Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Importance of Massage for Dancers

Dance can be an extremely physically demanding activity; training, rehearsals, and performances are physically intensive. Also all our daily activities put our body through stresses; sitting for long periods, driving or working on computer creates tension in the body and physical activities such as running or going to the gym can be physically demanding. Every day life stresses, emotions mental stress all affect our physical self.

The demand for sports massage and other massage therapies are increasing and becoming more recognised as a skill that enhances our overall well being. Due to intensive training, hectic schedules and stresses of every day life we are more prone to overworking our bodies and may suffer from muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.  Physical tension in our body can have a negative affect on our mental and emotional well being so releasing excessive tension can enhance our mental health and promote relaxation and a sense of calm.

Overuse Injuries in Dance

Overuse injuries occur because muscles are worked hard during training, rehearsal or performance and are not rested fully.  In the next class, rehearsal or performance the muscles are not fully recovered from the last session. It is as important to have a high quality recovery practice to maintain wellbeing and enhance your true potential. Overuse is the most common cause of muscular imbalances and injury in dance. If these are not noticed early on they can impair performance or worse can lead to chronic injures. See the dance Injuries article for more information.

Recovery From Physical Activity

Instinctively the body heals itself it performs the recovery process through circulation of the blood flushing out waste products that build up in the muscles during intense physical activity. It provides nutrients and repairs any tissue damage however this process takes time and a rest period is necessary. Dancers’ schedule often makes this required rest period very difficult to achieve. Massage is a safe and effective method of speeding up the recovery process.


Benefits of Massage for Dancers:

  • Massage aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
  • Massage helps prevent injury
  • Massage enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
  • Massage aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
Massage can be an integral element to a dancers training or work schedule. If the dancer of company can budget for it, massage sessions by a qualified therapist can be programmed into training, rehearsal and performance schedule. However understanding time and money restraints dancers’ face I suggest learning and practicing simple self massage techniques as this can benefit dancers greatly.

Why Self-Massage for Dancers

Massage is extremely effective for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculoskeletal system. Regular massage may help prevent injuries as a constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments, tendons, as well as the muscles themselves. Self massage improves they way you feel and enhances your performance, simple self massage techniques can help aid recovery and release muscular tension.

It is important to learn simple massage skills to be able to incorporate massage into your training and is helpful to have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, especially the muscular and skeletal systems. By understanding these systems and the effects of exercise you can also appreciate how massage benefits you. It becomes an integral part of your dance training and can ultimately enhance your performance. The wonderful aspect about self massage is it is instinctive and easy to learn as you are learning about your own body’s needs.

When Not To Massage

There are times when massage could be detrimental rather than beneficial to you.

The basic contraindications to massage are:

  • Feeling unwell or body temperature over 100°F
  • Injury, wounds, recent bruising, muscle tears or sprains
  • Bacterial infection or other infections
  • If you react adversely to massage treatment
  • If your suffer any symptoms seek advice from a doctor
Self massage can be practiced anytime, anywhere, but its advisable not to when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

Massage Techniques

There are many massage techniques but generally they are applied with the main pressure being directed towards the heart. This ensures that no undue pressure of blood being pushed against closed valves causes any damage to them. Exceptions to this rule, for example, compression is where pressure is applied directly downwards for a short time therefore no risk of the build up of pressure or damage to blood vessels.

Massage Techniques include:

  • Strokes
  • Brushing
  • Compression
  • Squeezing
  • Stretching
  • Shaking


Self Massage Tips

  • The basic movements comprise stroking and brushing with gentle pressure
  • Use a wide surface area of the palm of the hand and fingers
  • Hold the muscle being massaged in a relaxed and shortened position
  • Squeeze the muscle and stroke up the limb e.g. leg. Always apply pressure with stokes towards the heart
  • On the return, you maintain, light contact and avoid the path taken on the upward stroke
  • Your hands are relaxed and softly moulded around the natural contours of your body
  • Perform passive stretches to the muscle groups after you have massaged them
  • Note if you feel acute pain, if so STOP and seek medical advice

Benefits of Self Massage:

Research shows massage provides several important health benefits, including:
  • warms muscle tissue, increases blood flow to muscles
  • increases blood flow & improves blood circulation
  • improve flexibility & increases range of motion
  • stimulates peripheral nerves
  • relieves muscle soreness
  • aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
  • enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
  • aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
  • boost immunity by stimulating the production of white blood cells
  • helps you relax and improve your mental energy helps alleviate stress
  • increases endorphin levels (the feel good chemicals in your body)

    These benefits are accumulative so as you continue to practice the art of self massage regularly the more you will enhance your well being.
As a dancer you can enhance your dance ability, boost your health and vitality, reduce muscle soreness, prevent the risk of injury and increase your dance performance through a regular practice of self massage.

