A student of mine read in a dance article that stretching would not help because you just need strength to do the dance exercises instead of static stretching. She asked me about my expertisement about the subject.
“Stretching is important to us as dancers, because lack of flexibility is a performance limiting factor, but it's about how and when to stretch”.
Stretching is a natural movement! The first thing we do in the morning when we wake up is an organic stretch, which gives a refreshing and relaxing feeling. In general, a healthy degree of flexibility is important to keep the body stress-free and injury free because it plays an important role in everyday movements. With stretching, you can relax your body and mind, strengthen your muscles, make your muscles and tendons more flexible and increase your range of motion.
In my Bellydance classes I regularly deal with students who have suffered from joint problems such as a sensitive lower back for years, this group is generally somewhat older. It would be helpful for them to do flexibility exercises but only if it is performed slowly.
There are different types of stretching, but the two most common and effective ways of stretching are static and dynamic stretching.
Static stretching holds the positions for a longer time
With static stretching, your muscles are lengthened by bending, stretching and performing turning positions. The movements are performed slowly and you hold the positions for a longer time. This way the muscle is stretched to the maximum length. It is a safe and gentle way of stretching that can be performed by almost anyone.
Dynamic stretching keeps the body moving
Dynamic stretching works on the elasticity of muscles and tendons.
Here the joints are bent and stretched alternately so that you stretch the muscle and increase the range of movement. You do this by making swinging movements in a controlled speed without making it look choppy. Because the body keeps moving, you will exceed your limit faster is you don’t pay attention, making the body more injury sensitive than with static stretching.
When is the best time to stretch?
When I take a closer look at my own body, stretching in the morning to get my body switch on is, for me, very pleasant. These stretching sessions go a little further than the instinctive stretch, one would do when waking up. But this is purely personal and it is not of much use to you if you are less flexible, so let's look at it scientifically.
Research shows that static stretching leads to a temporary loss of muscle strength and dynamic stretching does not. That is why it is advisable to stretch dynamically before your training in your warm-up and not to stretch statically. Of course you can do static stretching after your training.
But if you think about this, you will come to the conclusion that we actually do static and dynamic stretching in class! Why do we do that? The duration of static stretching in class is too short for our way of moving that it would cost you muscle strength during your dance training. In addition, the temporary loss of strength lasts up to ten minutes. And don't you hear me say every time we do our glute contractions in straddle split, that it is not a stretch but an isometric exercise to strengthen the glutes?
Flexibility for dancers
I mentioned earlier that flexibility for dancers is an important factor. It’s hard for me to imagine a fabulous Taqsim piece without floor work. But as simple as the floor work can be, it is impressive and we watch breathlessly when we see a belly dancer doing this. It takes a certain amount of flexibility (and strength) that you need to work on, on a regular basis.
Regular stretching is therefore not only my advice but has also been shown to be necessary to improve flexibility for a long time.
According to Malachy McHugh, you should stretch each muscle group for 4-6 minutes. That takes a bit long in practice, but you can of course stretch several muscle groups at the same time. Do this after your workout because your muscles are warm and you have a greater range of motion. If you want to become more flexible, my advice is to stretch 10 minutes at least three times a week. If your schedule only allows it twice a week, that is fine and you will still notice a difference. If that doesn’t work it is always better to stretch once a week than not at all.
But what about strength in dance-oriented exercises?
Strength is needed to be able to do the belly dance exercises. Let's go back to the example of Taqsim with floor work. If you want to go from a vertical position to the ground to end up horizontally and wish to perform that in an elegant way, you need strength.
Without strength you would fall and that would hurt, it’s also not very elegant to look at and I think the audience would be divided into exuberant laughter and statements of uhhhs.
But suppose you are not yet into advanced floor work, but just want to frolic across the stage with your belly dance moves. You also need a strong body for that. And that dancers, happens with strength training outside of your dance classes. This is my new project “Train Like a Dancer”. I am working hard and the release is planned for September this year! Stay connected through the socials to get informed about the launch.
 (bron: Inspannings- en sportfysiologie)
The following resources were used for this blogpost:
(bron: Inspannings- en sportfysiologie)
(bron: Delavier's Womens Strength Training Anatomy Workouts)
(bron: Delavier's Stretching Anatomy)
(bron: Fitness trainer A, Fit!vak)
(bron: Alles over sport)
Hello! My name is Nargis!