Knee hurting…. hamstrings tight…..

Reminder…. the New Year’s special ends in less than 48 hours!  (Through Jan. 5th) Just put TBS2011 into the coupon box to get the $45 off.

Onto the questions of the week….

I have just started dancing! I’m 18 years old and a freshman in college! Today during tap class I was brushing my left foot while hopping on the other. My hopping knee started to hurt a bit so I stopped. I read your article on pronation, and I used to wear little inserts occasionally to help with my feet, but that was in my early teen years and it wasn’t really monitored. My knees have given me trouble randomly throughout my life, and I’m starting to think the problem is with my knees not my feet. I am an aspiring actor who is taking dance to help get in touch with my body, and I don’t want to end up with a serious injury.

Any advice? Who should I go to? Should I wear inserts in my tap shoes? I don’t know what to do! 🙁
Thank you!
Laurel!

Congratulations on starting to dance – doesn’t it feel great!!  I want to say that I know dancers who went on to dance professionally – after starting in college – so it’s never too late!

I wouldn’t jump to putting the inserts into your tap shoes.  My first thought is that you probably haven’t been jumping on one leg very much and your quadriceps are weak.  It takes a lot of strength to do multiple jumps on one leg – no matter whether you are in tap class or ballet class.

Start strengthening by simply standing on one leg (in good alignment) and even weight on the 3 points of the foot.  Can you easily stand on one leg and toss a ball back and forth between your hands for up to a minute?  Then progress to standing on one leg and doing baby demi pliés. Watch for locking back into hyperextension when you straighten.  Just come up to straight, and go 2 – 3 inches into a demi plié.  As you build strength you can deepen your demi plié, but that take some time.

Single leg demi pliés are a simple but very effective way to strengthen the muscles around the knee!  Hope you get to take another dance class next semester!

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I am a 13-year old dancer and I’ve been dancing for 9 years, however I have flexibility problems.  The main thing that I feel is holding me back is my having tight hamstrings (although my hips, calves, and Achilles tendon are also tight).  It’s probably something hereditary, because my mother said she has had tight hamstrings all of her life and could never fix it.  Because of my tight hamstrings, I can’t get into my middle split, and it affects my developpes and grande battements in all the positions.  I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to fix this.

Thanks! -Cailin

Tight hamstrings really plague a lot of dancers, Cailin.  They will affect your extensions – more than your middle splits.  (although they strongly influence regular splits)

Picture-1-150x150I’m going to show you my favorite variation on hamstring stretching.  Place your leg on a chair or other surface that is below hip level. Gentlypress your heel into the chair while flexing forward at the hip joint.  Keep your pelvis square while flexing forward and keep pressing down on the chair throughout the entire stretch.  Go only as far as is comfortable and come back up.  Do the other side.

You may notice that this way of stretching feels different – you might feel the stretch over a larger area.  It is a dynamic way of stretching your hamstrings.  Do this stretch consistently for a few weeks and note the difference in your flexibility.   I’ve had dancers who haven’t improved with regular hamstring stretching begin to see a difference with stretching in this way.

Happy stretching!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Working with a Leg Length Difference & Popping Ankle

Quick reminder before answering the question that the 2011 New Year’s special will run through January 5th.  Purchase Essential Anatomy: A Multimedia Course for dancers and dance teachers for $149 and get $45 off one of the best tools for dance teachers to learn important anatomical principles.  Simply put TBS2011 in the coupon box when purchasing and hit apply in order to see your $45 discount..

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I L O V E  your blog – and I have a question.  (I am a computer dunce and could not figure out how to put this question on your blog for an answer)

 

I recently worked with (I am a Pilates and movement instructor) a dancer with a significant leg length discrepancy — her left leg is 1.8 centimeters longer than her right (femur is .6 c longer and lower leg is 1.2 c longer) .

The left side of her tailbone often hurts as does her left inner thigh.  She dances quite intensively and is experiencing more and more subtle aches – especially across her sacrum.

