Third instead of Fifth Position?

I am an adult ballet student who has come back to the fold after many years away. When I stopped in my late teens, I was discouraged because things like 4th and 5th position never was easy for me. I thought my body just wasn’t right for dance – but I miss it and love moving in that way so have returned to class in my thirties. I still question why I can’t do 5th position – can you shed any light on this issue? I can’t be the only dancer who is challenged by a perfect 5th.

Such a rich question! First, I want to say congratulations for returning to class! Ballet, and other dance classes are not just for the younger body. There are so many benefits to dance – no matter when you start and what your skill level is. Kudos to you

Through the years of testing anatomical turnout I will say with confidence that third is more appropriate than fifth position for probably 50% of dancers. A bold statement – for sure – but one that is backed up by the injuries to the hips, knee and ankle joints that I so often see.

The ability of a dancer to get into a perfect 5th position is dictated by the physics of their body for one thing. The slim hipped, long legged dancer has an easier time creating 5th than the wider hipped more muscular body. Just bringing the leg past the midline of the body to 5th often tilts the pelvis forward slightly, if the dancer doesn’t have adequate rotation and flexibility at the hip.

It’s super common to have a dancer stand more on their back foot and slightly bend the front knee in order to close heel to toe – and with slightly bending the knee they can then twist the lower leg and pronate the foot to make it look good

Yup.. 5th is not an easy position to do well! I would prefer a well-executed third position that doesn’t strain the knee and foot for my students. Does this mean we shouldn’t keep trying for that gorgeous position? Of course not… but we do need to remember that barre is the preparation for center movement and gorgeous choreography.

I would love it if more teachers did barre without the barre so that their students could see if they are ‘holding’ their fifth with an overly firm grip on the barre. I like the turnout exercise (away from the barre) of starting with your left foot in coupé and keeping that gesture leg turned out, slowly turn the whole body towards the right. Keep the left leg turned out, but simply rotate the whole body towards the right (which is turning in on the right leg) then rotate back to your starting position. It’s really easy to feel when you go too far and start to pronate on that right foot – you want equal energy in both hip with working rotation. Do that several times standing on the right leg, then of course, do the other side.

What insights do they have after doing that? Is one side easier than the other? One foot pronate more? Hard to keep the rotation on the coupé leg? An easy way to check out how you are working the rotation of both legs away from the barre!

Bottom line… if standing in 3rd position allows you to move more anatomically correct then that’s the best position for you.

To your success,

Deborah

Turf Toes and Hip Strain

I’m going to answer 2 questions – one at the top of the leg with a hip injury and another at the foot.  Especially with foot injuries there is such potential for compensation and shifting your weight subtly in order to continue walking and dancing and so I encourage everyone to pay attention to the small tweaks and strains that can occur!

First question….

I have a 12-year old daughter who is very serious about her dance development and who has been concerned about pain in her big toe.  While rehearsing for a show she hit her toe on her leg and has been complaining ever since.  We have been to the doctor and have been given advice (such as Advil) but her pain continues.  I’ve noticed that her toe is moving slightly towards the other toes while her bone remains fixed in its position.  There must be some exercises she can do to strength that area.  

Thank you,  a concerned Mom

It sounds like your daughter has had a ‘turf toe’ injury.  It is common in football players (and dancers) and usually is caused by either stubbing or jamming the toe as your daughter did.  The challenge is in the recovery.  The original injury creates soft tissue inflammation and that is why your doctor suggested doing an anti-inflammatory such as Advil.  The challenge is your daughter has continued to be on her feet, both just walking and dancing, and often the joint doesn’t heal fully enough and is the cause of her continued pain.

You didn’t say how long ago the injury was but if her toe continues to have pain the doctor may choose to put her in a walking boot temporarily in order to give the joint a rest and allow it to heal.  Icing 2 or 3 times a day along with other anti-inflammatory efforts would continue while she is in the boot.

As far as the big toe starting to move towards the other toes – you are right about thinking something needs to be strengthened.  We want to prevent what sounds like the start of a bunion pattern – and you do that by strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the feet.

If you click HERE this will take you to a blog post where I have a short video on how to strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles.  Tell her that if she cramps when she is doing it – it simply means she has found the weak intrinsics and with continued practice they will improve!

The primary concern is that she gets on top of this injury – instead of allowing it to become chronic.  Bottom line – her big toe needs not to hurt!

