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Warm up with Cardio, Cool down with Stretching

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There are lots of good warmup and conditioning vidoes available via DVD and the Internet. This article focuses on:
  • The difference between a warmup and a cool-down, and why each is important;
  • Warmup/cooldown exercises that can double as conditioning exercises suitable for relatively public places (office cubicle, building stairway, bus stop).

Warming up

Warming up before dancing or intense physical activity needs to be focused on cardio; the after-activity cool-downs focus on stretching.

Warming up means we increase the blood flow to our large muscle groups to make them more pliable and able to handle ballistic movement without injury. This includes walking, jogging, calisthenics, and the dance equivalents, starting slow and building intensity for ten minutes. Erik Whitney writes: "You practice like you play. Normal sporting activities, dance included, are mainly ballistic by nature and you must prepare your body for that. How many poses do you really hold for 30 seconds in a routine? Not many. Mostly you do a lot of very quick ballistic type movements."


Choosing which warm-up activity to use is as easy as slowing down what you will be doing during your work-out. For example, if you will be running, warm up with a slow jog, or if you will be cycling outdoors, begin in lower gears. An ideal intensity for an aerobic warm-up has yet to be established, but a basic guideline is to work at a level that produces a small amount of perspiration, but doesn't leave you feeling fatigued.

The dance equivalent: traveling steps with undulations, hip snaps, hip lifts, hip circles. Anthea Kawakib Poole has solved the problem of choosing warm-up movements that are tailored to belly dance with her twenty-minute DVD of foot patterns, hip and arm movements, isolation drills and simple stretches.

Cooling Down

Erik Whitney states that stretches "should be done in sets of 3 and held for 30 seconds- not a 30 count- but actually 30 seconds. These stretches need to be performed at least 3 times a week to see improvements- and improvements will come faster the more its done- it can even be done several times a day every day!"

Melissa Stone had this to say:

The key to moving past your limited flexibility is to hold that point of slight discomfort at the edge of your stretch. When stretching you should be breathing into your stretch for 45 seconds or longer. Most of us do not hold the stretch long enough to see the benefit... What happens when you stretch: The muscle will contract (tighten) and then release (open). If you are not holding your stretches long enough you will only contract the muscle, which does nothing for your flexibility. I am a huge fan of stretching as an everyday practice, but I do not save my stretching just before a dance performance or exercise program. I incorporate stretching before, during and after any activity where I will be doing a repetitive motion, sitting or standing for long periods of time and/or to give myself some rejuvenation during the day.
Erik Whitney's Warm Up! at

Dancer Anthea Kawakib's YouTube channel provides access to free and for-pay streaming videos.

Melissa Stone is a Certified Massage Therapist and yoga practitioner who wrote for the now-defunct Belly Dance, A Raqs Sharqui Magazine. These quotes are from her Warm Up for the Dancer article in the Fall 2010 issue.


Learning research shows it best to learn three new things at a time and then cycle through the three again. This keeps the focus sharp without trying to cram too much in.


From 'Improving Breathing for Better Dance Performance' by Taaj:

Start by bringing your body into the basic belly dance posture. Take a couple of deep breaths... As you are breathing, mentally scan your body to make sure that you are indeed in alignment and that no tension exists anywhere in the body... Direct your breath into your belly. Put one hand on your belly just below your belly button and one hand on your chest. The hand on your belly should rise every time you inhale. As you exhale, the belly should return to normal. The hand on your chest should always remain still. Practice this for ten minutes a day. After a month, you should notice that you are able to do this naturally at any time during the day without thinking about it.

As you move into your warm up movements, coordinate your breath with each movement so that you exhale on the extension (moving away from the body) and inhale on the contraction (moving toward the body). Keep the breath and the movements slow and smooth. If the extension takes five seconds, the contraction should take five seconds. Continue to coordinate breath with movement for a minimum of five minutes. If your warm up includes movements that hold, be sure to breathe through those movements. Never hold your breath. Including breath work in your warm up should decrease the amount of time it takes to fully warm up the body as efficient breathing increases vascular functioning without increasing your heart rate.

With just a few minutes a day of breath work, you could increase your energy level and power while reducing your stage fright.