Suggestions for working with her to address her leg length issue??????
Thanks so much,
Tara

Great question, Tara.  When working on the reformer I would do my best to even out her leg length by having her stand or work with one of the foam nonslip cushions.  Look at her standing alignment both without anything under her left leg and then with standing on a pad. Does her alignment improve?

If placing a pad under her foot allows the weight to pass more evenly down the spine, through the pelvis and into the legs – that’s a good thing!  It’s quite common to have the lateral curves of the spine straighten out with a pad under the foot and that’s when you know it is something that should be corrected all the time by placing a heel lift in their regular shoes as well as their soft slippers, jazz or tap shoes.  There isn’t much to do with a pointe shoe – but if she corrects the inequity the majority of the time, being on pointe shouldn’t be a problem.

Best of all – this dancer will intuitively know whether or not the lift makes her standing, walking and dancing feel better – and the ache across the lower back and sacral area should disappear.

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My name is Tina and I am a 23 year old dancer residing in New York… Anyways, I have a question my tendon in my left foot pops when I go into releve or point and flex sometimes… its not all the time but enough to be annoying… feels like the tendon is moving over the bone or something… Maybe the Post Tib tendon? Anyways, I do pronate and have orthotics but I don’t know how this happened one day I just woke up and it was popping.  It doesn’t hurt but I don’t believe popping is good because it will eventually wear on the tendon… I want to dance still… I’ve been doing some peroneal strengthening exercises and checking out my alignment in releves… I just dont know what else would help… if you have anything suggestions or feedback that would be great and thanks!

Tina – you are on the right track with checking your alignment and keeping yourself out of pronation.  That’s great that you have orthotics for your regular shoes.  You might try taping your feet for pronation while dancing to see if that decreases the popping (there just aren’t goodorthotics for dancing, unfortunately)  and I would also go to a good podiatrist that will take the time to massage and manipulate your feet if some of the smaller bones you see that make up the arch of the foot.

I have a dear friend who was a professional ballet dancer and went every few months to her podiatrist in Chicago to keep her feet in good shape.  She was one of those loosey-goosey dancers – that I lovingly admired for her turnout and extensions – but it did mean that she had more joint laxity and was prone to ankle problems.

You’re right to want to get on top of this – because it is a change from normal for you – and over time will create strain on the posterior tibialis tendon.

Good luck!

“Here’s to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.” anonymous

Happy New Year!

Deborah

Knee Replacement & New Year’s Special

First the question and answer – then special details at the end of the post:)

At nearly 50, I’m still teaching, taking class and performing with a small dance ensemble. I’m still in good shape but lately, past 3 months, have had knee trouble. MRI revealed a worn meniscus, inflammation and a twisted condyle (?) Doctor said I had an “old persons knee” and was headed for a knee replacement. is it possible to come back to dance again after knee replacement, if so at what level?

Thanks for your feedback.
Laura

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the simple answer is you can expect to get back to your pre-surgery level of activity but without the pain after an appropriate amount of time.  That amount of time will vary from person to person but generally full activity could take up to a year after surgery.

Now for my questions and response:)

I’d be curious (I’m always curious) whether you are having challenges with one knee or both knees.  If it is just one knee I wouldn’t have the surgery (or at least go back to dancing) until you figure out why that knee was being stressed more than the other.   Start gathering details about what you know about your dancing.  Is one 5th position easier than the other?  Do you have better turnout on one leg – a big preference when turning?  All of these clues help to determine what you may need to correct in order to

  • slow down the degeneration
  • prevent the same stressors from returning post surgery if you decide to have surgery

Most active people will show some signs of wear and tear at the knees – especially dancers.  (That is the way one of my favorite doctors put it to me – isn’t that better than saying you’ve got an old person’s knee?)

