Stretching + Dance

Stretching + Dance

Maintaining flexibility through stretching is one of the most vital components of dance. Without full and even extreme flexibility, movements do not look complete and the artistry is weakened. Flexibility is prized in the dance industry and allows for striking shapes and lines to be made by the body. Two common movements across several different styles of dance include the grand battement (kick) and grand jeté (leap). These both require the legs to move through a great range of motion using power and momentum, achieving a specific stretched end point. General muscles that regularly need to be stretched by dancers include the hamstrings, hip rotators, hip flexors, and back extensors. Having the capability to be mobile within an extended range of motion is what makes dance exceptional and appealing to watch.

Aside from large, explosive kicks and leaps, there is also a very specific technique of fine movements and placements of which dancing is built upon. For example, exaggerated plantar flexion is a main mechanic of dance technique. This strong “pointed” position of the ankle and foot demands long and lengthened muscles which cross on the front side of the foot and shin; examples include the extensor digitorum longus, which runs from the knee joint to the toes, the tibialis anterior, which runs along the shin to the big toe, and the extensor hallucis longus, which runs from the outside of the middle of the shin to the far end of the big toe. On the contrary, consistent plantar flexion means actively contracted calves (the gastrocnemius and soleus), along with the muscles that cover the underside of the foot. These muscles undergo repetitive stress and must be thoroughly stretched to reduce the risk of Achilles tendon damage and plantar fasciitis (pain to the bottom of the foot from inflammation).

Overall, stretching before performing dance movements is critical to injury prevention since muscular range of motion is pushed beyond limits. A pre-stretch will elicit blood flow and loosen up the fascia, preparing the muscles for the activity to come. Fortunately, many of the movements of dance will continue to stretch the body throughout the activity, leading to increased ranges of motion over continued practice. Stretching post-dancing also allows for recovery and cool-down while promoting lengthening of the muscles. A common concern of dancers is looking too “bulky,” which stretching combats by relieving muscle shortening from the repetitive contractions. Any dancer will attest to the benefits of having extraordinary flexibility; however, it takes a persistent regimen and an informed, safe approach to achieve it long-term.

Written by Lauren Daniska. Lauren is a Stretch Therapist in our Newton studio, as well as a professional dancer.