From two 2001 Jareeda articles by Katisha, 'Reducing Muscle Soreness' and 'Healthy Stretching': Stretching maintains flexibility but also releases tension and counteracts stress.
  1. Stretch five to seven times a week.
  2. Do a warm up of 5-10 minutes before exercise and stretch afterwards to counteract tension and soreness.
  3. Each stretch should last between 10 and 60 seconds. Control the stretch without bouncing.
  4. Do not push past the point of discomfort. Stretching should not cause pain.
  5. Visualize the muscles lengthening while you relax and breathe.
  1. Five to seven servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily will repair tissue damage.
  2. Proper hydration before, during and after dancing.
  3. Vary sessions to work different muscle groups or work them in different ways.
  4. Cool down at the end of any dance session for a minimum of five minutes. Flexibility, stretching and yoga exercises are great cool-down exercises.
  5. When doing flexibility work, hold stretches for 25 - 30 seconds. Avoid the short and static stretches that cause muscle tightness and tearing. Longer stretches allow the muscle to relax and give, and counteracts soreness from short, static work.
  6. Be consistent in your exercise habits and stay in shape.


My favorite conditioning DVD is Cassandra's Conditioning Class - Strengthening, Conditioning and Body Awareness for the Dancer. Cassandra's unusual (and potent) exercises keep the wolves at bay.

I also use Anthea's 18-minute Belly Dance Warmup to get me going when time is short.

Warming Up on The references to Ballistic Stretching may actually refer to Dynamic Stretching, since the author cautions that the stretches be restricted to a light bounce. From web.Mit.Edu: "Dynamic stretching... involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both... Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion. In dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or jerky movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be slow, controlled leg swings, arm swings, or torso twists... dynamic stretching exercises should be performed in sets of 8-12 repetitions. Be sure to stop when and if you feel tired. Tired muscles have less elasticity which decreases the range of motion used in your movements."

Beginner stretch routine on, divided into warm up and cool down phases.

Advanced stretch routine on, divided into warm up and cool down phases.

An interview with Joe Williams during which he describes how to integrate Delsarte into yoga practice. It is applicable to stretching in general.

Nabaweya Mostafa is my idol!

Taaj, the Belly Dance Trainer has a number of well-written and informative articles on her website.

Jareeda Magazine is a Middle-Eastern dance magazine that has been published continuously for over thirty years.


Mild cardio (brisk walking) and mild stretches are also useful for undoing the negative effects of desk-bound work (caused by a lack of muscular contractions and bad posture) when performed several times a day. Optimum: stand up and move for two minutes every 20 minutes.

From a 2012 email from Hannan Sultan: "Every sixty minutes, move for sixty seconds. All waking hours, every day. One, swing your arms. Two, reach overhead. Three touch your toes. Four arch your back. You get the idea."

Melissa Stone writes: "I am a huge fan of stretching as an everyday practice, but I do not save my stretching for just before a dance performance or exercise program. I incorporate stretching before, during and after any activity where I will be doing a repetitive motion, sitting or standing for long periods of time and/or to give myself some rejuvenation during the day."

  • Start in a comfortable sitting or standing position with good posture.
  • Hold all stretches for 35 seconds or more.
  • Melissa Stone recommends "breathing into" the stretching muscles; this is a visualization that helps to focus and to relax.

American Chiropractic Association:

  • When standing, keep one foot slightly in front of the other, with knees slightly bent. This takes pressure off the lower back.
  • When lifting: avoid twisting at ALL times, and you will avoid one of the most dangerous movements for your spine.
  • Pushing is easier on the back than pulling.
  • When sitting: keep knees slightly higher than hips, with head up and back straight. Avoid slouching.
  • When picking up items from floor or table: kneel down or bend at knees to get close to the item. Do not bend at the waist.
  • Carry heavy items as close to your body as possible. Two small objects are easier to handle than one large one.
  • Lose the beer belly, and you lose unwanted pressure on muscles, ligaments and tendons in the lower back.
Healthy Back Tops, Doroski Chiropractic Neurology, web.


When I realized that my desk job was going to kill me before I retired, I got rid of my car and started collecting a list of exercises that I could do at work. Many of them can be done at a (my) cubicle desk. A couple of others I do on the stairs or in the large handicapped stall in the loo. The folks whose suggestions made my list are referenced at right.


Try circular exercises for the neck. Pretend your neck is mounted on a clock: chin towards chest at 12 o'clock, right ear to shoulder at 3 o'clock, head back and chin up at 6 o'clock, left ear to shoulder at 9 o'clock.
  1. Circle around the clock, holding the stretch at 12, 3, 6 and 9 and breathing into the stretched muscles. Reverse.
  2. Same movements, but with no pause between them. Roll slowly, creating a complete circle with the head and neck. Repeat many times, then change direction.
  3. [Something to remember for bedtime: These circular exercises are also effective if done while lying down with head off the edge of the mattress.]
  4. Know your face: Hold fingertips at various points in the face and move the muscles under the fingertips, feeling the various results.

