Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Ballet Barre Workout Without The Barre

How to do your ballet barre workout without the barre....Choose some daily routines from class, and do them without the barre.

I have implemented this early on in a class' development. After a few months, when every student understands and executes correct technique in plies, battment tendus, battement degages, and battement frappe, I would have them do those exercises periodically, all away from the barre. Weaknesses and misunderstandings show up this way. This is one way of working smarter, as in pre-pointe exercises, to assess exactly the right level of progress for your self, or your class.

It's always a good habit to be aware of how you are using the barre. Your hand should rest on it, and your wrist should be relaxed. Pay attention to when you press down or squeeze the barre. It's exactly that moment that your weight is shifting, or your posture is changing incorrectly, or that the wrong muscle is bearing the work of a movement.

Perfection may not be possible, but understanding the mechanics of technique perfectly, and understanding your own strengths and weaknesses leads to you doing your best.

Ideally, in plies, you want to have a smooth transition when the heels lift, and when they return to the floor, without the weight shifting or a clutch of the barre.

Whenever you have a press-up in the warm up, always lift the fingers off the barre. Note if you have any strain in the neck and shoulders, and where your posture and weight is.

As in pre-pointe routines, repetition of press-ups, on two feet or one at a time, reveals your true strength.

In boys' classes, (not at a beginner level) I often gave a grand plie, back up to demi plie, and back into the full plie again before straightening fully, to build strength.

A class needs to have the basic strengths in place before a more demanding exercise like battement fondu is added to daily routines. Fondu asks for a perfect postural plumb line, whether done with low or full extensions, coordination of legs to complete the movements at exactly the same time, and much more core strength.

In your own daily routines at home, periodically add a barre exercise, done without the barre. Make a note of where your weak spots are. You can do core exercises, repetitions of press ups on two feet, and in coupe de pied, to build your basic strength.

Think of all these very basic issues when you watch your favorite dance stars perform the variations you love best.

Aside from the fact of plain true talent, you can get an edge on your competition with good self-assessment, and work smarter with simple but consistent daily routines. If your focus is pre-pointe, or you are a male student needing to strengthen and work your feet better, this dancer's guide refines your ballet barre workout. You'll never be the same!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beginning Pointe Work and Chiropractic Treatment For One Leg Shorter

Get your dancer's guide on self-assessments for beginning pointe work.

There are several accurate assessments that I've read recently of the problem of a dancer having one leg shorter and finding difficulty standing in an even position in ballet class. One thing I have not seen addressed is the spinal, or back bones' misalignment, or any joint misalignment that can affect the leg lengths.

If you are walking behind someone who has a back misalignment, or another joint misalignment, sometimes you can see that their shoulders are uneven.

If you see someone who needs a back adjustment, sometimes one of their hips is noticeably lower than the other. It is a little harder to notice that one leg is shorter than the other.

However, if you're standing in fifth position, the difference of having one leg shorter is like having something in your eye.

Assuming that you're not struggling with another situation like hyperextended knees, the fact of having one leg shorter could be from back misalignment.

If you visit a chiropractor, he or she is going to check (among many other things) your leg lengths.

Every major joint from the ankle through to the suboccipitals (just under your skull) can be checked and adjusted if necessary, until the two legs have the same length.

A neck or back misalignment is often the cause, or some other joint misalignment in the pelvic area.

And while you are there in the office, you can ask the doctor to check all your foot bones and make sure they are in place too.

Many chiropractors recommend that children get adjusted every three months to accommodate normal playing and sports. Many who work with serious sports players, ballet dancers and ice skaters recommend more frequent check ups, and ALWAYS when pain is experienced. Not soreness, but pain.

If you want to be assessed for pointe work, it's a good idea to get a chiropractic check up as well as any other type of physiotherapy check up. Knowing that you are strong enough, and that you don't have a back misalignment or another joint misalignment, means you can move on securely through pre-pointe daily routines, to beginning pointe work.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Battement Frappe - A Ballet Barre Exercise

A ballet barre exercise, frappes are important.

