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The Power and the Purpose of Warm Up Preparation for Dance

An explanation about why dance warm up is essential and empowering for dance participants.

ImageWarming the body in preparation for dance and exercise is better done in a fun and engaging manner. For small children it can be done as a Simone Says game and trained in this way the students will become attuned to mirroring. The ability to mirror and emphasise through action is a way to teach compassion and empathy through dance adding another layer of purpose.  This added substance strengthens the activity of warming to movement ensuring that dance episode will be productive.

Safe Dance Practice

The idea of calling an activity Safe Dance Practice implies that there is an accepted methodology attached to all dance activity. Although teachers and artists will often see the definition of this way of working expressed as to “allow students to participate without risk of injury,” it can be a much more proactive and productive activity if the participating group seizes the opportunity to routinize fun and curiosity into this essential aspect of artistic creation.

Warming up is an essential element of fostering an understanding of the body and its limitations.  The process also by contributes to developing communicative action techniques such as mirroring.  This ensures that safe dance can become more interesting and enjoyable by teaching

• an awareness of how the body moves
• a knowledge of common dance injuries, their cause, prevention and treatment
• a knowledge of the nature and function of warm-up and technique exercises in preparing the body to dance.

NB* Visual artists have always drawn and painted the body because it is not only beautiful but a source of amazing “form”. The human body was designed to function beautifully. An understanding of the muscular-skeletal system and its function in movement aids in the application of safe dance practice.

Preventing Injury and Promoting Balance as an Element of Dance

Dance exercises and activities should be sequenced to achieve a balance between the development of physical, communicative and expressive skills and the prevention of injury. Certain movements pose a greater risk of injury and should be avoided others are designed to build on strength and can be scaffolded so that the participant builds up resilience over a period of time.

The following list outlines types of movement that may cause injury:

·         Movement that forces a joint or body part beyond a safe range is called excessive range and can be hyper flexion at the neck or over-arching the back. In the past ballerinas often hurt their feet by excessively walking on their toes. Repeatedly stressing a part of the body can leave the dancer with permanent deformities in later life.

Info: Most dance companies now employ physiotherapists, even masseurs, on staff, but dancers’ feet remain areas of private hell. “I’ve never seen a podiatrist,” admits Cao, who is 26. “I’m too scared. And too embarrassed – I know I’ve got the worst feet.” (The Guardian 2006)

·         Placing excessive weight on or through a joint or muscle. For example, knees bending below 90º when landing or low lateral stretch as well as straight leg sit-ups are called excessive load. One of the best ways to get the idea about this across is to demonstrate safe lifting exercises, paying attention to strain.

·         Those actions that are repetitive and dynamic movement have the potential to stretch muscle tissue beyond the normal range.  This can jar parts of the body. Resilience is the gradual building of strength through controlled movement as compared and contrasted to erratic, explosive and uncontrolled movement like bouncing (of knees, spine); kicks; leaps; head isolations; arm flings. These are movements are called ballistic.

·         Warm-ups routines often focus on balance so that participants can orient to a more composed demeanour before beginning dance. Sustained movement such as balancing on one leg, although often required can cause stress. Holding of a position that places excessive stress on a muscle group or joint should certainly not be attempted when the dancers body is still cold.

·         The term repetitive strain injury is now common. Too much repetition can be dangerous. Even safe movements performed too many times can cause injury. So it is up to the choreographer and the improviser to be aware and vary the movements scripted. (NSW Curriculum Support accessed 2012)

Managing Dance Activities a Participatory Affair

The responsibility for dance management is a mutual affair in any classroom or community dance situation. A teacher can draw a student’s awareness to physical stress management; but only the student or participant can work within regulated parameters and self-monitor to self-manage.
• muscle strain
• joint sprain
• bruising
• muscle soreness
• fractures

Early detection and immediate care are vital for the rehabilitation of any injury, but the person whose body it is the one most likely to become aware first that there is something wrong. Participants are advised to have a working knowledge of first aid principles applicable to dance and sport. This knowledge is simple to acquire and common procedures such as RICED (rest, ice, compression, elevation and diagnosis) can be displayed prominently in the dance studio or performing space for others to see.

The Purpose of Warm Up Activities within the Context of Human Movement in Dance

Dance exercises and activities to achieve a balance between the development of physical skills and the prevention of injury.

Warming up should be fun and engaging so that the student comes to expect that in a routinized way, he or she will not only physically prepare the body but also focus the mind. The warm up activity can introduce the session content as well as calm the participant so that reflection on the focus or content of the session is worthwhile. The ideal way to do this would be to structure the activity and discussion of that activity to move from the general to the specific physically and thematically. For example African Grace could be shown first as a submergence experience. The concept of scripting and choreographing from the expression of the bird can be drilled down from general warm up until the essentials of bird movements can be mimicked as the exercise routine becomes more specific and intense.


·         Bono,D. (accessed 2012) African Grace YouTube Clip

·         Curriculum Support (accessed 2012) NSW Government Department of Education and Training

·         Murphy,J. (2007) Themed Unit around African Grace

·         Murphy,J. (2010)Jacob’s Dance Strategies Educate for Compassion and Empathy