Thursday, January 29, 2009

Muscle Tension Release In Ballet - Magnesium!

For success in ballet, sports and fitness, strong muscle tone must also result in fluid movement. This requires the minimal tension needed to execute a ballet movement, or ballet position, or a physical move as required in sports training. Magnesium is a nutritional super star. It improves function in the brain, bones and muscles. In team sports, advanced ballet in pointe shoes and pas de deux, magnesium is part of the nutrition that enhances ballet/sports/fitness success.

Magnesium is present in most of your body cells. It plays a starring role as a co-factor, meaning, it assists enzymes in catalysing (a catalyst is a substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected) many necessary chemical reactions.

Magnesium affects many things that your ballet and sports require of you, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Here's a short list:

- nerve conduction, or the sending and receiving of messages affecting muscle response
- muscular movement affecting fluidity, accuracy and coordination
- bone metabolism, affecting your growth and development, as well as your immune system
- protein manufacture in the body which is extremely complex
- fat and carbohydrate metabolism. A new frontier being researched now is magnesium in relation to insulin resistance, which, once that condition begins, makes it harder to stay thin
- glucose utilization, affecting brain power and muscle power

Whether your goals in ballet/sports/fitness are personal and recreational, or professional, I'm sure you would want all the points made above functioning for optimum results in your muscles and brain.

Because magnesium allows the muscle contractions that occur to turn off, it helps control tension and spasms caused by over training, heavy practice or rehearsal days, and inaccurate technique.

Magnesium supplements can be bought in tablet or powder form. Always read labels, and select brands that do not have anything else added, except maybe fruit flavoring from natural sources that you recognize. Powdered magnesium digests faster. It's usually a good idea to take half the recommended dosage for a couple of days, to let your body get used to a nutrient that has been deficient. Magnesium can loosen the bowels at first, but that effect goes away within a day or so. Magnesium carbonate has the biggest affect this way. Magnesium citrate and magnesium lactate are known to digest better.

Because of the relaxing effect magnesium has, you may sleep more deeply, and high blood pressure may lower towards normal. Even irregularities of the heart muscle can be helped by magnesium.

Many flavoring foods are high in magnesium: dill, chives, celery seed, spearmint, sage, coriander and basil. Put fresh into salads or chopped and sprinkled on vegetables, meat or fish, these are all delicious.

So for strong bones, good muscle tone (which requires proper relaxation for strength), getting enough rest, and staying calm, eat magnesium! Best obtained from fresh foods, yet very helpful as a food-sourced supplement, it is a super star silent partner in your ballet/sports/fitness training.

Learn how to get more minerals into your diet to help with muscle tension release.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is Your Protein Requirement As A Ballet Dancer

I talk to both athletic (mostly ballet dancers) and non-athletic dieters frequently. It seems that both groups do not know how much protein they should eat every day, or every meal. If your goal is burning stored fat, cutting down on food intake should not be done carelessly. I am not a weight loss expert, but here is some general information to help you sort out your own dieting decisions.

After noticing recently that the subject of what is your protein requirement was being mentioned in many quarters around me, I got curious. We all know that protein is important, but we are also barraged with conflicting information in our culture, like the following:

*** eating too much meat is bad for you
*** soy is better than meat because it is lower in calories
*** fish is better than meat because it has better oils (omega 3 fatty acids)
*** don't eat fish more than twice a week because it is contaminated with mercury and other industrial chemicals
*** eating egg yolks raises your "bad" cholesterol levels
*** butter is just fat, don't eat it
*** killing animals and eating them is murder
*** even eating animal products like milk and eggs is abusive and we shouldn't

You see how crazy this can get, in terms of contradictions. Some of what I wrote above is true, but how and why? How do we find balance? We have indeed polluted our food sources with industrial chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and more. Slaughterhouses are indeed horribly cruel and do not need to be. All the "bad" can be changed.

Get the best food you can. Use a Body Mass Index calculator to determine your lean weight, and then a protein calculator to find out what your protein requirement is, based on your lean weight.

I did a search using Google with the phrase "protein intake for ballet dancers". I recommend that you read the first page of articles, all of them. I wanted to pick one, choosing a particular angle on this subject, but I didn't because it is a giant puzzle and the pieces need to be put together for you, by you.

If you choose a regimented diet where someone else makes the food, allowing you to have (artificial) sweets and (non-fat) carbs, with starch thickened non-fat sauces, I doubt you are eating anything close to your protein requirement. Also, these foods are not fresh, and who knows if they retain even ten percent of their vitamin and mineral content. So this route to weight loss is really starving yourself, and pretending that you're not. And when you starve yourself, your body will start dissolving itself to get the required nutrients in the right places in order to maintain. You WILL lose weight.