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Three months ago I was doing a heel stretch in one of the classes I assist in and my hip made a big cracking noise.  It started to hurt but not that bad.  But it still hurts today and I don’t know why.  I sit in a straddle stretch and it hurts my hip when I stretch.  Also, when I do a barre stretch or sit in my splits it hurts.  Do you recommend any stretches to help it get back to normal? 

Thanks, Meghan

Meghan, sometimes muscle strains can take a really long time to heal – and I’m not exactly sure what happened when you hear the hip crack or pop three months ago.  It’s possible that you strained either an inner thigh muscle and/or the deep hip flexor (iliopsoas).

I would encourage you to stretch gently and consistently for these two muscle groups.  Instead of sitting in the straddle position which creates discomfort try standing up and placing one leg on a chair and stretch the inner thigh muscles one side at a time.

For the iliopsoas muscle I would have you do one of the stretches outlined in the video clip below.  Remember to breathe and move gentle and easily – listening to your body – stretching should never be painful!

Do your stretching when your muscles are warm – after class is a good time.  Teachers and assistant teachers have to be careful about their demonstrating in class when you aren’t really warmed up!

Hope this helps…. and remember to comment below, especially if you have had similar injuries please share what you did that helped!

Warmest regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

 

Pointing Hurts! Tale of an Os Trigonum

Today’s post came from an email from a concerned mother who’s daughter was diagnosed with an os trigonum in both ankles.  She writes…

My daughter is 14 and very serious about her dancing.  She has heel pain and has worked with a PT for the past year and rested a  good part of last year.  After x-rays and consulting with a few doctors her conditioned was diagnosed.  As you may know, there is a small bone at the back of the heel that sticks out a bit and hyperflexion of the foot can irritate the tendons and ligaments, as I understand it, around the bone.  In my daugheter’s case the small bone has not fused, but is attached.  She often has pain when she points her feet.
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She is on pointe twice a week, but the medical people do not think the pointe work aggravates the condition.  It occurs in 10-15% of dancers and soccer players.
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Everyone seems in agreement on the diagnosis and the surgeons want to operate to remove the small bone, but my husband and I are concerned about Grace’s age, the risk of surgery and the extent of the recovery.   One surgeon quoted a journal article describing that 84% of surgery patients had positive outcomes. On the other hand, Grace often feels that she has tried everything and wants to condition resolved and to dance pain free.
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Do you have any suggestions or information that might help us in this situation?
Thanks, Susan
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Dear Susan, I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s ankle problem.  I am quite familiar with os trigonum’s as dancers are a common group that have challenges with them.  There are many people, I’m sure, who have them and don’t know it because they don’t work in the extreme ranges of motion that dancers do.
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I would disagree with your doctors that pointe work is not influencing her ankle pain.  The reason why she has pain when pointing is she’s closing the back of the ankle joint Picture-1when she does that – put her on pointe with the extra weight into the joint and it often makes it worse.   The diagram on the right shows how an os trigonum is like a nut in a nutcracker when the ankle closes.  That is why they feel pain while pointing or being on pointe, and why non dancers may not have pain from this extra bone.
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My suggestion wuold be to take her off pointe work at this time, and increase her anti-inflammatory efforts such as placing her feet in a bucket of ice water after dancing. (I know… doesn’t sound very pleasant)  The challenge with letting an os trigonum continue to irritate the tissue is the tissue in the posterior ankle area can become thickened and fibrotic – which isn’t good for anybody’s ankle.
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I’m assuming they tried putting her on an anti-inflammatory treatment program which probably only worked to decrease discomfort, but not alleviate it.  That, along with continuing to work in non painful ways is usually the first phase of treatment.  Certainly the work with a physical therapist who will make sure your daughter is working the ankle muscles correctly, to have correct alignment when pointing the foot as well as on pointe is all helpful.  I applaud you for trying all things non surgical before consenting to surgery.
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What I can tell you is that the dancers that I know of with os trigonums and chose to have the surgery are very happy dancers.  They fully returned to dancing and were so happy to pointe their feet and/or do pointe work without pain.  The downtime from this surgery is much less than many other invasive surgeries.  There are cases of professional ballet dancers being back to dancing within 3 months.  I have known others that were even faster.  I know she isn’t my daughter,  (I am mom to 3) but this is one surgery where I am more confident about better chances for a positive outcome.  Of course, there are risks to any surgery – but it sounds like your daughter is committed to dancing, and I do know that if it hasn’t gotten better with the more conservative measures you are taking now, that it probably won’t get better on its own. As a parent I would get her to the orthopedic surgeon that works with the athletes – and of course – has done their fair share of this specific surgery.
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I hope my email has helped in some small way.  It is so hard to make choices like this as a parent!
I’d like to request from my blog readers that if you have any experience with os trigonums please tell us about your experience by writing in the comments below.  We can learn from each other!
Warm regards,
Deborah
“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Strengthening the feet

