Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Basic Ballet Positions - Tendu A La Seconde and A La Arriere - More French Ballet Words

Your positions a la seconde and a la arriere in battement tendu are the basis for building strength and good dance technique. Careful attention to these will give your ballet barre work excellent lines!


The accuracy of these positions will carry over to your pre-pointe strengths, your adagio, to......everything you do in a ballet class!

Learning correct body placement and fine foot work in these exercises will also help prevent injury.

For a la seconde, the foot leaves fifth or first, the sole pressing into the floor, the metatarsals pressing as you extend the arch, and lastly, you lengthen the toes.

Hopefully nothing else has happened in the body or to the standing leg. You aim the tendu to the spot furthest to the side, where you can still hold your turnout in both legs. For most dancers, this is not straight to the side.

It doesn't matter.

Holding the turnout of the supporting leg and the placement of the body facing square to the front matters.

You need this stable position for developpe, turns in a la seconde, and jumps in or going through a la seconde postion (fouette saute, grand jete en tournant).

Closing the tendu, press the toes down, then relax the metatarsal joints. Press the ball of foot and sole of foot into the floor, creating resistance.

Make sure the whole foot is on the floor, so you can smoothly resume weight onto it. All the way into first or fifth behind, aim for the foot placement that allows maximum turnout of both legs from the hips, no wiggling, and minimal hip change.

A la arriere, behind, press down into the foot, changing the weight to the supporting leg. Lead out with the toes first, lengthening down the back of the leg, and continue to apply pressure in the sole of the foot as the arch stretches and then the toes lengthen.

At some point, your working hip will open from a square position, but the turnout of the supporting leg should not change, and your body from the waist up should be square to the front.

Also, you have to keep feeling length down through the leg. The leg must be extended all the way out, before the foot fully points, or you will force your torso to scrunch at the waist instead of staying long.

It's like a tug of war to lengthen the leg, and keep the body pulled up tall. Also that feeling prevents you from shifting the weight back off the supporting foot.

You should be able to lift your hand from the barre any time, and be tall on your standing leg.

Closing from the back is a gradual change from the heel leading back in, pressure on the sole of the foot, and bringing the toes forward again to where you can stand on your whole foot.

Also the working hip comes square again, smoothly, as the toes drop, the arch presses down, and the weight goes on to the foot.

Massage your feet with a golf ball or small hard rubber ball. Ice if your feet ache, and massage your feet when you're sitting watching a movie, or studying. Strengthen, stretch, and then relax too.

CLICK HERE to learn basic ballet positions from The Perfect Pointe Book. 

It is a comprehensive manual which explains  use of the foot muscles, and basic ballet technique.

Your tendus will strengthen faster if you add these exercises to your daily routines.

Tendu devant (to the front) is covered in detail here

D. Buxton is a writing partner with Vone Deporter, of The Sedona Series, about a surfer girl in pointe shoes.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Perfect Battement Tendu - French Ballet Word For Stretched

Tendu is one of the French words for ballet. It means "stretched". Usually, that means you have pointed your foot in a front, side, or backward direction from a closed position.

Whether in soft ballet shoes or pointe shoes, the technique is the same. Tendu prepares the muscles for releve and saute.


Whether you pick up a ballet glossary at a ballet store, or find one on line, every new student needs one. Even if you speak French, the way the words are used can be different.

Battement tendu is a movement opening the foot and leg, keeping the pointe of the toes on the floor.

Assuming that your posture is correct, "spine neutral", your turnout is from the hips, your neck and shoulders are relaxed, and your hand on the barre is resting lightly, not too much happens!

True, and not true.

If your are in fifth position, you shift your weight gradually to the standing leg and slide the working heel forward, at the same time.

You press your heel forward, if you are going devant - to the front, or a la seconde, to the side. You can turn out your foot to the max because you are taking the weight off that leg, so there is no strain on the knee joint.

Here's a tricky part - as you extend the leg, you continue to press the foot into the floor. Not so as to strain the knee joint with having weight on the foot - no, but you are creating resistance.

You press the foot into the floor to build strength in the foot muscles. You do not curl your toes to do this, think of the whole foot. But as you are extending the foot to the position, this happens quickly.

After the metatarsal area has left the floor, be sure to stretch your toes out long, do not curl or bend them. The movement is over when the arch is fully stretched, and the toes simply come into line.

***This is the same movement you will do in pointe shoes, keeping the toes long, not bent over.***

Some techniques teach that you extend the foot so that the toes end up opposite the standing heel, in a devant position. Others teach that you cross the foot over so that the toe ends up opposite the center of the standing foot, or in line with the center of the torso.

You can lose turnout crossing over like this, or, keeping the turnout, you can end up losing the hip placement, turning the body slightly croise (toward the corner of the supporting side).

What matters most is that you do one or the other deliberately and accurately every time.

In the early years of training I see no reason not to stay with the extended toes in line with the supporting heel.

If nothing else has happened in the body, you have done a correct tendu devant.

To close, you relax your toe joints, pressing the toes slightly into the floor as the leg draws in, the toes pull back, the heel lowers, until the sole of the foot is pressing on the floor.

Here's the little tricky area again - you pull the leg in, but you must stop pulling the toes back as you get into fifth (or first) so as not be turning the foot out too much.

You have to stand on the whole foot, turned out from the hip rotators. Ballet is not anatomically correct, but you must compromise without injuring your knees, rolling your ankles, and being off balance.

At the end of the movement, your weight must be evenly on two feet, hips as square as possible, spine still neutral, neck relaxed. With the thousands of tendus you do in ballet training, there is no way you will not get strong and build good ballet footwork.

Here is a short video showing some very nice crisp battements tendus.

To test your foot strength,  use exercises from The Perfect Pointe Book - get it HERE. 

There are many more exercises for pre-pointe and all your ballet footwork here on the left sidebar.

Monday, December 3, 2007

7 Additional Effective Habits To Improve Ballet Technique

 How would you like a short list of dance training tips to help you improve ballet technique for pointe or pre-pointe.

Every exercise you do up until you get into pointe shoes, is basically pre-pointe.


However, using the term to focus on the basics that will help you work well in pointe shoes, is how we currently emphasize that there IS a regimen for improving your strength build-up towards pointe work.

For boys, these exercises will improve your technique too.And for all, they will improve your footwork and allegro.

Ballet - Basic Moves

Check your postural plumb line when doing your first demi plie of the class. Your postural plumb line is the line that goes straight down through your body, through the curve of your spine and your other natural shapes.

Also called "neutral spine", when you are not straining to straighten the spine, nor are you slacking in your ab muscles, and curving excessively at the at back of the waist,

Check your turnout.

Turn out as much as you can from your rotator muscles in the back of your pelvis. Your feet should be turned out as much as your thighs are, but not more to the degree that they pronate (rolling the front of the ankles toward the floor), or tense excessively, under the arches and toes.

Ballet is not anatomically correct. The fact that you will ultimately have to produce a "heel to toe" fifth position (as viewed from the audience, if you get my drift), does not mean you should be doing that in early training.

Move your head easily from side to side. Check that your neck is relaxed, and your shoulders move easily with your breathing. You should not press your shoulders down to compensate for a non-neutral spine, feet not completely contacting the floor, or anything else indicating that you are off balance.

You should not have to press your shoulders down to hide the fact that they are constantly pulling up from effort. If this happens, you need to work on your abdominal and back "core" muscles, and your turnout and thigh muscles, so your shoulders can stop working.

You may need to be in a more basic class.

