Warming Up to Dance

April 14, 2012 9 Comments

Every dance class and workshop should start with an effective warm-up. 

learn to belly danceOur warm up helps us make the transition from resting to dancing. A proper warm up can reduce the risk of injury and even asthma attacks for those who are prone to exercise-induced asthma. About 5-10 minutes is all it takes to prepare our bodies to do our best in dance class.

No matter what the activity, an effective warm up gets all the major muscle groups moving.  Some instructors use dance isolations in the warm up, and while these can certainly work as part of the specific preparation for your style, larger, multi-joint movements that aren’t typical in belly dance are also important to really get the body prepared for the rest of class.

As I’ve said so many times before in the DBQ, this is not the time for long static stretches. If an instructor leads the class in splits at the beginning of class, the only “splitting” you should do is out the door!

Some instructors leave the students to warm up on their own before class, but I have never felt comfortable with this practice because the students often simply don’t know how. Even if they are familiar with good general warm up techniques, they don’t know what you specifically have planned for the lesson. This may include lots of shoulder, back or head movements that require extra attention to those areas of the body. In my classes,  always tell my students what’s planned  as we start and any specific thing we are doing to prepare our bodies to be ready for it.

What exactly does a warm up do for our bodies?

  • An effective warm up routine increases our heart rate and breathing, which brings more oxygen to our muscles so they can do more than sit at a desk or in a car, which is probably what they were doing before class.
  • Getting all the major muscles moving increases the internal temperature of our body. That doesn’t mean we’re hot and sweaty already.  Warm muscles are more receptive to movement, especially those that use a larger range of motion that our daily activities.
  • Our joints get a lube-job.  When our body gets the cues that we’re picking up the pace of our day, it adjusts the fluid in our joints for better functioning. This is important for everyone, but especially those with the remnants of old injuries, arthritis or tendinitis issues.
  • On a less scientific level, I believe that the warm up is also a psychological transition from my students’ work day to their “me time”. It plugs their brain back into their body so they can focus on learning and the joy of moving.

Those first 10 minutes of class set the stage for the rest of the hour. Get things off to a good start, either on your own or as the instructor. Now that you know all the good things that happen to your body in the first few minutes, make sure to get there on time so you don’t miss out!


Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Rachel Bond
    April 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    I’d love to see a video of the warm-up that you use. Especially with absolute beginners who have no dance experience and often don’t know right from left! I have one that works, but I’m getting bored – it’s always good to get new ideas!

  2. Lacy Perry
    April 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Wonderful topic! It’s not just important for the students but the teacher, too. No one wants to invite injury! I have chronic muscle pain & tightness, so I always take students through a thorough warm-up because I know my body will make me wish I had if I don’t. I’m bad about not cooling down sufficiently in my personal practice, though. That’s super important, too. And, if you’re so inclined, that’s the best time for those flexibility-enhancing static stretches.

    1. mahinbellydance
      April 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Yes, the teacher needs to dance safely too! We’ll be getting to the cool-down and stretching issues later 🙂

  3. Lilithnoor
    April 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    That’s a really good point about the warmup having a psychological element to it. My class usually follows the same warmup, with occasional revisions, and going through that slow cycle of movements prepares my brain as well as my body for dancing.

  4. Averil Kimble
    April 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve been a fitness teacher for many years, so warmups are essential in my teaching. And I always pay particular attention to ankles and feet…which for most are trapped in tight shoes all day.

  5. Taji
    April 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    very good—-hopefully to remember to say tonight —“if you come in late, please warm yourself up in the back of the room. At least big knee lifts and big arm circles.”

  6. Cathie Gorman
    April 20, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I like the way you talk about doing different things in the warm-up depending on particular movements you will be teaching in the class. So many teachers just do the same things week in week out. I get bored easily, so am always shuffling things around, with the focus on warming up rather than stretching…which I focus on at the end of class. Great article, as always!

    1. mahinbellydance
      April 20, 2012 at 6:33 am

      Thank you! Specificity is as important in warming up as it is in a dancer’s overall training plan.

  7. Fotia
    April 25, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Good post! This is not only sensible, but it also makes for better movement and better performance thus making a student feel like they are dancing better than if no warmup was done first.


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