Dance Fitness & Cross Training for Dancers

Brief Background on Running & Dancing

Dancing is unarguably a form of physical activity: there is movement, variation of speed, posture and both force and resistance applied. Counterintuitively, well-documented evidence identifies ballet and {distance} running as generally incompatible, begging conversations over muscle building versus or in comparison to cardiovascular fitness. From rudimentary biomechanics and physiology, most of us are ancillarily aware that muscle-building or weight training is anaerobic and cardiovascular exercise like running, walking, cycle, etc. is aerobic. The presiding question comes more from a place of whether or not logging hours in the dance studio provides the same health {cardio} benefits as strict aerobic activities. In other words, do dancers possess the fitness and endurance that other athletes gain?

Running, which is both a cardiovascular (aerobic) and a high-impact activity, can be too hard on joints requiring dancer’s greatest physical strength (knees, ankles). Running can also alter the muscle tone that dancers spend years building in very particular ways. While there exists a body of evidence suggesting that cardiovascular activity diminishes muscles, this is only partly accurate: cardiovascular or aerobic exercise will lean out and tone muscle mass. Running also uses different muscles and uses muscles in a different way from how they are used in ballet and other forms of dance [1]. By utilizing running as a cardiovascular complement to dancing, muscle can still be retained through strength workouts but the impact running induces might not be worth it to someone who wishes to enjoy a long, injury-free ballet career.

Running and Dancing are both skills: there should be no question about this. Elite distance runners train to develop a perfected foot strike, posture and form just as a dancer trains for form, function and pointe. These are perhaps the most evident incompatibilities, as distance running forces a vastly different foot pattern from dancing.

Aerobic Dance

Cross-training has always been part of the ballet conversation, with more emphasis applied to brisk walking, yoga, pilates [2] and more recently the elliptical (less stress on joints) and even my personal favorite: the StairMaster. But there might be a better method: Jacki Sorensen is credited for discovering Aerobic Dance in the 1970’s, after asking the headlining question: How fit is a dancer? How can dance incorporate cardiovascular components thus affording dancers the same benefits purported for runners and walkers? Learn more about the Sorensen program here.

To understand why this is relevant physiologically and how it can be effectively incorporated for those of us who only wish to remain fit, perhaps less blessed with clay-molded physiques, it is first important to assess the full scope of the activity – we’ll break this down and make it logical:

1. Trained, elite dancers participated in a variety of studies, most of which conclude that dancers are prepared to handle oxidative stress from rigorous activity. These are individuals who dance as full-time careers.

2. Some “cardio” dance workouts have proven more beneficial than some gym workouts, such as those performed on an elliptical trainer (cardio barre, cardio ballet (Jessica Smith), aerobic dance, etc.).

3. Proficiency in performance is attributed to strict form practice; however fitness – endurance, cardiovascular and oxidative capacities – are more attributed to movement and supplemental activities like walking, cycling or elliptical training. [3]

Overall, dancing is an excellent physical activity, contributing a wealth of health benefits to those who practice it. If the type of dance practiced is not cardiovascular in nature, research studies suggest supplementing with activities that will allow individuals to reach target heart rates, burn fat and actually improve dance performance. Since dance requires core strength, flexibility and quick maneuvering capacity, proper nutrition should also be a marked feature of this healthy lifestyle.

Reference List

[1] comparison of the aerobic cost and muscle use in aerobic dance to the energy costs and muscle use on treadmill, elliptical trainer and bicycle ergometry:

[2] Pilates training and rehabilitation for professional ballet dancers:

[3] Do increases in selected fitness parameters affect the aesthetic aspects of classical ballet performance?


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