Self Massage Videos by Laura Stanyer

These self massage videos below are designed for you to easily learn them as you follow along.  They are designed to unwind after a long day or after intense physical activity to release excessive tension and reduce stress.  Uses this self-massage at the end of a long day or after a physical activity like intense dance class or a run as a part of you cool down sequence.

When to self massage
These sequences are designed to release excessive tension after physical activity of after along day it’s advisable not to massage when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

What to wear
These sequences are designed through the clothing; make sure you are wearing loose comfortable clothing that doesn’t cause any restrictions to your movement or breathing. Avoid tight clothing like jeans as you must be comfortable.

Make sure you are comfortable
It is best if you are comfortable and relaxed, sit in a comfortable supportive chair or work on the floor on a mat in a comfortable position.  Have supportive cushions for your back or behind your knees if you need to and make sure you are in a warm and well-ventilated room.  It is important to be comfortable and maintain a neutral upright posture not to put excessive stress on you body.

Apply gentle pressure
Always start with light pressure in order to gently warm up and gauge sensitivity and your body’s reaction to touch.  Never put pressure directly through the joints such as the vertebrae in your neck.  Apply light pressure using the pads of your finger tips and the surface area of your hands; fingers, palms and heels of the hand.

Focus on natural breathing
It is important to maintain relaxed, gentle breathing throughout and you can visualize your muscles relaxing and energy flowing through the area to enhance your well being.

How often to self massage
It is possible to receive the benefits if you only participate in self massage a few times a week. These self massage sequences can also be performed each day as regular practice enhances your overall well being.

Like any physical skill, self massage is a practice that can be cultivated over a lifetime and it is a great skill that enhances your overall well being.  Do not become impatient or easily discouraged.  Make a long-term commitment to your self massage practice and over time you will positively discover the benefits.

Self Massage for the Head, Neck and Shoulders

Self Massage for the Leg

Self Massage for the Foot

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

Visualisation for Dancers

Your imagination is a powerful inner resource that you can tap into to achieve your best with greater consistency.  It can enhance the manifestation of your dreams and goals in dance and in life as it allows you to put yourself into the appropriate state of mind, be in the flow state where everything is effortless and flows beautifully.

The aims of visualisation techniques are to focus the dancer so that they are positive and confident in their ability and enjoy the experience of learning and performing and achieve their true potential.

Scientists have discovered there is an area of the brain called the pre motor cortex that is activated when you imagine your body moving, the area that plans movement so when you rehearse a dance skill or sequence in your mind you create neural pathways in your brain as if you were actually moving and performing the sequence. All without moving a muscle this means when you do perform the skill or sequence you should find it easier as the pathways in your brain are already in place.

Generally dancers spend most of their time physically training and rehearing for performance but they don’t spend enough time preparing themselves psychologically for the pressures of dance training, rehearsal and performance.  Visualisation enhances your dance performance, this is especially important for the skills or strategies where there is little opportunity in daily training or rehearsal, the situations that only happen in performance.

Repeatedly rehearsing in your mind allows you to strengthen the neural pathways that will produce the step or sequence and help to refine your skills without putting the body through excessive stress. It enables you to rehearse anywhere.

Visualisation involves the dancer imagining themselves in a class, rehearsal or performance. The visualisations have the dancer performing the skill or sequence at their very best, enjoying the experience. Enter completely into the visualisation with all your senses: visual, sound, touch, smell and felt sense. Being in a totally relaxed state allows you to be receptive to visualisation.

Benefits of Visualisation:

  • Enhances learning and motivation
  • Enhances self-confidence, helps to visualise success
  • Create coping strategies in stressful situations
  • Enhance focus, concentration and self-discipline
Just as you practice dance skills, visualisation needs to be practised on a regular basis for you to become highly skilled and can be incorporated into your training or daily routine.

Visualisation for rehearsal of specific movements

Visualisation used to learn and rehearse specific movements or dance skills enhances learning and performance. Visualisation can explore the mechanics of how to execute the movement and can allow a dancer to explore symbolic sense the quality or energy related to improve a particular dance skill. For example, whilst executing a pirouette a dancer may visualise spinning like a top.

