Discuss the relationship between strength and flexibility for dance with regards to effective training in Belly Dance

by Jennifer Lim

Strength and flexibility are part of conditioning elements andare interrelated. Without either one, a dancer could potentially upset balance, alignment and suffer injury. In order for a dancer to perform to their full potential, they have to improve their flexibility and strength.

Flexibility without strength can lead to a decrease in joint stability and an increase in injury risk. For example, a dancer who is flexible in executing chest circles could fall out of balance when attempting to make the movement larger and will show signs of insufficient core strength. This could lead to musculoskeletal injury or pain in the mid to lower back if it is incorrectly practiced in the long term.  

This can be corrected when our core muscles are strengthened. Core muscles not only play a role in our breathing, they also maintain our balance and improve postural alignment. The key core muscles are Transversus Abdominis, Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm, Multifidus, Iliopsoas, Rectus Femoris, Internal and External Obliques. Exercises for strengthening key core muscles involve working muscles together and not individually. It should be gentle that is below 25% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) and focus on flexion, extension and rotation type movements. 

Flexibility compliments strength in effective dance training. A dancer who have difficulty executing larger chest circles could be lacking in strength and flexibility of both the upper back muscles and abdominal muscles.  

Muscles involved in executing chest circles are latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, obliques and rectus abdominis. Exercises such as oblique crunch help strengthened the oblique and latissimus dorsi muscles. Working on these muscles individually or collectively in repetition of 4 to 6 times and increasing the intensity gradually over time will help improve the upper body strength. 

Elongating the muscles’ plastic elasticity will help increase flexibility. Stretching muscles used in articulating chest circles especially in areas that appear to be tense will help dancers achieve balanced flexibility.  

Stretches should be executed slowly in low to moderate intensity and only with warmed up muscles. Of the available stretching methods, I will highlight two and they are static and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation).  

Static stretches are low in intensity and are the safest method of stretching. An example of increasing flexibility for wider chest circles is by stretching the back muscles using Cat Pose exercise. Holding each stretch for 30 seconds during cool-down and repeating the stretch three times will help to improve flexibility. 

PNF stretching contracts and stretches targeted muscles. It involves applying resistance to a targeted muscle for 10 seconds thereafter moving slowly into a 10 second stretch. This sequence is repeated twice This should only be done at the end of class when muscles are fully warm and can be done with a partner, once safe communication between partners are assured.

Training for flexibility and strength is not only important for professional dancers, it is also essential to recreational dancers. Some recreational belly dancers have postural and alignment problems and some withimbalanced levels of flexibility and strength. All of which could result in injury if they are not addressed. An effective flexibility and strength training program will not only help them improve posture, coordination, stability and mobility, it will also increase their knowledge and understanding of their own body thus making Belly Dancing a more pleasurable activity.

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References

Clippinger, K. (2007). Dance anatomy and kinesiology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. pp 29,37, 65,67,113 

Franklin, E. (2004). Conditioning for dance. Training for peak performance in all dance forms. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics p 4IADMS, Irvine, S. MSc, Redding, E. PhD and Rafferty, S. MSc (2011). IADMS Resource Paper : Dance Fitness (Online). Available at http://www.iadms.org/  (Accessed 1 June 2013) 

Jastremsky, H. (2002). IADMS 2002, Strengthen Transversus Abdominis, Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm, Multifidi (Core Muscles) and Iliopsoas with Pilates Exercises. Available at http://www.nureyev-medical.org/ (Accessed 1 June 2013)Laws, H. Marsh, C. & Wyon, M. (2006) Warming Up and Cooling Down. London: Dance UK Factsheet 3 

McNeill, W.(2012). Core Stability for Dancers. London: Dance UK Factsheets 17,  

 

 

 

 

Belly dance with Jenn


"When I dance, the sun sails safely through the night;

When I dance, the future is formed by my feet;

When I dance,the stars move through the heavens;

When I dance, Venus shimmers the desert;

When I dance, dust becomes silver, stones are made of gold!"

Cosi Fabian

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