With summer just right around the corner, you have to ask yourself: Am I ready for intensives? During the pandemic, many of us were not dancing as rigorously, frequently, or even at all. Dancing at home was challenging and our overall conditioning may have suffered. Without our normal training, how can we expect ourselves to have kept up our dance fitness?
Summer intensives are exciting, career-changing, and nerve-wracking. Dancing all day long alongside other highly trained dancers and learning from some of the best in the industry is no small feat. These intensives are an opportunity to refine your technique, develop your dance styles, and advance your training. However, they are also an opportunity for injury to occur.
What Are the Risks to Dance Fitness?
In a study following injury incidence during a 6-week summer dance intensive hosting a variety of dance styles, 60% of injuries occurred during the intensive. The foot and ankle were the most common areas of injury, followed by the pelvis/hip, knee, and low back. Many dancers also experienced more than one injury.
In the above study, the dancers reported their injuries were caused by lack of experience or physical preparation, prior overtraining, or unfamiliarity with a new dance style. Other factors that may lead to injury risk include hypermobility, weakness, muscle imbalance, and poor movement control. The best way to reduce your risk of injury and prepare for your summer intensive is to address these risk factors before starting the summer intensive.
So, what can you do to prepare yourself for summer intensives?
The majority of the injury risk factors can be addressed by improving your dance fitness. Please note that conditioning and increasing your fitness takes time and patience. Consider seeing a dance medicine specialist if you are not sure how to begin.
If you are reading this too close to, or during, your summer intensive, don’t fret. Keep reading further below for tips on what to do during the summer intensive to reduce your risk of injury!
Tips for Success: Improve Dance Fitness Before the Intensive
There are many components to dance fitness, including cardiovascular capacity, strength, and flexibility.
Aerobic Fitness in Dance Fitness
Aerobic fitness is defined as your ability to perform muscular work by using oxygen. Dance can be very demanding on our aerobic systems; dancing for a full 1.5-hour class requires a great deal of endurance. Now, if you’re dancing 5 classes each day, 5 days each week for 6 weeks, you can imagine how much endurance you need to get through the whole intensive!
Although dancing requires great cardiorespiratory fitness, one dance class per day is not enough to prepare for the summer intensive. Studies show that dancers with a greater pre-season aerobic fitness are at a lower risk of injury. To help build up your endurance to meet the demands of your upcoming summer intensive, try to add cross-training activities. Think: prolonged, moderate intensity, aerobic training that increases your heart rate, such as running, swimming, or biking.
Anaerobic Fitness in Dance Fitness
Anaerobic fitness is defined as your ability to perform muscular work by utilizing non-oxygen energy sources. Your body uses this type of energy for short bursts of powerful, quick movements such as jumps. In most styles of dance, you are frequently depleting and restoring this energy system in a single class. Ways to train this system include performing high intensity interval training, weight lifting, sprinting, or jump rope.
Strength in Dance Fitness
Dance-related strength involves muscle balance, symmetry from limb to limb, and proper movement control of our stabilization muscles. Injuries occur when the muscles are imbalanced. For example, a dancer may overuse his/her quadriceps due to hamstring weakness. This imbalance can then lead to overuse injuries.
Limb imbalances are very common in dancers, as most of us are guilty of practicing our “good side” more than our “bad side”. Choreographers also tend to prefer the right side. To balance your muscles, get out of the habit of doing turns and jumps on your favorite side. Try to purposefully practice your bad side in class or rehearsal. To perform both simple and complex turns, jumps, and movements, dancers require stabilization of the trunk and hips. Training our stabilizers are essential to meeting the postural and balance demands fundamental to dance.
In conclusion, a specifically designed resistance training program helps improve strength, endurance, and power. Consider seeing a dance medicine specialist for an individualized assessment if you have had previous injuries or if you’ve noticed any imbalances in your movements. Dance medicine physical therapists can help you by providing a tailored program to address any strength deficits that can stand in the way of a successful summer intensive.
About the Author: Oriana Oanh Hua
Oriana is a Bay Area native. She earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA and is a graduate of the Agile Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency program.
Oriana’s passion for physical therapy stems from her participation in dance and performing arts. What continually motivates Oriana in physical therapy is a desire to restore, optimize, and improve movement to allow people to confidently and joyfully participate in movement activities that are meaningful to them. She believes that movement allows people to live the lives they want to lead, and this drives her treatment philosophy to provide individualized care to people of all ages.
Outside of the clinic, Oriana’s hobbies include contemporary dancing, powerlifting, camping, hiking, kayaking, traveling, baking, cooking and attending live music and performance events.