Your choice then might be to cut out ALL empty carbs, meaning white bread, pasta, crackers, potatoes, and of course sweets. That leaves you room for your protein requirement, or at least some more of it, in every meal or snack.

Fresh meats, poultry, eggs and fish are good for you, in general. Trim the fat from the meats and poultry. You will still ingest a small amount of animal fat, which your body requires to function. If you are eating salmon or tuna eat the fat and skin. Those have omega 3 fatty acids in them, which are also essential for health.

Some of the newer information about dieting is that changing calorie intake, a little, on a daily basis, is better for weight loss. Because your body can get used to anything, and will modify your metabolism to slow down when you eat fewer calories, you can trick it by not giving it the same number every day, so that there is no exact routine for it to get used to.

The goal of staying thin while getting your protein requirement, for a growing child or adult athletes and ballet dancers, and burning stored fat, is complex. Who has the time to become an expert?

Personally, I think you do. With the internet and all of the amazing information at hand, you can learn, gradually, what you need to know. I could write a book for every sentence I wrote in this article. Others already have, so I won't.

Investigate why egg yolks and butter are good for you. Investigate why artificially sweetened sodas make you crave carbs. Investigate why prepared foods full of MSG for flavor might be related to brain damage like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, or dementia and memory loss. Investigate the real deal on using soy as protein food.

If you are being treated for a disease, please follow your doctor's recommendations, but also keep looking for information for yourself. Figure out what is your protein requirement, learn about burning stored fat, and sort out your own dieting decisions.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Many Exercise Benefits of Ballet As a Natural Remedy

If we review all the benefits of any exercise, ballet provides them all, with many bonuses. Since studies have shown that high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and many inflammatory conditions such as Ulcerative Colitis for one, are improved using exercise as a natural remedy, why not dance ballet? Gaining muscle and losing weight is another great side effect.

Why does exercise help almost any ill-health condition? And by ill-health, I mean inflammatory (diabetes, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, joint pain and many more) conditions.

Exercise increases your muscle exertion, including your heart muscle, therefore your oxygen intake, therefore your metabolism, and therefore your circulation. Increased circulation means more nutrients and body-manufactured hormones and enzymes going to body cells, and also, increase of waste products from metabolism getting OUT of your cells.

Perspiring washes many toxins we create naturally (or eat, accidentally) out through our skin. while the purpose of exercising is not to overheat the body, it happens. While cooling down, we detoxify.

Exerting your muscles on your bones stimulates bone growth and density. Healthy bones are part of our overall health. Many body processes occur in our bone tissue, including our immune system functions.

In fact our body is, under normal conditions, a factory of excellent health results, if we treat it properly.

Another way that exercise helps us is to DECREASE STRESS. This happens on a physical, emotional and mental level. The physical level entails all the I mentioned above, and more. The emotional level is involved because we are doing something good for ourselves, maybe just for the enjoyment and benefits, and maybe because it is an ambition being fulfilled. Mentally exercise is a challenge requiring concentration, and increases our ability to concentrate.

Exercise of a certain type will increase muscle mass, though not necessarily bulk, which helps us to maintain or lose weight.

So why dance ballet? In a ballet class, almost every exercise is a full body workout. At the same time, each exercise exerts more on a specific muscle group than it does on the supporting muscle groups.

Ballet increases reflexes and demands incredible coordination. Because of the demands, taking ballet classes and perhaps dancing in pointe shoes, requires learning about functional anatomy and how to avoid dance injuries as well as nutrition, for the more curious students.

It is wonderfully satisfying to work on a difficult combination, maybe all year. Then one day, what was a disjointed conglomeration of efforts and concentration, suddenly becomes a smoothly executed grand jete en tournant, a fouette battu saute or an effortless series of chainee turns. Your friends wonder "how do you DO that?"

If they only knew, the blood, the sweat and the tears. I'm just kidding. Well, maybe not.

Regular ballet training or other exercise training will also PREVENT high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and many other degenerative physical conditions. Another huge bonus.

So ballet is a natural remedy for less than optimum health conditions that benefit from exercise. If you're ill, ask your doctor if there is any reason that you should not exercise. Unless you are an exceptional case, you will likely be encouraged to do so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How To Learn Better In Ballet Class

How do you increase your concentration and learn better in ballet class? This is important for you to learn faster, make faster progress and increase the strength and accuracy of your ballet technique.

