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Why Dancers Should Do Pilates




Ballet dancers in class

Everybody could use a little Pilates in their lives, but dancers could especially benefit from the mind-body workout that all of the girlies seem to crave these days. Although Pilates seems like a trend right now (it always is), dancers have been dedicated to the practice for decades now, ever since Joseph Pilates plopped his studio in New York City right in the same building as the New York City Ballet. Well-known dancers like Martha Graham and George Balanchine took Pilates from the legend himself, Mr Joseph Pilates, back when it was called Contrology. Why did they do it? Because it WORKS! But if we want to get specific, let’s discuss why all dancers should do Pilates and what items you should have near you at all times if you don’t have access to a Pilates studio.

Girl jumping and a dance pose
Dancer: Zola Williams Photo Credit: Patrick Tak

Core Strength and Balance

I’m starting with the most obvious. Most people will associate Pilates with core strength, and they are correct to do so. If you want to read more about core strength, check out this post. Pilates will strengthen the muscles needed to support your body when it comes to balance and control. No matter what style of dance you practice, there’s a likelihood that you’ll need to balance on one leg, spin, jump, and do other things you won’t do in your normal, day-to-day life (outside of dance) and Pilates will prepare your body for such things whether you’re using the equipment or just on the mat.


Alignment

If dance does anything for your body, it will certainly get it out of alignment. We all have our stronger side, more flexible side, or a side we just favor in general, but imagine a dancer who only favors one side when landing a big leap or the same leg to throw in the air time after time. A dancer’s body being out-of-whack is the norm. The Pilates apparatus, such as the reformer, helps the body stay in alignment using the shoulder blocks, straps/ropes, and foot bar. It’s easy to see a crooked body on a symmetrical piece of equipment. With mat Pilates, the cueing of a good teacher will make sure the body is in the correct alignment while strengthening the core.


Flexibility and Range of Motion


Tendon stretch on the Pilates Wunda chair
Zola Williams does Tendon Stretch on the Wunda Chair

As a dancer myself, I wouldn’t say that Pilates has made me more flexible, but it has made me stronger in the range of motion that I do have. For some people, though, increased flexibility is innate with a Pilates practice because of the nature of the exercises. Your range of motion will increase but will be supported. Think of palm trees that bend but don’t break.


Body Awareness and Coordination

Dancers like to joke that they are very uncoordinated and tend to trip and run into walls frequently, but the truth is that dancers have body awareness and coordination that most people do not possess. You can’t navigate the formation changes required in dance numbers without body and spatial awareness, and you can’t pick up choreography without coordination. Pilates improves both of these qualities. The breath is coordinated with each movement, and Pilates basically consists of choreographed exercises. Also, mind/body connection and awareness are necessary to use the equipment and props in a safe and effective way.


Injury Prevention and Longevity

Joseph Pilates started teaching his method of contrology as a way to rehabilitate soldiers injured during war. He also thoroughly believed that his method would help people live longer lives. If any group of people are prone to injury, it’s going to be dancers. Dancing frees the mind and spirit but is objectively hard on the body. Pilates provides a low-impact workout that strengthens muscles without overstraining them. Dancers who incorporate Pilates reduce their risk of injuries, ensuring a longer, healthier career doing what they love.




resistance band and stability ball

Portable and Accessible

While it’s not always possible to do Pilates in a studio with equipment, it's an exercise you can practice anywhere. With endless free YouTube channels dedicated to mat Pilates, there’s no reason to miss out on its benefits. Whether you’re backstage, at home, or in a dance studio, you can practice Pilates anywhere!



 

As an Amazon affiliate, I’ve curated a list of Pilates essentials to enhance your dance journey. Remember, I earn a commission if you click on these links and make a purchase without any extra cost to you. So, let’s dance our way to stronger bodies and graceful moves! 


Mats

  • This one has the perfect thickness for all of the spinal articulation done in Pilates

  • Here is one from a brand I love and trust, PopFlex.

Resistance Bands

  • These bands are durable and cute! They're full loops and great for glutes and thigh exercises.

  • Resistance bands are great for strengthening feet and adding resistance to Pilates exercises

Foam Roller

  • Foam rolling is great for opening the hips, chest and is great for recovery! I'd recommend this firm one, but some prefer the softer kind with a little give.

Magic Circle

  • Here's the perfect-sized mini Magic Circle that you can take anywhere! The Magic Circle is one of my favorite Pilates props because it is so versatile. Here's a Magic Circle Pilates video by yours truly:



Disclaimer: Always consult with a professional before starting any new exercise regimen.



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