During your plie exercise, note that your arm can move without the shoulders following. In other words, the shoulder joint is free, and your shoulders and arms are not working to hold your balance in any way.

More important than many would think, is the focus of your eyes.

When you look ahead, look at something and be aware of what you are looking at.

When you incline your head, look at something. Your attention to the environment is necessary. A class or a stage can be a busy place!

You must be able to focus and see what is around you even when you are concentrating on your own movement. You also must seem, to an audience, that you are focusing outward, to them, even in moments when you are not, and even when you cannot see them.

Check that you are holding the barre lightly. Place your hand on the barre and use a slight pressure down when you feel your balance shifting. Gripping constantly tells you one thing - you cannot do what you are trying to do!

You need to cut back to an easier version of the exercise and practice.

You may need to increase your ab and back exercises. Ask your teacher for help. Teachers don't see everything in class, no matter how hard they may try.

If you are altering ANYTHING at the depth of your grande plie, or during the first inch coming up out of it, you need to find what is weak. As soon as your heels come off the floor, start watching and feeling. Have a friend help too.

If it just a matter of strength at the bottom of the plie, do shallower grande plies for a few classes.

Tell your teacher you are trying to improve this way, and that you are deepening your plie little by little, so as not to lose posture or turnout, whichever it is.

If you are among boys in ballet and you've noticed the girls talking excitedly about new pre-pointe regimens, pay attention!

All those exercises and assessments in The Perfect Pointe Book are perfect for men in ballet too.

The strength and finesse of foot work is just as necessary for you. Your jumps, your landings, controlling your descent from multiple turns, will have that cat-like quality if you develop your feet as you would for pointe work.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In Pointe Shoes - Preventing Injury at Performance Time

Get a wonderful dancer's guide by Lisa Howell, dance medicine specialist, who wrote the following about dancing in pointe shoes. I heartily agree with every point. All the best for your performance season!

"Warm Up! While you may only be 'marking' steps, always make sure
you do a full warm up before class, and this is NOT just sitting in
side splits! Aim to get all of your muscles warm and the heart
pumping a bit!

Make Sure You Stay Warm! Lots of injuries happen in rehearsals,
as we are moving around, then sit and rest for a bit, and then
suddenly get up and move again! Make sure that you wrap up warm if
you are going to be not dancing for more than 5 - 10 minutes.

Keep Hydrated. We sweat a lot more than we realize in dancing, so
make sure that you keep sipping water at regular intervals. Room
temperature water is better than ice cold, and while it is good to
keep your electrolytes up, sports drinks tend to have a little too
much sugar in them. Dilute them if you simply must have them.

Keep Your Energy Levels High. Make sure that you have good "Slow
Release" carbohydrate snacks to keep your energy going through long
rehearsals. This is not chocolate! A little every now and then is
okay, but not as your main source of energy!

Get Lots Of Sleep! Healing happens when we sleep, so give your
body the best chance by getting to bed early.

Ice Your Feet! Especially when doing a lot of pointe work, your
feet are sustaining micro injuries every day. Put them in a bucket
of ice water for 15 minutes after stopping dancing for the day
(make sure your feet are flat on the bottom) to help settle any
little bits of inflammation. This is horrible in the beginning but
you get used to it, and it really does make a huge difference! Then
pop them up a wall or on the end of the couch to further reduce any
inflammation in the joints.

Keep Up With Your Exercises! While lots of dancers struggle with
having the time, it is REALLY important that you keep up with any
strengthening exercises while you are in performance mode. Make the

Build the best foot muscles for dancing in pointe shoes
with professional guidance, and prevent dance injuries.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dancing In Pointe Shoes - Not More Homework!

This is homework about dancing in pointe shoes you are going to love. Why? How do I know that?

Because I know that young dancers are serious, and usually quite organized. And they beam with satisfaction when they can do something that was extremely difficult a week ago.

In the book about the perfect pointe preparations, the organization is handed to you. Charts, progress notes, are all there for you to use.

Learning new information is quite thrilling when you may have been wondering "why don't my feet arch over as easily as hers"? Or "how can I get my foot into a pointe shoe when my toes are such different lengths?"

Thinking that you are simply stuck with the feet you were born with is quite discouraging. Every student is eager to know if her foot can be more flexible, to make pointe work easier, or if she is truly ever going to be able to control her hyper-mobile foot joints and progress without injury.

Having the tools you need to do more homework, safely, and more homework that you love and get results from, is being empowered to progress.

I think it takes a lot of the mystique out of the undefined "talent" idea.

When I first studied dance, I thought that talent meant you had the long legs, high arches, long neck, etc., etc., and I thought that because those dancers got all the attention in class. And yet, as a child, I thought that those girls didn't need the teacher's help much - she showed something and they just did it. And it looked right. So why weren't the less physically able helped more? That was logical. I had so many questions, but didn't expect that the teachers would want to illuminate my curious mind. I always felt I could do more. And I did more and more homework - getting up early to stretch, getting to school early to practise. I made some progress, but I could have used my time much better with guidance.

Talent is a mixture of abilities and charisma. And soul.

I never knew anything about foot bones, their shapes, and their potential to work better - or not.

I and my fellow dancers often suffered from shin splints, agonizing. We had no idea how to release the tibial muscles and work our feet muscles more. Yet we had fantastic world class teachers. But, then, "dance is suffering". No one ever said that, but the teachers acted like it.

Even the most physically able can get into trouble. I remember watching a rehearsal of a fellow student who later became a world class ballerina. She had highly domed arches and was rehearsing in pointe shoes that were mushy. I watched her bending way over her shoes, and sickling out too. I think back on that and wonder "why didn't anyone stop her?" She could have done one rehearsal on demi pointe, or been allowed to get different shoes. But protocol was rarely broken. At the risk of injury.....right before a tradition and the concept of discipline blinds us sometimes.

Luckily the present is much different. Education is available, those with the passion to do more homework and build strength and a good dance technique independent of class schedules, can do so! Safely, methodically and with results.

Get the finer details about dancing in pointe shoes.

Building Strength, Your Age Profile and Dancing in Pointe Shoes

Regardless of your age profile, you can now get the information on how to build strength and good classical technique toward dancing in pointe shoes.

Ballet shoes naturally lead to pointe shoes, and although there is no guarantee that you will do pointe work, repetition builds strength, and correct instruction creates good dance technique. Precision and detail are required to achieve this. Education prevents injury. A whole new world opens to dance students with the correct information!


When I was professionally training and needed pointe shoes, I could choose only between Gamba and Freed. Freeds were agonizing for my not so flexible and not quite strong enough feet, and Gambas were much easier to break in for me. Unfortunately, no one told us how to initially break in a shoe so as to enhance our work.

I was in a class with some younger girls and they were a year ahead of me in training. I was told that pointe work hurts, and not to complain. I was told that a little Lamb's Wool was ok to put in the shoes, but that the dancer should be able to do pointe without it, and not to complain.

No one had help in fitting the shoes, or breaking them in. I went through pointe classes seeing black spots from the pain, straining my neck and shoulders, getting the usual bloody blisters. It did not seem to occur to my teacher that maybe something was amiss with me and a few others who had these problems.

Students shared different tips and tricks with each other, to make things easier. Wrapping Kleenex around our toes was one. Another amusing one was that at The National Ballet School, the ancient washroom (long gone at this point) had funny little squares of toilet paper that were waxy, as opposed to absorbent. They were perfect for pointe shoes! Two layers meant that they would slide against each other, unlike tissue which could bunch up. The waxy paper also slid against the tights, preventing blisters. Later we used plastic wrap too, for the slippery effect.

