Core Strength for Dancers

As a healthcare professional who works closely with athletes and dancers, I find dancers the hardest group to work with – this is a compliment!

Dancers, in general, are very flexible, fit and have good awareness and control of their body. Professional or amateur dancers are required to perform rigorous movements that involve intense control, strength and flexibility all at the same time, depending on the genre of dance.

Contemporary dance, for example, which is gaining in popularity, demands very good techniques, since dancers are required to hold their spine firmly throughout a series of complex combinations. A good combination of strength, flexibility, speed and balance are required in a contemporary dance routine. Contemporary dance may also involve some jump combinations, rolling and high impact landing, which can be challenging for the spine and joints. Without good core control and strength, these movements may not look as graceful as they should and in the worst case scenario, lead to career-threatening injuries.

Including core conditioning exercises as part of dance training will not only improve proper body placement and finesse but also ensure that risk of injuries are kept to a minimum. This is not just true for the contemporary genre, but all forms of dance.

A certain amount of balance, flexibility, speed and strength are required in any dance routine. A strong core ensures that the dance movements are well coordinated, and good balance and flexibility are maintained at the same time. The bottom line is to help the dancer maintain good ‘core’ strength.

So, what exactly are ‘core’ muscles? To put it simply – core muscles are the muscles of the torso, excluding those in the limbs. The best way to have a feel of our core muscles is to kneel down and get your arms to reach out to the ceiling (as if you are trying to touch the ceiling) and then try to rotate your torso – this will activate your core muscles.

The core muscles are predominantly formed by the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and internal and external obliques – all commonly known as abdominal muscles, along with the gluteus (buttock muscles), pelvic floor and scapular muscles. The main function of this group of muscles is to stabilise a body segment, so that another body segment can generate power. When activated properly, they also help in avoiding or minimising injury.

For your ‘core’ to function properly, all the above-mentioned muscles should be in sync and working together as one. A breakdown in any area of this muscle group can potentially lead to injuries, especially in high-level athletes and dancers who put their body through high demands and stress.

One cannot expect to strengthen the core by doing just sit-ups. Core strength goes beyond the surface muscles and requires the use of deep internal muscles to maintain stability in motion. What we are looking to build is a pillar of strength and to do so, exercises that engage and activate all the muscles of the core are key. These form of exercises are known as functional exercises. Here, in this article, we will look at some higher level functional exercises that will help to improve core strength.

The following exercises may not seem easy to perform and individuals attempting them should not have any pre-existing back condition or other form of musculoskeletal injuries. If you have any pre-existing injury or if any of the exercises in the following pages cause pain while you perform them, then it is advisable that you consult a specialist or a physiotherapist.

 

 

Haris Mohamed 

Mr Haris Mohamed is the Principal Physiotherapist from the Department of Physiotherapy in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He also helms the musculoskeletal outpatient team. Haris has extensive experience in musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapy and has been working in the outpatient setting since 1999. He has a special interest in dance injuries and works closely with dancers, especially contemporary dancers. He conducts screening for dancers to identify potential injuries and helps them in injury management.