StEPS: Conditioning VS. Cross Training for Dancers

Conditioning VS. Cross Training for Dancers

Conditioning VS. Cross Training for Dancers

Dance is a demanding art form that requires a delicate balance of technique, strength, and endurance. As dancers strive to reach their full potential, the discussion around conditioning and cross-training becomes increasingly relevant. 

Welcome to Beyond the StEPS

In this blog post, we'll explore insights from a recent Beyond the Steps episode featuring Jennifer Milner*, a seasoned professional in dance medicine and science. Join us as we delve into the distinctions between conditioning and cross-training, and how these practices play a pivotal role at different levels of dance training.

The Distinction Between Conditioning and Cross-Training

Dance enthusiasts often use the terms "conditioning" and "cross-training" interchangeably, but Jennifer Milner emphasizes their unique roles. Conditioning typically refers to exercises that mimic dance movements, focusing on building strength and flexibility within the dance context. On the other hand, cross-training involves incorporating activities outside of dance that contribute to overall fitness and stamina.

Tailoring Training to Diverse Levels and Abilities

One challenge in group dance settings is accommodating individuals with varying levels of ability and flexibility. Jennifer Milner suggests that having a knowledgeable professional guide the training can make a significant difference. Experienced instructors can modify exercises based on individual needs, ensuring that participants receive the maximum benefit from each session. Additionally, a tailored approach allows dancers to address specific concerns, such as soreness or recurring corrections from their instructors. It's important to make use of regression and progression with various exercises to meet the needs of each individual dancer.

The Value of Professional Guidance

In group classes, having a skilled instructor who understands the intricacies of dance anatomy is crucial. Professionals like Jason Marissa Schaefer and Amy Warner excel in teaching classes that cater to diverse abilities. Their ability to modify exercises and understand the unique needs of each dancer makes them valuable assets in a group setting. Recommendations from experienced professionals can guide dancers towards well-suited conditioning or cross-training programs.

From Strength Training to Cross Training: Finding the Right Fit

Jennifer Milner emphasizes the importance of starting with strength training, which doesn't necessarily mimic ballet but incorporates exercises that enhance dance-specific skills. She suggests finding a coach based on specific needs – whether it's addressing soreness, building stamina, or improving overall strength. The goal is to bridge the gap between gym workouts and dance studio requirements, creating a seamless transition that benefits the dancer. This may even involve bringing in a certified specialist to conduct stretch and strength training for your dances. 

Crafting a Balanced Schedule at Different Dance Levels

Understanding the optimal training hours for dancers is crucial. For recreational dancers attending classes once a week, the focus is on immersing themselves in technique without the need for additional conditioning. However, as dancers progress to competitive levels, the emphasis on cross-training becomes more pronounced. It's about finding the right balance, avoiding overloading the body, and adapting the schedule based on competition proximity.

Cross-Training in the Professional Dance Sphere

In the professional dance world, the challenge lies in breaking traditional schedules and incorporating cross-training into the daily routine. Jennifer Milner advocates for creating schedules that allow dancers one or two lighter days, providing time for individualized strength training or conditioning. The goal is to enable dancers to build stamina, prevent injuries, and enhance overall performance without compromising their primary dance training.

Taking the First Step: Homework for Dance Educators

For dance educators looking to integrate conditioning and cross-training, Jennifer Milner suggests starting by gathering information. Seek feedback from dancers about their preferences, and explore potential areas for schedule adjustments. Utilize social media platforms to follow science-based accounts and gain insights into effective cross-training methods. Building a network with certified strength and conditioning coaches creates opportunities for collaboration and brings valuable expertise into the dance community.

Conditioning and cross-training are indispensable components of a dancer's journey, ensuring a holistic approach to physical well-being and performance. By understanding the nuances of these practices and incorporating them into dance training programs, educators can contribute to the long-term health and success of their dancers. As we navigate the intersection of conditioning and cross-training, let's empower dancers to reach new heights while fostering a culture of resilience and longevity in the world of dance.

Continue your Education for yourself and your students with the StEPS Initiative Course!

About the StEPS Initiative Course

This course started in part with our charity event we created to save dance studios. Then we decided to keep it a free resource for the dance community. You can learn all about it below.

As part of our commitment to education and creating a safe space for all dancers, we are excited to introduce the StEPS Initiative Course. This has been curated by Apolla and donated from experts and professionals in each topic. 

Our goal in creating this course is to give dance teachers continuing education/professional development, give dancers the power of education, and provide parents the knowledge to see red flags. Each section has actionable items that can unite dance studios focused on equity and creating a safe space for every dancer. This course gives evidence-based information, some perspective & qualitative information, dance history, and further resources that can help you learn something new that helps progress and strengthen your studio OR solidify what you already have in place. There is something for everyone! 

This course is free for EVERYONE (Apolla has covered the cost and the presenters have donated the course content). These are meant to be introductions and actionable items for you. We know this is not a silver bullet to fix every issue or topic that needs to be addressed in dance. Each topic is deep and broad on its own. However, we aim for this to be the first step for some of us in these topics and even serves as a small catalyst for change in our industry. You will see there are also many resources that can allow you to expand your journey further in any of the subjects. With all that 2020 has thrown at all of us, we are determined to heal through listening, grow from adversity through action, and rise up by bringing everyone together. In the end, we will create a space open wide for the new generation of artists and athletes to ring in the new decade stronger and safer than ever!

Watch the full beyond the StEPS Episode with Jennifer Milner* Here!

*Jennifer Milner is a ballet coach and certified Pilates trainer.  After a successful performing career, Jennifer became certified in Pilates under Kelly Kane, then mentored under the dance medicine pioneer Marika Molnar. She has trained dancers from New York City Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Royal Ballet, and more. 

Jennifer is a co-founder of Bendy Bodies, a podcast devoted to athletic artists with hypermobility issues. She is a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science and has presented at several world conferences. She is a member of Dansemedica and Doctors for Dancers and serves on the advisory board of Minding the Gap. You can find her at

Jennifer’s ability to move between ballet studios and cross-training venues, addressing biomechanical imbalances and technique dysfunctions in a practical strength-training way, has made her a sought-after guest speaker for dance schools and companies, and her many years of training dancers across the hypermobility spectrum have made her passionate about educating dancers and teachers on how to train hypermobility in a healthy and efficient way. Her website is or you can find her on Instagram @jennifer.milner. 

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