I am a dancer. I’ve never been a practicing yogi, yet throughout my years of dance training the two disciplines have certainly intertwined. My first experience with Yoga was in college. Downward facing dog, the cobra flow series: these were popular among my teachers for use in modern dance classes.
They found that introducing these movements into their dance language (and ours) built strength, particularly in the upper body, an area that is sometimes lacking in more classical dance training. Of course, the postures were taken out of context, perhaps even mixed with other ideas and techniques at times. Purists may have difficulty with this concept, however for many dancers this “taste” of yoga led to a deeper inspection.
THE BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR DANCERS
Dance professionals have long recognized the benefits of yoga - its somatic qualities supplementing their training, its emphasis on calming the mind and awakening sensory awareness, providing balance in a career almost entirely focused on pushing the body to its limits. The benefits of yoga for dancers are numerous and you can find these lists on most dance websites. In addition to increased strength in the upper-body, yoga also strengthens the hips and core, increases flexibility and lung capacity, improves posture, circulation, immune defenses, stress management, and it reduces the likelihood of injury.
FUSION FOR FITNESS
Fusing fitness modalities is a popular trend. Yoga and dance both survive as leading methods for getting fit and improving health. They are combined to suit all ages and fitness levels in popular programs like Yoga Booty Ballet and Ballet Boot Camp. Some place dance and yoga side by side in the same workout to maximize the benefits of both. Some more closely fuse the elements to work simultaneously.
Here is just a sampling of Yoga/Dance fusions found online:
Ballecore: Blend of Pilates, Ballet and Yogathat combines these three tried-and-true modalities into one dynamic, fluid, and non-impact practice.
Shake Rattle & Pose: Fusion of flowing Hatha yoga and dance using moves from martial arts, belly dance, African dance, and modern dance to dance into and out of yoga poses.
PIYOLET: PI- Pilates, YO-Yoga, and LET- Ballet fused together in a workout for the entire body, designed to diversify and keep the mind, body and soul refreshed and fit.
Yollet Technique: A yoga-inspired ballet class featuring continuous movement and no floor work that tones the body and relieves stress.
Yoga Meets Dance: Combines gentle yoga movements with free dance, and includes a bit of meditation in the mix.
THE BENEFITS OF DANCE TRAINING FOR YOGIS
As I researched yoga and dance as complimentary modalities, one thing occurred to me: there is much information on the merits of yoga practice for dancers but very little on the advantages of dance for dedicated yogis. The most prominent benefit, and the primary reason dance movements are added to many fitness workouts, is the aerobic potential and enjoyment of continuous motion. However, true dance training, with its focus on correct placement, typically features bursts of high-energy movement and could only rarely be considered aerobic exercise.
For what other reasons, then, might yogis want to have supplementary training in dance? Here’s my list. If you pursue both, I welcome your additions.
• Cooperation – Though the study of dance technique is often an investigation of individual discovery and improvement, dance class, choreography, and performance provide opportunities that require the student to reach beyond oneself and work with others.
• Mental Exercise – It is a goal of dancers to continuously increase their ability to execute complex combinations and sequences of movement. From ballet to modern to jazz dance, this dexterity challenges the body and the brain for dancers of all levels.
• Musicality – The awareness of music and rhythm is an added layer in dance. Particularly in contemporary movement study, we play with the breath as a focus of movement initiation. However, dance is more often married to sound and accompaniment. The exploration of this is part of the fun and challenge of dance technique.
• Lengthening – Dance is presentational, and its focus on length and reach through the body reflects that. Pointing the toes, extending the arms, elongating the neck, even the outward focus of the eyes contribute to a length in the body that is different from the internal lengthening of limb and expanding of mind that occurs in yoga.
• Giving – Presenting to another requires a giving of one’s skills and talents. In dance a reward of your hard work is providing pleasure and entertainment for others. You don’t have to be a professional to reap this benefit.
• Creative Expression – Giving to an audience is just one part of the picture. Dance is also a means to express oneself through the creation of one’s own movement or the expression of another’s creativity. In either case, something of yourself is infused in the work. The personal satisfaction, lift in attitude, and feeling of achievement is a gift to your soul.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nichelle Strzepek is a professional dancer, dance instructor and writer/editor of Dance Advantage. It's an honor to have her here with us this week at BellaOnline Yoga. To read more about Nichelle and her passion for dance, a link to her website is listed below.