If you forget about that lasagna you just reheated for even 10 minutes, it may get too cold for your liking. Your body isn't much different. After class, we lose most of our warmth within 15 minutes. So we need to warm up again if we have a longer break before rehearsal or performance. But do we have to repeat an entire class? Not necessarily.
The definition of "warm" in dance goes beyond heat. According to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, it's not only an increase in body temperature, but also an increase in the flow of synovial fluid (which helps joints move freely), faster breathing and focused concentration. All these changes get us ready to dance.
Know Your Own Needs
Figure out what makes you feel ready. Age and injury may lengthen the rewarming process. "Some dancers may need a full class to feel centered, agile and mentally focused," says Carina Nasrallah, a Houston Methodist athletic trainer for Houston Ballet. "For others a short, concentrated independent warm-up puts them in a performance-ready state of mind."
"Larger muscles like the glutes and quads warm up more quickly than smaller muscles," says Jan Dunn, co-director of Denver Dance Medicine Associates. Focus on the major muscle groups first to get your circulation going, then get more detailed with the smaller ones.
Once you've already warmed up once for the day, your re-warm-up should mirror the type of choreography you'll be dancing. "A contemporary piece with parallel lunges and deep pliés would be served by doing stationary squats or walking lunges, while a petite allégro variation would benefit from an abbreviated barre with small hops and quick relevés to elevate your heart rate," says Nasrallah. "If the work includes partnering, don't neglect the upper body or core: Jogging with arm circles, push-ups, tricep dips and walking caterpillar planks would be great exercises to include."
If you just have a short break—for instance, if you're stuck at the back of the room during rehearsal—keep moving to stay warm. "Light jogging in place should do it," says Dunn. That doesn't mean a run around the block will suffice for a serious pre-performance reheat, but when you're already warm, it keeps the body ready to dance.
Consider the Timing
Keep the time between the end of your warm-up and when you need to dance to a maximum of 15 minutes. Dunn says that if your preshow class ends an hour before the performance, continue moving as you get ready so your body doesn't cool down.
Don't Rely on Layering Up
Extra clothing by itself does little to increase your core temperature. "If a dancer is in a really cold studio or theater, the body may start sending more blood towards your vital organs and away from your extremities and muscles, causing the sensation of feeling cold or stiffness in the muscles," says Nasrallah. Extra layers may slow this process, but it won't increase your heart rate.
Find Your Mind-Body Connection
There's a cognitive aspect to this process as well. "Warming up is as important for the mind as it is for the body," says Nasrallah. Use the time to wake up all your senses and focus your thoughts on the tasks ahead.