February is all about love so here at Ballet Strength we are doing a 14 day Love Your Ballet Body series in the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Join us each day for a new workout or ballet tips. We will also be doing free product giveaways and more!
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa warming up by Alexander Iziliaev
Today I want to share with you one of my favorite go-to warm up exercises to do before ballet class. I like to call this exercise the “roll up.” We have spoken before about the importance of warming up versus stretching and this exercise in combination with others will do just the trick to get you feeling loose, opened up, and ready to start class!
The Roll Up – The roll up is a beginners Pilates move created to target the core but it can do much more when added to your daily ballet warm up routine. Not only does it activate the core but it also stretches the spine. A lot of dancers will do this exercise right after getting out of bed in the morning to work the kinks out and get the body moving slowly. You can even articulate the feet while doing this exercise (if you’re not wearing sneakers like I am in this video ;).
Give it a try as part of your warm-up routine before ballet class this week and feel what a difference it makes! I suggest 10-15 roll-ups at a time and don’t rush through it – go nice and slow focusing on rolling through the spine. Your body will thank you for it!
As dancers we need a strong core to hold our developés, nail those triple pirouettes, and leap across the stage with ease. The plank is one of the most popular core exercises and is no exception in the dance community. At a certain point the plank can get easy, (unless of course you are holding it for minutes at a time) so why not target the core muscles in a more challenging way – by taking the plank to the next level!
There are two variations of the plank that we are going to try today. Both exercises will utilize a stability ball. As always, use your best judgement with the approval of a physician before performing any type of strength training activity.
The first exercise (shown below) is a great “next step” for those of you getting bored with the usual plank. Rest the feet and ankles on the stability ball while holding a push-up position with the arms. Hold this position as long as you can without breaking form. Be sure that the glutes are not too high in the air – you want to aim for a straight line from the shoulders all the way down to the feet.
The second exercise is just the opposite of the last (shown below). You are going to start on your knees to position your arms correctly on the ball. Push up to balance on your feet and elbows. Be careful not to let the upper body collapse onto the ball – stay held on the shoulders. Again, you want an imaginary line running from the shoulders to the hips, all the way to the ankles.
Give these exercises a try as a warm-up before ballet class or as part of your cross training routine to become a stronger, well rounded dancer. I also have a program dedicated to core conditioning for dancers that you can check out HERE. Keep posted for more Ballet Strength exercises and tips!
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.
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!
A few weeks ago I launched a brand new method of cross training for dancers. I had been receiving emails from ballet dancers all over the world asking for my help with injury prevention and strengthening weaknesses and I knew that I needed to come up with a solution. Since not everyone can have the one on one access to me in San Diego for my Ballet Strength services, I decided to launch online training programs for dancers.
This method of Ballet Strength training had previously only been available to professional dancers, but is now available to pre-professionals and students as well. Dancers can now be emailed daily workouts that they should be doing in addition to their ballet class schedule in order to maximize their potential and improve on key areas of their dancing from outside of the studio!
An example of a Ballet Strength workout and calendar.
Dancers from companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, and Boston Ballet are using these programs (customized) to stay injury free and rise through the ranks. Pre-professional dancers all over the world are getting hired into ballet companies because of the solid, strong core development that these programs have created.
There are photo and video exercise explanations.
Since the launch of Ballet Strength online workouts for dancers just a few weeks ago, I have already been selling a tremendous amount of plans including: Better Ballet Balance & Turns Program, Beginning Ballet Strength Program, and 6 Weeks to Stronger Jumps Program. There is even a combo that includes the Ballet Strength DVD. Be sure to go to www.balletstrength.com to check out all of the new training programs!
Is it just me or does it seem like there is a new trendy ballet “barre” inspired workout popping up every day?
When you hear the word “barre” you think ballet. When I first heard about these “barre” workouts I have to say that I was very intrigued. I was even approached by a company here in San Diego to become an instructor since they had read about my background as a professional ballet dancer and fitness expert. Having professional experience in both, I figured I would give it a try. So I went to a few classes.
I assumed that the workout I would be getting would be similar to a ballet barre…Boy did I assume wrong. Don’t let the names fool you, these classes are NOTHING like ballet barre. In fact, they are quite the opposite.
The workouts I got were great, don’t get me wrong here. Just nothing like I had expected going into the class. Most of the exercises that we did involved a forced arch plie on demi pointe which in my experience as both a dancer and fitness expert only promote bulky thighs (which the instructors definitely had! Yikes!) if they are performed over a long period of time. My quadriceps were definitely fired up as I left the class having felt like I did a spin class.
I had a chance to speak with some of the other class participants and it was clear that they were under the impression that they were doing ballet exercises in the class. This is where I have a hard time because I feel that the integrity and interpretation of ballet training is being misrepresented.
