You, your Dance Son/Daughter, your Students or your Company members Dance, train and practise hours on end. Its a well documented fact that the Dance World believes more is more and when it comes to learning and owning the skills required to be an ultimate performer it takes years of dedication to the process.
I myself, am not in the position where lower limbs can be made into pretzel shapes. Nor can I throw my limbs to heights worthy of a Griffon Vulture (check them out here!!). But seriously, I am in the position where I am able to advise you on how to gain greater grasp of skills through strength, practise, resilience and structured process.
Lets come away from Dance for one second before we talk about how to train for greater active Ranges of Motion and the difference between flexibility and mobility plus the importance of being able to actively move your body through a fuller range.
Lets talk practise and becoming World Class...
Malcolm Gladwell, an awarding winning author of psychology, once wrote a book called "Outliers". In this book he refers to performing 10,000 hours of "deliberate practise" in order to become and expert or world class in any given field of work or play. As a rule, many Coaches have utilised this when developing even the best of Athletes to demonstrate that no matter how good they are, they can still gain more as they are yet to achieve their world class potential. In finite disciplines like Athletics, Horse Riding, Ballet and other singular disciplines, this law may apply. There is another school of thought who fall into the world of business and even subjective industries like Art and Music where your levels of practise are not the only determining factors for success.
As a result, we know how deliberate practise makes for great performance but there is more to becoming world class than just practise. It may be how you approach such deliberate practise, what you focus on within that practise.
Do you practise your strengths?
Do you practise your weaknesses?
Do you embrace what you need to improve and work on it because you know that working on those tough things will enrich your Dancing and your development as a person?
So... now that the scene is set and you know that no matter what stage you or your child or your performer are at in their career there is more to come by focussing that practise on the elements that will lead to unlocking new abilities and a more versatile robust Person, lets talk about something some people just have, some people don't have and some people have but cannot control and ultimately get injured... Mobility and Flexibility.
Firstly and Simply:
Flexibility describes the ability of a muscle to lengthen... Muscle related.
Mobility describes the range through which a particular joint can move through.
Just because an individual can passively move (push) their limbs into certain positions does not mean that they can control their limbs through that passive range under their own steam. Another way of putting this is that we have a passive range of motion and an active one through any joint. In order to have a greater active ROM or one that is closer their Passive ROM we require careful manipulation of exercises and training to gain the strength and body's willingness to move through that range under its own steam without the assistance of gravity or someone else pushing on the limb.
For the Researchers and Physios or Coaches out there, of course there are more variables. However, for the purpose of Dancers gaining a greater understanding of how to train for greater mobility we will display a concise and simple group of methods which can be followed.
What to do? well... ever noticed you can pick your knee up onto your chest or into a high Passé with your hands but take your hands away and try to hold it and after a certain time the knee will drop slightly. This is the difference between active and passive ROM. Similarly you can pull your leg to your face but when lifting the leg Devant you cannot keep it above 90. This is because the agonist muscles that are lifting the limb into the range or opposing gravity do not have the adequate strength or the antagonist muscles that are being lengthened during the movement will not comply to allow the range to be sustained.
In another case the antagonists are not willing to be lengthened so the ROM cannot be found in the first place.
I can assure you that your muscles possess the tissue to be lengthened to allow for the desired range to be gained. However... I can also tell you that rigorous passive strength or sitting in the splits and using a band to pull your leg over your head is not the most effective way of increasing a range of motion that can be used in any kind of Dance.
Two training methods for improved flexibility and mobility can be applied as progressive techniques to make lasting changes to joint ranges that can be used whilst Dancing include Eccentric loading of a muscle and Isometric loading of a muscle at its end range position.
Here we are demonstrating end range flexion isometrics for the hip flexor group whilst simultaneously isolating for hamstring non-end range isometrics for stability and muscle compliance.
It is important to view flexibility and mobility as a whole body phenomenon. By that it should be understood that Central Nervous System has to be carefully manipulated and "teased" safely in order to create greater ROMs. Even more reason to understand this takes specific strength work to over come the stretch reflex that will cause a muscle to "ping" back. Hence why sitting in one stretch for a long time will not create a greater active ROM when you come to Dance.
It is important to understand that improving mobility and stability takes time and you should take pride in the slow process of this.
By creating tthis slowly and appropriately it is far more likely to be long lasting and even more impressive.
Remember... no matter what stage in your career you are at, there are still elements that can be improved with time and persistence.