Frappe is a French word for ballet meaning "struck". The inclusion in daily routines of a striking movement of the foot along the floor, to a sharp point, is one of the best ballet exercises to build strength towards jumps and pointe work.


The optimum result is muscle memory that contributes to a precise and sharp push into a finely detailed jump, such as battus in all their forms.

Battement frappes is always included in the daily routines of barre work. It is a simple looking movement benefiting both working and supporting leg.

Battement frappe imitates the movement of a jump - from a demi plie to a full stretch of the leg and foot.

By the strike of the ball of the foot on the floor, there is a quick sharp finish to the movement, like when your feet, then toes, push off the floor in a succession that is almost too quick for the eye to see.

This dancer in the video below uses the sharp and strong movement that is needed to develop strength.

The foot then is drawn in quickly to the coupe de pied position - and maybe rapidly taken out and into another coupe de pied position - imitating the rhythm of a battu.

This develops the strength in the adductor muscles, the insides of the legs.

Besides battus, it gives quality to brises, assemble and petits jetes battus, and quick cabrioles.

A rapid fire succession of single frappes en croix is a challenge to the working lower leg.

A rapid fire succession of single frappes en croix without the barre is a challenge to the core muscles, the turnout of both legs, and the body weight remaining stable over the supporting leg.

An extra challenge is the battement frappe a la arriere - behind you. It's a fast change of pelvic postiton, and recovery, relying on the whole body to remain stable over the supporting leg. It imitates an assemble travelling backwards - you must;
  • degage with a strong brush to the back,
  •  jump, 
  • change the body position of the pelvis slightly, 
  • stay strong in the core,
  • relaxed in the neck and arms, 
  • and then land assembled, everything back in place.

The endless repetition of the finely detailed daily routines make the effortless classical presentations possible.

Picture Giselle, only one example, and all the lovely footwork demanded of the lead ballerina role - the daily grind has been done, and the optimum results show.

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

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Ballet Barre - Setting Realistic Goals To Improve Your Ballet Exercises

Sometimes working smarter means doing less. For daily routines, realistic goals may be achieved by picking one aspect of your ballet barre exercises.

What is the easiest way to do this?

Optimum results for muscle memory may come from a super slow motion repetition, such as press ups, maintaining your postural plumb line.

The Perfect Pointe Book shows such self-testing methods for improving your pointe shoe exercises.

For example, if you find the tiniest deviation from your plumb line in a slow motion press up, you can identify a joint or muscle that needs to be relaxed and stretched, or strengthened.

If your weight moves a tiny bit forward at the end of your rise, pushing your hip joints forward, that means your core muscles are not holding at that stage of the movement. Or it could mean that your rise was on a tiny slant.

And that movement forward may be the result of a tiny movement backward at the bottom of your demi plie. So which came first?

 First Position

When your are standing in first position, you require tension in your rotator muscles, your thighs, and your core muscles.

Some students pull down at the front of their diaphragm to add to the stability of their core muscles. This will lead to:

  • Shallow breathing 
  • The shoulders collapsing forward slightly
  • Rigidity at the back of the neck.

If you do basic training like this for a couple of years, you will have difficulty spotting when you get to chaine turns, just to name one out of many negative results.

Back To First Position - Core Muscles

So, back to first position, your core abdominal muscles can be held tightly, yet the chest can still move up and down easily for breathing, for allowing the chin to be free and for the muscles at the back of the neck to be free.

This way you will have graceful head positions, free arm movements, easy spotting on pirouettes and plenty of oxygen going to your muscles.

You relax your thighs and knees and ease into a demi plie, until you feel the weight press into your heels, and then you push upward, before your heels lose their pressure into the floor, and before your weight moves backward.

If your muscles are working well, you will go straight up from here and end in a perfect rise. No tension in the shoulders, neck, arms or fingers.

