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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Tendu Tuesday – Preparation for Turns

Ballet Strength Pirouettes ©Ballet Strength

I have coined the phrase #TenduTuesday in the dance world and every week it makes me think about just how much we use the tendu in dance! The tendu is used in preparation for many of the turns we do in class and on the stage; soutenu turns, pique turns, simple pirouettes.

As you know, the preparation can make or break the step that follows it and the tendu is no exception.  If your tendu before a pique turn or pirouette is out of placement, you turns will definitely suffer. Practice perfect placement this Tendu Tuesday and watch your turns improve tremendously!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me on Facebook – facebook.com/balletstrength

 

Breaking Pointe – Human or Dancer?

As a former professional ballet dancer, I admit that it is exciting to see a ballet reality TV show such as the CW’s Breaking Pointe getting so much attention. I support the show and the dancers who are opening up their lives on camera to give the public some insight into a dancers life. The tough part is seeing dancers whom I trained with or worked with in the past getting so much criticism from the dance community – particularly from ballet moms. Here’s a quick reality check.

If everything was just sugarplums and tutus, there wouldn’t be a show. As perfect and innocent as ballet may seem, you have to realize that dancers are human and are in fact very much like you – They don’t get along with all of their co-workers, they have bad days, they have self-esteem issues, they deal with work stress, they have to compete for job promotions. Yes, occasionally they even meet up at the bar after a long day of work. Isn’t this what most of the general public has been doing their whole adult lives? These dancers are men and women working to make ends meet just like you – they don’t live in a music box.

The other thing that the public doesn’t realize is that these dancers are Adults. The public tends to associate the word “ballerina” with a little girl when in fact these ballerinas are professional adults. The truth is that while you were off at college joining fraternities and sororities, dancers were already working. Most dancers are hired into professional companies at age 17,  forcing them to grow up at a much younger age than you. Now that’s reality.

Why don’t they show more dancing? Because dancers lives encompass more than just dancing. Breaking Pointe is trying to make the public realize that dancers are human beings dealing with many of the same social issues as you – look at the African American dancer in the company, the openly gay couple, the dancer dealing with the stress of starting a family and marriage, the dancer who’s husband doesn’t have time for her. These are very big issues that people are dealing with all over the world every day. Why do you demand that a dancer’s life be any different?

The show depicts a wonderful contrast between the dancer’s personal lives and their studio lives. Have we created a false sense of reality for our teens when we don’t allow them to watch Breaking Pointe because it addresses too many real issues? If you want to see dancing and be swept away from reality buy tickets to see the ballet! In the meantime, watch Breaking Pointe for what it is – a real look into a hard working professional’s life and the hardships and glory that comes with it. Let’s applaud these dancers with a standing ovation for opening up their lives to us!

 

Nutrition for Dancers – Career Saving Advice

Ballet NutritionDid you know that proper nutrition can make or break your day to day ballet performance? With the intense physical demands that are being put on dancers these days a solid nutrition routine is a must for optimal performance, endurance and muscle recovery. Contemporary choreography is taking ballet to a new athletic level. Dancers are much like other athletes – They need to eat for energy.

When I landed my first professional job away from home as a dancer with Ballet Austin, I wasn’t used to having to prepare meals and take care of myself. Frozen food and pizza were convenient but were not what my body needed to perform at it’s best from day to day. I was always tired, got frequent migraine headaches, and my performance in class started to suffer. I also gained weight.

All of this eventually lead up to an injury. The physical and nutritional stress that I was putting on my body had finally taken it’s toll. Soon I was called into the office to talk to the directors about not only my injury but my weight gain. The last thing that I wanted to be thinking about while dealing with an injury was “dieting.” Injured, self-conscious, and desperate for answers, I left the company mid-season to recuperate back at home and pull myself together in time for company auditions that Spring.

Through healthy eating, adequate rest, and stress management I was able to catch myself before I fell into a career ending pattern in time to receive multiple job offers that Spring. Luckily I have put together a resource for you to optimize your nutrition and apply the same principles that helped me to your life and dancing!

It’s called Ballet Nutrition and it covers all of the important things that you need to know including; using food for fuel, proper hydration, adequate rest, muscle recovery, daily caloric requirements (super easy to use formula to figure out your needs), and eating for energy. This digital book empowers you to make your own healthy choices and design your own plan based on the principles explained and examples given.

Your dancing deserves the best nutrition! Read more about Ballet Nutrition here >> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/balletnutrition.html

 

 

Getting into a Ballet Company

What does it take to get into a ballet company? Many of you may be asking yourself this very question right now as you embark upon a summer intensive program in hopes of being accepted into the company or trainee program for the 2013/2014 season. Let’s face it, you have competition and while summer intensives are for learning, they are also a great test of your fight – will you stand out and impress or try your hand in the back of the room?

It comes down to two things from what I have seen and experienced – Are you technically sound or are you a one trick pony? Let me explain. While every company is different in terms of style, there are a few truths that you just can’t ignore. There are those who can developé their leg past their ear, those who are barre technicians, those who have feet so arched that they can’t actually stand up in center, and then there are those who are balanced. Where do you want to be?

You know the answer – You want to be a balanced, well rounded dancer. Ballet company’s are not looking for acrobats nor are they looking for feet so arched that they are dangerous. They want dancers who have a strong base, are easy to work with, will not get injured at the first opportunity that comes their way, and who have a good work ethic. They are looking for strong technique and the ability to perform well when it counts.

