Setting Ballet Summer Intensive Goals

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As the end of June approaches many of you will head off to your very first summer ballet intensive program. With your suitcases packed have you left anything behind? You have surely packed enough leotards and pointe shoes to get you through the 3-6 weeks that you will be away from home. Have you forgotten the most important thing you will need for your summer intensive?

The most common thing that dancers forget to do before leaving for a ballet summer intensive program is set goals. Why are you doing this summer intensive program? To improve, right? But what exact areas of your dancing are you looking to improve? Let’s face it, without setting goals what exactly will you get out of your summer intensive experience?

Before you leave home (or even if you are in your first few weeks of the intensive) write down the following questions in your ballet journal.

What do I feel that I most need to improve on this summer? This could be anything from pirouettes to technique.

What have my teachers been encouraging me to improve on? This would be the corrections that you get in class or at the school year-end conference.

What do I need to do to make these corrections over the summer? Listen to the teachers, focus, etc

Why did I choose this summer intensive? List the key reasons that you decided to go to this particular summer program. Anything from teaching staff to city.

What do I most want to accomplish this summer at (fill in your summer intensive name) ? What is your ultimate goal in attending this particular summer program? Do you perhaps want to be asked to stay for this school’s year-round program?

By answering these questions and looking them over every few days, you will stay on track at your summer program. I know it sounds kind of dorky but if you really want to become the best dancer you have to set goals and remind yourself of those goals consistently. Have fun and make friends but remember, you are there to dance!

How to Get Beautiful Ballet Feet and Arches

©Ballet Zaida

A beautifully pointed foot is the finishing touch to any dancers physique. Sure, not everyone can attain the extreme arches of Beckanne Sisk, but with the right exercises, you can achieve the best foot for your body. With all of the complicated foot stretchers and contraptions these days, it is hard to know what to trust or what really works. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money on a fad product to get beautiful ballet arches – there are simple exercises that you can do at home to get those fab feet!

Exercise 1 – Flex and Pointe – This sounds simple, but I want you to try this exercise (video below) while lying on your back. This exercise will not only strengthen the arches of your feet, but also the muscles in the ankles and the calves. I recommend starting with 10 repetitions of each part, there are 4 parts to this exercise.

Exercise 2 – Towel Scrunch – This is a secret go-to exercise for dancers who are injury prone in the ankles and metatarsals. I recommend doing this at least three times per week for 15 minutes at a time. Video can be found here –> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/intrinsic.html

Exercise 3 – Thera-band – While you may not have a thera-band lying around the house, they are not hard to find. You can get off brand versions at Walmart and sporting goods stores now. Give these basic exercises a go before class or as a cool down in the evening.

Give these three exercises a try and you will be well on your way to having your best feet and arches! As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding these exercises. I have also designed a 6 week Perfect Pointe Program to take the guess work out of foot and ankle training for you. Available exclusively at Ballet Strength –> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/powerpointe.html

Stretching vs Warming-Up for Dancers

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If you are like the majority of dancers, your daily routine begins by showing up 30 minutes or so before ballet class starts to warm-up. The keyword here is “warm-up.” What most of you end up doing is stretching as a warm-up which may be causing more harm than good. Read on to find out the proven reasons why you should not be stretching before class.

If you are stretching in an effort to increase or enhance performance prior to ballet class or the big show, you are really doing yourself a great disservice. Static stretching results in a decrease in performance while dynamic stretching results in an increase in performance (*see reference 1 below).

Some of us don’t really know why we stretch before class…we just do it because we saw someone else doing it. I don’t know about you, but I never had a ballet instructor suggest stretching before class. They did however suggest warming-up. There is a big difference.

Your pre-ballet class ritual should consist of a dynamic warm-up done in an effort to specifically turn-on and activate muscles through heightened neurological communication between the brain and muscle motor units. Stretching will not achieve this. Stretching should be done in an effort to recover and restore fatigued muscles after ballet class or performance. The goal of post class/ performance stretching would be to restore range of motion and/or to release tight muscle fibers to provide efficient blood flow which brings essential nutrients into the muscle to repair, restore, and recover.

A great dynamic warm-up for example would consist of high knee lifts (think marching in place), torso twists, arm circles, and believe it or not a jog around the ballet classroom to elevate the heart-rate and get the blood moving. How many of you have seen girls jogging around the room in auditions to warm-up and laughed at them for doing so? (now the joke is on you!) Below are a few good warm-up exercises to try before class:

1.) The Plank – hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Warms up the core muscles and really, the whole body.

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2.) Hi Knee Marches – Do 20 or so of these to warm-up the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings.