And you will be on balance, breathing easily, able to do a simple port de bras, able to turn or incline your head, and able to control the movement down with your foot muscles, until the heels touch the floor.

Now you are back where you started.

No matter how your proportions, your height, your weight, your flexibility, your looks, approximate the ideal ballet body, you CAN do basic movements perfectly, if you study all of them with  The Perfect Pointe Book.

Here is a video where Lisa Howell, author of The Perfect Pointe Book, shows on of the preparatory pointe exercises.
Enjoy it!

Your goals are truly realistic if you use this fabulous dancer's manual. 

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Ballet Pointe Shoes - Working Smarter For Pirouettes and Fouettes En Dedans

Get your own book for the basics of perfecting technique in ballet pointe shoes.

I've written considerably about the finer details of pirouettes en dehor and fouettes, and turns a la seconde. For pirouettes en dedans, the daily routines of securing a straight up and down press up or releve, with relaxed arms, head and shoulders, is the basis for turns en dedans too. The following analysis is to help you with working smarter, developing the correct muscle memory, and attaining optimum results.

If you can now do a series of 8/16/32 en dehors pirouettes from fifth position, with relaxed spotting and a straight up and down releve, then change the series to en dehors/en dedans, en dehors/en dedans, all going to one direction. It doesn't take much force.

You can also do this without any help from the arms, by putting your hands on hips or shoulders, and making sure that the turn is coming from your legs, back, and from a grounded demi plie. In other words a good push off from heels pressed into the floor.

A pirouette en dedans from a relaxed fourth position plie, requires a sharp releve, turning out the supporting leg towards which you are turning, a push off from the back foot with just the right force, and a good easy but quick bringing the head around. You can do a single without the arms. If your posture and turnout are secure, you can do a double without the arms.

When you get to triple and you use your arms, it will be easy. No strained neck, no shoulders creeping up.

When you come from a lunge, you're just covering more movement, and hopefully not losing your postural plumb line as you ronde de jambe en dedans to a la seconde and turn, releve and bring your foot into retire simultaneously and effect an easy spin. If you lose your balance, you need to practise without the turn until you get a strong releve maintaining your plumb line.

If these tours en dedans get really strong, it's nothing to do a tour en dedans in attitude. You've trained yourself to do a double without the arms. You've trained yourself to maintain a plumb line. Now you add changing your weight to a high attitude, and again, you can do this many many times without the turn, in between classes, to get that perfect position and hold it on balance.

You don't want to lose the feeling of spin - so try for as many turns as you can in class, within the parameters of the exercise given. And do the back-peddling to perfect your finer details, after class, with another student who will watch you, and get coaching from you for the same things.

If your buddy from class will hold the hand of your supporting side, and help you do some slow motion transitions from a lunge to your retire position, you can detect and correct anything going wrong.

The exercise lying on the floor, lifting the floor-side waist up to get the spine straight, and raising both legs slowly will strengthen the back and side torso muscles. This is where you need to be stronger, if you are not able to maintain the postural plumb line on your releves and turns.

I hope you'll try these exercisees in your daily routines, enhance the finer details, and create that muscle memory along with building strength. You will achieve optimum results for both quick sharp turns and the "floating" adagio turns that are so beautiful to behold.

Strengthen your work in ballet pointe shoes with this comprehensive dancer's guide.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Increase Ballet Turnout - Ronde de Jambe

Details in The Perfect Pointe Book show you how to increase ballet turnout. The following describes one exercise I found very useful for strength.


This is an exercise you can do separately from class in daily routines at home, and also use as a focus in your ronde de jambe a terre in class. Even if you're not working in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, this will get you optimum results in strength and muscle memory utilizing primarily the rotator muscles.

Recommended for all styles of dance, it is almost a full body workout.

In class, doing ronde de jambe a terre, there is a tiny section of movement where you can feel the rotator muscles, the back of the thigh, in a struggle to hold your turnout in both legs.

It is the point where you leave a la seconde and move toward a la arriere.

