Cooling Down After Class - Does It Serve Any Purpose?

"If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?" - Author Unknown

        The broad music begins, the grand allegro has been shown, and dancers begin soaring through the air performing saute de chats, grand pas de chats, and tour jetés.  After traveling across the floor, they return to line to perform the combination once more.  The breathing is audible, and the dancers’ faces are flushed.  Their hearts are beating quicker, they are breathing harder and faster, the increased frequency of heart contractions have pumped blood faster through their arteries, and their blood pressures have risen.

            All too often, class time runs out and movement draws to a complete stop.  The teacher dismisses the class, the students bow, clap, and quickly exit the studio to make room for the next class. 

            In order to stay healthy and minimize the stress on the body, it is important for all dancers to learn about the benefits of a cool-down.  Just as the warm-up prepares the body for what is to come, the cool-down slowly returns the body to the pre-exercise, resting state.

            A cool-down is a gradual decrease in activity that allows the heart rate and the breathing, or respiratory, rate to gradually slow down and return to normal.  As this slowing occurs, blood circulation also gradually slows.  Without this gradual decrease in activity, a quick drop in heart rate will decrease the pressure in the arteries rapidly.  This sudden drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness and fainting.

            A simple exercise performed at the end of class, similar to a reverence, that incorporates a gradual slowing down of the body is all that is needed.  The exercise might include grand pliés in second position, slow head circles, slow reaches or circles with arms and stretching.  A cool-down is an ideal time for dancers to work on flexibility and range of motion.  The muscles are now completely warm and will not be required to perform any more explosive activities, providing the perfect time for static stretches to be held for 20-30 seconds.  While stretching, the internal temperature of the muscles gradually decreases and, therefore, reduces the chances that muscles will cramp or go into spasm upon leaving the studio.  Muscle cramping becomes a bigger concern during cold, winter months when warm bodies move out into the cold air.  Muscles, like everything else, contract when cooled and will do so quicker when moving from one extreme temperature to another.

            The cool-down takes no longer than 5 minutes at the end of class and provides the benefits of decreasing some of the stress exercise puts on the body, avoids dizziness or fainting, assists in developing range of motion, and helps decrease muscle spasms and cramping after class. 

            If time does not allow for a cool-down in class, each dancer should take responsibility for the health of his or her body and perform an individual cool-down, including stretching.  It will take only a few minutes out of the day, but will keep you dancing healthier, and your body will thank you for it!