Summer intensives offer jam-packed days of dancing with little time to warm up for the next class or rehearsal. How can you prepare your body to switch from classical ballet to a modern class or a stop-and-go partnering rehearsal in as little as 10 minutes? Bené Barrera, LAT, ATC, head athletic trainer for Houston Ballet, offers these exercises and tips for building an effective warm-up.
1. Start with a base.
"Dancers like to think of everything as isolated—they work on their ankles, their hips, their neck—but it's really not," says Barrera. Instead, you should warm up with exercises that stabilize your body and involve several areas. This hip series challenges balance, requires arm and core strength to support the body, and warms up the legs. Each begins in an all-fours position.
Photos by Emily Giacalone, modeled by Tuiana Balzhieva of the French Academie of Ballet
Keeping the knee bent, lift one leg and trace a large circle as far back and as high up and out to the side as you can. Imagine there's a pencil on the end of your knee drawing a circle. Keep the hips even and don't arch the back. Reps: 20 circles in each direction. Switch legs.
Hike one leg up and out to the side, like a dog would, without tilting your pelvis. Return to all fours. Reps: 20 on each leg
Keeping the knee bent, lift one leg up to create a straight line from your knee to head. Pulse the heel up toward the ceiling, squeezing the gluteus maximus each time. Reps: 20 on each leg
Barrera also recommends Thera-Band exercises like these, which incorporate multiple joints:
Hug your elbows into your sides, with your forearms forward and a Thera-Band pulled taut with one end in each fist. Externally rotate your arms to pull your fists sideways as you bend your neck down. As the arms return, the neck comes back up. Reps: 2 sets of 15–20
Stand on one end of the band with your right foot, and hold the other end in your left hand against your right hip. As you pull the band up in a diagonal—like you're drawing out a sword—look to your right. Look forward as you return the sword to its sheath. Reps: 2 sets of 10–20 on each side
2. Get specific.
"You can prime and warm the body, but if it's not for the actual movement you're about to do, that sets you up for injuries," says Barrera. Consider what type of class or rehearsal you're going into next and choose movements that align with that technique.
- For classical ballet, do a few barre combinations to wake up the sensation of turnout.
- For something more contemporary or modern, work in parallel and get grounded with exercises like squats, push-ups and planks.
3. Cap it off with cardio.
It can be difficult to do much cardio in a crowded studio, but Barrera recommends any of the following to elevate your heart rate and build heat:
- jumping jacks
- skips, in place or using the length of the studio
- walking lunges
If you're in a rehearsal where you may have downtime...
Stay active in the back of the room. Review choreography and keep warm with exercises that relate to the piece. For example, you might do some abdominal work if the piece requires a strong core. "You never know what you could be called to do after 30 minutes," says Barrera.
What Makes a Good Warm-Up?
1. You're moving your whole body with exercises that involve multiple joints as opposed to isolations.
2. You emulate the type of dancing you're preparing your body to do.
3. If you have limited time, cut your repetitions in half or speed them up.
4. By the time you finish, your heart rate is up, and you've started to sweat.
5. You start your next class or rehearsal within 30 minutes of warming up.