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How I’m Sharing Pilates with the Dance World to Prevent Injury and Improve Technique

I've spent my entire life studying all different types of dance styles: Ballet, Tap, Modern, Hip-hop-you name it, and I've probably tried it.

I'm an aspiring Musical Theatre actress, so dance has been a huge part of my identity since I was 3 years old. I'd spend at least 13 hours a week at my local dance studio growing up; I feel like my truest self when I have my character heels on and I'm grooving to music. My practice even followed me to college as I pursued a Musical Theatre BFA.

During my Junior year, I started experiencing intense knee and hip pain after recovering from an ankle sprain.

I felt so heavy whenever I tried to jump; my knees felt like they had 200 pound weights pulling against them and I couldn't get as high off the ground as I could before the injury. 

All dancers know the physical toll that hours of practice can take on your body. Injuries are not only frightening, but extremely debilitating. 

Your body can start to compensate with bad habits on other body parts completely unrelated to the initial incident. Plus, you mentally feel frustrated and distressed. Steps that previously felt easy become an intense mind game as you figure out how to navigate training and healing. By avoiding putting pressure on my ankle, I developed tendonitis in my knees and hips.

Luckily for me, I had a fabulous dance teacher who recommended trying Pilates, so I took an Intro Class at Club Pilates North 3rd and FELL IN LOVE!

I immediately started coming to class 3-5 times a week and began to notice strength I hadn't had before in my ankles and core. I realized quickly that a lot of exercises were extremely similar to choreography that we'd do in dance class during our warm-ups!  Dance pioneers like George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn worked with Joseph Pilates himself to condition their bodies and improve their technique.

Pilates training became an incredible addition to my rigorous rehearsal schedule since reformer work delivers a full body tone with super low-impact on the joints.

My intense knee and hip pain alleviated as I learned to hold myself up with my muscles and actively engage my core more while I dance. I felt light-weight and finally confident enough to dance full out again after a year of hindrance.

I graduated right when the pandemic started, so my theater dreams had to take a pause.

I decided to enroll in the Club Pilates Teacher Training Program to start a different and conducive career until I get my big break, and it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I conducted a research project on common dance injuries and the benefits of Pilates for dancers, and I'm incredibly enthusiastic about sharing it with the dance world to help people prevent injuries and improve their technique! Since I've gotten my certification, I've been able to do workshops and classes with dancers of all ages and styles to help curate a workout routine that will keep them strong, flexible, and balanced.

The most common dance injuries are related to the asymmetrical movements we have to execute in moves  

like turns (think about a pirouette- only one leg is on the ground), jumps, and balances. In fact, Sports Medicine Specialists at John Hopkins found that 75% of dance related injuries come from overuse of the joints-particularly the foot, hip, ankle, and knees. These can include muscle pulls and sprains, snapping hip syndrome, labral tears, tendonitis, stress fractures, etc. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on. I know A LOT of dancers who've needed multiple hip replacements in the later stages of their life! When our abdominals and other muscle groups aren't strong enough to hold challenging positions, we put too much pressure on our joints. We tend to utilize momentum to help us nail routines, so we can mistake that energy for actual muscle strength. 

Pilates lengthens and strengthens muscles, so your turns and jumps will become more supported.

You're even training the little muscles surrounding the main groups and joints for extra support. Pilates training offers core, hip, and full-body enhancing exercises to prevent over-extension of the spine and impairments from weak muscles. Pilates Instructors deliver classes that move the body through all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) to keep your frame flexible and ready to perform any sort of choreography. 

A less obvious (but just as important) benefit of Pilates for dancers is what it can do for your mental health.

When you notice improvements in your technique, you're going to feel more confident about your performances and reassured that you're taking care of your body. You won't have to deal with the set-back of nursing an injury when your muscles are strong enough to prevent overusing the joints! 

I love Pilates because it delivers a safe space to train without any competition.

As amazing as dance makes us feel, there are days that you feel intimidated by other people in the class or audition. Some days, you just can't nail a combination and become super frustrated no matter how hard you try. At Club Pilates, you're given 50 minutes to take deep breaths, connect to your center, and work on your wellbeing. It's a FANTASTIC method of self love and self care.

I sincerely urge every dancer to try an Intro class at their nearest Club Pilates to see how magical this practice is. I promise you won't regret it. 

By Megan Guiney, Instructor at Club Pilates New City

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