Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Dance and Ballet Resolutions - Get Some Tips For an Extra Advantage

Ballet dancers tend to be self-critical and my intention is to help dancers progress faster with a light-hearted and keep-it-simple approach to new resolutions for their quest to excel in ballet class. Solving technical roadblocks may result in the extra advantage of a new understanding and enthusiasm that will take the "chore" out of making New Year's goals for your ballet training. So here are a few tips.

We've all had ballet corrections that do not seem to ever go away. We may understand perfectly how ballet positions and ballet movements should be. We understand how the body should mechanically do something, yet it can be frustrating when the body we're in just does not get it right after much trying.

What is the most frequent correction you got last year? Why isn't it fixed? There is a reason, relating to one of the following.

** Posture
** Flexibility
** Alignment
** Strength and reflexes
** Turnout
** Tension

For example, if you stand sideways to a mirror, legs parallel and straight, core area held a little, do your ankles/knees/hips/shoulders/ears stack up, with natural spinal curves kept? If not, is an area not stacked because it is too tight or too lose? Can the core muscles hold without strain showing in the neck or shoulders? Posture has a lot to do with tension, flexibility, strength, and understanding. Correct posture leads to correct alignment in many ballet positions. Fix if needed! Study, search for information.

Turnout involves strength, flexibility and tension. And understanding what true turnout is. Incorrect turnout affects posture, increases tension, reduces flexibility and distorts alignment. There is a book called Tune Up Your Turnout by Deborah Vogel that is a good myth-buster, and something every dancer can use. You can figure out a lot by yourself, with the right information. The trick is that you need to get your body to do something, from an ideal concept. In fact many of Deborah Vogel's "ballet tips" publications analyse one ballet position, such as arabesque, giving a wealth of data that will help you get your arabesque to its best line.

All of the above factors affect the rest, but which one underlies your never-ending correction?

Do you understand the mechanics behind the ballet position/movement/step you are trying to improve? If not, find out the details you need to know!

I believe that if you understand all the aspects of one basic thing in ballet (anatomy, mechanics, technique, style, physical requirements), something super-simple, (I didn't say easy) like standing in fifth position, you will understand a great deal about many other things in ballet.

Another example of getting more anatomical, mechanical and technical details of one factor in ballet technique is, strengthening the sole of the foot. Understanding the foot, and how to strengthen exclusively the foot muscles, not only leads to superior strength in dancing in pointe shoes, but will refine allegro, balance, landing from jumps and releves on pointe, and lots more. All this is covered in The Perfect Pointe Book, just to name one of many professionally presented dance manuals.

If you feel an overall lack of understanding of French words for ballet, and the general repertoire of ballet movements and ballet steps, The Ballet Bible is an excellent body of data, with photos and videos included.

Try selecting one recurring correction, and make a new resolution to search understanding all possible aspects of it. I believe that will affect several technical roadblocks that you may have. I think you'll gain an extra advantage and progress faster in the New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Choose a Ballet Teacher and Dance Studio For Training in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

This article gives you 7 highly effective tips about how to choose a ballet teacher. E.g., what a good dance studio looks like; the need for professional training; how to learn real classical ballet;will you need pointe shoes, and more. Many aspiring ballet dancers go through these thoughts in seeking a quality ballet class. Here are some important tips.

Things to consider: What Do You Want For Your Child? (or yourself)?

What does your child want from ballet? Would tap dancing, karate, hip-hop or jazz be a satisfying alternative, or does it have to be ballet? Ballet is a traditional, technical form requiring commitment and discipline. Sometimes it isn't fun! Ballet shoes and pointe shoes can be challenging. But many fall in love with this demanding and traditional dance form.

What will you look for if there are several studios you can check out? The following tips about the basic requirements to good, safe, ballet teaching, will be helpful to parents searching for a good dance studio.

A ballet regimen can be used for a weight loss plan, a childcare outlet, health maintenance, or relief for a troubled teenager. It takes a special love, and can fulfill many requirements of the soul. Many ballet teachers, in glamorous and famous settings, or small and out of the way regions, work just to provide an outlet for this broad spectrum of our needs. Some are experts at teaching pre-pointe, many are not.

*** Locations and appearances: professional dance studios tend to be in older buildings, which have large rooms with undivided spaces, and sprung wooden floors instead of floors set over concrete. A teacher trained in a professional school would choose such a place over a newer facility in a fashionable district with smaller rooms and a concrete floor. If the neighborhood is safe, don't judge a a studio by its lack of "chic". A teacher who chooses an older, low-rent district studio may be providing pupils with safer flooring, better musical accompaniment, and the luxury of smaller classes. If premises have been built especially for dance studios, the best amenities are likely in place.

*** Music: today's economy will not allow all teachers to have live piano accompaniment. While definitely preferable, it will be reflected in the fees you pay. Recorded music for classes does not necessarily mean lower teaching standards.

*** Size of classes: for the beginning levels (i.e., younger children) there should not be classes over approximately 15 students without a teacher's assistant, or the students will not get much individual attention.

*** Hard Floors: floors set directly over concrete have no give, thus creating the potential for injury from falls or repeated landings from jumps. This creates stress and wear and tear on on delicate developing joints and soft tissues. Sprung floors are the best, which is wood on wood supports. There are also floors now made for ballet studios which many studios install.

*** Body style favoritism in teachers: this can be devastating to your child's self-esteem. Any body type can learn, and benefit from ballet classes. This also applies if you are an adult looking for classes, beginner or otherwise. Ballet endows any physique with grace, strength, and fluidity of motion. Unfortunately the professional world of ballet is affected by fads of body shape just like high fashion. Children studying any kind of athletics should be encouraged to appreciate themselves, and the wonderment of their human body and their abilities, just as they are, and just as they are not.

*** Professional ballet training requires very specific physical attributes. Some teachers will praise a student's classwork relative to the assets they were born with. This leaves all others left behind. A good teacher will teach towards every student's actual efforts, concentration, and physical progress, be it made because of, or in spite of, their physiques.

*** Corrections and teachers' attitudes: a teacher's positive attitude is essential. Difficult routines can still be enjoyed, as they produce accomplishment. Every student should be corrected in every class, and every student should be noted when improvements are seen. A demanding but compassionate person produces the best results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ballet Positions, Use of the Eyes in Ballet Training and Revealing Your Talent

Ballet dancers don't usually think like other entertainers. They don't think in terms of "sell yourself". Belief in talent starts inwardly for a ballet dancer. All the long years of training, enduring corrections from good teachers and criticism from less nurturing teachers shows belief in one's talent. How to mesmerize your audience is a quality some are born with, and yet doing a good ballet audition is not necessarily a result of that.

What is the performance presence? Where does it originate from? How does it affect doing a good ballet audition?

Observing a ballet class, I notice that when concentrating on ballet positions and ballet movements, the gaze of many ballet students is aimed downward, or aims in a fixed a point forward.

As teachers gain experience, they learn ways to keep the students focused, literally, on points in the room, as they concentrate. This allows expression to flow more naturally throughout ballet training, but it also has a different purpose, related to ballet technique.

Visual information is essential for the maintenance of balance and posture. The brain perceives from information received by the inner ear, eyes, and the soles of the feet, exactly where we are in space. And we therefore constantly adjust our posture and balance, whether we are mid-plie or mid-pirouette or mid-overhead lift.

After years of practicing posture and balance correctly for ballet technique, will an artist be able to express her/himself with total freedom of movement, offering the best and revealing talent?

Once a ballet student moves from barre work to the center, more emphasis on movement rather than posture is needed. Proper use of eye focus is even more essential now. Body awareness keeps perfect placement in the class structure, as it does in the corps de ballet on stage. Students who have learned to concentrate while focusing outwards, with attention on everything around them, have an extra advantage.

Every time a ballet position calls for inclining or turning the head, the eyes should focus instantly in the new direction, on the most distant physical object. A spacey or otherwise unfocused expression does not grab the attention of those watching, or allow them to feel included in what is going on. As in, your audience, auditioners or examiner.

So focus is part of both visual stabilization, as in doing turns, and also part of being an entertainer, catching those eyes watching you. I have also found that reminding students to focus their eyes delivers more natural head movements, completing ballet positions beautifully.

Ultimately, to do a good ballet audition, mesmerize your audience, and excel amongst entertainers, the use of your eyes has a place in your classical ballet training.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Adult Ballet Brings the Ethereal and the Grounded Together With Ballet Exercises

A common response to why adults seek ballet as an exercise to reduce stress, anxiety, or feeling spaced out, is "to get a sense of my body". Ballet is ethereal, yet taking adult ballet classes is a great way to get grounded.

If you take the big step and find a dance studio that provides adult ballet classes, how do you prepare yourself?

First, go and visit the ballet school, and observe the dance instruction in the adult ballet section. Before you buy any ballet wear, you can find out the dress code, and the the type of ballet leotards and tights most frequently worn. Check out the ballet shoes that are either required, or free for you to choose. Black or pink, black or white for men in ballet, and so on.

