Getting students, particularly young students to warm-up or want to warm-up is a difficult feat in the studio itself. Dancers come in and often ask the question, "Do we have to warm-up?" in the hopes you will say, "No we don't have to today," and will jump straight to leaps across the floor or the cool combo that's awaiting them.
Well....just like giving a child a pint of Hagen Daz ten minutes before bedtime isn't a great idea, neither is omitting proper warm-up and stretch time to ensure safety, body conditioning, strengthening and flexibility alongside their technical development. What's even more challenging is motivating young dancers to stretch at home, on vacations and over the summer break. Let's face it, unless the child has the self discipline to want to do it, it's tough. Motivating dancers to spend time stretching at home can be achieved if you approach it in the right way; one that is fun, demonstrates tangible results and isn't overly time consuming. The following are three "at-home" exercises for your dancers which fit the aforementioned bill.
For a further challenge, hand out a chart for them to keep track of how long they held each stretch each day and goals or milestones they aim for....i.e. Day #1: held split for 30 seconds/ Day #10: held split for 2 minutes, fully extended with pointed feet. This allows dancers to take ownership over their own progress and self assess. When they miss a day or two, they then become accountable for checking in with themselves and getting back on track. If they are really doing the work at home, you'll be able to see their progress as well and acknowledge their efforts. It also demonstrates to you who is serious about their training and how much time a dancer is willing to invest! Feel free to take it a step further and have dancers perform the same stretches in class for a fun "in class challenge," and see how they stack up against one another for a little healthy competition. Seeing their fellow dancers making strides may just be the positive "push" they need to want to progress at all!
Good luck to all! Keep em' stretching!
Stretch #1: Flexibility Exercise for Hip Flexors
Lay on the floor, table, firm surface, etc. Bring your knees to your chest. Extend one leg, clasping hands around one thigh and extend other leg along the floor. Keep the extended knee straight. Make sure you are supporting lower back and contract back into the floor. For extra stretch: Flex foot of the extended leg and/or clasp hands around calf or ankle vs. thigh. Hold one minute. Repeat other side.
Stretch #2: Flexibility Exercise for Hip Adductors & Hamstrings
Lay on the floor, facing a wall, with legs extended up on a wall. Placing hands under sacrum (making sure dancer is close to the wall,) slowly turn out legs and extend open in second position stretch. Hold one minute. Repeat. For extra stretch of the hamstrings, flex feet and gently reach for ankles and pull legs down closer to the floor.
Stretch #3: Exercise to Strengthen Foot Inverters & Everters
Part 1. With a Theraband wrapped around foot, dancer sits up tall and lengthened. Slowly point right foot as much as possible. Keep toes lengthened. Evert foot. Keeping the foot pointed, now invert foot. Return to starting position and repeat 5-10 times slowly. Repeat other side.
Part 2. Begin the same way. Flex the ankle. Maintain flexion and invert against resistance of the band. Return to starting position and repeat 5-10 times slowly. Repeat other side.
Part 3. Alternate between flex to point as you invert foot against resistance. Repeat for one minute each side.