Physical Workshop Preparation

Published in the MEDANZ newsletter, November 2014

Seems more and more workshops are being offered in NZ - or NZ dancers are going overseas to them. With the cost involved it is a good idea to be physically prepared so you can make the most of the experience. Seems foolish to pay an airfare and accommodation then restrict your participation because you are physically unsure if you can handle a full day (or two or eight).

Before You Go

If you are a casual dancer and not otherwise active, the length and intensity of some workshops might be intimidating. Start a couple of months out just increasing your general fitness. You don't need to attend more dance classes but consider a brisk walk three times a week. (Worked for me when I started going to the Winter Warmups there was about 50 hours of physical workshops in the week plus revision, rehearsals, and plain old dancing - pre-intensive walking got this older sedentary dancer through without too much drama.)

If you know the workshops will require specific motor skills which you have had some prior exposure to, brush them up. Obvious ones would be fine co-ordination for zills, arm strength and co-ordination for veil, learning to relax while swinging a cane. Less obvious would be the standard footwork patterns for specific styles such as Reda. You want to hit the workshop able to take in the new material - rather than trying to brush up skills you should already know. However, avoid trying to learn new skills from enthusiastic novices or the internet. This can lead to drilling bad habits into your muscle memory.

Eat well leading up to the workshops (and try and eat healthy during the workshops but it is often hard to do). Drink when you are thirsty. It is not a good idea to drink alcohol or take drugs the night before a workshop.

Things to Take

My kit includes water, protein bars (see below), paracetamol, elastoplasts, trigger/massage balls. Also consider a heat pack.

Before the Class

Although many teachers now include a cardio-vascular warm-up, you will still occasionally strike a teacher who doesn't do a cv warm-up before getting into it. For a gentle class or people already warmed up it isn't a problem. However, it is too late once the class starts to realize you need a warm-up. The answer is to always start the class after your own warm-up.

Remember, stretching is not a warm-up (if you want to do that as well it is up to you, but the scientific evidence does not show stretching pre-exercise reduces injury - and stretching on cold body is more likely to cause injury). A 5 minute brisk walk to class is enough. Or stride around the space - remember to also work sideways and backwards. Lifting your arms will increase the heart rate and thus speed up the warm-up. Once you have a light sweat - mobilize. That is move all your joints through their range of motion - gently (but do not do head circles).

And after 30 minutes of ceasing to move vigorously enough to sweat - your warm-up has gone. You'll have to start again.

During the Class

Listen to your body. If it hurts, stop. If the teacher does stretches beyond your safe level, do not do them to fit in (a friend tore her achilles proving she was a "good" student).

If you are sweating heavily, drink water. But the fad of drinking continuously has no actual benefit (other than to the shareholders of bottled water companies).

After the Class

If the teacher doesn't slow the class down to allow your heart rate and temperature to return to normal, take a few minutes to cool down. Gentle walking and mobilizing is all you need to do. But don't stop suddenly and sit down to check your phone or walk out into the cold.

If you have been using one part of your body a lot, it may give relief to stretch out. Target the muscles that need it (rather than doing a general stretch). If there is time, this might also be a good time to work on your range of motion by stretching inflexible muscles while nice and warm.

If you have had a serious physical session, then glycogen will be depleted. If you will be doing more dance and want to hit your peak fast you'll need 30g of protein and 50g of carbs within 30 minutes. Otherwise recovery will take about 48 hours. The answer is those horrible protein bars because there is nothing else that can easily give you that nutrition fast enough.

In rare cases massage or physio may be needed. There is no shame in this. Better than having to sit out the rest of the workshop.

And don't forget to revise the material as soon as you can - within 24 hours if possible - so you retain as much as possible. Oh, and have fun.

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