Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Learn a Ballet Style Workout at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chinese Dancer Opens Beijing Paralympics

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

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

 Ballet Foot Positions

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


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

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

Couple of Quick Stories...

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

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

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

Vone did her stretching exercises the gentle yoga way. She picked a few yoga positions and stretched comfortably with a stretchy feeling, but no pain.

A few weeks later her positions were drastically more flexible than mine. She had no workout routines, no warm up routines, she'd just show up and do it.

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

In recent years much that has been written by dancer/dance medicine specialists who have a very different view on how dancers should treat their bodies.  

How to stretch the foot and ankle joints to improve the curve that is part of ballet fashion, is important.

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

It's a matter of perspective!

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

Author Deborah Vogel describes how to relax and knead out muscle tension down the front of the calves to the ankle area, using a Spaulding ball. This is a small,dense, high bounce sports ball.

If you sit down with your feet folded under you, you can roll the ball under the top of your calf muscle, below the knee joint. You will feel some very tender spots where the muscle is especially tense.

create more flexibility in the ankle joint

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

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

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

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

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

None of this should produce pain.

Look at an x-ray of the human foot and the many tiny foot bones.

Here is a short video showing the bones and soft tissues of the human foot:

These bones and the soft tissues supporting them need to be treated gently in between your ballet classes. They are tough, but as you push them as far as they can go every day in the ballet studio, they deserve rest and care.

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

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

pointe shoe fitting guide

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

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ballet Pointe Shoes For the Lower Arch

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

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

Did something go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ballet Shoes, the Movie, With Emma Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Healthy Fats For Ballet Dancers and Other Athletes

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

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

Learn more about fats.

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

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

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

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

Fats that you can consume are the following:

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

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

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

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

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

Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated oleic acid.

Olive oil may be used for cooking at medium temperatures.

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

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

Coconut oil is good for cooking at a high heat.

Pumpkin seed oil - but do not heat it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2008

How to Prevent Foot Injuries in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

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

Here is some basic anatomical facts about your feet:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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