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3 Benefits of Pilates for Dancers

To become the best dancer one can be, thusly reaching one’s utmost potential, it is known to dancers that it is most beneficial to study several styles under as many professionals as possible in as many settings as opportunities there are. The same is true when training outside the dance studio. The importance of out of studio training (conditioning, strength, etcetera) has been well explored and the implications are that all can lead to a healthier dancer in mind, body, and soul. Of the countless fitness training styles available now, among the most beneficial is Pilates because of its focus on alignment and posture while challenging balance and mobilizing joints. Not uniquely, these are among the most important of dance movement principles that allow a dancer to maximize his/her potential in technical training. Just like ballet, proper posture and alignment is required in Pilates to maximize the benefits in all of its exercises.

Soul To Sole explored the importance of proper posture in last week’s post but how this important practice is conveyed in Pilates is similar to the ballet studio. In Pilates the language may be slightly different as are the means by which instructors achieve this proper alignment. One might hear alignment described in these terms: Hips stacked directly over centre of ankle; knees straight but neither relaxed nor sternly flexed; neutral pelvis with hips tacked over pubic bone; spinal in neutral curves; ribcage stacked over pelvis; chest open and lifted; shoulders are centered in sockets while chest and back are equally open; head stacked on neck with middle of ear over tip of shoulder. Although this description is not exactly transferrable to ballet and all styles of dance, the practice and emphasis on alignment while the body is in movement is similar. Pilates is not short on posture-enhancing exercises both on the mat and on the reformer. If you have excessive curve in the upper spine (kyphosis) focus on swan and mermaid on the mat with long box and mid-back series on the reformer. For excessive curve in the lower spine (lordosis) try the hundred and criss-cross on the mat with the hundred and bend/stretch on the reformer.

Pilates challenges body balance with both dynamic (moving) and static (still) exercises. Just like ballet, Pilates requires proper posture and alignment in order to get the balance benefit from both the dynamic and static exercises. Exercises as simple as one leg stand (variation for advanced level: extend the leg at the knee as in developpé devant) and toe-heel rock can benefit balance by requiring a strong centre and engaged core to perform. Side note, the toe-heel rock can also benefit the shin muscles (tibialis anterior) to prevent or treat shin splints. As with most strength and balance specific exercises, slow and control is the key to maximizing the benefits of the exercises.

Just as Pilates requires proper posture and alignment in order to maximize balance activities, this same attention is required for joints to work at their maximum range of motion while maintaining control over the joints and muscles so as not to injure them. The muscles and joints then become increasingly mobile when attention is given to performing these exercises in alignment, maintaining control, and using the breath. When alignment, control, and breath work together joints can become increasingly mobilized and help dancers reach the full range of motion in joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in both practice and performance.

With the help of qualified leaders dancers can step out of the ballet studio and into the Pilates studio for some added training that also focuses on breath, conscious movement, and improving the mind-body-soul relationship that will surely aid them in reaching their maximum potentials as dancers.

Brittany Brie D'Amico

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