Monday, March 31, 2008

Get Into Pointe Shoes -The Pursuit of Perfection

The pursuit of perfection is not the same as striving for excellence. If you do not understand the difference, and are becoming a perfectionist in your ballet training, you will jeopardize your progress in different ways. Ballet technique must be excellent. But you need a healthy viewpoint to be consist in your advancement.

Self-criticism is not the same as self-critiquing. A critique is a critical examination of something. But it is more related to a particular definition from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

"critical may also imply an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly"

Self-criticism has a negative slant to it, in common usage anyway. It usually means just plain picking on yourself.

A lot of your ballet technique can actually be perfect. Your posture can be perfect. If it isn't, you can get more flexible, or build strength and make it just right. The challenge in ballet, is retaining the perfect posture when you first learn a harder version of what you are doing.

So, if you are always striving to advance, you are always moving past the point where you feel secure in a movement. That's just the way it works. If you are self-critiquing and not self-criticizing, you'll be happy with this process, or at least accept it.

Perfectionism is a state of true unhappiness. You actually bully yourself. And, if you are learning a physical activity, you bully your body as a result. It is very complex.

There are always bad days and frustrating classes. A healthy viewpoint is one of letting it go and just starting the new day when it comes. You do your best every class, and sometimes your best is a little better than other times.

The healthy pursuit of perfection comes when you know your work and you can do your work, and you are rehearsing with a coach who is going to help you with every minute detail. And that goes way beyond the technical into the dramatic elements, pacing your energy, and the repetition. The repetition that means you can dance beautifully on a bad day too.

Always remember to relax and stretch your muscles, and reflect on the things that are easier for you, that you really enjoy doing in class. It's a given that you will fall asleep thinking about the things that felt not so good. But try to end your thoughts with "but I'm really good at..."

Striving for excellence will not jeopardize your progress. Get the information you need about ballet technique, and you will continue a healthy pursuit of perfection and you WILL get into pointe shoes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - How To Build Confidence

Ballet training is rigorous, exacting, and the finer details of technique all count. Keeping up your self-assurance is challenging. Things that are wrong about what you are doing in your ballet training are mentioned repeatedly. Most teachers want to help their students build confidence. Ballet students worry about their progress, their pointe shoes, their ballet wear, and how they compare to everyone else.

How do you know you are doing things right in ballet class? You count on being told if you are doing something wrong. Not that all teachers correct everyone, every class. Most teachers do, or try their best to, but some do not.

You want your teacher to correct you. And you get corrected. It is all about what is wrong. You want to measure up to all that is expected.

Some students are fine with this. Maybe their self-assurance is a given. Maybe they do not aspire to a ballet career, and they just enjoy doing their best.

However, if you are seriously dedicated to becoming professional, it can be discouraging.

The demands of ballet technique encourages self-criticism. But being aware of your particular technical weaknesses is different from nagging and criticizing yourself. Awareness is helpful, and self-criticism is not. Once it becomes a habit it takes on a life of its own.

Knowing what your body is capable of, right now, and in the long run, is important. The purpose of good training is to teach you what the ideal is, and how to compensate safely, yet aesthetically, for what you do that is less than ideal. Not all teachers are trained for this.

If you are not in a big city with many studios to choose from, do not despair. The information about ballet training that used to be available only by being in a particular teacher's studio, is now more widely accessed. Not that a book or video can replace excellent classes, I am not saying that.

If you need a boost in self-assurance, and need to build confidence, get all the information you can. From your teachers, and from other sources too. And it is okay to KNOW that there are some things you do very well.

Here is a guide with which you can review and improve all your knowledge and dance moves in ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pointe Shoes and Basic Ballet Exercises

The three components of basic ballet exercises are:
  • Posture 
  • Turnout
  • Flexibility 

While being able to sit in the splits is not a prerequisite to advancing in ballet, enough flexibility to stand with a neutral spine is an advantage. And what does that have to do with the finer details of ballet technique that lead to dancing in pointe shoes?


Whether you are a younger beginner or an adult beginner, being able to self-assess your posture gives you a place to start learning technique from.

Standing sideways to a mirror, lift your chest a little, breathe easily, and notice how you stand. Look to see if your shoulders are relaxed to the side of your torso, as opposed to resting forwards.

If your shoulders do rest a little forward, here is a very easy stretch. Commonly called the doorway stretch - stand in a doorway.

