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Get a Corp Worthy Core

core for dancers

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.

©Ballet Strength plank exercise

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.

©Ballet Strength plank on ball

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!

 

 

 

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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.

balletstrengtharm

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!

 

 

 

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.

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.

Which Ballet Summer Intensive to Pick

Summer intensive auditions are coming to a close and chances are, you have started to receive some of your acceptance letters in the mail. Most of you audition for tons of different summer ballet programs and will be accepted into multiple intensive programs. So how do you make an educated decision about which summer intensive to attend? Here are a few helpful hints to make sure you end up in the right place.

1.) Cost- If your family is on a budget, the cost of the summer intensive that you choose will definitely be a factor in the decision making process. Did you get a scholarship? If you received a scholarship to a particular program, this means the school has an extremely high interest in you. Choose which program makes sense for your family financially.

2.) Program Length- Three week, four week, or six week? How comfortable are you being away from home for long periods of time? I used to get homesick when I went to summer intensives at age 12 and 13, so I would choose no more than four week programs. Also, will you be missing out on your family vacation?

Photo from Chautauqua Ballet Intensive

3.) Travel- How comfortable do you feel traveling far away from home? For example; since I was from the East Coast, I was hesitant to travel far from my family to attend San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive. Travel also fits into the cost category as typically you will either need to fly or drive to the program.

4.) Style- Does the school that you choose fit with the style you currently train in? Or is it different? How will your current school director feel about this? Going to a summer intensive like School of American Ballet, for example, might mean a change in technique. If your hope is to be accepted there year round, it is definitely worth it.

5.) Preference- Sometimes the best thing to do is follow a hunch. Where do you want to go most? If money is not an option go to where your heart follows!

Which ever ballet summer intensive program you choose, make sure you go into it with an open mind. This will ensure that you make the most of any situation and remember- write down your corrections!

Ballet Strength Interview with Callye McCollum

Oklahoma City Ballet Dancer Callye McCollum.

Professional ballet dancer, Callye McCollum is catching the eyes of Oklahoma City dance critics and audience members alike. As a member of Oklahoma City Ballet (once Ballet Oklahoma) since 2006, she is rising to the challenges presented to her both on and off the stage. I have had the pleasure of watching her grow and mature as a dancer from her years as an apprentice with the company to today where you can catch her onstage performing principal and soloist roles.  Callye is a true respect to her talent, focusing on Ballet Strength cross-training programs in the off-season to continue her growth as a dancer. Here is an interview with Callye McCollum;

Where are you from and when did you start dancing?
I am a native of Lima, Peru, which I am very proud to say, but I was raised in Luther, Oklahoma, which is located about 45 minutes outside of Oklahoma City. I began dancing as something to do after leaving the world of competitive gymnastics age 10. When I was 12, I started taking ballet more seriously and decided to enroll at the School of Ballet Oklahoma (now The Dance Center of Oklahoma CityBallet).

When did you realize that you wanted to become a professional dancer?
I don’t remember necessarily ever consciously choosing ballet as a career path, I really just loved to perform. There was a principal dancer with the company that I looked up to very much that I loved watching perform and I was determined to be like her when I grew up. It probably wasn’t until my junior year of high school that being a professional dancer started to become a true possibility and something that I began to taking even more seriously. I received an apprenticeship at 17 and was promoted to a company position the following year.

What struggles or injuries did you encounter along the way?
Transitioning from gymnastics to dance, especially ballet, was very hard. Not only did I have to work to reshape my musculature, but I had to learn how to use my turnout which was difficult since I had only ever worked turned in. Aside from minor ankle tweaks and pulled muscles, I have no history of injuries that have hindered my ability to perform. I have been very VERY lucky in that sense.

Callye McCollum in OKC Ballet's Paquita.

How has Ballet Strength helped you as a professional dancer?
I primarily use Ballet Strength during the summer when I am not performing with the company. It is fantastic for keeping my muscles in shape and preparing me for the upcoming season. I have on multiple occasions used Ballet Strength to prepare for demanding roles. Last season, I performed a pas de trois in “Phantom of the Opera.” It was a very high endurance piece with lots of jumps. I decided to incorporate some Ballet Strength leg exercises into my daily routine and soon noticed a difference in my stamina and my ability to make it through the piece without cramping or suffering from extreme fatigue.

How do feel that Ballet Strength could help a young aspiring professional dancer?
We have reached a time in ballet where dancers cannot go with cross-training, or muscle tone for that matter. Contemporary ballet is becoming much more prominent and as dancers we must be physically ready for anything. Ballet Strength will give you an edge, no matter where you are in your career. I personally wish I would have had access to something like Ballet Strength as a student, so those of you that do are very lucky!

As Clara in OKC Ballet's The Nutcracker.

What has been your favorite role to perform and why?
This past December, I had the opportunity to perform as “Clara” in Robert Mills’ “The Nutcracker.” There were two pas de deux that were both different in dynamic but equally as enjoyable to perform. What made it extra special is that I had performed Clara when it was a student role and I was able to recall the pure joy that I felt at the age of 13. I was also cast in Robert Mills’ “Touchstones” which premiered in April 2010. There is a section in the ballet that represents maturity and being in love, in which I performed a short pas de deux with my boyfriend and fellow company dancer, Josh Crespo. To be able to share with the audience such an intense emotion, one that I already felt so naturally, was a very memorable moment in my career.

Any last words of inspiration or encouragement for young dancers?
NEVER take yourself too seriously. We’re human, we make mistakes. That’s something we sometimes forget as ballet dancers. Most importantly, know your own body and be good to it.

