“My advice is to never short change your Warm-Up. It will preserve you. It’s your one body, and if you take care of it, it will serve you well.” – Jimmy Cunningham
It’s a crisp, fresh, and purely blue skied day here in Kansas City. My first few steps alongside the brisk air, with Maddie by my side, was the perfect reminder that it is indeed the first weekend of fall. This reminder of cooler times ahead, brought me to think of an interview I conducted with a friend, Jimmy Cunningham, on the subject of Warming-Up for a dancer’s tasking day of work. I tend to admire the things I’m not so good at, and one thing I lack is moving fast in the morning! I lived with Jimmy for 5 weeks before packing, repacking, and repacking my car up again, in a desperate attempt to fit all that I had left for my move to Kansas City. I’ll never forget the time Jimmy and I shared together that day, as we struggled to figure out how the heck my bike rack could safely hold two bikes for a 10-hour journey. We both laughed a lot despite our frustration, especially after realizing how easy it was to use. Anyway, Jimmy never left a minute after 8:15 a.m. for 9:30 ballet class, usually the time I would walk downstairs for my first cup of coffee.
One weekend morning, I asked Jimmy about his daily morning pre-workday Warm-Up. I thought I would share some of his thoughts with you.
- Jimmy allows 45 minutes everyday for an adequate Warm-Up. That means he wakes up, showers, eats and gets there!
- A Warm-Up has been ingrained in his head since he was young and still training. His teacher reiterated to her students that warming-up was a necessary and crucial part of being a dancer.
- Typically he starts his Warm-Up with theraband exercises for his feet. Jimmy explained to me that he started this habit because if distractions cut his time short, than at least his feet and calfs were warm and ready.
- The rest of his Warm-Up occurs in a series from head to toes. His theory is to “awaken the body, one part at a time.” First he wakes up his neck, then his shoulders, his back, etc.
- Jimmy also likes to gradually work up from small movements to larger ones within his Warm-Up. He explained that moving smaller (less range of motion) warms the intricate muscles up first, allowing the blood to circulate throughout the body. Jimmy quoted, “You really pay attention to your body, the flow of blood, the releasing of muscles, before you lift your leg or move in full range.”
- Jimmy said those few days that he doesn’t get in his full 45 minute Warm-Up, he feels it mostly in his legs. He said, “There is something horribly uncomfortable about having to force those first few fifth positions.”
- I asked Jimmy if his Warm-Up was at all mental for him. Without hesitation, his answer was yes! It is important to remember that time dedicated to warming up is just as important for our minds as it is for our bodies.
- Jimmy also said his Warm-Up is not set in stone. Depending on what he is working on, or what show he is getting ready for, he varies it up. Before a show he likes to feel loose, free and elongated because everything in a show tightens up. The adrenalin has less chance to take over.
We all work differently as dancers, but by sharing one dancer’s idea of a proper Warm-Up, I hope to motivate you to think of your own theories, your own ideas, and sequences, which help to make it “your way.” Feel free to share your own ideas. A little advice never hurts.