Dance is No Exception to Strength

Dance is No Exception to Strength

Aaron Martin

March 27, 2021

Nothing can bring raw emotion to the surface of millions of people simultaneously like a display of athleticism. An improbable catch in an endzone, a mind-boggling shot going through the net, or a small ball being sent on a 400-foot arch from a wooden stick can instantly draw screams from an audience. For that reason, it is understood that people who play sports are strong. Agility and flexibility are attributed to them as well, but the prominent physical characteristic is strength - probably aided by uniforms that allow the audience to see athletes’ muscles flex and ripple as they perform.

With the explosion of dance-theme reality shows, more people are recognizing the beauty and artistry of dance. At the same time, they are being introduced to the athleticism of dancers. Of the traits attributed to athletes, agility and flexibility are at the top of the list for dancers. Strength may be minimized because of three overlooked facets: strength training is as important to dancers as it is to all athletes, many other athletes incorporate dance training to improve their game, and increasing muscular strength actually helps dancers perform and stay healthy.

According to Dance Talk, a blog for Just for Kix, some of the myths about dance and strength training are that it will add bulk, it doesn’t work the right muscles, and that it will decrease flexibility.

Imbalances in dancers’ bodies develop when certain muscles are being worked repeatedly. The muscles being worked grow, and the ones not being worked shrink. Strength training can correct those imbalances.

Additionally, targeted strength training can increase dancers’ power and flexibility. In fact, using proper form, weight training increases flexibility because muscles, joints, and ligaments are moving through their full ranges of motion.

Dancing With the Stars showcases a variety of athletes, but many more have used dance training as a part of their off-season workouts. Lynn Swan had a hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1982. He was known for high-flying catches, and attributes that skill to ballet training.

“People don’t understand the physicality of dance,” Swan said. “I took several years of dance lessons that included ballet, tap and jazz. They helped a great deal with body control, balance, a sense of rhythm, and timing.”

Swann was one of the first American football players to openly incorporate dance into his training, but he was followed by the likes of Herschel Walker, American Football legend and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, Rio Ferdinand, English Football player, Barry Sanders, American Football player, Evander Holyfield, four-time heavyweight boxing world champion, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven-time Mr. Olympia.

Just as dance is used to improve the performance of non-dancers, dancers can use strength training to improve their performance.

Sutton Anker, whose technical background includes training in ballet, release technique, Horton, modern, tap, jazz, vertical dance, hip-hop, and pointe, wrote an article for Presenting Denver about muscular strength for dancers. She advises dancers to consider utilizing various routines of muscular strength training to increase overload and avoid muscular imbalance.

Anker concluded that “muscular strength plays a vital role in the longevity and success of a dancer. Muscular strength allows dancers to have the physical capacity to leap at great heights, perform complex diverse movements, and to safely increase and stabilize their range of motion and extended positions.”

Athletes of all sports are able to perform at their highest levels because of how they develop their bodies. While every athlete doesn't need to be bulky, targeted weight training helps with muscle endurance and injury prevention. Whether making a leaping catch, dunking from the foul line, scoring with a bicycle kick, or performing a Calypso leap, all athletes utilize strength to perform.