If you are a ballet beginner, it is very important to learn the French words for ballet. Study a ballet glossary and highlight the words or phrases that match the words you learn every class. This way you will avoid distractions, like having your mind wander or wonder every time the ballet teacher says something you do not understand.

Understanding the words you hear aligns with the idea of only trying to do one thing at a time. In ballet class, once a teacher starts talking or demonstrating an exercise, your ability to concentrate will determine how well you comprehend and then remember what you have seen and heard. In this instance, as soon as your mind starts to wander, or wonder, you are now doing an additional task. You miss some of what you should have heard or seen, so there is nothing there to remember!

If you are an adult ballet beginner, the best glossary is a video glossary, like you would find in The Ballet Bible. You will see ballet steps demonstrated while learning the French ballet words. This results in faster progress.

If you feel that poor memory stops you from learning better in ballet class, try to develop an awareness of where your mind goes when the teacher is showing a combination. Some people learn better visually and can be distracted by words being spoken. Some people learn better through audial comprehension and get distracted by what they are seeing.

My experience with ballet students is that those with poor concentration are usually distracted by something as soon as the music stops and the teacher starts correcting someone, or everyone. Adjusting ballet wear or fiddling with pointe shoes, or hair, are the most common and observable activities.

Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and lots of worry are often at the bottom of a decrease in ability to concentrate. These issues must be corrected out of class.

You can learn to train your brain to function better. You can learn good nutrition for ballet dancers, which will help you to learn better in ballet class as well as sleep better.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some Highly Effective Tips For Ballet Summer Intensives Auditions - And The Nerves

 Ballet Summer Intensives

Many ballet summer intensives require auditions. Some will accept a DVD or VHS tape of you dancing, and they will specify what they want to see, to determine the level and accuracy of your ballet technique and ballet positions. If you search on the internet for summer intensives, there are pages and pages of results to view.

 Some schools tour with audition classes. Another outreach is, for example, The Princeton University summer intensive can be auditioned for in Toronto, Canada, at the National Ballet School.

Look for details on every web site. Some summer intensives offer housing in dorms or "host family" homes. Many do not offer any housing. Parents, I'm sure, are concerned about the kind of environment where the summer intensive they choose is located.

Many parents and ballet students want an out-in-nature environment where a school may offer more than ballet classes.

And many serious ballet students know that, in order to be able to audition for the college dance department of their choice later, they need to focus on ballet and other dance styles now, to the exclusion of all else.

Spending a couple of summers away from home can be helpful for ballet students. Some may discover that they do not agree with the ballet lifestyle after all, even though they love dancing. The intensity, the competition, the sub-culture aspect of dance, is not a life that is meant for everyone.

If this is true for you, or if your real talent will come out best in some other performance venue such as acting, modern dance, singing, or in another field entirely, the sooner you discover this, the better.

There are many ballet summer intensives to choose from. Some will require auditions, and at the least, DVD or VHS auditions. Be prepared to pay an audition fee, and bring a photo of you dancing, and perhaps a head shot, to leave at the audition, if requested.

Audition Nerves

Audition nerves can be a challenge, but you can train your brain out of those if you know how to.

Also bear in mind that smaller more local schools may offer better classes, even though they do not bear a famous ballet school name or have famous guest faculty.

Depending on your age and level of training, it may be better to stay close to home, and continue to benefit from smaller classes and the familiarity that has nurtured you so far.

You will know when you are ready for a bigger and strange environment. Even if you feel the audition nerves, you will want to go for a bigger challenge.

If you feel like the audition nerves are going to be overwhelming, get a copy of The Perfect Pointe Book. This dance manual outlines many strengthening exercises you can do at home, with plenty of self-tests and photos so that you do the exercises correctly.

Whatever summer ballet intensive you find, once you are accepted and registered, you have a grand adventure to look forward to!


Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Set Priorities With Your Corrections in Ballet Classes

Whenever you get corrections in class, how do you set priorities for fixing them? For example, if you get a correction while doing demi or grand plie, that's a priority to fix, because it will affect everything else you do.

Especially in pointe shoes, a flaw in how you do a plie will affect your posture, balance, strength of turnout, and go on to affect pirouettes and more.

It will also affect your allegro, or jumps.

If you get a correction later in the ballet barre work, that may be where your ballet teacher first noticed the error, in that class.

However, if your dance teacher does not address it further, it is up to you to figure out where in the basic ballet positions, ballet movements, or ballet technique, you need to go, to fix your correction.

As an example, if your teacher corrects tense or "spiky" fingers during a ronde de jambe a terre combination, you need to (after class) back-peddle mentally to figure out why your fingers are tense looking.

