"Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." - Jim Rohn
With the Nutcracker performance season upon us, dancers will be spending extra hours in rehearsals, numerous hours in theaters, and will be expending tons of energy entertaining countless audience members. While performing is the ultimate goal of dance training, it still takes a toll on the body. My last post addressed the risk of injuries that result from overused and fatigued muscles. Over the long term, cross-training and periodic training can help prepare dancers for the stress of performance, but it is also important for dancers to know how to care for their muscles during the performance season.
It is extremely important for dancers to warm-up before all rehearsals and performances. Warming-up increases blood flow to the muscles, which ensures the delivery of oxygen and fuel, and raises the internal temperature of the muscles, which leads to the increased flexibility necessary to perform beautiful grand jetés and développés. Most companies will hold a formal warm-up class before rehearsals and performances, but if there is not one available, it is each dancer’s responsibility to take the time to sufficiently warm-up his or her body to reduce the risk of injury.
After the warm-up is complete and while the dancers are waiting for their turns on stage, is the perfect time to don all those fashionable sweaters and leg warmers that dancers always carry around in their bags. Many dancers mistakenly wear these clothes at the beginning of class and peel them off as the body grows warm. Their intended purpose is to keep already warmed-up muscles from growing cold while waiting.
Drinking water is also a necessity to keep muscles working well. Hydration is extremely important when trying to avoid muscle cramps. Muscles are 70% water, which is why the fibers can move freely against each other. When muscles are dehydrated, the lubrication decreases and movement becomes painful.
Muscles should definitely be stretched once a performance and/or rehearsal are completed. Static stretching in the wings before an entrance will not help a performance. Instead it may hinder it! My post on different types of stretching will help you understand why static stretching before a performing may actually decrease a muscle’s ability to contract efficiently. When static stretching follows a performance, however, it is a valuable part of the cool-down that keeps dancers flexible and allows time for the internal temperature of the muscles to gradually decrease. Stretching and cooling down reduce the chance that muscles will cramp or go into spasm when leaving the studio or theater. Being sure to wear warm clothes over dance clothes will also help keep muscles from cramping when dancers leave a warm studio or theater and move out into colder air.
Finally, a snack that is high in protein will help repair any minor muscle damage that might have occurred while dancing and help ensure that the muscles will be ready for another several hours of rehearsing and/or performing the following day.