Developing Stamina for Competition

by Bija Satterlee, BA in Dance, University of Colorado, 3 Times U.S. Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships (Standard and Latin), Certified Personal Trainer and Master Fitness by Phone® Coach.


How many times have you made it to the end of a dance or a round, only to find your legs, your lungs, or your mental energy failing you? This is such a common occurrence, even among higher-level dancers that you would think it were unpreventable. That is simply not true! In a day when the level of dancing has risen so high, and dancers spend so much time, money and energy on lessons, costumes, travel and entries, to neglect your fitness training is folly. If you can’t maintain your best dancing for a minute and a half without showing fatigue, the best costume in the world is not going to save you!

Cardiovascular training is good for everyone, but dancers need it even more. Getting your heart rate up and sweating several days a week has the following advantages:
• weight loss -- (look better in costumes)
• improved endurance -- (hold up round after round)
• stress relief -- (endorphines, well-being)
• strengthens immune system -- (stay healthy)
• improved sleep -- (mental clarity, more energy)

The very top dancers like Christopher Hawkins and Hazel Newberry, or Eugene and Maria are sweating and working like crazy in their final rounds, but they never show exhaustion or fatigue. They make it their business to be in shape.

If you compete regularly, you may feel you are getting enough exercise. However, your body is very clever, and it quickly adapts to your routine. If you are dancing every day, your body hits a fitness plateau, even if the dancing is very difficult. To increase your fitness level, you need new and different challenges.

Those who are not dancing hard every day, or competing regularly, will benefit MOST from aerobic training. You will see benefits in your dancing almost right away, and you will be able to sustain your best form longer than before. Some dancers start falling apart after barely a minute of dancing. Make it your business to improve on that!

OK, so everyone in the world knows exercise is beneficial. Then why aren’t more dancers working out? Reasons probably include: (and I’ve heard them all!)
• Lack of time
• No gym or equipment handy
• No real results
• Out of the habit

Maintaining momentum over a long period of time requires a support system. It is just too hard to do all alone! Imagine trying to improve as a dancer without coaching, direction, or feedback. How successful would you be? And yet so many people quit their fitness program feeling bored, discouraged, not seeing results, and thinking they had failed, when their attempt had little chance of succeeding in the first place.

Stanford University conducted a study which found that people who started an exercise program were 86% more likely to continue beyond six months if they received a weekly phone call asking how things were going. The control group did not receive a call, and had a mere 2% of participants still exercising after six months. That is statistically very significant! That was with just a phone call once a week.

So imagine what you could accomplish if you had a your own fitness coach guiding your training. You would have weekly goals, and know exactly what exercises to do, for how long, and how hard. You would have someone ELSE committed to helping you reach your goals.

Encouragement and accountability are very strong motivators, so your coach does not have to be present with you at each workout. And in those times when you feel unmotivated or hit a fitness slump, you and your coach would work through obstacles, getting you back on track as soon as possible. Fitness-detours might be the end of someone else’s workout plan, but not yours! It is like a safety net.

So how much time is needed to improve your fitness level? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends you get your heart rate up and sustain it for 20-60 minutes, at least 3-5 days a week. Activities in the gym might include the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, rowing machine, stair climber, or any number of group classes, such as step aerobics, kickboxing, martial arts, etc.

You don’t like the gym? Options outside the gym are important too, and don’t we all like to be outside on a beautiful day? A fast walk/run on hilly terrain, a fast bike ride (with a helmet!) jumping on a big trampoline, rollerblading, swimming, or running all get your heart pumping. The main thing is to pick something you can sustain aerobically, and do it! Even better, find something you really LOVE to do! You won’t worry about the time as much if you are enjoying yourself.

How intensely should you be working? For general fitness, you should work at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. (Your maximum heart rate is 220 - your age). For aerobic fitness, 70-80% of your max. Your stamina increases exercising at this level, so you can work longer without becoming fatigued. This will help your dancing!

A small percent of time should be spent in your anaerobic zone, which is 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. At this more strenuous level your heart cannot pump enough blood to satisfy your muscles, and you begin to “feel the burn” as lactic acid builds up in your muscles. Performance athletes will touch briefly in the redline zone, or 90-100% of your maximum. This level relates to the end of your Jive or Quickstep.

Specific heart rate training allows you to manipulate your workouts to your advantage. You need to use a good heart rate monitor, have specific weekly goals, and keep an aerobic fitness diary. Most people are surprised to learn that they were never working hard enough before they had a heart rate monitor. Once you can “see” what the body is doing, you can begin to produce and fine-tune the desired results. This is is a great advantage for any athlete serious about competing. It is also a great motivational tool for anyone trying to lose weight.

Aerobic training responds very quickly to exercise. Literally within a couple of weeks you can feel the benefits. Anyone who is serious about their dancing or weight loss should add aerobic training to their schedule. Don’t be among those still losing their form due to fatigue! If you want to shine and look your best, align yourself with a qualified expert, and get into the best shape of your life. Your dancing will improve as your fitness level increases! Now is the perfect time to start building stamina for the the future. And if you are lucky enough to do practice rounds, by all means start now so you look fresh as a daisy during your final rounds in Ohio!

