When adjudicators watch you dance in competition, they want to see good flexibility. On leaps, your front leg should be parallel with the ground or slightly higher; on clicks and kicks, your kicking foot should at least reach the level of your chest; on cuts, your foot should touch your opposite hip; and when you lift your leg in back, your foot should get all the way up until it touches your body.
In order to achieve this flexibility, you have to stretch every day at home. You need to stretch all the major muscle groups in your lower body: calves, quads, hamstrings, hips, groin, glutes, and back.
Here are some tips for stretching successfully:
It’s important to make sure that you are doing the right stretches, and doing them correctly. The best way is to get personal instruction by taking a class (a yoga or pilates class, for instance). However, watching a video is also good, and there are lots of videos out there. You can buy a stretching DVD, Google flexibility exercises, or watch Dance Master Paula Goulding’s great flexibility workshop on Diddlyi.
Your muscles will be looser and more flexible when they’re warmed up, which will make your stretching routine feel better (and more rewarding). Also, you’re much less likely to injure yourself when your muscles are warm. So, before you do your stretches (especially if you’re doing them first thing in the morning), do a light warmup, like taking a walk around the block. You can also do all or part of Paula’s warmup routine on Diddlyi.
It’s very important for both flexibility and muscle health to stretch thoroughly after a workout. While your muscles are still warm, you should stretch all the muscle groups that you used during your workout, making sure to hold each stretch for a full 30 seconds. This will both increase your flexibility and help you feel less sore the next day.
If there is a break between your workout and your stretching, you should do a little light exercise before stretching (like a few jumping jacks) so that your muscles warm back up.
Static stretching is where you hold each position for 30-45 seconds. That’s the kind of stretching you should do after your workout, or if you’re working on your flexibility at home. When you do static stretches, your muscles elongate, which makes them more flexible but temporarily not as strong. If you dance on elongated muscles, you are at greater risk of injury.
If you’re stretching before your workout, you should do dynamic stretches instead. Dynamic stretching is where you are moving while you are stretching your muscles, and your body is only in each position for a few seconds. When you do dynamic stretches, your muscles stay shorter rather than elongating, which helps prevent injury while you’re dancing.
You can find examples of dynamic stretches online, or Paula has a nice dynamic warmup workshop.
It is essential for you to stretch every day if you want to improve your flexibility and your overall dancing. If you are just starting a stretching routine, try fifteen minutes a day. You will be able to find fifteen minutes even in the busiest schedule, and within two weeks you will be noticing a difference in how you feel when you are doing leaps and kicks.
Photo credit: Flickr user Jeff Meade
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