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3.) Calf Raises- This is a great way to warm-up the feet, ankles and calves. Perform 15-20 of these along with some ankle rolls.

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If you are looking to maximize those splits or extension, work on your deep stretching after class from now on. Also, be sure to give a dynamic warm-up a try before class this week and notice the difference in the way your muscles feel during class. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with this!

*Resources:[1]  L. Parsons, N. Maxwell, C.Elniff, M. Jacka, and N. Heerschee Static vs. Dynamic Stretching on Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump (2006), Greg Romero Coaching (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Ballet Port de Bras

What is the most common correction that you get in ballet class? Chances are, it has something to do with your arms. Rather than just telling you “shoulders down” or “elbows up,” today I am going to show you the single most important exercise that you  should be doing outside of the classroom. If you never want to hear your ballet teacher scream at you in front of the class about your arms ever again, please read on!

Addressing the real problem – Like I talk about in my other blog posts, strength is the limiting factor (in our extensions and our pirouettes). Sure, we can stand around in ballet class all day long with our arms out in second position but this tends to lead to two things; 1.) Tired, droopy elbows which leads to 2.) Incorrect muscle memory. Over time, after repeatedly holding the arms incorrectly day after day and hour after hour, our bodies (and our minds) get trained to do the wrong thing – to hold the wrong position. The best way to address this situation is outside of the studio.

Dancers often lack upper body strength. We spend so much of our time focusing on what the legs and feet are doing that we neglect the upper body. (Core is another neglected component but we’ll get into that at another time.) The dancers that I work with at my studio and online work diligently to balance their upper body strength with the rest of their ballet skills. Some workouts are even entirely for the upper body. Why, you might ask? Because our upper body is responsible for a lot that goes on in our dancing. A turn cannot successfully be completed with droopy elbows, for example, and your jumps clearly will not get far off the ground if you are tensing your shoulders and neck midair.

So what exercises should you be doing? I am going to show you one of the single most important upper body exercises that dancers should be doing outside of the ballet classroom.

The Pec Fly – The Pec Fly (often referred to as the dumbbell fly) is an exercise that emulates a ballet port de bras that goes from first to second position.

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The pec fly targets the pectoralis major and minor muscles, the serratus muscles in the rib cage, in addition to the deltoids to help stabilize the movement. What does this mean in dancer terms? It means that it directly targets the muscles that you use to keep those elbows lifted and shoulders down when holding your arms in first position. This means great things for your dancing like stronger turning positions, free moving jumps, and effortless port de bras.

Directions: Start lying on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor as pictured, holding 2 weights (3-5 lbs to start) in a rounded ballet second position. Keeping the arms rounded, slowly bring the arms in to a first position, touching the weights together. Repeat this for 15 repetitions, rest and do this again for a total of three sets. As always, make sure you warm-up prior to beginning any ballet or fitness routine.

Below is a video of the pec fly exercise as well:

Upper body is something that I have incorporated into all of my Ballet Strength online programs and DVD’s as it is a vital component to your progress as a dancer. I go over multiple exercises that will improve your port de bras, just like the pec fly exercise above. Give this a try and I can’t wait to hear how this exercise helps you improve as a dancer!

 

 

 

Improve Your Extensions for Ballet

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So you want to improve your extension – your developes front, side and back – who doesnt!? In this blog I am going to go over the exercises that you should be doing to help your develope height tremendously.

Extension and flexibility are two words that are pretty much synonymous in the ballet world but each has it’s own place in your ballet technique. The two compliment each other, however flexibility is not the sole reason that you cannot get your leg up…and hold it there. Strength (yes, there’s that word again) is usually the limiting factor.

As dancers our hips take a real beating. From doing daily ballerina things like standing turned out, gripping in the thighs and quite frankly, not knowing how to properly engage our core muscles, we are already at a disadvantage. Gripping in the hips is the #1 reason why I see dancers struggle with their extension (also in turns and jumps too). So how can you undo years of damage and unlock your potential to a freely moving hip?

#1 Breathe – Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Chances are, you don’t even realize that you are holding your breath. When we tense our muscles we are usually holding our breath at the same time creating even more tension to the muscles. Instead, try visualizing your hip as a sponge. Take your leg up to passe (think of a sponge full of water). Right before you develope the leg think of the hip relaxing and breathe. Then as you extend the leg, think of the sponge “wringing out” as you develope. Practice this and eventually you will be able to visualize this way in class.