A lot of muscle strength is needed right here. As the foot draws away from a la seconde, pulling the leg seemingly away from the hip socket in a lengthening pull, the core muscles pull up and away from the legs, and the supporting leg pushes down into the floor to also keep its length.

You try to keep the turnout as the leg is circled toward a la arriere. You keep the spine long as the working hip opens, but only as much as it needs to, to reach the arriere position. I prefer an arriere position where the working leg is behind the working hip, not crossed over to be behind the spine.

Crossing over to the center point of the body brings too much compensation as very few people have the turnout to even attempt this. There is enough strength required simply to maintain turnout and body position without this extra challenge.

Hopefully, even in advanced classes, the teacher does some ronde de jambe a terre very slowly during the exercise, to allow activation of the rotator muscles and maintenance of the full body position.

If this does not occur in class, you definitely need to practice this at home or after class.

The mental image is full of finer details - doing this in your imagination will actually help when you stand up or do the floor exercise.

First, review the muscle dynamics:

  • the working foot draws away from a la seconde aiming for the widest circular movement possible;
  • the supporting side core muscles pull up and away from the pull of the working leg, with a push down feeling through the supporting leg, all of which maintains the elongation of the whole body posture;
  • this work in the supporting side also keeps the body weight from being pulled back onto the heel;
  • this elongation is therefore maintained when the working hip opens, allowing the optimum result in the turnout as the a la arriere position is reached;
  • once the position is reached, the torso above the waist is still square and the working hip is not bunched up toward the body, but the whole working side is elongated;
  • you can let go of the barre, lift the foot up an inch and maintain your position.
Here's a video analyzing ronde de jambe.  I like it for the detail and the explanation of the anatomical details.

As a floor exercise, lie down on your back, use a rolled towel under the neck to help keep it supported and relaxed. You can relax the arms across your stomach.

Do a tendu to your a la seconde position. Then circle back one inch, without losing your body position or supporting leg turnout.

Move the leg back to your a la seconde position. Repeat ten times each side. Draw out and down with the foot, elongating the leg.

Turnout is harder to hold in pointe shoes, so your pre-pointe work is crucial.

Always relax and stretch after practicing, and often during class. Turn IN between exercises, to relax your muscles and retain your muscle tone.

I think you'll find a big difference in strength and that this will help you increase your ballet turnout.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pointe Shoe Strength - The Multifunctional Degage

A lot of focus on footwork goes to pointe shoe strength daily routines. Here is an addendum to the multi-functional degage ballet exercise. In working the toes to give a sharp, strong quality to jumps, as well as to pointe work, you help build strength in the foot muscles, relieving the calf muscles of over-training and residual tension.

Here is an exercise you can add to daily routines in order to build foot strength.

I will assume that you've already done some playing piano with the toes, and toe swapping - picking up the big toes separately, and then the other four, separately. These exercises build strength and also fine tune your communication with all those tiny little foot muscles.

This exercise is to build strength in the toes. It is the movement that completes a battement degage, the final push off that the toes do. It is a little different here.

Do a battement tendu a la seconde, stopping when the arch is fully stretched but the toes are on the floor. Now relax your leg, feeling its weight. Then, using only the toe muscles, pop the foot off the floor. Let the leg fall back to the tendu position, toe joints relaxed, arch held. Relax the leg, feeling its weight, and again, using only the toes, pop the foot off the floor.

Then repeat 8-10 more times, rapid little degage from the 3/4 pointe position to the fully pointed degage position. Close, demi plie to relax.

Repeat with the other leg. This repetition of the final tiny sharp movement of the toes builds strength, builds muscle memory, and adds an extra quality to your releves and sautes.

An advanced version of this is doing a succession of sautes in first position, with no demi plie. Facing the barre, in first position, do a saute just by pointing both feet. You may not make it off the floor. It is just to get a feeling of the strength and power in the feet, independent of the calves and legs. This is NOT a daily routine, but something to do once a week or so and feel the build up of strength from doing other pre-pointe type exercises. You can actually develop the strength to do a few sautes, with no plie. Controlling coming down through the foot is important.