See if you can raise your arms so your elbows are shoulder level, and your forearms are raised upwards at a 90 degree angle to your upper arms.

With your palms facing forwards, can you press your forearms into the door jamb on either side? If not, you will stretch one side at a time.

Pressing either both or one forearm into the door jamb, lean forward until you feel a stretch across your chest. Just stretch gently, holding for 10 seconds, and releasing. You can do this several times a day - whenever you walk through a doorway!

Gradually you will see that your shoulders will relax more towards the side, in line with the plane your ears occupy.

The lower part of your posture is your pelvis. 

If you have equal flexibility in your quads, or front thigh muscles, and hamstrings, on the back of your thighs, and also your postural abdominal muscles, your pelvis should rest in a "neutral" position.

This means it is not pulled into a tilt in either direction due to tight muscles. Therefore your back does not sway, increasing the curve at the back of your waist, nor does the pelvis tilt back, pulling the natural curve into a straight line.

So flexibility affects posture. Just this one detail of the many finer details is your starting point.

Your posture, dancing in point shoes, is going to be exactly how you are standing now. For this reason you want to build strength from a correct posture. " how can I improve the basics of..." starts with this.

Get your copy of The Perfect Pointe Book and you'll see the correct technique and posture for all basic ballet exercises.

This is a dance manual reviewing all basic ballet exercises with lots of photos and exercises for improving, to help you get ready to dance in pointe shoes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Staying In Shape Over School Breaks From Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

School breaks are always welcome - whether you're going on a trip or just hanging out and relaxing, it's a pleasant change. But staying in shape is a challenge. If your ballet school is closed too, here's some tips for not feeling completely out of shape when you get back.

You can start thinking about this by making a note of your technical weaknesses. Every student knows what their most common correction is.

You can probably put aside 15-20 minutes a day to address a few exercises that use the muscles involved in your ballet class corrections.

There are also a few exercises to add for almost anyone.

Foot exercises, especially if you are doing pointe work, are a good choice to do every day. Using a stretchy band both under the toes (for lengthening/pointing) and over the toes (for flexing) is a good one. Toe swapping, 'playing the piano' and pulling a towel are good too. The shin splints and sore calves that show up after returning from a break are from loss of strength in the foot muscles.

Three very slow motion pull ups for your abs are all you need to do per day. Starting lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, pull up slowly with your lower ab muscles. Count to 10, for moving up to your highest point. Your shoulders and shoulder blades will be off the floor. Then slowly down, but don't rest. Stop an inch from the floor and start up again. Put one hand behind your head if your neck is straining.

Choose a couple of stretches - your tighter areas. Stretch gently because you are not going to be as warm as a class will warm you up. If you're skiing, swimming, rock climbing or doing some other sport, stretch afterwards.

Have a great break!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - Planning Muscle Rest Time

The way of ballet training does not always provide ideal recovery time for your muscles. At professional schools, there are 5-10 classes a week. Out of necessity to complete training, this is planned for 7-8 years.

Repetition of accurate movements is the basis of ballet training. Within a ballet class, muscle groups are always alternated as the barre work progresses. Or, to be more specific, the emphasis on muscle groups changes from exercise to exercise in a well formulated class.

However, over a week's professional training there is usually one day off. That is not considered enough rest for the muscles by a lot of trainers.

If you are not in a full time dance school and you take two or three ballet classes a week, you can add pre-pointe or other practice routines to homework. You still are working every day, but you can plan for recovery time.

Make yourself a written plan. For each 4-6 week period, for example, pick three exercises using three different muscle groups.

You can practice each one on a day when you are not going to class. And rest that muscle group and work a different one on your next practice day. And so on. Make notes every 2 weeks as to how your strength feels in ballet class. Tell your teacher what you are working on, and get feed back.

For example you might choose your core muscles, your foot muscles and your turnout muscles. You can spread that out onto alternating days, and still see progress.

If you are following a professionally created regimen, you can do more work more often, per that guide. You'll be able to test yourself and keep good track of how you build strength.

Always remember to relax and stretch your muscles after working. Have a day of muscle rest, and sew your next pair of pointe shoes. Watch your favorite ballet movie and imagine yourself in your chosen part!

Get your copy of a pre-pointe self-assessment and strengthening program for ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ballet and Sports Jumping Injuries Can Be Prevented With Ballet Turnout

Most sports or ballet jumping injuries result in ankle sprains or knee injuries. Ballet well taught, will prevent injuries through the proper use of turnout and placement to support posture and changes of direction. In sports, athletes are coached to keep their knees lined up under their hip joints, but in the guidelines I found, there is no mention of how the feet are aligned, or placed on the floor or ground.

