Last week, we had an assignment to make a 10-minute presentation demonstrating how we would incorporate stretching into a ballet class.
Much of the research that has been done on stretching has been with athletes, as opposed to dancers. In fact, Martine A. Deighan writes in her article “Flexibility in Dance,” published in the 2005 Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, that there is a “surprising lack of published data on dancers that examines flexibility in relation to injury risk and muscular performance,” and thus she summarized current research findings from dance, sports, and medical literature in the article with a special eye on ballet dancers.
Here are some of the points I took from the article and from a lecture by American Ballet Theatre physical therapist Julie Daugherty:
• Pre-exercise stretching may decrease torque, force, or jumping. This means that static stretching—the type of stretches that you hold for 30 seconds to a minute—may decrease the muscular power used for jumps for up to 30 minutes after the stretch occurs. You may want to hold off on those stretches until the end of class, once you have finished the grand allegro, rather than encourage students to stretch before class starts.
• When you do have students perform static stretches, make sure their muscles are warm and that the stretches are performed slow and steady. They should never be painful. Keep in mind that bouncing in a stretch can be quite dangerous.
• A 5- to 10-minute warm up before class is essential. This may include brisk walking or skipping before the barre begins.
• Because dancers have an greater range of motion than the general population, many need to increase the active stretch (such as holding the leg in à la seconde) versus passive stretch (such as the heel-in-hand stretch) to develop strength while gaining flexibility.
• Make sure your class includes dynamic stretches as well, which are active movements while stretching a muscle group. They can include attitude swings, cambres, and grand battements. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed, repeating 10 to 15 times.
How do you incorporate stretching in your classroom? Click here to share your thoughts on the stretching thread on our Dance Teacher messageboards.