Whilst dancing in itself is an incredibly active and demanding form of exercise, it's a common practice in today's dance industry for teachers to recommend or even require that their students supplement their dance training with additional exercise to keep fit outside the studio as well.
Whilst for most active non-dancers there's an almost endless array of possible sports and activities you can choose from to keep fit (jogging, swimming, bike-riding, tennis, basket ball, hockey, skiing, boxing, aerobics, weights, rollerblading, volleyball, karate and rowing, to name just a snippet!) for full-time dance students, especially ballet ones like myself, the distinction between beneficial 'good' activities, and detrimental or risky ones can become a little bewildering. Many of the sports listed above are generally strongly discouraged for serious dancers, as they can build the 'wrong' muscles, add unwanted bulk and even work against the training and technique we strive to achieve in class.
This isn't to say that other sports must be avoided all together. If your teacher says that it's ok then go for it! However, if like me, your school strongly recommends these sports be excluded from your activities, then what are we supposed to do?
Well, for one, walking is fine. But let's face it. It's not the most fun way to keep fit. You have to walk for a long time before you've actually done anything that can be classed as a 'workout', and then there's the weather issue. Maybe you're not in the same boat as me here, maybe you live in Broome, or California, and have gorgeous sunny weather 80% of the year (In which case, how would you feel about house swapping?), but I'm sure fellow Melbourne-dwellers will back me up here when I say that on a scale of '1' to 'Antarctica', Melbourne weather is definitely sitting on the colder side. Now as long as I have a jumper and it's just cold, fine, I'll walk. But as soon as it starts raining... I'm inside and under a blanket faster than you can say 'umbrella'. And you can count me out if it's windy too...
So that leaves me a bit limited in terms of available walking time, which is what brings us to option number two - the Gym. Ah, the gym, what a wonderful thing. An air-conditioned, spacious, weather-proof, music-playing, shower-equipped facility, with an abundance of exercise equipment and friendly instructors. :) As long as you don't mind paying the monthly fees, and sharing your workout space with a lot of other sweaty people, then the gym is a great way to keep fit between classes. There is of course, the inevitable drawbacks; we can't use at least half of the equipment. Boys are encouraged to use the weights, but girls aren't and most of the other machines (like the bike and rowing simulators) pose the same problem that the actual sports do. The stepper and the treadmill, once again builds quads, unless you just use the treadmill for walking and don't use an incline (but once again... zzz!). BUT if you're gym is as wonderful as mine then you can always bring along your earphones and plug yourself into the TVs to watch a show or some music videos or something. That definitely takes your mind off the monotony of walking for so long. And then there is the wonderful option of taking a few classes. I was lucky enough to have my ballet teacher take us all to the gym one day and tell us what we should and shouldn't use, which classes are a good idea, and which ones to avoid. So providing your gym offers these classes then here are a few that are a fun way to exercise without hindering your dancing.
First off, Pilates, always a good one, probably the form of exercise that most closely mirrors dance, in the muscles that it uses and the exercises that you do. If your gym has a pilates class running then that's a great way to get some more exercise, and not only will it not hinder your dancing, but it could help you improve too!
Another great one is Yoga, like pilates it is well-matched with dancing, it increases flexibility, posture and turn-out, as well as many other advantages. Just be careful that you find the right type of yoga, as some classes can be less beneficial than others. Also, certain styles of yoga are more beneficial for different dance styles, so a jazz dancer say, might benefit more from one style than a ballet dancer, and vice-versa.
If your gym also offers Abs classes, this is a great option to add some variation to your routine, and build some serious core muscles!! ...All the better for pas de deux/partner work. And if any of the exercises do activate the wrong muscles (at my gym we do a few that get the quads going, like stomach crunches with the legs 'cycling' in the air) then you can just modify them a little (I keep my feet on the ground for that one).
And if you are comfortable with modifying a reasonable amount, then try the Zumba/Aerobics classes, they're really fun (as long as you get a good teacher)! And it's a chance to just let loose and do a class without scrutinising your technique too much.
The classes that I recommend you stay away from would be any that feature heavy or prolonged weightlifting for the girls (a class that uses the small hand weights every now and then is fine, like the Abs classes sometimes do), Body Pump is not ideal, it focuses a bit too much on weights and also involves a lot of squats and other steps that will lead to muscle gain in the wrong areas. And of course cycling/spinning classes aren't the best idea (besides, if you're like me, you're quads would probably go into shock with that much use haha!). Anyway, I'm sure you will be able to judge which classes are appropriate or not, and even if you do find yourself accidentally in the 'Quadriceps of Steel' or some other nightmare class! ...modify away :) The great thing about the gym is, no-ones going to laugh at you for doing things a little differently.
Now we finally come to one of my favourite activities at the gym - the spa/sauna!!
Ok, so it's not technically exercise :D but spas (or hot tubs) do raise the heart rate as well as dilating blood vessels and promoting better circulation which is definitely good for the body, not to mention their muscle-relieving properties. So if you're feeling a bit sore then a dip in the spa might ease the aches and pains considerably, and relax tight muscles. As for the sauna, as long as it's in small doses (you don't want to dry yourself out too much!), then it provides may of the benefits of exercise, along with the raised heart and better circulation, the heat raises your core temperature and makes you burn energy, just by sitting there!
If for whatever reason you're just not in the mood for any of the classes or activities I've mentioned above, then you can always head over to the mats and give yourself a floor barre. You know better than anyone the areas that need work, whether it be flexibility or strength in a certain area, or if just an overall body workout is the best thing you can do, then put yourself through the paces. The benefits of floor barre are numerous, not only does it allow us to hone technique used in class, and go through the motions in more detail and at our own pace, allow for better alignment without the stress of gravity on the body and lengthen the muscles, but also to focus on the correct muscle isolation and fine-tuning muscles in a way that can't be done in a normal, fast-paced class.
So there you have it, my guide to activities outside the classroom. Hope I've given you some ideas or useful suggestions. Let me know what your favourite non-dancing exercise is. :)
Bye for now!