The ankle joint is a hinge joint, and is actually three joints. Your two 'shin bones', the tibia and fibula join to the the talus, the foot bone, and also to the heel bone.

This allows for flexing and stretching your foot, for keeping the foot flat on the floor while the leg angles, and also for ankle rotations.

In ballet, and many sports, the strength of the intrinsic foot muscles - the muscles exclusively in your feet, is the buffer against strains in the calf muscles. The calf and leg muscles have to work harder to control the ankle if the foot muscles are underdeveloped. However, the calf and leg muscles cannot control the ankle and foot movements as well as strong foot muscles can.

Foot control is best, locally, in the feet. Athletes have the challenge of uneven ground to deal with as well.

To dancers working in pointe shoes, the sole of the shoe presents uneven ground. Some professional dancers file down the edges of the leather sole so that it is more flush to the floor. But unlike a new pointe student, they have the strength in their intrinsic foot muscles to make up for the pointe ballet beginners' need for better balance. In other words, I do not recommend shaving the sole of the toe shoes for pointe beginners - it is better to work on achieving new strength and balance in standing in pointe shoes.

Occasionally, also, the talus bone is damaged from a jumping injury. The ankle may be sprained, and the talus bone can suffer a compression fracture, easily, on the corner areas. This can go undetected.

Dancers have ballet turnout to control stresses on knee and ankle joints. They also have the foot muscles to buffer landings. Athletes have training routines also. But all of us must rely on our ability to concentrate, and build strength for muscle control to avoid jumping injuries.

Get your copy of the best dancers guide on how to prevent ballet jumping injuries.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ballet Pointe Shoes Depend On You Building Strength and Understanding Ballet Technique

Gaynor Minden ballet pointe shoes are preferred by some dancers. The shank does not wear out, and the platform and box are built so that they will not soften and allow the dancer to go up and down from flat to pointe while sickling the ankle. The most common ballet injury is a sprained ankle, so this is a helpful shoe.

Of course, not every sprained ankle is pointe shoe related. Nor does every dance student work well in Gaynor Minden shoes. Good for some, not for others.

In ballet, there is a fashion of line in arabesque, of sickling out the working - the raised - foot. It may also be sickled out in devant or a la seconde. The sickle out emphasizes the turned out foot. As long as this never happens to a supporting foot on demi pointe, or pointe, this is fine.

Especially for those dancers with hypermobile ankles and feet, they must be careful not to sickle out as they come down from pointe, while rolling through demi pointe. Even when the weight is being transferred from the foot, to the other leg, the ankle and arch should be in line with the leg, not sickled out.

A foot in correct alignment can be sickled out the second after the weight has left the foot - but not even at the last nano-second when the pressure of weight can go onto the inner side of the pointe shoe platform, should the ankle/foot sickle out.

This takes exceptional concentration in training. But, so does every correct finer detail of technique.

Pre-pointe training involves checking for alignment of the ankles in slow press ups - starting parallel. If alignment is correct, turn out, and practise press ups in first, second, and fifth. Check for alignment of the ankles.

Practise press ups on one foot, parallel, and observe the ankles. Strength follows with repetition. Repetitions done incorrectly set you up for injuries.

So while a shoe like Gaynor Minden has been crafted to help the dancer, like any brand shoe, it cannot prevent injury if your working habits are not technically correct.

The pointe shoe is only as good as the foot that wears it! Hopefully you'll never have a sprained ankle. Paying attention to the finer details of your ballet technique will help you build strength in the pointe shoes of your choice.

Get the information you need on correct training in ballet pointe shoes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Grand Battement - A Full Body Workout And Flexibility Workout

The grand battement supports posture, grand jete en tournant and in the splits, and grand allegro such as sissone. In sissone, both legs do a grand battement, the body travels, and the posture must be maintained.

The daily grand battement to the front, side and back is a flexibility workout.

flexibility workout

 Add the DVD "Flexibility Workout For Athletes" to your weekly training!

Every grand battement begins with a strong brush into the floor. This challenges the hip placement, the posture, and the feeling of lifting the leg from underneath.

The leg does not lift from underneath, that is just a mental trick of elongating the leg, keeping the working hip placed, and lifting the leg (from the top muscles) but without shortening and bunching the thigh muscles.

