Some time ago, I was stretching on the studio floor, and a student walked in and asked if I’d hurt myself. ‘Nope’ I replied, ‘just stretching’. ‘Oh’, he responded, ‘I’ll have to take care of my body so I won’t have to do that.’

There’s an assumption among many dancers, that ballroom dancing stretches and warm-ups aren’t necessary. Some, like the student above, even feel that stretching is only necessary to recover from an injury, rather than to prevent one.

To give you a quick example of how wrong this is, let me me tell you about a follower who’s elbow tended to chicken-wing backwards past the shoulder, due to unequal pressure between her and her leader. She complained of occasional shoulder pain from this, but otherwise no undue stress. Then one day she found many movements with that arm excruciating. Her physiotherapist told her she had a three-quarter tear in her shoulder rotator, requiring two years to recover. Until then, she could not use a regular ballroom hold, or risk further damage.

Ballroom Dance Muscle ‘Hot Spots’

The student’s injury might have been prevented if she had stretched before each class. But knowing which muscles to stretch is also important. The three areas that ballroom dancing stretches should target are:

  1. The hip abductors and adductors, quadriceps, calves, the hamstring and gluteals.
  2. The upper back muscles, especially the area around the shoulders and upper arms including the triceps and the girdle and deltoid muscles.
  3. The abdominal and obliques, collectively known as the “core,” which includes the abdominal wall muscles and the spinal erectors.

Cold muscles don’t stretch as easily as warm ones. Make sure you warm-up for 5-10 minutes beforehand.

Stretching the Hot Spots

The following is a few good stretches to target each hot spot:

Kneeling Quad Stretch

: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.

Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch

: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.

Rotating Stomach Stretch

: Lie face down and bring your hands close to your shoulders. Keep your hips on the ground, look forward and rise up by straightening your arms. Then, slowly bend one arm and rotate that shoulder towards the ground.

Knowing when to breathe can greatly increase the effectiveness of your stretches. Think of breathing in to prepare, and breathing out as you soften into the stretch.