balanchine. 

These days, it’s become its own form of exercise. And professional Pilates studios are seeing more and more dancers seeking out this movement system to, among other things, help them build a strong foundation of body awareness.

Here are some of the ways cross training with Pilates helps dancers:

1. Improves Active Range of Motion

Dancers pride themselves on flexibility. As such, they spend a great deal of time stretching warm muscles to the limit of their range of motion and then maintaining that. This is passive range of motion.

But active range of motion is also crucial for a dancer. 

So whereas passive flexibility involves stretching with a support such as a wall, barre, or fellow dancer, active flexibility taps into the range of motion that’s capable without that support.

For most of us, passive range of motion is going to be greater. But for dancers, this can become problematic when they’re required to throw themselves into a movement to reach that range. The lack of control in such movements can result in strain, sprain, or other injury.

Pilates (as well as GYROTONICS®) aims to develop active range of motion. Working with a skilled instructor, dancers transition from position to position while focusing on bracing the core and moving joints carefully while heading toward the end of their active range of motion. 

2. Focuses on Proper Alignment

Dance can be very rigorous. And some of the movements aren’t exactly what one would call “natural.” As such, it’s key that dancers maintain joint alignment if they wish to keep their bodies operating at an optimal level.  This comes from actively utilizing the correct muscles.

For example, when a dancer is required to go into a deep backbend, he or she must be cautious to not passively bend into their lower back. While this will add flexibility, it also causes the vertebrae to pinch together. In turn, uneven pressure is applied to the intervertebral discs which can lead to pain or even damage.  

By contrast, a back bend in Pilates focuses on the core to control the movement rather than sheer flexibility in the back. That way, the back stays in neutral position and pressure is distributed evenly across the discs. And engaging necessary muscles in Pilates to protect weight-bearing joints applies to all other areas of the body including the knees, hip, ankle, and shoulder. This ensures that the muscles protect the joints while taking strain off the bones and ligaments. 

 

3. Increases Stability and Control

Strength, endurance, and flexibility are all crucial elements for being a dancer. But without the element of control, there can be no true stability. 

When Joseph Pilates first developed his system, it was referred to as contrology. And one of the first objectives in developing control is understanding how to move in a deliberate and intentional way. This means stripping away any reliance on momentum or gravity to achieve movements.  

Shifting to Pilates can be particularly challenging at first for dancers. Many of the movements are already familiar. But the system asks them to focus on specific muscles so they can integrate them more effectively into said movements. Hence, they must engage in the difficult task of relearning.

Even so, once dancers discover ways to actively use muscles through an entire movement pattern, they will greatly reduce their risk of injury. In controlling and protecting their joints, they find means to actively absorb force instead of allowing it to passively travel to structures not as equipped to handle it. 

4. Boosts Artistic Expression

Aside from all the benefits that come from avoiding injury, cross training with Pilates also improves a dancer’s brain-body connection.

In practicing moving through range of motion in a deliberate way during Pilates, dancers gain a deeper understanding of how muscles work throughout each movement. This heightens awareness and contributes to deeper knowledge when learning new techniques and patterns.

When not limited by sheer physical endurance, they are able to execute even the most complicated choreography. 

Dance Your Way into Pilates

Cross training with Pilates for dancers obviously has many benefits. It’s really the ideal foundation for elevating every dancer’s art. 

So if you’re a dancer (or even if you aren’t) and you’d like to experience all of these benefits, contact us today.

Our highly-skilled Pilates instructors will work with you to craft the perfect “routine” for you. 

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