Always keep length in the toes, no curling them!

Use a rubber or golf ball to roll under the foot muscles and relax them, and include the under part of the toes. Relaxing those little muscles, and stretching them gently, will enhance the muscles tone.

Soaking your feet in warm water with epsom salts, or apple cider vinegar, or sea salt, or sliced ginger, and then icing them for a few minutes, is the icing on the cake for your foot muscles.

Muscle memory for relaxing is important too!

Get your own copy of the dancer's guide for pointe shoe strength in ballet exercises.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ballet Moves - Ronde de Jambe A Terre

Get your own copy of a ballet tips guide to improve your ballet moves.

Every ballet exercise can be broken down into tiny parts. A good dance technique is in store for you if you can get the correct technical information on every basic exercise. If you select one exercise, or one component of an exercise, to put into your daily routines, and rotate the selections that relate to your particular technical weaknesses, you'll have an ongoing regimen for building strength. Here is a little analysis that you might not find in a book at the ballet store.

Ronde de jambe a terre is the phrase of French ballet words that mean "rotation of the leg on the floor", as opposed to "en l'air" which means you raise the leg up off the floor. You can build strength with extra standing or floor exercises.

Ronde de jambe a terre develops the rotator muscles in the back of the pelvic area, specifically. It is a whole body workout as you are also holding the turnout in the supporting leg, keeping the weight balanced properly on the supporting foot, using the support of the barre sparingly, maintaining your postural plumb line, and working your core muscles well so that the neck and shoulders are not straining.

And, if you can take a barre ronde de jambe exercise into the center and execute it, you have achieved a considerable result in building strength!

Ronde de jambe en dehors, or circling outward from your tendu devant, seems simple. You draw a circle outward from tendu devant, towards a la seconde, maintaining your maximum turnout in both legs. Nothing else changes. You end the movement at your second position, as far to the side that YOU can go without losing turnout or balance. Lift the foot off the floor an inch, and take your hand off the barre. Be aware of any change of position, or ankle and foot movement to maintain balance on the supporting side. These are the details that tell you how to improve.

Floor exercises can be very helpful, especially if you are tired from previous classes, or your other daily routines. When you lie on the floor, place a cervical pillow or a rolled towel under your neck, to support the curve and help avoid straining those muscles. Place your arms a la seconde, and your feet in first.

Extend one leg forward to a tendu devant position. (If you roll to either side, your turnout has changed in one of your legs, or your abs and back muscles cannot hold the position). From your balanced position, slowly circle the tendu foot toward your second position. If you lose balance again, go back the point where you can hold your position with your turnout and core muscles.

You can also relax your arms, folding them across your stomach. Don't place them on the floor unless you are really off balance. If any muscles cramp, stop and stretch and relax them, and continue.

It doesn't matter if you do this on each side for a while, only moving partially to a la seconde. You are strengthening your turnout position exactly where you need to.

You can also tendu a la seconde, and circle toward the tendu devant position, working for a balanced position without strain. This is ronde de jambe en dedans, or inwards.

Always relax the legs, and turn IN to relax the rotator muscles, often during class and in your daily practice routines at home. Use a rubber ball, leaning into it around the hips, under the thighs and calves, under the tibial muscles and the foot muscles. It's a great massage. You will hit some very tender spots that you can work on daily. This will also tell you where you are straining, and where you need to strengthen.

No matter what your level is, whether you are pre-pointe, pre-pas-de-deux, or more advanced, your daily routines will be useful especially during holidays, so you don't get strained or injured when you return to class.

Although many ballet stores sell technical books on ballet, I am not aware of any right now that pick things apart the way technical points needs to be explained.

This is just one piece of one exercise, but very powerful.

Look here for a wonderful detailed analysis of daily routines with self-assessment charts and other organizational material, about ballet moves.