The Whole Dancer

September 11, 2010

Injuries. Stress. Frustration.

I feel like I need to write to help those who are feeling some of the above.

Those who feel these keenly are often those who work the hardest. You practice hard, dance full-out every time, and rarely give yourself a break. The first few steps in the morning hurt. By the end of class, there’s fire in your shins. You know exactly how you want to do your steps, but are limited by your frame.

What do you do? I know you, you’re like my student. You push harder. Or you’re like a few of my other students, and you let the blame fall on what you think you can’t help.

You can help yourself. And you don’t have to kill yourself to do it.

Take a look with me at Yoga and Pilates, and what they can do for you.


What is it? Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 500 years ago. The word “Yoga” came from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate.” Yoga then is about the union of a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness. In Yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary instrument in man’s work and growth. Yoga Exercises improve circulation, stimulate the abdominal organs, and put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health.

Why should Irish Dancers do it? Because the series of postures can do the following:
1. Increase Balance (have you ever been injured by falling?)
2. Equalize strength on both sides of the body (Is a movement harder to do on the Left foot than the right?)
3. Stretch whole muscle groups (longer muscles are less prone to injury)
4. Tone whole muscle groups (increases strength and power in jumps)
5. It increases mental focus (useful for learning steps or altering incorrect technique)

Give it a Try!


What is Pilates? Pilates is a series of whole-body exercises developed by Joseph Pilates. Pilates’ emphasis on posture, strength and flexibility have made it a popular workout choice for athletes and dancers alike. It’s an excellent exercise routine encompassing a strong focus on upper body strength for better balance, alignment, posture, turns and other points of work. It is also very effective at strengthening body parts – especially ankles and feet, which are essential to dance.

Why should Irish Dancers do it? Because consistent training in Pilates will:
1. Build core strength (essential for everything from maintaining balance to more lift in jumps)
2. Tones supporting muscles (more muscles working together=more power)
3. Increases balance
4. Lengthens muscles (aids in leg-straightening so many Irish Dancers struggle with)
5. Increases Mental Focus (useful for learning steps or altering incorrect technique)

But here’s the kicker:
Irish Dance injuries are mostly impact and overuse injuries resulting from repeatedly slamming our legs into the ground, correct? Yoga and Pilates are minimum impact, thus increasing their value to Irish Dancers who want to increase their potential without increasing wear and tear.
Increasing training in either of these will also train muscles that you don’t typically think you use as a dancer, but will find that if you can utilise them, your dancing will be more powerful and effective.

If you’re looking for Aerobic exercise, here are a few short suggestions:
1. Cycling- when done in a structured Class environment, Cycling increases leg and core strength, and is very easy on the knees. And you’re covered in sweat afterwards!
2. Choosing the Elliptical over the Treadmill- on an elliptical exercise machine, the feet remain in contact with the foot pedals, reducing impact on the knees and ankles.
3. Swimming/Water Aerobics- when in the water, there is zero impact on the body. Pool Laps are great for cardio and general toning, and Water Aerobics classes also get your heart rate up and target specific muscles.

4 Responses to “The Whole Dancer”

  1. Jody said

    Excellent advice. I do core (upper body) exercises in the gym here at work, in addition to my ballet and Irish Dance classes. My balance has definitely improved with the additional exercises.

  2. Kara said

    Thank you for emphasizing the benefits of yoga and pilates! I’ve been a huge fan of pilates and am just trying out yoga for the first time. I’ve been doing pilates instead of practicing every few days to give my poor, injury-prone feet a break. Do you think this will slow my progress as a dancer? I really love the challenge of being the best dancer I can be. (I ask this keeping in mind your Practice Post last year where you talk about practicing every day starting fairly early.)

  3. Hi Kara,

    Thanks for your feedback. Actually, with more research and a sudden surge of stress injuries and tendonitis, I have edited my original post on practice to be kinder to dancers, including recovery days, because I’m finding it’s so important!

    Also, as far as your practice, I don’t think you should practice harder, I think you should practice SMARTER. What can you do to be as effective in achieving your dancing technique goals without aggravating your feet?

    I’d love to hear what you discover!

  4. Scully said

    Thanks for visiting my blog! This is a nice looking, great blog. I try to advocate Pilates to an Irish Dancer whenever I can, it definitely helps me, and when I am not doing it, my muscles are tight and I physically cannot point my toe or keep my leg as straight as I can when regularly doing Pilates.

    Two times a week, for twenty to thirty minutes, is the minimum to see some results after about four weeks. That is not that much time to try to incorporate into your routine!

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