Monday, July 28, 2008

Understanding Muscle Function and Correct Posture in Ballet

Understanding how one can build strength in ballet class, stretch safely, and get the core muscles correctly applying classical ballet technique, enhances the amazing potential you have to enjoy and effect health and weight loss or gain. Every ballerina has done the same things you can do in ballet, to progress as far as your physique and dedication will allow. Ballet is a full body workout, but some aspects of technique are commonly not presented with clarity as to what the anatomical factors are.

Easy learning is possible if you have a little extra time. Without having to study like a kinesiologist, you can learn what a muscle is and how to get the best use out of it. Correct skeletal placement and flexibility are needed to develop the core muscles that lead to the elegance of a ballerina and the precise professional footwork of a male virtuoso.

Muscles have certain behaviors. They can stretch long, like an elastic. With repetition and patience, the muscle will shrink back a little less. On the subject of stretching, it's good to be warmed up because collagen, in your connective tissues, becomes more fluid when you are warmed up and allows more movement in your body.

Stretching a muscle requires knowing the correct position to stretch it in.

For instance, stretching the hamstrings, the long muscles running from the sits bones to below your knee, requires that you stand correctly with one leg in second on the barre, the kitchen counter, or whatever you've got as a support. Or, you can sit on the floor in your widest comfortable second position, with your pelvis in neutral, as though you were standing.

If standing, your posture must be as correct as possible. Spine neutral and elongated by the lengthening support of the abdominal and spinal muscles, turnout held in the deep rotators, and the gluteals or butt muscles not over-supporting, allowing your hip bone and pelvis of the working side to relax down. This way you will do a side bend towards your working leg, or a demi plie remaining straight in the spine, and if you maintain your placement, the hamstring will begin to stretch like a piece of elastic.

That's just one example, you could be in a devant position, or an arabesque position. Once you reach your maximum stretch, before you get to a point of pain, you can hold that stretch for up to 90 seconds. During that time, you'll feel the muscle (and other muscles that are also getting a stretch), let go a little, and a little more, and then relax into the stretch fully. Every dancer has a different point in the stretch time where they will feel it's time to return to the initial position. At some point, the muscle will start pulling back, and that's the time to stop.

Bouncing doesn't help, although after your first stretch is over, you don't have to return to your initial position. You can release out of the stretch and go into it again. It requires some almost meditational attention to sense when you're doing too much, as opposed to pushing to the sharp pain signal that you get from being too demanding of your muscles.

Sore muscles come from tiny tears in the muscle fibers. A hot soak followed by icing, good nutrition and sufficient water intake helps your body recover and maintain a muscle that responds quickly to your brain, and has the strength to do what you want it to do.

Muscle spasms must be attended to with massage or use of a rubber ball, to work them out. Lactic acids remaining in the muscles create chemical damage. Massage and ice stimulate the circulation needed to carry away the lactic acid and other waste products in the muscles tissue.

So - in relation to the correct use and build up of strength in the core muscles, you must have correct placement. If you don't have correct placement, you stretch until you do. Then you are in the ballet positions required to work anatomically correctly. It is a process, longer for late starters in ballet, but still with potential.

Ballet and the people who do it are amazing. Whether you are a ballerina, a late starter, or a pre-professional, understanding something as simple as a muscle, and how to take care of it gets you the most out of your full body ballet workout. For a career builder, to lose weight, gain muscle or "just" to dance, keep being amazing!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Learning To Develop Lean Muscles In Ballet

Any would -be ballerina suffers from the fear factor in developing big butts or big thighs instead of the long lean look. Especially if that shape runs in the family. Especially when human genetics are discussed as though no one can escape their fate.

Your genetic shape is modified by what you eat, and how you exercise.

Posture is everything for growing to be long and lean. The spine and pelvis must be in a natural position. A postural plumb line must be straight from the top of the head, down through your body's natural curves, to your ankle bones.

If a mirror at the ballet studio, or at home, reflects a vertical line of some kind, like a door frame, stand at the mirror so that you can place your body sideways, in front of the line. Notice how your spine and legs line up along the line. If your weight is leaning back, or too far forward from your ankles, you will be able to see that you are not standing along the line.

Your spine has three natural curves. The most noticeable curve is at the waist area of the lumbar spine. A common misconception is that this curve should be pulled long, by tucking the pelvis under, and that this stance protects the low back. Exactly the opposite is true. Years of tucking under will lead to low back pain and perhaps even herniated discs. Correct posture will protect the discs. The discs, in turn, cushion the bones and allow maximum comfortable movement.

This tucking under of the pelvis will develop big thighs, or quads, and big butts, or gluteal muscles. The body weight presses down on the thighs, not allowing any elongation of the muscles. The deep rotator muscles are not in a prime position to hold turnout, and the gluts have to be held clenched in a bulked up fashion, to keep the pelvis stable.

The long lean look of a ballerina is from working pulled up in the deep lower ab muscles, and with a feeling of pressing down through the center of her leg bones, as if pushing the floor away. The thigh muscles pull up but do not clench hard. You need a certain amount of tension for the stability of each ballet position and movement, but not more than that. Extra tension will create less fluidity of your ballet movement.

Pilates is an excellent cross training for dancers because all exercises are done emphasizing length.

If you understand the correct posture that a ballerina works in, you can learn how to get the long and lean look, and avoid the big butts and big thighs that develop from working in an unnatural way.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How To Find Emotional Intelligence and Positive Thinking In the Ballet World

Author Deborah Vogel has written many books for the student ballet dancer. Most of them have to do with anatomy, and solving the conflicts between ballet's anatomical farfetchedness and the capabilities of the human body.