By year two of training I had developed better techniques of avoiding the extreme pain. What a waste of a year, also the negative perception of my abilities by my teachers. I was truly struggling unnecessarily and could have done much better.

We all wore shoes that were too small. We had no guidance in strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles. I think I was already teaching when I heard another teacher describe the "dragging the towel" exercise to a student, for strengthening under the foot. That student had a problem with muscle cramps. Which we all did in my first year.

I was extremely lucky in another aspect however. Our pre-pointe training was excellent in that our posture, placement, turnout, rises, releves and retire positions were as perfect as our physiques could allow. We had teachers' assistants in large classes so everyone was corrected, constantly.

However, the anatomical knowledge that is available now, was unknown. The details that could have allowed some of us to flourish, weren't known.

You can get ALL of this wealth of information and with instructional photos and video that will help you know how to start working your pre-pointe exercises, and assess your own progress, for dancing in pointe shoes!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Adding Turns in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

Building strength and good dance technique has to happen long before you get to multiple turns. Once there, increasing your turns is not too difficult. The feeling of spin is controlled through good spotting, musicality, and the same old practise, practise and practise!

One aspect of fast spinning is spotting. You must have a relaxed neck and quick and accurate head movement. Such as, no inclining the head. Inclining happens when you leave the head too long. For more neck flexibility, ice it for 15 minutes after hot showers, and tilt the head sideways for gentle stretches. Do not roll the head around in circles; the neck joints are not designed to do that.

You can work up to more turns by adding half a turn at a time. Do four and a half, which means changing your spot to the back after three and a half turns. That will just kind of bring you around to the back, to catch up to your head. And voila you have done another half a turn. Don't strain, and come down into a soft, controlled stretchy demi plie. Repeat this until it is easy, then add another half, and another half. Little by little as needed, so that you are not compensating for any postural loss, or losing control over your ending position.

I had a teacher once who set pirouette exercises like that, starting with two and a quarter turns. It meant changing your spot to the next wall, and coming around to it. Really easy, not too much difference. You'd do a double, then 2 and a quarter, 2 and a half, 2 and three quarters, then three. Or start with a triple, and do three and a quarter, etc. In pointe shoes, it takes not much more than a thought to add a quarter turn.

Another teacher I had used to say "during your preparation, imagine you are spiralling your spine in the opposite direction to where you are going to turn. Like your inner muscles are twisting to the left, though your shoulders stay square to the front; the prep position doesn't change outwardly. Then when you go up onto releve and turn, you release that twist and it makes you spin. That's a mental trick, and it really works for some people.

Assuming your technique is good, and your postural plumb line is correct, just keep on adding quarter or half turns, and let each addition get easy and natural.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dancing In Pointe Shoes - Building Strength For Strong Pirouettes

Get a detailed dancer's guide on dancing in pointe shoes, The Perfect Pointe Book. It will help you perfect the following issues.

With some students, all their pirouettes get thrown off balance. And with others, it is just one side that doesn't work as well. 2 things to observe are:

  • one side back/hip/leg muscles are weaker than the other side, when it is the supporting side
  • therefore you are also weaker in your demi plie just before the turn and rise slightly off balance and don't have the exact strength needed to recover just by gripping your position.

Here are some more things to examine:

  • When you are standing in fifth position, check to see where you compensate. Anyone who does not have 180 degree turnout from the hips, compensates.
  • To have the front leg looking turned out, the hips are usually a bit less than square. With muscles gripping to maintain the look of a square position, there will be extra tension in the muscles of your weaker side that may never be properly released. Therefore those muscles will be weaker.
  • Improperly gripped muscles are not stronger, but weaker. The muscle tone has to be maintained with proper stretching and relaxation.

So after you have checked your fifth position, slowly demi plie and see if anything changes:
  • for example, weight shifting onto one foot more than the other 
  • turnout changing on the leg that you anticipate becoming the supporting leg
  • sole of the foot tension changing in either foot
  • any visible tilt in the shoulders or hip levels.

Then rise up into your pirouette position in super slow motion. Have a friend watch you. See exactly what other adjustments, if any, occur.

Sometimes it takes a few times to notice what is adjusting, that is going to throw
off your balance.

Also take note that once something has adjusted to correct a weakness, your neck may not be as relaxed for spotting as it should be on your weaker side. This will add to your being throwing off.

Once you've figured out what is going wrong, you need to practice the super-slow-motion demi plie and rise onto the pirouette position, repeatedly, to establish new muscular habits.

If it is a hip level problem, do your pirouettes with a lower retire for
a while, until you get that placement retrained. Presumably you are doing the usual turns in class, and you would see a gradual improvement if you do these suggested exercises.

Exercises for pre-pointe, to strengthen the feet/ankles/ legs etc., for pointe work, will bring to light any weaknesses that need to be addressed for anything more advanced.

These will cover all the rises, positions, and balance needed for pirouettes as well. The basic necessity of turnout, back and other torso muscle strength that is referred to in pre-pointe exercises, is the same necessity that your overall development requires to be fulfilled.

Understanding the mechanics of good dance technique prevents injury and places your development more into your own hands.

The Perfect Pointe Book gives extensive training info, anatomy info, and self-assessment and home practice regimens to build strength for dancing in pointe shoes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ballet Toe Shoes - Building Strength for Good Dance Technique

Get a detailed dancer's guide about when a dancer can get into ballet toe shoes (pointe shoes). How should your ballet teacher decide?

The best strategy is to start doing strengthening exercises for the feet before starting pointe classes.

One or two classes a week will not prepare the feet, or whole body for pointe work. Three classes a week for at least a year will enhance the preparation, but even then, to achieve the optimum strength for pointe work, there are exercises a student can do every day.


The dancers I talk to seem very motivated to get into a pointe class, so I am assuming that adding an exercise regimen to their already busy day would not be a problem.

Lisa Howell, author of The Perfect Pointe Book, explains many fine points of anatomy, especially of the foot structure and muscles. She covers turnout, hip placement, and more.

Students wonder "do I have the right arches for pointe?" ...."do I have the right toes, the right ankles, enough turnout?"...."why does my teacher say I'm not ready?"

I've always advocated holding a student back, if there is the slightest reservation in my mind about putting her on pointe. A child can improve ballet technique in any area, so why risk an injury or deviated growth pattern?

Concentration and awareness is extremely important in ballet class. It is recreational for many children, but there comes a time when dedication is required to ensure safety.

This dedication has to show up before pointe work begins.

Developing good technique in ballet, means pushing your physique to the max without sacrificing
safety. Preserving the integrity of the joints and muscles may mean a restraint of advancement. Fellow students who are a little older, more physically developed and stronger, may go into pointe class sooner than others who are not.

I've had students who are "born pros". When I've had to hold them back in some way, I explain exactly why and they really get it. They are willing to build strength for good dance technique, knowing that they will catch up once the strength has been established.

This attitude reflects a positive outlook and a visionary one. Children are more than capable of this. Whether or not they have a great talent, some have an instinct for the more productive approach to their progress. They are ready to suffer (and they do!) a short term disappointment.

It's truly difficult for a teacher to work out a long range plan for every individual student, to get them to build strength for future pointe work.

If a student can find a prepared series of assessments and exercises, and can assess her own progress, the ones who want to advance in this way, will.

The good news is, you can go and get what you need for your own strategy to get into ballet toe shoes!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

7 Highly Effective Tips for Fouettes To Improve Ballet Technique

Get a highly detailed home study manual to improve ballet technique, which will make all this easier.