Also, please don’t think that I am speaking on behalf of every “barre” method. This review is from two different methods that I tried here in San Diego. Honestly, there are so many out there these days that it would be impossible to review them all. Here is how I sum up my “barre” workout experiences.
Plus: These types of workouts are getting Women to workout and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Minus: They may be using false advertisement, thus compromising the integrity of ballet.
Bottom line: If you want the best “barre” workout take an adult beginner ballet class.
Dancers or former dancer, Have you tried any of the “barre” inspired workouts? If so, what is your take?
As Summer approaches, many Dancers will embrace a much needed three or four month layoff. Some will vacation, some will continue to obsessively take class day after day. The smart Dancer Cross Trains.To continue Dancing with the intensity you had during the season is like beating a dead horse. Our bodies need time off in order to make important gains and improvements. Yes, you can actually improve by taking some time off!
Here is the Cross Training Plan that I recommend;
Right after the Performance Season is over, take at least 2 weeks off! Upon returning to class, this will give you a clear signal as to what “pains” are actual injuries and which were just symptoms of overuse. During that first class back (typically after a 2 to 6 week break) take note of certain areas and muscle groups in the body that feel weak. If you feel that you have a serious injury this is a great time to see a Doctor, get an MRI, and get it fixed in time for the season to start.
After taking note of those weak areas, consult a Ballet Strength Expert such as myself for Dance Specific exercises that you can do in the gym. On Ballet Dancers, for example, the “turn-in” or legs in a parallel stance is usually weak. I would then recommend some basic strength training techniques involving one-leg squats and exercises on the Bosu. Dancers also tend to favor one side of the body. This is a great time to strengthen your weak side!
As far as taking class goes, I recommend no more than 3 days per week during your time off. The other 2 days should be dedicated to your Cross Training program!
Feeling out of breath during that variation? Don’t forget about cardio. What better time than Summer to go for a run, hike, or bike ride in your favorite park. You may be surprised at how much better you feel and how much more you are able to do pain free!
How do I Cross Train? To ensure that my trouble areas stay injury free, I take class only twice per week during the off season and weight train three times per week. I also focus on keeping my core strong with lots of unique abdominal exercises. For Cardio, I do chasse’s on the treadmill, front and side!
If you are like the majority of young ballet dancers right now, you are getting ready to go away for a summer program soon. You worked so hard to prepare for your auditions. You even got in to the summer program of your dreams, but the preparation doesn’t end there. You want to take as much away from that summer intensive as possible and come back a new and improved dancer in the fall! So what can you do to maximize your ballet summer intensive experience?
The following are the things that the best dancers do to maximize their summer intensive progress;
1.) Listen– I know that it may sound simple, but you must listen and absorb everything that the instructors are saying. Most ballet summer intensive programs have guest teachers like Gelsey Kirkland or David Howard who are fountains of knowledge and experience. You don’t want to miss a word that they are saying as one small correction could make a world of a difference in your dancing!
2.) Write it Down– I talk about the “dance journal” a lot in my previous posts and in my book, but I can’t stress enough just how important it is for you to write down all of your corrections. This is something that I did in my professional career as well as when I was a student. Years later you can look back at all of your corrections and see how much progress you have made.
3.) Focus– Let’s face it, your parents are paying all of this money for you to go away to a summer intensive for you to dance. They are not paying for you to go goof around or worse yet, get in trouble. Share experiences, have fun, and make friends with the fellow dancers but don’t let it get in the way of your education. Remember, you are there to dance!
4.) Embrace Change– Sometimes we go to a summer program and find that it’s not the perfect fit and we don’t like the technique or the teachers. In this case, do your best to stay positive and learn what you can from the experience. Sometimes it is beneficial to learn other styles or techniques to make you stronger in the technique that you do best. (example: classical dancer going to a Balanchine summer intensive)
Absorb everything you can from the new teachers you will be meeting and learning from this summer! Come back to your year round ballet school confident and as the best dancer that you can be. Keep these tips in mind as you head out to your ballet summer intensive!
Hello loyal blog followers! I am pleased to announce the launch of my new website, balletaudition.com. Here you will find all of the tips and tricks that the professional dancers use to get noticed in auditions!
I am sending out exclusive secrets to getting in to that Summer program, school, or company of your dreams!
Coming in September, 2009, Balletaudition.com is also the home of The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide where you will learn how to get an edge on the competition.
Don’t miss out! Go to balletaudition.com to sign-up to receive exclusive member only information! Find out the minute The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide comes out!
Even though I’ve been quite busy over the past few weeks with an abundance of new clients, I still found some time to get some video work done for all of my blog followers. My latest creation is an instructional video showing 4 different variations of a Ballet Leg sequence. All you need to perform these movements is the back of a chair, couch or railing.
You don’t have to be a Dancer to have Ballet Legs! Enjoy!
Best in Health,
Nikol Klein, ISSA CPT/SPN, Professional Ballet Dancer