Whether you’re in the throws of competition season or not stepping on stage for a few months, make sure you save this newsletter for later.
When I was coaching, one of the most frustrating things was receiving the judge’s feedback and seeing the same scores for things like cleanliness, execution of skills, and endurance.
I thought I needed to have my dancers do the routine repeatedly to see higher scores– but they still didn’t improve.
I wish I had known that for each category on a judge’s score sheet, there are exercises that you can do to improve your dancers’ endurance, technique, execution of skills, and more.
Here are the four most common critiques my clients hear from judges and a few strength training exercises to improve those areas.
1. Turn Technique
There are many pieces of the puzzle when it comes to executing turns correctly.
Here are a few things to focus on.
- Upper back – arm placement
- Core, hips, and psoas – high passé and stability
- Glutes and ankles – straight supporting leg and high relevé
Turn Technique Exercises:
- Start by getting on your hands and knees on the floor. Your arms should be straight, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Keep the same position with your body as you lift your knees off the floor. Your toes and hands support your body.
- Use your left hand to support your body as you bend your right elbow and rest your right forearm on the floor.
- Use your right forearm to support your body as you bend your left arm. Both forearms and toes support your body.
- Use your left forearm to support your body as you straighten your right arm and place your right hand on the floor underneath your right shoulder.
- Shift your weight to your right hand and straighten your left arm. You should be back in your starting hover position.
- Do as many up-down hovers as you can for 30 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
This exercise works many body parts at once, including the core, arms, and shoulders. Your dancers will likely start to feel it in their shoulders and upper back for a strong upper body and improved turns. Be sure the back doesn’t begin to dip.
- Stand with your feet in parallel and bring the right foot straight back, with a straight knee – like a parallel tendu to the back. For now, leave your arms down at your sides.
- Lift your right leg up, in front of your body, into a 90° angle, with your right foot flexed. Let the opposite arm and leg naturally meet as you raise your leg to help you balance.
- Straighten your leg as you return to your starting position in parallel, back tendu. Repeat twice.
- Repeat this exercise three more times and add a relevé in the left foot when you lift the right leg into your knee drive.
- Repeat the entire exercise for 30 seconds. Then repeat on the other leg.
Ensure your dancers keep the supporting leg straight when lifting the working leg. If your dancers can get their knees above hip level – that’s awesome! Hip level is the minimum height we’re going for as long as the supporting leg stays straight.
2. Kick Height
Every dancer wants to get their leg as high as possible, especially in competitive dance. If you want to be able to kick your face and get your leg above 90° with power, here’s what you can focus on.
- Hips and rotator muscles – turn out and lift with power
- Deep core muscles – get above 90° without momentum
- Put your exercise band around your ankles and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Clasp your hands in front of your chest.
- Bend your knees into a half-squat position.
- Step to the side with your left foot, so you feel resistance from your band. Then take a small step toward your left foot to release the resistance. Repeat one more time.
- Then take two monster walks to the other side.
- Repeat for 30 seconds.
The lower your dancers get into their squat position, the more challenging this exercise will be. Have your dancers imagine their heads staying at the same level, so they remain lower in their squat position throughout this exercise.
- Start in a plank position on your hands and toes. Legs and arms are nice and straight.
- Let’s do three mountain climbers. Lift your right knee toward your right elbow, left knee toward your left elbow, then right knee toward your right elbow.
- On the third mountain climber, use your core to twist your body. Try to get the outside of your right thigh parallel to the floor. Then return to your mountain climber position.
- Straighten your right leg into plank position on your hands and toes.
- Then repeat on the other side. Do as many as you can for 30 seconds.
This works your dancers’ core and hips at the same time. Remind dancers to keep their core engaged the entire time to keep their backs from sagging to the floor. Use the core to twist the body and get the outer thigh facing the floor for the best results.
3. Placement and Control
The core is the most crucial area to strengthen control of dancers’ movements. A strong core is the center of each and every movement because it gives your team a solid foundation to build on. Then, you can work on building upper body strength. Please, don’t skip core exercises.
- Core – stability
- Upper body – power
- Hips – pelvic alignment
- Start in a plank position on your elbows and toes. Your forearms and toes support your body.
- Do one up-down hover. Transfer your weight to your left forearm as you straighten your right arm and place your right palm on the floor underneath your right shoulder. Transfer weight to your right hand as you straighten your left arm. Then bend your right elbow, so your right forearm supports you as you bend your left elbow. Now you’re back in the starting plank position.
- Next, keep your right leg straight with the foot flexed as you move your leg so it hovers above the floor, out to the side of your body, and back to the middle. Then move your left leg out to the side, straight leg and flexed foot, hovering above the floor as it moves. Repeat once more on each side.
- Then, lift your straight right leg with a pointed toe directly up toward the ceiling, as high as possible. Repeat on the left leg. Do a total of two leg lifts on each side, alternating legs.
- Repeat the whole combination as many times as you can for 30 seconds.
Remind your dancers to focus on controlling the movements during their plank variations. The goal isn’t how high the leg lifts or how far out to the side it can go. Engage the core, keep the hips and shoulders in alignment, and the arms directly below the shoulders.
Does your dancers’ fatigue start to show by the end of their routine? Endurance is the key. Add a small circuit after running your routines to challenge your dancers. This pushes them mentally and physically, although tired, to help them build up their strength and energy.
- Cardiovascular endurance – stamina
- Muscle endurance – ability to turn on a straight leg when tired
- Stand comfortably with your feet hip-width apart. Slightly bend both knees.
- Stay on your toes as you run in place as fast as you can. Swing your arms back and forth as you would if you were running.
- Continue running in place quickly for 30 seconds.
- Then stop.
This exercise is short and sweet. And on its own, it can make you winded. Add it after your routine to train your dancers to push a little more each time. Be sure that your dancers are moving their feet as fast as they can to build up their stamina.
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