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.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pointe Shoe Fitting Guide

The options available in pointe shoes now should make pointe work easier. Get the necessary information in a pointe shoe fitting guide, right now. Click on that link and you will see what the dancer's guide offers.

For parents reading this, please be aware that there is a considerable financial aspect at stake here. Pointe shoes cannot be purchased to grow into. They must fit like a glove, to be simplistic. If your child has a high arch, shoes may be broken completely, and useless for pointe work, in a matter of a few classes. This situation will improve as the feet strengthen, and the ballet exercises to prepare for pointe will hasten the process.

A student's first fitting will take a lot of time. If a fitter or a dance teacher is available, that is a real plus. (Not all ballet stores have experienced fitters.)

The individual's foot shape must be examined. The length and tapering of the toes, the width across the metatarsals, the height of the arch, and the depth of the foot must all be fitted correctly. Badly fitting shoes can contribute to sprains and permanent injuries.

Before you get to the pointe shoes, think about what you might want to use for protection inside the shoe. This will take up space in the shoe. The variety of gel pads, toe length adaptors, toe tips and all the other things are wonderful, but make sure you have room for them.

The boxes of pointe shoes come in tapered shapes, and square shapes. They must fit so that the foot does not sink into, or slide around inside the box.

A longer second toe usually requires a slightly tapered, narrow to medium box, but there are no hard and fast rules.

A longer big toe may also feel more comfortable in a tapered box, but every shape of shoe must be tried on.

Take a pair of tights with you, to put over your foot and try the shoes on. For your first fitting, don't wear the tights, as the fitter may ask to see your toes, if there is a problem getting a fit. Just in case.

You can check the vamp needed by rising up to 3/4 pointe, to see if the shoe break is where your metatarsal joints are. Too high a vamp will impede the foot movement, and too low a vamp will not provide support.

The stiffness of the shank will be determined by the arch height and ankle flexibility. You need to be able to get up onto the platform, the end of the shoes,fully, so that you are not working leaning into the back of the box.

So the shank must give support, but not present so much resistance that you can't work properly. Most shoes will break in, and keep breaking in until suddenly they are worn out! That's the life of a pointe shoe.

When you are up on pointe, there should be about 1/4 inch of fabric at your heel. If there is none, the shoe is too short. If there is more, the shoe is too long. Also, if you do a demi-plie, and your toes are mashed into the box, hurting, the shoe is too short, too narrow, or both.

The vamp should not gape or wrinkle - neither should the sides. There should be equal pressure from the shoe all over the foot.

I've tried to keep these articles fairly short - but like your first few fittings - time, patience and detail is needed.

If all of the above is a bit overwhelming, get your own copy of a pointe shoe fitting guide, a book which offers training tips as well.

The Pointe Book - a pointe soe fitting guide