Visualisation for rehearsal

Visualisation can enhance you learning ability when learning new movement sequences or choreography for performance. It can enhance the dramatic aspects of a dancer character within a piece of choreography by imaging the emotions or motives felt by the character they are performing. Rehearsing in your mind allows the body to rest while strengthening the neural pathways in your brain.

Visualisation for Performance

To reach your true potential in dance it is important you have a high level of confidence in your ability to perform at your best consistently.  It is important to visualise yourself performing in a confident manner in full control of yourself excelling in you execution and feeling confident within the performance environment.

Positive Mental Attitude

Breaking negative behavioural patterns by the use of a trigger - a word, phrase or action can help to prevent negative attitudes when learning.

A trigger can be:
  • A word or phrase spoken inside your head
  • A physical action, for example squeezing first finger and thumb together
  • A physical reminder, for example a wristband
When hearing, seeing or feeling the trigger you can shift your focus gaining a positive uplifting thought for a boost of motivation.

Visual Practice: Role Model

Observing a professional dancer who has practised the skills countless times can give you an excellent role model to develop the same skill you are hoping to learn. You can visualise being them or performing the skills as they do.

Visualisation and Goal Setting

Setting goals within training and performance is a useful tool to measure your progress. It provides an opportunity to improve your skills or learn new skills, technique or choreography. It allows you to review your training methods if you do not meet your original goals.
  • Specific - Goals are focused on precisely what you want to achieve. For example: goal to improve jumps and landings
  • Measurable - Assess your level of success so you can review your own progress. For example: a goal to improve the number of successful double pirouettes once you have achieved a successful single pirouette
  • Accepted - You and your teacher or choreographer agree on what your goals are
  • Realistic - You are able to achieve the goals you have set yourself
  • Time limit - You should set target dates to achieve your goals. For example: goal in 2 months to be able to handstand unsupported
  • Enthusiasm - You should be challenged and stimulated by your goal
  • Record - Keep a written record of how and when you achieve your goal to assess your progress

Visualisation Exercises

How to use these audio guided visualisations

NEVER listen to this audio recording when driving or when you need to concentrate on a particular task.  Only listen when you can relax and not be disturbed from any distractions.

This audio recording will guide you into a state of relaxation, it is best to be comfortable and either sit or lay down in a comfortable place free from distractions.

We advise you listen to this audio recording through headphones for best results.  To begin with, it is best to listen on a daily basis to develop your visualisation skills.

Audio running time: approx 20 minutes, as this audio recording is specially designed to become a part of your dance practice. 

Peak Performance Visualisation
Visualise actually attaining your best performance, such as receiving major recognition or a standing ovation and what it would be like.  Most success stories are first preceded by envisioning the success accomplished, visualisation is like role playing success.

Peak Performance Visualisation helps nurture strong belief in your self which provides the motivational fuel to put in the daily effort and discipline required to arrive at best achievements.

Peak Performance Visualization by lstanyer

Peak Performance Recall Visualisation

Recall is a technique that allows you to recall a positive perfromance experience. By remembering and feeling the positive sensations your body will go into the experience of flow which enables you to be relaxed and focused and in control.

Recall an experience where you were at your peak in performance, feeling wonderful. Recapture the feelings, sounds etc. and enhance them make them more vivid in light, colour, positive feelings and sounds. Watch your own feature film of your best performances when you need a boost of confidence.

Peak Performance Recall Visualization by lstanyer


Visualisation practice empowers and centres you for performance, allowing you to enter deeply into the present moment and harness your true potential. Along with diaphragmatic breathing it calms and unclutters your mind leading you to a place of freedom and unselfconsciousness. Visualisation is a very personal experience and skill that takes practice to discover its depth and power.

Visualization Skills in Dance Practice by Laura Stanyer

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

Relaxation for Dancers


I incorporate relaxation, visualisation and massage within dance  my dance practice to develop the mental and physical skills necessary for dancers to achieve their true potential in dance, enhance performance and well being. There are many benefits to relaxation practice for dancers.

Physiological Benefits of Relaxation:

  • A decreased heart rate and respiration rate
  • Reduces muscular tension
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Decreases chortisol (a main stress hormone)
  • Improves circulation
  • Increases alpha brainwaves (related to creativity and the flow state)

Psychological Benefits of Relaxation:

  • Greater mental clarity
  • Improves concentration
  • Greater mental control
  • Enhances creativity
  • Enhances a healthy sense of humour
  • Allows mental openness and clam

Relaxation is a skill

Relaxation is a skill that allows you to focus on a goal, gives you the opportunity to be creative and reach your greatest potential. Like any skill it takes continuous practice to develop.

