"Get Fit to Dance!" by Bija Satterlee > Building Stamina and Endurance for Competition

Get Fit to Dance!
20 Jul 2004

BUILDING STAMINA AND ENDURANCE FOR DANCE COMPETITION - by Bija Satterlee, published in Dancebeat, July, 2004

How many times have you made it to the end of a dance or a round, only to find your legs, your lungs, or your mental energy failing you? This is such a common occurrence, even among higher-level dancers that you would think it were unpreventable. That is simply not true! In a day when the level of dancing has risen so high, and dancers spend so much time, money and energy on lessons, costumes, travel and entries, to neglect your fitness training is folly. If you can’t maintain your best dancing for a minute and a half without showing fatigue, the best costume in the world is not going to save you!

Cardiovascular training is good for everyone, but dancers need it even more. Getting your heart rate up and sweating several days a week has the following advantages:
• weight loss -- (look better in costumes)
• improved endurance -- (hold up round after round)
• stress relief -- (endorphines, well-being)
• strengthens immune system -- (stay healthy)
• improved sleep -- (mental clarity, more energy)

The very top dancers like Christopher Hawkins and Hazel Newberry, or Eugene and Maria are sweating and working like crazy in their final rounds, but they never show exhaustion or fatigue. They make it their business to be in shape.

If you compete regularly, you may feel you are getting enough exercise. However, your body is very clever, and it quickly adapts to your routine. If you are dancing every day, your body hits a fitness plateau, even if the dancing is very difficult. To increase your fitness level, you need new and different challenges.

Those who are not dancing hard every day, or competing regularly, will benefit MOST from aerobic training. You will see benefits in your dancing almost right away, and you will be able to sustain your best form longer than before. Some dancers start falling apart after barely a minute of dancing. Make it your business to improve on that!

OK, so everyone in the world knows exercise is beneficial. Then why aren’t more dancers working out? Reasons probably include: (and I’ve heard them all!)
• Lack of time
• No gym or equipment handy
• No real results
• Out of the habit

Maintaining momentum over a long period of time requires a support system. It is just too hard to do all alone! Imagine trying to improve as a dancer without coaching, direction, or feedback. How successful would you be? And yet so many people quit their fitness program feeling bored, discouraged, not seeing results, and thinking they had failed, when their attempt had little chance of succeeding in the first place.

Stanford University conducted a study which found that people who started an exercise program were 86% more likely to continue beyond six months if they received a weekly phone call asking how things were going. The control group did not receive a call, and had a mere 2% of participants still exercising after six months. That is statistically very significant! That was with just a phone call once a week.

Imagine if you had a your own fitness coach guiding your training. You would have weekly goals, and know exactly what exercises to do, for how long, and how hard. You would have someone ELSE committed to helping you reach your goals. Encouragement and accountability are very strong motivators, so your coach does not have to be present with you at each workout. And in those times when you feel unmotivated or hit a fitness slump, you and your coach would work through obstacles, getting you back on track as soon as possible. Fitness-detours might be the end of someone else’s workout plan, but not yours! It is like a safety net.

So how much time is needed to improve your fitness level? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends you get your heart rate up and sustain it for 20-60 minutes, at least 3-5 days a week. Activities in the gym might include the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, rowing machine, stair climber, or any number of group classes, such as step aerobics, kickboxing, martial arts, etc.

You don’t like the gym? Options outside the gym are important too, and don’t we all like to be outside on a beautiful day? A fast walk/run on hilly terrain, a fast bike ride (with a helmet!) jumping on a big trampoline, rollerblading, swimming, or running all get your heart pumping. The main thing is to pick something you can sustain aerobically, and do it! Even better, find something you really LOVE to do! You won’t worry about the time as much if you are enjoying yourself.

How intensely should you be working? For general fitness, you should work at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. (Your maximum heart rate is 220 - your age). For aerobic fitness, 70-80% of your max. Your stamina increases exercising at this level, so you can work longer without becoming fatigued. This will help your dancing!

A small percent of time should be spent in your anaerobic zone, which is 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. At this more strenuous level your heart cannot pump enough blood to satisfy your muscles, and you begin to “feel the burn” as lactic acid builds up in your muscles. Performance athletes will touch briefly in the redline zone, or 90-100% of your maximum. This level relates to the end of your Jive or Quickstep.

Specific heart rate training allows you to manipulate your workouts to your advantage. You need to use a good heart rate monitor, have specific weekly goals, and keep an aerobic fitness diary. Most people are surprised to learn that they were never working hard enough before they had a heart rate monitor. Once you can “see” what the body is doing, you can begin to produce and fine-tune the desired results. This is is a great advantage for any athlete serious about competing. It is also a great motivational tool for anyone trying to lose weight.

Aerobic training responds very quickly to exercise. Literally within a couple of weeks you can feel the benefits. Anyone who is serious about their dancing or weight loss should add aerobic training to their schedule. Don’t be among those still losing their form due to fatigue! If you want to shine and look your best, align yourself with a qualified expert, and get into the best shape of your life. Your dancing will improve as your fitness level increases! Now is the perfect time to start building stamina for the the future. And if you are lucky enough to do practice rounds, by all means start now so you look fresh as a daisy during your final rounds in Ohio!

Bija Satterlee