Whether you have a huge performing arts school, or a small neighborhood ballet studio, visit, watch a couple of classes and get a feel for the place. Ballet wear includes your hairstyle, clothes you might want to wear over your leotards and tights, if allowed. Even if you want to hide a less than wraith-like figure under a sweater, filmy skirt, or dance pants, always wear a leotard and pink tights, for women.

This classic ballet wear allows the ballet teacher to see what your muscles are doing, if she/he wants. This is only to your benefit, since especially in the beginner adult ballet classes, you want to know that you are learning correct ballet technique and getting into correct ballet positions.

Some adult ballet classes use Pilates to help warm up. This is excellent for developing the core muscles. Feeling your core muscles gives a good sense of the body. It is grounding. Feeling the core muscles and having correct posture in the low back/pelvic area will help you develop your turnout muscles without needless tension.

Feeling the soles of the feet flat on the floor, not slanting in (pronation) or out (supination) is essential. That in itself is a grounding effort. If you have been advised to exercise for stress or anxiety control, I think ballet is excellent. Ballet gives you control over something which you can indeed control. Your own body.

You cannot be spacey in ballet class. The music, the sound of the teacher's voice, and the sense of your body working, enhances your presence. You cannot be somewhere else. While getting grounded, you are learning an elegant and ethereal style of dancing. The best of both ideas.

By the way, presence is IT. If you ever wonder why professional ballet dancers work so hard for little money and lots of aches and pains, for so long, maybe because it creates more of their own presence so often. Because presence is Presence. You know what I mean.

So if you have always wanted to take adult ballet classes, go. Get the best teacher you can, and benefit from all the wonderful ballet manuals available now that will tell you all the finer details of ballet technique. That extra understanding will get you even more grounded in adult ballet technique.

The Ballet Store site provides a free ballet glossary so you can learn the French words for ballet quickly.

The Perfect Pointe Book gives practice routines you can do safely at home, after a few months of beginner adult ballet classes. Even if you never dance ballet in pointe shoes, the exact details of this manual will answer many questions you may have and never get to ask in ballet class.

How to Prevent Knee Injuries in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

If you are among those dancing in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, knowing why ballet technique is the way it is will help you prevent ballet injuries. Healthy knee function is not possible without healthy foot function. Also, in learning how to prevent knee injuries, understanding the function of the foot, knee, hip and spine connection is useful, at least in a general sense.

The knee joint is engineered beautifully. It has ligaments to prevent too much movement in any given direction, and a shock absorber as well, the meniscus behind the kneecap, or patella.

Classical ballet, and other athletic activity involves sudden change of direction, twisting, leaping, and sudden starts and stops.

Fortunately in ballet, we have turnout to assist us with these factors.

If our turnout is not strong, there is risk to the knee joint.

If our posture is incorrect, in the low back and core area, there is risk to the knee joint. Crunched and chronically tense rotator (turnout) muscles, quads (thigh muscles), hamstrings (back of thigh muscles), result from an incorrect pelvic position. This leads to nearly all the other muscles involved in ballet technique, ballet positions and ballet movements, being held in tense positions, instead of being fluid.

While tension is needed to dance ballet, tension should be fluid. The years of repetition in ballet training should result in the reflexes needed to constantly increase and release tension.

Think of your favorite ballerinas and leading male dancers. One of the observable qualities to their dancing is the effortlessness. They make it look so easy. You don't necessarily think of pillars of strength, although they are very strong. You can feel their fluidity when you watch them in difficult roles such as Swan Lake, Don Quixote and other classics.

So, back to the knee joints - ligaments and shocks are in place. We have turnout to make the best use of them.

Foot strength is a major factor. A high percentage of the general population pronates, that is, allows their feet to collapse toward the inner side, when they walk, run, dance, whenever their feet hit the ground.

Proper posture, use of turnout muscles, correcting hyper-extended knees placement, if hyper-extension is present, and strengthening of the intrinsic (exclusive to the foot) muscles can compensate for this factor and prevent knee injuries.

Knowing how to relax muscles after hard work, for instance with a pinkie ball, is a needed element in ballet training, as well. Not many ballet students have the time or opportunity to get regular massages. But hard working muscles must get relaxed, and must be given recovery time, neither of which factors are typical in ballet training.

If you are involved in ballet training and have ANY pain or persistent soreness in your knees, see a professional. A chiropractor, or physio-therapist with experience in dance or sports injuries will help you.

Also ask your ballet teacher to watch the finer details of your posture, turnout, and foot placement on the floor. These factors are never isolated. Educate yourself as well, with the expertly written dance manuals that are now available to anyone on the internet. The Perfect Pointe Book will give you the details you need to review your ballet technique in all the ways that it affects your knees.

Eat a healthy diet to support your ligaments and muscles. You will be able to prevent knee injuries and enjoy your dancing in ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joint Pain and Pointe Shoe Pain Solutions in Nutcracker Season

Ballet dancing pains like joint pain and pain from dancing in pointe shoes can seem worse in cold weather. If you are doing lots of rehearsals for the Nutcracker or some other holiday season dance concert, you need to take special care of your joints, muscles, and feet. Wool legwarmers, snug sweaters and water-proof snow boots all contribute to a better holiday season if you are a ballet dancer.

Rehearsing classical ballet concerts takes a lot of organization. Most ballet dancers get good at this in their young years. If they haven't caught on to the need for methodical self-preservation in the long process of rehearsing and staging a show, the experience may be uncomfortable to say the least.

Starting with extra ballet wear, packing some sweats to wear in long rehearsal days is a must. Sweaters, shawls and scarves, help a lot to keep cool drafts off neck and shoulder muscles.

Leg warmers save the day to help warm up and to stay warm while waiting for your turn on stage.

In long technical rehearsals, the wait can be exasperating while lighting cues are tested. Fatigue can be challenging when repeated run throughs are needed for the stage crew and stage manager, or for dancers who are thrown into the dance at the last minute because of another's injury, or winter sickness.

Anything can happen! If your mother puts some vitamin pills at your plate, take them! Stay healthy and be smart!

Long hot baths with Epsom Salts followed by icing sore spots will help a lot. Even ice the not-so sore spots, the tired muscles and joints. Give them an extra boost at recovery.

Drink enough water - sip all day. Don't fill up with those frankenstein neon so-called sports waters, or sodas. Green juices and real fruit drinks are so much better, but water is best. Fruits for a snack are great. And one of the best snacks is celery. Celery is full of the mineral salts that you lose in perspiration. Losing those mineral salts decreases your muscle strength and your thinking power! Just the opposite of what you need to dance your best all day long.

You must take care of minor aches and pains, to make sure that they remain minor. Nerves and adrenaline get you through a lot, but be careful not to get drained. Your muscles and nervous system need real fresh foods to be replenished with.

The repetitive motion of rehearsing can lead to joint pain, raw pointe shoe blisters and deep aches in your muscles. Don't let these conditions dull the thrill of your Nutcracker ballet performances.

Go to this online ballet store for last minute ballet wear and dance accessories.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nutcracker Fans Tickets Links

Hello Nutcracker fans! Below are some links to getting Nutcracker tickets in the US and around the world.

Ticket Liquidator, an online ticket outlet, has a fabulous list of US Nutcrackers for which it is selling tickets.

An article about "Clara's Dream", a shortened version of the Nutcracker ballet for small children in Leominster,Mass.

Save the Sacramento Ballet's Nutcracker season - get your Nutcracker tickets here and help support this company. Also a link in this article
takes you to an online $10 voucher for tickets!

A list of international Nutcracker productions' ticket outlets; US, Canada, Europe,South America, Australia/New Zealand and China.

Northwest US Nutcracker productions.

Good news for Nutcracker fans in Vancouver, Canada:"An anonymous benefactor has given a lift to cash-strapped Ballet BC." Read it all here.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adult Ballet Beginners - Don't Underestimate Yourself

Adult ballet beginners - when are you too old to start ballet? If you want to do ballet, don't underestimate yourself. If you have no dire medical condition, and are under 75, I say go for it. Many things in life are about finding the appropriate challenge. If you can find the right ballet classes, dance and enjoy!

I hear the same concerns from 14 year olds and 30 year olds. "Am I too old to start ballet?"

Properly taught, ballet is precise, and not dangerous in any way. Many dance studios have adult ballet classes or classes for older teen/adult beginners. Most adult ballet classes include flexibility exercises for dancers. Many teachers include them hoping that their students will practice them at home, so the classes can concentrate on ballet. Other teachers may just recommend core muscle exercises, Pilates work-at-home DVDs, or anything that will help adults or older teens to do ballet with more strength.

If you really love ballet and want to progress to more advanced classes there are ways to do that. The internet provides download ebooks with illustrations, photos and videos of correct ballet positions, ballet technique, and ballet movements, one being THE BALLET BIBLE. These sources of information can give you the opportunity to see and hear details over and over again, which you just do not get out of a ballet class.

