Dancers And Stretching: How Hard Should You Push?

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! — That’s Happy New Year in Hawaiian! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday — and
“Nutcracker” season — and are ready to start the New Year.  This month’s post is a brief one to help you with your stretching. New research (on dancers) shows that the intensity of your stretching doesn’t have to be extreme in order to increase your flexibility.

The post is written by Matthew Wyon, PhD, who has written for our Dance Wellness column before — Matt is currently serving as the Vice President of IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine and Science), and is also a professor / researcher at the University of Wolverhampton (UK), as well as being affiliated with England’s National Institute for Dance Medicine and Science.   

So — enjoy the post, and have a good start to your New Year of dancing longer, stronger, and safer!

- Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor

by Matt Wyon, PhD

Dancers are renowned for their flexibility or range of movement, and devote a lot of time maintaining and enhancing this attribute. There has been much written on the different stretch techniques such as static, dynamic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) and when they should be implemented — for example, dynamic stretching during warm-up and static during recovery. However, the intensity at which the stretch should be held has had little research until recently. We often feel that unless the stretch is just below the pain barrier, the point where the muscle starts to wobble, nothing will change; this often equates to “8 out of 10” intensity.

A series of recent studies has started to challenge this concept. The first showed that at 8/10 intensity there was a huge increase in inflammation blood markers, suggesting that the muscle being stretched was actually being traumatized — but at lower intensities (3-6/10) this effect wasn’t noticed.

But will this lower intensity help increase flexibility?

A six week experiment on dancers who were split into one group that stretched at their usual intensity (8/10), and another at the lower intensity (3-5/10), noted that the dancers in the lower intensity group increased their grande battement and developpé height. The second group (8/10 intensity) saw a very slight but not significant increase (5-degree) compared to 20-degree for the low-intensity group.

So it seems less is more when it comes to stretching intensity!

It must be emphasized that this intensity should be used at the end of the day as a recovery and improving range of movement technique, rather than during warm-up.

Dance Wellness Contributor Matt Wyon

Matt Wyon, PhD

Contributor Matthew Wyon, PhD, is a Professor in Dance Science at the University of Wolverhampton, UK and a Visiting Professor at the ArtEZ, Institute of the Arts, The Netherlands.

At Wolverhampton he is the course leader for the MSc in Dance Science and Director of Studies for a number of dance science and medicine doctoral candidates. He is a founding partner of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, UK.

Prof. Wyon is Vice President of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science and a past chair of the Research Committee. He has worked with numerous dancers and companies within the UK and Europe as an applied physiologist and strength and conditioning coach.

He has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles in dance medicine and science.


Student Spotlight: Jemma Wilson


Jemma is currently in her third year studying Musical Theatre at Laine Theatre Arts in the UK. She writes for London Theatre Direct in her spare time and will soon begin teaching at a local theatre school, Tomorrow’s Talent.


Jemma Wilson

Jemma Wilson

1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?

I remember attending my older sister’s dance classes when I was very young and wanting desperately to join in with what the older girls were doing! It didn’t take long before I began taking classes too, and it has just grown and grown from there. My parents are very supportive and have always encouraged me to do what I enjoy doing, which I am very grateful for.


2. What do you find you like best about dance class?

Dance classes are the best when you have a great atmosphere. Dance offers a sense of unity, both on stage and in the studio, that I have not found anywhere else – everybody works diligently and it is amazing to give and receive support from fellow performers. The feeling when you ‘get’ something better than you’ve got it before is really good- you might not nail it every single time, but if you get a tiny bit better each time then you are improving!


3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?

Pirouettes on the left side!!

The best and worst thing about dance is how it drains you – emotionally and physically! I love feeling like I’ve worked my hardest, pushed myself further than I did yesterday and consequently achieved more, but it certainly is exhausting! It makes you appreciate any quieter time you do have in life, although it is very difficult to shut off from it. Sometimes I close my eyes to go to sleep and can hear my teachers shouting “once more from the top, 5, 6, 7, 8!”. I have learned to value my weekends a lot more, and to give myself ‘me-time': watching television with my housemates, reading a book, having a bath.