Traveling, in a series of pirouettes,ballet fouettes, or turns a la seconde, is a problem of strength holding the postural plumb line. If the movement is not perfectly vertical, the turns will travel and flounder.


Here are 7 highly effective tips to examine your technique for fouettes and turns a la seconde:

Postural Plumb Line

Standing sideways to a mirror, do a few press ups in first position. Do you have a postural plumb line? If your core muscles, your turnout, your ankles and soles of the foot are steady, also check to see that these movements are done with no strain in the shoulders and neck.

Core Muscles Strength

With fingertips on the barre, do slow motion press ups and down in retire, or a la seconde. If you can do this without strain in the neck and shoulders, great. If there is strain, you need to build up strength in your core muscles, and possibly overall. If a postural deviation from your plumb line shows up here, check for technical accuracy.

Compensations/Counter Compensations

What specific technical accuracy? The basics, always. Is your turnout strong, or have you compensated by shoving your supporting heel forward when you plie, changing your center of balance?

Are you dropping your weight back in the bottom of the demi plie? A shorter demi plie is not a bad thing.

What counts is being in good posture in your demi plie so that you can press with your heel/foot, into the floor, and use gravity to push up, without having to make another compensation to rise into a straight position.

It's a lot more work to keep all these compensations/counter-compensations going.


Spend several weeks if necessary, to address the above issues, until you can do rises and releves with correct posture and placement. Learn some Pilates core work, and stretch and relax all your muscles, before, during and after class.

Spotting/Inclined Head

To check your spotting, walk on the spot, turning as far as you can toward a quarter turn, leaving your head to the front. I don't specifiy exactly how far you should turn, because this depends on the extent your head will turn without inclining.

Memorize this feeling and this head position. This is just to feel the looseness of your neck muscles in leaving your head behind.

Rinse And Repeat

Repeat this exercise in retire or a la seconde. Use a partner, to hold the hand of your supporting side as you turn away from the front. Again, this is to check the neck (and shoulders) relaxation as you releve, and to check your postural plumb line in the position of your turn, and your demi plie. (We haven't dealt with fouette yet).


For fouettes, use a partner in the center, to do your demi plie with the leg extended devant, and then do a slow motion press up with the ronde de jambe and into retire, turning a little.

This is to again check the postural plumb line, correct demi plie, and ease of the neck in leaving the head behind.

This whole process may take place over a whole year. You will be doing your pirouettes, fouettes and turns a la seconde all the time. But as you gain strength, and learn to see and feel those tiny compensations you have been doing, you will build excellent work habits for these spectacular feats.

Ballet is much harder to do incorrectly. If your early training wasn't the best, you can back-peddle like this to improve ballet technique in your advanced levels.

For any overworked muscles use an ice pack at least twice a day. An arnica cream or BioFreeze is wonderful for soft tissue repair. Apply after icing.

So save yourself time and over-exertion. Get The Perfect Pointe Book if you need to re-learn more ballet technique moves.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Prevent Common Ballet Injuries In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

A physio therapist talks about how to prevent common ballet injuries:

"Often ballet teachers find the specifics of training the foot strength needed for pointe work difficult as it came naturally to them. However for many people, the isolated strength needed in the feet must be specifically trained, especially nowadays, as many children who grow up in cities spend little time bare foot on different surfaces, which naturally trains the tiny intrinsic muscles of the feet. Understanding how these muscles should work when dancing is imperative in a long, injury free, career in dance." - Lisa Howell, author of The Perfect Pointe Book.

In addition to intrinsic muscle weakness, the foot and ankle can suffer other injuries. Floors built on concrete are a source of injury, even for dancers who are taught to "come down through the foot". This technique helps, but does not fully compensate for hard flooring.


Any repetitive motion can lead to injury.

Some ankles and achilles tendons will build up soft tissue mass or calcified masses from pointe shoe ribbons being tied tight.

Some ankles won't like the repetitive releves and jumps required by dancing and will build up some type of tissue resistance at the front of the ankles. This extra tissue will cause disruption to the movements, or pain, or both.

ANY incorrect technique such as rolling ankles, turning out the foot more than the leg (a requirement in ballet), too short pointe shoes, too narrow pointe shoes, insecure demi-plies,(heels not on the floor, leading to sliding heels too far forward, usually, resulting in tense ankles, tibial muscles [ shin splints]), - and you go up the body from there, straining knees, hips, low back, raising shoulders, straining neck, clenching jaw, locking cranial bones, headaches - need I say more?

However, the human body can repair its tissues, especially with the help of good nutrition. Whole food supplements for collagen, ligaments, and muscle can be added to the diet. After a fracture, raw veal bone meal and correct calcium supplements can speed healing greatly.

Icing and diet can decrease inflammation. No one is "stuck with" an injury. All athletes have the internet to refer to, to add to what their own doctors, chiropractors and physiotherapists tell them about healing injuries.

With the correct strength and development of the foot muscles, you can prevent common ballet injuries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wearing Ballet Pointe Shoes At The Barre

Wearing ballet pointe shoes for barre work is a good habit for intermediate and advanced students. Hopefully you already have the top of the line manual for dancing in ballet pointe shoes, The Perfect Pointe Book.
Click on the pic to see more about this book!

The sole of the foot and ankle have to work so much more with every tendu, degage, the rise onto demi-pointe, and push off in allegro. The shoe resists, and the muscles get a better workout.

If the thickness of the sole makes your foot wobble because it does not lie flat on the floor, here's a balance exercise you can do: standing on one foot at a time, close your eyes, and concentrate on finding your balance. You will strengthen your ankles this way.

Pointe shoes are beautiful when new, but get beaten up looking easily. When I was training, there was little concern about how long they would look new. Scuffs and worn satin were the rewarding sign of hard work.

If you have a performance coming up, it's different. Wear socks over them as needed, but cut a hole at the toe and heel, so that you won't slide. Try to have as many pairs as you need broken in, to the same degree, before your shows.

When your feet are totally sore and aching, use an ice pack! It is wonderful for pain and can be done several times an evening. (5- 10 min. per hour max). But, don't have a plastic ice pack touch bare skin.Wrap it, or get a fabric covered ice pack.
Versatile Ice Pack

Also, lying on the floor with your legs resting straight up the wall for a few minutes is good to help your muscles relax.

Work hard, and relax and stretch your muscles to keep the best tone. Use a pinkie ball under the soles of your feet to work out the muscle tension.

I highly recommend The Perfect Pointe Book to help you learn all about working your feet correctly in ballet pointe shoes. It is the best ballet guide for strengthening your feet and avoiding muscle strain and injury!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

When To Start Pointe Work - A Dancer's Guide

When to start pointe work is a worry for parents. How can you tell if your daughter is strong enough to dance in ballet pointe shoes? Get her a specific dancer's guide for this.

There are specific requirements for beginning pointe work that teachers look for.

** Familiarity with correct technique. This results from the time spent in classes combined with the ability of a child to retain information and work hard without constant prompting.

** Muscle strength. The time required to develop this varies, and depends upon the number of classes per week, the child's other activities, musculoskeletal health and general health.

If you watched students in the regular class, and then watched them do the same movements in the pointe class, you should not see too much difference in the effort. If they struggle hard, fall hard off pointe, or clench the barre, then they are not ready to do pointe work.

Some smaller and younger children work better than their peers and could be strong enough to do basic pointe work. Children who learn quickly need to be challenged with new work. If their technique is precise they could work safely in a pointe class.

