When watching professional dancers perform Giselle or The Nutcracker, it’s easy to be mesmerised by the graceful, lithe movements of the dancers; however, ballet is about much more than grace and elegance. Putting on an effortless performance requires strength and stamina, and yes that means plenty of hard work! Let’s explore below.
Why do Ballet Dancers Need Endurance?
Have you ever got so physically tired, you started stumbling, even (embarrassingly!) on perfectly flat surfaces? This difficulty lifting your feet is a result of muscle fatigue and the consequences can obviously be very embarrassing for a fatigued ballet dancer in the middle of a performance. When you consider that a typical ballet involves about an hour and a half of dancing, you can see why endurance is so important for dancers.
Consider too, that lack of stamina/fitness is one of the leading causes of injury in ballet dancers. A 2017 Australian study of professional dancers found that 48% of injured dancers reported fatigue as a contributing factor to their injury. Ballet injuries can be serious, often resulting in time out from dancing or permanent weakness and sometimes even forced retirement.
Why Do Ballet Dancers Need Strength?
Try executing a foutte, sauter or grand adage with weak hamstrings, a weak core or weak inner thigh muscles and you’ll instantly get why ballet dancers need strength! While professional ballet dancers, especially female dancers, aren’t aiming to look like bodybuilders, preferring a more streamlined, classical look, that doesn’t mean they are not still incredibly strong. Achieving impeccable technique in ballet requires significant muscle strength throughout the legs, ankles, feet, and core. Male ballet dancers also need significant upper body strength to lift their partners ‘effortlessly’.
So, we’ve established the critical importance of strength and endurance; how do ballet dancers achieve this?
Ballet Classes are Not Enough
Ballet classes are great places to learn technique and choreography; however, fitness and strength training are not generally a big component of classwork. In fact, a dancer can easily get through many a class without overly raising their heart rate or even a sweat! The theory behind the focus on technique in ballet classes is that dancers need the specialised instruction of a qualified ballet teacher to achieve perfect technique, however; they can build fitness and strength outside class, with the aid of other specialists like physiotherapists and fitness coaches.
How to Build Strength and Endurance?
Dancers need to build strength across numerous muscle groups with a focus on their core, hamstrings, calf muscles and inner thigh muscles as we mentioned above. Most professional dancers will work with a trainer to build up strength across these groups, using repetition of a range of exercises including squats, heel raises, skipping and cycling. Working with a trainer ensures dancers can progressively build strength while at the same time maintaining the desired body shape.
When it comes to endurance training, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been proven to be extremely effective at quickly increasing fitness. Many dancers also swear by running. Others prefer low impact cardio workouts including cycling, swimming and even rock-climbing. The important thing to note is that dancers need to build up a fitness regime well before performance night. Achieving peak fitness by the first performance can mean starting training at least three months prior.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful, and always remember to combine your fitness and strength training routine with quality pointe shoes!