Every battement tendu and degage you have done determines the strength of your grand battement.

Your grand battement determines the strength and elegance of your grand allegro.

Even if you can sit in perfect splits, your grand jete will not achieve a split position if your legs cannot arrive at the peak of the movement at the same time, with your postural position as well. It's like everything freezes in position for a second, and with soft and elegant arms.

Grand jete en tournant requires the same strength - the first leg does a grand battement as you jump - you fouette in the air and battement the second leg at the top of the jump, not on the way down. The legs have to have a powerful and perfectly timed action.

Putting grand battement into center exercises is an effective challenge.

Having a classmate check your posture and placement will assure you that you are building strength correctly. Your weight should not get pulled off your supporting side. If it does, that is what will destabilize the take off into a jump. Parts of the body moving out of alignment above the pressure of the brushing foot and the heel into the floor in your demi plie, weaken the push off. I know I just said that twice, it is important.

Basic technique creates the right movement patterns for classical choreography. Grand battement builds strength for that. It is indeed a full body workout in your ballet exercises.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ballet Turnout Helps Avoid Knee Injuries Suffered By Soccer and Volleyball Players

"Knee muscles are capable of protecting ligaments and preventing injury," says Edward M. Wojtys M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery, U-M Medical School, and Director of Sports Medicine at UMHS (University of Michigan Health System). "Female athletes are two to eight times more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligament because they may not able to achieve the same muscle stiffness across the knee joint." Both female and male athletes could benefit from ballet classes, to learn the principles of turnout. Pointe shoes could pose an equal risk for dancers, because of the extra demand for strengthening turnout.

It is the running and pivoting team sports that this study addresses. Sprinters and runners go in one direction, and do not have to risk knee rotation. This article from Science Daily also reports:

"The thought is, if you play jumping, turning, twisting sports, that you should be better prepared to protect your knee against rotational forces," Wojtys says.

That's why the measurements for the females involved in non-pivoting sports were surprising when compared to females in the pivoting sports. Females in non-pivoting sports had an increase in knee stiffness of 198 percent - 27 percent higher than the females in pivoting sports.

"Women who played jumping, turning, twisting sports actually had the poorest ability to protect themselves against rotational strains," Wojtys says. "

Please note that the above reference to "stiffness" means deliberate tension of the knee muscles, not the kind of stiffness resulting from strain or over training.

Ballet is a pivotal movement system. We do turn and pivot both in adage, jumps and on pointe. But we have turnout to protect our knees, especially, but also all of our joints. We employ turnout to change direction smoothly.

And, of course, our movements are choreographed in advance, and well rehearsed.

The strength of our turnout and placement means we do not have to twist to turn or pivot. This takes years of training. Athletes also practise dodging and twisting movements for speed and reflex, but to date, do not generally understand how to protect their joints.

This study shows that female athletes are more likely to risk knee injuries. What a shame that so far, it is mainly football players who study ballet, to avoid the risk of injuries resulting from twisting and tearing joints.

In the field of Dance Medicine inspired authors like Deborah Vogel and Lisa Howell write about the finer details of functional anatomy, mostly in relationship to dance and working in pointe shoes. I recommend their works to any aspiring female athlete. They could learn some basic ballet exercises to build strength and avoid knee injuries.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Controlling Weight - News For Retired Dancers and Athletes

A study that appears in the February 6th issue of Cell Metabolism was conducted with Myomouse - a mouse type that was genetically engineered to produce Muscle II fibers. The kind he would have built using barbells, or in the slower press up type of pointe shoe exercises. The resulting gene adaptions showed that his chemistry could then reverse fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and other aging conditions.

"The researchers found that the "genetically reprogrammed" mice lost fat and showed other signs of metabolic improvement throughout the body. What's more, those benefits were seen even though the mice continued eating a diet high in both fat and sugar and didn't increase their physical activity at all."

"Slow Burn" by Frederick Hahn cites a testimonial by an M.D., who states that he reversed his Type II Diabetes by the Slow Burn fitness regimen. That is pretty exciting.

Teenagers who have tendency to gain weight to the point of obesity should look into this. Insulin resistance (leading to Type II Diabetes) can start at any age, if the diet is bad enough. That means overloaded with empty carbs that mess up the blood sugar regulation.

(I'm not suggesting that you should add Slow Burn to your ballet exercises or sports so that you can eat fat and sugar.)

