Friday, February 29, 2008

Ballet Versus Football Or A Pas De Deux Without Pointe Shoes?

Many people think that ballet is only heavily stylized dancing, and that especially male dancers are not very strong outside of their art. However, it is actually a complicated practice that involves advanced physics and mathematical principles. Although the years of ballet exercises allows the dancers to make it look effortless, it is an extremely difficult, disciplined, and enchanting art form. "American football is a sport hardly known for its grace and poise, but many players have swapped their pads for points, to do ballet."

Ballet is actually the foundation of most western dance forms, since ballet teaches good work habits, and a safe technique that enables the dancers to perform for many years with less chance of injury.

The graceful dance moves and combinations of movements in classical choreography are taught nowadays with increasing awareness of movement analysis. Correct ballet moves involve the elements of physics in terms balance, center of gravity, leverage and rotational mechanics among others.

The result of accurate ballet training is the ability to balance in a complex position, over a small area and support on the floor. Such as the tiny platform of the pointe shoe.

Physically, in ballet a condition of balance exists when a dancer retains her/his postural plumb line both in a motionless pose, or while moving on a vertical line.

"American football is a sport hardly known for its grace and poise, but many players have swapped their pads for points, to do ballet. Ballet dancers are renowned for their agility; they are able to leap, land and turn with, well... with balletic grace. This has led researchers and sports team players and coaches to experiment with ballet and other dance forms as a conditioning method. Superbowl winner and former top high-hurdler Willie Gault was one such player who believed his on-field performance and resistance to injury was enhanced by ballet. Ballet has in fact been used within American football since the 1970s."

The entire article is here:

If a dancer's or football player's center of gravity isn't in line with other equilibrium state forces, they will be unbalanced and experience an angular acceleration towards the ground, causing them to fall to one side.

Turning movements are common in all forms of dance, which also requires a great deal of physical, as well as scientific awareness that helps achieve the mastery of a perfect turn, or, pirouette. Football players rely on well-trained reflexes to dodge, spin suddenly, maintaining balance and speed. Ballet training enhances these abilities. It also breaks down many basic movements football players use, allowing them to understand how to prevent muscle and joint injuries.

"Ballet versus football" might be more correctly referred to as a pas de deux in training forms for many athletes.

If you are a football player in training and want to see some of the most strength building basic ballet exercises these ballet tips will tell you all you need to start. It is written by a physiotherapist and will train you for injury prevention.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Are There Genetic Differences If You Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes?

"Are Dancers Genetically Different Than The Rest Of Us? 

Yes, Says Hebrew University Researcher ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2006) - What makes dancers different than the rest of us? Genetic variants, says a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem." Part of dancing in performance is transporting the audience to where YOU are while you're dancing. They are not just looking, they are going with you. You change their brain chemicals!

"The dancer "type," says Ebstein, clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait."

What an intriguing subject!

Tricking your brain with your own nutritional chemicals and neurotransmitters is an art, I have learned - it's more than eating well and thinking well. is where you'll find the whole article.

"...a heightened sense of communication, often a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait." know that electric field that snaps into the audience when a powerful dancer steps onto the stage? It pervades everyone. They are IN that field.

Ballet is ceremonial starting right in class. The world is shut out while students work and the teacher works, in a field of concentration. All the right brain chemicals are neurotransmitting with enthusiasm.

The brain chemical serotonin is found lacking in depressed people - it is abundant in dancers and other artists. Despite the stressful lifestyles, lack of social support, common disorderly eating (and sometimes eating disorders) serotonin is abundant. It seems to be related to the "ceremonial nature and a strong spiritual personality trait". I have known dancers I wouldn't put in that camp - and I envied them! They came to work, did a reasonably good job and went home.

This article from is extremely interesting. There are genetic differences in artists. It indicates a power we don't suspect. It indicates a consciousness that is a component of talent, I think. Not physical ease, but the intangible magnetism where we follow the dancer wherever he/she goes.

It's a brain chemical thing. What isn't? Yet, it is more.

I'm updating this today (years later) to put this link to an article by Dr. Judith Lynne Hanna  which I just read at 4 Dancers.  "What Makes A Dance? The Brain As Choreographer, Dancer And Spectator".

Here is her book which is the next dance related book I will read!
 You can click on the book image to see more about it. 

