Never Looking Back — How to Improve Your Skills


Have you ever noticed that whenever skills don’t go as planned we tend to increase core work and run the skills over and over again?


Although core strength is important for balance, there’s something else that’s needed for strong skills.


What if there was an overlooked group of muscles that could improve:


  • Turn timing
  • Balance
  • Kick hook ups
  • Group lifts
  • Pom motions
  • Posture 
  • Lines in all skills


There is! 

The back muscles.


The back muscles can do a lot for a dancer’s control and skills but because they’re behind us, they rarely get used properly. Out of sight, out of mind kind of thing.


Shoulders pulled up by the ears, hunching, or whipping and rebounding arms are a quick way to notice a back is not being used properly.


Main back muscles your dancers need to notice


Place your hand between your neck and your shoulders and then lift your shoulder up. That’s your trap muscle. Usually when you’re being told your shoulders are up, this is the muscle doing that.



A group of muscles that fall on either side of your spine in the upper middle section of your back. Many times we feel tightness here when spending too much time on the computer.


Latissimus Dorsi (Lats for short)

THESE are BIG back muscles that I sometimes reference as wings because of their shape and where they’re located. Beginning at the spine and wrapping around your ribs, these muscles are huge movers for stability in the back. They assist in pulling arms down sharply, lift the chest when arms come above the head, and even help with shoulder rotation. It’s an essential home base for the back of your upper body,


Why do we care about these specific muscles?  

Because they’re in charge of something called scapular retraction, which is just a fancy way of saying,  “keep your shoulders down!” 


When dancers can keep their shoulders down and engage their back it creates a shelf for the shoulders and arms to sit on, stabilizing the body. This leads to stronger arms for turn timing, pom motions, and kick hook ups that don’t pull the person next to you down.


To help your dancers understand more about these muscles and how it feels to engage them, try these three exercises.

Banded Back Row

Let’s isolate each side of the back muscles. This exercise helps your dancers focus on one side at a time so they clearly understand and feel what it’s like to engage the back muscles the right way.

back exercises for dancers

Let’s get started.


  1. Put both hands inside of your band. Begin in a plank position on your toes and hands with your band around each hand. There shouldn’t be any give in your band when in your plank.
  2. Keep the band in place on the floor with your left hand. Bring your right elbow, straight behind you as you pull on your band with your right hand. You’ll know your form is correct by brushing the side of your body with the inside of your arm.
  3. Straighten your arm with your palm on the ground so you’re back in a plank position.
  4. Repeat this motion 3 times. 
  5. Then repeat on the left side.


Dancers should feel that right lat squeezing each time they pull on the band. Have them try this exercise with a weight if you don’t have a band or would like to challenge your dancers even more. Remind dancers not to let their arms detach from their side to benefit the most from their Banded Back Row.


Superman Lat Pulldown

Just as the name sounds, we’re going to work the lat muscles. This exercise works the shoulders, back, and around the rib cage. Think of it as a three-in-one movement.

back strength exercise for dancers

Ready, set, go!


  1. Lay on the floor, on your stomach with your arms extended above your head.
  2. Lift your arms and legs so only your stomach is touching the floor. Keep your legs and arms straight.
  3. Bend both arms, squeezing the shoulder blades, as you bring your elbows a little higher than your back. Keep your legs straight.
  4. Extend your arms straight out, and lift them above your head.
  5. Release the muscles and return to your starting position on your stomach.
  6. Repeat as many times as you can for 30 seconds.


Be sure your dancers are keeping their shoulders down and away from their ears during the pulldown. If your dancers are breezing through this exercise, add a band on their hands for extra resistance on their Superman Lat Pulldown

Banded Lat Pulldown

I like to use this exercise often because it doesn’t require much space and it’s great for beginners. If you don’t have enough bands, ask your dancers to bring their own from home. You can also use weights instead of a band.

back strengthening exercises

Let’s work those lats.


  1. Put your hands inside of your band. 
  2. Extend both arms, straight above your head.
  3. Pull both elbows down so they form 90° angles and slightly back. You should feel some resistance right about now. Use your lats to maintain that 90° angle with your arms.
  4. Extend both arms, straight above your head.
  5. Repeat as many times as you can for 30 seconds.


Have your dancers focus on pulling their elbows down and slightly back. That’s how your dancers are going to feel the lats working together, correctly, so their skills become stronger.

Engage the Back Muscles

Since the back is a tricky place to connect the mind to the muscles (thinking about engaging the back muscles while you move), try these three things to help your dancers understand how to engage their back.


  1. Before doing any back exercises, have your dancers lift their shoulders to their ears, roll them back, and press down.
  2. Place your finger on your dancer’s spine, on the upper back, and ask them to squeeze your finger with their shoulder blades.
  3. When in doubt, do one side at a time for the exercises above to help bring more awareness to the muscles being used. 


It’s pretty clear that the back muscles can often be overlooked but they help dancers with So. Many. Skills. 


Incorporating back exercises works so many different muscles that are needed for various dance movements.


You’re sure to see your dancers’ skills improve.


Ready to improve turn timing, kick hook ups, and pom motions with your dancers?


Check out this video to get you started!


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