It's not your mother's dance world anymore. The great dancers always have been great jocks, but well-rounded athletic ability is more important today than ever. So 21st century dancers of all stripes, from ballerinas to those appearing on "Dancing with the Stars," add gym workouts to their training. These workouts constitute cross-training -- using cardio training, weightlifting, stretching and other forms of exercise to augment and enhance your dance training.
When San Francisco ballet star Elizabeth Miner found herself winded onstage, she realized it was time to hit the gym and cross-train. In addition to Pilates, she began working out on an elliptical trainer for 30 minutes three times per week. The results were substantial. "I felt more in control, able to think about other things onstage, like the music and movement," she told "Pointe" magazine. Dance and fitness experts recommend elliptical machines, stationary bikes and swimming as excellent aerobic workouts for dancers. But you might want to avoid running on a treadmill or using a stair climber. Both activities can be tough on your joints and particularly on your knees.
"In the ballet world today, strong is the new skinny," writes Jennifer Curry Wingrove, a former ballet star who now teaches Pilates to dancers. "Legs are raised higher, the lifts are more acrobatic and dancers are much stronger overall." Some dancers shy away from weights, fearing they will develop bulky muscles instead of the long and sleek muscles of a dancer. But those worries are unfounded. As Broadway Dance Center states, you won't develop the physique of a bodybuilder "unless you're deliberately trying by drinking protein shakes and taking supplements." For maximum strength workouts, use heavier weights with fewer reps. For toning, lighter weights and more reps are recommended.
Flexibility and Balance
If you're a serious dancer, you're probably already into Pilates and/or yoga. When Pilates was invented by Joseph Pilates, who opened a studio in New York after emigrating to America in 1925, it attracted top dancers and teachers. The lure for dancers is as strong as ever. Pilates was created to build strength and increase flexibility without increasing bulk, so it has been referred to as "the cross-training of choice" for dancers. Dance Spirit says Pilates enhances your extension and movement quality when you dance. It also helps determine which parts of your body are weak or tight and thus prone to injury. Yoga also offers complementary benefits for dancers, ranging from stress relief to increased flexibility and balance. Yoga poses often focus on the feet, which enhance your balance and make your lower legs looser and more agile.
Lauren Warnecke, writing for Dance Advantage, recommends that you carefully consider what type of gym workout to adopt. "Ask yourself what you can get from this form of exercise that you can't otherwise get from dance," Warnecke advises. "If the answer is 'not much,' try something different." A gym workout that serves as an effective cross-training activity for a dancer "is not dissimilar from eating a balanced diet." The right gym workout for you will complement your dance classes and make you a totally fit dancer.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.