5 Essential Stretches for Dancers

The last 2 weeks, I’ve talked about salsa congresses – how much fun they are, how jam-packed the schedules can get, and how to get the most of out of the experience. I thought this week we could change pace and talk about wellness, and taking care of your muscles after a long night of dancing.

Stretching after dancing is always important, but it’s all the more vital when you’re spending all day on your feet. Salsa tends to take a toll on certain muscles more than others, and the effects can be cumulative – if you ever felt your calves seize up after a long night of dancing, or woke up with painful foot cramps, you know what I mean! Here are a few targeted stretches to keep you injury-free:

  1. Feet
    We’ve talked about the importance of foot care before on this blog. After taking off your dance shoes, use a tennis ball (always a good idea to keep a spare one in your dance bag) and roll your foot over it to relax and stretch the muscles in your arch, in the ball of your foot, and in your toes. Give yourself a quick foot massage – focus on spreading your toes, stretching your arch, and rolling your ankles.
  2. Calves
    This one, along with #3 below, is especially for the ladies. Dancing in heels and with knees slightly bent means your calves and hamstrings never get a break, and will be the first to seize up.  My favourite calf stretch is the stair stretch – find a stairway step (or curb, or any other slight ledge), put the ball of your foot on the step, and slowly drop your heel off the ledge until you feel a stretch in your calf, and hold for 20-30 seconds. Do this with straight knees to stretch your upper calf, then with knees bent to focus on your Achilles tendon. More calf stretches here.
  3. Hamstrings
    In addition to tightness or pain at the back of your thighs, tight hamstrings can lead to pain in your knees, hips and back – none of which is fun. The easiest way to stretch your hamstrings is to keep your legs straight, bend at the waist, and touch your toes – either from a standing or a sitting position. Try to keep your back straight, and bend only at the waist until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then hold (don’t bounce!) for 20-30 seconds. More hamstring stretches here.
  4. Upper back and shoulders
    This one’s mainly for the guys – your job is to support and direct your partner, and a lot of that support and direction comes from keeping a strong frame through your shoulders and back. But prolonged stress on your back can lead to posture problems, back pain and headaches. To stretch your upper back and shoulders, round out your back and push your arms forward (like you’re trying to reach around a tree trunk). Shoulder and neck rolls also work well to relieve pressure. More upper back and shoulder stretches here.
  5. Anything else that needs it
    Everyone uses their muscles slightly differently, so if something that’s not on this list is aching or feeling tight after you dance, stretch it! If you’re not sure how to stretch a particular muscle, Google “[muscle/body part] stretches”.
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