Releasing the Lateral Quadricep muscle with the foam roller

Below is a quick video that I took showing how I’ve been working with releasing tension in my lateral quad muscle. I have a tendency to be tighter with the lateral quad, lateral hamstring and gluteus medius muscles because of having a woman’s body (aka slightly wide hips) but this pin and stretch technique with the foam roller has really helped.

If you have questions – about the video – or questions you want me to address in an upcoming newsletter please contact me!

To your success,


Pin and stretch lateral quad

Young Bones and Splits

I am trying to find out the most up to date information on the safety of splits and moves like tilts in young children and growing bodies. I don’t mean over stretching and I don’t mean how stretches happen but specifically should we be putting children with soft bones into a splits position before a certain age of development or milestone? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

Great question!  I searched to see if I could find any research on children and flexibility training and could not find anything that specifically addressed your concern. 

So here are my thoughts on the subject of young children and flexibility training.  There is a range of flexibility in children just as there is in teenagers and adults.  I’ve always believed that the first focus for training the young dancer should be to develop movement coordination and proper skeletal alignment which in turn creates strong and flexible muscles. 

When children begin stretching, they need to learn how to do it safely. They need to learn what is an okay physical sensation for them.  Children have multiple growth spurts where bones grow faster than muscles and they need to learn how to stretch without undue strain. 

It is during these growth spurts where the malleable bones of the young child are most vulnerable. Bone responds to pulls on it by growing outward. That is how bone spurs are created as well as Osgood Schlatter disease. The challenge is to train muscular flexibility and strength in our young children without creating undue strain on the bones. That requires teacher guidance to learn what are appropriate muscular sensations for stretching and strengthening. No pain no gain has no place in the training of young bodies. 

For the majority of dancers, having tight hip flexors and hamstring muscles is what keeps them from easily going into the splits (Alignment is important as well as indicated in the photo below.

Breaking down the splits and conditioning the hamstring muscles and hip flexor muscles separately is a good idea.  This will decrease potential muscle strains and joint injuries.  The majority of children working towards splits don’t need to be concerned with negatively influencing their bone growth if they learn how to stretch properly.

If you have a young child that is naturally flexible and can easily do the splits – it’s possible they could put undue pressure into the joint capsule so those children need to work more on their muscle strength and movement stability over flexibility. 

There are my best thoughts for training splits for the young dancer. First focus on movement coordination and patterning. And then let’s teach all our dancers (both young and old) what safe stretching and strengthening might feel and look like.

To your success!


Virtual classes

Hello all! I received a jam-packed full of good idea email from Ruth Ziegler answering my question of what do you do to keep yourself sane and hopefully less exhausted from teaching virtual dance classes. Her response is below… Thank you Ruth!

Great topic and so relevant!!!  I teach mainly adults – some very advanced, needing to get back to performances (hopefully) later on this summer and some not as advanced but definitely wanting NOT to lose strength, flexibility and technique.

I have been reading the information that is available through my teacher and dancer wellness groups about the dangers of trying to do a class “full out” while in limited spaces, on less than ideal floor surfaces.  I am very grateful for the generosity of many very skilled teachers, in giving sample classes, advice, suggestions, etc. 

Here are some great resources I have found: 

At Home Barre Class

Barre and Center Work from Pacific Northwest Ballet: 

I have a theme for each class I present – using the best music I can find, that goes with each theme. One week we did a mainly Russian inspired class and I sent out the reminder email about the class with some of the email written IN RUSSIAN Emoji No, I don’t speak Russian but I was able to find a translation of the phrases I wanted and I just did that.  We used some amazing Russian music and I took inspiration from this teacher: 

One week, we did a Broadway inspired class, using music from Cats, Cabaret, Sound of Music, Chicago, and incorporating  more contemporary types of ballet choreography. 

The technique classes are 90 minutes long and I spend a longer than normal amount of time at the barre or whatever support dancers may have. I include at least one or two exercises for turning and at least one exercise for petit allegro.  I even have a very safe “face the barre” build up for saute arabesque and cabriole derriere. 

I may start the class with a safe center floor “get moving” flowing sequence that I learned from Dmitri Kulev, Artistic Director of DKCBA.  Or … with advance notice, I will have dancers get out their large stability balls and we will do a few dancer- specific stability ball exercises before going to the barre.  We will repeat an exercise at the barre at a faster pace, to get the heart rate up, while staying very safe and not jarring knees, ankles, etc.  We will do the opposite for things like adagio – once at a normal tempo and then again at a slower tempo, to work on strength and stamina.

In the center, I have dancers do exercises that feel like the “real deal” but are safe.  We do tendus and degages with either a sustained balance or a pirouette, pas de basque, lots of waltzy things, very soft “pillow” jumps (ie. I ask dancers to work on the bounce and suppleness of the landing from a jump and not the height or strength of the jump), I have exercises for spotting, and of course we can always work on musicality, artistic expression, etc.  I always include an exercise that feels like a big jump but isn’t, and always include a formal reverence. 

Anyway ….. I STILL find it really hard and I am just exhausted after explaining, demonstrating, and dancing all the combinations in the classes.  I have a larger viewing screen but I still can’t really see all my students clearly.  That is quite frustrating.

Thanks so much for your generosity as well.  I am really enjoying the FUNctional Anatomy videos, as are my students!
Happy and safe dancing, Ruth

Thank you Ruth!

To your success,


Releasing Muscular Tension

Having to hunker down at home opens up a space for activities such as exploring ideokinesis in ‘constructive rest position’, a term that I learned from my mentor Irene Dowd many years ago. This may be very useful to offer to your students at this time – both for re-patterning movement and releasing excessive muscular tension.

