Warming up is important. The older you get, the more important it becomes. Without warming up, cold, tight muscles don’t respond the way you want them to in order to move. They have limited range of motion. they pull your body out of alignment. They are more vulnerable to injury.
Gentle movements that get the blood flowing and create heat in the body make a typical warm up routine. Most dancers have a set of movements that they perform to warm up at the beginning of every practice. It’s easy, and not uncommon, to go through this warmup routine with the mind elsewhere, thinking about a choreography or move, or, in a group setting, socializing while moving. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, I confess, my favorite is the mindful warmup.
Tuning into exactly what is going on in my body, even if I’m going through a set routine of movements, has benefits all its own. In some ways it’s like a diagnostic check. I can note any areas of my body that are tight (need to stretch more), hurting (be gentle with them), or out of alignment (pay attention to posture and technique). I can spend more time where necessary to loosen up and bring into alignment any area that needs extra attention.
There are also deeper, less obvious benefits. Dancers live in the body. Our body is the medium for our art, and the more connected to it we feel, the happier and more soulful I believe we are. Dancing training itself involves not just consciously learning movements, but creating “muscle memory” – actually growing new neural pathways for finer and more instinctive control of movement. The direction of your attention very much affects this process. Tuning in to your body as you warm up primes you for this growth to happen.
Lastly, I find the use of a standard warmup routine almost serves as a ritual, to get me into a dance mindset. Just as in martial arts, where we start with a “bow in” or other short ritual to tell us where we are and let the concerns outside drop away, paying attention and being present for my warmup tells me I’m in the studio, and no matter what else is going on in my life, it’s time to dance.