Why dance fitness is more than just ‘Strength & Flex’

I’ve been involved in dance long enough now to see some trends come and go.

In recent years, the explosion of dance talent shows and the Web 2.0 has exposed more people to dance than ever. Dance is a growing sport/art and we have mainstream media to largely thank for it! What it has meant, however, is that the regular everyday person or dancer is exposed to the ‘wow’ factors like gravity-defying acrobatics, bodies stretched to the extreme and youngsters performing moves most could never dream of achieving at their peak.

As a result, we are entering a concerning territory where people think they need to stretch to the extreme and force their bodies into doing things it is not capable of on a physical, technical or even anatomical level. Whilst I know it will fall on deaf ears to say that it is not necessary to aim for these extremes, I hope it does not fall on deaf ears to say that Flexibility is not the be all and end all of Dance! Especially when it is to the exclusion of all other Dance Fitness Components.

Some genres of dance such as calisthenics, cheerleading and acrobatics (and others I am sure) are providing an increased focus on the development of adequate strength to perform advanced movements, and this is a great start.

However, there is much more to ‘dance fitness’ than strength and flexibility. There are a number of other fitness components, such as:

  • Endurance;
  • Aerobic fitness;
  • Anaerobic fitness; and
  • Power.

Then there are the more skill-related fitness components of balance and agility.

Just as for strength and flexibility, each of these fitness components are unique to each other, yet necessarily related for the production of dynamic, graceful, controlled, explosive and visually appealing movement.

Endurance refers to the ability of the body to withstand muscular fatigue. Think of a leg hold that lasts for forever, or a series of leaps performed continuously. You use the same muscles over and over again, asking the same muscles to produce large or quick or long movements. This is in contrast to strength, which refers to your best effort performed once. In fact, I would argue the ‘strength’ aspect of many dance conditioning programs are actually endurance-based and that the ‘strength’ aspect needs to focus on eccentric strength – which is a fancy word for controlling a body part while it is lengthening.


Stay here all day? Sure I can, I have Muscular Endurance.

Aerobic fitness refers to the ability of the heart to efficiently deliver oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles. If this process is working at it’s absolute best, fatigue does not set in and the person can sustain the intensity of movement for a long period of time.

In dance, anaerobic fitness is more relevant. This refers to the ability to produce movement in the absence of the oxygen-rich aerobic system. The aerobic system takes around 3 minutes to kick in (think of the muscles shouting to the heart ‘hey, can you get going with some delivery of oxygen here, this is killing me!!‘), and by then a dance routine is usually over!  Therefore, it is critical that we train our bodies to actually withstand the extreme fatigue that is felt when you are producing high-intensity movement with no immediate help from the heart and lungs.

To complicate things further, a good base of aerobic fitness is actually helpful to achieving anaerobic fitness. It provides your body with the ability to kick-in the aerobic system quicker, and it also helps your body recover from high-intensity anaerobic movement, which can be the difference between coming off stage and catching your breath on wobbly legs, versus coming off stage and collapsing while vomiting up your stomach contents or lining.

In order to increase our anaerobic fitness, we need to push our lactate threshold. This is a fancy term for ‘my muscles are about to give in and I’m going to collapse and/or vomit’ – we actually need to train our ability to withstand these conditions!

Giving attention to the fitness component of power is where the easiest gains can be made. Power is the ability to produce explosive movements (speed + strength). Think leg kick, leap, jump, aerial, handspring or even transitioning from the floor quickly.  We all know someone who has great flexibility but cannot translate that to a leap in the air – you can now tell them that they need to focus on developing leg power.


High Leap = She’s got the Power

As I have mentioned, eccentric muscle strength is important in dance as what goes up must come down. You must be able to control your leg as it exits from a leg kick, leap or arabesque penche, and you must be able to control your back as it bends into a layout, backbend, or walkover.

In addition to all of this, we must consider the need to train all body parts to achieve a balance of fitness in the upper body, lower body and torso. Different body parts require different levels of flexibility (please don’t overstretch your shoulders!) and power (protect the spine!).

As can be seen, there is a lot more than meets the eye to dance fitness training and coaching. Next time you are watching a young person oversplit in their leap and yank their leg over their head,  please hope for their sake that they are under the watchful eye of a professionally trained dance coach and that they are undergoing continuous corrections for safe dance movement!


I don’t know if I can watch – owwww!
Unfortunately, we don’t dance at our peak forever, and we need our body to keep being able to move beyond this time. Take care of your body and invest in your dance fitness, to minimise injury and maximise success!



A dance fitness investor….

Please leave any questions or comments below, or find me on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/bethehumanelement/ to chat further!

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