"Train Your Brain: A Teen's Guide To Well Being" goes beyond tissue and bone into the wondrous creative realm every student experiences, and sometimes loses direction in. Deborah sets forth with help for you, the would-be ballerina or male ballet dancer, to gain more understanding and control over the demanding world you live in.

Any student of music, writing, and performing of any kind, needs to know some survival techniques to maintain emotional intelligence, and stick with positive thinking. Every new class, with new exams, and fierce competitions, can instigate implosions of self-doubts. How do you take command of your mental and emotional space before that important event? Or so you can sleep well every night?

Deborah designed this book so that teens and pre-teens could discover that there is a way to begin a dialogue about self-sabotaging beliefs and thoughts that so influence their patterns of behavior and success. This 48 page book introduces eight teens with common problems and challenges such as how to take charge of your feelings and how to perform like a pro in the dance studio or anywhere and everywhere. You will learn techniques such as Mental Rehearsing, Creating a Feeling, Refocusing and a very powerful Acting as If. These fun (but seriously amazing) activities will help to train your brain — whether a teen or an adult late starter in ballet — towards success.

As a ballet teacher, I've always recommended to students to look outside the dance classes for ways to help manage their frustrations, fears and struggles with the competitive and perfectionist aspects of the performing arts. I think that private and independent study is best for people - contemplation with direction, and applying uplifting creative techniques to maintain a positive perspective, in one's own way.

That in itself is the challenge - finding one's own way. "Train Your Brain: A Teen's Guide To Well Being" is a wonderful first step on that path.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Free Ballet Classes for Boys - Ballet San Jose SCHOOL

If you aspire to be one of the men in ballet, here's some news:

from the San Jose Ballet July newsletter:
"Free Ballet Classes for Boys 7 and Up


Ballet San Jose SCHOOL is trying something new this summer...FREE CLASSES FOR BOYS.

A free series of four ballet classes for boys, age 7 years old and up will be offered July 12 through August 2. No previous dance experience is necessary. For boys who have always wanted to give dancing a try...this is the opportunity. All classes will be held in the Ballet San Jose studios located at 40 North First Street in downtown San Jose.

Ballet San Jose School Ballet Master, Peter Brandenhoff, will teach the boys Class. Mr. Brandenhoff studied at Royal Danish Ballet before embarking on an illustrious international dancing career. You can read more about Mr. Brandenhoff here. Boys Class will take place on Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., July 12 – August 2. Because this class is free, Ballet San Jose School asks that students make the commitment to attend all four classes – this is not an open “drop in” class.

The required dress code is a plain white t-shirt (not too long, or baggy – must fit well), black shorts, white socks, and black or white ballet shoes. The school has black ballet shoes in some sizes available for purchase. Shoes can also be purchased at Bay Area dance supply stores including Victoria’s Dance and Theatrical Supply in San Jose, or Dance Attire in Mountain View.

For additional information, or to register for Boys Class, contact Kristin Bertrand, School Administrative Director, Ballet San Jose School at (408) 288-2820 x 218". E-mail:kbertrand@balletsanjose.org".

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Preparing Chaine Turns For Ballet Dancing in Pointe Shoes

Chaine turns are best perfected in soft shoes first. Every would-be ballerina wants to excel at turns on pointe. But pointe work depends on the accuracy of your ballet teacher, your basic classical ballet training, and the accuracy of your own class work. And the ballet positions for chainee turns are very simple.

Beginning at the barre, your postural plumb line, turnout and general placement must be correct and strong. It doesn't matter what kind of body you have. Posture can be correct, turnout can be held regardless of your flexibility, and placement can also be correct.

I'm just saying that to encourage you. I know it is discouraging if others can do ballet more easily than you.

You see once you get on pointe, any tiny incorrect position is going to throw you off your pointe. You can struggle and overcome that, but you will lose your grace and elegance.

You can start training for dancing ballet in pointe shoes right now, and safely, if you have The Perfect Pointe Book.

 
For chaine turns, rise onto demi pointe in first position, sideways to a mirror. If you are standing straight, neutral pelvis, neutral spine, and turnout held, that's a good position.

Can you turn your head to the mirror to see yourself without tilting? If not, you need to do some stretching and relaxing for your neck muscles.

You do this by tilting your head slowly, letting the muscles stretch a little, for three deep breaths, and then slowly bringing your head upright. 3 repetitions, 3 times a day, each side.

Also, take a deep breath and then turn your head to one side, exhaling. Then try to turn a little farther, being careful not to tilt. Slowly bring it back to the front, and do the other side. 3 repetitions, 3 times a day.

Relaxing your neck is going to help with your spotting.

Being weak in your posture or turnout is going to make you tense your neck and shoulders, therefore throwing off a good turn.

Once you have established that your posture is good, and your turnout held, do a series of chaine turns along the barre, keeping your legs tight in first position. You do not step out. Practice this until you get the feel of it. This establishes correct muscle memory.

When you do the turns in the center your preparation will give you the push to get started. If you chasse into it, or step out from a plie, you then close the legs and they do not come apart at all after that.

There is always ongoing discussion of when someone should start ballet in pointe shoes. Regardless of age, ballet history or growth plates, your basic technique has to be strong, not just your feet.

If you have to wait another six months or a year to correct your technique, you will enjoy pointe work a lot more once you start, because you will be able to do things. You won't be struggling.

Once in pointe shoes, chaine turns are a lot easier, as far as the turn goes. It's easy to spin. But your position and how well it is held will determine whether or not you can stay in a straight line, control the speed, and end the sequence gracefully.

Watch your favorite ballerina do chaine turns - they are tight, quick, and end quickly. You'll see how her ballet positions are perfect - and her control is perfect.

With understanding and practice you can do it too.

For understanding and developing your feet properly for pointe work, you can get The Perfect Point Book here.