Safe and Comfortable Dancing
& 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
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
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
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
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.
a club newsletter, September 2014 and June 2016,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, January 2017.