The infamous split. Every dancer would be lying if they said getting their split wasn’t one of their biggest goals as a young dancer. So many dance moves revolve around this impressive demonstration of flexibility, it is encouraged from a young age to accomplish both front splits and the side split, or straddle split. Below are several stretches I have my intermediate students and up do on a weekly basis in jazz, hip hop or acrobatics class. I have seen great improvement in my students’ flexibility as a whole. Remember it is important to warm up the muscles and joints with light cardio before stretching and to ease in and out of each stretch to prevent any muscle tearing. Learning the splits takes time and patience, safety is the first priority. 😉
- Butterfly and Pike Stretch: After my cardio warm up, I have my dancers begin by sitting on the floor in a butterfly position with hands on ankles. Before starting the flat back series of the stretch, I have them bounce softly for 16 counts in their butterfly position. The legs should fall open naturally as the dancers are sitting up straight with feet together, pressing in the abdominal muscles and lengthening the back through the neck. Next, I have the dancers raise their arms up in a parallel position with their arms over their heads and shoulders down. Now lengthen the spine to a flat back by leaning slightly forward for 4 counts. Remember to keep the energy flowing from the lower back through the spine and head, up the arms, keeping the spine and neck in total alignment. Relax and round over for a slow 8 count stretch, letting the arms lengthen out to rest on the floor. Lift the body and arms in one piece back to the flat back for 4 counts, recover the last 4 counts. Repeat this in the butterfly position and then in pike position with feet pointed and then flexed. As they improve and gain flexibility and strength, I then speed it up to hitting each position every 2 counts. This creates more of a dynamic stretch versus static stretch. Dynamic stretching is more slow controlled movements versus static stretching, which is hitting one position and staying there with no movement. Dynamic stretching is great to do before class or as a pre-performance ritual. A few examples of dynamic stretching are arm circles, leg swings, lateral movement, and lunges.
- Center Stretch and Straddle Split: Open your legs to a straddle position, or center split. Sitting up with an elongated spine and stretched knees, ankles and toes. Make sure pelvis remains in a neutral position. Reach arms up to parallel position over head and stretch over one leg with both arms reaching, remaining the relation ship of the arms and torso to the front of the room, laterally bending from the waist. The lateral side stretch should take four counts to stretch over and four counts to come back to neutral. Remember to keep the opposite leg stretched and lengthened with both sides of your rear on the floor. It is a common mistake to roll the legs in, however, you must think of pulling the thighs back so the knees face up. Repeat to the other side. I continue this pattern 8 times total. Next, flex your feet and reach both arms over your head stretch and lean forward to lay on the ground in front of you. You want to reach your arms out and lengthen the spine, trying to lay the body flat on the ground like a pancake. At this point your hips are still in a sitting position on the floor, knees ups to the ceiling. This center stretch is a static stretch. Next, you want to have the dancer stretch their feet and role the hips forward letting the legs roll in and putting hips directly in between the knees and feet. This is what you would consider the “split” part of the stretch. I then have my students, continue to roll through to their stomachs, keeping the legs straight and squeeze them together to lay down on their stomachs. Then we roll back through to the straddle position we started in. I repeat this up to 4-8 times with them, rolling back and through. Even if you have kids that are far from their straddle, the arm work out for them alone is also beneficial.
Lunges: The classic lunge is one you can’t go wrong with. Ask your dancers to go into a deep lunge position, keeping the back leg slightly and bent the front knee in alignment with your ankle. Your upper body is elongated and hands are placed on your knee. Once in this position you will then slightly bounce 8 times. Then straighten up both legs, keep them parallel with your body and lay over your front leg. Again, slightly and softly bounce 8 more times lifting the back heel. Repeat this 4 times and then switch to the other side.
I’m reading more and more articles stating that static stretching should not be the main focus of dancers and athletes during warm up. Dynamic stretching is more beneficial in warm up and static stretches should be saved for the end of class as a cool down AFTER the muscles are warmed up. At the end of class repeat the same exercises, however do static stretches that focus on relaxation and breathing. This time your lunge will be more of a dancer lunge, with the back of the knee elongated and the hands to the floor. You can drop the elbows and the knee as you feel necessary for your body. As you straighten up for the hamstring stretch, try to lay your chest of your leg and keep breathing through your whole body. Finally, slide into the split. At this point, your split should lengthen the muscles, preventing any damage to tissue and muscle fibers in the legs. Hold split for 16 counts and slowly recover to repeat to other side.
Wishing the best of luck to all of you out there working your splits and flexibility. I would love to hear your comments and ideas for your dancers to gain flexibility below.
Have a great day!