Are you optimizing your performance?

Warming Up – Why is it Necessary?

Guest post by fellow blogger and dance educator, Diana Harris of The Healthy Dancer blog.

A little vocabulary before we begin…

ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate, it is our fuel source for all activities from doing homework, to typing, to doing laundry, to dancing, to running.   What we eat has a direct impact on how much ATP our bodies are able to produce.

Synovial Fluid: A liquid that is present in our synovial joints (shoulder, elbows, knees, ankles, etc.) which allows for the smooth movement of our joints and keeps the connective tissues that form the joints healthy.

Dancer Jera Wolfe. Photo credit Shawn Simpson.

It’s time for the rehearsal to begin, and there is only a short amount of time so it may be tempting to skip the warm-up and just jump right in.  What happens during the warm-up that makes it so important anyway?

We are given one body and our job, as dancers, is to make certain that we care for our bodies and insure that they are working at an optimal level. A warm-up not only prepares us mentally by focusing our thoughts, it also leads our body through steps to prepare for the demands we place upon it.

When we begin to warm-up, our muscles are able to use phosphate that is stored within them as ATP and phosphocreatine molecules to create energy immediately.  The energy that is created by this system will, however, only last for 8-10 seconds.  After those ten seconds, the muscles begin to use the glucose, or sugar, that is readily available to create energy for the next few minutes of exercise.  Our muscles are able to create energy for this brief period of time without having to rely on oxygen.

As this energy is created and the warm-up continues, the autonomic nervous system receives a signal to stimulate the nerves around the heart.  The heart receives a signal to contract, or beat, faster and stronger.  The stronger the heart’s contraction, the stronger the release, resulting in more space in the heart for a greater volume of blood.  This greater volume of blood means that, when the heart contracts, more blood is pumped out and circulated through the body with each heartbeat.

At the same time, the nerves that control the blood vessels are activated and signal the vessels to constrict, or get smaller, meaning there is less blood flow to all parts of the body.  Concurrently, the energy creation, or metabolism, that is occurring within the muscles overrides this signal, and the blood vessels in the muscles get wider, or dilate, which results in greater blood flow to the muscles.  Therefore, blood flow is diverted away from the organs so that the working parts, the muscles, may receive an optimal amount of nutrients and oxygen.

As all of this is occurring in the circulatory system, the brain stem, which controls our breathing, is receiving signals to stimulate and increase the activity of the respiratory system.  As a result, our breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen to the blood, which is being rapidly delivered to the muscles.

This oxygen is used for the next step in creating energy as the warm-up ends and more rigorous physical activity begins.  This process is called aerobic glycolysis and allows the body to continue to breakdown stored glucose to create energy for a sustained period of time.

As a result of all this activity, the temperature of the muscles has increased, leading to increased flexibility.  Additionally, the heat that is generated during the warm-up also serves to liquefy the synovial fluid that is in our joints.  While we are resting, the fluid becomes jelly-like, but as heat is generated, the jelly breaks down into a liquid form that is able to lubricate our joints and keep them “well-oiled” and moving smoothly.

Our bodies are amazing machines that are equipped to do so many things. However, much like a computer, the human body is wired to complete tasks in a series of steps. In order to be able to provide the optimum physical performance required for a class or a rehearsal, the body needs to be able to sequentially go through the above steps.  We, as dancers, demand so much from our bodies.  Our bodies will definitely respond, but we need to make sure we are going to let them.


Author Diana Harris: Holding a BA in Dance Education and an MS in Exercise Science, Diana has been a dance educator for the past 19 years.  She has studied ballet, modern, jazz, tap and musical theater dance.  She believes in creating healthy, thinking dancers and believes that dance can be beneficial to all and should be accessible to all.



Your top ten (x2) for 2012!



Today’s post began with one top ten list for students, and by the time it was complete there was a list for teachers too! Taking the time to plan your day or week allows you the opportunity to focus your thoughts and prioritize what you need to do to prepare yourself.  The lists are not necessarily new, breakthrough ideas – but serve as reminders that there are some simple ways we can guide ourselves and our students towards progress and the fulfillment of our potential.



Top 10 Items every dance student should have in their dance bag…

[drumroll please!]