Wear and tear happens to a greater degree when the alignment of the knee or muscle balance is less than optimal.  The knee is truly at the mercy of what happens above and below it.  If there is rolling in at the foot, standing with hyperextended knees, or sitting into one hip – all of those common patterns will negatively influence the health of the knees over the long term.

We are never too old to make changes to our inefficient patterns and habits.  Being physically active is actually essential to the health of our joints.  The cartilage at the knee that covers the ends of the bones is avascular – meaning it doesn’t have it’s own blood supply.  It needs movement to help pump in essential nutrients and oxygen.  Have you ever noticed how quickly arthritis worsens in people who become sedentary?  We need to be concerned with  following the anatomical principles of the body in order to minimize potential damage to our joints.

I have always and will continue to believe that dancing is one of the best activities one could put their children into to because of the focus on alignment and muscle balance.  I also know that dance, especially some forms, have been taught by teachers who do not understand anatomy and are teaching the ‘it should look like this’ method.

Educating teachers and dancers to work with anatomical principles will still create the beautiful dancers – but without the lifelong physical consequences such as bunions and joint distortions.  And that is why I have created this newsletter and the educational products that are in my store.

My 2011 New Year’s special will run from today through January 5th.  Purchase Essential Anatomy: A Multimedia Course for dancers and dance teachers for $149 and receive either a free DVD – or – simply get $45 off one of the best tools for dance teachers to learn important anatomical principles.  Simply put TBS2011 in the coupon box when purchasing and hit apply in order to see your $45 discount.

Here is a review from a recent purchaser.

“Deborah’s Vogel’s “Essential Anatomy Course” is absolutely essential for every dance teacher wishing to optimize their teaching!  The course is composed of 10 video lectures with corresponding lecture notes and study guides making it easy for a busy studio owner/mom to find time to learn more about anatomy.  Ms. Vogel explains basic anatomy from a dance perspective and provides exercises on how to gain more strength and flexibility for demanding dance movements.  Information regarding Osgood Schlatter’s disease has proven particularly relevant as I am currently working with a student suffering from that disease.  Her teaching tips at the end of course are incredibly helpful and I will be sharing them with my faculty at our next meeting.  Thank you Deborah for creating this course for dance teachers!      ~-Kimberly McEachern, Huntington Academy of Dance

Hope your holidays are wonderful and wish all of you a successful 2011!

Remember to click here for the New Years Special and don’t forget to put TBS2011 in the coupon box!

Warmest regards and deep appreciation for being a part of my dance community…

Deborah

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”

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.

strengthening knees and second position plié

Dear Deb,

I lately struggle lots with my knees, especially when I do a plie type exercises in second position, this is in gym and dance classes. I have to admit I am 40, but have been dancing all my life.

Was wondering if you have any suggestions to strengthen my knees.

Regards,

Lisel

Great question, Lisel! Plié in second position requires a slow controlled action from the quadricep muscle. This means the lower part of the muscle is doing an eccentric contraction – it is lengthening at the same time it is controlling your descent. That is the hardest kind of contraction for a muscle.

The other interesting consideration is that dancers tend to turnout more in second position than they would in first or fifth position. It’s just easier to be in a wide position and turnout.

One of the easiest ways to easiest ways to train your quads for that movement is by placing a physioball (one of the large balls that you can sit on) behind you on the wall. Your feet are away from the wall and in parallel first position and you are leaning with slight weight against the ball.  Then you simply do some slow and smooth demi pliés.

Slow and smooth is key.  Once you can easily do 10 – 15 reps on 2 feet try doing 5 single leg demi’s.  It will really work your balance so start with really baby demi’s and not lowering very far.

You could also sit and put a 5 pound ankle weight on one leg.  Slowly extend to straight, and then slightly (and slowly) bend the knee (only 4-5 inches) and straighten it again.  Be careful not to lock back into the knees when you are straightening.

By doing reps at a smaller range, slowly and smoothly, you are focusing the work more intensely.  This should translate to better muscular control in your second position plies.

