Stretching and Flexibility Tips for Dancers and Others
To become a dancer requires hard work and dedication. It takes many years, patience, and endurance to reach a professional level. There are many factors to being a dancer, but one of the most important is flexibility.
Now not everyone is a contortionist just by sheer luck of the draw. Growing up, I was not even able to bend down and touch my toes. It was a requirement to be put in the competitive program to have your splits. I worked for years to achieve and maintain my flexibility. Now not only do I teach dance, but I am able to still do my oversplits and stretch my leg straight up past my ear.
I am proof that anyone can gain flexibility with hard work and dedication.
- Never stretch when your muscles are cold (right when you wake up is the worst time)
- Have something playing in the background (music, TV, etc.)
- Even if you do modified stretching to fit your schedule be sure not to miss a day
- Know your limits. When your body says stop, make sure you listen to avoid injury
- Wear clothing that will stretch with you, not against you
- Start small and build upon your success
Set Yourself Up For Success
- Stretching your body is absolutely necessary, but you also need to prepare your mind for this grueling change. Be proactive by setting aside 20–30 minutes a day to give yourself a full stretch.
- Make sure that you have adequate room to move on a flat surface without too many distractions such as children and animals.
- Increase the difficulty of your stretches as you become more flexible to continue to challenge yourself.
- For one of the most advanced stretches in this article, you will need the assistance of someone that you trust not to hurt you.
Basic Large Muscles to Stretch
In dance, we tend to use our muscles differently than any other art or sport. We also use muscles that are seldom used for other things.
Some of our most important muscles to stretch for a dancer are
- Inner thigh
Leg and Shoulder Muscles
Stretching Sequence Part 1
- Inner thigh
- Begin with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Reach both arms up to the ceiling palms facing out.
- Open the arms to 2nd position as you turn your feet out and grand plie.
- Place hands on the floor.
- Rotate feet back to parallel and stretch legs straight while letting all tension out of the neck.
- Hold for 8–16 counts.
- Roll up the spine one vertebra at a time for 8 counts leaving the head to come up last.
- Repeat 2–3 times.
- Place arms in second positions leaving feet where they are.
- Reach one arm over leaning to the side leaving shoulders straight across.
- Flip torso into flat back to face ground same arm remaining on top.
- Reach all the way up to release to the back corner and stretch down over the leg.
- Feet should still be parallel, and neck should be relaxed with the face towards the leg.
- Hold for 8 counts, then lift the back hand up to the ceiling.
- Reach back down and hold before reaching out and up to repeat on the other side.
Stretching Sequence Part 2
- Inner thighs
- Hip flexors
- Still in second position, turn the feet out to second in a full grande plie.
- Place hands or elbows on the inside of the knees and press the knees back.
- Turn body 1/4 turn, rotating the feet with the body.
- Reach straight down over front legs keeping both legs straight and the neck relaxed.
- Lift back heel up and slide down into a runners stretch.
- Be sure the back heel is up and the knee is straight. Keep the front heel on the floor. The knee should be directly over the ankle forming a 90-degree angle. Neck should be lengthened and in line with the spine.
- Pull back up to the original position. Do this 2–3 times holding for 8–16 counts each.
- Once advanced enough, lift the front toes up to flex the foot when legs are straight to stretch the calf.
- When in the runners stretch, tuck the back toe under so the top of the foot is on the floor. Leaving the hips where they are, lean forward with the hands on the knees to stretch the hip flexor. Reach the back hand for the foot leaving the hips where they are. Lift the back leg to your hand and pull towards your bottom to stretch the quad. Return to runners stretch, lift up and repeat to the other side.
- While in the runners stretch rotate to face front turning feet out. Put elbow on the knee and push out with the heel on the floor. Change sides. This can be used to strengthen as well by shifting back and forth between the legs with hands clasped in front.
Stretching Sequence Part 2Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 3
- Go back to second position in parallel with hands on floor and neck relaxed.
- Hold elbows to form a box with the arms. Swing back and forth with the upper body relaxed.
- Reach hands to floor.
- Walk feet together hands to floor.
- Keep feet parallel and bend down to a squat, lifting heels as high in relief as they will go.
- Straighten legs. Repeat 2–3 times.
- Roll up for 8 counts through spine, leaving the head for last.
- After the roll up, plie bringing arms down and up to ballet 5th. Release back lifting the chest to the ceiling and opening the arms. Reverse the roll up to an inverted roll down, leaving the head for last. Lift the heels and plie into a ball. Straighten the legs. Scoop arms up and out. Lower arms and repeat.
Stretching Sequence Part 3Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 4
- Sit on the floor in a butterfly stretch (bottoms of the feet together)
- Reach to both sides keeping the hips flat on the floor.
- Reach slowly all the way in a half-circle to the other side.
