Find your athletic tune so you can do what you love forever. It has become my personal mantra and inevitably I pass this on in my teaching. Helping my Pilates students find their inner athlete is something I take great pride in. I didn’t start dancing at the age of 3 like many of my colleagues. I am not genetically and structurally inclined to dance. Flat feet, slightly bowed legs, and I tend toward being hypertonic in my muscles to support loose ligaments….I have to continually work so hard for flexibility and balancing strength surrounding my shoulder and hip joints. That being said, there was always a calling for me to move and a calling to move others. I had my first job teaching dance at the age of 15 and Pilates at the age of 19. I think this has always kept me grounded even through a professional performing career. In coaching others and building others up, I couldn’t help but take my own advice at times of self doubt or frustration. That little voice inside my head, well, like everyone else there is often 2…but the one I choose to listen to became the loudest and I pass this on to you. Nobody’s movement feels like yours does, always show up, know when to turn off, and create a physical library of athletic tuning exercises specific to you.
Please note, I use dance as the example, but this can apply to any sport, and your sport may be a weekly yoga class.
- Nobody does it like you do. Nobody’s dancing feels like yours does. (Spirit)
Tap into how your training and performing makes you feel. You won’t take the accolades with you when it’s your time, but you will take the joy and the positive energy exchange you grew on this earth. I believe that my ability to admire and aspire is a major super power as an athlete. It quells any feeling of jealousy which is just a waste of energy. Put yourself with people who are better than you, and don’t try to be the best one in the room. I’ll say it again- don’t try to be the best one in the room. Cheer on and celebrate the fellow dancers in the room and try to be YOUR best. I always tell my daughter who is on a gymnastics team and about to start competitions that she is only truly in competition with herself. I recognized this at a young age and actually quit dance competition in high school to work more on technique training. Pilates was a big part of my cross and specificity training. I was able to focus on finely training my strength. I finally had more command over my body and skills, that many of my peers had built from a younger age than me. Pilates essentially helped me play catch up and achieve a higher baseline of body awareness when I stepped into the dance studio. More than any award or show you get, relish in the gratitude that you have found something that you love and that while you might wish to achieve more technical skill, finding this passion is the greatest gift of all.
2. Practice practice practice and then practice some more. (Body)
Always take class, and treat being a student like it is your job. I did work/study when I was younger to afford all the classes I wanted to take. Take class with all different teachers to build the cues that work for you and feel the benefits of different approaches to movement. Now you can take dance, Pilates and yoga classes online as an option. If you are under the age of around 18 then your extra curricular are mostly pre scheduled and you show up to class or practice. Remember this regimen because eventually you will be on your own and will need to be diligent enough to schedule Pilates and dance practice without anyone to answer to. Schedule your training time like an appointment. If you are feeling like you would rather get your busy work done, or sit on the couch, remember how good you always feel in the after effects of training.
3. Remember to use your dimmer switch. Turn it on, up, down and OFF
Make conscious decisions about 4 types of training. Do them all to different degrees throughout your life.
Sports specific, or specificity, training for precision so you can create an instrument that can let go and play. For dancers this is dance class, or fine tuned exercises in Pilates education.
Cross training techniques to balance out our specificity training. For dancers this is working parallel, using Pilates as a system, practicing yoga, and weight training. It can feel daunting to move away from the details of what we try to achieve as dancers. I promise your body will rebound quicker, be less prone to repetitive stress injuries, and your muscles will be more elastic and responsive to your dance specific training.
Somatic work is not to be overlooked. As dancers and Pilates professionals, we encounter a lot of somatic treats along our journey. A taste of meditation and energy work can ignite or release areas in our bodies that are otherwise stuck. I highly encourage everyone to incorporate meditation into their practice. Learning to accept the noise around you and cancel it out by focusing in on your breath and movement is a powerful thing. Living in NYC I use my mediation skills throughout the day:) For a dancer or athlete seeking longevity, I highly encourage you to try everything from Alexander technique, massage, Reiki, and Thai Chi to name a few options.
Respect recovery and the simple fact that our cells rebuild at rest. I used to get a strike of anxiety whenever I booked travel because it meant time away from dance training. The first time I experienced this was when I went on a vacation in high school. I was honestly a bit panicked about what would be the state of my existence at the dance studio upon my return. I report that I was very surprised at what that period of rest did for me. I felt looser, and more free in my body, I felt the benefit of rest. The second day back is usually the harder day because that’s when soreness sets in. We should then revert to somatic work or other basic recovery tools like hydration, anti-inflammatory diets, cbd balm, epsom salt baths, infrared heating pads, and above all – SLEEP. The key is listening to your body to know what it needs and having a list of tools in your toolbox to treat your body like the machine that it is.