Retired dancers and athletes often find that with a healthy diet for controlling weight, muscle mass is lost and fat slowly appears, despite disciplined work. The study with the "myomouses" showed that more muscle II fibers were lost than muscle I fibers. Muscle II fibers are the ones that give the body cues to - well, oversimplifying - stay young!

Even if we could be genetically reprogrammed for this, doing a slow motion type of exercise may be in our better interest. However, I am amazed at the progression of science in this direction, and hope that the results will be shared with, and available to everyone.

I've also become aware recently of The Pace Program (TM) by AL Sears M.D., which also changes the way the body metabolizes. is where you can read about the Myomouse study. The details are extremely interesting.

So if you've hung up your ballet shoes and pointe shoes, or other atheletic gear, simulate genetic reprogramming with Slow Burn exercise. Build strength, and work on controlling weight with optimum results.

Go here for "Slow Burn" in the book section. It is an amazing read.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Prevent Ballet Injuries and Sports Injuries Postulated in MRI Study

Science Daily reports - "Ballet Dancers' Brains Reveal The Art Of Imitation". Understanding "mirroring" in the brain leads scientist to conclude that better rehabilitation could occur for injured athletes if they keep watching the actions they are restricted from performing. An MRI study showed how their brains responded. While out of rehearsals and pointe shoes, keep watching!

"The University College London (UCL) study, published in the latest online edition of Cerebral Cortex , may help in the rehabilitation of people whose motor skills are damaged by stroke, and suggests that athletes and dancers could continue to mentally train while they are physically injured.

...Professor Patrick Haggard of UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience says: ......Our findings suggest that once the brain has learned a skill, it may simulate the skill without even moving, through simple observation. An injured dancer might be able to maintain their skill despite being temporarily unable to move, simply by watching others dance. This concept could be used both during sports training and in maintaining and restoring movement ability in people who are injured."

"Deborah Bull, Creative Director at Royal Opera House (ROH2), says: "We are delighted to be working with Patrick Haggard, our Associate Scientist, on this fascinating area of research. As a former dancer, I have long been intrigued by the different ways in which people respond to dance. Through this and future research, I hope we'll begin to understand more about the unique ways in which the human body can communicate without words."

There is nothing more stressful for a an athlete or dancer than the idea of injury. Competition for roles or preparation for exams is always present. Whether one is a student or a professional, the calendar of events in a year of training, or company season, is always tight.

Losing a couple of months can be devastating. According to this study, staying at home nursing an injury is even worse. It seems like that attending the environment of study or work is better. The brains enacts the skills required while observing, and the idea is that skill will therefore, not be lost.

Other scientists (Candace Pert, Bruce Lipton) have been saying for a long time that your brain does not know the difference between imagining doing something and doing it - and as all skills originate in the neural pathways - it seems best to continue using them, even if you are sitting in a cast.

It will be interesting to watch developments in these studies in better rehabilitation from ballet and sports injuries.

In the meantime, prevent! There is a wealth of information available on functional anatomy and pre-pointe training that is oriented to injury prevention.

To prevent ballet injuries, The Perfect Pointe Book is a good place to start.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Higher SAT Scores From Ballet Class and Pointe Shoes?

In a southern California newspaper, a report by Chris Moran says " The College Board annually releases a report showing that the more arts and music courses students take, the higher their SAT scores are. Sweetwater Union High School District's survey of its own students five years ago found that students enrolled in visual and performing arts classes had higher grade-point averages than those who were not. The correlation is an admittedly chicken-and-egg argument over whether the arts make students smarter or smarter students pursue the arts. "

A recent article in New Science Daily presents the following:

"Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a study three years in the making, is the result of research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities across the United States. In the Dana Consortium study, researchers grappled with a fundamental question: Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?"

#8 in a series of points made is:

"Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills."

MARY BELLE MCCORKLE and SHIRLEY KISER wrote in the Tucson Citizen, "How the arts make kids smarter.
Students' scores improve in the three R's when they're exposed to music, dance and the theater".

Betty Oliphant, former Principal of The National Ballet School of Canada insisted on high academic standards, because she grew up in London in the earlier 2oth Century where dancers were considered dumb. Personally I don't think you can learn the classics if you are dumb.

What is dumb anyway? Shyness, less-confident, dyslexic, under-nourished? Maybe not interested in the usual social issues and dramas?

If it were not for the internet I would not know that scientists find this subject interesting. Artists know that they are not less smart than scientists. They also know that the money needed to run all these multi-university studies could run a small ballet company for a season or two.

