Don’t Be Afraid of
Lifting Your Shoulders
“Dancers are trained to keep a long neck,” says Gaerte.
“This makes a beautiful line, but when it comes to lifting
overhead, trying to keep your shoulders away from your
ears is actually unnatural and potentially harmful to the
rotator cuff. I am not trying to change anyone’s technique
while dancing, but it is important to activate these muscles
in your downtime to ensure healthy functioning of all of the
muscles of our scapulae.”
Exercises to warm up and
strengthen before partnering
BY STIRLING MATHESON
CONSULTANT: CARRIE GAERTE
During dress rehearsal for a restaged version of The Firebird, it
happened again: I felt three of my vertebrae slip out of place,
rotating about 15 degrees. By the time the show’s run was
over, the pain was intense and lifting my head was impossible.
I co-direct Ballet Theatre of Indiana with my wife, Sabrina, so
I asked around and found a local expert at St. Vincent Sports
Performance: Carrie Gaerte, who’s a physical therapist/certi;ed
athletic trainer and a bunhead in equal measure. She identi;ed
what was lopsided in my back, and taught me how to retrain my
scapulae. My back hadn’t felt as good in 10 years.
Like many men, I rarely prepared for the physical demands
of partnering. In dance, we’re taught to carefully warm up our
bodies before rehearsing in order to prevent injury. But when
it comes to partnering, young men are often handed a woman,
told to grab her waist, and lift as high as possible. Dancers are
assumed to be warm for lifting after having taken a ballet class
that involves no resistance exercises for the upper body. The
wise do a few push-ups, but that skips entire muscle groups that
are heavily taxed while partnering.
“There are several muscles that work to ensure smooth
elevation of the arms during partnering,” says Gaerte. “These
muscles need to be functioning properly to avoid injury (and
to avoid dropping your partner!). Stability of the spine and
scapulae is fundamental when it comes to preparing for partnering.” Gaerte recommends men practice the following stability
exercises before partnering, both to strengthen their bodies and
more fully prepare for the day’s work.
Create a Stable Base
QUADRUPED ARM & LEG REACH (OUT/IN), OPPOSITE SIDES
Assume an all-fours position with hands under shoulders and knees under
hips. Lift your left leg and right arm straight out from the body. Keeping
the spine stable (no shifting or twisting), reach the lifted arm and leg to the
sides about a foot, then return to the midline. Perform 5 to 10 reps, then
FORM TIP: Don’t lift your leg higher than your hip. Keep your spine
long, and deep abdominals lifted in and up to stabilize.
ARM & LEG REACH,
Assume an all-fours position. Without twisting your
pelvis or shifting too much,
reach the same arm and leg
away from each other. Alternate sides for 10 reps total.
FORM TIP: Move slowly
and with control.
HIGH PLANK WITH SHOULDER TAPS
Assume a high-plank position with hands under shoulders and hips
the same height as shoulders (a table top position of the spine, not with
lower hips as in a traditional push-up position). Keeping the pelvis
steady, tap one hand to
the opposite shoulder.
Alternate slowly for 10
to 20 taps.
HIGH PLANK WITH
Assume a high-plank
position as before.
Keeping elbows straight,
press your hands into
the ;oor to separate the
scapulae. Release and allow the scapulae to return to starting position.
Repeat for 10 to 20 reps.
VARIATION: In case of wrist irritation, this can also be performed in an
elbow plank position. *If you are experiencing shoulder or upper- back pain, see a licensed physical therapist or certified athletic trainer. These exercises are meant for healthy male dancers.