Teachers need to know their students. I think it takes a couple of years to watch children work, adjust to growth, handle the pressures of life, and observe which students are going to tackle new work with discipline and precision. Enthusiasm is not enough, and yet it is the motivating force for participating in an art like ballet.

I have taught children who were born to do ballet, physically, and yet did not have the powers of concentration to work safely without constant supervision. These students look good for a few years, but don't make the best or most reliable performers. And they don't necessarily fall in love with ballet. Many move on to easier hobbies.

If you have concerns about your child's readiness to do pointe work, and her teacher wants her to, ask exactly what qualifies your daughter to do pointe now. The teacher should be able to tell you something specific that makes sense.

Give your child an expertly designed dancer's guide about when to start pointe work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Dancer's Guide For Releasing Muscle Tension

Get your dancer's guide that teaches how releasing muscle tension every day, increases strength for dancing in pointe shoes.

If you have just started dancing in pointe shoes, or are preparing to, here is one thing you can do to strengthen your feet.

You use the floor as resistance in every tendu and degage you do.

You PRESS into the floor with the sole of your foot, every time you leave fifth or first position and stretch your foot into a tendu, degage, grande battement, or go through first in your ronde de jambe a terre.

You also PRESS through the metatarsals on to full pointe to the end of your tendu, degage or grande battement.

This will strengthen the sole of the foot, and the muscles under the metatarsals (toes) which will help you in pointe work.

It will also help you in jumps, lowering into a demi-plie with that cat-like quality, and avoid many injuries from landing well, when you are on a less-sprung floor.

It is important for you to realize that all your basic ballet work is preparation for your work in pointe shoes. Every small movement from a closed position to an open position is a chance to strengthen the sole of the foot. Pressure into the floor is like the resistance of a heavy weight. The harder you press, the heavier the weight.

Relaxing the foot muscles is important. You can roll your foot over a tennis ball, but better yet use a rubber ball that has a little give.

Here's a "pinkie ball" stretch I learned from material by Deborah Vogel about ballet stretches. With a soft rubber ball, kneel down on the floor and put the ball under one of your legs, under the shin. Let your weight press into the ball, move it down inch by inch, and it will relax the tibial muscles. Go all the way down to the ankle area, kneading and releasing muscle tension.

Then, put the ball under the top of the metatarsal area, and pressing into it, you will get a stretch down the top of the foot and over the ankle, increasing the curve of your point.

Remember, muscles are stronger and better toned when they get stretched properly, and relaxed fully, every day.

Pointe shoes make noise, so for that, among other reasons, the more control the better.

The upper body posture and control is part of all of this too - but the feet is where you meet the stage. I hope this helps.

For more exercises about how to release muscle tension, get yourself a dancer's guide.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ballet Shoes, Ballet Stretches, and Especially The Splits

Get the right information about effective stretching that leads to high leg extensions and split jetes, a featured attraction of ballet. If you were not born with long ligaments, muscles and tendons, what are the best ballet stretches for you?

Add this Essentrics Flexibility For Athletes to your ballet stretches!

While you spend strength on fighting your own tightness, striving for that effortlessness in your ballet shoes and pointe shoes, other very flexible dancers are trying to reign in their movements to maintain form and balance.

But, ballet being the way it is, they look better during the struggle than the tighter dancers.

Stretches after exercising are the best. After class, do the following:

Sitting on the floor, stretch the legs out in front to stretch the hamstrings – one at a time, bending one knee, so as not to stretch the lower back, flex and point the foot.

After slow stretching, I recommend completely relaxing the legs and letting the torso sink forward, with a few deep breaths, to release tension before going into a second position split.

Splits In Second Position

Splits in second position should be opened fully but WITHOUT pain. Ideally have your pelvis upright, and your knees facing the ceiling, with the backs of your thighs pressing into the floor.

This mimics the position your legs/spine would be in, in a standing position.

  • Don't tuck your hip bones under 
  • Don't sway your back and roll forward off your pelvic bone onto your thighs.
  • Bend sideways over one leg, relaxing neck, shoulders, face and arms.
  • Straighten up, and bend forward, hold the abdominals, and keep legs straight
  • Straighten up again and bend over the other leg, repeat all
You want a stretch but not to the point of any sharp pains. You are applying stress to the soft tissues, but never painful or sudden movements.

How To The Splits In One Day - Not!

 It disturbs me to see any instruction about one day splits. That's just unreal.

A full 180 degree splits depends on overall extreme flexibility.Meaning, muscle elasticity and joint flexibility. Joints are held by ligaments, which don't stretch.

If you can't sit in this position but can only get, for example, down to a few inches from the floor (or halfway or three-quarter way down) stretch one leg at a time.

Sit down and stretch one leg devant. Let the back leg bend. Keeping the front leg straight and turned out, pull forward slowly, and when you can't go any further, hold your lower abdominals and let your upper torso bend over.

Your weight will effect the stretch, breathe deeply a few times, for about 10 seconds, and then come back up to a straight position. Do this four times, and change legs.

There is lots of arguments among trainers as to how long one should hold a stretch. Just know it's not a pain endurance exercise. 

Next, bend the front leg into a 90 degree angle so you can lean forward over it, and extend the back leg to a straight position. It will probably slide sideways so that it will not be behind the hip as it would if you were standing up.

Slowly move upright, stretching the front of the hip, do NOT go to a point of pain. Stretching is DISCOMFORT, not pain. Lean forward releasing the tension, and turn your leg in. Then straighten up again, and you will feel the stretch in a different area.

Do this several times and change legs. Eventually your leg will stretch out more behind you.

Another great stretch is to do a side bend away from the derriere leg – you'll stretch from your thigh through your hip area up the side of your torso.

To finally relax, sit in a splits position with both legs bent. Bend forward right onto your front leg and let the weight of your torso press your hip, inner thigh and groin muscles into a relaxed stretch.

Then bend back, but in a relaxed manner. Breathe deeply a few times and change legs.

If you have any muscles or joints stinging and aching after classes, ice. Get a soft gel ice pack, and you can use it 15 minutes per hour. Make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a thin towel and does not touch your skin.

Another therapy is a hot bath with a cup of apple cider vinegar. This draws the lactic acid out of the muscles and is extremely relaxing. Epsom Salts are good too. You won't smell afterwards, honest.

If you are a retired dancer, or are on a hiatus from classes and miss that wonderful stretched out feeling, I highly recommend the Essentrics Flexibilty For Athletes DVD to get really flexible.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

To Dance or Not to Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

 To dance is never a mistake.

I get asked a lot, "do you think I should pursue ballet professionally?" And my immediate thought is, "If you can live without dance, do so, if you cannot, then dance."

"Ballerina" by Vone Deporter
 I say that because ballet is a subculture. That is not a bad thing, but like opera, music, and other art forms, training is intense and competition is fierce. That may be the attraction for some.

Ballet attracts perfectionists, obsessed and oddly dysfunctional people, but also attracts incredibly gifted performers and brilliant broad-spectrum artists who excel at dance and related arts such as choreography, music and stage design.

Professional ballet has a small job market. Ideally you would start training at the age of 9, and be ready to perform in a company by 18. You would have been in about 8-10 classes per week, with some modern dance training as well.

Starting later, along with physical limitations, is the challenge for the majority. And yet, when I taught at university, I saw students go on to become leaders in the dance world.

Although, not in ballet, but in the modern dance arena, which emphasizes creativity somewhat more than the perfect technique and physique. I think the maturity of training at that age helps too, and I have seen a greater number of survivors from that venue.

