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!
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
Busy weekend for this belly dancer! What about you? Now it’s Monday, though, and it’s time for another challenge!
Have you ever been in a class where intense stretching was part of the “warm-up” and felt pain? Or as though you could never get into that effortless stretch the teacher seems to do? Do you always seem to be injured or getting injured during performances?
It means you are not warming up properly. Warming up is a way to get blood moving to our muscles, and synovial fluid into our joints. Without it, we are more prone to tearing the muscle in an injurious way rather than a building-muscle way. Yes, we make tiny tears in our muscles when we exercise, but that is normal, and helps us build more muscle. But if we are not warmed up, then we are at risk for tearing the muscle in a bad way, preventing us from dancing. Not cool.
Let’s get is out of the way: if you are trying to do splits or other stretches for your warmup, you are doing it WRONG. Yes, I am actually saying that. Warmup should be about movement, not about holding a stretch. Once you are warm (and I do mean warm, as in, the first signs of sweat are starting to show), then yes, light stretching can be a part of your warm up, but it should never be the first thing you do.
So what’s the challenge this week?
For all levels, all students, professionals, teachers…any dancer of any kind…PLEASE try actually warming up before your practice or perform this week. Every time you practice or perform this week.
For at least five minutes (ten to fifteen is best and recommended), do easy movement exercises for your warmup. Don’t go straight into dancing, just do some body movements to get the blood going. Rotate the shoulders and neck gently, do easy chest slides (meaning don’t make it about the isolation or hits but about easily moving the spine from side to side) and hip slides and circles. Rotate the knees and ankles. Maybe do a few jumping jacks where you go slow and don’t actually jump (raising and lowering the arms while squatting). Once you get moving, THEN get into some safe stretches, like forward bends, easy lunges, standing yoga poses, etc. Even better than that would be more movement, as in some types of yoga in which holding the stretch is not the focus, but the movement between poses, or some light dancing.
Intense stretches like splits, pigeon pose (and it’s variants), lunges that go to the floor, back bends (or poses like upward dog), or anything of that nature should be reserved for when you are completely warm, preferably AFTER your practice.
This is important before you perform, too, and yes, you CAN do these in costume. I’ve seen a lot of dancers just get dressed and get on stage, and that’s a great way to hurt yourself, especially if you do strong techniques likes hits, or extreme techniques like back bends and Turkish drops.
Teachers: it is especially important to remember that while you may think pigeon pose isn’t that intense of a stretch, your students may think otherwise. You could be doing them serious injury by leading them into a stretch that their bodies are not ready for yet.
Never ever skip your warm up, and happy dancing!