My daughter is nine and this year has started to complain of heel pain and sometimes knee pain. So I researched and have come to the conclusion that she has fallen arches. I did a water foot test and her arches are not flat or low but when you just look at her feet they look flat. When she points she has an o.k. line. I would also say her ankles over pronate . If I ask her to not let her ankles roll her feet don’t look as flat. So I guess I’m asking what I can do for her at home to strengthen her ankles before they move her in the fall to pre-pointe. She is moving quickly up and I want to prevent any injury I can. I have read of other dancers with this same problem and they talked about exercises. Do you have any suggestions? One more thing her teacher said no flip flops and very supportive shoes…

Thanks, Tracy

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Great question, Tracy!  First, for those who don’t know what the water foot test is… you put a small amount of water in a shallow pan, enough to cover the bottom fully, then place one foot, then the other,  in the pan getting the bottom of the feet wet and then stand on a flattened brown paper bag or other nonwhite paper.  Once you step off the paper you’ll see an imprint of your foot on the paper.

feet

The foot on the left describes a normal foot, the one in the middle a flat foot, and the one one the right a high arched foot.

Having pronated feet would look like the image on the left from the back.  Looking at the heel cord at the back of the ankle is a better way of seeing the rolling in of the foot.  The image on the right is a normal looking heel cord.  (It is the Achilles heel that you are looking at)

normal-300x241

To strengthen her ankles, start slowly and simply by standing on one foot, in good alignment (weight even on the 3 points of the foot – not rolling in). Start standing for 1 minute, and work your way up to 3 minutes.  Toss a ball between your hands or turn your head and do port de bras as your standing on the one leg to challenge your balance.  It is such a simple exercise, practicing balancing – and the rewards are so great!  Balance gets better through practice.

Then have her practice standing on one leg and doing a very small demi plié, again without rolling in.  Can she do 8 repetitions without tiring?  It goes without saying that she’ll want to make sure she’s in good alignment.  Not tucking under her pelvis, or moving forward onto the balls of the feet during the descent, etc.  While she is doing the single leg pliés she should make sure the weight is staying even on the 3 points of the feet (pad of the big toe, little toe, and heel) and the knee is being directed over the foot.  Any strain felt in the knee area is a clue that her alignment is off.

Those 2 simple exercises – will create a strong foundation for her to work off of – so when she begins working her rélevés her balance and alignment will be rock solid.

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”


How to keep young dancers from overturning out?

I am teaching at a local ballet school.  I work with the children from the ages of 3 1/2 to 10, primarily.  I also conduct conditioning/pre-pointe classes for slightly older girls.  I am the only teacher for the youngest dancers but do share teaching assignments with other teachers for the girls in both the Ballet 2 and the Ballet 3 classes, and the pre-pointe classes.

Here is my dilemma – I would venture to state that roughly 100% of the students over the age of 8 are forcing their turnout – most with rolling in the ankles, some with exaggerated anterior pelvic tilts, most way over crossing their fifth positions.  I don’t allow any of those things in my classes, and am using several of your books to educate these young dancers so they can have a successful and safe dancing experience.

How do I help these students survive in other teachers’ classes?

If you do post this question (and I hope you will as it is vitally important) could you please make me “Anonymous”?  I don’t want to cause problems at this school as I think the students need me there.

Thanks!

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This is an excellent question and a common problem.  It is challenging to fix, though, if the teachers are encouraging the students to stand overly turned out – and it is also challenging because sometimes the students are the ones that are pushing their turnout because they want to ‘look good’.  I am going to focus my answer on what you can do with the students rather than trying to change the other teachers.  It’s really hard to create change in another teacher’s teaching methods especially if you don’t have the support of the studio owner.  You and I know that teaching ballet to young students using anatomical principles while encouraging the joy of dancing is very challenging!