Talented children with highly sensitive nervous systems have more problems with the competition. If they are studying away from home, they lack their family support. This can be very stressful for children. However, the demands of the training and the joy of learning what they love sometimes balances the stress beautifully.

To be extremely positive, let's just say all roads lead to our success. I have seen "failed" dancers develop into excellent musicians, brilliant actors, and choreographers with exceptional vision.

I once had a student who backed out of a performance in his first semester of training, due to sheer stage fright. He became a well-known innovator in the Canadian dance scene. The first time I saw a short piece of choreography of his in a small workshop setting, I knew where he was headed.

A world-famous prima ballerina was let go from a major dance school because of an eating disorder. She was immediately picked up and hand-held by a competing school. She just needed more personal support.

A well-known Canadian musician/conductor was once a struggling ballet student. He played piano at the school in order to pay for his classes. He wasn't a bad dancer, but started his professional training late.

The school's top pianist spotted his talent and supported his development as an accompanist. We were roommates for a while. Our third roommate was a flautist. Ahhh... well, anyway... good musical memories.

 I remember my heart soaring as Steve played the fourth act from Swan Lake from the Russian leather-bound score his mentor Babs MacDonald had given him, on a piano in our tiny apartment. He was born to dance in his soul, and became an excellent musician and conductor.

So if you are led to dance, dance! You never know where it will take you.

To dance is never a mistake.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lose Weight - in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

Many teenagers have a "weight problem". At the National Ballet School of Canada we were weighed once a week.

Our weight was posted publicly in the lunch room, from week to week.

On Fridays when my class got weighed, we skipped breakfast but drank a lot of coffee - so as to stimulate urination, water loss, and loss of weight.

"What Dancers Really Eat" source.

We went into ballet class at 9:00 with no food. It was humiliating, since we were growing children and constantly gaining weight. Our height and musculoskeletal structure wasn't noticed.

What an intimidation technique!

The funny thing is, I had no weight problem before I went to the school. I was so thin as a child that my mother had all kinds of tricks and punishments to make me eat.

Unfortunately at the time, little was known about metabolism, and good diet. A weight problem wasn't connected to hormone imbalance, or to hormone mimickers in low quality foods.

Nothing wrong was done. Currently ballet schools are extremely concerned with proper diets.

The absolutely most incredibly talented dancer in our school at the time also had a weight problem. She was chosen for a solo by a visiting Russian teacher.

She lost tons of weight and danced brilliantly. People were riveted when she stepped onto the stage in the school show. Time and space stopped when she danced.

But after he left for Russia she gained weight again. Then a few months later she was supposed to go into the National Ballet Company. She didn't. We heard that she ended up in the hospital with a "tropical disease".

Huh? Looking back, I don't believe it. I think she starved herself. Too much.

About a year later I met her on the street. I was going through a "I'll never dance again" period. She was working at a phone company and actually helped me get a job there. (I lasted three months).

After I severed all ties with the ballet school, I mysteriously lost weight. My mother called me "the skull", I was so thin.

A famous ballet story that deals with weight control leading to drug addiction is "Dancing On My Grave" by Gelsey Kirkland.


What does this all mean? Firstly, it means we knew nothing about being thin and being healthy. No one's fault at the time.

But we do now! So how do you fit into that size zero tutu?

We really don't know enough. And everybody is different. Some people don't metabolize fats well, no matter the quality of food.

Some people don't need much sugar and would not eat that whole bowl of blueberries shown above. 

I remember an amazing moment after I'd just finished my Cecchetti teacher's exam. My examiner was Margaret Saul, much feared at the time. (and somewhere in her eighties).

My exam was the last of the day - and after my exam partner and I left the studio, Ms. Saul came out.

She smiled at me and said "You have plump arms - like Karsavina. They make just the right line". (Cecchetti's pupil and partner to Nijinsky).

I was stunned. Karsavina? Tamara?

So, it's just a matter of perspective.

Fats do not make you fat. (If you can metabolize them).

Carbs make you fat. White foods, breads, grains, pastas...potatoes. Unless you're one of the lucky ones.

Proteins, vitamins, and minerals are found in meats, cheeses, dairy products, vegetables, legumes, nuts, salads and fruits. Not enough for you?

Unfortunately our culture is tuned to the diet industry and the processed foods industry. Fake flavors, preservatives, which can mess up your body chemistry.

You have to eat fresh foods.

Here's a post about healthy fats from the updated end of this blog.

Hormonal imbalance and weight gain is another important topic.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - Increase Ballet Turnout

To increase your ballet turnout, first try a truer test for turnout than the butterfly or frog position, where your hips are flexed and turnout will look like more than it really is.

Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Here your hips are in an extended position. Bend one leg to a 90 degree angle.

If your hip comes of the floor, then you need to stretch out your quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles, as in doing a runner's lunge. Demonstrated in this post.

You could have someone gently hold your hip down on the floor if you like. Then allow your bent leg to angle down toward the straight knee.


Where the leg stops, this is the correct degree of your turnout. This image show the dancer pressing down on a ball, to strengthen the rotator muscles.

Doing the frog position on your back or stomach is not good for your knees even if you are flexible.

Now more importantly, how to hold the turnout that you do have....If you watch dance movies carefully you will see that the most brilliantly artistic dancers in the world are not necessarily born with a lot of turnout - and it doesn't matter! They are still brilliant.

Your lateral rotator muscles are your prime turnout muscles, specifically:

  • Piriformis;
  • Obturator Internus;
  • Obturator Externus;
  • Quadratus Femoris; 
  • Gemellus Superior; 
  • Gemellus Inferior. 

These muscles lie underneath your gluts. When they contract your thigh rotates. If your leg is behind you, the gluts and hamstring muscles also help to hold the rotation.

The balance and tone of any muscle comes from its ability to work, and its ability to relax when not working. So having lateral rotators that clench to rotate, and don't relax in between exercises, do not have the strength they could have.

Turning in during class, in between exercises, is a good habit to have. It relaxed and stretches the turnout muscles.

Don't Clench Your Gluts

For example, when you tendu devant, if your hips remain in placement and your thigh is moving freely on its own, you should be able to rotate to your full natural turnout, even if you cannot always hold it.

Practice this with your gluts released, to isolate the rotator muscles. Gluts don't increase your turnout.

If you sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you, relax your gluts on the floor. Then just engage your rotator muscles and turn your thighs out without your gluts working.

This will help you isolate the rotators.

If you can raise the legs, one by one, an inch or two off the floor, and hold this turnout, you'll feel the rotators holding against the flexion action. If your hip comes up too, then you are not isolating the leg from the hip completely.

Standing in first position, you want to open the legs by contracting the rotator muscles, but not clenching the gluts at this point. It's good to be able to tighten and hold the gluts when you need to, but not at this moment.

Whatever position you end up in, that is your turnout. Same for fifth, with the extra challenge of having one leg slightly behind your pelvis and the other in front. This requires more strength.

Third Position Is Good Sometimes

While many teachers would not allow this, I would encourage them to have many students working in third position for much longer than they usually feel is "normal". It's not that far to fifth position once the muscles are strengthened.

Advanced students and professionals do different things to compensate for not having that perfect fifth position. If they have good teachers, they learn to do this minimally and without injury. But they are doing it deliberately.

Hip Socket Shape And Tibial Torsion

Some people's thighs are in a different position in their hip sockets, that allows more turnout. This is the way they are born. So don't look at anyone else and compare.