Nutcracker Rehearsal Tips

If you are like most ballet dancers right now, you are preparing for December Nutcracker shows. Nutcracker is my favorite time of year because it helps you to gauge where you have made improvements from the previous year. Whether you are performing new or the same roles in your school’s or company’s Nutcracker the following tips will help prevent you from getting burned out and allow for successful Nutcracker shows.

Tip #1: Perform Every Day: To keep a role from getting stale whether you are new to it or are repeating it from previous years, you must become the best actor/actress possible. I know you have heard this time and time again but you must pretend like you are on stage every time that you rehearse your role. If you approach each role as just going through the motions this may show come stage time. If you approach the role with the energy and enthusiasm that you would use in a performance it will be easier to do so on stage (and even help with nervousness!!).

Tip #2: Set Goals: Approach each rehearsal with a goal. Think something like “I will really focus on pointing my feet at the point where I usually get tired” or “I will hold my arabesque balance longer today” or “I will work on musicality.” In one of the ballet companies that I danced with, I performed the role of Sugar Plum Fairy three years in a row. If I hadn’t set goals for myself each year, I would have been so bored with the role. Each year I approached the role differently so that it would still feel new and fresh.

Tip #3: Visualize: Sometimes the most productive rehearsal for dancers can be one that involves no physical movement at all! Try this exercise- Play the music from your Nutcracker dance on your ipod. Lay down with your eyes closed and listen to the music, envisioning each step. Now envision yourself performing each step perfectly and seamlessly, the way that you want. This will help tremendously in rehearsals when it comes time to perform tricky dance sequences. I used to practice this before bed each night.

Tip #4: Don’t Stress: Nutcracker is all about having fun, right? So don’t sweat the small stuff. If you make a mistake on stage don’t let it show on your face. The audience will never know.

I wish you all a successful Nutcracker time whether you are performing with your school or company. Stay focused but keep it fun and you will be on your way to your best Nutcracker ballet performance yet!

Ballet Strength DVD Secrets

I am pleased to announce the launch of my new Ballet Strength DVD. I have been working hard over the past few months to carefully choose and design exercises that will help dancers improve their jumps, turns, core stability, and most importantly help with injury prevention.

You can learn more and get your very own copy by clicking here >> I want a copy of the Ballet Strength DVD

Here is a video preview of some of what the Ballet Strength DVD has to offer!

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/huMxgp3rWwA%2Em4v%5D

Getting Hired by a Ballet Company

After putting in years of hard work and training, you have decided that you want to be a professional ballet dancer. Sounds like every little girls dream, right?

It definitely is everyone’s dream to do what they love for a living and to be able to get paid for it, but with so many companies only offering unpaid trainee and apprentice positions dancing can sometimes turn into a dreaded job. With the economy going into a recession a few years ago, funding for the arts definitely suffered more than it was already suffering…and it obviously isn’t going to bounce back as quickly as the rest of the working world.

So what can you do?

This is where the young dancer needs to be economically smart. Dancing is still a job no matter how much we love the self-fulfillment that we get from artistic expression. And when you do a job, especially on a long-term or contractual basis, you should receive payment.

A lot of these unpaid offers that you may get from companies may sound very attractive. They may give you pointe shoes and free chiropractic/ massage therapy visits, but make sure that this is the right deal for you. It may sound like an awesome idea to move away from home and go live out your dream, but please consider how you will be able to fund your passion. Will Mom and Dad help out? How much money are they willing to contribute? Will you have to get another part-time job? Will you have to get two other part-time jobs? Even more importantly- Will you have time to work a part time job?

The other thing that you need to consider is whether or not you will actually get time dancing with the company. A lot of apprentice programs these days sell you on the fact that you are joining the apprentice or trainee group of a company, however there is very little interaction with the actual company. (company class, rehearsals, etc) A lot of apprentice and trainee programs have their own seperate classes, rehearsals, and sometimes don’t even get a chance to perform with the company. You can look at it as an extra year of schooling.

I don’t want to tell you not to take an unpaid apprenticeship, as there is definitely a value to the learning experience, but be very picky as to which program you choose. Companies are able to “try it before they buy it” so to speak with these ever growing second companies and apprentice programs. I have been fortunate enough in my career to always have secure paid ballet employment, but it pains me to see young dancers who aren’t being paid struggle. When I say struggling I mean working 2 part time jobs in addition to dancing to pay the bills or put food on the table.

My advice to you is to be smart. Listen to your parents. Make wise choices or you may find yourself in a position where you’ll really find out what it is to be a “starving artist.”

Ballet Audition Season has Begun

Who will they pick? (photo from balletnews.com)

It is that time again…audition time! You have all worked so hard over the summer to improve your technique in hopes of getting in to the company of your dreams someday. Let me just tell you, that day is coming soon and if you have the right preparation techniques you will get hired quite easily.

Luckily I have made all of the mistakes and found the secrets to success for you. Last year I took all of these experiences and wrote a book called The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide to keep you from making some of the mistakes that I made and to help you learn from my successes as well.

I feel that there is way too much information withheld from young dancers regarding the careers of dancers. A lot of times our ballet teachers sugar-coat the lifestyle. It is not all sugarplums and tutus. My eBook The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide along with my new guide Inside the Audition will tell you everything you need to know to get what you want out of auditions and get noticed.

I can’t tell you how many dancers emailed me over the past year thanking me for sharing such valuable information with them through my preparation guides, and I am truly touched. A lot of these dancers attribute their success in getting hired by ballet companies (of course talent plays a huge role too) to my books. I am truly flattered and thankful for the kind words.

So to show my appreciation and my commitment to your success as dancers, I am offering Inside the Audition free now with the purchase of The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. You can get your very own copy for immediate download at www.balletaudition.com.

Enjoy, and I can’t wait to hear about all of your audition success this season!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein