There’s nothing quite so graceful as a couple ballroom dancing, but injury or strain can ruin a good dance.
Dr. Arkady Lipnitsky
Ballroom dancing is one of the best full-body workouts to break a sweat and have fun. It’s great for heart health, balance and stability, core strength, joint health, and even keeps your mind fresh.
Because it’s a low-impact activity, age doesn’t matter. But it’s not without injury risk. No matter your level, the best way to avoid injuries is to prevent them.
Know what to stretch, and how. It’s tempting to simply say, “Stretch everything.” However, there are a few parts of the body that endure particular stress. Paying attention to them when stretching helps avoid injury.
Stretch ankle joints to improve range of motion. In a standing position, lean forward to support yourself, then extend one leg behind you while keeping the stabilizing leg straight. Slowly bend the knee of that stabilizing leg, then straighten it again. Repeat with the other leg.
Stretch your calves. Stand and step one foot forward, keeping your back leg straight. Slowly move your center of gravity forward to stretch the calf muscle of the straight back leg. Push up with that back leg to stretch your instep. Repeat with the other leg.
Stretch your deltoid muscles. Stand tall with your neck straight, then bring one arm across your chest. Push it further along with the other arm and hold. Repeat with the other arm.
Stretch your spine. Get down on hands and knees, with knees directly below hips and hands directly below shoulders. Slowly arch and then curve your back so your spine flexes and extends. The move from one position to the other should take a few seconds.
Squeeze your shoulder blades. Stand straight with arms at sides, elbows slightly bent. Squeeze shoulder blades together as far as you can, until you feel them stretch, and hold for 10 seconds.
Stretch your hip flexors. Get into the kneeling position described above but raise your arms straight up with hands steepled above your head. Tighten your glutes and push hips forward. You’ll sink slightly on that forward knee. Repeat with the other leg.
Ballroom dance involves every body part at some point. The core is the intersection of all those moving parts and the foundation for the spinal column. When you kick or spin, it’s the strength of your core that keeps your spine in a neutral position, allowing it to keep your body aligned and its crucial neural pathways open. Two exercises to train your core:
Dead bug with a wall push: This develops maximum abdominal tension without imposing risk to the spinal discs. Maybe you’ve seen a regular dead-bug exercise, but the addition of the wall push activates the lats, which are essential for core strength. Lie down on your back with your head close to the wall. Place hands on the wall and push while maintaining tension. Bring knees up over your hips and begin the exercise by lowering each leg one at a time until the heel touches the floor
McGill curl-ups: These set your hips and spine in a proper position. Place hands palms down on the floor underneath the natural arch in your lower back. (Don’t flatten your back.) Slowly raise your head and shoulders off the floor without bending your lower back or spine, and hold this position seven to eight seconds, breathing deeply the entire time.
Ballroom dancers have the added challenge of being athletic in a stylish pair of shoes. Wearing heels complicates things further and underscores the need for a stable foundation and a well-conditioned body. Your first line of defense against injury is selecting the right shoe.
The fit: The shoe should fit snugly. The sole: The material on the sole determines grip, how much easy movement, and durability.
The breaking-in phase: Once you find a shoe that feels right, you may need adjustments as you break it in.
Often, young dancers have trouble telling the difference between normal pain and pain from injuries. Keep an eye on these four body parts when you feel pain. They are most susceptible to overuse injuries:
Feet: Dancers develop bunions, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and even toenail problems.
Ankle: There’s a great deal of downward stress on ankles, causing them to sprain or develop inflammation in connective tissue.
Lower back: Alignment is important to dancers, and deviation from good posture puts tremendous pressure on the lower back.
Knee: The anterior (front) of the knee contains connective tissue susceptible to inflammation, tears, or sprains.
Ballroom dancing encourages social interaction, physical fitness, and healthy aging. With some precautionary steps to prevent injury, you’ll be cha-cha-ing to healthier living.
About the writer Dr. Arkady Lipnitsky is a chiropractic plus functional movement specialist at rebalancenyc.com.