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Stretch for Safe and Comfortable Dancing

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Give It A Quick Stretch

No one is suggesting calisthenics, but you should take a few minutes to warm up before you hit the dance floor. Muscles that are warmed up are less prone to injury.

Peggy Roller, known professionally as Dr. Peggy Roller, professor and graduate coordinator at Cal State Northridge’s physical therapy department, shared some of her tips on stretches and warm up exercises for dancers at a recent Roundalab convention. “You do not need to spend a long time warming up—the idea is to get moving,” she said. Try some of the exercises and stretches that follow to get your shoulders, neck, feet and ankles, and legs ready to move in and out of different dance positions, sway as you go into turns, and rise as appropriate through the smooth dances. Hold each stretch about 20 seconds.

Warm up your neck (to better turn your head in a turn and as you move in and out of semi-closed position) by looking left and then right as far as possible. Hold for 20 seconds on each side. Do it several times. Shrug your shoulders up and down, then circle them up and back, then up and forward. Circle your arms forward, up, then back down to free up your shoulders so you can roll them back and down for a better frame.

Sit down with legs extended and do circles with your feet to warm up your ankles, preparing them for rising. In a waltz, you rise on almost every measure—meaning 70+ times in a two-minute dance. Flex your upper body by opening your chest and arms, arching your back, then closing the chest and bringing your arms forward and flex forward.

Stretching is a more static form of exercise to lengthen muscles to increase joint flexibility. Peggy demonstrated stretches for the long muscles in the front and back of the thighs (quads and hamstrings), the calf muscles, the pectoralis muscle (upper chest) and that funny piriformis muscle in the buttocks near the top of the hip.

You can stretch the hamstring by sitting with one leg extended straight in front, toes up, then bending forward at the hip. Exhale into the stretch and hold. Stand tall and bend one leg back until you can grasp the ankle, bringing the heel close to your buttocks, with the knee in line with the standing leg.

Probably the least known of the group, the piriformis muscle stabilizes the hip and enables us to walk, shift weight between feet and maintain balance. When it’s off, it can compress the sciatic nerve sending pain down your leg. To stretch it, sit up tall in a chair. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Push your knee down only until you feel a mild pull , then lean forward keeping your back straight. Do not bounce. Switch legs.

Ow, My Aching Feet!

To keep dancing fun, it's important to keep your feet happy and healthy. It doesn’t matter how melodious the music, or how intriguing the choreography, or how well you look in that new dress, if your feet are nagging you to sit.

Think about it—your feet are made up of an amazing number parts. One fourth of the body’s bones are in the feet—26 in each foot. They are cunningly linked through 33 joints and that web of fascii that runs from your big toe, up and over the heel, along the back of the legs and into the trunk. Such intricate possessions rate consideration, yes? Especially when any one of those joints or ligaments can cause discomfort.

Some exercises are valuable to stretch the Achilles tendon before you begin dancing. Sit with knees together and feet together pointing forward (not turned out). Count 1,2 as you move a foot and 3,4 as you replace it.
Stretch the right foot forward with only the toes touching the floor, return it to its starting position. Do this 8 times. Repeat with the left foot.
Stretch the right heel forward with toes pointing up, return to its starting position. Do this 8 times. Repeat with the left foot.
Lift the right foot with a “pawing” action, replace beside the left foot. Do this 8 times; repeat with the left foot.

For ankle flexibility, lift the right foot forward and up, about four inches off the floor. Rotate it in a clockwise circle 8 times. Count 1,2,3,4 for each circle. Rotate the foot in a counter-clockwise circle 8 times. Repeat with the left foot.

To improve your balance, stand with feet together and arms in dance position with good tone in the frame. Rise slowly onto the balls of both feet, counting as waltz, 1,2,3. Lower the heels slowly with the same count. Do this 8 times. Now try it with the right arm raised to shoulder height and the left arm curved overhead. As you rise slowly onto the balls of the feet, bring both arms overhead and stretched. Lower the heels bringing the left arm down to the side and right arm curved overhead. Do a basic forward waltz with proper rise and fall and arms in good frame, then backward waltz, also with proper rise and fall and timing.

Before you ever get to the dance, make sure your body is primed. The Healthy Dancer, published by the American Ballet Theater, says you need sufficient carbohydrates to avoid fatigue, suggesting 55% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. The Healthy Dancer suggests nine cups of fluids a day for women; 13 cups a day for men. The authors say dancers should check their urine regularly—dark yellow signifies dehydration.

And at the dance, if your feet begin to yelp, do what Bobbie & Jim Childers do. Have a couple of golf balls in your dance bag. Put them in a sock and roll your feet around on them. Look silly? Maybe. But it will feel good.

From a club newsletter, September 2014 and June 2016, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, January 2017.


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