Ballroom Dancing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Ballroom dancing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with ballroom injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 6, 2010 | Updated August 11, 2017
Ballroom dancing refers to a series of dances performed with a partner. Competition style Ballroom dancing involves:
- International dances like the Waltz, the Fox Trot, the Samba and the Paso Doble, or;
- Mixing traditional ballroom dances with faster styles like the Lindy Hop, Merengue, West Coast Swing and the Tango.
In a competition, participants earn points for their poise, posture, expressions, timing and presentation as well as their foot and leg action.
Organized dancing originated in France with Basse Danse, Pavane and Galliarde. Ballet was introduced to the world at the dance academy founded by King Louis the XIV. The waltz began during the Victorian Era around 1812.
The fox trot was the first true American ballroom dance. The jazz inspired Charleston is a form of the jitterbug while the Quickstep is a faster version of the foxtrot. The Cuban Mambo, the Cha-Cha and the American Jive made their debuts on the dance scene around the 1940’s and changed the world of ballroom dancing forever.
Ballroom dancing offers a total cardiovascular exercise, working all of the major muscle groups in varying degrees of intensity, depending on the dance executed. During the first few days, new ballroom dancers will feel pain in muscles they didn’t know they had.
For proper execution of the dance moves, both partners need to have good coordination, as well as an all-over good physical tone. Muscular strength and muscular endurance are essential in the upper body, especially the back and arms as well as the lower body, primarily in the core section as well as the legs and calves.
The major muscle groups that will get a workout with ballroom dancing include:
- The hip abductors, hip adductors, quadriceps, calves, the hamstring and gluteals.
- The upper back muscles, especially the area around the shoulders and upper arms including the triceps and the girdle and deltoid muscles.
- The abdominal and obliques, collectively known as the “core,” which includes the abdominal wall muscles and the spinal erectors.
Most Common Ballroom Injuries
While ballroom dancing may not appear to be an activity even remotely connected to injury, it is important to be aware of the reality of injury.
- Tendinitis: caused by constant and repeated strain on tendons, particularly around the elbows. A sudden, lancing pain when the affected joint is moved is the first sign of potential tendinitis. Further movement of the affected area may show signs of stiffness and continued pain. The weakness may continue until the strain is fully healed.
- Muscle Strains: The muscles of the shoulders, neck, back, and legs during ballroom dancing can be subjected to more tension than normal, which makes them vulnerable to strains during exaggerated movements. Improper warm ups or repeated extremely stressful movements may result in strains where the muscles are connected to the bones by tendons. Too much stress may cause tears to appear in those tendons. The most vulnerable area in the body for dancers is the knee, where excessive straining movement could result in meniscal-like tears in the labrum. This condition is quite painful, and further activity should be avoided. If the strain is in the upper or lower leg, no movements should be attempted other than light walking for at least 72 hours.
- Muscle Cramp: usually caused by muscle tightness, fatigue or fluid imbalance and are felt as painful muscle contractions. Stretching before and after dancing can help prevent muscle cramps.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Among the most common injuries in ballroom dancers are those caused by overuse. Repetitive movements done for extended periods of time place undue stress on the legs, hips, feet, backs and shoulders of dancers. The good news is most of the injuries associated with ballroom dancing can be prevented.
An effective way to prevent overuse injuries is to complement your daily dance classes with exercises that stretch and strengthen those muscles that are not developed by your dance routine.
One of the best things you can do to prevent injuries during ballroom dancing is to warm up before executing any moves out on the floor. Be sure to perform some very specific stretches to warm up and loosen all of the muscle groups that will be involved in your dance routine and pay particular attention to those areas that you know are prone to injury. Keep in mind that cooling down after each rehearsal or performance is just as important as the warm up session.
During the dance, be aware of your moving postural alignment. Maintain proper posture to prevent back strain and make sure you are in the proper and balanced position before attempting lifts or dips.
While wrist braces or elbow and knee pads may not go with the rest of the outfit on the actual dance night, during practice sessions it helps to wear a brace or wrap on any weak muscle area to protect the tender areas, such as the back, knees, ankles and wrists.
The Top 3 Ballroom Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for ballroom; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.
Rotating Stomach Stretch: Lie face down and bring your hands close to your shoulders. Keep your hips on the ground, look forward and rise up by straightening your arms. The slowly bend one arm and rotate that shoulder towards the ground.
Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.