It might be hard enough these days to get up off the couch just in time to take an online dance class on Instagram Live, but if you want to keep dancing long past quarantine, your body needs you to warm up first before you start learning online. With timing restrictions on Zoom calls and Instagram live-streams, it’s not guaranteed you’re getting a teacher-led warm-up right now; so it’s important to implement a dance warm-up and safe practices before your online classes that really work for you - which you can even apply to your pre-performance or audition routines post-quarantine.
you want to prepare your body to do the specific movement you’ll be doing in class
An effective dance warm-up should be a “gradual” process to prepare your body for what the class you’re taking demands of it specifically, according to Safe in Dance International, while the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) suggests that a “thorough and effective warm-up should take about 15-20 minutes to complete.” If you’re worried you don’t have that much time before you dance at home, simplify it down to focusing on including these four elements into your warm-up:
The good news is you can still do this part of the warm-up from your couch! Sit for a moment with your body, close your eyes, and check in with what you’re feeling at the present moment. You can do your own specific meditation practice, or just simply start to notice the sensations in your body, and where you feel you might need to place more attention in the warm-up - does your low back feel tight? Is that old hamstring injury aching? Take a mental note before you begin to move, and maybe even set an intention or goal for your upcoming class.
Break a sweat
That’s right - you want other class takers on Zoom to think you just finished up a jog or another class right before this one! The goal should be to gradually increase your heart rate throughout your warm-up, so that by the end you’re more closely moving at the rate of the class you’ll be taking and maybe even sweating, according to IADMS. Try to get to that peak point close to the end of the warm-up, so you can keep the internal heat you’ve just created when you start to dance. Begin your warm-up with more gentle pulse raising movements, like a light jog in place, Yoga sun salutations, or Pilates-style core exercises. By the end, your body will be warm enough for greater cardiovascular movement, such as larger jumps. Since we’re in quarantine, maybe it’s not time for grande allegro, but even trying some dance-style burpees or squat jumps will get you sweating. And make sure to hydrate!
Get mobile (not flexible)
Save your splits for after class - seriously. The purpose of the warm-up is not to develop more flexibility, contrary to popular belief and my 90-year-old ballet teacher. You want to spend your time in the warm-up preparing your joints to move in the full range of motion they’ll need for dance, which you can do through joint mobilization exercises and dynamic stretching, like in the mobility flows Dr. David Odom has shared with us through his DancePlug live-stream series. Exercises like those will help you keep your body temperature up while safely moving your joints through their full ranges, without overstretching or inhibiting a muscle’s power reflex, which studies have shown occurs after 30 seconds of static stretching (such as sitting in a split). You might be sensing a theme here - a warm-up should function to help you get - and stay - warm!
Genre-specific exercises are the most important element to a good dance warm-up, according to IADMS, as you want to prepare your body to do the specific movement you’ll be doing in class. With online classes, it’s never been easier for us to switch from a ballet class, to a tap class, and then commercial heels choreography from day to day or hour to hour. Make sure you set yourself up to get the most out of those classes - and avoid potential injury - by prepping your body to withstand what each genre asks of it, especially if you’re trying out styles that are new to you. Incorporate genre-specific exercises like these exercises suggested by dance physical therapists throughout your warm-up.
It’s not guaranteed you’re getting a teacher-led warm-up right now; so it’s important to implement a dance warm-up and safe practices before your online classes.
The four elements above are not just important before learning online, but any time you’re going to dance, now or post-quarantine. Don’t forget to cool down after class, where Safe in Dance International says it’s best for your body to finally do those static stretches you know and love. Even though it’s easier than ever to forego warming up before dance class, it’s also more important than ever to make sure you stay healthy and injury-free. By designing a warm-up that works for you and the class you’re taking with these four elements in mind, you’ll optimize the time you spend taking class online and keep your body healthy for post-quarantine dancing.