Relaxation training can:

  • Cultivate your ability to learn
  • Counteract the effects of stress
  • Facilitate to achieve your true potential and enhances creativity

How we learn new dance moves (motor skills)

Learning a new physical skill is a complicated process as you learn you create and strengthen new neural pathways in your brain. When we master a new motor skill, or a simple dance move thousands of neurons in our brain have to fire simultaneously.
As you begin to learn a new dance skill at first it feels awkward and the movement is clumsy, as you practice the new moves your body will be learning via biofeedback. At first you need to concentrate on what you are doing to connect your mind to your body allowing your brain to create new neural pathways, you will make many mistakes but it is these experiences that amount to learning.

As you practice the dance steps repeatedly the neural pathways become stronger and stronger and the new step becomes easier as you establish a more solid pathway in your brain. Through practice a new dance skill will gradually improve and refine the skill until it becomes effortless, many complex actions become instinctive through continuous practice. Scientific research suggests it takes approximately 180 repetitions for a new movement to become automatic and is then hard wired into your brain.

How relaxation cultivates your ability to learn

Often as we learn new dance skills our idea of success interferes with the process of learning. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the experience we think having focused determination is the only way to achieve success and excellence. We relate discipline with hard work and do not allow ourselves to learn through play or joy. Our idea of perfection and achieving the skill immediately doesn’t permit relaxation to be a factor in dance training.
For instance when learning a new dance skill you are unable to achieve it straight away, you may become frustrated and try even harder to perform a dance skill exactly. However, the more effort you put in the worse it becomes. For example, trying too hard to achieve a pirouette, the more you attempt to prepare to balance and propel yourself into the turn the more you fall of the point of balance. If you find yourself in a downward tendency of trying harder with worse results this is the time to try and relax and explore a gentle playful approach.
If you try to relax and have fun you are more likely to see positive results because it is often your perception of what you think is right that blocks the process of learning.

Relaxation counteracts the effects of stress

Rest and relaxation allows you to maintain your health and well-being and a balance of work, rest and play. Learning how to relax can help you find an inner calm which allows you to connect to your natural abilities and reduces tension.
Relaxation training also improves our reaction to stress both physiologically and psychologically, which means we react more rapidly to a stressor and recover more quickly. When we are tense we tend to be slower to react and slower to recover from stress. For example, a relaxed person would react more quickly to a shockingly loud noise and recover almost instantly where as a tense person would be slower to react and would take a lot longer to recover from the shock.
The mental stress on dancers is high, especially at professional level. They perform week after week, observed by audiences and critics the effect of negative feedback can result in bad performance and affect their personal and professional life.
Mental preparation allows dancers and performers to focus; to set goals and to plan for and manage the stress of performing. It enables the dancer to raise their self-esteem and to help them maintain a high level of motivation during training, rehearsal and performance.

Relaxation permits creativity

At peaceful moments; just when you are falling asleep or a walk in nature is when we become inspired. This is when we are tapping into our alpha state; this is the state of mind when we are relaxed and extremely creative. Relaxation creates space for original thinking to occur; this is often referred to as being in the flow or zone.
Cultivating the skill of being in the here and now, being in the moment allows you to calm down, relax and enjoy the experience of dancing, learning or performing being in the moment rather than rush through the experience.

Relaxation Visualisation
This visualization is useful for eliminating negative thoughts and feelings that cause distractions that may interfere with your activity.  It enables you to focus on being at your very best.  This part of the visualization may be listened to working towards an up and coming important event.  Also, only listen to it several hours before an up and coming event as you need time to re-energise and prepare for the event.

Let Go Of Worry One by Laura Stanyer

Part two is to be listened to after the event or day and at a time you can relax to allow you to start to assess any other stress that may be affecting you.

Let Go Of Worry Two by Laura Stanyer

Relaxation Exercise
This exercise is designed to help you relax and can be performed in isolation or incorporated into your warm up to help you achieve optimal level of arousal and combined with your cool down to enhance your recovery.
When you begin relaxation exercises wear loose comfortable clothing, sit or lay down in a quiet and tranquil space with your feet hip width apart, arms relaxed by your sides. Use a mat or cushions. Allow your body to melt into the chair or floor releasing any tension you may feel from your shoulders, neck, legs, and wiggle your fingers and toes.