As always – make sure your feet are accurately placed in a turnout range that your hips dictate.  In other words don’t turn out farther in second position than how you would easily stand in first position.

Hope that helps!

Deborah

PS:  remember the early bird special on the Science of Dance Training Summer conference is only until March 30th! Check it out by clicking here!

Splits training

There was a comment on the Splits entry that I’d like to use as this week’s post. Heidi writes

Do you recommend a particular approach for beginning training for splits. Are there other stretches that should be done first. Should a student demonstrate flexibility in other ways (e.g. be able to touch her toes) before trying to do the splits? I’ve seen many students who are far from being “all the way down” in the splits bend one or both knees. Should this be discouraged?

My reply:
Heidi, The reason they bend one of the knees is to try and get down a little farther – a totally natural response. I would separate the elements of the splits in my training. Meaning… work to increase the flexibility of the hamstrings – which allow the front leg to go lower – and also work the flexibility of the hip flexors, which allow the back leg to slide farther back without tipping the pelvis forward.

For the hip flexors doing daily lunge stretches is key. You can do them on the ground, standing or sitting in a chair (my favorite) I have a youtube video demonstrating 3 ways, including a passive hanging stretch. The chair lunge is not on their but simply imagine sitting on a chair in a lunge position and lifting up the front of your pelvis to increase the stretch along the front of the back leg that is extended.

As far as hamstring flexibility a quick and dirty way to check for tight hamstrings is to have the dancer sitting on the floor with both legs straight and together in front of them. Are they easily able to sit all the way up on their pelvis? If they are rolled onto the back of their pelvis you can suspect their hamstrings are tight.

My favorite way of stretching the hamstrings is in standing and putting one leg on a low enough surface to keep the pelvis in neutral and upright. If they have tight hamstrings to begin with and put their leg on the barre – they are going to be tucked under (rolled back like they did on the floor) and won’t get a good stretch out of it.

Once they have their leg on a surface, let’s say a kitchen chair, they would flex easily forward keeping their pelvis and spine in alignment. Don’t round forward with your back, just tilt at the hips. This should give a good stretch to the hamstring area. Don’t forget to keep the pelvis facing forward as you are tilting, as many dancers cheat slightly by letting the pelvis rotate towards their standing leg as they are stretching – which is exactly the problem they are trying to overcome in their splits.

Consistency in their stretching is key – especially in the growing years. If your students aren’t getting the results they want from their stretching you might need to investigate whether they have tight fascia somewhere else in the body that is influencing their efforts. Reread the post on flexibility where I talk about this.

Finally – I want to let you know that I now have Anatomy Coloring Pages for the young dancer available in the store. They are in a pdf format that you do multiple copies of for your younger students.

The muscles that are included in the coloring pages are:
1. rotators (turnout muscles)
2. Quadriceps
3. Hamstrings
4. Iliopsoas
5. Adductor (inner thigh)
6. Abductor (lateral hip)
7. Abdominals
8. Soleus (deeper calf muscle that determines depth of demi plié)
9. Gastrocnemius
10. Deltoid (that lifts the arm)

Each page demonstrates the action of the muscle, has an insert of what the actual muscle looks like, and at the bottom of each page is a sentence describing the action in simple terms. Perfect for the youngest (6 – 8 yrs) to begin learning about their body!

The price is right – only $9.95 – so check them out!

Warm regards,
Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Hip pops – sounds of trouble?

How do you know when hip popping and snapping is something to be concerned about?  A general rule of thumb is if you have pain in the joint along with popping sounds you want to see a qualified health practitioner.

There are three areas where snapping or popping may be felt and heard.  The most common area is at the outside of the hip at the greater trochanter of the femur. Snapping hip syndrome is named for the clunking sound that occurs at the greater trochanter when the dancer stands and shifts their weight onto the leg, which creates the snapping sensation and clunking sound.  Extremely tight lateral hip muscles create this clunk as they snap over the greater trochanter.  This is not a desirable action as it’s an easy way to develop bursitis or tendonitis in the greater trochanter area over time due to the constant irritation.  The solution is to stretch the lateral hip muscles.  You can do this by standing on one leg and letting the hip move sideways as the upper body.

