How to Cross Train for Dance

As a teenager growing up dancing in the 90s and early 2000s in a small city in New Zealand, I don’t think the words ‘cross training’ ever passed my ears. Now, many years later, cross training has become an important of my regular training.

So what is cross training?

Cross training is training in other styles of movement that will assist and improve your dance. Things like yoga or pilates may spring to mind straight away, but cross training is about more than that.

Why should I cross train?

A regular dance class is a fantastic way to build your dance knowledge and prepare your body – for dance. But if we only train our bodies in one way, then we’re only working one set of muscles. Those of you who have done ballet will know that you almost never work in parallel. Ballet makes your turn out muscles strong but neglects the muscles that strengthen your turn in – and both are important.

Cross training can not only strengthen other groups of muscles, it is also a great way to build your cardiovascular fitness. Since regular dance classes do not sufficiently elevate your heart rate to increase cardiovascular stamina, cross training can help you increase your stamina so that you’ll last longer when you are dancing and have more power and energy to draw on in those big virtuoso movements. Research has shown that cross training can also reduce muscle fatigue, lowering your chance of injury. If you are on a break from dancing over the summer it can also be a great way to stay in shape while your classes are on holiday.

How do I cross train?

There are lots of different ways to cross train and you need to consider a couple of things. Firstly, what types of physical activity do you enjoy doing? And secondly, what weaknesses do you want to address?  Here are a few options that you might like to consider:

Pilates

Pilates is a great way for dancers to cross train, and one of my favourites. With its focus on core strength it is a great way to strengthen the body and increase the stability and strength of your core – something that is super important for all dancers. Many dance studios provide mat based pilates classes that are customised for dancers, but don’t be afraid to visit a regular pilates studio. Many pilates instructors have experience working with dancers and working one on one with an instructor can be a great way to get targeted feedback – it can be expensive though. For those on a tighter budget, most libraries have a range of pilates books and DVDs which can provide a great introduction.

Yoga

Yoga is another great way to condition your body. I particularly like the focus on breath, as this is such a core part of movement that is often neglected in dance teaching. Yoga not only lengthens and strengthens your muscles, but the focus on the intrinsic muscles in your feet is great for developing stability and balance when on pointe or demipointe.

Swimming

Swimming is probably one of the most effective ways to cross train. Being in the water removes the effects of gravity on your joints, lessening the impact of movement, actually it’s zero-impact. This makes it an ideal form of movement for those recovering from injury.  Not only does it use your whole body, it is also a fantastic cardio workout and great for increasing stamina.

Running

Running has long been a point of contention in the dance world. The main issue is that running turned out is extremely bad for the knees. The constant pounding on the joints can also be damaging for dancers. That said, running can still be beneficial for dancers. Dancers are typically sprinters – the types of movement they are used to are short bursts of intense anaerobic energy, so running can feel quite different. I still personally enjoy the sense of freedom I get from running, but I prefer to keep it to the warm up period of a work out – no more than 10 minutes and usually on a treadmill. If you’re keen on running, go ahead and give it a go it’s a great way to build cardiovascular fitness, just make sure those feet are pointing straight ahead!

Strength Training

Strength training is also known as weight lifting, but that doesn’t mean you should steer clear. Quite the opposite – it’s a great way to build strength. You can do this either using exercises that use your own body weight – think plank, push ups etc. or using free weights or gym machines. Lifting a heavier weight for a smaller number of repetitions will help build strength without adding muscle bulk. Plus it’s a great way to target specific muscle groups. I’ve found this particularly useful for building my upper body strength for contemporary.

Aerobics/Gymnastics

Aerobics or gymnastics are also great supplements to dance training. Aerobics will help build core strength and cardiovascular stamina, while gymnastics helps to increase flexibility and upper body and core strength.

A few important things to remember:

Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, or you’re feeling more muscle fatigue than usual, stop and seek professional advice.

Wear the right gear – supportive shoes for running or going to the gym are really important as they protect your feet and reduce impact. If you are going to be doing these activities regularly it is worth shelling out the money for a good pair of running shoes.

Fuel up – increasing your physical activity will mean you burn more energy – meaning you need to give your body more fuel. Eating a good balance of food and including protein in your diet is really important as is drinking water.

What are your favourite ways to cross train?

Sharing Stories

Hey guys,

I’m looking for stories. Your stories to be specific. See, one of the things I love about dance is that it’s different for everyone but there’s no right or wrong way to be a dancer. So I’m interested in your stories of being a dancer.

I’m looking for people who might like to be interviewed, but also people who might like to write about their experiences, or write articles themselves. I’d also love to feature bloggers too, so f you’re interested leave a comment on the bottom of the page, or email me – briejessenvaughan @ icloud.com (just take out the spaces).

Choreography Workshop Playlist

This playlist is the playlist I use with my Choreography Workshop class this term – it’s a bit of a mixture and constantly evolving, but this is what it currently looks like.

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The Pasture – Elephant Revival

Down to the Sea – Elephant Revival

Intro – The XX

Tear Drop – Massive Attack

Dreams and Disasters – Owl City

Armies of Your Heart – Elizaveta

Viva La Vida – Coldplay

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Where Do I Even Start? =- Morgan Taylor Reid

Run Daddy Run – Miranda Lambert

Free – Rudimental

Abraham’s Daughter – Arcade Five

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Be Okay – Oh Honey

Heavy Cross – The Gossip

Breathe Me – Sia

 

I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

Jazz Playlist June 2014

Full confession, I love music! And I spend a lot of time finding new music and making playlists, so I thought hey, why not share them with you.

 

Today’s playlist is a real mix of new stuff I’ve recently discovered and a lot of older songs that are still going strong on my playlist!

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Jazz Playlist March 2014

Warm Ups:

Exotic – Priyanka Chopra (Feat. Pitbull)

On The Floor – Jennifer Lopez

Karma – Alicia Keys

Call me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepson

Go Deep – Janet Jackson

It’s Like That – Run DMC

Amalgamations/Combinations/Isolations:

Honey – Moby

Yeah! – Usher

I’m Good – Blaque

The Climb – Stan Walker

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Maneater – Nelly Furtado

Free – Rudimental (feat. Emeli Sande)

Great Performance Songs:

Americano/Dance Again – Glee

Proud – Heather Small

I Love It – IconaPop

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Man with a Hex – Atomic Fireballs

Candyman – Christina Aguilera

Stretching:

Halo – Beyonce

Viva Forever- Spice Girls

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Better in Time – Leona Lewis

Never be the Same Again – Mel C

 

I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

Contemporary Playlist March 2014

Full confession, I love music! And I spend a lot of time finding new music and making playlists, so I thought hey, why not share them with you.

Today’s playlist is a lot of new stuff that I have just recently discovered or that has been recently released. Most of these songs are a little bit different or quirky, and many would be great for performances or just to change up classes.

Contemporary* Playlist March 2014

Intro – XX

On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Holy Moses – Washington

Where do I even start? – Morgan Taylor Reid

Counting Stars – One Republic

Working for the Company – Willy Moon

In Colour – Shapeshifter

Breath and Life – Audiomachine

Torn – Nathan Lanier

300 Violin Orchestra – Jorge Quintero

Roselily – Drehz

Free – Rudimental feat. Emeli Sandé

Bloom – The Paper Kites

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Human – Christina Perri

* What we call Contemporary dance is usually referred to as Modern in North America.

I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

Breaking in Pointe Shoes: Advice and Link Round Up

I love getting emails from my former students, and recently I got one from a girl who was in my class (at school) last year. She was super-excited about going back to ballet and getting her first pair of pointe shoes and wanted some advice on how to break them in. There is so much information on the web, but it can be hard to know which advice to trust here is some of the advice I gave her plus a few good links.

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Choosing Shoes

It’s impossible to know what shoes will fit until you try them on, but it is a good idea to do your research and find out about different shoes. Some will be suitable for a beginner and some (especially those with 3/4 shank) are only suitable for a more experienced dancer. There’s some really great information about different brands of shoes here.

Understanding your Shoes

You may think you know dance shoes, but trust me, pointe shoes a whole different kettle of fish, and there’s a lot of technical vocab that goes with them. Here’s a great breakdown of what the different part of a pointe shoe are.

Understand the Cost

Pointe shoes are expensive no doubt about it! This video shoes you how pointe shoes are made and makes you realise why the cost so much.

Break your Shoes in Slowly

A lot of my students want to hurry to break their shoes in, or they’ve seen videos of dancers hammer their shoes or sticking them in a door. The reality is that as a beginner on pointe, you don’t yet know what your feet need. Take it slow, walk around the house in your pointe shoes, do some slow releves and rises (after your teacher has shown you how to do them properly), let the work you do in class break them in. You may also like to gently squeeze the box of your shoe and soften it a little with your hands, but don’t take to your shoe with anything hard. As you get used to pointe shoes you’ll start to develop your own way of breaking them in, but it’s also interesting to see what professional dancers do; here are some of the tips from dancers in the Australian Ballet Company.

Connect with Other Dancers

One of the best places to get information about pointe shoes is online. There is a great forum (mainly for ballet dancers) called Ballet Talk for Dancers – check it out for lots of great advice. It’s well moderated so you can trust all the information there.

A New Website and New Classes

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting lately, but I have a good reason for it! Several, in fact. The first is that my son T. was born a month and half ago. He’s super cute and doing extremely well. And we are absolutely loving life with him.

The second reason is that I’ve been hard at work on making another dream become reality – opening my own dance centre. Of course, like the sensible person I am, I’m starting small, with just two classes next year. The space is all booked and I finished and launched the website this morning. So without any further ado let me introduce The Dance Well Centre:

Dance Well Centre Logo

We’re starting off next year with a choreography workshop class and a dance wellness class which you can find out about here. I’m pretty stoked with the website and logo, having built both myself. Now I just need to finish the marketing flyer and we’ll be all set.

 

If you live in Wellington and are between the ages of 12 – 18 and are interested in one of the classes then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Also don’t forget you can follow us on Instagram @dancewellcentre and like us on Facebook too.

 

And just in case you are worried – don’t be! I’m still planning to keep this blog going with it’s original intended purpose – to provide interesting and useful articles for dancers and dance teachers.