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Cross-Train to Improve Dance Skills

August 22, 2011

Cross-training is a concept from sport, used particularly by runners:

“Cross-training (also known as conditioning) refers to an athlete training in sports other than the one that athlete competes in with a goal of improving overall performance.” – Wikipedia

“Cross training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce boredom that creeps in after months of the same exercise routines. Cross training also allows you the ability to vary the stress placed on specific muscles or even your cardiovascular system.” – About.com

This concept can (and should!) also be applied to dance.

While many of our students “cross-train” between types of partner dances, it is valuable to think outside of dance when considering other activities you can do to enhance dance ability and skills, as well as improving fitness. Personally, my regular conditioning includes strength, balance and flexibility training 3 times per week, as well as cardiovascular exercise (running or elliptical machine) 2-3 times per week. I also frequently try to mix things up – for the past 13 months, I trained in pole fitness. Currently, I am taking Modern Dance classes.

Cross-Training Ideas

Here are some examples of popular activities that you can do to cross-train, and why these can help improve your dance skills as a bonus. Note that you should always check with your doctor or health professional before engaging in new physical activities.

Strength & balance training

Strength training

If, when you hear about “strength training”, you picture big, beefy guys grunting under huge weight stacks, it’s time to update your knowledge! My personal regimen is very creative and using weights is only a portion of what it includes. Every one of my workouts is unique and may include balancing, lifting my own body weight, suspension exercises, throwing balls, crawling on the floor, and – yes – dumbbells and weight stacks, too.

Improving muscle strength makes it possible for the body to successfully do more things. It can also make you a better dance partner: strength helps leaders better support followers in weight-assisted moves, while followers need strength to better support themselves in a dance. Other benefits include stronger bones, which is important as we age.

In Ottawa, I train with Stacey Segstro at Iron Rose Personal Training.

Cardiovascular training

Most people think of cardio training as a way to manage their body weight, but it’s also important for maintaining a healthy heart, lungs, and for endurance. In Ottawa, I love to jog on our incredible pathway system. Elliptical training machines provide an ideal cardiovascular workout if you need to avoid impact. Walking, hiking, roller-blading, skating – any of these fun activities can provide a good cardiovascular workout if they increase your heart rate for at least 20 minutes.

Yoga pose

If you’re just starting out, I recommend getting guidance from a personal trainer first. The Running Room offers running and walking clinics throughout Ottawa.

Yoga

Yoga is a truly complete form of exercise. It works strength, balance, alignment and flexibility. It can reduce and eliminate muscular-skeletal pain and strengthen you after injury. And, if you are open to it, it can also help you learn to clear your mind of distractions and negative thinking, which is very helpful in competitive settings.

I highly recommend the classes at Orleans Yoga Shala, particularly Derek Kendrick’s classes.

Ballet

Jazz dancing

Ballet and its concepts can be found in some form in most ballroom and contemporary dance styles – ballet forms are often either incorporated into or deliberately rejected by many other forms of dance. Ballet classes can introduce you to useful foundation technique and terminology, and can improve some near-universal skills such as posture, extension, turnout and alignment. As a bonus, you will be able to more greatly appreciate ballet when you see it danced!

In Ottawa, The School of Dance offers Adult Ballet classesCapital City Dance also offers drop-in and recreational classes.

Modern, Jazz, Contemporary dance

These forms of dance have become popular thanks to TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Like ballet classes, you will be introduced to foundation technique and terminology. You will also learn and practice emotional expression through movement to music, and you will learn about and expand your range of movement and ability to communicate with movement. As a bonus, you will better appreciate these forms of dance when you see them performed!

The School of Dance also offers Adult classes in these forms. Capital City Dance also offers drop-in and recreational classes.

Acrobatic fitness

Me, playing on aerial silks!

Acrobatic forms of fitness are gaining in popularity and availability. Examples include Pole Fitness, Aerial Silks, Trampolining and so on. My experience with Pole and Silks forced my brain to “re-learn” how to control my body in uncommon positions, particularly upside-down.

These forms of activity also improve strength, flexibility and balance in unexpected ways. They can also be vigorous and risky, so if you’re interested, start with an introductory class or two. Cherry Blossom Pole Dancing Studio offers “Pole Teaser” and Co-Ed drop-in classes.

The new Athletic Club at Trainyards offers interesting group fitness classes, such as suspension yoga, which uses silk ribbons/hammocks.

Other forms of partner dance

Studying other forms of partner dance can be both frustrating and rewarding: it is often difficult to “switch modes” between dances and exchange the habits of one dance for another. However, when it is successful, this type of cross-training definitely enriches the partnering and lead/follow experience.

Don’t Forget to Stretch!

Read my article on the importance of stretching and be sure to incorporate stretching into your daily routine.