The second area of popping is around the front of the hip. This pop is often heard during a kick or battement.  For some dancers their hip pops every time they lift their leg, and for others once they ‘pop’ their hip by standing on one leg tipping the pelvis forward as they lean to the side, it won’t pop for a while.  This type of popping is generally related to the iliopsoas tendon.  Sometimes the iliopsoas tendon snaps over the bony ridge of the pelvis or femur.  There is always a bursa that acts like a pillow between the joint and a tendon and when the iliopsoas bursa gets irritated and inflamed you will also feel pain in the front of the hip besides hearing and feeling the pop.  If you feel a popping sensation in the front of the hip try stretching out the iliopsoas by frequently doing a runner’s lunge stretch.  This stretch can be done standing with your foot up on a surface, sitting (as shown) or on the floor in the more traditional stretch.  If stretching the iliopsoas muscle helps decrease the popping, then briefly stretch before or after battements, and periodically during class between combinations and at the end of class. As with all tight muscles when you first begin to stretch, the muscle acts like a yo-yo.  You stretch it out and then it wants to go back to its original shape.  It takes time and commitment to truly change the flexibility of a muscle.

The third area where pops may be felt is within the joint.  Labral tears are often the cause. What is a labral tear?  Let’s start by remembering that the hip joint is a ball and socket joint.  The head of the thigh bone is the ball, and the acetabulum is the socket.  In latin ‘labrum’ means lip.  So the acetabular labrum is the ring of cartilage that is attached to the edge of the acetabulum and acts to deepen the bowl shape where the head (or ball) of the femur rests.

Injuries to the labrum can occur from chronic trauma, such as a dancer working to turnout their leg through sheer muscular determination and force, and also acute trauma, such as a fall or violent motion at the joint.

Signs and symptoms that accompany a labral tear may be pain with certain movements, (usually in the groin area), loss of strength, decreased range of motion, and a ‘catching sensation’ in the hip.

I checked in with sports physician, Vernon Patterson, DO, and asked him about labral tears at the hips.  He reported that the majority of patients with labral tears have a history of acute injury while weight bearing that resulted in a sudden onset of groin pain and a period of pain and disability.  The initial injury may have been earlier in their career, but memorable. If the dancer did not have any significant injury history to the area then he would be concerned about structural problems that could make them highly susceptible to other joint problems, including labral tears.

While the majority of hip popping is benign and won’t cause painful problems, they are a signal that the muscle balance around the hip needs to be evaluated. But if there is pain with the popping sensation see a physician.  Your hips will thank you for listening!

Training for splits

Training For Splits

#1: I have my splits, but they aren’t straight (my hips aren’t straight). I’m wondering; is it necessary for your hips to be straight in the splits to be able to do good kicks and stuff? Or is it okay to not have straight hips in ballet?
Thanks!!! Talya

#2: I am a professional ballroom dancer and teacher who primarily competes in West Coast Swing. I have been working for over a year now to be able to do a split. The type of split I’m referring to is either left leg in front with right leg going back or vice versa. I find that I can get down quite far but there is still about two inches between the floor and me. Can you suggest exercises or stretches that will enable me to do a full split? I maintain a daily Pilates and yoga practice so I’m quite flexible.
I’ve been reading your newsletter for quite some time now and really enjoy it. Thank you, Ellany

#3: What are some good stretches for a good or high extension and leaps? My splits are fine but my extensions and leaps (jete) need some work.
Please help! La Precious

Deb’s Answer:
These three questions are speaking to the same issue of flexibility versus strength, and so I put them together. For Ellany, she is missing the last few inches of her splits, and for La Precious she has her splits, but needs work on her leaps and extensions. Talya’s question fits right in because of the misconception that you can keep your hips square doing the splits – which you can’t.