Try Brain Wave Vibration:

  1. Sit with your back straight and relax your neck and shoulders.
  2. Close your eyes and move your head from side to side. When you first begin, move your head slowly.
  3. When you feel the rhythm of your body, gradually increase the speed of your movement. There's no need to strain yourself to move too quickly.
  4. After one to three minutes, stop and exhale deeply three times.


Try circular, sliding and stretching exercises for your shoulders.
  1. Circle: lift shoulders up and draw them back and down. Repeat many times. Change direction.
  2. Vertical and horizontal slides: Inhale while lifting up the shoulders; exhale while dropping them down, repeating several times. Then slide the shoulders forward and back, repeating many times.
  3. Shoulder blades: Right arm across your chest. With left hand under right elbow, pull gently while breathing into the stretch at least 35 seconds. Repeat on other side.
  4. Shoulders and sides: Inhale as you lift right arm overhead and exhale as you reach over towards the left shoulder. Repeat other side. Repeat many times.
  5. Instead of stretching your back when it feels sore, unroll your shoulders and lift your chest while you are sitting, and then stretch your CHEST and strengthen your back (especially your upper back). A quick chest stretch; hold the right top corner of a door frame with your right hand and gently lean your weight over your toes. Switch sides and repeat.
  6. To fight a rounded upper back: stand with legs shoulder width apart. Lean forward ninety degrees. Raise arms to be stretched out like airplane wings. Pretend there is a nut between your shoulder blades and, raising the arms, crack the nut. This opens the chest and strengthens the rounded back .


Try circular and stretching exercises for your wrists.
  1. Circle: Extend arms outward at shoulder height, rotate your wrists to the right several times, then rotate wrists to the left. Rotate forward, rotate backwards.
  2. Stretch: Right arm forward with palm front while the left hand pulls back on right fingertips for several seconds. Breathe into the stretch. Rotate right hand so palm faces you and press on the back of the right hand. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Another wrist stretch: Standing at table or desk, point fingertips in towards your body and place them down on the surface facing you.
  4. Figure-Eight: Arms outward with a soft fist. Rotate wrists in figure eight. Repeat many times and change direction.
  5. Finger press: Steeple fingers, then spread them apart and press them against each other. Move your hands up and down, feeling the different pressures as you change position.
  6. Finger extension: spread fingers as far as possible from each other.
  7. Elbows up, back of hands facing each other with fingers dangling down: shake.


Lengthen and Strengthen. Boy, these feel good.
  1. Sitting or Standing Forward Bend: Inhale as you lift up from breast bone; exhale while rotating the hips forward, then fold forward to floor or toes. Hold the pose but not the breath and relax.
  2. Standing Backbend Clasp your hands behind you (which will require you bend back) and take a deep breath. Hold the posture as long as you can, breathing as necessary; 20 counts is optimum. Then exhale fully and repeat 2 or three times, holding longer each time.
  3. Standing Forward Bend To counteract the backbend, move into the forward bend, which involves bending forward and getting your head as close to your knees as possible. Hold the stretch as long as you can while breathing fully. This benefits both spine and Hamstring muscles at the back of the leg.


Hamstrings (muscles at back of thighs): they extend the hip and flex the knee, pulling the leg back.
  1. Reverse lunges. Bend front leg, back leg to the rear, mind your core.
  2. Squats. Keep core engaged, arms out front.
  3. Holding one foot out behind with leg bent, reach down past the knee on the stable leg and straighten up, all the while keeping other leg bent and foot off the floor.

Quadriceps (muscles in front of the thighs): quads flex the hip and extend the knee, pulling the leg forward.

  1. While standing, bend one knee behind and grasp ankle with hand, keeping hip straight and thigh parallel to unbent leg. Hold until muscle loosens. Repeat five times with each leg.
  2. Flex your foot (upwards) and press down with your knee so that the area above your kneecap tightens.
  3. Raise and lower your straight leg.
  4. With one foot on a step or 6-inch bench, raise and lower the opposite foot on the SIDE, not the front or back. Keep your pelvis level and your knee straight, not drifting. Touch your toe to the floor with a controlled descent and ascent. Try touching toe a bit to the front and back when you can keep your pelvis level and your knee straight.