Also some people have tibial torsion, which means their leg from the knee down is rotated outward. It can lead to other problems, but will give their feet a turned out look, while their knees and thighs may not be able to achieve the same turnout.

Another exercise to strengthen the turnout is as follows: lie down on the floor on your back, feet in first position, flexed as though you were standing.

  • press the back of the legs into the floor and feel the rotators
  • move the legs, feet still flexed, about half an inch toward second position
  • keep pressing the back of the legs into the floor, and don't let your back arch

You may only be able to go an inch , - but you'll feel those turnout muscles! Do that ten times every day and you will be much stronger standing up and doing the regular class movements.

You won't regret investing time in this exercise. Be sure to turn in and relax the rotators afterwards.

Recently I enjoyed a movie of William Forsythe's company. He says in the initial interview "Well, ballet is not anatomically correct". No kidding!

If your focus is to get into pointe shoes faster, I recommend The Perfect Pointe Book.

William Forsythe choreography - enjoy!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ballet Shoes, Dancing In Pointe Shoes and Summer Intensives

Every ballet student should have a copy of The Perfect Pointe Book for dancing in pointe shoes, to learn special foot muscle strengthening exercises, and more.

Summer Intensives offer a chance for increased flexibility. After your first morning class, you are partially warmed up for the rest of the day. That is, unless you are resting in between classes in highly air conditioned environments. I recommend not to do that. A cool but not cold place, perhaps shady outdoors somewhere, is better.

Also, allow your ballet shoes and pointe shoes to dry as much as possible in between classes, they will last longer, and will not lose that 'exactly right fit' so soon. Having two pairs of each helps, if you can do that.

Intensive training in ballet means intensive use of the flexor muscles. Battment tendu, grande battment and developpe en avant mean heavy use of the iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscles. Without constant stretching, this tension will compromise your turnout, as the tension at the side of the hips will counter the thigh's ability to rotate outwards. It will also lessen the flexibility of the low back and front of the hip, in doing an arabesque.

A standing lunge done in between exercises will relieve the tension building up in the hip flexors and postural muscles. Finding exactly the right balance between strength and stretch is what creates power in your work.

One of the best ways to stretch for a good arabesque is at the corner of the studio where you can hold on to one barre, while placing yourself in your ideal arabesque position with your working leg on the barre of the other wall behind you. If there is a lower barre, use it so as to get a more upright (but still adjusted forward)
back position. Do a demi plie repeatedly, holding the position well-placed.

If there is no corner with barres, get a fellow student to hold your hands to keep you upright, and place your leg on the barre behind you to do your demi plies.

A wonderful stretch regimen for dancers is yoga. My favorite is "Ali McGraw - Yoga Mind & Body". It is a few years old but still available. It is not for beginners, but dancers will love it. The positions are easy for most dancers, and give fantastic relief to muscle tension. Done in the evening it will leave you stretched and ready to sleep.

If you are recovering from injury, but please consult with your doctor, teacher or trainer as to whether you are ready to do these routines.

Losing electrolytes and dehydration can cause muscle tension and cramps. Real sea salt on your foods, calcium/magnesium supplements and "All 12" cell salts are a great help. Celery is one of the saltiest foods you can eat, get organic. It contains multiple mineral salts, and is a hydrating food too - a perfect snack in between classes.

The apparency of weight loss through dehydration is a seductive trap. Recognize it and don't worry about weight. If you feel puffy from drinking water, then your mineral balance is off and your cells are floating in water but are not able to use it. So you're still dehydrated. Forget the junk food sports waters. Better to mix a pinch of sea salt into your water and drink it. Neon colors and a couple of minerals won't help.

So please take care of yourselves in the heat, treat spare time as recovery time, and you will reap the most benefits from your summer intensive!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

7 Highly Effective Habits In Ballet Training

There are 7 highly effective habits in ballet training that affect:

  • the key area of dancing for young ballerinas, pointe work, and; 

  • a key area for men in ballet, jumping. 

In early training, regardless of age, these will contribute to excellence in both these areas. This analysis can apply to other areas of dance in the same way also, I'm choosing this one for the sake of discussion.

Understand your own physical attributes and shortcomings. 

For example, every dancer would like to have long and stretchy Achilles tendons, and flexible ankles.

These 2 advantages provide the biggest range of movement between the bottom of a demi-plie and the take-off point of a releve or jump.

One of the dancers in my class at the National Ballet School of Canada had a very shallow demi-plie. Yet, she had very flexible ankles and a high arch, and this gave her the range of movement and thrust to jump very high.

Get the best technical education. 

Regardless of physical advantages, progress can be made by understanding the ideal ballet movements and by learning correct ballet stretches.

Also, get the correct preparation for dancing in pointe shoes.

There is no restriction on your access to information.

Find a well-credentialed teacher who is both kind and demanding in class. 

This is a variable, and inexperienced teachers do not realize how often they are going to repeat the same old correction over the years of training, to the same students.... in a million different imaginative ways.

Learn safe cross-training to help you compensate for your physical shortcomings. 

If you need to get more flexible, there is Pilates, massage, and Yoga. If you are flexible but weak in some areas, Pilates, and weight training will help.

Coordinate your knowledge of your physiology.


You might be compensating detrimentally to get the deepest demi-plie and best take-off that you can, and instead compensate more with cross-training and less with bad habits. It's only a life-long process, even for the most gifted.

Don't lose sight of your uniqueness, talents, intelligence, and determination. 

There will always be an invitation to doubt yourself, envy others' real or imagined superiority, and waste time thinking negative thoughts.

Get proper rest and good nutrition

Body and brain fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies are directly related to mood. Please be curious and get the information you need.

These 7 highly effective habits are just the tip of the icebergs, but they are a great guide to go with until you develop your own uniqueness in training priorities.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Stretching Exercises - Muscle Tension Tips

One thing that I have now - and love - is my physio ball, also known as a gym ball or exercise ball. Below are some tips on doing stretching exercises on the ball. (You can click right now to get it).

I use the ball as my computer chair. I use no other.

Bouncing gently, or just fidgeting on the ball while I'm thinking or waiting for pages to load, is healthy, and it is relaxing. Sore muscles get a little movement. Sitting on a chair, sore muscles get positioned poorly and become more spasmed and hurt.

Also, the ball gives even when you breathe. There is literally no impact, no pressure moving up the spine when you sit on the ball.

Sitting in second position, fourth position, and lunge positions, you just roll in different directions and get stretched, while you are reading or writing.

Since we dancers tend to mindlessly stretch something, taking advantage of every move we make, the ball is a great addition to our collection of things that aid our recovery after classes. If you get one, experiment with it and you'll see what I mean.

If your legs just are relentlessly aching, lie on the floor and put your calves up on the ball. You can roll slowly from side to side, stretching the sides of the hips and lower back, or roll all the way to the side, draping the top leg over the ball so you don't overdo the stretch.

Hanging over the ball like a rag doll, knees on the floor, and rolling up and down is a wonderful low back stretch. It opens up the lower, mid and upper back, relaxing the shoulders as well. Just let the head hang. Aahhh.....and you can reverse the position, bending back over the ball, and roll around a little.

I use an exercise mat so my feet don't lose grip. Also you can position the ball against something behind you so you won't lose control and get dumped overboard.

So it's a great tool for stretching exercises and relaxation techniques. The bouncing is excellent for your lymph system.

Effective Stretching The Utimate Guide's, muscle tension tips, has been put on a DVD by a dance expert. It gives a top to toe routine for getting the most out of your stretching exercises.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ballet Lessons And Relaxation Techniques

Click on the link here to get a DVD to learn relaxation techniques with a pinkie ball, outside of class, in addition to relaxing your muscles as you do class.