4. What advice would you give to other dancers?

It’s such a cliché, but make the most of your training. I am now coming to the end of my three years at Laine, and am growing increasingly worried about how quickly my remaining time is slipping away. Once I leave college I know it will be up to me to maintain my physical fitness, ensure I keep motivated, and make sure I don’t let my technique slip for auditions. Also remember how lucky you are to have picked the best job in the world (in my opinion!) – you are hopefully going to be paid to do the thing you love the most, which is performing on stage. Technique classes seem awful at the time, but all your teachers want you to be the best you can potentially be – that is why they nag you so much!


5. How has dance changed your life?

Dance has always been a huge influence on me, and now it is something that my life would not be complete without. I think every performer knows how exhilarating the feeling of being on stage is and I’m so grateful that I have discovered it. Changing dance from my hobby to my career choice was a scary thing to do, but I know that I have chosen an amazing, if impossibly competitive, industry to go into. I intend to learn as much as I can from everybody in the industry that I come into contact with, as I believe that you never stop learning.


HELP! How Do I Get Back Into Dance Classes?

Photo courtesy of KCBalletMedia at

Photo courtesy of KCBalletMedia at

by Katie C. Sopoci Drake

Hey there. It has been a while, hasn’t it? Teaching, the day-job, kids, or just plain old life got in the way. Although you may have been showing others how to dance, practicing yoga, and even performing here and there, it’s not the same as taking class, so now you’re nervous as heck. Now, you don’t have any grand illusions of running off to audition for a national tour (been there, done that), but you wouldn’t mind brushing up on your technique, and making sure you can jump into the odd performance without tearing anything.

But here come the doubts. I don’t know where to go. All of my dance clothes are long gone. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up. I don’t even know what level I am anymore. I really don’t want to be in an “adult” class with 12-year-olds.

Before I give you the pep talk, first things first…

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CD Review: David Plumpton’s “West End to Broadway” Vol. 3

West End to Broadway Vol. 3
David Plumpton

by Rachel Hellwig

West End to Broadway Cover

Jetés and all that jazz.

The energy and drama of musical theater songs makes them ideal for ballet class.

David Plumpton’s “West End to Broadway” Vol. 3 fills 36 tracks with piano arrangements from popular shows like Wicked, Jekyll and Hyde, and various Disney musicals. It also contains many pieces that you might not recognize unless you closely follow theater. But that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy these selections or find them wonderful for barre and center.

The spunky accents of “When I Grow Up” from Matilda are perfect for almost any tendu combination. The delicate (yet not-too-sugary) version of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin is dreamy for développés. “Welcome to the 60s” from Hairspray is a fun way to begin center tendus. “Popular” and “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked will add spark to petit and medium allegro combinations.

This CD is a great way to bring the magic of one performing art to another.



Lauren Warnecke On “The Year Of The Conference”

Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke

by Lauren Warnecke

Some say, “If you’ve been to one conference, you’ve been to them all,” but having attended four conferences this year I’m not so sure I agree. 2014 was “the year of the conference” for me, mostly because I’ve been excited to share some of my survey research on dance injuries and cross-training. Plus, as a first year PhD student (you knew that, right?), it seemed like a great way to insert myself into the academic community. My work was presented three times: in Bowling Green, Ohio last February at the Midwest Sport and Exercise Psychology Symposium (MSEPS), in October at the Annual Meeting for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) held in Basel, Switzerland, and again last month at the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO)’s annual conference in Chicago. I also attended Dance/USA’s conference in June, sans my science-y hat. I presented twice with my research assistant Molly, and each was slightly different in length, but on the whole each presentation was roughly the same.

Why give the same information at three conferences? Three reasons: practice, pointers, and pageantry.

Let me explain.

When you’re involved in research, it’s really easy to get lost in your work. It’s big. It’s overwhelming. Sometimes, you forget the point. Continually putting myself into situations that force me to articulate and defend my work is a really important part of the process. Otherwise, I might get in front of my committee, years from now, when it really counts, and totally bomb it. So, in my view, the more times I can talk about what I’m doing, the better (practice).

Practicing in front of audiences full of draconian observers from all different fields is better still. In the three conferences at which I presented, I yielded opinions and observations from exercise psychologists, physical therapists, athletic trainers, body conditioning specialists, medical doctors, and dance educators. I can say quite confidently that the dance educators were the toughest crowd. It is vital to the success and longevity of researcher that we communicate with individuals working in the field – those putting our ideas into practice. I consider the feedback I received from guests at my NDEO presentation to be critical information that can inform the future directions of my research (pointers).