PMR (Progressive Muscular Relaxation)

Progressive Muscular Relaxation is a method of tensing and relaxing muscle groups or body areas to release excessive tension. This can be completed with eyes open or closed.

PMR Exercise

Tense each muscle group or body area for approximately 10 seconds. Then let go completely allowing the tension to be released and focus on the relaxed area for approximately 15 seconds allowing the area to feel heavy, warm and completely relaxed.

Sitting or lying down in a comfortable space tense and release:

  • Feet and toes Legs and calves
  • Buttocks and thighs
  • Stomach and lower back
  • Chest and neck
  • Shoulders, arms and fingers
  • Face, jaw, forehead, cheeks and tongue
  • Whole body
Now observe how loose your body feels, a calm sensation through floating your body.
Relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques allow you to maximize your mind body connection and enhance your true potential in dance. Breathing exercises promote relaxation, to find out more go to the breathing article.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

Good Posture - Postural Alignment for Dancers


Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against force of gravity while standing, sitting or moving. It is important to understand the correct position of the body parts and the process of adjusting body parts so that they are stacked equally on top of one another in a healthy position. Good posture requires the least amount of muscle activity to maintain an upright position.

Posture is important for good health as:

  • It allows us to be active with more energy, less stress and fatigue
  • It allows musclo-skeletal system to hold the body parts in place
  • It allows space for your vital organs to function at optimal efficiency
  • It allows you to breathe more efficiently
  • It promotes efficient functioning of the nervous system

What is Neutral Alignment?

Specialised muscle groups known as postural muscles work against the downward pull of gravity to maintain an upright posture.
To maintain neutral alignment these postural muscles that run up the front and the back of the body, cross all weight baring joints work constantly against gravity to hold the body in a neutral position. The aim is to maintain a balance when still or moving but with no extra tension. It is important to be aware that you inherit postural factors however, changes take place throughout your life depending on the way you use your body. Also be aware that your posture constantly changes depending on the activity you are engaged in, whether you are sitting or standing for long periods of time or dancing, your musclo-skeletal system is constantly working to maintain alignment.

Short Term Changes

Short-term changes occur as physical, mental or emotional stresses during the day can cause fatigue in the postural muscles making them less efficient at working against gravity.

Long Term Changes

The cumulative effect of these short term changes, plus other factors like injury, can lead to more permanent changes in posture as bone structure alters due to prolonged muscle imbalances.

Possible of Causes Postural Changes:

  • Hereditary factors
  • Environment resulting from bad posture, for example how you sit
  • Stress mental, physical or emotional
  • Repetitive action - muscles shorten, overuse and muscle imbalance
  • Trauma effects of an accident or injury
  • Disease affecting the musclo-skeletal system

Ideal Alignment (Neutral)

Every human body is unique and from the moment we are born various factors, (gravity and the activities we engage in) alter our posture therefore muscle imbalance and misalignment will affect all of us to a greater or lesser extent.

Alignment from the front

Imagine a thread though the head giving a feeling of upward lift, through neck and upper spine, keeping the body light and open. Imagine a sense of relaxation and downward movement by a thread through the base of the spine.
  • Stand with your feet in parallel placed hip width apart; spread your weight equally between both feet
  • Head floating on top of neck with neck long and centred
  • Chest area open with a light lift of sternum (do not overarch in lower back)
  • Shoulders relaxed - blades go down back and inwards
  • Arms hang from the shoulders, hands relaxed
  • Ribcage down with abdominals gently engaged
  • Pelvis in neutral alignment, supporting the lumbar spine
  • Hips level (imagine triangle reaching from one hip bone to the other, down to your pubic bone. Each point of the triangle is at the same level)
  • Buttock, thighs and tail bone are relaxed avoid arching lower back
  • Knees in line with feet, keep knees soft
  • Weight is equally distributed between the feet and evenly distributed over 3 points on feet: under big toe, little and heel with natural arches and toes relaxed

Assess alignment from the side

Line of gravity
This is an imaginary line, which falls vertically through the body and is a useful measure when assessing posture.

From a side view standing upright the line of gravity passes through:

 The line of gravity will not fall through all of these points if posture is incorrect and will move as the position of the body changes.

