Longer Leg & Plantar Fasciitis

Greetings!
I’m sending this from the beautiful TCU campus where I have been teaching an intensive course this week to the dance dept. There is nothing like teaching to a group of students who are eager and avid to learn all they can to improve their technique. And an extra perk is the Texas sun and warmth – It’s going to be hard to go back to Ohio weather!

Quick reminder that registration for Lisa Howell’s Perfect Pointe Workshops ends today. Register at http://theballetblog.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=67&Itemid=152

Onto the questions of the week!

Thanks for creating such a valuable resource. I attended your session at the Dance Teacher’s Conference in New York back in August and found your information so helpful. One of my legs is a little longer than the other. This does affect my ballet dancing, particularly my turnout and jumps, etc.. I’ve also noticed that the longer leg is a little more weak than the other. Are there any exercises I can do to help? I am new to your newsletter so please forgive me if you have already addressed this issue. Thanks, Jennifer

Jennifer, if your legs are structurally at different lengths it can influence your alignment. It’s tricky to decide whether or not you should insert a small heel lift in your soft slippers. Your spine needs to be looked at to evaluate it’s curves and response to the shorter leg. Sometimes the spinal curves become less when the pelvis is balanced by putting a heel lift in – other times it might make your spinal curves worse, in which case you would not correct the leg length difference. I would suggest you see a PT or sports physician who could do an assessment of your spine and leg length.

aThere are some common patterns with uneven leg length – some of which you have referred to. When you look at the picture on the left you see the dancer has a pelvic shift right, torso shift left. The common pattern is to stand on the long leg, because to stand with more weight on the short leg would require you bend the long leg. You can see her left leg is the shorter leg.

Typically you come down heavier on the short leg side on each and every step. Sometimes dancers prefer to stand on their short leg and use their longer leg as the gesture leg – although I have seen the opposite preference also. It certainly can influence the turnout too. More often I see the long leg side having more challenges with turnout. It is easy to understand that you’d prefer to stand on your long leg and put your shorter leg in front in fifth position.

The dancer in this photo improved her alignment by putting a lift under her left heel. It evened out her shoulder line as well as equalizing the amount of weight through both legs. She put a lift in her every day shoes – as well as in her soft slipper. For modern dancers sometimes it is enough to have a lift in your shoes – keeping the musculature working evening for the majority of the time, then dancing barefoot without a lift.

There aren’t any special exercises I would offer to you to even out the two sides, rather I would encourage you to have an evaluation to see if a lift would be useful, and then do your stretches and strengtheners in such a way that you are working to balance out the 2 sides. If you find the muscles around the right hip tighter, but weaker, then do more stretching and strengthening on that side. Don’t feel you need to do your workout exactly the same on both sides. It is very common to have one iliopsoas muscle tighter than the other and I tell people if you only have time to do one side – do your right side, as many times as you can throughout the day. Then as the two sides feel more even, you can reflect by stretching more evenly as well.

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I have a student who is complaining of her arches and ball of the foot hurting when she rolls up to pointe. She has fairly flat feet and either tight calves or short Achilles tendons – she does not have a very deep demi-plie. She also tends to roll onto the outside of her pointes. Any ideas as to what can be causing her pain (plantar fasciitis?)? Courtney

heelpa2You’ve hit upon some of the reasons in your question. Having overly tight calf muscles will pull on the plantar fascia, and encourage such standing patterns such as standing slightly forward onto the ball of the foot. That decreases the pull slightly, but over time, certainly doesn’t help to get a deeper plié.

You didn’t indicate where she felt her pain when she rolls up to point. Plantar fasciitis is most often felt on the underside of the foot. The diagram to the left illustrates this.

illustration_sesamoiditisIf she is feeling pain down towards the toes, perhaps she is rolling to the outside of her feet as a way to get away from the pain. It would be useful to send to her a good sport podiatrist who may be able to evaluate her feet and make sure she doesn’t have any problems such as a sesamoiditis.

Have sesamoiditis once myself I know how easy it is to simply rise a little bit more towards the little toe side to get away from the irritation and inflammation of the area underneath the big toe.

There are other reasons she might feel some discomfort only in relévé, but we won’t go into those now. My advise would be to have her get checked out and make sure there isn’t anything structural going on.

As far as deepening her demi plié, I would encourage her to do a lot of soleus stretching. Spend 1-3 minutes in the following stretch.

soleus stretchUntil next time!

Warm regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being

August 8, 2008

This week’s newsletter has a different focus. Instead of answering a question, I’d like to share an excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being, my newest book. This book isn’t just for dancers – I took some of the brain concepts I have learned and use in my own life and made them teen friendly.

The following is from the back cover of the book.

Being a teen is not for the weak – and you can be stronger.
You can be smarter.
And you can be happier.
All you need to do is pump a little iron…with your brain!

Train Your Brain: a Teen’s Guide to Well Being is like a set of barbells for your mind. In these pages, you’ll learn life-changing workout routines that will help you:

• Perform like a pro – on the court, in the classroom, anywhere and everywhere
• Be a better friend and meet new friends
• Take charge of your feelings
• Dream up goals and make them happen

Follow eight kids with problems just like yours as they discover how to pump up their lives…by changing their minds. Using techniques like:

• Mental Rehearsing
• Creating a Feeling
• Refocusing
• and the very powerful Acting as If

combined with lots of fun activities and little-known secrets about your mind, you can begin to create new paths in your brain – and in your life!