  1. Yes, you need a dance bag.
    • Once you get past the point of your parents coming with you to class and ensuring that you’ve brought everything you need – it’s the best way to keep all your dance things in one place.
    • Parents begin this with your young dancer (even 3 and 4 yr olds) to build the habit of preparing your dance gear (and thoughts) beforehand.
    • And remember, dance bags do not need to be expensive or fancy (nor dance specific), your local sporting goods store will have some reasonably priced options!
  2. A water bottle.
  3. First aid kit.
    • Hand sanitizer – lots of people use studios, which means viruses and germs are present (and they love the humidity)!
    • Band aids – for your fingers, toes, knees, elbows, etc.
    • Tissues- for your nose.
    • Asthma/allergy medications such as inhalers and Epi-pens.  These should also be brought into the studio with you and your teacher should know why you have them.
  4. Hair supplies.
    • Several strong hair elastics, hair pins, hair net, brush/comb, bobby pins/barrettes/clips for the wisps.
    • Tidy and secured hair serves three important functions.  First, it prevents the distraction of the hair being in the dancers face when moving.  Second, it allows the teacher to see the alignment of the shoulders and neck clearly.   Third, dance is about creating lines with the body, essentially from the center (spine) outward to the limbs – the audience (and the teacher) needs to see the lines that the dancers are creating throughout their technique.
  5. Dance shoes.
    • Ideally you want to you find a bag that has a separate shoe compartment, to help prevent the ‘sharing of smells’.  A waterproof bag of some sort is helpful as well – that way if your water bottle/hairspray/ lunch leaks during transport your shoes won’t get soaked.
    • Remember to allow your shoes to dry at the end of your day.  Once you  have arrived home take your shoes out of your bag and leave them out to air dry.   Don’t forget to put them back in your bag in the morning!
  6. Pointe shoe kit.
    • For those that take pointe class, you should all have a small sewing kit in your dance bag.  Needle, thread, small scissors, and  toe tape  should be in your kit.  For students that need to wear band aids it is recommended to use toe tape on top of the band aids so they do not slide off your toes when on pointe, creating additional friction (blisters).
  7. A snack or two.
    • If you bring a dry snack it can be in a Ziploc bag, or if you bring a wet snack that needs to be kept cool try an insulated lunch bag.
  8. Dance wear.
    • Again, its great if your bag has a specific compartment for your dance wear, but if it doesn’t it is best to have a waterproof bag to put your dance wear in at the beginning and end of your day.
    • A spare pair of tights and a bodysuit/leotard is helpful for those days when your aren’t as prepared as you thought!
  9. A lock.
    • This might not apply to every situation, however if lockers are available for your use it is recommended that you lock up your dance bag and personal items during class.
  10. A notebook or journal.
    • Remember those goals you set for yourself earlier this year? Jot them down in your notebook or journal.  When you have a break in your day (between classes or rehearsals, waiting for your ride, in the car, etc.)  read through your goals and make note of where you are at with them.  While you are at it – jot down any corrections that you received today.  Did you understand the correction?  Did you achieve the correction? What do you need to work on next time?

Need extra compartments for all of your stuff?   Go for the simple solution – good old Ziploc bags and containers work very well, for pennies!  Re-useable pouches can also be found at travel stores such as Mountain Equipment Coop (in Canada) or REI (in the US) – equally as inexpensive in the long run.


Alright teachers, you have not been forgotten…


Top 10 Items every dance teacher should have in their teaching bag (or locker)…

  1. A good nights rest!
  2. A body that is ready to teach.  Have you warmed up your muscles before teaching?
    • Before you head into the studio try taking a yoga or Pilates class, doing your own barre or a brief aerobic warm up and a few light stretches.  You will be able to demonstrate more effectively and will enter class focused, energized, and positive.
  3. A water bottle.
    • Reaching for pop or coffee is far too easy sometimes, staying hydrated will foster the pliability of your muscles and joints, and boost stamina – this practice also sets an example for both parents and students.
  4. A small snack or two.
    • Dried or sliced fruit, cut vegetables, a small sandwich, greek yogurt (high protein!) or even a bit of chocolate.
    • This also sets an example for the students and parents, reminding them to bring healthy snacks, and to take the time to eat them during breaks.
  5. Hair supplies.
    • Though I don’t believe that teachers need to have their hair in a bun (for ballet) I do believe that our students can see our alignment and facial expressions clearer when we wear our hair up.   A tidy presentation is key.  If students are expected to have tidy hair then it follows that teachers demonstrate the same.
  6. White athletic (toe) tape.
    • Learning to tuck in your drawstrings on your ballet slippers can be a hard lesson when you are young.   Use athletic tape to secure the drawstrings of your students shoes into the toe of the shoe (after they’ve been trimmed).    Keeps them out of sight, helping children to focus on using their feet rather than fixing their drawstrings.
    • Also comes in handy when fitting and labeling costumes!
    • Here in Winnipeg hockey tape is abundant , it is inexpensive and works just as well as pricey ‘toe tape’.
  7. Teaching shoes.
    • Every teacher has their preference of what they like to wear when teaching.  Truth be told, we need to be aware of the health of our feet as it impacts the lower legs, hips and lower back in particular.  Keep your feet and back healthy by keeping your shoes in good repair and having a few pairs to rotate throughout your teaching week.
    • Check in with your physiotherapist to see if you need an orthotic to be fit into your teaching shoes as well.
  8. Teaching clothes.
    • If alignment is a key element in your class (which I hope it is!), ensure that students can see your alignment as well.  Avoid overly baggy tops and pants.   If the school dress code requires that students be fully covered, then teachers are advised to demonstrate the same.
  9. Music!
    • An Ipod chock full of your entire music collection.  Thank the lord we don’t have to haul around those vinyl LPs or piles of CDs anymore!
    • An adapter.  If you change locations often this can save you from having to sing your entire class or having to dig through what few cd’s you might have available to you.  According to tech-y  advisors they are called a ‘1/8th inch stereo male to stereo RCA male’ adapter.
  10. Teaching notebook/ journal.
    • This probably goes without saying – do take the time to outline your classes beforehand.  Have a focus in mind for your class.  Having a notebook handy proves useful when noting what needs to be worked on next class/week, or ideas for choreography as well.

Cellphones. We all have them in our bags don’t we?   Just a reminder to keep them on silent while you teach.  If you need to keep it at hand due to a family emergency let your school director know in case any parents/students express concern.


Now its your turn – what is the most essential item in your dance/teaching bag?