For example, if you feel you need to gain an extra advantage so that you can get ahead, you could focus on strengthening your foot muscles. This will result in less muscle cramps, and better ballet positions and movements. Eventually, if you progress to an intermediate level, and acquire an accurate technique, you may dance ballet in pointe shoes. The muscles in the sole of the foot play a major role in pointe work. Get into pointe shoes with safe and detailed routines you can learn and practice yourself.

If you seek a deeper understanding of the mechanics of technique, get expert tips on classical ballet training.

The different ballet techniques (R.A.D., Cecchetti and Vaganova, for example) approach some ballet movements differently. I recommend that the one closest to anatomically correct be chosen. Ballet, however, is not anatomically correct!

Even though the opportunity to be a professional ballerina may have passed you by, learning ballet for the sake of elegance and grace is made accessible by those ballet studios which offer adult dance classes. Get all the best ballet tips for adult ballet beginners.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Many Nutcracker Versions Are Loved By Ballet Fans Around The World

Professional ballet dancers typically work through the holidays performing one of the Nutcracker versions, up to ten ballet performances a week. If you are a ballet student rehearsing for your local Nutcracker, get those pointe shoes ready! Always have an extras pair broken in and ready to go. If you are a ballet fan, get your Nutcracker tickets now. Check for group and student rates at your theaters, and consider giving Nutcracker tickets for holiday gifts.

The Nutcracker ballet versions that we can see now have developed from a rich history. The Nutcracker began as a somewhat dark story of magic, a fairy tale that we might not choose for our young children. Originally, Clara was a doll of the central character Maria. She came alive and helped the wounded Nutcracker doll who had engaged in heavy combat wit the Mouse King.

Tchaikovsky used some contemporary music, a popular children's song, as well as a contemporary song people played or sang as party guests departed for home. The full Nutcracker score that we know now developed in stages.

Anna Pavlova's Company performed a version of Nutcracker in 1915, choreographed by Ivan Clustine, called "Snowflakes". The Bolshoi Ballet presented a version of the ballet in 1919, choreographed by
Alexander Gorsky.

The Kirov Ballet's first Nutcracker version was presented 1929, and outside of Russia, the Vic-Wells Ballet produced the first English version in 1934, choreographed by Nicholas Sergueyev.

Lew Christensen is responsible for the first full-length American version of the Nutcracker, opened by the San Francisco Ballet, in 1954.

There are approximately 30 more professional full length versions of the Nutcracker that have endured through ballet history.

The magical character of Uncle Drosselmeyer has been portrayed in many imaginative ways. In some versions he is a character part with little dancing. In one version he is a tap dancer!

Many versions of the Nutcracker on DVD, are available to children everywhere.

The Nutcracker music, the lush costumes and sets, and the magic, has kept audiences entertained for generations. And, naturally, the Nutcracker has contributed to developing ballet audiences, as it is often the first ballet children see, and many are hooked for life.

http://www.balletmet.org/Notes/NutHist.html is a link taking you to the finer details of Nutcracker history.

Scampering mice, Snowflakes in pointe shoes, lights, music and magic - there are many Nutcracker versions for ballet dancers and ballet fans. Enjoy!

To browse ballet DVDs look here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prevent Ballet and Dance Injuries in Your Nutcracker Season

Learning how to minimize the chance of dance injuries is an acquired skill. Warming up, having healthy snacks in your dance bag, and perhaps having an extra pair of pointe shoes ready to wear, will help you avoid ballet injuries.

Rehearsal schedules intensify as the Nutcracker season approaches. Everyone wants to do their best.

Muscle aches and pains after classes and rehearsals should not be ignored. Soaking sore and exhausted muscles in epsom salt baths, ( a form of magnesium) elevating your legs while sitting, and using a pinkie ball to rid your muscles of tension is exactly what your muscles deserve.

Knee injuries, sprained ankles and shin splints all result from inaccurate technique, that do not necessarily show up until dance schedules intensify. A little fatigue, emotional distractions, anxiety, poor sleep or poor diet all contribute to that moment of error or mis-timing when an accident happens.

Fresh foods are necessary to keep your strength up. Sugar weakens muscles and also contributes to inflammation. Do your best to eat well. Magnesium is a nutrient that helps relax muscles and can lead to better sleep. Green vegetables and salad foods are full of trace minerals that help carry lactic acids and other cellular wastes out of tired muscles. Lean proteins, and whole grain carbohydrates will put more nutritional support in your diet.


Dance medicine specialist and author Deborah Vogel writes:

"Four Warning Signs of an Injury

* Pain that gets progressively worse during class, rehearsal, work out, etc.
* Pain that comes after your class, rehearsal, or work out, and comes back the next day after less movement is done.
* Pain that appears when executing certain movements (e.g. during arabesque or landing a jump).
* No real sense of "pain" but a definite restriction of movement."

Pay attention to your body's signals. Ice tired and tense muscles even if they don't hurt. Take some deep breaths when you sit down to relax, or when you go to bed. Use a pinky ball to ease out tension, then do some very gentle stretching afterwards. Have a real day of rest, and catch up with non-dance activities.

Even when you are a recreational dance student, you get the most out of it if you act like pro. Ask your family graciously for extra help or rest time that you need, and let them know how much you appreciate their support.

This way you will really get to enjoy your experience of performing in ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

Read more about injury prevention, strength for pointe work, and muscle care at The Ballet Store.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ballet Positions, Ballet Techniques and Ballet Movements

There are many many books and ebooks published on ballet positions, ballet movements and ballet techniques. If you are a new ballet student, how do know what you are looking at? Which ones might you choose to learn from? There are different ballet techniques. Which one is right for you? Will you get dance injuries if you practice ballet positions that are wrong?

There is an enormous amount of information in print, on DVD and via ebooks, about ballet positions, ballet movements and ballet techniques. Much of it is beautifully presented.

Ballet photography goes way back to the late 19th century and has preserved precious images of early ballerinas and premier danseurs. Going even earlier in ballet history, there are excellent drawings of ballet stars, ballet classes, and ballet masters.

It's fantastic that now we can view productions from ballet companies all around the world on DVD. For ballet fans who are not in a major city that is visited regularly by ballet companies, this is especially handy.

There is so much to look at, and how can we pick and choose what to learn from? Of course ballet is taught by a live ballet teacher, not from an ebook or DVD. But between classes there is opportunity to understand class lessons better, or study to figure out why certain ballet positions or movements may be difficult.

The Cecchetti method of ballet, the Royal Academy of Dancing and the Vaganova method are the three best known methods of teaching ballet. Most major full time professional ballet schools combine these styles, not necessarily by using all three grading systems, but by employing staff and guest teachers who have a well rounded training themselves. The Auguste Bournonville choreographic tradition shows up a lot in the Cecchetti grades, as just one example of how classical choreography has become embedded in training.

If you are interested in starting ballet, find out what schools in your area teach a syllabus (grading) system, or if they do not, what is the background of the teachers. Retired professionals do not always teach from one of these three systems, yet can be excellent at teaching from their own training.

If you are training to dance simply for your own enjoyment, you may or may not like the pressure of ballet exams - yet, it is part of the discipline in most schools. Whatever your preference, check around and find the right school for you.

If you are taking ballet for weight loss and you are on the right diet, you won't be disappointed. Ballet classes burn a fair amount of calories, and also help build muscle. Since muscles burn calories all by themselves, even when you are sleeping, gaining muscle mass is very healthy. Ballet is also good exercise for healthy bones as well.

Dance injuries are usually the result of sloppy technique or too much muscle tension. Work as accurately as you can, and if you are having trouble with a ballet position or movement, do not be shy. Ask for help. For one thing, repeatedly practicing a ballet movement incorrectly will lead to increased muscle tension.

If you are a curious student and want to know the ins and outs of the mechanics of ballet movements, and what would be anatomically correct, get one of the ballet books written on functional anatomy. It will help you sort out how to improve ballet positions and movements. Not everything in ballet is anatomically correct, and details about that is good for you to know.

Whatever ballet technique you choose to study, always enjoy the movements that you do more easily, get help with those that you struggle with, and take good care of yourself. Go to The Ballet Store for a huge library of dance books and special training manuals on ballet and functional anatomy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Professional Attitude For Ballet and Dance Students

Teachers in any kind of child, teen, adult education or college classes need their students to have basic good manners. Listening, not disrupting the class in any way, are skills that teachers hope every child has before they come to kindergarten. If only.

In ballet and dance classes progress depends on quick understanding by the students, as the physical doing and repetition of a correct movement is what creates good technique. And good technique is the basic ability, then talent, style and other aspects of presentation follow.

So what is a professional attitude that would help ballet and dance students who do not even have professional aspirations? Should they care?

Many inherent factors in the performing arts trainings can bring out the bad attitude in many of us, naturally. Some teachers are drawn to teach and correct to the physically gifted and more charismatic students, even if they are not good workers. This can raise the resentment of other students. I understand this. However, the professional attitude of everyone is to just keep working hard. It is also alright to ask your ballet teacher, at least every few weeks, "what should I be focusing on the most right now to improve?" If you have to demand attention, you do, in a polite way.