Scientists and artists alike need patrons - and competition is fierce. Patrons need artists and scientists, and vice versa - so it's a chicken or the egg situation - and it makes an interesting holisitc picture for us all to function in.

But if your parents worry that your grades will drop if you spend too much time in pointe shoes or the ballet class - just mention the higher SAT scores!

Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes - Chunking and Imitational Learning In

Please let me explain. "Chunking" is a new verb. It is a scientific word. It means breaking down a movement into its series of mini-movements so that someone learning it can learn it more accurately and faster, and build the right neural pathways. Like a ballet class, or a ballet exercise. Neuroscientists use this word. Try not to think "chunky" because to a dancer "chunky" is a very threatening idea.

I am trying to be serious and academic about this but the verb "chunking" is too funny.

Brandeis University's Volen Center for Complex Systems published a study "Monkey See Monkey Do". It attended to the lack of research on imitative learning, which has apparently been neglected, in favor of studies in verbal learning, even though we learn more through imitation than by words. The study notes that:

"Several strategies may help leverage a learner's attention and motivate imitative learning. Organizing the motor skill practice is key. For example, Sekuler, an expert on the neural and cognitive terrain of visual memory, says that breaking down a behavioral sequence into chunks can aid imitation learning, just as chunking can help us memorize a string of seemingly unrelated digits or other material. Agam and Sekuler have their sights set on identifying strategies that teachers and coaches could use to make complex actions more "chunkable," and therefore easier to imitate.

The researchers' long-term goal is to devise simple methods that will allow teachers and coaches to take any arbitrary complex action that they want to teach--like that series of dance steps or that perfect golf swing, and then re-package that action into components that make for optimal learning."

If the researchers had watched a classical ballet, and then a ballet class, they would see a supreme example of chunking. Don't you just love that word? All those pre-pointe routines make pointe work chunkable.

The gazillion degages are chunking the aspired to, smooth, floating, gliding glissade. The stretchy, elastic, muscle-elicious fondu in adage are chunks of grand allegro.

The quick footwork exercises at the ballet barre are chunkettes of petit allegro.

I do not mean to diss brain research but I find this hilarious. So please appreciate the careful chunking that your ballet teachers are so good at, in helping you develop organized thought patterns, build neural pathways and build strength in your ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

The best example of chunking that I know right now is the pro student's manual about dancing in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, which chunks perfectly for pre-pointe practise and essential ballet technique for all.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Your Ability To Concentrate And Dancing In Pointe Shoes

Advancing in ballet, and into pointe shoes is determined by some finer details other than age, experience and muscle strength. Your ability to concentrate, to form neural pathways (learning new things through concentration and repetition) and to create the correct muscle memory will show that you can go on to pointe work. You must be able to work safely, with no distractions. If you are a little tired, or having an "off day", your ability to concentrate will get you through.

Holding back a young dance student from pointe work, who has the near-perfect physique, allowing for accurate placement and tidy looking exercises, is sometimes advisable.

The extent of muscular strength may not be present yet. Just as important, the maturity and ability to concentrate may not be developed.

The advantage of practising pre-pointe foot exercises is that a student has focused on some finer details of muscle work in the tiny intrinsic foot muscles. These muscles do not get developed well in our footwear, generally.

Specific exercises using the toes like you are playing a piano, or switching off lifting the big toe from the floor, then the other four toes, develop the foot muscles.

But first, the neural pathways are developed. The ability to concentrate on these tiny movements trains the brain to recognize what you want.

Then, after repetitions of the correct movements, the brain connects immediately with the right muscles and the correct movement results. That's muscle memory. And the strength follows.

I've often recommended stretching while you are watching a movie, or studying. Sprawled on the floor with a book, in second position, and slowly stretching and backing off when pain occurs, does not take the same kind of focus.

What you cannot get on the shelf at the ballet store, you can get with practise. Your brain will build neural pathways any way you want. If the technique is accurate, hurrah. If not, you will at some point have to unlearn, and learn again. That is more difficult.

If your power of concentration is not developed, no problem. You just repeat a correctly learned exercise. Your fantastic brain takes over. You feel your muscles and every single part of a movement. THEN you start to build strength.

And when you get into pointe shoes, you already have a better ability to concentrate, a good muscle memory from well built neural pathways, and a measure of control.