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This 48-page book is packed with wonderful ideas and strategies for teens as well as younger children to feel more confident and empowered in their life. I’d like to share Chelsea’s section. She is 10 years old and loves ballet. She is the only ballet dancer out of the 8 characters – there are boys who play basketball and topics such as school, family and friends that are touched upon. Enjoy!

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Name: Chelsea
Age: 13
Likes: ballet, baking, talking on the phone, and eating cookies
Dislikes: big dogs and the dark

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl. For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous-everyone was improving it seemed, except for her. Chelsea’s body started feeling stiff and her feet felt like lead. She was clumsy and her dancing wasn’t smooth at all. Even stretching was hard for her…she felt as if her muscles were too short for her body. Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. Was it time to quit doing something she loved?

Ahhhh, another perfect example of a situation that needs help from the brain. Chelsea needs something that can help her to calm down and focus her attention back on the fun of dancing. This brings us to Brain Fact #2: Create a Feeling.

This may sound confusing but it’s really easy. Before I tell you how to do, let me share a little brain secret. Your brain if full of little paths, like roads, that are formed whenever you do something or think something. So, let’s say you eat 10 hot dogs and then you throw up. Well, you created a path. So then, the next time you eat a hot dog, your brain will return to the path that goes with hot dogs. Along that path is also throwing up. So, now, when you think hot dogs you also think throwing up. And when you think throwing up, you think hot dogs. And each time you think those thoughts, the path becomes stronger…kind of like putting new cement on the road so it’s stronger.

The cool thing about these paths is that we can purposely create paths that help us. That is what Create a Feeling is all about. We’re going to connect a simple action (like making a fist or curling your toes) with positive, confident thoughts. That way, you’ve created a path. And you know that positive, confident thoughts create positive, confident feelings. So, when you need those positive, confident feelings, you’ll be able to do a simple action that is connected to those good thoughts and BAM, positive, confident feelings come along.

Let’s Rewind and Replay Chelsea’s dance problem and see if Create a Feeling can help her out…

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl. For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous in class that she could barely move. Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. She needed to find a way to start enjoying dance class again. She decided to get her brain to help her find a way to get her confidence and joy back. She decided to create a path. First, she came up with a small action. She decided she would take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. At the same time she thought of her past dance recitals. She remembered how comfortable her body felt dancing, how loud the clapping was when she bowed, how her legs moved to the music. She practiced taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling while thinking these positive thoughts a few times everyday. By the time dance class rolled around, Chelsea was ready. When she felt her body start to freeze up at the dance studio doors, Chelsea took a deep breath. Automatically, her body relaxed and the confident, positive feelings of past recitals flooded her body. Chelsea smiled; she’d created a path that would help her look forward to dancing again!

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being!

I’m off to the Dance Teachers Summer Conference tomorrow. I’m going to bring some extra copies of Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being. I don’t have a booth this year, so if you would like to look through this book please come to one of my workshops! Hope to see you there!

Until next week,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Hip Pops

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Onto the questions of the week – and hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend!

I have a 13 yr old female student whose right side hip “pops” out and in while dancing. She says especially when she tries to turn out more. What advice or suggestions can I give her? Sincerely, Tasha

As long as there is no pain during the hip ‘pop’ – I would suspect a muscular imbalance to how she is creating her turnout. The first logical place to check is the tightness of her hip flexors, specifically the iliopsoas. Try having her spend some time stretching the iliopsoas then see if she feels more hip freedom and less hip popping when she begins dancing. If so – then encourage her to do the standing lunge or the runners lunge in between exercises or when she is waiting to move across the floor.

Here is a picture of a sitting and hanging stretch for the hip flexors. You can also do a standing stretch as well as a runners lunge.

My question is a simple one. Is a woman of 32 years too old to commence dancing? I’m physically quite fit and strong. However, I know that being fit and able to do an hour workout class isn’t the same as being physically fit for dance. The type of dancing that I’m referring to is modern/contemporary dance. I started taking classes a few months ago when I realized that it was dance that I wanted to pursue-I know, it took me a while. I also find that whenever I do any sort of dancing, I find myself drawn to ballet type movements: I’m always on my toes, I’m always doing leaps–even before I ever saw these movements being performed. Are these movements typically found in modern/contemporary dance techniques? Also, does it matter that I look quite young? Although I don’t think that me looking young matters, I do look as if I’m in my early twenties. How much does age matter in this world? And last but not least, what is a good stretching exercise in order to achieve a good side leg lift? Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you. Nicole

The simple answer to your question about age and dancing is NO – it is never too old to commence dancing! There is much research that is being done on how exercise can reverse the aging process, even if you begin in the latter decades of your life. Dance is a good choice for many as it focuses on building strength and flexibility.

How much does age matter is an interesting question. To quote Jack Benny, “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I will admit to generally feeling that more mature dancers are more interesting to watch. For me athleticism without that special spark or connection is not as engaging. Mature dancers has more to do with life experience than age in years. What I know is our bodies as well as our brains are plastic, meaning there is constant change going on. If dancing brings you happiness and joy – then it is doing good things for you!

As far as your question about good stretching exercises to achieve a side leg lift I would focus on stretching the hamstring muscles at the back of the leg from the standing position.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”