Like many ballet and dance exercises, dance stretches have benefits for everyone. Dancing improves flexibility and balance, and stretching is just one of the ways to experience these benefits. For dancers, stretching is an essential element for getting positions and moves right, as well as an effective way to prevent certain types of injuries.
Dance Stretches for the Legs
Leg muscles can become very taut, especially for those who do ballet or dance in high-heel shoes. Dance stretches commonly focus on the muscles of the leg because these are the muscles that most need stretching in dancers.
Floor Leg Stretch
An all-around good stretch for the legs, this one is especially helpful at targeting the muscles that allow one to get into the splits.
- Lye on your back with both legs extended. Slowly raise your right leg up to 90 degrees.
- If you can bring the leg farther yourself, extend it towards your head, reach up and take hold of the ankle or calf, bringing the leg into a deeper stretch. Do not allow your body to come off the floor.
- For most, a strap is a necessary tool for performing this stretch. With your leg at a 90-degree angle, place a cotton strap around it and pull the leg gently towards your body. Do not overdo it and do not bounce the leg towards you to release it over and over again. Hold it for a slight stretch 20 to 30 seconds and then switch to the other leg.
The butterfly stretch is one of the most popular dance stretches for ballerinas because it opens the hips. In addition, it stretches the legs and adds a forward bend (see below).
- The butterfly is done sitting nearly cross-legged on the floor. However, instead of crossing your legs, pull the bottoms of your feet towards one another until the soles of your feet touch, lining them up from toe to heel.
- Next, bring your joined feet towards your body while bringing your knees as close to the ground as possible. Keep your back straight (be careful not to hollow it in your efforts to keep it straight).
- Lastly, bend forward, trying to keep a straight back. The aim is not to bring your head to your toes with your back rounded (common mistake), but rather to bring your chest to your toes. Don't push yourself into the position; relax into it each time you exhale. Advance at your own pace.
Forward Bend Dance Stretches
Forward bends are effective dance stretches for the legs and for the upper body. In addition, these bends have an overall stretching effect on the back and the shoulders, especially if done with a flat back.
The half bend looks simple, but is difficult to do correctly. Executed properly, it provides a great stretch.
- Stand with feet together (widen them if you have trouble balancing in this stretch); extend your arms over your head.
- Keeping your back straight, you bend forward from the waist by stretching your torso up and out.
- Bring your back parallel to the floor, keeping your arms extended overhead so that they are also parallel to the floor. This stretch is best practiced in front of a mirror so that you can check for a straight back.
Full Forward Bend
A powerful dance stretch, this one has a considerable impact on the muscles on the back side of the leg.
- Stand with feet together (or widen stance for balance) and extend your arms over your head.
- With a straight back, bend forward, hinging from your hips.
- Be aware of the half-bend position; reach it with a flat back, and then continue forward. Your back will have to bend as you pass a certain point in the bend. Bending as far forward as you comfortably can, rest in the position, falling deeper into your bend with each exhale. For the very flexible, place your hands on the floor with flat palms for an extra stretch.
While a lot of dance stretches are done standing up at the bar, you can also do the forward bends sitting down.
- Sit with your legs extended in front of you and your knees flat to the ground, your back is straight. Reach your arms up over your head.
- Slowly bend forward, keeping your back straight. Lift your torso up and out in order to come farther into the stretch.
- Once you reach as far as you can with a straight back, slowly stretch farther with a rounded back. If possible, rest your chest on your legs (like with the butterfly, the aim is to get your chest close to the floor, not your head).
Stretches Are Helpful for Everyone
For dancers and non-dancers alike, these dance stretches can help improve your physical performance, help you relax and sleep better, help avoid dance injuries and other everyday injuries by increasing your balance and flexibility. For best results with any stretching routine, don't push yourself; slow and steady practice provides the best results.