Dance is a blessing to us in more ways than I can list. The one I appreciate the most is that dance gives us a better understanding of ourselves. Every body is different. The one and only way to keep yourself fit is to understand how much of what your body needs. Keeping ourselves fit is about making a friendly pact between boundless energy and controlled body weight.
Before we get started on dance fitness, lets bust a few myths:
- Thin = Healthy
- Fat = Graceful
- Young = Energetic
- Old = Unfit
- Too Much exercise could harm you
- Classical Dancing makes you fat
Believe it or not, every single one of these is a myth!! Here’s why….
Our bodies yearn for activity. It is the mind that tells you that it is better to sit than walk around; it’s better to eat than workout and it’s better to rest than rehearse.
Ever experienced the rush of adrenaline after a good workout? Thats our body’s way of telling us that it has detoxified and melted away all the bad energy. So listen and listen hard to the voice of your body and keep it well conditioned.
Its all about Balance
As dancers we give ourselves completely to the art. Encouraged by our gurus we push every boundary to get that perfect movement at the perfect time and relentlessly beat our bodies till we get there. In the rush, it is easy to ignore the banter we put ourselves through.
Striking the right balance between the right diet , the right exercise and the right amount of rehearsal time is essential. In the words of Rama Vaidhyanathan ” It is a tight rope walk. Lord Nataraja himself balances his whole body on just one foot. By doing this, he seems to be telling us to look for our own individual balances. If our food intake is high, we may have energy but not the tautness and mobility that a slim body would have. If our food intake is low, we may have a slim body that is weak and lethargic. Either way, we are in trouble. The simple solution therefore is to eat the right things in the right quantity.”
Find your Mix
Today’s dancers are more aware of the workings of their bodies. We are also exposed to so many more exercise choices. Some work and some don’t but the important thing is to keep trying new things and not letting it get monotonous. Anything from yoga, pilates, aerobics, zumba, swimming or just running is essential to give your body the replenishment it requires.
Build a routine
After reading countless articles and trying out different things I have managed to build a routine that try to follow very strictly. It is a 3 step process that has worked for me and I hope you find it useful too 🙂
There is one thumb rule that every dancer, athlete, gymer should, must and has to follow. Warm up before and cool down after! Never underestimate the the importance of it.
During a warm-up, there is a change in the pace of breathing; this in turn increases the rate of heartbeat and the circulation of blood to different part of the body. The circulation also ensures that all the muscles loosen up and the joints are well-lubricated. Preparing the muscles and joints would lead to lesser injuries and cramps during dancing.
Every dancer’s requirements for a warm-up are based on their body types, strength and weaknesses. The parts of the body that are weak or previously injured need to be given extra focus during warm-up. Each individual needs to design a set of exercises that would work for their specific needs and capabilities.
A good warm-up could start with a couple of pulse raisers, stretches and strength exercises with the focus on breathing. An Odissi dancer needs to stretch the lower back, the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, achilles and the arches of the feet compulsorily. One could do additional stretches based on the requirements of the body.
Get your heart pumping before you get started. I try a combination of things and do not stop until I feel a spike in my heart rate and break into a sweat. Jumping jacks, knee raisers, simple jumps, jogging on the spot or twist jumps are all good pulse raisers. Try to get at least 50 of any pulse raisers.
I cannot stress enough on how important stretching is. After a sedentary day at work/school you must ensure that your blood circulates well to all parts of your body. Be careful and never ever stretch cold muscles. There is a high risk of muscle tears and pulls when you stretch cold muscles.
Yoga is a gift our ancestors have left behind for us. I do 5-10 surya namaskars and couple of other yoga poses before I get started. Concentrate on each part of your body and breathe long and deep during each stretch.
Yoga is a fantastic pathway for building emotional and physical strength. It helps dancers to keep our joints in perfect condition, improves our concentration and protects our bodies from injuries. I feel dance and Yoga are like siamese twins, one is incomplete without the other! Our warm up exercises, movement dynamics, controlled expression, holding of postures are all yogic – so to speak.
Thanks to the tireless effort of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Kum Kum Mohanty and the Odissi research center, we have a documented exercise regime to follow before we begin dancing. These exercises are divided into sound and silent exercises and are targeted at building your strength and flexibility. Mastering these exercises make it much easier to achieve the stances and poses of Odissi.
I try to do at least 1 of each silent and sound exercise everyday. You can choose the one you like and gradually try to incorporate the challenging exercises into your routine.
Different Gurus try different things to get their dancers warmed up. During a workshop in Mumbai I experienced the most strenuous warm up routine ever. The entire class gradually completed all 10 Chowka and Tribhangi steps in all 3 speeds before we began our class! I was shocked with my shameful level of fitness and swore to get there some day. Since then I try to add a few steps into my warm up and my Guru says he has noticed a dramatic difference in my stamina since I started doing this.
At the end of your dance rehersal your heart is pumping, your muscles are hot and your body is sweating and trying to regain temperature balance. Sitting down and doing nothing is the worst thing to do to your body at this point.
I do a very slow surya namaskar holding each pose for a couple of second while I let my body cool down. Try to mix it up with a back, side, knee and neck stretch for at least 7-10mins and let your body relax. Cooling down is crucial to prevent injuries and muscle pulls.
Understand Your Body:
I love this video by the Shakti School of Dance. The intense warm up, continuous movement and the will power of these dancers is so inspiring