Instead of hitting the treadmill, adult beginner dance classes are becoming an increasingly popular fitness option. Beginner dance classes from ballet to bellydance are full of adult dancers who haven’t danced in years, or maybe have never taken a formal dance class in their lives. This ongoing series to YEG Fitness will look at training in various dance styles, specifically for the perspective of a beginner, with tips to keep your body safe and healthy. Before looking at specific dance styles, it is important to remember a few key alignment, safety, and mindfulness techniques to keep you on the dance floor, instead of in the audience.
The first thing to be aware of regardless of dance style is to make sure you have a neutral pelvis. Be aware of where your natural pelvis sits, and avoid tilting your pelvis too far forward or backward. At first this may be uncomfortable, but it is important to protect your lower back. As you get stronger, over time it will begin to feel more normal. For dancers with a natural sway back, it is especially important to check in with this area of your body throughout class. Work on strengthening your lower abs and pelvic floor to assist in maintaining this posture.
Depending on the style of dance you are taking, there will be different expectations on knee placement. Ballet expects straight legs with engaged glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs; other dance forms such as belly dance or a dance fitness class like Zumba, expect knees to be softly bent. Be careful to never hyperextend your knees. Also, regardless of dance style, be mindful of your knee alignment. Always keep your knees tracking directly over the ankle, whether you are turned out or not.
Ankle support and strength are key to being successful in dance class. Being in relevé (on the ball of your foot) can make you prone to an ankle injury. Make sure weight placement is towards the big two/inside of the foot so you don’t roll your ankle out. Include calf raises and toe taps in your regular exercise routine to keep your ankles strong and healthy.
Finally, when concentrating on learning new dance moves, dancers often think so much about the feet that the upper body is forgotten. Dancer’s arms are often up overhead, or out to the side, putting a lot of pressure on the shoulders. In particular, shoulders can be a dead giveaway for stress and tension. Make sure to bring your awareness back to your arms and shoulders throughout class. Roll your shoulders back and down, away from your ears to avoid shoulder and neck pain, which increases arm stamina and creates a better dance line.
Leslie is bellydance instructor and performer in Edmonton, but considers herself a lifelong student of dance. You can take classes with her at School of Raq Bellydance Studio or Foot Notes Dance Studio.