Flexibility is key if you’re a dancer, so apply that concept to your physical workouts too

Diversify:  A successful dancer’s  secret weapon

People generally do what they do because they like to do it (hopefully). Years ago after partially tearing a ligament in my knee, I asked an enlightened surgeon why more of his colleagues didn’t counsel for rehab the way he did. “Surgeons do surgery because that’s what they enjoy,” he said. “They like to cut.” (A good thing to remember, I think, when dealing with surgeons). So, dancers dance, right? And a big part of that is taking class, and class, and more class. This is what you do when you want to improve and/or stay in shape, and I’m all for it. But there’s also value in branching out with your physical activity.

Before we go any further let me be clear: I am NOT telling you to stop taking class. This isn’t permission to sleep in instead of hauling your butt out of bed for the morning class you always seem to miss (yup, I’m talking to you).

get up and go to class girl

Let’s consider the concept of diversifying. When I first started dancing this was unheard of. A few intrepid souls were doing a mysterious thing called “the hundreds” but that was about it. Dancers took class, and that was all they needed. Occasionally you’d meet some rogue modern dancer who did yoga, or an east coast transplant who taught Pilates, but it wasn’t the norm. Things have (thankfully) started changing-I was surprised (and excited) recently when a pro level dancer told me, casually, that she was planning to go out for a run. Good for her! Changing things up is good for the body and the soul. Here are a few variations to consider:

Movement oriented classes that are not dance
When I was younger I would have none of this. All I wanted to do was DANCE. I was a DANCER. No yoga, Pilates, Jazzercise (Is Jazzercise around anymore?).  In my opinion no self respecting dancer would put her toe in any of these. (This despite the fact that a frustrated choreographer once yelled “you guys need to get into an aerobics class!” as I huddled with a group of panting fellow dancers after running her piece.) I like to think I’m wiser (yeah, older too) now. I’m not saying I do all of the above. Aerobics classes make me feel totally uncoordinated, and I can never keep up with all those directional changes.

worked for Jane, didn't appeal to me

Pure Pilates never felt like a good fit. But I have found what does work for my body (yoga) and what doesn’t (aforementioned aerobics/Pilates). I’d never know this if I hadn’t tried a variety of classes. This goes for classes within a specific genre too-I know that Vinyasa yoga is what feels right for me.

Take another style of class
There’s a whole big world of movement out there. Try a jazz class if you’re a bunhead, or vice versa. Tap class will use your body and your brain in a whole different way than modern does. If you’re unfamiliar with a certain style, go to a lower level class and have fun. (Yes, dancing is supposed to be fun). I’ve had flamenco, hip hop, belly, and ballroom dancers take my ballet class, and they all had a great time. Or try social dancing-contra or Cajun or whatever. It doesn’t have to be for forever, just a way to break out of the box and try something new.

Physical activity that has nothing to do with a class
If you’ve been paying attention you know that exercise classes and I are not really on the same page. And my loosey-goosey joints don’t take kindly to running. But at some point it became clear that some sort of aerobic workout might be a good idea, so for a while I rode my bike, a lot, and it was great. I got where I needed to go AND got exercise, AND got to multi-task. (I also got minorly obsessed with watching bike races on TV, but that’s another story).

the peloton

When cycling no longer fit into my life I took up swimming. (Note: If you don’t know how to swim, go and learn. Now. As an adult. I was 29 when I learned to swim, and it’s a great skill, not to mention a possible life saver).

Along the way I’ve also done sprint triathlons and rock climbing, which didn’t stick in the long run but were fun while I was doing them. Dancers are physical creatures who like to move and use their bodies, and getting out and doing non-routine physical activity has the added bonus of getting you out of your head (a very good thing). So try and diversify!