The one exercise to illustrate how much functional turnout a dancer is working with is the clamshell exercise.  I’m going to add a variation on here for the younger dancers.

Have them on the floor, lying on their side with their buttocks touching the wall and their spines lengthened along the wall and their knees bent with their feet in line with their hips.  Being up against the wall will give them feedback whether they are rolling on their hip.  Then have them do the clamshell exercise and keeping the feet together open and turnout the top leg.  How far could they go?  So many dancers are hardly getting above 45 degrees!  It’s strange but true that I will find dancers who have more turnout at their hips than what they are able to functionally use in movement.

So that is the first focus I would offer to your students.  Develop the strength at the hip joint to accurately use their turnout.  After doing the clamshell exercise, make sure to tell them to stretch the turnout muscles!

Next I would encourage the students to practice barre without the barre.  It is much harder to over rotate when you aren’t gripping the barre.  Have them do that barre in stocking feet rather than soft slippers.  They may be able to feel the weight on their feet more easily and hopefully self-correct to bring the weight evenly on the pads of the big toe, little toe and heel.

Last suggestion I would have is to impress upon them to focus on their movement, rather than their positions.  This is a hard concept to get across because so many budding ballerinas are looking at pictures of a gorgeous dancer in a magnificent poses.  To help them focus on their movement I would have them begin to play with qualities.  Ask them to exaggerate what moving with tension and using all of their muscles feels like.  (this is commonly what they are doing☺ )  Then ask them to move gently, slowly, without any sharpness to their movement.  Try giving them different imagery to help.  A rubber band when stretched slowly won’t snap – but if it is stretched too quickly it may break or snap back.   Explore how a feather floating on the wind moves… and bring that into their demi plies or tendues.  Experiment with many images, including contrasting ones as well.

The goal is to have them thinking and feeling in new ways about their dancing, which in turn will give them better feedback encouraging them to more easily create changes in their patterns.  Perhaps a back door approach – but you never know what is going to create an aha moment.

I’d like to open up this conversation to other teachers…. What do you do to help young dancers use their turnout effectively and efficiently, and most importantly – safely?

Post your comments in the boxes below!

Have a great week!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Weak Rélevé

I got your name from a dancer/friend when I asked her a question regarding a current ‘disability’ I have that affects my dance.

First, I am a sixty year old male with a history of osteoarthritis and two joint replacements (one hip, one knee).  I also social dance 5-6 nights a week……and I am actually a good dancer (mostly because of musicality and I am precise/gentle at leading)……I sometimes tease that I recently won an award for being ‘The Best Male Dancer in the Greater Seattle Metro Area over-60 and with TWO OR MORE Artificial Joints”  (small competitive class!).

My most recent issue:  foot/ankle surgery in late December09 to tie ruptured post-tibial tendon into adjacent tendon…..they also did a couple of calcaneus bone cuts and one inserted bone graft to facilitate better foot alignment… sounds pretty mucked up but I have been dancing consistently with ONE noticeable (to me) impediment:

I have trouble taking weight on the ball-of-foot of a pointed foot…..I can hold my weight well enough to get in a chaine turn (heel just kisses ground…..but does not collapse halfway thru)……but I can only hold the weight so far with heel is near the ground……I want to be able to absorb weight at point of max extension and execute a cushioned articulation (sorry I do not know the tech words better) down to my heel…….if I could do a MOON-WALK…..I think I would be fine.

Currently working wth a heavy rubber band at that max-extension to see if that will help……also raising to max extension two-legged and then trying to shift weight to injured foot for the down (eccentric?) movement.

Related, I tend to ‘claw’ my toes related to being up on ball of foot…..I think because my ‘long’ tendons are trying to compensate for ‘short’ tendon weakness……anyway dancing around on clawed toes for a few hours IS pretty
tiring…..

Overall, I am in great health, not overweight…..but if you have any ideas for rehab, I would REALLY appreciate it!      John

I’m curious, John, if you had your hip and knee surgery on the same side.  (and what side does the ankle surgery line up with?)  When there are too many injuries on one side I start to suspect a leg length difference:)

You’re doing the right stuff with the theraband to start to strengthen the calf muscles again, and I like the slow descent lowering from releve on the side that had the surgery.  If you are doing toe risers with clawed toes, though, (called rélevés in dance language) then you aren’t getting as much out of that exercise as you could.

