I'm a passionate dancer, and I share all my best advice, thoughts and personal experiences in dance and body-conditioning. My aim is to provide dancers around the world with easy-to-read, accessible information that encourages them in their practice.
For dancers and athletes alike, there’s one essential element in every training session: the warm-up. When properly structured, it’s a real ally in protecting against injury and supporting your practice. However, in Indian classical dance, its presence and content are very random, and it can sometimes be difficult to find your way around. For some, it’s a long warm-up including numerous exercises, while others consider the basic steps to be a warm-up.
In this article, I reveal the key elements for getting the most out of it!
The real purpose of a warm-up is quite simple: to prepare your body for dancing, and to enable it to perform at its best during practice. It’s important to understand that a ballet dancer’s warm-up will be different from that of a classical Indian dancer, and a bharatanatyam dancer’s from that of an odissi dancer.
A good warm-up is therefore one that prepares you gradually and specifically for your style of dance. It’s low-intensity (and therefore different from a strength-training session), short in duration (around 10-20% of the duration of your dance practice), and goes from the general to the specific (jumping into your chauka series is therefore not a warm-up in itself).
With experience, you might be tempted to skip this part, thinking that it’s no longer necessary: in reality, whatever your level, a warm-up is always important. What’s more, it would be a shame to miss out on its many benefits: better preparation and performance of muscles and joints, improved concentration and coordination, reduced fatigue, faster recovery, and the best protection from injuries!
To be effective, the warm-up must increase heart rate, body temperature and blood circulation in the muscles. It must facilitate activation of the muscles most involved in dance technique. The elements of a good warm-up are: mental preparation, pulse raiser, joint mobility and specific exercises.
Start with mental preparation: this may be as simple as your bhumi pranam or a brief meditation.
Continue with pulse raiser: this is a gentle, progressive cardio exercise of light intensity and easy movements. It promotes blood circulation without tiring the body.
You can then move on to a few joint movements, approached systemically from head to toe. This will prepare your body for safe loading and shok absoption. You can also include some dynamic stretches of major muscle groups (glutes and leg muscles, notably quadriceps and hamstrings).
The warm-up can then be made more specific with mobilization and isolation exercises linked to the dance technique (such as exercises that activate the leg muscles and prepare for chauka and tribhangi postures, bust and neck movements etc). These are just a few simple sequences to prepare your basic steps, but are not your steps yet!
You can devote around 5 minutes to each session, adapting the content to the duration and intensity of your dance practice. The total duration of your warm-up can be between 10 and 30 minutes.
There are a few simple indicators of whether your warm-up is safe and effective, based first and foremost on how you feel!
To begin with, after you’ve done it, you should feel warm, with an accelerated heart rate, but not out of breath or exhausted. If you can’t hold a conversation, your warm-up may have been too intense!
Your muscles should be warm and supple, and able to move easily through their full range of motion: you shouldn’t be shaking or feeling too weak to start dancing. If you already need a break, you missed the point!
The execution of your dance movements should then feel like a natural continuity, not a sudden, intense effort. If this isn’t the case, you need to warm up more!
How you feel is the first indicator of the effectiveness of your warm-up. However, don’t hesitate to ask a professional trainer for advice if you have the slightest doubt.
For me, both as a dancer and a teacher, warm-up is essential and non-negotiable! When you skip the warm-up, you make your body more vulnerable to sprains, cramps and other injuries.
Creating your own little warm-up routine is a real long-term investment that will influence your longevity as a dancer!
Happy dancing !
June 22, 2023