(That link is an affiliate link of mine which will give me an ad fee of 4%, and will not change your purchase price.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don't Waste Time - Learn To Self-Assess Your Ballet Technique

If you are a dedicated student who is willing to do some reading about the finer details of correct ballet technique, you'll acquire good ballet exercise tips and you'll know if you're working accurately in class. No author of ballet technique can see you and your work. However, you can find the information you need about ballet standards, pointe shoes, and you can build strength and the correct muscle memory to advance with optimum results.

If you can learn about self-assessing, and practise very accurate routines to improve one basic ballet exercise at a time, you'll get ahead much faster, for example, even if you continue only doing 2 classes a week. The internet is full of information! Glossaries of French words for ballet are available.

I know that if you are a dedicated student, you will love these volumes of information. You can prepare for pointe safely and properly, even if your own teacher doesn't know how. And many teachers don't, because this has not been taught before.

You can gradually reach the same standards as students who have studied during the early years that perhaps you didn't. You need the right info, that's all. For instance, if you just read one article about a correct plie, and practise that for a week at home, you would improve and strengthen every exercise you do in class.

If you self-assessed and started a routine for preparing to work in pointe shoes, in one month you would be far ahead of where you are now. And I encourage male dance students to do these too, because to date, I haven't found anything written for male students refining their footwork.

Repetition certainly is the essence of ballet training - but it only gets you optimum results if you're doing things accurately. Even the best of teachers can correct you only so much in a class - teachers try their best to correct everyone. So any student who is willing to learn to assess themselves and work a little at home is going to get way ahead!

Be creative in how you apply your homework in ballet exercises - figure out how you can do your foot exercises while you study for schoolwork. Do your core exercises while you watch a movie. There are many ways to not waste time, to build strength and muscle memory, and to excel beyond your expectations.

And always remember, stretching, relaxing tight muscles, and a day of rest is always part of the program!

If learning more appeals to you, click here for tis about ballet and flexibility exercises!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Get Into Pointe Shoes -Don't Waste Time Wondering

Every dance student wants to know how to get into pointe shoes. How old do you have to be? How strong do you have to be? What are some realistic goals to work towards? Can you even tell if you're ready to get into pointe shoes? Don't waste time wondering, or repeating the wrong ballet exercises. Learn the finer details about what it really takes.

Accurate basic technique is truly important. Being able to do a plie exercise without the barre, without straining in your neck and shoulders, and with being on balance throughout, tells you that you have developed strength.

Standing in coup de pied, hands on hips, and being able to slowly press up to demi pointe, and lower slowly, 4-8 times, tells you that your postural plumb line is maintained, and that your ankles and arch have developed strength. Again, assuming that there is no strain in the upper body, or loss of turnout.

Doing an echappe to seconde on count 1 hold 2 hold 3, close on 4, 8 times, with posture, turnout and arches held, neck and shoulders easy, tells you that you have built strength in your core, legs, and feet.

But what if you can't do the above ballet exercises? What are the basics that you go back to in order to build strength? Practicing at home is good, although you need to be sure that you are doing the right thing over and over, and not repeating incorrect technique.

How do you fit extra practice in along with school homework and some "normal life"?

Well, foot exercises, turnout exercises, stomach and waist exercises, can all be done while you're watching a movie or studying.

You can do a great psoas stretch while sitting on a physio ball in front of your computer. Stretch one leg behind you, with the ball of your foot on the floor, and gently straighten the knee and hold your posture upright. And keep typing! Or reading.... you'll stretch your hip flexors too. Pause and do a small easy backbend to get that little extra.

There is a wealth of information available now for serious students. Use it to set realistic goals. Don't waste time wondering when you can get into pointe shoes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ballet Pointe Shoes - Develop Long Lean Muscles

 Develop Long Lean Muscles

 Get your dancer's guide (The Perfect Pointe Book) to build strength for the long lean muscles every dance student wants,to achieve optimum results in ballet pointe shoes

The finer details are both physical and conceptual, and will improve all your ballet exercises. These tips will also help your pre-pointe homework exercises.


Length is the goal in ballet, and here are some ways to think of it as a realistic goal.

For example, when you start a demi plie, you pull up. But to make that an extra pulled up strength, think of bending your knees, maximum turnout, and not lowering your body for a second. 

That's right, pull up the lower abs so that your belly button moves up your torso and stays there!

This is different from pulling in your stomach into a bundled knot.

Whether or not you succeed in bending your knees and staying up, you will stretch your lower abs long and flat.

To practice, open and close your knees a little several times and try to stay up at the same level.

