Looking for the perfect cross training exercise to enhance your dance technique?
Pilates may be just the thing to help you strengthen your core while increasing flexibility and it happens to be lots of fun too!
Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham all used the Pilates method!
WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates is a mind-body exercise program developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Pilates uses movement and breath to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. Full body movements performed on a mat, or using specially designed equipment, focus on the core muscle groups of the abdomen and the back.
THE PILATES – DANCE CONNECTION
Although founder Joseph Pilates was not a dancer, he worked with many famous dancers when he moved to the United States from Europe and opened a studio next door to the New York City Ballet. Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham worked with Pilates and often sent their dancers to see him for injury rehabilitation.
So why did these dance masters, and hundreds of dancers since, take to Pilates so eagerly? For one, both disciplines use the whole body, and focus the mind in their movements. Both Pilates and dance tend to create long and lean muscles, and use resistance and momentum to work on strength, flexibility, and posture.
In addition, many of the exercises in Pilates isolate key muscles used in dance technique, and thus naturally strengthen dance movements. When I studied dance in college, Pilates training was part of a body alignment class I took. After several months of working on the Pilates Reformer apparatus, I noticed my balance in ballet class had improved, as did my pirouettes, and strength in jumping.
A dancer brand-new to Pilates will see many similarities and feel quite comfortable with many of the movements from the very first class. For example, when dancers perform a ronde de jambe, only the working leg is moving. However the standing leg works hard to stabilize the movement, as does the core and muscles of the upper body. The mind works hard to concentrate on the full body execution.
In Pilates, we see a similar ronde de jambe performed on the mat. By lying on the ground for the circle of the leg, similar circular motions are performed, but the floor allows the body to take on less weight and truly isolate the movement of the leg.
Dancers also often enjoy learning the Pilates vocabulary of exercises, similar to the process of learning ballet technique. The movements have names such as the hundred, the roll up, the jack knife, and the side kick. These are often performed in a similar order for each workout, similar to the structure of a ballet class.
Pilates has become very popular over the years and is not only used for exercise, but can often be experienced in the offices of physical therapists or may be part of a rehabilitation regime. Many dancers have also enjoyed becoming certified Pilates instructors themselves.
WHERE CAN I TAKE A CLASS?
Pilates classes are very easy to find in most areas with a quick search on the internet. From studios dedicated to the Pilates method, to gyms that offer both mat classes and private or semi-private sessions using the equipment, you should have no problem finding a class or trainer that’s right for you. The Pilates Method Alliance is an organization that focuses on the professional association and certification of instructors. Be sure to check on your instructor’s level of certification for quality instruction.
Are you a dancer who makes Pilates part of your training routine? Share your experiences with us here!