It's every dancer's dream to be everything all at once: hard, yet soft. Graceful, yet dramatic. Small, yet big. Strong, yet flexible. And really, it's this last one that always gets me.
There's a physical...problem...with trying to be both strong and flexible. Why? Because when you're gumby and flexy, you have little strength to support it (injuries ahead!), and when you're stalky and strong, you're unable to pull off the dazzling kicks and extensions that are demanded of you (injuries ahead!). So really, you need to have both. A good balance of both: enough of each so that they can support each other without one overpowering the other. Your muscle tone needs to be strong, lean, supple, and long.
Unlike other sports or arts, you, as a dancer, have to exert yourself in a most unnatural way, while making it look like the most natural thing in the world. Other athletes are allowed to pant and sweat and wear protective gear, other artists get to look beautiful...and then there's you. You have to withhold the panting and protective gear (if you learn how to withhold sweat, call me) and look beautiful. What does this mean?
- you can't have bulky muscles (less weight/resistance, more reps for workouts)
- you have to spend time outside of class and rehearsal building strength, endurance, and flexibility.
- you have to do extra cardio. Dance is not really aerobic, cardiovascular exercise because you're not constantly moving. You stop and start and stop and start again in class and rehearsal, so you might get winded, but you'll get your breath back quickly.
- most importantly, you have to know your limits. Always, always warm up before you stretch - even if you don't think you need to. You might be young now, but when your body starts getting a little "older" (you'll feel it), you won't be able to pop into stretches like you used to. I know that when I was sixteen, I felt like I could do anything...and now, only a few years later, I can't.
Strong and flexible will forever be a struggle for dancers. You must find your perfect balance (this is usually the hardest part) and then work to maintain it (this is the part that needs discipline). Good luck!