Vasus Medialis (Muscle in inner thigh that controls position of knee cap):

  1. Walk up stairs.
  2. With one foot on a step or bench, step opposite foot back, touch your toe, and come back up, balancing on the one stable leg. Keep the stable leg straight or vasus medialis will not be exercised properly.
  3. If you are on a bench or a curb that allow a forward and back movement, do so; keeping yourself balanced on one leg, touch your other toe behind you, come up and forward, and touch the toe on the front.
  4. If you have a bench to balance on, put one foot back and balance your toe on it, then bend the front leg up and down


The Achilles tendon is a very large, very important tendon behind the ankle which functions as the primary flexor of the foot and ankle, or, the transmitter of the force which allows a dancer to rise up on her toes or the balls of her foot.

The best preventative measure is regular strengthening and stretching exercises and mindfulness during sudden abrupt movements.

  • Stretch and Strengthen:
    • Stand on a step (or curb) with the heel hanging over.
    • Gradually let the body weight stretch the heel down.
    • Gradually raise up on toes, holding that for a count of 10 before starting again.
  • Walk on your toes several times a day.
  • Stretch forward:
    • Stand with toes of one foot up against a wall and support yourself with the other foot several inches behind.
    • Gradually stretch forward towards the wall itself.

Caroline Jordan fitness

Melissa Stone

Brain Wave Vibration at Dahn Yoga. "Brain Wave Vibration (BWV) not only benefits the mind and body but also ultimately stabilizes brain waves to an optimal state. Closely tied to hormone production, it induces the secretion of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates a sense of happiness, and dopamine, which suppresses stress."


Southern Dancer magazine is defunct. The author of the Achilles Tendon info was identified only as an orthopedic surgeon and a physiotherapist; the knee exercises were attributed to an article in the Sentinel Star Newspaper.

Man Kali of

1952 version of Walk Your Way to Better Dancing by Lawrence Hostetleron at

Magana Baptiste, a runner-up in the 1951 Miss USA contest, and her husband Walt, Mr. America in 1949, opened the Yoga Philosphic Health Center in San Francisco in 1955, where he taught body building and she taught yoga. She is still alive, but her daughter and son seem to be running the studios.

Yoga Poses for Aches and Pains Pain Injury Relief.


In a chair:
  • Circle: Sit on chair or floor and rotate ankles to the right a few times, then to the left.
  • Stretch: Point toes, holding stretch in the top of the foot and ankle, then pull toes towards your chin and press the heels away from you. Repeat many times.
  • Squeeze: With legs extended, inhale as you stretch ALL your toes out as far as you can; exhale and squeeze them tight.
  • Wiggle: Sit in a chair or on the floor and wiggle all toes, including the little ones.
  • The Roll: Applying light pressure and rolling a golf ball under the ball of your foot for approximately two minutes creates an instant massage for the bottom of the foot. This exercise is perfect for people who suffer from plantar fasciitis (heel pain syndrome), cramps or arch pain (and it feels great!). If a golf ball is not readily available, any type of small ball will work just as well. Roll a tennis ball along the bottom of your foot from heel to toe, applying medium to deep pressure as you go.

Standing up:

  • Toe Points: While standing, do toe raises, toe points and toe curls. Hold each position for five seconds and repeat ten times. This is a perfect way to help alleviate toe cramps and strengthen calf muscles.
  • Shift your Weight: move your weight forward and rise to the balls of your feet. One step forward, then back. Shift your weight backwards until you are standing on your heels. Take a few steps backwards.
  • Reflexology: shift weight to left leg, press heel of right foot to floor and turn heel right and left. Now roll right foot along outside edge and back again. Alternate legs.
  • Reflexology: Shift weight onto ball of right foot and draw small circles with the outside edge of the foot while pressing the ball of the foot against the ground. This will activiate important reflexology zones just beneath your toes. Alternate sides.
  • Shake foot and ankle and circle your foot in the air inwards and outwards a few times.
  • Scoop: Place something soft, like a towel, on the floor and pick it up by only using your toes. Repeat this exercise five times. Try this if you have hammertoes, toe cramps, pain in the ball of your foot, or for overall strengthening.
"Exercises for Good Ground Contact" in Belly Dancing by Coluccia, Paffrath, and Putz, Park Street Press 2003

Mountaineer Online on at Fort Drum.

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