Relaxed hands and fingers are the result of strength in the core muscles. If the core muscles are strong enough to support posture, turnout and ballet positions, then there will not be any extra tension traveling to the neck, shoulders, and down the arms to the hands.

So, as your own experiment, see if there is any strain in your plie exercises in class. Do you understand what muscles should be working hard, and relaxing, at what point during the exercise? Tension in ballet is FLUID. It is always changing.

Understanding plies and tendus, in ballet, will lead to your understanding every aspect of ballet technique. Posture, turnout and balance are all equally important parts of ballet technique (including the proper use of the intrinsic foot muscles for demi pointe and full pointe). And most other dance techniques, not to mention football, tennis and more. (Tennis pros and football teams study ballet to develop footwork and prevent sports injuries). It's all about doing what the body can do, and not trying to make it do what it cannot do.

Try to relate all your corrections back to your basic ballet movements. If you can fix the most basic flaws in your ballet technique, you will fix many things that can go wrong in a ballet class.

Dancing ballet successfully does not depend on perfection. It does depend on you understanding how close to the ideal you are. And, what keeps you from the ideal - physique, muscle weakness, or lack of technical comprehension. I've taught ten year olds who had this sorted out within months of starting training in classical ballet. Something just clicked for them that way.

So wherever you are in your ballet training, start right now to analyze and set your priorities with your corrections in ballet class. Pick the most basic correction that you get, and focus on it. To understand ballet barre exercises, get THE BALLET BIBLE.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hamstring Stretches and Patience With Rehabilitation in Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

Patience with rehabilitation is not easy for ballet dancers. Muscle pulls are rarely serious, but without proper treatment and rehabilitation, they can become a chronic situation. With the hamstring muscle, which is involved in every ballet position and ballet movement in the lower body, special care is needed to keep it relaxed and stretched properly after ballet class.

The hamstring muscle, at the back of the thigh, must be strengthened to ensure that it is not out-powered by the quadriceps at the front of the thigh, causing imbalance in the body structure. If the quadriceps muscle is much stronger that the hamstrings, which is the usual case, it can pull on the hamstring muscle and cause injuries.

Other imbalances such as the misalignment of the pelvis can also lead to extra tension in the hamstrings. Chiropractic care is a necessary routine for would-be ballerinas and men in ballet.

Patience to warm up before class, and then afterward, to cool down with relaxed stretching, (meaning not in a rush, not when your mind is already focusing on something else), is extremely important for the hamstring. It is a large muscle with a plentiful blood supply that is capable of creating substantial inflammation and scar tissue once the muscle is pulled.

Growth spurts can cause imbalances as well, resulting in temporary loss of balance, flexibility and strength.

Without understanding these factors, well-trained and serious ballet students will struggle to work harder, endure a little more pain, and may become very frustrated when the expected optimum results don't show up. They might feel that they should be adding some cross training or more ballet classes. However, this will only irritate the hamstring injury.

Once a hamstring is pulled, and on the mend, stretching to do the splits should only be done after use of the pinky ball (as described in the Effective Stretching The Ultimate Guide A DVD showing safe stretching for the hamstrings, quads, gluts, ballet turnout muscles and more. And of course after a full class when you are at your warmest. Then stretch to feel a stretch, not to feel pain.

It's often a month or two after a hamstring pull, that the muscle will feel well again, with the best of care. With no special treatment, the muscle will be unwell, with the condition possibly lingering for months.

Work your best in ballet class to avoid injuring the hamstring muscle. Don't stretch with partners. Exercise patience with rehabilitation, and see a chiropractor or physio therapist for help. Learn safe flexibility exercises for dancers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Chiropractor's Role With Neck Pain and Stiffness in Ballet Training

Ballet training can bring on pain and stiffness that does not go away in the muscle recovery period, which is rarely sufficient. Once a pattern of tension is established, a ballet dancer must follow a specific routine to reverse the harmful trend before arthritis sets in. Neck pain, back pain, and unresolved muscle tension will lead to ballet injuries if left untreated.

When a ballet dancer's core muscles are weak, or when a dancer is working an intense schedule without enough recovery time, where does the strain go? Often to the neck and shoulders.

Ballet dancers (and other style dancers) will typically work with increasing tension and strain, aching muscles, and mild pain, until the condition develops to the point of an acute and sharp neck pain. They will start to feel an extreme stiffness of their neck, having difficulty moving it in any direction. When the pain reaches its worst level, it might be accompanied by shooting pain down into both shoulders and perhaps even to the elbows.

