Hi, I’m 12 and I just started ballet around 1 and half years ago. I know my technique needs a lot of improvement, but I am most concerned about my knees. Whenever I pull my knees up in my exercises, the teacher says they’re not pulled up enough and I have to pull them up more, but they’re already as pulled up as they can be. She tells me to sit on the floor in pike and flex my feet to get the skin under my knee to touch the floor. She gave me some exercises to do to help me fix it but I don’t think they’re working because whenever I do the exercise it just feels like she wants me to have hyperextended knees. What other exercises can I do to get my knee to touch the floor?
Earlier this year I wrote a post on fascial plasticity that had a picture of a young man who significantly straightened his legs over the course of a semester by working on releasing fascial tightness in his upper back and neck. The body is an amazing, complex set of relationships! For that young man he needed to focus on releasing and stretching his whole back, not just the hamstrings. (Which were mighty tight when he began)
Not having a picture of your alignment and not knowing what muscles might be weak or tight, it is hard to say definitively… do this… and your legs will straighten more. I’m trying to make a point that dance is not a one size fits all program, because we all have different bodies and strengths!
I recently participated in an online discussion about this very problem, and quickly became discouraged by the misinformation and suggestions to work through the pain of stretching and/or strengthening. NO! Pain is an indicator from the body that something is not right and please please please listen to the messages that your body gives you.
Okay… ’nuff said… I’ll get back on track with your question.
Your teacher is correct that the quadriceps contract to straighten the knee. There are 4 (quad) muscles that come together to form the tendon that the kneecap is encased in. You want even pull from all of them to keep the kneecap correctly in its track on the thigh bone. It’s not unusual to find the lateral or outer quadricep pulling a little bit harder than the medial or inner one. Just focusing on ‘pulling up’ the knees won’t press the back of your knees to the ground if the boney structure of your leg won’t allow for hyperextension.
It could be that the muscles at the back of your legs are tight, and you could focus on some extra calf and hamstring stretching. Include the back and neck too just in case you are like my student with the extra tight upper back.
I have seen the shape of a dancer’s legs change as they gained strength and muscle tone. It wasn’t because their knees changed how much they could straighten, but the change in muscle shape made the whole leg look different. A overall improvement in alignment always helps.
My best advice is to go to a physical therapist who understands dancers and have an evaluation so that you can target your efforts and work smart, instead of just harder.
I appreciate your desire to understand your body and how to work with it! With commitment and hard work I have no doubt that you will see great improvements in your technique over time. Don’t get discouraged with starting dance at age 12… I’ve seen college students get bitten by the dance bug and make a career out of it – it’s never too late.
To your success,