Can stretching before class hurt your dancing? New science suggests it might. Yesterday, I listened to a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program with The New York Times Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds, who just came out with a book called The First 20 Minutes. Reynolds explained that almost all research now suggests that stretching prior to working out is counterproductive: It causes your brain to think you're going tear the muscles. "When you lean over and touch your toes, and hold that pose, the brain thinks you are about to damage yourself and it then sends out nerve impulses that actually tighten the muscles," she told interviewer Terry Gross. "The result is, you're less ready for activity."
However, dancers aren't your average Joe at the gym. They have to prepare their bodies for the range of motion it needs to do a penché. But the takeaway message here is that you should never flop over your hamstrings when you’re cold. Warm up first with a little light jogging, some Pilates or a plank. Then start stretching. Nonetheless, this isn't the time to actively work on increasing your flexibiliy: You’ll see better results if you do that after class or rehearsal.