Common Postural Problems

When viewed from the side the spine's natural position appears as an S shape curve. The bones are formed into four distinct curves of the spine, which are held together and supported by the back muscles and ligaments. It allows movement of the head and trunk and supports and maintains the centre support for the entire body and supports the upper parts of the body. For many people this natural spinal alignment is misalignment due to incorrect postural habits such as sitting or standing awkwardly.
KyphosisLordosisFlat BackScolosis
Exaggerated outward curvature of thoracic spine
Muscle imbalance:
  • Weak lower back muscles
  • Tight chest muscles
Exaggerated inward curvature of lumbar spine (swayback)
Muscle imbalance:
  • Weak Abdominal muscles
  • Tight hip flexors and lower back

Diminished inward curvature of the lumbar spineExaggerated lateral curvature of any part of the spine

Laura Stanyer's Postural Visualization, watch and follow along to release tension and promote awareness of you body and alignment.  Enjoy!

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Power of Breathing


Breathing is a vital element for relaxation and physical activity such as dance; being able to control your breathing pattern allows you to maintain self-control and help to relieve your body of excessive tension. Breathing is the process by which living cells in the body receive a constant supply of oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. Oxygen is needed by each cell in the body for survival as every bodily function and all movement requires oxygen.

The Mechanism of Breathing

It is a passive process by which air is drawn in and forced out of the lungs by the combined action of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles. The process of exhalation becomes an active one when we require exhaling more air for example when we cough, also dancing requires more oxygen.

Interesting Fact: The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle of respiration and is responsible for 75% of the air drawn into the lungs. Correct breathing enhances our oxygen supply to allow us to function efficiently.

This active process is assisted by other muscles including:

  • Internal Intercostals
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Transverse Abdominus
  • Rectus Abdominus
All help to compress the abdomen and squeeze more air out of the lungs.
The special nature of breathing being both passive and active process (happens automatically and be under our conscious control) is because the parts of our brain that controls our breathing also controls our emotions, therefore our emotions affect our physiological and psychological state. Most people do not breathe efficiently we are habitual shallow breathers because we only use a small part of our lungs.

Interesting Fact: Our mental or emotional state is reflective in our breathing and our breathing can impact on our emotional state. Learning to control our breathing patterns will allow us to gain greater control over our emotions especially in times of stress.

Causes for shallow breathing include:

  • Stress
  • Bad posture
  • Lack of cardiovascular exercise
Just like dance training or mental skills practising breathing techniques can improve your well-being. The aim of breathing exercises is to breathe with maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

The process of inhalation

During inhalation the diaphragm contracts and flattens this increases the volume and size of the chest cavity. This lowers the pressure inside the chest, because the pressure inside the body is lower than the pressure outside the air is drawn into the lungs. At the same time the external intercostal muscles contract lifting the ribcage up and outwards, further increasing the volume and size of the chest cavity. 25% of the air is drawn in by the external intercostal muscles.



The process of exhalation

During exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its dome shape pushing the chest cavity upwards and reducing the chest cavity's volume and size. This increases the pressure inside the body, the air rushes out as the pressure is lower outside the body. At the same time the external intercostal muscles relax allowing the ribs to lower down and inwards decreases size of the chest cavity.




Breathing Exercises

These exercises can be performed laying down, sitting or standing but it is recommended firstly to lie on your back on a mat with a pillow under your knees and one under your head for support and comfort. The diaphragm is not working against gravity and prevents you using other voluntary muscles and allows you to focus on working the appropriate muscles.

Awareness of breath exercise

Place one hand on your chest and one on your lower abdomen to feel where you are breathing from:
  • Is your chest lifting?
  • Is your stomach expanding?
If you are breathing correctly, when you breathe in the hand placed on your lower abdomen should lift first and then your chest lifts upwards and expands but do not lift your shoulders.

Deep abdominal breathing

Learning deep or diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help to increase the vital capacity and the function of our lungs.

Benefits of breathing exercises:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Decreased respiration rate
  • Reduces hyper tension
  • Improves circulation

Slow diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing into your lower abdomen before filling your chest cavity. This optimises oxygen consumption this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and your brain to function more efficiently. If you are unaccustomed to deep breathing the following exercise may make you feel tired at first, do persevere as it will take less effort to breathe, it will enhance the co-ordination of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles when breathing. This will assist in breathing co-ordination when you dance.

Deep Abdominal Breathing Exercise
Inhale - Inhale slowly and deeply, say four counts. Breathe as fully as you can without discomfort. Imagine your torso slowly filling with air.
Pause - When you have completely inhaled, hold your breath for four counts. This is a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.
Exhale - Exhale slowly and continually for four counts, letting the air out through your mouth slowly. Let out as much air as you can, down to the lower part of the lungs and feel yourself relaxing and any tension flowing out of you.
Pause - Once more when you have completely exhaled, hold your breath for four counts, releasing any further tension. This feels like a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.

