Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Friday, 22 July 2011

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.


  1. Another lesser known relaxation technique is ASMR.

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