See my web site, to read previous articles. You can also ask questions about this or other fitness-related issues. If you want fitness coaching to improve your dancing, send me an e-mail me requesting details. I will be glad to help.

In Joy and Health,
~ Bija Satterlee
This is so true! I'm in an aerobics class at school, and I just feel so much better about myself, that I can do so much more, because I'm in shape! It really is a wonderful thing, and helps in anything that you do! Kudos to you, BodiesByBija, for bringing up these very important points! Hope your workouts are going okay! :D 8)

Sakura Kitty :kitty:


Well-Known Member
Bija..Just went and looked at your website and I *know* I've seen you somewhere...maybe a dance or something. I'll introduce myself if and when I see you again!
You're welcome. I'm glad you are enjoying my articles.

There's a particularly *interesting* one coming in a few days. I write these primarily for Dancebeat, and so don't post them here until they are printed.

For a sneak preview of December's article on WHEN DANCING TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE, see my web site.


Well-Known Member
I couldn't find the article.

But I did see the picture of your incredible legs! Wow. It's obvious you walk the talk.

Your site's very nice. I'm going to head over there and spend some time looking around after my morning nap. Thanks for the tip. There's lots of great info over there. And it looks like you're providing a fantastic service for dancers and non-dancers. 8)


Well-Known Member
I'll go read it after this post.

Well, I took your advice and did a couple of step/weight classes last week....and YEOOOOW! My biceps are still hurting from Friday (she uses weights during the step routine, but not flailing about....). I definitely was red-faced by the time it was all over. I also bought a step and some dvds (the Firm) for home, and do them when I can't make it to the gym, like today.

We'll see what happens in the coming weeks. I haven't been dancing much, but I"m sure this will help!


Well-Known Member
Ha! It's under the pull-down menu! :D Over the weekend, I was trying to navigate there through other clicks -- the Dancebeat and more Dancebeat article ones. Why didn't I try the pull-downs? :doh: Hmm. :?

Great article -- all about finding balance. Very good advice, and much needed, especially in our little world of dance "nuts." Even nuts need a little something else to balance things out.

Thanks Bija! :D
I know the pull down menus can be confusing!

Most people go in through links from my fitness / dance newsletter, FitBits.

I wonder if folks around here would like to receive it... you get my articles about a week before they are published, and other info as well.
My company supports people in their efforts to fit exercise into busy lifestyles.


Well-Known Member
Cool. I'm headed over now. I really like your articles. You have lots of experience and you obviously have good sense (and an interesting writing style. :) )
This is a nice article. Last night I was at a dance- co-taught a group class, then danced for maybe a couple of hours after that. I don't know what happened to me but my stamina completely dropped and I was off my game. I taught a couple of hours during the day before the dance, but I was just drained. I've been trying to get into a workout routine again, but once or twice a week isn't cutting it. I was told stamina is a mental game as well, you have to get in a zone. I've been trimming down a bit lately through diet and I noticed an improvement in my dancing, but it definitely didn't help with my energy level.
Well, some 25 years ago I was an assault engineer in the Army, (at the time of the Falklands campaign) and one of the most striking features of physical endurance is that physical strength is a positive disadvantage.

To build stamina you need to carry loads over distance at fast walking pace.

In dance terms that would probably mean dancing with a weighted pack and/or steel capped shoes. . . .
Hmm, I'll throw out a guess. It sounds like a blood sugar drop to me (I know I can get screwed up if I miss meals). Maybe try eatting more little meals (if possible) and try to make sure you eat protein and whole grains. The protein and whole grains will help to keep your blood sugar from spiking and keep it from dropping longer.

I would also agree that stamina is also part a mental game. Distance running for example is an extremely mental sport (you can quit whenever you want and make all this pain stop) and most runners I knew played all sorts of mental games. I remember thoughts that would go through my mind would be "I don't have time for pain", "Bring it on, I've had worse", and "Wow, she's cute. Must run faster". So now when I dance and I get tired my first thought after a quickstep is "Ok bring on the Jive!" instead of something like "Wow, I'm tired I hope the next dance is slow or no one asks me to dance". I think general physically condition can help you get the point where you don't have to get into as much of the mental aspect.
So now when I dance and I get tired my first thought after a quickstep is "Ok bring on the Jive!" instead of something like "Wow, I'm tired I hope the next dance is slow or no one asks me to dance". I think general physically condition can help you get the point where you don't have to get into as much of the mental aspect.
You know, this is an interesting approach. When I get 2 quick dances in a row at a party, I usually think "I should have a word with whoever created this playlist, this is inhumane". Coincidentally, I can stay on a cardio machine for about an hour at a decent pace, but standard round drains me (it's that VW in the middle, smooth is OK because VW is in the end, there is nothing else after it).
As pointed out in the article on military training the difference is between 'sports fitness' and 'stamina' .

Sports fitness - the cardio machine - actually reduces your stamina


Well-Known Member
To build stamina you need to carry loads over distance at fast walking pace.

In dance terms that would probably mean dancing with a weighted pack and/or steel capped shoes. . . .
one could make a weighted vest for doing half of one's practice rounds...

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