It’s not about the height of your kick or how many turns you can do if it doesn’t feel good and if it doesn’t make you feel something. When I began my dance degree in college the head of the department repeatedly told me to move from my back, breath into my back. In composition classes she questioned my every move, asking me “Why are you kicking your leg? What are you trying to convey?” At first I found this all so frustrating, I often wanted to return her question with a question being, “what is your intention in asking me that?!” However, my frustration led to discovery. Dancers and athletes who can ask themselves these questions are the ones that have longer professional careers, and who find joy in their craft long after they hang up their titles.
On a mental and physical level, when there is intention behind your motion and a physicality to match that intention, you can create a strong root system for your limbs so they can move forever. At first it can feel like you need to stretch more to create shapes and be the most flexible, but realistically, you want to have a strong range of motion to create clean lines. Believe me, I know. I used to stretch for an hour before class. I used to get panicked if I had less than 30 min to “warm up.” As an adult I learned that I had slightly high inflammatory markers which were contributing to the feeling of tightness and creating my urge to stretch so much.
I know now that what I was doing wasn’t the healthiest habits but it led me to more information through experience that I pass on to my students. Stretching incorrectly can damage the joints if you don’t have security and strength at the origin and insertion points of whatever you are working on.
A smart yoga practice will encourage dynamic stretching with emphasis on placement to ensure safety and effectiveness in the long term.
A Pilates education will teach your body to make better choices in motion from these dynamically stable positions. Finding intention behind your exercise choices is something we talk about in the BASI Pilates Teacher Training Program that I teach. It is how we design and program our Pilates students lessons to work in line with their goals.
The secret to longevity as a dancer or any athlete is not just getting a stronger core or simply having “good” posture. Locating the core structures that connect at different junctions throughout our entire body is a big part of us learning to care for our bodies. Pilates education teaches your body to move with resistance. Joseph Pilates used to say that our muscles should move like the springs. Similarly, stability of a structure against another structure that is in motion is the constant give and take in the craft of dance. Identifying the compromised areas in your own body and moving with resistance can be the key. Succumbing to an injury or problem area can be the best thing to happen to a dancer, if you change the kind of attention you give to that area of the body and how it affects the kinetic chain.
I had a very hard time choosing exercises for this blog because there are so many that I think are key! I decided on showing a few exercises on the Pilates reformer and Wunda Chair as well as the Hammrick Method loop band. All of these exercises involve the entire kinetic chain intrinsic to hip health in trying to achieve the lines desired as a dancer and ones that are often overlooked. The Hammrick method loop band is a major inspiration for me and it compliments the way that we teach the BASI Pilates repertoire. I travel everywhere with it and use it for both dynamic stretching and strengthening exercises. My colleague Rachel Hammrick who specializes in cross training dancers, used to work with me when she lived in NYC and I would attend her workshops as well. While the exercises I show here are not necessarily from her training, they are very much inspired by her work. The elastic loop band is an amazing tool to keep in your dance bag or at home to supplement your training.
Demi Plié and leg Pumps on Chair
Anyone with even a slight bow, hyper extension or knock in their knees will work hard on this one. Besides balance, I need this to work on pulling up on my standing leg, to build intrinsic foot strength and lower leg tracking of my knee over my toes. The Demi helps to to improve our ability to jump, climb and step down.
Calf Raises on Chair
I work on keeping my pelvis neutral and square here as well as not rolling out on my foot to avoid my bunion.
Standing Leg Press on Chair
Knowing where you are in space is half the battle. Strong glute medius will help to pull up on the standing leg and balance symmetrically. I always have to lightly lift my heel to make sure I am more forward on the ball of my foot and not rocking back in the heel. Once we feel a stable standing leg. We can get the benefits of detailed segmented work in the moving leg to achieve hip extension and then knee flexion on the way down into hip flexion and then knee extension on the way up.
Frog Front on Chair
Build strong hip external rotators with this one. Here I am slightly higher off the chair than ideal to accommodate a tighter left hip while filming. The tendency for me is to tuck my pelvis as you can see. A small amount more of lower back extension would be better to allow me to access my deep rotators more effectively. This would actually bring the work more into my muscles and I probably wouldn’t feel the stretch of my hip so much.
Deep Rotators, strengthening rotation through resistance and range of motion. It’s such a good warm up to barre work. The work should happen from the muscles at the very top of the thigh bones even though the feet are conveying the action.
Band Hip Flexor
Hip flexors, strengthening the hip flexors correctly inside the hip socket to ensure the ability to lift the leg and correct the gait is something I have been working on the past few years Andy hips have never felt better. The pelvis needs to avoid tucking while doing this to allow proper mechanics at the hip joint.
Band for 2 Pos Arms
Deep Neck flexors, considered the abs of the neck should be slightly active to align the head. Shoulder horizontal abduction, strengthening the upper back allow us to improve our port au bra, and the ability to move the arms from the back instead of the neck and shoulder joint. Being able to float in the upper body puts less strain on the hips and lower back.
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