This is what I would suggest.  Start working the bottom of the foot with a pinkie ball.  Stand and roll your foot on the ball to release as much tension on the bottom of the foot as you can.  It will feel tight – but good:)

Then I want you to stand on one foot and place the other one behind you as in the picture below.  You won’t have as wide of a position as the dancer demonstrates.  You are stretching the underside of the toes and know that you won’t really need to bend your knee much to get a good stretch. To get more stretch you bend your back knee.

An even simpler way to stretch the underside of your toes would be to stand with both feet in parallel and then slowly bend one knee, lifting the heel up slightly as you keep the toes straight and long.  Then switch feet.  You are in slow motion practicing a ‘moon walk’ variation but without traveling:)

When you practice your toe risers – only go as far as you can keep the toes straight.  The minute they start to claw – stop – stretch them out and lower back down.

Time will tell how much change you can give to this area.  After all… you are going to need to continue to train in order to keep your title of The Best Male Dancer in the Greater Seattle Metro Area over-60!

Best regards,

Deborah
“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Adult tibial torsion?

I recently viewed your video “tibial torsion audio” on youtube and was directed to your website thebodyseries.com; I was amazed to realize that the dancer in the video seemed to have the same problem as me, where she did not stand evenly on her legs, and in a demi pliet the knee turned inward in relation to the foot. I believe that my right leg has tibial torsion which is negatively impacting my ability to dance or workout. I was wondering if you knew of any doctor who specializes in diagnosing or treating adult tibial torsion, or could provide exercises to help correct this condition. I am a bit clueless, because this is the first time I have heard of someone with knowledge of the asymetry which affects others and me. Any help or direction you could provide would be invaluable and greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Josh

Unfortunately, Josh, you can’t undue the tibial torsion once you have it – but it doesn’t have to stop you from dancing. You do, however, need to focus first and foremost on keeping the weight even between the 3 points of the foot, the pads of the big toe, little toe, and heel. The knees will not be over the middle of the foot as we so often hear in dance class. For the dancer with tibial torsion if they pull the knees out to get them over the middle of the foot they are doing it by supinating the foot or overly using the sartorious muscle to pull the knees out to the side. Then you’ll have more problems than just pulling the knees out to the side!

The treatment? To simply balance out any muscular imbalances and keep the weight on the feet properly placed while working the turnout as well as you can from the hip – not the knees and feet.

Développés – how to strengthen

First of all I would like to thank you for the great website and your great blog!

I am a 19-year-old ballerina and have been doing ballet recreationally since I was 5. A couple of years ago I decided to take it more seriously and to train more hours. I have three questions and I would really appreciate it if you had the time to answer them. The first one is a rather short one: How can I prevent Achilles tendonitis, especially as I have noticed that I pop my ankle more often, which I didn’t use to do as much before (it doesn’t hurt).

The two remaining questions have to do with each other: As I have been training more now, I have been working on my développé, they aren’t that bad, but not really outstanding: I can do about 100 degrees but I really wish to get it higher. However it seems that it is not only the muscles that are making it harder to improve, but also a popping in the front of the hip when LOWERING my leg after a développé and sometimes when raising the leg, too. As I noticed that, I kept stretching the iliopsoas muscle before développés and battements, it got better but it still pops and keeps me from doing my best (although it doesn’t hurt, my leg feels like “not free”!).

Could it be another muscle that needs to be strengthened and stretched? How can I get rid of that popping and improve my développés at the same time?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read my letter!
Liz

Great questions, Liz! Let’s start with the easier one first. If your ankle is popping more, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are on your way to developing Achilles tendonitis – but it does make me wonder what’s happening in your standing alignment. Evaluate honestly if the weight is staying balanced between the front and back of the foot – are you over turning out at the feet in first position – and can you do a demi plié and keep the anterior tibialis tendon (the one at the front of the ankle) during the descent of the plié. Check those 3 areas and correct them as they may be creating some muscle imbalance.

Stretching is key for the Achilles tendon – and while most do the traditional lunge calf stretch, I prefer putting my foot over a thick book, and then stepping forward with the other leg to do a modified lunge. You don’t have to step very far forward to get a super stretch of the calf muscles. Also do this also with the back knee just barely bending to place the stretch down towards the tendon. Both variations are important.