#2 Strengthen & Release – Strengthening various muscles such as the glutes, inner thighs, and core can help release a lot of unnecessary tension from the hips, resulting in better extensions. Try the following exercises taken right from my YouTube Channel:

#3 Rebuild – Rather than showing you a bunch of ballet stretches and exercises that you already know and have tried (like the hike your hip up and hold exercise) I am going to give you an exercise that you can do to strengthen the gluteus medius muscle. First I will show you where the glute medius is located followed two exercises. “Monster Walks” and “Hip Abduction” which can help retrain the muscles around the hip pain and tightness that you feel from gripping.

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Monster Walks – Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions each leg with a resistance band.

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Hip Abduction – Perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions being sure to keep the leg parallel.

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I am looking forward to hearing how your extension improves just from these 3 quick tips. As always, please feel free to contact me with your questions and don’t forget to check out my great products that you can find exclusively at www.balletstrength.com.

 

Committed to Your Dancing,

Nikol Klein

 

 

Improve Your Penché for Ballet

Today’s video is to help you improve your penché for ballet. The penché is one of the exercises in ballet class that dancers struggle with – it requires balance, proper alignment, flexibility, and a strong standing leg. In fact, directors often give penché in auditions to see who can handle it and who topples over.

So what can you do to improve your penché? This video demonstrates a Ballet Strength exercise that addresses all of the key factors that go into executing the perfect penché such as balance, flexibility, strength, and alignment. Give it a try!

Ballet Strength Interview with Dancer Samuel Wilson

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Samuel Wilson and Michaela DePrince in Black Swan Pas de Deux.

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Samuel Wilson and Michaela DePrince in Black Swan Pas de Deux.

Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Samuel Wilson is preparing for an upcoming show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on January 17th. The show boasts three different pieces from three different choreographers including the well known Agon by George Balanchine and Gloria by Robert Garland. Learn more about Samuel and what he does behind the scenes to stay in top physical condition.

When did you know that you wanted to be a professional dancer?  The moment I realized I wanted to be a professional dancer was shortly after I started taking lessons. At that time in my life, I had very few aspirations for my future and had many hobbies but nothing that was quite as challenging or rewarding. It was as if a light bulb had turned on in my head and I found what I was meant to do.

What struggles or injuries have you encountered along the way?  The struggles and injuries I have encountered have been both major and minor. There are always set backs in life and it is no different for dancers. The most difficult part about any injury is that you are temporarily removed from the thing you love most in this world. I have broken my ankle, both my big toes, subluxed my right hand and even sprained my back muscles, which is the most painful of all those injuries. In the end, it is a part of trying to achieve perfection and excellence so it has always helped me to keep a positive outlook on things.

With the talk of New Year’s resolutions, what was your resolution this year?  With all the talk of New Year’s resolutions I have decided to continue with the same resolutions I have already made: to be a better dancer, person, and friend. There are so many aspects of myself that I will continue to work on and develop. Instead of making a deadline for those things, I wish to take my time and enjoy life as it comes. Also, I would like to go on a cruise with my girlfriend.

What do you do for cross training to maximize your performance?  What I do during the off season for cross training can vary from day to day. Since our dance season has two major breaks, one in the winter and one in the summer, it is not too difficult to find jobs. During that time, I do as much teaching as I can so I can develop a new skill set that can be used in my future. Along with that, I take long walks with my dogs, or even roller blade with them, and lift weights. I have found that rest is sometimes a good medicine, along with stretching and yoga to maintain strength.

Why do you feel that cross training is important for young dancers in particular?  I feel that cross training can be good for young dancers because it can help strengthen your weaknesses and prevent you from acquiring injuries related to overusing the wrong muscles. It can also have endurance benefits and help the overall aesthetic of a young dancer’s body.

Tell me more about your nutrition and go-to foods for energy:  As a male dancer, I find myself eating constantly and with great gusto. My go-to foods are pretty healthy in nature (not fried) such as meat, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. I find that without foods, such as carbs and protein, I get very hungry and cranky. When I eat I also live by a rule, “If I wanna eat it, then I am going to eat it!” When I am eating a dessert, I just eat less of what I want and I am less likely to snack on other things.

What did you learn on your own that you wish someone had taught you as a young dancer?  What I learned on my own that I wish someone had told me when I was young is that as a dancer you need to be patient. I always wanted things to happen so fast for me: to be a principal dancer in just a year or be given the roles I want because I work hard and hold myself to a high standard. The thing is, there is so much more to what we do than being out front all the time or getting the parts you want. I have fallen in love with some of the steps I do on the side and have detested some of the ballets where I am in a central role. There are also moments I enjoy being in the spotlight, as well, and now I relish it because it was earned over time and never just handed to me.