Of course if this is a real problem in your ballet studio, go somewhere else.

Casting for performance roles is naturally an issue. Everyone hopes that she or he is ready for the lead or solo roles, or realistically knows that they are not. On the management end, it is true that those teachers doing the casting sometimes do consider students whose families support the school, or who have financial influence. Occasionally it is painfully obvious.

However you get cast, fairly or not, rehearse and dance every role like it is the most important role in the ballet. Because it is. It is YOUR role. That doesn't mean you demand any extra attention with superfluous smiling or any other kind of exaggeration. Do not distract yourself with envy (though it is a natural reaction to feel it, keep it under control), grief, or moping. You can cry on the right shoulder away from the studio, but in the studio you act with quiet pride in all that you do.

You come prepared for every class and rehearsal. You do the minimal socializing, and do not join in the complaining committee of the other unhappily cast ballet students. Just go about your business.

If your ballet studio is presenting excerpts from classical choreography rent the ballets, different companies if possible, and see how the professional dancers do the parts you are rehearsing. Different dancers have different interpretations, musicality and style. You can always learn something to adapt in your way to improve your presentation.

A professional attitude is largely about self-containment. Get advice outside of the studio from family or friends, even other teachers. Release your emotional disappointment somewhere safe. But in the studio, just work. Be helpful to others when needed, as long as it doesn't take away from your work.

Get an edge on your competition as well by studying the expert dance manuals that are available. Improve on your own, take care of aches and pains, eat well and sleep well. Everyone respects that, whether they say so or not. Become your own expert and be a pro, whatever you do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pointe Shoes With Your Feet In Charge

Which is in control of your dancing- your pointe shoes or your foot muscles?


Of course you want to get exactly the right fit. So say your ballet store only sold Freeds, for example. Lengths and widths are commonly available. Freeds are hard shoes. They are wonderful for the higher arch, giving lots of support. They come in low and high vamps, good for short or long toes, so really they could be okay for everyone.

If you have a low arch and less flexible ankle joints, you need to break in your Freeds more. Same with Capezio's. Gambas are lighter shoes, go easy on them. Probably the first couple of classes will break them in fine.

If your core muscles are weak, if you are still hyperextending your knees, if you haven't strengthened the sole of the foot muscles, then your pointe shoes will be in control.

If they don't fit perfectly (no shoe does, unless it's made for you), if you are wide at the metatarsal area, or forefront of the foot, and narrow at the heel, or vice versa, you will always have a little situation.

Fitting Pointe Shoes


Fit the pointe shoes for the larger foot. (You may do the opposite with leather soft shoes, because they will stretch to fit.) You can pad the shoe for the smaller foot a little more, rather than crunch the bigger foot and get bad blisters or an injury.

If you need wide pointe shoes for the metatarsal area, leaving the choice of pointe shoes too wide at the heels, then use a drug store brand heel grip or get a big bag of makeup wedgies and cut them to the exact size you need and glue into your shoes.

I'm not going to go through every nuance of a shoe fit. The Perfect Pointe Book tells you all those details.

Your foot muscles have to be strong enough to control the shoe.

Your posture has to be correct so that you can be on balance.

If you get a pair of shoes with a slight deviation or a spot on the top of the box that presses into your foot, work on it with your hands, or use extra padding. Whether you stick a little foam, corn pad, or adhesive tape on your foot or on the shoe, it doesn't matter. Whatever works.

After two to three pairs of the pointe shoes that you can get still don't work out, you may have to try ordering a different brand on line. You are not going to waste a pair of shoes.

You will learn how to work on the feel of your pointe shoes to suit yourself.

You have to get your muscles in charge.

That's exercising every day, not doing bunches of releves or retires releves, but doing the basic sole of the foot exercises.

In other words, if you have a problem, look at your foot strength first, and your shoes second. Pick a pair a little too large rather than a little too short if you are in between. Too short, and too narrow, can lead to pain and injury.

The Perfect Pointe Book provides you with all the details for developing foot strength (and correct posture too!).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ballet Foot Positions-Use of the Theraband

There are many uses for the therabands, or stretchy bands, so I'll discuss a few here, focusing on the feet, toes and ankles. If you are already doing pointe work, these exercises will enhance your precision of technique, save your calf muscles from over-work, and increase your strength in ballet foot positions.

source.


(These exercises are illustrated further in The Perfect Pointe Book, with many others to prepare you for pointe shoes.)


If you are in a pre-pointe class, or organizing your own pre-pointe practice, you can learn four basic exercises to strengthen the sole of the foot muscles, and then do them with a stretchy band. Feet and ankles must be strong enough before starting pointe work, for slow releves through the metatarsal area, and slow controlled lowering, without any sickle in or out of the ankle joint.

"Toe swapping"
is done starting with the feet flat on the floor. Simply lift the big toes up, leaving the foot and the other toes flat. Do not lean the foot toward the big toes, the sole of the foot should rest on the floor with no twisting. Place the big toes down, and lift the other four toes.

You may cramp, in which case stop and roll your foot over a tennis ball or pinkie ball, to relax the muscles.

Do this 10 times, a total of twenty lifts. Initially, you may find that your brain can't even find the muscles to do this precisely - but your brain-to-foot communication will improve.

When your movements are precise, you can add the stretchy band. Sitting down with your legs straight in front of you, flex the feet and place the stretchy band behind the toes.

"Playing the piano"
with the toes is just like it sounds - lift all toes to start, and place the big toe, the next toe, the next and so forth. Do the reverse, lifting the little toe, the next, and so forth.

Relieve cramping if necessary, and do both movements 10 times each.

Once your movement is well-defined, add the stretchy band, sitting, feet and toes flexed, with the band behind the toes. Your toes will keep contact with the band, with more resistance when pressing against it. If you use the band before your movement is exact, it will not do much good. Try it and you'll see why, nothing really happens.

For ankles, if you are wobbly going up and down in slow releves, in soft shoes, you are not strong enough to be in pointe shoes. You must check your overall posture, use of the core muscles, turnout and how your feet rest on the floor when flat. Wobbling can be for many reasons. But, back to the ankles,

If you get corrections for sickling in where your weight goes towards the little toe: sitting, legs straight, loop the band around your right foot, at the metatarsal area.

Hold the band ends with your left hand. Pull the foot outward, and you will feel the muscles on the outside of the foot/ankle area working. Pull and hold for 10 seconds 10 times. Repeat other side.

If you go up onto demi pointe or pointe and your weight leans onto your big toe, you would loop the band and pull your foot inward, working the muscles on the inside of the foot/ankle area.

Another strengthening exercise
is (sitting, legs straight out in front) to slowly stretch the feet, splaying the toes apart and stretching them long.(Meaning, DO NOT CURL YOUR TOES).

Here is an excellent video by Lisa Howell demonstrating lengthening of the toes, and with an extra tip for strengthening at the same time:



You can use the theraband around the metatarsal area for resistance, except for one instance.

If you have highly mobile ankle joints, repetitive pointing and compressing a pointed position can irritate the back of your ankles. You do not need that particular movement at all. You DO need to increase strength in the soles of the feet and to control slow rises with no loss of ankle control.

If you are a late starter or adult beginner in ballet, start these exercises now.


The Perfect Pointe Book shows you all the details.

Doing these exercises 5-6 days a week will diminish the gap between your understanding of ballet technique, and the strength needed to do it.

In your slow releves onto pointe, and back down, your ankle should not lean or change angle in any way.

If your big toe is much longer, you can use toe levelers in your pointe shoes.

If your second toe is longer, you need to fit the shoes so that it can straighten, using padding for your other toes.

Even with exactly the right fit in ballet pointe shoes, the shoes lend SUPPORT, your feet provide the CONTROL.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You Can't Stand Green Vegetables Yet You Want Strong Ballet Muscles

I know there are many talented ballet dance students and young people training to win in the different sports arenas who do not take nutrition seriously. Until they get injured, or until their recovery periods no longer suffice to recover in. Green vegetables are number one on their "can't stand" list.

A simplistic explanation of how green vegetables, especially cruciferous (broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, being the most common) support exercise might be this.

The body works like a machine. The workings are motivated by thought, be it conscious, subconscious, deliberate, careless, positive, negative, precise or sloppy.

Once a motivating thought has occurred, several bio-electric mechanisms ensue.

Nerve endings do not actually engage with muscle fiber. However, they communicate by an electrical current and certain chemicals. Compare it to putting a plug in the wall. You have a plug, and you have a socket. When the connection is made, energy flows. Your action would be the electricity/chemical process.

In your muscles, one element has to be released for the connection to be made, and for a muscle contraction to occur. That element is calcium.

Due to excellent marketing, we think that our prime source of calcium is milk. That is not true. And if you are allergic to milk, lactose intolerant, or eat vegan, you get left behind right here, with milk as a source of calcium.