Finally, conferences are awesome. Though often overwhelming and exhausting, there’s quite a pomp and circumstance surrounding the coming together of like-minded individuals. I mean, I went to Switzerland (Switzerland!) for a 10-minute presentation. Plus, the schmoozing, the fancy parties and catering (pageantry)….

Though the format, the networking, the light appetizers and harsh scrutiny are par for the course at any conference, I found each conference I attended this year to be a unique experience. The exercise psychologists we spoke to in February had no idea about dancers, and helped me draw connections between dance companies and athletic teams. IADMS opened me eyes to a rich pool of dance researchers that I hardly knew existed. As the sole dance researcher at a university with no dance program, I often feel like I’m on an island. IADMS assured me that there are many dedicated individuals in the world who have similar passions and goals. NDEO allowed me to interact with the educators who may actually benefit from this research. And without application, research is pretty much pointless.

One thing is clear: dancers, researchers and educators are passionately committed to dance. We have different skills, experiences, and approaches, but ultimately we all want the same things: inspired performances, health and wellbeing among dancers, longevity of the dancer’s career, and intelligent training practices. By working my way through the conference circuit this year I have never been more certain of that.

Contributor Lauren Warnecke is a Chicago-based dance writer/researcher and educator. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09), and is currently a full-time faculty member and doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Lauren researches trends in dance injuries, cross-training, and performance, and created the dance blog Art Intercepts in 2009. She is a dance critic for SeeChicagoDance, columnist at Windy City Times, a Huffington Post blogger, and a contributor to the websites Dance Advantage and 4dancers. Lauren has freelanced as a production/stage manager, curator, choreographer, and grant writer, doing nearly every job in the dance world at some point. She is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM) and Functional Training Specialist (ACE), enjoys coffee and vintage apparel, and believes in the Oxford comma. Follow Lauren on Twitter @artintercepts.



The Nutcracker – From Student To Professional

Cara Marie Gary backstage before Nutcracker

Cara Marie Gary backstage before Nutcracker

by Cara Marie Gary

Over the past twenty-three years I have gathered many memories around Christmas time, but the one that stands out amongst the others starts with a magical event that has forever made an impact on my life and has left me with new found feelings of eagerness and desire.

The time had finally come, the chilly December air made the girls run quickly through the green backstage door of the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the night of The Nutcracker performance and I, along with other aspiring young dancers, were waiting for the curtain to go up.

After anxiously skipping up and down the long hallway filled with dressing rooms, the moment had finally arrived where the burgundy curtain was lifted and Tchaikovsky’s music filled the theater. I wore a red and black solider costume adorned with strings of gold and stood backstage between two tall curtains. The joy of the holidays filled the air and crept back to the small spot where I was standing. I experienced a feeling of awe as I observed the older girls dancing before me. The tall girl with a radiant smile and a blue dress, who had the role of Clara, stood out to me. She moved with elegance as she danced across the stage; I longed to dance just like her one day.

As I executed my role during the battle scene I attempted to keep the graceful vision of Clara in mind. Staring out at the anonymous silhouettes of the strangers in the audience, I felt as if everything was perfect. The feeling of wonder bubbled inside of me as I took that final bow. I knew from this December night that I wanted to pursue dance, and learn how to leap and twirl like the tall girl in the blue dress. For me this memory combines the joy of Christmas and the motivation I had discovered to pursue a new found passion.

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15-Second Short: Netta Yerushalmy At Danspace Project In NYC

by Nel Shelby

When my Nel Shelby Productions team really loves filming something, we want to show it off. We really enjoy working with Netta Yerushalmy and were delighted to capture her HELGA And The Three Sailors with two cameras at Danspace Project this Fall.

Look out for more short (like, 15-seconds short!) dance videos showcasing some of the performances we’ve filmed. (See them first on Facebook & Instagram.)


15-second videos are perfect for Instagram and great for catching and keeping the short attention spans of your fans online. They’re fun to do in a series leading up to a show or to hold interest in between projects.

Remember, video makes a HUGE difference when it comes to a patron’s decision-making. (Google found that “Video has the most impact on consideration” when researching how people buy tickets.) Whether you’re trying to get people to donate, see a show, attend a workshop…visuals are important and video moves people to action!



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