Then, when you sink down into that plie, keep the lower torso long and flat, still pulling up and away from the motion, still letting your calves relax, turnout held, and your feet flat on the floor, heels firm.

If you do this every time you do a plie, it will make a huge difference in the lengthening feeling.

 Lowering From A Press Up

Another place to feel a lengthening is from the top of a press up. You've reached the top of your demi pointe or full pointe.

As you lower the heels, pretend you are not lowering. You pull the heels down, away from your hips and torso. Your thighs stretch out long, in your mental image, like a stretchy band (which they are).

You keep trying to stay up even as your heels touch the floor.

At this moment, if you are continuing into a demi plie, you again hold the lower abs long and up, as you open the knees, as if you are not lowering.

Here are just two places that will make a tremendous difference, if you do the lengthening technique every time you do a plie or pull down from a press up.

This helps control the pelvis, posture, and turnout, and you'll become the best you can be in developing long and lean muscles and build strength.

With expert instruction on dancing in with The Perfect Pointe Book  you'll find more articles on technique with all the details.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pointe Shoe Fitting For The Best Fit

Once you have studied about pointe shoe fitting and purchased the best fit you can get, you still might need to make some modifications.

Pointe shoes that are hand made have tiny variations in the finer detail of the shoe, and one pair may not feel as good a fit as another, even if it is made by the same cobbler.

If the shoes feel off a bit, there are many ways to make them exactly the right fit.

If you check the Dr. Scholls (or some similar foot care brand) area of a store you'll find all kinds of insoles, gel soles, corn and blister pads and other things you can cut up and put in your shoes, or on your toes, to make a pointe shoe fit exactly.

In fact, many professional ballerinas customize every pair of shoes that they have. They develop all kinds of tricks to make the shoes enhance their dancing.

Heel grips can help the back of your pointe shoe if it seems a little wider than usual, even though the size is the same as a pair you had that was a perfect fit.

Gel soles can be cut up and glued into the shoe or around or in between your toes, to get the perfect toe spacing, disperse the pressure on the toes in the box, or on the wings.

Plastic wrap is great to put in between the tops of the toes and your tights - you get a slide instead of the friction that rubs the weave of the tights into your skin.

If you have a bruised toenail, it takes a while to go away. A podiatrist may be needed to cut into the nail and drain the fluid from beneath it. Then, you may need a full sponge toe cover over the nail, and even a half size larger shoe, until the bruise has healed.

In other words, use everything that is available to dance safely, and know that you can avoid dancing in pain. Especially if you have an exam or a performance, you do whatever you have to do to dance your best. There is no rule against that.

Knowing about and getting the right pointe shoe fitting will make dancing in ballet toe shoes easier for you.

Pointe Shoe Sizing - Avoid Dancing Ballet In Pain

Get your own information on pointe shoe sizing, to avoid dancing in pain. If you get exactly the right fit, the most pain you should ever feel is a spot where your tights were not smoothed out, or where your protective padding slipped. Foot injuries are avoided by a good fit, good training, good floors, and being strong enough in the first place.

Dancing in pointe shoes should not be painful - uncomfortable sometimes, yes. Getting exactly the right fit is a challenge - knowing how, and finding a ballet store that has a lot of different kinds of shoes to try on.

Some ballet stores have excellent shoe fitters and some do not.

Some students have one foot that is longer, or wider, or weaker than the other foot.

Pointe shoes must be bought for the longer foot, and the shorter foot can be padded differently. Just like you do with your street shoes.

A weaker foot must be exercised twice as much as the stronger foot. This gives you more homework, but you can build strength and develop two strong feet.

Go to a ballet store during quiet shopping hours if possible. Call them first and let them know you want to come in and talk to someone who knows the shoe inventory, and can help you. Ask a lot of questions before the shoe fitter brings out shoes.

If you have hyper-mobile feet with a high arch, you'll need stronger shanks, probably a longer vamp, though not if your toes are short.

Let the shoe fitter see you on demi pointe - she/he will hopefully see right away the length of your toes, the type of arch you have, your foot width, and will know what shoes to suggest.

Your teacher may give you an idea of what shoes to try on as well.

Try on the shoes with your tights on your feet, and also wear some padding - be it gel or lambswool or a tissue wrapped around your toes - this will help you get as close to exactly the right fit as possible. Don't make it a goal to get rid of padding. As you get stronger you may use less or none, but don't assume you will never need it.

