Warm ups and Recovery for Latin Dancers
By Phoenix LinSong
Continuing from my last article “Enhancing Sustainability of Ballroom Dancing through Mind-body Techniques”, I’d like to offer practical tools and exercises that help you warm-up and prepare for practice, competition and tools for unwinding and recovery after practice or competition.
Latin dancing, with its exhilarating competitive environment, also demands a lot from dancers physically, emotionally and mentally. Latin dancers are expected to have explosive speed and power, quick dynamic changes, while maintaining fluidity and producing multi-dimensional twisting actions of the spine and hips. As a result, dancers are prone to overly tight and held muscles, which can lead to injuries in the spinal vertebrae, shoulder girdle, the pelvic region, knees and ankles. Secondly, since Latin dancing is such a heavily partnered dance style, our physical, emotional and mental state can become intertwined with that of our dancer partner or teacher, which may contribute to more stress, if not handled appropriately.
In order to prepare ourselves for dancing, we need to do activities that would awaken our senses and all of our body parts. In addition to the physical preparations, mental and emotional readiness are equally important.
Some of the Latin dancers, especially female, are already too flexible and hypermobile. Therefore I don’t recommend the traditional static stretching as a warmup. As studies have shown, static stretching (holding a position for an extended period of time) as the sole activity during warm-up should generally be avoided (Simic, 2013). When ligaments and tendons are overstretched, it could reduce strength, power and explosive muscular performance.
The warmup tools presented below seem to be contradictory at first as they promote relaxation. You might be concerned that after relaxation, you’d not want to be active again. However, “relaxation helps to neutralize a stressed body and a stressed mind. Relaxation stimulates a good body-mind connection. It also helps letting go of what you have been doing before you start to dance (Winkelhuis, 218).
- Foam Rolling
The first activity could be using a foam roller to release muscle tension because tension is the enemy of movement. The most important thing is to breathe deeply and slowly as you foam roll to calm down your nervous system. Instead of rolling over painful trigger points, melt into them with gentle breathing. If time permits, roll from your feet all the way up to your neck. Make sure you hit these essential spots as their readiness and suppleness can contribute to the quality of your Chacha locks, Samba whisks, Rumba walks, Paso posture, or Jive kicks!
- Achilles tendon/calf
- Piriformis (gluteus muscle)
- Thoracic spine, between the shoulder blades
- Quadratus lumborum (waistline region)
- Front of the hip (hip flexor)
- Quadriceps Roll (starting from the knees)
- Psoas/Belly Roll
- Pectoralis Major
- Back and sides of the neck
Another way to awaken the body and release tension is through self-massages. In a beginner GYROKINESISⓇ class for example, participants would start with self-massage and simple breathing patterns to awaken the body. Some examples are opening the ears, drumming the body, ungluing the organs, and rubbing the skin.
- Floor Work for Alignment
Lying on the floor with your feet placed hip-distance apart and close to the hips. Through deep breathing, reaching your head and your tailbone away from each other, while softening the rib cage towards the hip. The goal is to close the gap between your back and the floor. Once you perform that few times, you can extend the leg out one at a time while maintaining that connected posture. For demonstration, you may follow along with the video that is accompanying this article. The movement is small yet precise and connected. This alignment exercise would prepare you as you stand up and dance.
As Winkelhuis said in his book “Dance to Your Maximum”, you need time to find yourself before you start sharing yourself with somebody else. Maximiliaan encouraged us to take the time and space we need to get ready by ourselves first before connecting to our partner or teacher.
A lot of tension in the body might actually originate from emotional and psychological tension. For example, issues at home, disagreement with your partner, your pet is sick, are just a few reasons.
Studies have shown that performance can be greatly hindered if the mind and emotion are not being taken care of. Therefore, it’s important to release and express your concerns in a non-harmful way. Strong breathing during your physical warm-up helps to restore emotional balance (in the short term) (Winkelhuis, p195). In my previous article “Enhancing Sustainability of Ballroom Dancing Through Mind-Body Techniques”, you can find a simple, yet effective breathing technique called 3-part breathing.
The importance of diaphragmatic breathing cannot be understated. When it is done correctly, the strength you build from contracting the transverse abdominal during deep diaphragmatic breathing also helps to stabilize the shoulder girdle, which is crucial in the various dance holds we have. *You may also follow along with the video that is accompanying this article.
RECOVER AND REGENERATION
Being able to regenerate in a short amount of time is one of the most valuable skills a dancer can acquire. Therefore, it’s ideal to unwind or recover after a dance practice or competition. For example, after each GYROTONICⓇ session, there’s an unwinding portion. During the session, energy is activated and circulated all around the body. It’s important to center that energy and ground it before we move on with our day.
When it comes to recovery methods, other than taking some bath with epsom salts, using the floor and guided imagery can be two great tools.
- Constructive Rest Position
“A constructive rest is a subtle combination of a supportive bodily position that encourages gentle release through the neck and back and conscious directed thought to help redistribute muscular tone throughout the body.”
You can lie in a supine position with the legs bent. Feet are about hip wide and relatively close to the pelvis. Hands can rest on the hipbones or crossed over the chest or placed on the floor next to the body. This is a passive position. It turns on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). It allows for increased sensory awareness.
- Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is a form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. It is a way of focusing your imagination to create calm, peaceful images in your mind, thereby providing a “mental escape.”
You can perform a guided imagery in the constructive rest position described above. You can also bring your feet up against a wall. If lying down is not an option, you can also do it sitting down. The best time to do this is after practice and/or before going to sleep.
There are many excellent guided imagery scripts online. The website Inner Health Studio has a great selection of scripts for all kinds of situations. You can have someone read it to you or record yourself reading it. The link will be at the end of the article in the citation section. *You may also follow along with the video that is accompanying this article.
We all know the importance of eating our green vegetables, but the temptation to have that ice cream is just so strong. The same with giving time and attention to warm up and cool downs. One way to trick the brain against the resistance is to make the goal extremely small. You can set a timer with just 3 minutes of warm up and then 3 minutes of cool down. Nothing more. If 3 minutes is still too much, set a timer for 60 seconds. Your brain would have no resistance to that!
- Winkelhuis, Maximiliaan. Dance to Your Maximum. DanceSport International Ltd – DSI Group, 2011
- Simic L, Sarabon N, Markovic G. Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2):131-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x. Epub 2012 Feb 8. PMID: 22316148.