Onto développés.

Many dancers aren’t aware of the importance of a strong iliopsoas to their extensions and développés. When you are lifting the leg to the front there is a point above 90 degrees where the quads are less effective and the iliopsoas becomes more important for a gorgeous high extension.

I’m posting a quicktime movie of an iliopsoas strengthening exercise. You will place a theraband around the thighs and then bring the knee towards the chest.. You can also do straight leg legs or développés. The more upright you are by moving from your elbows to your hands, the harder. Do these exercises with the leg slightly turned out leg. It is a challenging exercise but you will be quite happy with the results, I promise! Then stretch the iliopsoas afterwards. I’ll be curious if your ‘popping’ will get better after balancing out the strength to flexibility of the all important iliopsoas muscle.

This clip is taken from my new Essential Anatomy: A Multimedia Course for Dancers and Teachers

I’m putting it all together as we speak – and they will be ready to order (along with some very special bonuses) next week – for sure! I have put together over 3 hours of quicktime movie clips (along with an outline and study guide) that bring anatomy to life – talking and illustrating important muscles, concepts and what to do… in order to dance smart and teach smart. After clicking the link the movie will open up and take just a moment to load.

psoas strengther with theraband

Until next week!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Too old for pointe?

What is your feeling about adults (20’s and beyond) dancing on pointe?  Some people (dancers and teachers) feel that adults cannot be successful on pointe, and that, indeed, it is risky because of their “advanced age”.

I have a group of 30-45 year olds who do quite well, thank you very much.  They are strong, take many classes a week, and cross train with Pilates, etc. outside of ballet class.  These ladies are doing double pirouettes, some of them are doing fouetté turns, hops on pointe, etc.  They love dancing on pointe.

Are there any studies you know of that link additional risks associated with pointe work due solely to age?

I’d love to see the topic of myths and misconceptions about older dancers dealt with on your site, as well as tips for dancing safely as the years go by.

Thanks so much!

Ruth

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Great questions! Margot Fonteyn danced the role of Juliet at age 43.  Did she do it in her bare feet?  I think not☺ She did it in pointe shoes.

As is the case with most physical activities – how you do it  – is more important than what age you do it at.  I remember hearing when I was growing up that running will hurt your knees.  (tell that to the 69 year old woman who took up running and did her first marathon shortly after)

I also grew up with the idea that all dancers will get ugly feet and arthritis the longer they danced.

Why?  Because the majority of my teachers talked about their aching feet, I saw their huge bunions, and listened to their complaints of how their hips hurt!

Not a very pretty picture of aging dancers, is it?

Alignment and muscle balance are keys to optimal functioning in any chosen physical activity.  Your group of 30 – 45 year old dancers sound like smart dancers by cross training outside of dance class and maintaining a good relationship between strength and flexibility.

In fact, I would venture a guess that the older dancer is even more particular about their training over the late teen, early 20’s ballet dancer who feels more invincible and much less concerned about the physical effects of poor training – especially if they have accepted myths such as bunions are inevitable.  (Which they aren’t – sorry for my bluntness)

If your older dancers are paying attention to their alignment and proper training and conditioning for pointe work they can work as long as they choose to – or until other challenges such as osteoporosis might crop up.  On the other hand, continuing to dance is a great way to decrease the chances of osteoporosis along with good nutrition.

If they begin to have problems associated with doing pointe work they’ll handle it the same way as a younger dancer.  By checking out their alignment and technique first and then correcting any muscle weaknesses (Lisa Howell’s, The Perfect Pointe book is a fantastic resource for teachers and dancers.  You can purchase it through my website .

There are other interesting aspects to challenging yourself as you age.  The Berlin Aging Study looked at men and women over the age of 70.  This research was looking at how people feel about aging and comparing that to their vitality and resiliency.   Your older dancers (although not truly very old) are engaging in an activity that makes them feel younger and better about themselves!

In unpublished research based on the Berlin Aging Study, they found that people who feel younger are less likely to die than
those who don’t, given the same level of chronological age and equivalent physical health.

