What's Splits Got to Do With It?
If I told you how many times I have heard dancers and gymnasts I have had the pleasure of training who have lamented "THE SPLIT," I believe I would need to spend many days just listing their names. For some reason, dancers are quite fixated by the beauty of legs at 180°. I have been thinking lately about what would happen if we started thinking about our flexibility as the same as the rest of our dance training...something that with practice and diligence will come.
It takes a great deal of patience to wait. Our culture is not programmed to sit and be patient at all. We find waiting a sign of weakness instead of strength. We want our food faster and already prepared (all while being organic and non-HMO). We want our entertainment when and where we desire it. We demand internet access no matter were we are. Being still and waiting is something that is just not something we are used to doing. I would like to propose the idea that having your split (in any direction) will not make or break one's dance career. I know, I know. Shock, horror. And people who love and watch Svetlana Zakharova or Sergei Polunin easily move their beautiful bodies into simply amazing places all while tying their legs into knots behind their legs are now starting to throw daggers at me. Realize before you let too many daggers fly how much work, time and sacrifice it has taken for those amazing dancers to get to where they are and defy gravity and the laws of the natural body.
When working with dancers who are anxious to hit their 180° poncho and are even watching every YouTube video on how to get one's splits "fast," I like to remind them that it is not beautiful to be able to get a ponche that is 180° if it can not be held in place at the same time.
When developing flexibility, strength must be developed at the same time. Developing one without the other is useless. That is something I remind my students as they are working hard to develop their flexibility.
That being said, my own children find this a difficult thing to accept. I too have had moments where I have looked at my own lack of flexibility when compared to others and found myself lacking. In those moments, I remind myself to be kind with myself.
Now, I do realize that people are reading this post right now, looking for advise as to how to get there. Well, let's get specific. I will not give you specific activities to "improve your flexibility in a hurry". I find that is counter productive. For specifics (if you are a student) have a discussion with your instructor.
So...how do you help your students and perhaps yourself improve your flexibility?
Stretching is not something to do only in class.
Remember to stretch in the studio and out. The flexibility exercises you learn in at the studio should be done at home as well. When you are reading or watching TV, sit in a "butterfly, or straddle and gently encourage your muscles to lengthen.
Make sure your muscles are warm before stretching.
Stretching should only be done when the body is warm. Run in place, take a fast jog, run up and down the stairs or go on a bike ride. Injuries can happen if you try to stretch with cold muscles so make sure you are warm before you begin.
The turtle won the race not the rabbit.
By this, I mean do not force or bounce in your stretches. I am aware that many do this to try to increase their flexibility. Please remember that it takes time and you should go slowly to allow the muscle fibers to lengthen. Remember to breathe, use correct form, and use a specific sequence to slowly open your body.
Have faith in yourself and your own body.
Listen to your body. If it hurts...stop. There is a difference between feeling uncomfortable and pain. This is difficult but important for dancers to realize and remember. Your flexibility will increase with hard work, consistency and patience. Your body is yours. It is a wonderful body and you should respect and love it.
Make it fun.
If you are stretching alone, put on great music, a podcast, grab a book or put on your favorite movie and enjoy this time. In my young dancers classes, I tell silly stories that include the students' names, pay wonderful music and even books on Audible. Basically, I do anything to make them smile and learn to enjoy stretching and strengthening class.
Reward your progress
In the classes, I tend to praise even the smallest progresses in the stretch and strengthening classes. I have even been known to bring in the parents or other dancers to show them how well they are doing. See where you/your students are and celebrate the progress as it happens. Forget about where you want to be and celebrate the progress you have made and respect the hard work it took to get there.
Now, I would like to share with you the reason behind this post. The student you see in this photo has been working slowly and consistently on her flexibility. While doing her favorite stretch and strengthening exercises with me this day she got herself into this position and then started giggling hysterically. "I did it! Look. It is almost straight across. It wasn't straight across last year. Now Look at it. I did it...Yeah me!"
Yes dear one...you did it...yeah you!