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium. So are leafy green vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables. Steamed, baked, stir-fried, shredded, raw, fermented (as in sauerkraut), or eaten cold in salads, the "can't stand" part can be disguised with a little butter and lemon juice (if hot), or a delicious salad dressing if cold. Add some slivered almonds or crumbled walnuts to a hot or cold dish, and it's pretty yummy.

Some people get bloated and gassy after eating certain vegetables. This is not because of the vegetables. It is a lack of intestinal flora, or healthy bacteria, which are on your digestion team. You are simply under-staffed.

These little beings are part of the factory that produces certain chemicals from these vegetables and then transforms toxins created in the process to prompt a de-toxifying process and carry gunk out of your body. If you get a high content Acidophilus/Bifidus product, you will get more comfortable results from eating vegetables. Maybe not overnight, it is a gradual improvement process. It is slowed down by eating sugar.

Cleaning your intestines in any way is a detox. You may experience mild headaches, mild aches and pains (which your ballet and training aches and pains will probably override), or fatigue. The good news is, cruciferous vegetables also have a lot of fiber and help move out the debris in your intestines.

If you just cannot try to eat these wonderful green superfoods, make sure you get them in a whole food supplement along with some calcium too. You want to eat what is nature born. This will help you develop strong ballet and athlete's muscles.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Learn a Ballet Style Workout at Home

A concern many dance teachers share is the learn-ballet-online concept. Learning ballet from scratch without a teacher is simply not a realistic goal. In fact, the chance of avoiding a dance injury is almost nil. If you cannot get into a ballet class, there are many styles of full body workouts that fulfill the healthy requirements for building muscle, flexibility, and rejuvenating yourself.

I've looked at many ballet workouts that you can rent or buy on DVD. They are suitable for retired professionals or advanced students who know what they are doing. Although some come with ballet instruction for the basics like plies and tendus, it is a basically look and copy format. I do not see how anyone can get any good out of this.

Most people want to feel the elegance and grace of movement and that is why they choose ballet. Yet there is no such experience to be had struggling along with a routine that you don't understand.

The basic Pilates DVDs could be learned if a viewer studies every detail carefully. Pilates is wonderful for the elongating movements of the limbs, and careful strengthening of the core muscles. However, I still recommend classes to get you started, and more classes when you feel you can do a more advanced routine. When is that? Not when you get a little mentally bored with your routine, but when your body can do it easily and you need more challenge to your muscles.

At that point, it is best to go to a basic class, and tell the teacher you feel you are ready to do more, but that you want to make sure you are doing everything right before you move on.

The Classical Stretch DVDs are excellent for getting a good explanation of the exercises, and also getting the basic version suggested that you can do if you are not ready to do what you are looking at. The routines are developed with a balletic style and are also elongating. They combine ballet and Pilates and also draw from Tai Chi a little.

There is even a Classical Stretch DVD to help you improve your golf swing!

The how-to-learn-at-home scenario is a very individual thing. Depending on your background with exercise and ballet training, you can certainly find something. (if you have health issues or previous injuries, check with your health practitioner). Look at the reviews on the products you like, and start carefully. That will do the best for your muscles and help you avoid injuries.

You can look at many workout DVDs here with descriptions and reviews.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chinese Dancer Opens Beijing Paralympics

Read this inspiring story of an earthquake victim in China, a teenage ballet student, and how she was rescued. Having a leg amputated did not stop her from pursuing her ballet dreams.

Ballet Foot Positions - How to Create More Flexibility in the Ankle Joint

For the less flexible ankle joint, safe stretching can be done daily to get you closer to the perfect ballet foot positions.

source.


Avoid pain and muscle strain by ignoring some of the drastic measures you will see dancers do.

Do not put your toes under the piano, for example, and pull your knees straighter. You are heading for injuries.

Couple of Quick Stories...

Many years ago an artist friend, Vone Deporter and I would do yoga together a couple of times a week in the National Ballet School, in the evenings. We would play some relaxing music and do our own flexibility exercises.

Over the weeks, I felt more flexible, slightly, and got good results, experienced less aches and pains, and overall tension.

I used yoga to stretch the ballet way - forcing every position and deep breathing to distract myself from the pain. I thought I was getting into much better positions.

Vone did her stretching exercises the gentle yoga way. She picked a few yoga positions and stretched comfortably with a stretchy feeling, but no pain. A few weeks later her positions were drastically more flexible than mine. She had no workout routines, no warm up routines, she'd just show up and do it.

That does not seem fair! I thought I was working much harder. But that was the way I was trained. Take it to the limit.

In recent years much that has been written by dancer/dance medicine specialists who have a very different view on how dancers should treat their bodies. How to stretch the foot and ankle joints to improve the curve that is part of ballet fashion, is important.

I remember watching Swan lake with Vone. Karen Kain was performing. Vone leaned over and whispered "What's wrong with her feet?" Huh? What ballet student would not like to have those banana feet?

It's a matter of perspective!

So - what is safe stretching for the top of the arch curve, the instep?

Author Deborah Vogel describes how to relax and knead out muscle tension down the front of the calves to the ankle area, using a Spaulding ball. This is a small,dense, high bounce sports ball. If you sit down on your feet, you can roll the ball under the top of your calf muscle, below the knee joint. You will feel some very tender spots where the muscle is especially tense.

create more flexibility in the ankle joint


If you lean into the ball on those spots, you will feel some release there. Don't push too hard, because you can do this every day, and gradually condition the muscle.

Working your way down the leg, you can knead and massage tension out of the muscles, which will allow more flexibility at the ankle joint.

Staying in this position (or stretching out for a few minutes if your feet are going to sleep) you can now slide your hand under one knee, and gently raise the lower leg up.

Make sure your ankle is in a straight line, not sickled in or out. You will feel a stretch along the arch curve. Hold the stretch, relax and repeat 10 times, each side, every day.

This is a gentle stretch that produces results. You can also put the Spaulding ball just lower on the foot than the tops of the metatarsal joints, and gently lean into it for an extra stretch.

None of this should produce pain. Look at an x-ray of the human foot and the many tiny foot bones. These bones and the soft tissues supporting them need to be treated gently in between your ballet classes. They are tough, but as you push them as far as they can go every day in the ballet studio, they deserve rest and care.

With these two exercises you can increase flexibility, avoid muscle sprain and foot injuries, and improve your look in pointe shoes.

For an excellent pointe shoe fitting guide, get your dancing daughter a copy of The Pointe Book.

pointe shoe fitting guide





Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ballet Pointe Shoes For the Lower Arch

 Can you improve your lower arch for dancing in pointe shoes?

source.
Many young would-be ballerinas are reaching for the top in their dreams, for the beautiful pink satin pointe shoes and Swan lake tutus. Then they get into ballet class, and eventually into pointe shoes and their feet just don't look quite right.

Did something go wrong?

No, but they just bumped into the wall of Fashion in ballet. And then they go on to learn......

.....that this is something they cannot change, at least not very much. The truth reveals itself - their feet will never, never, point like - well, like most dancers that you see in a professional ballet company.

Oh woe. And beyond woe. This is true heartbreak for the aspiring ballerina.

Young dancers are chosen for professional ballet school training largely on their physical attributes. The right skeleton and the right flexibility will get them through years of daily training.

Let's face it, high arches in the top curve of the foot are - Ballet Fashion.

This really, truly sucks. It is SO not fair. But, there is always hope.

Here's the thing. If you have those lower arches that do not curve on top of your foot - there are 2 things you must do:

1. Develop really strong feet with pre-pointe exercises so that you can do everything better than - everybody.

2. Find the exactly right fit and kind of pointe shoe that will support and show off your foot to its best advantage.

A place to start is with: Gamba pointe shoes, which are much softer than, say, Freeds. Try on every vamp height, and width that you can, in your local ballet store.

Try the Bloch Amelie pointe shoes which has a graded shank, for more subtle use of "going through the foot", a slightly V-shaped vamp, and gently curved insole.

But try every pointe shoe that you can. Let ballet fashion accommodate YOU.

Reaching for the top is the nature of artists. A foot muscle or two may have to be isolated and worked on.

Ballet toe shoes can present obstacles - or your path to fulfillment. Is it your sole or your 'soul of art' that will be ultimately judged? Do your best, and do not lose your inspiration to succeed.

For home instruction on preparing for pointe shoes, fitting pointe shoes, and fine tuning your basic ballet technique, get The Perfect Pointe Book.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Ballet Shoes, the Movie, With Emma Watson

This is great entertainment for children, with theater, dance, music, competition, and fierce family devotion. The drama, based on Noel Streatfeild's novel, the costumes, the characters, and the sets are wonderful. For Emma Watson fans, this is her first film outside of the Harry Potter series of films.

"Ballet Shoes" was originally published in 1937. This movie is a 2007 BBC Northern Ireland production starring Eileen Atkins, Peter Bowles, Richard Griffiths, Gemma Jones, and Harriet Walter.
The Fossils are 3 orphans "collected" by Great Uncle Matthew (referred to as Gum by the girls). They grow up as an unconventional family living in 1930's London. Sylvia, Gum's niece is left in Gum's house to raise the girls with her Nana.