“Feeling positive about getting older may well be associated with remaining active and experiencing better health in old age.” “Thus, studies on self-perceptions of aging can contribute to our understanding of potential indicators of resilience in older adults and the aging self.”   (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081202153521.htm)

Bottom line – continuing to dance is good for our bodies, mind and spirit!  Your dancers will know when to hang up their pointe shoes – and it doesn’t sound like it is quite yet!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

PS:  Remember any order this month will receive a FREE copy of Tune Up Your Turnout:  A Dancer’s Guide or if you order an ebook or downloadable product, I will see a FREE copy of the 440 page Dancing Smart:  Tips to Improve your Technique

Recovering from injury

I am a 15 year old ballet student who hopes to pursue a career in dance. Right now I have an achilles tendon injury that requires passive healing, a lot of physical therapy and may take many months to heal. I have been off of dance for about 2 months now, and I’m having a very hard time coping with this rest period. Going from 15 hours of ballet a week to none has put me in a kind of “dance withdrawal.”. I am trying to keep in shape, but there is really no physical activity that compares to ballet for me, and I have a hard time finding the motivation to go to the gym. Do you have any reconmendations for keeping in physical shape (flexibility, strength, balance, core work, etc.) and also in a good mental state during periods of injury rehabilitation?

Thank you so much, your blog is a wonderful resource.

-Jackie B.

I’m so sorry to hear about your Achilles tendon injury. It is especially rough for someone like you who is used to being so active. I know your ankle is being taken care of with going to physical therapy, so we’ll focus on the right of your body ‘s well being.

I’d like you to first focus on the perspective that this is a good cross training opportunity for you. How is your cardiovascular strength? What about your upper body? That is an area that many women could improve – especially in these days of extreme athleticism and using your arms for support in contemporary choreography.

Those 2 areas along with core work with theraband or foam roller could easily be focused on during your rehab – even without going to the gym☺ (I don’t like the gym atmosphere and also prefer working out at home) I like using the kettle bell for my cardio. It’s amazing how much you work within just a minute. It’s a weight that has a handle on top and you swing it for between a minute and 2 minutes (I started at 30 secs) and then rest, walking around for a few minutes in between. You are doing interval training with this. Cardiovascular health is about the ability of your body to recover from stress.

I found a kettle bell demo on youtube that is better than most – although I will say that I do not ‘snap’ my knees or suggest that my dancers do as she is showing on this video. Bring them to straight, using the gluts and engaging the abdominals as you straighten your legs – but do it without snapping. Here’s the youtube link so you know what I’m talking about.

This time off from dance is a great time to be focusing on virtual rehearsals – using visualization to set new pathways from the brain to the muscles.

I’d like to tell you a fascinating story about Marilyn King, who was a two-time Olympic athlete and later a coach at the University of California. Her story beautifully demonstrates the power of mental rehearsing. She made the 1972 pentathlon team and placed 13th in the 1976 Olympics. She was determined to do even better at the 1980 Olympics and gave herself all of 1979 to train for the trials that would happen in the spring of 1980.

In November 1979, she was in a head-on car accident and suffered a severe back injury. Her friends and physicians felt her chances for competing in the Olympics had come to an end. She spent four months in bed, a daunting setback for anyone training for a physical competition. During those long months, Marilyn was determined to continue training and working in the only way she could, which was in her head. She went through every event in her minds eye and watched endless hours of the world’s best pentathlon athletes competing. Sometimes she watched them frame-by-frame.

When she was able to walk again, she went to the track and continued to train by envisioning herself going through each event successfully.

When it came time for the trials, she was better enough to compete and put herself through five grueling events—without having months of physical preparation, as the rest of the athletes had. She described moving almost as if in a dream, as she had rehearsed it so many times in her head during the past months. She placed second in the trials and went to the Olympics that summer.

Inspiring story, yes? She had a strong desire, focused only on what she wanted – cultivated by an emotional attitude that supported success—and took the actions she knew would optimize her performance, physically training when she was able and mentally training when she was not.

Elite athletes have long known about the power of mental rehearsing. Musicians and dancers are beginning to be more aware of the body/brain connection to their performance.

Watch the videos of your favorite dancers, put music on and go through barre, or other warm-ups… in your mind’s eye – not in real time. Imagine how good you are going to feel when you are back in class – and feel that way now!

What I know about healing is those who are able to maintain a positive attitude, imagining the best coming out of the situation, rather than the worst, are often the ones who heal the quickest as well.

Hope that helps – and best wishes for a speedy recovery!