Directors want to be able to use their dancers in multiple ways and they need versatile dancers to keep up with the demands of contemporary choreography. Chances are, your friend who has gotten this far only because she is good at adagio will be skimmed over for someone with a little more usefulness. The same also goes for the lazy but talented dancer who’s heart just isn’t in it.

Showcase your strengths, but show that you are willing to work hard in all areas of dance, try new things, and do it with an open mind. Afterall, if you are chosen to represent the company as a dancer, apprentice, or trainee the director wants to know that you will be likeable and can take correction and direction well.

This summer “trial run” for a position in the company next year is a test to see what your work ethic is like. Will you work your way to the front of the room and present yourself as the next company dancer?

Upper Body Toning Exercises for Dancers

Want to sculpt a lean, toned ballet upper body without the bulk? While, as dancers, we are great at holding our arms and moving from position to position, there isn’t a whole lot of focus on strengthening the upper body to do all of this! Instead you’ll sometimes find drooping elbows and tense shoulders. Give these three exercises a try. All you need is a light to medium resistance band!

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Core Conditioning for Dancers

Making sure that your core is strong is an essential part to your performance as a dancer. The following are three exercises that you can do to strengthen your core for turns, jumps, balance, and technique! Click on the photo below for a larger version or to print it out!

balletstrength core conditioning

Ball Crunches- On a balance ball, perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions being careful not to pull on the neck.

Oblique Twists- Sitting on a balance ball, contract the navel to the spine. Twist side to side holding a weight or weighted ball. Perform 15-20 repetitions.

Side Plank- Balancing as pictured above, hold this position for 15-30 seconds.

As always, be sure to use your best judgement when performing these exercises to your personal fitness level.

Contest Alert

You could WIN a Ballet Strength DVD! 3 lucky Facebook fans will win a Ballet Strength DVD. Just click on the photo below to head on over to the Ballet Strength page and “like” and “share” the photo! Good luck!

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Get Amazing Ballet Arms

If you are like most dancers, chances are you have had correction or two about your upper body and arms. Without the muscular strength to properly hold your arms in place, you will fall victim to one of the two most common ballet arm corrections – 1.) drooping elbows or 2.) shoulders. The following is an exercise taken directly from the Ballet Strength DVD that will help you gain the muscular awareness to properly hold your port de bras.

Ballet Strength Awesome Arms

Give this exercise a try at first without using weights, then gradually increase to three pound weights or five pound weights if you are more advanced. This exercise will effectively activate the shoulders, pectoral muscles, deltoids, and lats to create more muscle awareness in first position. Try doing this exercise a few times a week and notice a big difference in your port de bras.

*Exercise a courtesy of The Ballet Strength DVD. For more information and to buy the DVD go to http://www.balletstrength.com.

Joffrey Ballet in San Diego: Review

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It is not too often that world renowned ballet companies make their way to San Diego so I jumped on the opportunity to see the Joffrey Ballet perform at the San Diego Copley Symphony Hall on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. I was pleased to see that the repertoire would be all contemporary ballet pieces in which they performed three- Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony, Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, and William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

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The program began abruptly with Son of Chamber Symphony choreographed by Stanton Welch, as both the music and the dancing started as the curtain was rising, on the first count of the music, written by John Adams. Four male dancers were surrounding one female dancer, Anastacia Holden, wearing an edgy, modern version of a tutu. Holden performed the choreography with precision and attack. Her sense of balance is something that most dancers would envy along with her petite yet athletic build. The true standout though came in the second movement with a pas de deux performed by April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez. Ms. Daly truly has it all feet, legs, flexibility, turns, and the ability to emote all wrapped into one long and lean package. I could have watched her dance for hours…if only this ballet was longer! Son of Chamber Symphony was my favorite piece of the evening. I could definitely see the Balanchine influence in the choreography which made me want to dance it, of course. (gotta love the “chugs” and the “hip thrusts” in the third movement)

The second piece was Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. After hearing so much about this ballet since it was choreographed in 2005, I had very high expectations. The dancers definitely delivered the feeling that is expected from this short piece. The audience moved and breathed with the female dancer either Christine Roccas or Yumelia Garcia (not clear in the program) as she effortlessly enchanted them all with real raw emotion during her pas de deux to the famously haunting music Spiegel im Spiegel in the second movement.

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The third piece, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated reminded me of the type of ballets the Joffrey is known for. As a kid, I remember Billboards and this ballet, particularly the costumes, gave me that early 90’s kind of feeling. The choreography looked fun and the dancers executed it well, however the music was in my opinion revolting. The standout of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was Christine Roccas who fluidly moved through the piece, executing multiple turns with ease. The dancers were really able to show off their technical “tricks” and abilities in this piece whether it be flexibility or turns. The men were landing five and six pirouettes like nothing and my jaw definitely dropped a few times in regards to a particular female dancer’s a la seconde turns. While I enjoyed watching the technicality of this piece, I did feel that the costumes were a bit dated. Not to mention that with the black tights, you could not see the dancer’s legs at times.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my evening seeing the Joffrey Ballet perform these three pieces. This performance proved why Joffrey Ballet is and always was one of the top ballet companies in the country. I look forward to seeing how these talented dancers progress!

*Please note that none of the photos shown on this page are mine, nor am I claiming them to be my intellectual property.