Gum roams the world, and his absences become longer and longer. The household runs out of money, and Sylvia takes in boarders. She enrolls the girls in the Academy of Dance and Stage Training to further their education and prepare them to earn a comfortable living. The three ambitious girls discover their own personal calling and work hard to achieve their dreams.

Posy, the youngest girl, was collected by Gum along with a pair of pink satin pointe shoes, from a poor young mother who could not care for a baby while dancing ballet for a living. Despite the title, more of the story deals with Pauline and her developing acting career. "Ballet Shoes" centers on the girls' devotion to their family. They periodically renew a vow to be loyal and help one another.

The boarders at Gum's house are colorful human beings who become part of the family spirit. The film is inspiring and energetic. Scenes of London theater in the 30's are beautifully portrayed. Pauline rises to the demands of becoming a young wage earner, with an intense sense of responsibility to her sisters, Aunt Sylvia, and Nana. All the "good guys" win, and hopes and dreams are fulfilled for all.

"Ballet Shoes" is one of a series of "shoes" books by Noel Streatfeild, but has remained in the most popular position since 1937. It is an entertaining family film for all ages.

Get your pink satin ballet shoes here as well as everything to do with ballet.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Healthy Fats For Ballet Dancers and Other Athletes

Dancers, ballet and otherwise need a balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates, found in unrefined foods, proteins, and healthy fats.

What are healthy fats? Saturated fats constitute about 50% of your cell membranes. Cholesterol is needed to rebuild cell walls, even more so when inflammation is present.

Learn more about fats.

Once you have stopped growing, maintaining weight means consuming approximately the amount of calories that you burn. If you gain weight while participating in an athletic career, you could review your caloric intake.

You could also have your endocrine system checked for hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.

A healthy diet does not exclude fats. Saturated fats are good sources of Vitamin A and D, and also help the body utilize omega 3 fatty acids.

Some saturated fatty acids have anti-microbial properties, helping protect you against harmful organisms in your digestive tract.

Fats that you can consume are the following:

Organic free- range animal meats and fats such as lard, tallow, etc. These fats can be used for high-heat cooking.

Wild caught cold water fish can be consumed 2-3 times a week. This rich source of omega 3 oils is polluted with mercury and other contaminants, therefore for daily intake, use a marine oil supplement.

Here's information about a Top Rated Krill Oil Supplement.

Whole, organic free-range eggs. Keep the yolk intact and soft while cooking, to prevent ruining the cholesterol in the yolk.

Raw nuts. Some nutritionists recommend pre-soaking in water before eating to release the phyto-nutrients and make all the nutrients in the nuts more bio-available.

Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated oleic acid.

Olive oil may be used for cooking at medium temperatures.

Butter has benefits such as fat-soluable vitamins, and equal amounts of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

If the butter is from grass-fed cows it will also have conjugated linoleic acid, which has strong anti-cancer properties.

Coconut oil is good for cooking at a high heat.

Pumpkin seed oil - but do not heat it.

Cod liver oil, an excellent source of Vitamin D. (get it purified).

Walnut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, and flax seed oil are all excellent sources of omega 3 oils. You can use them to make your salad dressings with.

Personally I am not a fan of frying foods, but if you do, choose a small amount of the fats that are recommended for high heat cooking.

Athletes and dancers are constantly breaking down and repairing damaged soft tissues. Therefore their bodies will produce inflammation, and therefore more cholesterol. This is natural.

Cholesterol is a pre-cursor to corticosteroids, hormones which help us to deal with stress and protect the body against heart disease and cancer. Estrogen and testosterone are made from cholesterol.

Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant and is required for the proper activity of serotonin in the brain.

Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and suicidal thoughts. So cholesterol is not such a "bad guy" element as it has been promoted for a couple of decades.

Omega 3 oils reduce inflammation, water retention, platelet stickiness, blood pressure and tumor growth. Some individuals do not assimilate the omega 3 oils from plant sources as well as from meat, egg and fish sources.

Omega 6 oils are not "bad guy" fats, but out of balance with omega 3 oils will produce inflammation, high blood pressure and cell proliferation (as in cancer).

Wild game meats contain a close balance of omega 6 to omega 3 oils, but domestically raised meats are predominantly omega 6 fat containing.

A dancer's diet can be 20-30% fat. Fats are burned for energy during long work sessions, contributing to endurance.

"Fats and Oils" by Paul Chek published in "A Grain of Salt" gave some of the above details on fats.

To stay healthy as a ballet dancer, eat healthy fats, lots of leafy greens, vegetables and good quality proteins.


Monday, September 1, 2008

How to Prevent Foot Injuries in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

A short anatomy lesson on the foot explains why classical ballet technique is finely detailed and exacting, in order to build strength and prevent foot injuries throughout dance training.

Here is some basic anatomical facts about your feet:

source.


  • The support is provided by 28 bones
  • 19 muscles attach to these bones by tendons
  • 30 different joints held together by up to 117 ligaments allow finely detailed movement
  • There are many yards of blood vessels and a complex nerve system
  • Each foot has 125,000 sweat glands
  • Everything is covered by sheets or bands of tough connective tissue called fascia

When you consider that a ballerina or a male ballet dancer spends years training, and then performing, and each time their feet hit the ground they are impacted by three to four times their body weight, that's amazing! Proper training and care of the feet is essential.

Even beyond preventing injuries, accurate technique will contribute to preventing early arthritis as well.

Shin splints, a burning stinging pain in the front calf muscles, sprained ankles, bone bruises, and blisters from pointe shoes, are foot injuries that can be prevented by building strength specifically in the sole of the foot.

Weakness in the foot muscles
causes the lower leg muscles to over work, leading to chronic tension and loss of muscle tone. This will develop into tendonitis in the Achilles tendon which can become chronic and end a career, at the worst.

Chronic tension in any set of muscles in the body will cause mis-alignments, and strain, in the next joint/muscle group, and the next, and so on.

Prevention then, is understanding your foot's construction. Look at photos or drawings, and x-rays of feet. How to use the fact of repetitive motion in ballet (just try to count the number of times you point your foot in a ballet or modern dance class) as strictly a plus, and not a danger to your feet, requires extra study and awareness.

Listening to your body, and paying attention to pain, should be considered part of your training. Aches and sorenesses should go away with warm soaks using epsom salts, ginger or apple cider vinegar, followed by icing. But pain of a sharp, burning or stinging nature must be addressed.

Your foot is brilliantly structured to prevent harmful movement - such as sickling in, and then landing that way, and lo - you have a sprained ankle. However, this can be treated immediately and properly and never cause future discomfort.

Understanding your foot shape and bone structure tells you exactly what your potential is, to increase flexibility, or control hyper-mobility to your best advantage.

For example, if you think you should have more arch to your foot, the shape of your individual bones determine that. You can increase your ankle flexibility to get up onto pointe better, and improve the line of your foot and leg. The shape of your bones will limit the actual arch shape, to some degree.

Famous athletes and dancers actually buy insurance for their body parts. Your insurance is how you take care of your feet.

Soaking or rolling a muscle roller stick around under your feet, while you study or watch tv, takes up no extra time.

Letting your parents know that you have a persistent pain and that you need to have it checked by a professional is important. A visit with a physiotherapist or chiropractor and an x-ray is not terribly expensive, and the completion of your training may depend on it.

Get a professional guide and learn how to dance in ballet pointe shoes.

http://amzn.to/1dKFsqL

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Nervous Anticipation of Going Back To Ballet Classes

You have a lot of things running through your mind. Will the same students be in your class? Do your new pointe shoes look okay? Never mind are they exactly the right fit? Is your ballet wear cool?

You know you're going to be really sore after that first class.

New school books have their own smell and feel. New or old ballet shoes and pointe shoes have a smell, leather and satin, as does an old dance bag.

Your favorite cologne, your leotards and tights with fresh fabric softener smell...legwarmers, .....all this brings back the memories from last session, the last exam, the last performance.

And now you are starting all over again.

Take a deep breath and let yourself become aware of the goals you have for this session. Thinking in terms of two categories, your physique, which has things you want to improve, and your technique.

Physique improvements are gradual and ongoing. Flexibility and strength are lifelong goals.

Technical points also are related to physique, but not all of them. Knowing the mechanics, the correct anatomy of technical moves and ballet positions takes the mystique out of them. You can understand whether you need to work on your actual physical limitations (like tight joints) or whether you just need correct repetition.

A favorite mystique-kill book of mine:

http://amzn.to/1Q5vX6o

Inside Ballet Technique: Separating anatomical fact from fiction in the ballet class.


Correct is the key word. Many ballet DVDs show a student at the barre doing excellent work, for example. And yet I see some finer points that the teacher is not correcting, which would lead to injury.