Many people find diaphragmatic breathing difficult at first as we are habitually shallow breathers but with practice it does become easier. If it is very difficult reduce the number of counts to two or three and build up to four. The important thing is to establish the slow relaxed breathing rate.

Rhythmic Breathing

When you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try this exercise. Rhythmic breathing exercise allows you to gain greater control over your breathing, and more control over your voice. As you make progress, you can begin to increase the counts but to further develop breathing control hold different counts on inhalation, exhalation and the pauses between.

Mantra Breathing

Once you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try adding positive words or phrases to your breathing. Mantras are sounds, words or phrases that are used to focus your concentration in a positive way. You can say them out loud or internally. If you choose to say the mantra out loud let the sound resonate in your chest.

The mantra should naturally fall into rhythm with your breathing. Make sure that the mantra follows your breathing.

Let go of any concerns that may arise about whether you are doing the mantra properly, there is no right or wrong way but what is right for you. Allow the wonderful silence to refresh your mind and emotions.

At the end of your breathing exercise you will begin to feel a calm feeling of warmth radiating from your core throughout your body. Bring your breathing to its natural state and focus on the pleasant feelings in your body.

If you ever feel stress, attempt to bring your attention back to you breathing, this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and our brain to function more efficiently and will having a calming effect.


Bring your attention to your breath throughout your day:

  • If you are watching the time – breathe
  • When waiting - breathe
  • Before you start a dance class – breathe
  • Before you start a rehearsal – breathe
  • Before you start a performance – breathe
  • Before you start filming – breathe
By focusing on your breathing the mind is soothed and the body is nourished with fresh oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply combined with relaxation and visualisation in dance can ease tension in you mind and body allowing you to move freely and reach your true potential.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Importance of Cardiovascular Endurance for the Dancer

There is a misconception that the majority of dancers are physically fit and have strong cardiovascular endurance. Dance activity generally stops and starts utilising the anaerobic system therefore the aerobic system is not engaged. Generally dancers lack cardiovascular fitness this can lead to injury. Ideally cardiovascular training needs to be incorporated into the dance technique class to enhance your dance ability as well as your fitness, health and wellbeing.

Reasons why dancers do not have cardiovascular fitness:

  • Technique class stops and starts does not engage the aerobic system
  • Dancers are often overworked with too much time spent in class, rehearsal and performance
  • Dancers do not engage in enough rest, leisure time and relaxation

Benefits of Cardiovascular Endurance Exercise for dancers:

  • Improves your posture and health
  • Enhances stamina which improves your performance ability
  • Increases oxygen supply to muscles - efficient functioning Improves your anaerobic ability
  • Reduces the risk of fatigue, enhances concentration and reduces stress levels
  • Boosts your immune system and reduces the risk of injury

Understanding the Cardiovascular System

Cardiovascular endurance depends on the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to where it is needed and to continue for long periods of time under stress.
In reality most types of dance training involves stopping and starting; performing short movement sequences with intermittent periods of no activity where you observe the next sequence, this way of working only develops your anaerobic system it does not develop your aerobic capacity.

Anaerobic and Aerobic Systems

Anaerobic System

Anaerobic simply means without oxygen.
As you begin physical activity there is a sudden demand for energy, the body will use up its first energy store then go onto to use up the stores of glycogen (broken down from carbohydrates) stored in the muscles as the energy is not available in the form of oxygen. This is because the body is working so hard that the demands for oxygen exceed the rate of supply.

Lactic Acid

During anaerobic activity the waste product lactic acid is produced. As there is no oxygen supply to the muscles the lactic acid will build up and can be the cause of muscle soreness and you will be forced to ease of or stop. You will be unable to return to activity until the lactic acid is removed. As you rest oxygen is supplied to the muscles replenishing the energy stores and you soon will be able to return.
When you start any physical activity you will use the anaerobic system, however, if the activity is low in intensity your body will be able to supply oxygen to your muscles and continue as you engage in the aerobic system.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is intense exercise lasting approximately one to three minutes (Lactic System) the demand is sudden or large that the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen to the working muscles.