This kind of discomfort may develop very gradually, so there is not necessarily personal neglect involved. Usually the pain is less in the morning, although the stiffness is noticeable. With additional time and attention given to warming up the neck and upper back, a good part of a heavy rehearsal day, starting with class, could be danced well with tolerance of the discomfort. Most likely, however, as the day goes on, the pain increases, often described as a "stabbing pain", with certain movements. The neck stiffness can return despite the dancer being warmed up. The strain becomes visible to others, watching or coaching.

At this point a dancer will be forced to take time out to seek professional help. Upon examination by a chiropractor, for example, it will be found that the back of the neck and mid back muscles are in tight spasm. The muscles under the chin may be in spasm as well, holding the head at a downward angle. The dancer easily understands that he/she has made this condition worse by working with the head not centered over the shoulders. (When the postural plumb line is violated in any way, extra muscle gripping will show up, as the body always finds a way to compensate and "balance" itself).

What is alarming is that, by viewing an x-ray of this kind of neck, it can be seen that the normal curve is not only decreased, but has reversed! And, quite distressing news to a young ballet dancer, the front of the middle neck bones may be severely degenerated, because of the chronic pressure on the front of them.

This curve reversal is all too common among classically trained dancers. Traditional ballet positions demand that the neck appear tall and straight. Although no harm is intended, the muscles along the front of the neck get stronger and stronger. This development straightens the neck bones, and continues through the years of training, until the normal curve reverses. The front of the neck bones actually start to grind, and gradually arthritis sets in.

The goal of chiropractic care would be to re-mobilize the neck bones that are locked in spasm, along with releasing the chronic tension of the shoulder and upper back muscles. Early treatment can prevent the development of the reversed curve, and eventual arthritis. The tight neck muscles can be relaxed and stretched, relieving the compression that reduces the natural curve. Massage, machine traction and a supportive pillow for sleeping can all contribute to chiropractic treatment, countering the harmful tendencies that have become a habit for the ballet dancer.

The neck of a ballet dancer can be held in a tall and slightly straightened position without leading to harm. All ballet students need to understand how to relax and stretch properly, as well as how to strengthen the core muscles to prevent neck strain and back pain. Education will prevent ballet dance injuries.

Take advantage of the available dance education and prevent dance injuries. There is so much information! Dance smart!

Deborah Vogel has posted more about this topic. Click here, click on the blog button at the top, and find the post - it is illustrated and you'll see a straight dancer's neck. If corrected, this neck will not proceed to the reverse curve condition.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Don't Get Depressed Because You Can't Study Ballet Yourself and Learn At Home

I hear significant discussion about learning ballet dance at home without a teacher. Even by persons who aspire to professional ballet performance, starting at a late age. This is thinking in a bubble. Instructional ballet videos, and ballet theater performances are excellent learn-at-home guides, if your own ballet is done in a dance class.

You cannot learn ballet at home without a ballet teacher. Experience with gymnastics, Pilates, or martial arts, will not help you learn ballet by yourself. It WILL help you learn ballet, in a ballet class, and help avoid dance injuries.

Body awareness, physical strength, balance, flexibility, all contribute to learning ballet. But not without a ballet teacher. Don't get depressed about this, every problem has a solution.

If you love ballet, and if you love yourself, take ballet with a teacher. Don't waste time with instructional ballet videos or dance manuals if you don't have a ballet class.

Ballet teachers also buy teaching manuals to learn the finer details from. Does this mean anyone with no dance background can buy one and start ballet teaching? Of course not. Same for ballet training. You need someone to be watching your ballet positions, ballet movements, and ballet technique, and correct you.

If you have gained discipline and strength from some other training, that is wonderful. Look back on that former training and ask yourself, could you have learned all that by yourself at home from a DVD?

If your problem is lack of money for dance classes, ask your parents if you can find a way to change their budget, as in, what they spend on you. Would you be willing to wear cheaper clothes, or do you have to have the finest fashions? Would you be willing to get a job? Do some local babysitting? Even if you are under age to work, in most places your parents can get you a work permit. Is it astonishing that I would suggest this?

Would you be willing to learn to make pizzas for your family instead of ordering in? Or anything else like that? These ideas may sound silly to some, but if you're really serious about ballet classes and you show a mature approach ("I am willing to give in order to get") to your parents, they will probably respond more enthusiastically.

So, I have not given any instant solution here, but you will find one. Don't waste time feeling depressed if you think you cannot get into a ballet class and have to accept that you cannot learn ballet yourself at home. Just get a strong focused intention started toward getting what you want. Once you are in a class, progress faster with THE BALLET BIBLE which explains classical ballet technique, and will help you avoid dance injuries.