An example, watching a student's heels slide forward on the floor in a demi plie, before doing a releve onto pointe into a pirouette. That is something that should have been fixed years before doing pirouettes in pointe shoes.

The depth of the demi plie is not being used for a strong push up from the heels. Also the heels are sliding forward, which can pull at the knee joints. That kind of technical inaccuracy is worrying to look at.

Professional manuals that discuss anatomy, mechanics, in relation to ballet, can solve any unexplained questions as to which style of ballet is more technically correct. The correct way is the one that does not compromise human anatomy to the degree that joints get damaged.

A favorite of mine on turnout:

http://amzn.to/1dKEvib



Understanding your physique, what can and cannot be changed, is half your work.

So enjoy your nervous anticipation as you go back to school for ballet and other dancing. You have a new year to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ballet Stores and the Pointe Shoe Brands

I am so happy to hear from the many would-be ballerinas of the world. Many of the concerns I get asked about have to do with pointe shoes. The local ballet store may not carry many brands, and ballet students may have trouble finding exactly the right fit.

If you asked a world class ballerina if she got exactly the right fit from shoes made just for her, you might be surprised to find that even they do some work on their pointe shoes.

Seeing that many stores have no shoe fitter, or one with the same problem as you have - limited stock - it is a good idea to step on a piece of paper and draw your foot outline. Both feet - since most people have a different shape or size from the right foot to the left. This gives you and the fitter an idea to start choosing shoes from.

Of course other factors then come into the picture. High instep or low, will determine how deep a shoe you need. Long toes, short toes, uneven toes, will determine the length, width and shape of the box part of the shoe - the part that will encase your toes.

Flexibility of the ankle joint along with the general mobility of the arch and foot bones will determine how hard a shank you need. Since shanks can be softened, it is better to try a harder one, if you are in doubt.

The fitter or helper will show you how to point your foot in the pointe shoe, with the platform on the floor, without putting weight on the shoe. You can do this sitting or standing. It's always good to try on the pair - remember that feet are not mirrors of each other.

Try whatever toe padding that the store will allow. It's idealistic, but unrealistic to plan on taking pointe class without any padding at all. Ouchpads, Lamb's Wool, toe spacers or levelers if you have a long second toe or long big toe, are not just luxuries. They will protect all your foot bones by distributing your weight among the toes in the best way possible.

Pointe shoes are not meant to fit quite like a glove. Snugly, yes, but you must be able to do a demi plie in fifth and second position without excruciating pressure on the ends of your toes. On pointe, the toes should not be loose in the box (too long or too wide) either, or your feet will not be supported.

Even though this sounds like getting exactly the right fit is a tricky risk, it is not. If you have few brands to choose from, you can find a workable fit. Breaking the shoes in properly and good foot care matters too.

More importantly, be sure you are ready to start ballet classes in pointe shoes.

Pre-pointe exercises should be done for a few months. If your teacher, parents or your health practitioner have any doubts about you being prepared for pointe work, it is better to wait. Sufficient strength is paramount.

Students who are no longer growing have the extra advantage of ordering on line and trying different brands.

Ballet stores that supply small local schools will not carry every brand available. Understanding how to accommodate having a smaller choice with patience, and knowing how to fit the shoes will get you what you need.


Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Prevent Knee Injuries in Ballet and Dance

Anatomical information is going to help any ballet dancer survive better. Less pain, less struggle, and better results.Muscle tension can pull the knee out of alignment. A muscle roller stick will help prevent that.

There are four ways a leg (hip,knee,ankle) can deviate from the postural plumb line of the body.


1. Knees that angle in toward each other, with the feet facing straight forward; this is called tibial torsion. You can also see this clearly if you sit on a table and let the calves and feet dangle over the edge. Here your knees are straight in front of your thighs, and the lower part of the leg turns out.

Compensation for this is understanding and using your turnout from the hips, as best you can, and never allowing pronation, or "rolling ankles".

It is easy for legs like this to get a good turnout in the foot positions, but it should be worked to get the leg as close as possible to postural plumb line.

2. Knock knees is when the knees face forward when the feet are parallel, but the inside of the knees touch and the feet are apart on the floor, a little turned out, and slightly pronated (rolled in).

3. Bowed legs. This where the knees turn in slightly and the outside of the calves bow outwards. The feet can rest comfortably close together. The feet may also pronate slightly, yet will come to a correct position, flat on the floor, when the turnout is held well in the hips and thighs. This may straighten out the whole leg in some cases.

4. Hyper-extended legs, where the knees go beyond straight and the calves sway backwards. This will pull the body weight back onto the heels, and the thighs will turn in as a result (which can lead to tears around the knee).

The correction of stacking the ankle, knee and hips above each other along the plumb line, strengthens the legs. It also corrects the weight on the whole foot, and keeps the body weight forward enough. Uncorrected, this will lead to other complexities of technical inaccuracies, especially in doing ballet on pointe, if they do not show up before that.

The knees are wonderfully engineered joints. The details are described well elsewhere. Suffice it to say they are held in place by muscles, ligaments and tendons, and when healthy, all the moving parts glide and move well. The knees bend and straighten a zillion times for dancers and sports enthusiasts, without mishap, if used correctly.

Turnout enables easy pivoting to change direction without straining the knees. Many athletes now study basic ballet and turnout to prevent knee injuries.

A sharp pain in the knee, a pop, any clicking or feeling of impeded movement around or under the knee warrants an immediate pause. Any dance teacher or sports coach will want you to get it looked at by a chiropractor or sports medicine practitioner right away.

Tears can occur in the tendons, ligaments and other supportive tissue around the knee. Usually ice and rest will reduce the inflammation and heal theses injuries. Sometimes tissue will tear off and go under the kneecap, and this must be removed.

Normal growth in kids and teens can cause imbalances in muscle flexibility and strength which can lead to injuries and inflammation from overuse. Regular stretching and relaxing efficiently with the help of a muscle roller stick rolled on tight muscles, can help this temporary condition.

Correct turnout, foot strength in landings, in fact all ballet position placement, helps protect the knee joints. A sprung floor is also essential, rather than dancing over concrete.

If you are a serious ballet student or athlete, take a look at the anatomy of the knee structure. It is brilliant, and you'll see clearly why you are taught the way you are, to prevent knee injuries in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, or on the fields and courts.
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How Can I Improve the Basics of My Ballet Training Without A Professional Ballet School?

How to improve the basics of ballet training can be done with the help of professional technique manuals. A student cannot train in pointe shoes without an experienced teacher. However, there are currently several good sources of basic ballet technique in text, photo and DVD form. The finer details of posture, turnout and placement can be understood and learned. Stretching safely can produce great improvement, whether or not you end up doing the splits.

Internet dance forums and chats can create a wonderful community for students, especially those in smaller towns with fewer dance studios to choose from.

One drawback, however, is the transfer of incorrect technical information that may lead to zero progress, or even injury.

For example, the basics of posture depend on enough flexibility for a dancer to stand with a neutral spine (normal curves and good abdominal support). This requires thigh muscles at the front of the leg, or hip flexors, and thigh muscles at the back of the leg, the hamstrings, that are long and flexible enough to allow the pelvis to retain a natural position. This is simply, neither tilted forward nor back in response to a short or tense muscle of the leg.

While flexibility allowing a ballet dancer to do the splits may seem like the ideal, a strong technique is required to hold the traditional ballet positions and leg extensions in a stable position. Without a strong core and uncluttered ballet exercises to build more strength, both adagio and grand allegro will be clumsy or result in injury.

A clean and accurate ballet technique benefits greatly from a student learning the basics of anatomy in regards to turnout, foot structure, the spine, and large muscle groups. The all too common knee injuries and sprained ankles can be prevented with understanding what is at stake when a dancer forces turnout, for example, or goes onto pointe too soon.

Dance students who are not ideally flexible, long and lean, or highly arched in their foot structure can still be strong. Holding the turnout you have means you can move and jump safely. Having strong extension positions and a strong core can mean you will do a fabulous series of turns in second, arabesque or attitude. Strength is more important than height of leg, for these showy spins.

Understanding the finer details of the basics of classical ballet technique will allow you to build strength faster, without developing over worked muscles that gradually become too tense to maintain good muscle tone. Learning to train your brain to improve your ability to envision your dance moves, and stay in a positive frame of mind will give you an edge. Yet, you must know what is accurate in order to envision it for the best results.

Learning the tips and tricks of safe stretching, and proper muscle care and relaxation will result in a steady progress and optimum results.

Study, in particular, the pre-pointe routines, including proper self-assessment, and well-paced home practice. Whether you are a would-be ballerina or are among the men in ballet, pre-pointe regimens benefit balance, foot strength, and lead to virtuoso professional footwork. Men and boys in pointe shoes is not a freak phenomenon, it's wise study, and more and more dance teachers allow the males to join basic barre work on pointe.

Pointe work should always be supervised. Problems with pointe work usually need to be corrected off pointe first. General technical weaknesses can be improved throughout class work, and then work on pointe will be accurate and can be done without a struggle.