High intensity, short duration:

  • Running up the stairs
  • Sprinting
  • Dance - centre work e.g. short jump sequence
  • Dance - short sequence across the room

Aerobic System

Aerobic simply means with oxygen
Oxygen is delivered around the body via the blood stream and pumped by the heart. The aerobic system can only work when the energy demand is low intensity for the heart to provide the muscles with sufficient supply of oxygen. In aerobic activity the body is working at a level in which the supply of oxygen is sufficient to the body's demands for oxygen.
The aerobic system breaks down glycogen (carbohydrates) as energy and if you continue over thirty minutes of aerobic activity at low intensity you will begin to break down fats. The only waste products formed are carbon dioxide and water. These are removed as you sweat and by breathing out.

Aerobic Exercise

The oxygen is delivered around the body; the aerobic system can only function when the energy demand is low enough for the heart to supply the muscles with sufficient oxygen.

Low to moderate intensity, long duration activities:

  • Walking or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Continuous low intensity dance (such as the five rhythms)

Aerobic Endurance Exercise

This variation is when exercise continues at a low level over a long period of time to build cardiovascular fitness.

Low intensity activities over half an hour:

  • An hour’s walk
  • 30 minute swim
  • 30 minute cycle (stationary bike)
  • Continuous low intensity dance (such as the five rhythms)

Aerobic Endurance Training

Aerobic endurance is developed through the use of continuous rhythmical activity to improve maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max).

VO2 max

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use to produce the energy you require for any physical activity.
It is important for dancers to progressively improve their cardiovascular endurance, training only occurs after thirty minutes of continuous activity where the pulse rate is sufficiently increased to improve your maximum aerobic capacity (V02 max). Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, (cardiovascular) system. An aerobically fit dancer can rehearse or perform for longer, more vigorously and achieve a quicker recovery. It is beneficial to participate in cardiovascular endurance activities 3 to 5 times per week.

Aims of aerobic endurance training:

  • Improve the heart and cardiovascular system so blood (and oxygen) can be delivered around the body more efficiently
  • Increase the body's ability to utilise oxygen
  • Increase the body's ability to recover from heavy bouts of intense exercise (dance).

Training Intensity

It is important to work out how hard you are working by measuring your heart rate. During exercise your heart rate goes up; the harder you work, the faster the heart beats. Everyone has a maximum heart rate, calculating how close your heart rate is to its maximum during exercise enable you to check the intensity of your workout.
When participating in cardiovascular endurance training, the most efficient way to strengthen the heart is to aim for a training threshold. This is a percentage of your maximum heart rate, and should be the level your heart is working on for 20-30 minutes at least.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Resting heart rate

Find your pulse in your wrist or neck, and count the number of beats for 6 seconds then multiply the number of beats by 10 e.g. you count 12 (12 x 10 = 120) your heart rate is 120 beats per minute (BPM).
Or for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 4

Maximum heart rate

The maximum heart rate is estimated by taking your age away from 220. e.g. 220 take away (your age) 20 = 200 BPM.

Target heart rate for exercise

AgeMaximum Heart Rate (BPM)Target Heart Rate (BPM)
Anaerobic (85% of Max)Aerobic (70% of Max)Aerobic Endurance (80% of Max)
Example: 18
20 – 29
30 – 39
40 – 49
50 – 59
200 – 191
190 – 181
180 – 171
170 – 161
170 – 162
161 – 154
153 – 145
144 – 137
140 – 134
133 – 137
126 – 120
119 – 113
120 – 114
114 – 109
108 – 103
102 – 97
A target heart rate would be at least 60% or at the most 85% of your maximum heart rate. When you first start a cardiovascular fitness programme, your target heart rate, during exercise, should be 60% of the predicted maximum heart rate. It is optimum to build up to 30 minutes working at 75% of your maximum heart rate.

Cardiovascular Endurance in Dance

Ideally cardiovascular training is incorporated within the dance training itself with the later part of a technique class training the cardio vascular system. For example, travel and jump combinations lasting at least 32 to 48 bars in duration and including longer dance combinations dividing the class so the dancers receive adequate rest period to recover from the cardiovascular workout.

In my personal experience I found African dance training incorporates both the aerobic and anaerobic systems with appropriate rest and recovery periods maybe other dance technique classes can learn from this model.

If cardiovascular training is not an integral part of your dance training it is important that dancers find an appropriate cardiovascular routine to compliment your dance training, rehearsal or performance also allowing for adequate rest periods.

Enhanced cardiovascular endurance can enhance you dance skill, fitness and can prevent injury from occurring due to fatigue. With all dance training a warm up and cool down sequence is required to maintain health and well being and enhance recovery. Improved cardiovascular fitness can enhance you dance ability and help you reach your true potential in dance performance.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Power Dance System and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.