Muscle function depends on both strength and flexibility. Clenching any one muscle or set of muscles continuously during a class does not create strength. I remember several ballet teachers who paced a class so that the students could not relax their legs and feet at all between barre exercises. This was a challenge we met, but suffered from ultimately. A widely perpetuated method of the time....

It only takes a few seconds to have everyone shake out their legs, stretch their calves, turn in, and roll their shoulders a little before starting the next exercise.

Failing to do so creates muscles that are in constant spasm and therefore are functioning at a decreased strength and flexibility.

I remember taking my first work-out class. I chose it because the studio was near my home, open on Sunday, and I had missed a couple of days of ballet class in the previous week. Was I in for a surprise. Used to ballet classes that were carefully composed to warm up groups of muscles, alternating the emphasis of the muscle groups (say from grand plies to footwork and back again), I was astonished at the "burn baby burn" routine. Isolate one muscle, burn it out, go on to another one. And I had no idea how sore I would be the next day! Talk about a Monday morning....

Not every work-out class uses that method but I recommend viewing a studio beforehand. I broke my own rule, following reputation and availability. The studio was famous, but used student teachers to fill in those Sunday schedules!

Ballet does not follow the rules for optimum muscle work - such as resting at least a day in between heavy work-outs. That would turn professional training into 20 year stints - or so we suppose.

My heaviest class schedules would be on a Saturday or in summer intensive. Three to four classes, a couple would be character or a barre a terre, less heavy work. Character was just pure dance and a relief, and the floor barre was a warm-up and extreeeeeme stretching based on a routine that Roland Petit taught the National Ballet of Canada many years ago when he staged a work for them, and found the dancers' flexibility lacking. It got passed down to the school, and we loved it.

So given that professional training requires daily classes, what can we for relaxation techniques? Deborah Vogel says on page 111 of "Tune Up Your Turnout" ...release the tension, stretch the muscles, and strengthen them. It's a three-tiered approach.....Too much tension in a muscle, it will lose its tone. Too much flexibility without the muscular strength to support it is not good. Too much strength and tension without the flexibility is also not good."

Turn in and relax at every opportunity in class, and relax any aching or hurting muscle as much as you can while waiting to begin the next exercise.

Have a variety of ice packs at home, and use especially after a hot bath or shower. Ice the sore spots while resting, doing homework, etc. 15-20 minutes max, don't lie on them or fall asleep on them!

If your studio has a fridge with a freezer, take ice packs to use for long rehearsal days, or take a cooler and use them as long as they will stay cold.

Nutrition, hydration and warming up are 3 essentials. You want to repair muscles as quickly as possible, with good proteins and vegetables, hydrate by sipping all day (water, not other beverages like the popular sweetened, neon-colored, minimally mineralized sports drinks), and warm up before every rehearsal if you have had a break since class.

In "Tune Up Your Turnout", Deborah elaborates on that on page 121.

I would also add real sea salt, the Celtic type that contains all 12 bioplasma minerals, and eliminate the useless table salt from your diet. "All 12" and Bioplasma homeopathic tablets are easy to carry in the dance bag too! Dissolve under the tongue. They are a little expensive unless you find a discount health food store that sells the huge bottles, which you can use to refill a smaller bottle as you use them up.

When I was rehearsing all day long in the hot Toronto summers fellow dancer-choreographer Marnie Cooke and I would prepare a large jug of water, freshly-squeezed lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to keep everyone's electrolytes up. We'd all have a shot in rehearsal breaks. Judith our stage manager called it "kickapoo joy juice".

Back to myths, the frog position on one's stomach - really not a good stretch for hips or turnout, as there are better ones and it puts tremendous stress on the knee joints. Lying on your back and allowing the legs to stretch outward by their own weight is better - though there is still a chance that the knees will get strained. Holding the turnout that you have, and getting the stress out of the turnout muscles afterwards is more important.

Professional dancers get routine massages, and other relaxation techniques to relieve the extremes of their daily work, or heal injuries. Students don't typically think about this care factor until they get an injury or find themselves in chronic pain.

It's not wimpy to start that kind of care early in your training. Go for gain with the least pain. In fact, soreness but no pain is attainable. Get your copy of "Effective Stretching The Ultimate Guide - the easy to learn stretching guide to learn relaxation techniques.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ballet Exercises For Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - and Between Class Shoes

You can click on this link to find out how to care for your feet while learning the best ballet exercises for pointe shoes.

What should a ballet dancer wear for daily foot support? Today there are attractive athletic shoes in all shapes widths, and colors. The expensive built-up sole types are not necessarily the best. The kind with the springs in the heel look like they would feel great if you are walking on cement all day, or on the hard stone halls of a high school. But they may not be the best for developing feet and legs. I have seen that even very young dancers think like career builders and will pay attention to professional issues like daily footwear.

Joyce Morgenroth says in her article from Arts & Sciences Newsletter Fall 1997 Vol. 18 No. 2

"In pointe shoes the vulgar, useful foot is gone. In its place is the illusion of an elongated leg and only a most tenuous connection to the ground."

The entire article has a lot of historical detail, is a great read, and is found here.

So how do we take care of our "vulgar, useful foot"? When I was a ballet student at The National Ballet School of Canada, we wore "vulgar and useful" shoes, by uniform mandate - oxfords! Ugh! Although I have to admit, when I tied mine on after a ballet class, my feet, ankles and calves really were supported and relaxed.

A special dancers guide for your best ballet exercises will support the health and development of the dancer's foot.

So back to modern athletic shoes, I read some passages from "Slow Burn" by Stu Mittleman. (I had ordered "Slow Burn" intending to get the book by Frederick Hahn and Eades & Eades. I received the Stu Mittleman book "by mistake" and then ordered the other one too.) They are both fantastic books. No mistakes.

Page 77, the chapter "Always Buy a Shoe Fit, Not a Shoe Size", is a long chapter with interesting stories and great information. Stu is a runner and the frame of his info is for runners. However, a dance student or professional dancer can glean some good advice from him. On page 84 he says :

"The most important considerations to make when it comes to the structure and function of your foot have to do with the following:

arch type
tilt pattern
foot strike"

Stu's details in shoe selection that follow that passage resemble the minutiae that dancers attend to in fitting ballet shoes and pointe shoes ("professional ballet shoes"). I suggest that dance students get the book from their local library and review this section, in consideration of the selection of the shoes they wear daily. Party shoes aside, I think you want to support the feet that are supporting you. All day.

Muscles relaxation is very important. In ballet classes, it is crucial to relax between exercises. In life, it is crucial to relax between classes. You can most likely find the best shoe for your arch type, tilt pattern, and foot strike .

Stu discusses the available athletic shoes for the tilt pattern. In ballet we say 'rolling ankles' 'dropped arches' or 'flat foot'. Simply meaning the inner ankles roll toward the floor, pronation, and the opposite, the outer ankles roll toward the floor, supination. Differently shaped sneakers will give needed support.

(The foot strike is less important for dancers, but very important for runners. )

Stu also discusses muscle testing. Chiropractors, kiniesiologists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, some nutritionists, many can muscle test. This includes for proper shoe support. If you have a practitioner that might do this for you, buy your shoes, and take them to your health care person, get the shoes muscle tested. If they are not supportive you can return them.

Be a pro right now and find out how to care for your feet when you execute the most challenging ballet exercises for pointe shoes.