How to Make a Dance Conditioning Class That Doesn’t Suck
Written by The Dance Training Project, Toronto Ontario Canada
I’m not here to hate on dance conditioning classes. Much.
In fact I’m not totally qualified to hate on dance conditioning classes because I don’t have very much first hand experience participating in them. Because sadly many dance studios I went to didn’t have that option.
Even Ryerson didn’t have one, though I know many university dance programs do.
Indeed many a dance studio, and many a dance program offer a conditioning class of some sort. This is a good thing.
What I find concerning is that most dance conditioning classes are about as safe and effective as Gumby’s attempt to max out on the bench.
Don’t get me wrong, I am stoked that so many dance schools recognize the need for supplementary conditioning. I’m happy we all agree that the physical stimulus in a typical dance class isn’t enough to elicit improvements in fitness and strength beyond a certain point. I am sad, however, to observe how these classes can often exacerbate some of the issues dancers are already dealing with, rather than make them stronger and less prone to said issues.
Like, your spine hates you from back-bends and then your conditioning class makes you do planks. But they look like this:
And you hold THAT for 3 minutes. And then your back hurts more. But it can’t be because of the planks because those are good
for you. Your teacher compliments your sweet pants, but shouldn’t she (or he) be correcting your position?
How dance conditioning classes drop the ball
Let me illustrate with a few examples from the real world:
The inappropriately designed conditioning class by an under-qualified instructor.
I recently met with a client to speak about a project she was working on for her thesis project, and we got on the topic of a very prestigious summer training program that she had participated in last year.
This program happened to include a conditioning class (yay) but according to her- and I consider her to be educated on what is and is NOT an acceptable form of dance cross-training- they did tons of variation of crunches, and exercises that made her hip flexors strain (boo). It got so bad that she decided to express this to the instructor, who responded by saying, “then what should we do instead?”
First, someone who has been hired to instruct dancers on how to get stronger, presumably with the goal of dancing better, should understand that crunches are not the best choice of exercise for dancers.
And second, if a dancer tells you she is feeling something wrong during an exercise and asks for an alternative, you should be able to give her one. Because if you're a good instructor, you already have 5 alternatives up your sleeve for this very reason.
To me, this screams unprofessional and under-qualified, and considering the injury rate in dancers is about 80% (but lets be honest, more like 100%), dance schools should do their research before hiring a teacher who is more “boot-camp” than dance cross-training. Someone who will build them up, not break them down.
This class was also poorly scheduled, sandwiched between morning classes and afternoon rehearsals.
When is the best time? I’m not totally sure.
The dance school that offers Zumba as their fitness class.
Ok so I do recognize that for people who don’t do much of anything, much less dance, Zumba can be an intense workout that is probably a totally acceptable thing for them to be doing.
My issue is when dance studios decide to forgo offering a legit conditioning class for dancers because they already have Zumba as an option. They’ve confused “dance fitness” with “fitness for dancers”. It’s not the same thing.
I wouldn’t be caught dead teaching a Zumba class to dancers. No offense, Zumba. I know you’ve changed people’s lives and that’s cool. I just wouldn’t do you. We can still be friends, though.
Many times that I’ve reached out to dance schools in Toronto to talk about the need for dance conditioning classes I’ve been disregarded because they already have their own version of dance fitness, which often is some kind of boot-camp, aerobics, Prancersise-type program that makes me want to cry a little.
And Zumba isn’t dance training either. Want to learn some sweet moves you can use in the real world (whatever that is)? Take an actual dance class. Or do this.
The conditioning class that does the right exercises the wrong way
I had the pleasure of training a lovely young lady who's dance studio had a conditioning class. They did exercises that I consider good, like push-ups. However, when she told me one day that she did 100 push-ups in said class I was suspicious. In sessions with me, she has difficulty doing a controlled negative.
“Are you sure you were doing push-ups?” I asked. “Well, not like the way we do in our sessions. We have to do he them to the beat of the music.”
Understandably, when forced to go to the beat of the music her form gets a bit sloppy.
I know you like being on the beat (I do, too) but that does not mean you should have to do push-ups to the beat of a song that is way too fast. Especially if you can’t do one proper push-up. This is another another case where the instructor should know better, allow them to do push-ups at their own pace, and provide appropriate regressions when necessary. Which in the beginning is almost always.
Teaching a group of dancers how to move well, get strong, and get them excited about injury prevention isn’t easy. Often you’ll be met with a group of egos with a no pain no gain mindset. It’s much easier to pander to their wants than to educate them.
