This January has been especially brutal. Bitter cold, lots of snow, and now back to bitter cold here in Chicago. This type of weather can be challenging for dancers, especially if we have to be out in it before we get to class or a gig!
It is super important that dancers take care of their bodies, especially in cold weather. We are more susceptible to injury due to cold muscles and improper warm-ups (especially at gigs, where we often don’t have the time!), and also illness if we don’t take care of ourselves.
So this week’s challenge is all about staying warm (which believe me, with these wind chills, will be difficult!). But not just staying warm. Your challenge this week is to take care of your body and warm up PROPERLY in order to prevent injury. Try it for a week, and see how it feels!
If you are a student, work with your teacher to find a movement-based warm-up that focuses on gentle and expansive movements that get the blood flowing to all parts of the body. If you are a teacher and/or performer, you owe it to yourself and your students to warm-up properly before class and before gigs. Even a five minute movement warm-up is better than nothing, though 15 minutes is considered ideal (especially if it’s cold!)
- Stretching is NEVER a warm-up, but it is especially dangerous in the cold. You can do harm to your muscles if you immediately start an intense yoga session or stretching “warm-up” straight out of the cold weather. Keep yoga at the end of your practice, especially if you are not used to doing yoga all the time. Many yogin forget that not all of us are super-bendy straight out of bed (or out of the cold…or at all…) and lead us through challenging moves and positions which can be dangerous for muscles. Talk to your teacher (in private) if you are concerned that their stretching warm-ups might be harmful. Always be your own advocate; it’s YOUR body, YOU must take steps to take care of it!
- Warm up even before a gig. I’ve seen a lot of dancers get ready, get dressed, and then hop on stage without even so much as a thought to warming up. Wouldn’t it be especially embarrassing to hurt yourself during a performance? Don’t tempt fate; warm up before you perform.
- Use movement exercises that are gentle and build up in intensity instead of stretches (e.g. start with small shoulder rotations, then as your muscles warm, move up to larger shoulder rotations, then full arm rotations).
- While waiting for class to begin, start your own warm-up, so that you start warm even before your teacher warms you up.
- Wear layers! I usually start with socks and a close-fitting long-sleeved shirt over my normal dance wear. They can be removed once I’m a little warm. If the room you are in is cold, though, don’t take the layers off until you feel warm enough to do so.
- Find a studio that’s heated! It’s not worth the injury risk to dance in an unheated studio! Bring space heaters if it’s really bad or just cancel class. It’s not right to put your students (or put yourself, as a student) through a freezing cold session!
- Listen to your body. If you start to hurt while dancing, you might need to back off, or warm up some more before going into your dance. Muscle cramping can be common in the cold, because we all sort of shrivel up and knot instinctively to keep our core warm. Leg, back, and shoulder muscles tend to suffer in the winter, so pay special attention to them in your warm-up.
Have any other ideas for warming up in the cold? Share ’em! Let’s all keep warm, and keep our bodies safe this winter!
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Dancers, especially professional ones, are athletes. We often do not think of ourselves as such, but we are. The hours we put into training, the cross-training, and the performances can be hard on the body. Injuries happen, and too many dancers dance through the injury. Not a good idea, though we often don’t have much choice. Beginners may quit, because they don’t know how to deal with the injury and may have to take a long time off in order to heal.
There are, however, things you can do to keep up your skills while you are injured and healing up. First, a disclaimer: always follow your physician’s advice. Never dance through an injury if your doctor has told you to rest it.
While it was not a real injury, I found I had a lot of time to think about dancing when I got a tetanus shot in my left arm recently. Tetanus shots suck, plain and simple. I often cannot use that arm for days afterwards, and I get body aches and pains that make it difficult to do anything more than shiver under the blankets and moan. Makes it really difficult to keep in practice… I found myself annoyed that I could not do more except drills where I could hold my arms at my sides. Boring. And then I realized, there was a lot I could work on while I was “injured!” I couldn’t use my left arm, but I had been meaning to work on my occasionally-floppy right arm. What a perfect time to do it! So while I danced, I was able to pay more attention to my right arm, leaving my left at my side. I noticed things about my right arm that I hadn’t before, because I was always more focused on other things.
So if you find yourself injured and unable to dance, perhaps there is something you can do to improve your dance while still resting your injury. Broke your foot? Have a seat, prop the leg up, and focus on upper body. Rotator cuff problems? Rest your arms and work on traveling steps instead. Think of an injury, not as a forced time away from dance, but a time to work on all the other parts of your dance you haven’t had a chance to get to yet.
But always remember to follow your doctor’s advice on how to treat your injury. It’s better to get a few weeks of rest then to keep hurting yourself and end up with months away from dance. And if you find yourself injured a lot, you may need an assessment of your dance technique from a qualified teacher. Always remember to warm up (don’t do intense stretches!) before you dance and to stretch and cool down afterwards in order to prevent injury.
OMG…it’s October!! Time to start hibernating, right? Wrong. Let’s do another challenge!
Have you ever watched a dancer with perfect technique, but absolutely no emotion in her/his face? If their technique is strong enough, that might be fine for awhile, but when we listen to music we are trying to connect to an emotion. Dance is all about emotion. No emotion, no dance. If there is no emotion in your dance, you might as well get up on stage and start a drills class. And plastering a I-gotta-get-this-over-with smile on your face doesn’t cut it either. I’m guilty of this sometimes as well, when I’m performing a choreography I don’t know well enough or if I’m super nervous (which doesn’t happen much anymore, but it can still happen). So this week we’re going to work on putting some emotion into our dance!
Emotion in Dance
Pick a song, any song. Something you enjoy, and not necessarily something you want to belly dance to. Close your eyes and listen to it. It’s fine if your mind wanders, but take a mental note of where it goes. Take note of how you feel when you hear the song. Chances are you will feel what the artist intended you to feel during that song. Either the lyrics will tell you (if there are any) or the actual sound of the music will (freebie nugget of music theory…a minor key makes you feel sad!).
Now write down what you felt at the top of a piece of paper. If it’s more than one emotion, great! Use a page for everything you felt. Under that heading, split the paper into two columns. On one, label it “Facial expressions” and the other label “Dance moves.” This is going to be a toughie, because there are not necessarily any right answers. In these two columns, brainstorm what facial expressions (including things like tears, laughter, or touching the face with the hands) and dance moves fit your emotion.
Arabic songs may be a bit more of a challenge for us Westerners. For starters, the lyrics are in a language most of us do not understand, and the musical scale that Arabic music uses is different from what we are used to. But humans still composed and performed that music, and that means they felt an emotion while writing it. You can still connect if you close your eyes and open yourself to it.
Use your list when improvising a dance or when planning out a choreography. Do this to one song every day this week, and start mixing in songs you want to actually dance to. This will help you connect to the music and actually dance, not run a drills class on stage!