If you would like to improve your ballet dancing beyond your local training, all the information you need is readily available. Give yourself some quiet time to study and learn some self-assessment tests to isolate your weaker areas. The basics of ballet training are well explained and are in your reach, even if you are far away from a professional ballet school.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to School - Organize Your Life and Nurture Your Spirit

Omg there is so much to worry about! Back to school fashions, getting in the best courses, a new schedule, a new ballet class schedule, and how much it is going to hurt after that first back to school ballet class.

If you've had a month off, or even two weeks, you know you will hardly be able to walk up and down stairs the day after you start ballet again. Or was that just me.

Not to ruin your vacation by focusing on back to school organization, but that little bit of stress (or big chunk) that is running at the back of your mind already, could be channeled into changing your life direction for the new semester coming up.

Back to school fashions abound on tv ads. You are immediately immersed in the images of everything you do not have. Isn't tv wonderful?

As an artist, your career success depends on your uniqueness. But right now, fashion and school and social profile demand a horrible conformity. Ironic, life is.

In the world of ballet wear, excluding pointe shoes and toe padding, a catalog of leotards and tights from the 1960's would not look too much different than dance catalogs and an online ballet store do today. Less variation then, but leotards are leotards and tights are tights.

Pointe shoes are a different story. Start fitting and ordering shoes now. It is a good time to car pool with some friends to a distant and bigger dance wear store, try different brands, and explore more options.

If you are among the men in ballet and want to try pointe shoes for developing better professional footwork and virtuoso balance, start looking now. You may have to special order your size, and you may not want them in pink.

Keep up, or start foot exercises for your intrinsic foot muscles. (don't know any? Get The Perfect Pointe Book) This will lessen the sore calves and shin splints that you may get from returning to class after a long break. Do a gentle barre at home, and do your stretching.

If you are a serious student already working out every day, remember to rest properly, relax and stretch well to maintain good muscle tone. A muscle roller stick may be very helpful.

If you are a typical ballet student, you are generally more organized than others your age. You have to be, to keep up with just getting to class and maintaining acceptable grades. Get a picture of how the next stage is going to play out for you - stretch for optimism! Nurture your spirit with some quiet time, with a parent, friend, or by yourself.

And get all the helpful Apps!

Perfectionist?


If you are involved in ballet because of a compulsive disorder of any kind, you have probably done all your preemptive moves in preparation for the coming back to school days. I encourage you to start a blog, or use dance forums and tell us how you do it. For one thing, you could get support for creating a more balanced life.

And you will have come up with details and insights that we in the less intense mode will never think of. We need you.

You are still growing and experiencing days of fatigue and low moods. This is normal. Learn what you need to know about nutrition and health, as much as you can. Here is one recent post about the ketosis weight loss diet plan.

The days before going back to school used to feel like a run-away train to me. Fortunately, by the time I saw all my friends, and got the schedules figured out, it felt like the engineer and brake man knew what they were doing, after all.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Better Self Care in Ballet Training

The virtue of patience sounds like one of the many spiritual gifts we may have, or an element of character education, or just one of those things our parents and teachers like to bother us about. If the quest for art drives you toward toward seeking perfection, being the best, or unreasonable weight loss, I hope the following body image tips and self-education tips help you improve and modify your self care in your ballet training.

All of this applies to young athletes as well. The individual's achievement orientation of athletics in high school, or ballet schools is supplemented by the dance team competitions, and the competition to get on a team, cast in a ballet performance or included in an exam class. This is an exciting, positive thing. It will, however, inevitably complicate your life,

Body image, diet, time planning, sounds like you need a staff of ten. But your self care is all up to you.

Avoiding or overcoming depression, or striving for weight loss is also a positive thing. The healthier dancer will communicate with parents, get medical advice if needed, and also do their own research.

For instance, it may seem that a growing teen dancer has a sugar addiction. This is not uncommon in our culture, but also can show up as a temporary condition if a growth spurt coincides with extra classes, rehearsals, and final exams. More lean protein, omega 3 fats, vitamins and minerals are needed, every day, to accommodate growth.

Sugar addiction can also result from an attempt at overcoming depression - sugar is a drug and changes the way we feel. All too temporarily. It leads to adrenal exhaustion which leads to more sugar or carbohydrate craving, and goes round and round until a different behavior interrupts the process.

Also, factor in the respect needed for your own process of growing up. Your body will continue to change and develop shape and bone mass according to how you feed it, rest it, and work it. Your growth stage will not always fulfill your body image ideas, but have faith, it will change and it will be okay.

Fast food will deprive you in so many ways it would take a book to describe it, and many have been written already.

"Fast life", like fast food, will also deprive you of growth and health. While attending to your ambition at ballet school, or in sports training, create simplicity. The aspects of our culture that govern viewpoints on social standing, sexiness, body image, being cool, having the best toys, car, clothes, are not created for your benefit.

So who DO these social pressures benefit? Think about that.

Think about the time you put into it.

It may be a struggle to deal with the whole issue, but in standing a little detached from all those issues for a few minutes every morning, could be a great survival strategy for you. Give to your priorities as much as you can, without neglecting family or other obligations.

This might sound like a crash course in becoming an immediate social outcast, but my experience is that teens that practice some detachment from following the crowd and pursuing reasonable self care often end up being followed themselves. Ironic, life is.

Being independent this way may bring you more support and respect for your ambitions. Again, it may not, but hopefully there are some smart and loving people in your life.

Save your stress for things that matter. Decide what matters. Decide what the best self care is for you, in your ballet training, art training and sports training. Or academic training, any training. The virtue of courageous patience will grow with you, regardless of what you call it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How to Avoid Overuse of the Achilles Tendon in Sports and Ballet


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One of the too-common dance injuries is that of the achilles tendon. Runners and other athletes in sports training also suffer some over use inflammation, and even rupture of the achilles tendon.

 This tendon depends on muscle strength in the calf and the foot, to retain proper use. Following are some self-care tips that will help you avoid overuse and injury of your achilles tendons, and encourage courageous patience in better rehabilitation.

Tendonitis is all too-prevalent in dance injuries and sports injuries. In fact, when someone says "I have tendonitis" it usually refers to the achilles tendon, without being explained, it is that common. Inflammation, or "itis" can occur in any area of the body.

The achilles tendon comes from the lower end of the calf muscles, and inserts, or is attached, to the heel bone. The calf muscles above, and the intrinsic foot muscles below, are supposed to do all the actual work in moving the foot flexed, or extended (pointed, in ballet).

If the foot can flex and stretch without changing its angle (curving outward, or sickling out in ballet, or curving inward, sickling in or 'pigeon toes'), in most cases the tendon will not get irritated.

This is presuming that when you are standing on an even surface, the foot is not sloping inward, what people think of as "fallen arches", or is not sloping outward toward the little toe edge of the foot.

Runners and other athletes often work on uneven surfaces and depend on both strength and supportive shoes to minimize the variation in foot angle as it strikes the ground or pushes off. Ballet dancers absolutely depend on foot strength to prevent misuse, as they do not generally wear supports in their ballet shoes and pointe shoes. If needed, however, orthotics, or foot levelers, can be worn in dance shoes.

If a dancer or athlete has bowed legs, or hyper-extended legs, there will be an angle created just to have the feet flat on the floor. If this situation is understood, the student can be taught how to avoid inflammation of the achilles tendon through understanding, and correction of, or accurate compensation for, this particular anatomical detail.

Correcting the stance of hyper-extended legs by stacking the skeletal joints (ankles, knees, hips and on up) and holding turnout, will correct the natural pronation (fallen arches) of the feet on the floor. Sometimes this is not even visible to a glance in dancers, due to a strong built-up muscle structure that is deceptive. Even chiropractors and physio therapists have to test dancers' muscles extensively, in order not to miss this observation, until they gain experience with it.

As more and more athletes are studying ballet principles of turnout and footwork to gain an extra advantage in their performance, and prevent sports injuries, hopefully the area of hyper-extension will also be addressed.

Bowed legs require an angle of the foot, for it to be flat on the floor. In ballet, correct use of turnout, developing the intrinsic foot muscles, and always having the body weight placed correctly on the feet (hyper-extension and bowed legs tend to throw the weight back) minimizes the overuse and irritation of the achilles tendon.

Both ballet dancers and athletes need the understanding that poorly developed foot muscles lead to exhausting the calf muscles. This in turn creates tension, loss of muscle tone and strength, and the achilles tendon develops tendonitis.

Once inflammation has set in, rest, and icing must be applied. A courageous patience is needed in recovery, as the pressure to stay in the daily competitive drive for a an upcoming exam, performance or team try-out, must be resisted. You long term persistence in your chosen field depends on avoiding a chronic situation.

Ballet, dance, and sports injuries can be prevented. If you are a pre-pro, a would-be ballerina, a dedicated recreational dancer or athlete, study all you can about how to avoid overuse and injury of your achilles tendon. Everything you need to know is in The Pointe Book.