They may ask for a stretch class. Teach them neutral spine and how to breathe instead. Make them earn the right to stretch.
I think what’s lacking from many conditioning classes is a measurable goal. How else can you tell your students are making progress? Unless the goal is to move around a bunch, sweat, and feel the burn.
The actual goals of a dance conditioning class
Now I’m not saying that I am the most brilliant or highest educated instructor ever when it comes to dance conditioning and strength training. I’m just saying that I have certain teaching standards, systems and philosophies that I feel actually make for effective strength development and reduce the risk of injury rather than increase it.
Some strategies to ensure your dance conditioning classes don’t suck
I struggled for a while teaching classes not knowing how to structure them properly, how to ensure dancers were performing exercises appropriately, and get them in the right mindset. Maybe you don’t agree with everything I’m saying, and if you don’t, I really hope you have a better way, and that you’ll tell me about it so I can do better, too.
I’ll leave you with these final points. Remember:
Classes offered at HM Dance Co & Performing Arts
in convenient downtown Corona. All ages 10 to adult are welcome. Please inquire with Laura for details.
Thursdays 6:45-7:30 pm (beginning Oct 26, 2017)
Additional classes (and private lessons) upon request
The following is an awesome article that speaks to some of the many reasons we've developed this program for the forward thinking owners of HM Dance Co & Performing Arts
Strength Training and Injury Prevention
for Dancers and Athletes
A competitive dancer frustrated by repeated injuries?
A dance parent frustrated by having an injured dancer sitting out or concerned about risk of injury?
A professional dancer who fears the impact an injury could have on your income and the length of your career?
A athlete who wants to improve your athletic performance?
An individual who'd like to experience a greater freedom of pain-free movement?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, our Strength Training and Injury Prevention classes are for you!
The Strength Training and Injury Prevention program is a revolutionary injury prevention conditioning program based upon the combined work of a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a professional dancer/choreographer and is used by dance and movement therapists worldwide. This program brings the exercises of sports physical therapy to dancers in their studio (or via private lesson).
Most orthopedic dance injuries are overuse injuries caused by a repeated movement pattern that places continued stress on a tissue over a period of time. Injuries manifest over time as pain, inflammation, stiffness, weakness, and tissue damage as a result of inefficient dance technique and/or lack of effective dance-oriented cross training.
Understanding that the body in motion is a dynamic chain of moving parts, it is only as strong as its weakest link. One part affects the whole and creates optimal function or dysfunction. The dancers body not only requires vast amounts of mobility, but also the ability to stabilize that range of motion with adequate muscular strength and neuromuscular activation. Recognizing that dancers are extraordinary athletes who push the human form well beyond its evolutionary limitations, this program has taken this science and catered it specifically to the dancer’s biomechanics and physiology (although it will benefit all athletes and parents as well).
Our program bridges the gap between sports therapy and traditional dance technique, creating the most efficient and effective way to warm-up, mobilize, and stabilize the dancer’s body in all three planes of motion. This is the same science that prepares professional and elite level athletes to perform optimally, while dramatically decreasing their chances for injury. Our Strength Training and Injury Prevention program is optimal for every kind of dance: Ballet, contemporary, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, ballroom, cabaret…whatever your style, our program will strengthen your body so that the artist in you can move freely.
Our Strength Training and Injury Prevention program is designed to be part of HM Dance Co’s full dance program and integrated into the beginning of every class, before every rehearsal, and our dancers to utilize prior to every audition and performance. Our program is not intended to replace dance technique training classes but to greatly enhance them. Our full program is offered in 45 conditioning classes or as private lessons. Within each lesson, we add a “focus of the month” with individual exercise sets focusing on specific areas (e.g., foot, ankle & knee stability; ACL injury prevention; glute strengthening exercises; shoulder stability and more). This curriculum makes it easy to incorporate injury prevention along with strength and conditioning, giving the dancers at HM Dance Co the tools to rise above the competition. When practiced regularly, these exercises are scientifically proven to help prevent the occurrence of injuries and are backed by research based evidence. At HM Dance Co we believe in improving the health of our dancers and teaching them the value of taking care of their bodies.
If there is a specific area of focus you’d like your dancer to learn (or for yourself), book a private lesson with Ms Laura.
This class is taught by:
Ms Laura Crittendon, MA, DMT, LMT
(HM Dance Co & Performing Arts resident Dance Movement Therapist & Master Teacher)