Friday, August 29, 2008

The Nervous Anticipation of Going Back To Ballet Classes

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

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

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

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

And now you are starting all over again.

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

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

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

A favorite mystique-kill book of mine:

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

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

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

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

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

A favorite of mine on turnout:

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ballet Stores and the Pointe Shoe Brands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Prevent Knee Injuries in Ballet and Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to School - Organize Your Life and Nurture Your Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And get all the helpful Apps!


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

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

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

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

Monday, August 4, 2008

Better Self Care in Ballet Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about the time you put into it.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 3, 2008

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

Get Your Copy For Your Perfect Pointe!

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

 This tendon depends on muscle strength in the calf and the foot, to retain proper use.

Following are some self-care tips that will help you avoid overuse and injury of your achilles tendons, and encourage courageous patience in better rehabilitation.

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

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

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

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

Runners and other athletes often work on uneven surfaces and depend on both strength and supportive shoes to minimize the variation in foot angle as it strikes the ground or pushes off.

Ballet dancers absolutely depend on foot strength to prevent misuse, as they do not generally wear supports in their ballet shoes and pointe shoes. If needed, however, orthotics, or foot levelers, can be worn in dance shoes.

If a dancer or athlete has bowed legs, or hyper-extended legs, there will be an angle created just to have the feet flat on the floor.

If this situation is understood, the student can be taught how to avoid inflammation of the achilles tendon through understanding, and correction of, or accurate compensation for, this particular anatomical detail.

Correcting the stance of hyper-extended legs by stacking the skeletal joints (ankles, knees, hips and on up) and holding turnout, will correct the natural pronation (fallen arches) of the feet on the floor.

Sometimes this is not even visible to a glance in dancers, due to a strong built-up muscle structure that is deceptive. Even chiropractors and physio therapists have to test dancers' muscles extensively, in order not to miss this observation, until they gain experience with it.

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

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

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

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

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