Ahhh the dancer body. It’s always been the envy of women around the globe, after all, who wouldn’t love to be able to get lean, toned and slender while doing something that’s so joyful and fun?
In the past few years, classes like barre have doubled in popularity as women are promised dancer-like bodies by using ballet props and a blend of Pilates, dance or yoga to stay in shape.
As an ex-professional dancer, certified personal trainer and barre instructor, I love the principles of barre class, but there’s always been a part of me that misses the energy and movement of a ‘proper’ dance class. I want to flick my hair, turn the music up and sweat a bit too. Who’s with me?
I also love the results that resistance training gives me but I still have days when I struggle through a gym session because my mind isn’t loving it.
The truth is that dancers have incredible bodies but most dancers (especially ballet dancers) don’t get those results from the practice of dance alone.
Here’s my 5 steps to a dancer-like physique:
Step #1 Cross Train (Or…mix it up!)
Professional dancers who want to get strong, lean and avoid injury train to improve their strength, agility, power, posture and endurance outside of the rehearsal room too. This blend of cross training helps them meet the demands of dance but also keeps their body in top condition.
In fact, this is why I started training my private clients using a blend of methods too, from dance cardio, to interval training, bodyweight and resistance band conditioning and core strengthening exercises, if your goal is to get a body that’s healthy, fit and injury free then all of these elements need to be in place.
In my dance-inspired fitness sessions we use the principles of personal training and fitness and apply them in dance-based movements that create balance in the body and turn up the metabolism, plus…it’s fun!
#2 Move A Lot
Let’s not underplay the most important aspect of getting that dance body: Consistency.
When I was a dancer I was rehearsing and performing each and every day, dancing for an average of 8 hours.
When I wanted to get in my best shape, I went to the gym 3 times a week on top of that to do strength and conditioning work that helped me to get definition and strength.
If you’re hoping to get beach-ready in 1 or 2 barre classes a week and that’s all you do, you’ll be fitter but you won’t necessarily see dramatic changes.
Instead, aim to move every day, by walking, moving and sitting less. When exercising becomes something you do often enough it’s almost impossible to not see results. I personally prefer to do 30 minutes a day regularly instead of nothing all week, then a 2 week exercise binge on the weekend.
Trainers like Tracy Anderson, Anna Kaiser or Simone De La Rue know this and have their clients perform daily workouts with scheduled rests that get results simply because you’re moving every day.
(Unfortunately, you can’t put fitness in the bank and save it for later. )
Stay consistent and try to work your way up to enough weekly activity. I believe that when a client is eating well and walking often in daily life, they can get great results with just 3-4 sessions per week of effective exercise.
#3 Eat Well
When I had to squeeze into a skimpy costume, then diet was key to getting my body looking great. Ask any Victoria’s Secret model what they do in the weeks before they hit the runway and it won’t just be a barre class a week.
While exercise, dance and fitness workouts are going to improve your mood, cardio fitness and strength, fat loss comes from the food you eat. (This is why we have a special program for our clients dedicated to getting your nutrition on pointe without having to give up the things you love or eat bland fitness food.)
You can’t outrun that burger and fries just because you danced for 30 minutes non-stop. Unfortunately, cardio burns less calories than you think and in some people it ramps up the hunger hormones.
Equally, extreme dieting can put your body into a metabolic mess, slowing down your metabolism and ultimately leading to additional weight gain.
Instead of fad diets, eating tasty, nutritious food with treats in moderation is enough to get most people the drop in pounds that they want.
#4 Challenge to Change
You need to challenge your body to change your body. The theory is that if your body can already do something, like lift a weight, plié for 1 minute, dance for an hour, then it doesn’t see the need to adapt to meet the demand of doing that activity.
So if you want your body to create muscle, to build strength or endurance, you need to consistently ask it to do something it can’t already do, called a progression.
(This progression concept that we call CHALLENGE TO CHANGE is key in my signature dancer inspired program Corio, which is available to private clients only at the moment.)
A progression for a dancer body might mean adding resistance to a bodyweight moves, increasing the time or intensity of a workout or making it harder through more defined movements. Sometimes we progress our clients by adding more complex dance moves that help improve their motor fitness and coordination!
One of the main reasons people who follow classes based on dance principles progress initially and then plateau is that once they can handle the heat, they stop adding progressions. So pick up those extra weights and push!
#5 BE INTENSE! DANCE!
Dance is the original HIIT.
Most dancers perform choreography “full out”, which means they’re really trying to move fully through every step and put all their energy into it.
Conversely, it’s easy in a fitness class to go through the motions but to lack intensity. If you want to burn more calories and torch fat, add intensity by really moving as fully as possible.
If you don’t know the steps, this can be tough because you’re busy figuring out what to do instead of dancing, so start by setting realistic expectations. Maybe class 1 is about learning the moves, then class 2 is about getting more intentional with your movements.
Don’t worry what anyone thinks of you, just go for it and give it all you’ve got! All of this comes with practice, so don’t give up after one class. Try to commit for at least 4 sessions.
Why? Because it takes this long for the neural pathways in the brain to form that help you to learn a new skill.
Dance fitness is one of my favourite ways to stay in shape and there’s going to be a lot more of it on the Rebelle program and on our blog to come!