- Sit tall through your spine and reach your nose forward towards your feet. (keep your hips and feet flat on the floor)
- To get a deeper stretch as you sit forward and back up, go through a flat back with the crown of the head towards the front.
- Sitting up through back place right hand on right knee and press down. Lean slightly left to keep hips flat.
- Repeat with your right leg, then both
Stretching Sequence Part 4Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 5
- Muscles in the hips used for turn out
- Inner thigh
- From your butterfly stretch position, use your right hand to pick up the right foot.
- Pull leg straight up in front of the face keeping both hips flat on the floor and the leg straight. Keep your leg turned out, inside of the leg facing you.
- Transfer leg to one hand and take it to the side, again keeping the inner leg forward (turned out)
- Take leg in other hand and pull it across the body, again keeping it turned out and hips flat.
- Lay down on side and rotate leg with the body. Keep it turned out and pull towards your head. Keep your shoulders relaxed and tuck your other foot in.
- Pull back up to original position.
- Bend and flex in every position, rotating from hips. After finishing the whole sequences, let the leg go and balance
Stretching Sequence Part 5Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 6
- Lay flat on back.
- Hug one knee into chest keeping other leg on the floor straight and pointed.
- Pull leg straight up and towards chest keeping both legs straight
- Flex and bend, then stretch and point 4 times.
- Keep leg straight and flex foot.
- Bring foot to passe and down to the floor.
- After completing the bend and stretch portion, pull the leg out to the side, keeping it turned out and the opposite side of the body on the floor.
- Once pulling the leg side has been achieved, grip foot with both hands and roll up into the splits. (If your splits are comfortably flat, reach your forehead to the shin. If this is comfortable, lay the belly on the floor. If this is comfortable, find an object on which to place the foot and begin working over splits)
Stretching Sequence Part 6Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 7
- Inner thigh
- Pull both legs into chest to form a ball on the back.
- Place legs in V while on back.
- Go back to a ball.
- Before placing the legs in a V, grab heels and reach the toes for the floor in line with head.
- Flex and bend while in V.
Stretching Sequence Part 7Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence Part 8
- Inner thigh
- Sit in a straddle where your legs are straight and toes are pointed. Keep the baby toe towards the floor.
- Place arms in a jazz second (T).
- Reach arm over head to opposite leg. Keep both hips firmly flat on the floor. Keep chest flat across and arm right over head.
- Sit up and turn towards leg, reaching forward with torso towards leg. Keep hips flat on the floor.
- Reach arm over head as in step 3.
- Keep torso where it is and place hand along the inside of the thigh. Twist back, reaching hand back with head looking at hand.
- Reach arm over head as in step 3.
- Repeat to other side.
- Reach straight down to the center, letting the neck relax.
- Can change everything to flexed feet.
- Reach to the side and walk hands along the floor to the other leg. Stretch side and sit up.
- Put the arms up and flat back to the center, so the belly is on the floor.
- Reach hands straight out while down to the center. Breathe in and as you breathe out, walk your fingertips slightly forward. Do this 3 times.
- Roll up into the splits from the straddle or where you ended on step 4.
- Have someone you trust help you for this addition. Have your helper press your opposite hip into the floor as you reach side and have them gently pull the arm overhead. While down to the middle, have your helper gently press your low back into the floor.
Stretching Sequence Part 8Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stretching Sequence 9
- Sit with legs straight out and knees flat.
- Reach forward towards feet keeping legs straight.
- Flex feet and reach for toes.
Stretching Sequence Part 9Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tips for Correct Leg Lift Stretch
- Both legs need to be turned out and straight throughout the whole stretch
- When the leg is front be sure the hips are even and one is not pushed farther forward from the other
- When the leg is side be sure both legs are turned out and on the path of your first (the path on which your personal tendu travels)
- On the side, make sure that the hip is tucked under rather than lifted. Also keep the supporting hip over the supporting ankle.
- To the back press the back of the knee towards the ceiling.
- Keep shoulders up and even with the leg to the back
Stretching Sequence Part 10 *Advanced*
- Inner thighs
*You will need a partner for this stretch and a barre or solid wall*
- Stand with back to barre or wall in first position
- Tendu one leg devant (front) and begin to lift it.
- Have your partner grab it and begin pushing it upwards towards your face.
- Let them know when to stop. They will hold it there for a few seconds.
- Switch legs.
- Repeat a la seconde (side) and derriere (back).
- Do all of your splits (right, left and center)
- After this, another great stretch is a wall split. Place your heels against a wall. Reach down to the floor and put one leg up. Walk hands towards bottom leg. For center do a straddle against a wall. Slowly push/pull yourself in to stretch
Stretching Sequence Part 10 (Alignment Only)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Let's Hear From You!
Do you believe stretching is crucial for a dancer's success?
© 2014 Passion for dance