Dance - Foundation

It is helpful when trying to improve in dance to think of the lower half of your body as your foundation. This foundation includes your hips, legs and feet. This part of the body needs to be strong and flexible and will help your co-ordination and your spatial awareness (how you purposefully incorporate and cover the floor in a routine). Flexibility is important, as having muscles that are flexible allows your joints to move through a full range of motion. You need to be flexible in order to move smoothly, avoid muscle tension (which can make your routine look awkward and ugly) and to keep your body protected from injury. Our feet are the basis of our posture, balance and movement and to dance well, we must also have strong and flexible feet and ankles. By increasing the flexibility in your body and feet, you will find you are able to perform a wider range and combination of movements, allowing you to be more creative in the choreography of a routine and allowing you to become a better dancer in performance.


To be successful

Advice or tips to help you


· Warm up

· Warm up before dancing

· Ensure you get your heart rate going at the beginning of the warm-up to get your body nice and warm.

· Remember to stretch

· Once you have raised your heart rate, you can begin to stretch through the muscles. Stretching will gradually increase your flexibility.

· Keep within your body's limits

· Make sure you listen to your body and that you perform stretches correctly. It can be easy to cause yourself a muscle injury otherwise.


· Cool down

· Wind down gradually

· After dancing, it is important to wind your body down slowly to return your heart rate to normal and give your muscles time to recover. If you do this, you will prevent injury or soreness and help your body recover more quickly and benefit from the practice you have done.


· Use good posture to improve your stretching and flexibility

· Start stretches from the neutral position

· This will ensure your body is aligned well (nice and straight) to aid the best stretch possible.

· Focus on the whole of your body as you stretch

· Think of the head-to-toe approach, keeping your whole body long and aligned while you are working on stretches and increasing your flexibility.

· Remember your breathing

· Ensure you are breathing throughout. Deep breaths will help you relax into a stretch, allowing the stretch to gradually increase. This means your flexibility is also slowly increasing.


· Work the feet

· Keep your feet shaped

· Make sure your feet are pointed or flexed, dependent on the move, at all times. Don't leave them hanging and ugly.

· Remember that your feet are the basis of your posture, balance, co-ordination and strength

· Become aware of all parts of your feet and what parts make contact with the ground and when. Feel your weight through your feet and use all of the foot when dancing.

· Wear shoes designed for the job

· Wearing the right dance shoes for the style of dance you are performing is hugely beneficial. Trying to do modern or ballet in trainers is never really going to show off a lovely developed foot. Likewise, jazz or ballet shoes for street or hip/hop or tap are not going to allow you to use the feet in the right way.


· Toe rise

· Gradually build up the stretch

· This stretch will help to strengthen your toes and calf muscles. Stand on a stable surface; rise up onto your toes by lifting your heels off the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Start with 3 sets of 10 seconds and work your way up to 3 sets of 30 seconds.

· Try to use your core muscles to balance

· Make sure you are not wobbling while on your toes. Try to engage your tummy muscles and strengthen your body to hold your weight so you are light on your feet.

· Keep on going!

· This takes perseverance, so keep at it and don't give up.


· Toe pick-ups

· Watch out for toe spasms

· This exercise will help strengthen your toes and improve their flexibility. However some people initially may find their toes spasm if they aren't used to using them. If this happens, then just stretch the foot and rub it; but persevere, as it will pay off. Place some objects on the floor in a pile and use your toes to pick each one up and move it to make a new pile. Try and do this three times, twice a day.

· Imagine lifting from your tummy

· When you pick the object up, try to engage your tummy muscles especially as you move the object to the new pile. Try to feel that your leg is light but strong as your core supports it.

· Lift up light things, avoid things which are too heavy!

· Sweet wrappers, pencils, keys, rubbers...anything small and light. Don't try picking up heavy large objects; you will damage your toes!


· Lower leg and ankle exercises

· Try to stretch the calf and the ankle joint together using the towel stretch

· Sit on the floor and keep your knee straight. Loop a towel around your foot and pull the towel back until you start to feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat three times on each leg.

· Keep your ankles flexible in movement

· Practise rotating your ankles clockwise and anti-clockwise to encourage a full range of fluid movement in them.

· Try to keep the calf muscles well stretched to avoid spasm or limited range of movement in the ankle and when shaping the foot

· Use this stretch to help: line yourself up squarely in front of a solid wall. Outstretch your arms to lean against the wall. Move one foot forward. The other foot should stay back. Straighten the knee on the back leg until you feel a stretch in the calf. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times on each leg.


· Stretch the upper legs

· Remember to stretch the thighs

· Sit on the floor as if you are going to cross your legs but instead, put the soles of your feet together. Gently push your knees towards the floor; you should feel your inner thighs stretching out.

· Keep the thighs from overstretching

· If you are not very flexible, the thighs can be really tight to begin with; they need gentle stretching. If you feel pain, then stop and if your legs shake in a stretch, then lessen the stretch. If you pull a thigh muscle, it can take quite some time to heal.

· Spend time stretching your legs before you kick and leap

· Gentle leg kicks in warm up and remembering to use the core as support will help you to start to achieve better height and extension on any kicks and leaps in a routine.


· Release the upper body

· Remember that it isn't just your legs and feet that need to be flexible

· Your upper body needs a large and varied range of movement and strength in order for you to perform successfully. Try standing with feet hip-width apart, arms reaching toward the ceiling, bend forward from the waist and down to the floor so you are bent in half. Slowly uncurl the spine bit by bit. The shoulders and head should be the last parts to slot in to place when you return to standing.

· Remember to breathe

· Those low belly breaths will really aid the release and flexibility that you are able to achieve in the upper body.

· Use your spine and lift through your torso

· See if you can isolate different parts of your body. Start with the head, then neck, shoulders, ribs, and hips. Identifying just one part and being able to move it independently will give you a greater sense of what your body is able to do and how you can use its movement.


· Use the head-to-toe approach

· Keep focused on your whole body and don't only pay attention to one area

· You need to pay attention to all muscle groups in your body when stretching, as it is the only way to stay aligned (straight and long) and flexible.

· Remember your head and neck

· Make sure you stretch the head and neck as they are heavily used in dance. Standing in neutral, take the head over to the side, keep the jaw released, you should feel the stretch down the open side of the head and neck. Roll the head down to the chest and up through the middle. Repeat on the other side.

· Apply your increased flexibility to your routine

· It is easy to do all this practice to improve your flexibility and then not know how to use it in your dancing. Make sure you benefit from all your hard work.