Do not try to stretch the life of your pointe shoes with extra padding - that will not work, and you may get injured. Pouring shellac into the shoe can add some extra life, if done before they are worn out. But you need to experiment with this, and have a good pair of shoes to wear to class while you try out shellacking another pair. Without practice, you cannot count on this to work out well.

Ultimately, if you have good practice routines to continue building strength for ballet and pointe work, you can avoid dancing in pain. Taking care of your feet involves strength, gentle stretches for some of you, foot massage and supportive street shoes. Work like a pro, right now.

Make sure you know about pointe shoe sizing, to avoid dancing in pain.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Leg Extension Exercise - Elegant Arabesque and Other Ballet Positions

Get a higher leg extension - here's how!

Any leg extension exercise in ballet is important. The finer details need to be understood to build strength, and get the most out of your daily routines. To sustain high extensions while on pointe, as in pas de deux, takes years of consistent practice.

A routine exercise for strengthening extension is doing a developpe, lowering the leg two inches, and raising it up. Lowering, and raising it up.

Basically, for as many times as you can stand it. Then, relaxing and stretching the muscles completely before doing the next position.

The assumption is that your placement is good, and you are not straining too much. You can do this lying down, (on your back for devant and on your side for a la seconde) to isolate the leg muscles, and then standing up, which requires stronger core and leg muscles.

For very basic placement review see my article here

The repetitive flexing of the psoas muscles ( as in the above, not to mention every tendu and degage you do!) can leave those muscles strained and shortened with tension - so you need to stretch the psoas muscles - a lunge, in parallel, pulling up the abs and leaning into it gently and often, will stretch out the psoas.

A deeper stretch is the runner's lunge: one leg extended behind you, palms on the floor on either side of your front leg; you remain pulled up as you stretch the psoas. If you turn sideways away from the back leg, you'll feel a stretch along the TFL (Tensor Fascia Lata) which goes deep into the side of the hip muscles.

Here is a quick video showing this - she goes a little fast, and I would slow it down.

Lack of strength in arabesque could be in your mid back muscles, in your deep abdominal (core) muscles, in your hamstrings, and in your hip extensor muscles.

Here's a ballet exercise which will strengthen all those muscles. Stand in arabesque in the corner where you can hold one barre on the wall in front of you, and place the arabesque leg behind you on the barre behind you. Let the leg rest for a moment and check your placement.

Check that the leg extended out away from you leaves you length in the back, as opposed to you having bunched up back muscles at and above the waist.

Do you feel your butt muscles holding the leg as high as it can go? You can test this by lifting the leg off the barre just an inch without letting the back work or move forward at all. Only the leg moves.

Hold the leg there, feeling the back of the leg (hamstrings) and butt (hip extensors) holding it. Put the leg down on the barre and pick it up ten times, just an inch. Gradually work up to twenty times.

Here's another version of that exercise. Get placed like above.

Do a demi plie, allowing your upper body to move forward as needed, but staying upright in your upper back. 

Lift the leg just off the barre and come up from the plie, holding the leg in position. Do this as many times as you can.

Always relax and stretch everything again after such a strenuous exercise. Tension leads to poor muscle tone=loss of strength.

Strengthen Core Muscles

For abdominals, lying down with perhaps a small rolled towel under your neck, super-slow motion pull ups are very effective.

If you count three real seconds for the first inch of movement, and pull up slowly to count to ten; then, three real seconds for your first inch back down, and getting down on the tenth count - don't relax!

Repeat twice more before you rest back. That's all! Only three times.

You'll feel those muscles really working. Breathe throughout - put one hand behind your neck if you feel a lot of strain (most do) and let the other hand reach out toward your knees. You only do this once or twice a week.

Here's a wonderful stretch to oppose all that intense abdominal work - some call it a bow - it's a yoga exercise.

Lying on your stomach, reach back and grab your ankles - then lift up your feet and hands toward the ceiling and your body will make a bow shape.

This will stretch those abs (including the psoas) and also stretch across your chest and the shoulder area. Don't force to the point of pain - just enjoy a lovely stretch.

You can stretch your back the other way by hanging over a large physio ball and just relaxing.

The above routines are very rigorous. If you do class daily I would only do these all, twice a week on top of everything else. If you do class two or three times a week, I would do them on those days (two of them) because you are warmed up enough. But not two days in a row.

If you're a late ballet starter do read my words of encouragement here. You too can have higher leg extensions! 

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

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Use All Your Ballet Bar Exercises To Get Into Pointe Shoes

Learn how to get into pointe shoes with your ballet bar exercises.

