When the mundane but necessary activities of daily living are being accomplished with ease, it is maybe time for the Pilates client to set some recreational activity goals for themselves which necessitate the further development and strength of certain muscle groups. This is extraordinarily motivating, as Pilates exercises can be now associated in the client’s mind as furthering the likelihood or increasing competence in that goal pleasurable activity.
For instance, tennis requires rotator cuff mobility, spine rotational flexibility as well as balance, core strength and strength in one’s quads. The same can be said for golf and strength and flexibility in these body muscle groupings are essential to both sports to avoid injury and give sufficient strength to enhance proficiency.
There is a unique and historic relationship between Pilates and Dance and it is with the dance community that Joseph Pilates first worked when he emigrated to the USA. Dance is unique in forms of exercise ( except for Thai Chi which could be seen as slow dance) in as much as more than one clinical study has proven its brain-enhancing potential, as well as its requiring intentional, conscious muscular control over all parts of the human body. (Albert Einstein College 2003, Minot State University 2012, Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, November 2017) The benefits of dancing and the brain have succinctly summarized in the following article.
“Studies using PET imaging have identified regions of the brain that contribute to dance learning and performance. These regions include the motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. The motor cortex is involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movement. The somatosensory cortex, located in the mid-region of the brain, is responsible for motor control and also plays a role in eye-hand coordination. The basal ganglia, a group of structures deep in the brain, work with other brain regions to smoothly coordinate movement, while the cerebellum integrates input from the brain and spinal cord and helps in the planning of fine and complex motor actions.
While some imaging studies have shown which regions of the brain are activated by dance, others have explored how the physical and expressive elements of dance alter brain function. For example, much of the research on the benefits of the physical activity associated with dance links with those gained from physical exercise benefits that range from memory improvement to strengthened neuronal connections” ( The Harvard Mahoney Institute Newsletter, undated). While most studies examine brain cell activity and regeneration, the feelings of wellbeing and pleasure centers of the brain are also activated.
“Physical exercise has an anti-aging effect on the hippocampus region of the brain – an area that controls memory, learning, and balance. A study in 2017 comparing different forms of exercise – dancing and endurance training – undertaken by elderly volunteers for eighteen months, shows that both can have an anti-aging effect on the brain, but only dancing corresponded to a noticeable difference in behavior. This difference is attributed to the extra challenge of learning dancing routines.”(Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, November 2017). These were changes in balance and the Hippocampus attributed to learning new dance patterns every two weeks.
While the following recent study was done on 17-22-year-old dancers and the effects of Pilates(J med Dance Sci Dec 18), nevertheless it shows the benefits of Pilates and Dance for cross-training. Dancers who received Pilates instruction showed better posture, flexibility and core strength compared to the control group, making them less susceptible to injury.
Let’s take a deeper look into dance moves and how they can be enhanced with Pilates with a few illustrative examples.
1. There is no form of dance that does not require the development of strong core muscles, the primary five ones to concentrate initially are being the Diaphragm, Multifidi, Transverse Abdominus, Psoas, and Pelvic Floor muscles. However be mindful that there are 29 muscles involved in core stability, which can be grouped as either prime movers, stabilizers or assistors. The dancer’s core development is critical to posture because no form of dance is accomplished with one partner leaning on the other for support. Each person in the dance partnership needs to be responsible for the execution of their own movements. There are countless Pilates exercises that target core muscles, and there is virtually no Pilates exercise which commences without the activation of core muscles.
2. It goes without saying that dance requires balance. Balance is required not only for the obvious dance moves such as spins, and pivots, but even executing larger Smooth Dance steps, during which weight is being transferred from one foot to the next, and when there is not full body weight on both feet. Pilates exercises that increase balance include the standing exercises of Side Abduction Leg Lifts and Reformer Foot Bar work which offers endless possibilities, Dorsi Squats, and Lunges. All these exercises result in dancers being able to improve their balance.
3. Note that the ability to articulate one’s foot and point one’s toes is integral to all forms of dance for it to look graceful and steps to be properly executed. Dancing flat-footed is not especially charming to watch, although it is where most people start. The feet are such an important part of the human body, and probably the most neglected. Pilates exercises that help with foot articulation and toe pointing development exercises can be found either on the Reformer or accomplished with simple Flex and Point or Ankle Circles with Therabands. Therabands can also be used in other foot movements to promote more flexible movement in the foot area.
The amazing side benefit of more foot and toe articulation flexibility and steps in dance is that some physical problems such as foot neuropathy may result in remarkable improvement; the nerves in the feet begin to regenerate with all of the tap, tap movements that happen in dancing steps.
4. Arm moments are the graceful appendages in all dance and are where the eye is first drawn to in dance performances. However, upper arm strength which necessitates raising the arms and keeping them there, extending and fluidity of motion, is usually one of the weakest points for beginner Pilates and dance students. Putting it simply, the arms tire easily and then drop down and sag during dancing. Pilates exercises that might help with this weakness can range from an advanced exercise like pushups, to simple arm reach and open the jar exercises. Going through the initial ballet positions for the arms is also an effective way to gain control and strength in the shoulder and arm areas. If Pilates machines with their resistant springs are not available, Theraband and light weights can be utilized in a variety of exercises.
5. Learning Pilates requires becoming far more conscious of individual muscles and learning how to control and strengthen them. At first, the consciousness of one’s own body may seem somewhat mysterious, but isolation movement of body parts such as hips and ribs in rhythm dances, or depressing one’s shoulders in Smooth dances are essential to dance proficiency. Many people have gone through life, never having given much thought to their body parts and have taken body functioning for granted until their body no longer works. This is why dance can be extremely rehabilitative, especially for the older population.
When a student of both Pilates and Dance begins to achieve some mastery, it is not uncommon for euphoric feelings to experienced. The senior population can be very pleasantly surprised at the competence level they can achieve through dance, and even those who are severely physically compromised can derive great enjoyment from moving their bodies to music.
Note that while the above movements and exercises have been related to dance, it is easy enough to see how control over these muscles will have a cross-functional benefit to both everyday living and other recreational activities so that one can actually enjoy the journey back to health.
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