I completed my time with AXIS Dance Company as a dancer at the end of 2014, after five and a half packed years. In January I was brought back to create a fitness program to improve the athleticism of the other dancers. It was a great opportunity to continue developing a system for fitness training for professional dancers, as well as for diverse bodies. The idea was to support their work as dancers by doing strength, agility and cardio training specifically. I had led a few physically integrated fitness sessions before, but still had a lot to learn about creating fitness classes that are dynamic, safe and fun for a wide diversity of people and bodies.
I came into the studio once per week for five weeks and each time we built on the previous workout. I had the dancers try a number of exercises, some of which could be shared by all, and some of which divided the group. With the dancers’ help I found a warm-up series that could be translated into a variety of bodies. Then we did a number of circuits together, consisting of a few exercises each. Some of these exercises kept everyone together; others required a range of specific, unique assignments to address each dancer’s body and background.
I found that for upper body strength exercises, the most accessible common movements for the group were partner-resisted exercises, where dancers are paired and create resistance for each other. For cardio intervals, such as running laps in the dance studio, each person had their own version: one dancer pushes fast in his chair, one runs on feet, one wears shoes to make the exercise more comfortable.
The dancers reported being sore, sometimes extremely so, for a number of days after each session. If performances had been scheduled in those weeks, we would have pulled back on the intensity so their dancing wasn’t hindered.
Training hard one day per week, on a consistent basis, can improve your fitness in numerous ways. Training 2-3 days even more so. For professional dancers like those at AXIS, it is a careful balancing act. The goal is to train enough to make progress and therefore have more options in dance, but at the same time not so much that rehearsals and performances are significantly challenged.