In ballet, every exercise is designed to build strength and most ballet exercises approximate a full body workout. The accuracy of your daily routines determines how you build the best muscle memory, and affect how well you progress to the perfect pointe, just for one example. Consider battement fondu, A French ballet word meaning melted, referring to the quality of the movement.

Battement fondu can be done as a melting adagio exercise, or as a crisper faster movement. It is always elastic in quality, as it is designed to develop the thighs for strong jumping. The coordination required in the exercise is needed for the grands sautes such as grand jete en tournant, fouette saute and all the many other jumps found in the solos of classical ballet.

Battement fondu develops the quadriceps, or thigh muscles. It's beautifully elastic stretch up from the demi plie, to a full rise onto demi pointe and full leg extension, is a challenge for all the basic technical areas. As a habit, check for the points below during your battement fondu exercises:

***Are you on balance in your demi plie - can you lift your hand off the barre just before you reach the bottom of the plie, and keep it off as you press out of it?

***Does your presenting leg fully extend at the same moment your supporting leg reaches its fullest demi pointe? Can you lift your hand off the barre right here?

***Is your postural plumb line stable from the depth to the height of the movement?

***Can you feel an elastic resistance resulting from the quality of your press up from your demi plie, and also a resistance you create, pressing your extending leg out to its stretch? (It's like you are using an invisible stretchy band tied to your ankles).

***Are your foot muscles working and engaged throughout the whole movement, both up and down, strengthening the foot and ankle without over-working your calf muscles?

***Are your arm movements also coordinated, without strain?

***Can you do battement fondu without the barre, en croix, at a 45 degree height?

Aside from being a whole body workout, the building of strength for your pointe work and jumps is accelerated with this exercise. Keep at the finer details in your daily routines and you'll have a perfect pointe - and wonderful jumps too.

Get your special dancer's guide on how to get into pointe shoes. It will take you way beyond your current progress if you follow it as carefully as it is written for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dance Pointe Shoes - Setting Realistic Goals

Get your copy of highly effective yet simple exercises for training in dance pointe shoes. Even before you explore getting exactly the right fit, or the brand of pointe shoes you will look for in the ballet store, choosing your daily routines carefully will give you an edge in the competition of the ballet field.

Here are some areas to focus on and analyze for yourself. I hope the male ballet students read this too, because any pre-pointe exercise (and everything is pre-something) that is chosen because a student understands the anatomy, the function, and the aesthetic of a ballet exercise, will also help a male ballet student understand the ways to both stretch and strengthen his feet.

Do you have tight joints/ligaments/muscles in the ankle or foot area or are you hypermobile?
(hypermobile is what every dance student wishes to be. However, there are problems in the highly arched foot, just as there are problems in the foot that doesn't curve over the top of the instep.

Also, the audience is not aware of the aesthetics that dancers and choreographers are obsessed with. I once took a neighbor of mine to see Swan Lake. The ballerina was a very popular dancer who had highly arched feet. My neighbor is a trained artist, familiar with human anatomy. Sometime during the ballet, she leaned over to me and whispered "what's wrong with her feet?" Later she confessed that it made her feel nauseous to see the ballerina's feet pointe like "they are broken".

Quite a new experience for me to hear THAT.

If you need more flexibility in the ankles and foot, did you know that stretching from the knee down can help with that? Using a soft rubber ball, knead the muscles of the tibia (shin) by kneeling and sitting on your feet, and placing the ball under the tibial muscles below the knee. Press into it gently,moving the ball down the shin to the ankles, and you will get some relaxation in those muscles. You may feel some very tender spots where tension has built in the muscles.

And next (I learned this from Deborah Vogel) place the ball under your metatarsal area, above the joints, and lean into it GENTLY, and you'll feel a fabulous stretch over your instep area, right where you would like it to curve more.

Do you know how to strengthen your feet?

Did you know that cramping in your feet, lower calves and even upper calves, usually means that your tiny foot muscles are weak? If they cannot do the job, your calf muscles that end down in your foot area, will have to do the extra work.

This results in calf tension which will shorten your demi plie, lessen your ankle flexibility, and prevent the development of the arch you want.

The foot muscles are strengthened by lifting the big toe off the floor while relaxing the other four, then lifting the four toes off the floor while relaxing the big toe. This increases strength and also enhances the brain/foot communication a lot.

Another exercise is like playing the piano with your toes, starting with the big toe, and then starting with the little toe.

Choosing and consistently practicing exercises for your daily routines will help you achieve realistic goals in dance pointe shoes.