Here are some excellent tips and tricks to build strength, muscle memory, when you are dancing in pointe shoes.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Core Muscles And Ballet Technique

Learn more about your core muscles and how they stabilize the body and prevent injuries and low back pain.


To enhance your ballet technique, and your grace, in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, the following tips will help. When you build strength in your core, you support high extensions, pirouette and fouette positions, pointe work and grand allegro.

From a Mayo Clinic article:

"Core muscles

Your body's core is the area around your trunk and pelvis. When you have good core stability, the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen work in harmony. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities - from swinging a golf club to getting a glass off a top shelf or bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries.
Enter core exercises

Core exercises help you strengthen your core muscles. And it doesn't take specialized equipment or an expensive gym membership to try core exercises. Any exercise that uses the trunk of your body without support counts. Think squats, push-ups and abdominal crunches."

The article then presents some simple and effective core exercises that anyone can do.

As a ballet student, your core muscles are engaged all the time. Posture and turnout depend on your core muscles.

For some details on ballet turnout go HERE

Correct neutral spine, and correct turnout is the basis of your stability.

  • Holding the turnout in your deep hip rotators 
  • Assisting with your inner thigh muscles
  • Supporting with your lower ab muscles pulled up and flat, 

allows for a relaxed upper body, and smooth head movements and port de bras.

A wonderful and simple way to improve the strength of your core muscles for ballet, is doing slow press ups in retire position.

Using the barre lightly, press up slowly, maintaining your posture and turnout.

Be aware of moments where your neck, shoulders or arms tense up - that is where you are letting go of your core strength. It's an easy marker to watch for.

When you can do this effortlessly, you are ready to do it without the barre. This will build strength for every movement. You will feel much stronger in pirouettes and will be able to add more turns.

When you get into pointe shoes, you will not be struggling with an incorrect position that will be throwing you off your tiny pointe of connection with the floor.

Nor will you be straining or collapsing into your ending positions.

All this applies to male students too - their investment in this kind of strength building will result in better pirouettes and control in grand allegro.

You'll continue to build strength if your basic ballet exercises are done accurately. Core muscles with the addition of turnout, is where you start, in your aspirations to pointe work and dancing classical choreography.

For professional tips on core muscles and ballet technique I think The Perfect Pointe Book is the best reference.

It gives lots of exercises and ways to test your core muscle strength.

Here is the author of The Perfect Pointe Book showing an exercise for turnout:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Core Muscles - Build Strength For Ballet Movements

Syllabus classes like R.A.D. and Cecchetti present only the exercises to be done in the exams. Many months can be spent working up to new and difficult movements. You can build strength in your center with preparation ballet exercises, whether in ballet shoes or pointe shoes. This adds up to well-executed combinations and helps to prevent injuries.

For example, if your class has done adage in the center consisting of developpe en croix, and your new level requires a fouette or promenade, you may need to build more strength in your center.

Fouette in adage depends on the stability of the supporting side, firstly, then of course, also the working position.

To break it down, you could practise an exercise where the you developpe devant, turn a quarter turn to face the wall, moving the supporting heel and thigh to a new turned out position, and the working leg coming forward to its proper second position. You could either close here, and developpe a la seconde and then turn a quarter turn back to devant, or just keep holding the leg up and turn back to devant. It depends on your current strength and stamina. You can do this four times on each side, changing sides, so as not to exhaust the supporting side.

You would do the same, going from developpe a la seconde to arabesque, always leading with the supporting heel/thigh and adjusting to the arabesque position carefully.

And then with developpe to arabesque back to a la seconde.

When you are feeling steady with these movements, you would want to add going into a demi plie at the end of the developpe, and releve the fouette, then coming down into a strong demi plie. This will be needed in fouette releve en pointe, and fouette saute, for a good strong landing. Adage is a preparation for these, as well as for adage choreography.

If you feel wobbly in the torso, or are straining your neck and shoulders to balance, you can do the lying on the floor on your side exercise, raising both legs up a few inches, straight, keeping the supporting waist held off the floor. 4-8 times per side and you will build core strength.

Teachers break movements down like this, and you can even practice the position changes in retire or a tendu, to get those torso muscles fully engaged and controlled.

This strength in your center means a lot when you put on pointe shoes and wobble until you get used to the shoe, maintaining a full height position and balancing on the sole of the pointe shoe.

Building this core strength through preparation exercises leads to the "effortless" quality that is so admired in professionals. And you can do it too.

Get help with your core muscles and ballet movements.