“It takes an athlete to be a dancer…” – Shanna La Fleur
Last week’s post explored the reported lack of fitness among dancers and the idea of implementing a periodized training program. This week’s post will offer a plan for using periodization training and improving dance fitness within the dance studio. The following model is based upon a 14-week semester that leads into a 2-4 week performance period.
As the dancers begin the semester, the main goal should be gradual conditioning. The focus should be on re-establishing alignment, balance and coordination and reinforcing movement patterns, or neural pathways. It is best to do many short, low-intensity combinations both at the barre and in the center to re-introduce basic movement patterns and gradually ease the body into technique class. During this preparation phase of 4 weeks, time can also be spent incorporating Pilate’s exercises, theraband exercises and/or weights for conditioning and yoga stretches for increasing flexibility and range of motion.
Before transitioning into the building/strengthening phase, classes should have a one-week “resting” period. This week keeps overtraining from occurring and allows for muscle recovery and a mental break. Weeks of “rest” do not require that all technique classes be cancelled and the dancers remain idle. These weeks can be used as opportunities to replace one or two technique classes (while other classes continue normally) with lectures on injury prevention/care, nutrition, or anatomy; muscular balance evaluations; video viewing of dance companies; choreography classes or classes that provide the dancers with historical information about their art form.
The next phase should last about 5 weeks and focus on dance specific skills and strength building. As the class transitions into this building and strengthening phase, Pilates, theraband and yoga exercises can continue but should become more dance specific. In the preparation phase, therabands could be used for general strengthening exercises, but during this phase, therabands might be used in tendu or temps lie exercises. As this phase progresses, class should consist of fewer combinations that grow longer and increase in intensity. Positions can be held longer, adagio combinations can be slower and the class should grow more demanding. Barre combinations can be completed on both sides before stopping, and center combinations can be added onto each week and developed into much longer combinations that emphasize stamina and endurance. The class should consist of mostly dancing, with few if any breaks for comments and corrections. At the end of this phase, dancers should display increased endurance, and their bodies should be performing at peak levels.
A second week of “rest” should follow the building phase before the dancers transition into the performance phase.
The performance phase can also be called the maintenance phase because its goal is to keep the dancers performing at peak levels without overtaxing their bodies. The combinations should still be intense and demanding, but the number and length of combinations can decrease.
Before a performance, dancers should taper just as athletes would do before a competition. This taper, which should begin 3-6 days before a performance, allows the body to replenish its energy stores, go through a period of cellular and neural recovery and actually increase the strength and power that can be produced at a performance. The taper should include 30 minute warm-up classes followed by rehearsals of small parts of performance pieces that may need extra attention. These small portions should be rehearsed intensely to keep fitness levels at their peak.
This training model allows for improving dancer fitness, increasing body performance and developing well-rounded dancers who have a better understanding of both their art form and how their bodies work.