You have an upcoming performance at the NJPAC – tell me more about this:  We have an exciting program coming to NJPAC on the 17th! We will be doing a repertory show, including works from three different choreographers. The program will have something for everybody, such as the deeply spiritual Gloria by Robert Garland or the quick and assertive Agon by George Balanchine. Sandwiched in the middle is a love story of a different kind that has all the roller coaster of emotions you would find within the minds of timid lovers. I expect it to be an event the audience will not soon forget.

What words of advice do you have for young dancers?  The words of advice I have young dancers are to keep persevering. You must continue to give all you can and what you will get in return will always be worth it in the end. Take your time and enjoy dance while you still have it. Remember that you are blessed to be able to create art every day and that you are an individual with your own story to tell.

You can see Samuel Wilson and the rest of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the NJPAC on Friday, January 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm. For tickets and pricing visit ticketmaster.com.

Ballet New Years Resolutions

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The New Year starts tomorrow – have you set your goals or resolutions for the year? When we think of the “year” as dancers, we tend to look at it the way we look at the school year, September through June. While the start of the school year is a great time to set new goals, this doesn’t mean that you can’t set new goals starting January 1st! The following are some goals and resolution ideas to help you out in 2014!

Resolution #1: Write down your corrections – You are more likely to actually improve and apply corrections if you write them down. Take notes of what your teachers tell you and look back on those notes every few weeks.

Resolution #2: Stretch – Stretching is an essential part of your muscle recovery at the end of the dancing day. Make it a habit to stretch before bed each night so that you feel refreshed and ready to go in the morning.

Resolution #3: Limit negativity – As dancers we sometimes become perfectionists. This perfectionism can sometimes put us in a negative place mentally. Do your best to think positive thoughts and seek solutions rather than complaining about them.

Resolution #4: Help others – Is a friend having difficulty picking up choreography? Help him or her out. Going over the choreography with your friend will also help you learn it better. Plus helping just feels good!

Resolution #5: Nail those auditions – Be confident and nail those summer intensive auditions this year! Showcase your best by looking the part and acting the part.

Did I give you some ideas? Now sit down and start writing out your detailed New Year resolutions for a successful 2014 dancing year. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

Ballet Strength Exercises for Arms and Partnering

Today we are going to talk about the shoulders and how a little bit of Ballet Strength training for the shoulders can help improve your port de bras, enhancing your partnering skills. Your port de bras is not only an important part of your daily ballet class and performance – it effects your partnering skills too! If you have weak arms you will have trouble executing simple partnering skills like finger turns, promenades, and arabesques.

The exercise we are going to do today is called the overhead press. The overhead press primarily works the entire shoulder and front deltoid muscles with the triceps as the secondary muscle used. The idea is to strengthen the shoulders in the overhead position which will in turn help tremendously with finger turns. Give this exercise a try with light weight such as 3-5 pounds weights to start. Start with 10-15 repetitions performed three times.

Ballet Strength Overhead Press

Add this exercise to your ballet cross training routine and notice a difference on your placement in class and your strength/balance in partnering class! As always, be sure to check out my Ballet Strength training programs for more detailed exercises.

Preventing Ankle Sprains in Dance

Ballet Strength Ankle Injuries

The most common injury in dance is a sprained ankle. If you have been dancing long enough, chances are, you have gone through this injury and the long rehabilitation process that comes with it. As a dancer who was prone to ankle sprains early on in my professional career, I looked to strength training for help. I will never forget the first time that I “rolled” my ankle in the studio after a summer of Ballet Strength cross training preparation – my ankle rolled over to the outside of my foot, and immediately corrected itself back to standing due to the strength that I had created in my ankle, knee and hip. No pain, no sprain! I was truly amazed and felt accomplished as all of my hard work over the summer had paid off!

While accidents do happen, there are a few exercises that you can add to your cross training routine to help prevent sprains from happening. Two of the exercises that I will outline in this blog are lunges and squats. These exercises are very common in the gym but not so much in the ballet world. In ballet we tend to work hard on the muscles that hold our “turn-out” while neglecting stabilizing muscles that we use in “parallel” or daily life. This is why us dancers have taken on the reputation of walking like ducks.

Lunges

Start standing with the legs together in parallel. Lunge forward with the right leg, striking with the heel first. Pushing back through the heel (no pointed toes here), return to the start position. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Ballet Strength Lunges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squats

Start with both legs in parallel, slightly wider than hip width apart. Send the hips back (breaking in the hips) followed by a bend in the knee. Be sure to keep the knees in line with the heels, NOT letting them go over the toes. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Ballet Strength Squats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding these two exercises to your strength training/cross training routine will help balance out your muscles, keeping you centered and strong. For a full ankle strengthening program, try my Power Pointe Ankle Strengthening Program! As always, be sure to consult with your physical therapist, physician, or Ballet Strength trainer before performing these or any cross training exercises.

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