Many people believe that Pilates was created for dancers but in fact, that’s not quite true. When Joseph Pilates opened his first studio in New York in 1926 with his wife Clara, he shared the building with the New York City Ballet. By way of a happy coincidence, that’s why so many dancers took up Pilates from that point on. In fact, when you consider that the foundational principles of Pilates are breath, concentration, centering, control, precision and flow, you can see just how complementary it is to the skills that dancers need.
- Pilates focuses on elongating the muscles, so they don’t become bulky – something dancers must generally avoid. Instead, through practising dance and Pilates exercises, they can seek to achieve a holistic strength for their whole body, focusing on their core as the powerhouse;
- Dancers tend to be extremely flexible however they need to exercise control over their movements, something that Pilates effectively helps to build gradually. Pilates also helps to release tightness in parts of the body where perfecting certain positions in the studio is part of the essential dance training;
- Related to having control is what you might have heard your Pilates teacher refer to as ‘length’. This is the ability to return muscles to their most supple original-shaped form, whilst building strength to enable both super-fast and super-slow dance movements;
- Due to the sometimes extreme and repeated strain on some parts of a dancer’s body, a set of tailored Pilates exercises will be very beneficial in rehabilitating overworked and overtired muscles or helping with an injury;
- Pilates will assist a dancer to work through the inevitable alignment imbalances that have been created in the body – and ballet dancers can be the most asymmetrical.
- The core muscles are very important to a dancer so this becomes their single source of power, which makes sure that the global muscles don’t work too hard and ‘take over’;
- As in many other sports, breathing is critical for all types of dancers, as they may be performing long or fast numbers. The greater they can control their breath and synchronise it with the flow of their movements over many minutes, all the better.
Over 90 years after Pilates was conceived, today it’s still true that ‘old-fashioned’ traditional Pilates, rather than some of the popular hybrid forms that are now around, is still the most effective type of Pilates for dancers.