Let’s start first talk about square hips. Keeping your pelvis facing forward while going into the splits is a focus. The picture of a flexible gymnast in the splits has the back leg more parallel than what a dancer has in arabesque or a split leap. The dancer is working towards a turned out (and high) back leg which requires good front of the hip flexibility to allow the leg to go behind. The more you can keep the pelvis square – or facing forward – the easier it is to determine the path for the two legs when they open into the splits – certainly important if you are working on a balance beam, but slightly less so in the dance class. So Talya, the short answer to your question is it okay not to have square hips in ballet is yes – and – when you are doing battements or splits leaps focus your efforts on keep the pelvis facing forward – don’t get discouraged if you can’t maintain a perfectly square pelvis – and continue your stretching.

Now let’s talk some about flexibility. Since Ellany does yoga and Pilates on a regular basis I know that she is stretching regularly. The most basic analysis of the splits are that the front let have a strong stretch happening in the hamstrings and buttock muscles, while the back leg is stretching the front of the hip. The front leg should have the knee facing the ceiling and the back leg will either have the knee facing down to the ground, which stretches the hip flexors more or the knee facing to the side, which stretches the inner thigh muscles more.

I would have you first see what the natural inclination of your back leg is as you go down into the splits. Do you want to turn your leg out? Then focus on increasing and deepening your hip flexor stretches. Does your leg stay nicely behind and facing the floor? In which case, focus for a while on increasing the flexibility of your adductor, or inner thigh muscles.

The more pitched forward your pelvis is when you are going down in the splits, the more likely the hip flexors are keeping you off the ground. That may also give you a clue whether it is the hip flexors (usually the iliopsoas) or inner thigh muscles.

The last question I would ask of you is where do you feel the resistance to deepening the splits? If you don’t feel much muscular resistance to the lowering in the splits, then you might look at having some myofascial massage work done to release tightness in other areas along the front or back line that may be getting in your way.

With LaPrecious feeling that she has her flexibility and splits down, but unable to make her leaps more spectacular, that may be a deficiency in strength. More often I see weakness in the hip extensors (hamstrings) over the hip flexors (quads). Try lifting your back leg up more quickly sometimes makes a difference. Dancers are often overly focused on the front leg and lifting it u p high. The back leg is doing a very fast battement as soon as it pushes off (as in a grand jeté).

If your back leg doesn’t get as high as you’d like in your leaps, then focus on strengthening the extensors of the hip, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
You can do that by placing a small weight on one leg and doing back tendus or dégagés. You could also use a theraband and do the same thing by looping it around your foot and a support such as a heavy chair or sturdy pole or column.

Increasing your strength or your flexibility doesn’t happen overnight and consistency is key.

Turnout and 5th position

Today’s blog entry is in podcast form. Here’s the question and then you can click on the highlighted link to hear my verbal response.

Hi! I have always have struggled with my turnout due to my bone structure. I have a few questions regarding my turnout and would LOVE to hear your advice. First, I have pretty good turnout when my legs are in the air especially in passe where I can have an 180 degree passe and still maintain good turnout on my standing leg. I do not have this turnout when my legs are in contact with the floor, such as in fifth position. Why? Second, I have always had to really work on my fifth position. I feel that my bum is sticking out and that I have too big of a curve in my lower spine. I do not tuck my pelvis only lengthen it downwards and I also pull my front up in addition to strengthening my lower abs. Why is my alignment not straighter? Lastly, when I stand in fifth position my hips always seem to twist into the barre even though I am holding my turnout in both legs. I know I will never have perfect turnout but would like to use what I have the best that I can. Thank you so much for your time. I bought “Tune Up Your Turnout” and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much!!! Katherine

click below for my response. Be patient – it’s a 7 minute response and might take a moment or two to load.

Click here

Enjoy!