I learned about ideokinesis, which is envisioning a specific action or line of movement happening in the body without actually moving the body. We did ideokinesis lying on our back with our knees bent, feet slightly apart so the knees fell towards each other (I prefer to simply place my lower leg on a coffee table or over a bolster) and hands resting by our side or resting on our abdomen.

The guided ideokinesis clip below has the focus of asking the muscles to get into the state of no-work, or neutral. It starts off with a quick explanation and then goes into a guided visualization of about 18 minutes.

Hoping that you and your students might find this useful in this stressful time! We need to arm our toolkits with many different strategies as you never know which one is going to be effective for our students (and ourselves). Try it – and if you are so inclined share your comments below.

To your success! Deborah

Guided Ideokinesis by Deborah Vogel

Real or Imagined?

I got a great question from a reader who wanted to understand better the phrase I have used many times…. “The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined”.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this. I was trained to use ideokinesis to change neuromuscular pathways. The reason why we move is that the brain sends a message through the nervous system to the muscles – they contract – and create movement. There is always cortical involvement in movement – always.

When a person has a spinal cord injury their brain is functioning, but the message isn’t getting through the nervous system to the muscles because of the injury at the spinal cord.

Ideokinesis (ideo… idea or image, kinesis… muscle) is just a fancy way of using your imagination, envisioning or using visualization and/or intentions. It doesn’t really matter what you call it – the response is the same.

There is much research out there showing that if you envision making a free throw in proper form, it will help your accuracy. Research at the Cleveland Clinic showed that subjects that imagined doing biceps strengtheners in fact tested stronger at the end of the study – and kept their results for 3 weeks. This was strengthening through thought alone!

Now… I am not promoting that we train our dancers by having them imagine class instead of taking class. But those who have to sit out because of injury or health reasons would do well to envision themselves doing the class even though they are resting on the side lines.

What we are thinking influences our emotional/chemical responses in our body… all the time! Similar to how our movement carves well-known neurological paths in the brain so we can move in the right way when we hear 2 demi plies then a grand… our thinking also carves neurological pathways and patterns in the brain. For example, there are certain negative (and positive) experiences from my past that if I allow myself to ruminate about will begin to shift my emotions.

As I think about a past experience it brings with it all the emotions I hard-wired with it. September 11th is one of those experiences. I can describe in exquisite detail where I was when I learned about the attack and if I continue to remember I can easily bring up the emotions that are connected with that day.

When we are envisioning or imagining a situation… our brain doesn’t know that it isn’t real in that moment… and sends out corresponding chemicals (our emotional responses) as if it was.

If it was a significant past experience the emotional charge will be stronger than remembering an event such as going out to dinner with friends, that may not be as noteworthy emotionally.

The power of the body/brain connection comes from when we are conscious of our responses and can make choices about what we want to do in response to the information the brain has gathered.

For example, if I can catch myself starting to feel my blood boil when I remember a confrontation I had (in the past) and how it is negatively influencing how I feel in the present moment (sitting at my desk) — then I can make a choice to switch my thinking and consequently switch off the stress response that happening.

Being aware that we have the ultimate responsibility and accountability for our thought patterns and habits is empowering! Not always easy to do but definitely a skill that should be encouraged.

The brain doesn’t distinguish between what is real (in the present moment) from what you are imagining (from the past or future). It responds to what you are thinking…. period. It responds by creating chemicals which get sent into the body (aka your emotions) which influences the health and well-being of our body.

I do think it is important to acknowledge that we get into patterns of thinking and feeling that become so ingrained into our lives that we aren’t even aware that we are responding by default – or in other words – the same way we always have responded – no matter whether it is healthy or an unhealthy response.

This is what I meant by the brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Hoping that helps clarify…

To your success,


The Skinny on Shin Splints

Shin splints are an equal opportunity injury – not just a runner’s injury, but very common to dancers too! 

In dancers, pronation, awkward foot/ankle alignment and tibial stress fractures are often offered as the reason for shin splints.  What is universally accepted is that shin splints are an overuse syndrome.  In other words, excessive loading to the tibia (shin bone) more than it can handle. 

Anytime a dancer starts feeling shin pain and it is getting worse with activity it is an indicator they should get to the doctors and get checked out.  Don’t try to keep working through the pain unless you want to risk increasing your rehab time.  You need a proper diagnosis. Is it stress fracture, compartment syndrome, medial tibial stress syndrome or myofascial trigger points? All will present with shin pain.  

The doctor I worked for had a cool way (even if a bit unscientific) to check for stress fractures when a dancer came in with shin pain.  He had a tuning fork that he would hit on the edge of the table then place on the shin bone.  If the vibration of the tuning fork created pain in one specific spot he would suspect a stress fracture.  Remember stress fractures don’t immediately show up on x-rays until bone growth/healing has started.  Pretty cool, eh? 

The type of shin splints that are felt in the upper/front part of your shin are often caused by the anterior tibialis muscle being overworked.  I felt this area when I first got back to hiking up and down some rocky areas and took me a few days and working every night on massaging the trigger points before it went away totally.  

With that type of shin pain you’ll often find a tender spot on the upper third of the anterior tibialis muscle.  You can rub gently to release it, put the sore spot against the edge of a chair or on a pinkie ball or foam roller and imagine the tension slowly melting away.  The goal is not to create pain – the goal is to work with the discomfort and feel it letting go.  Often finding the sore spot and then doing 10 foot circles in each direction will help mobilize the tissue.  It should feel looser and more relaxed afterwards… and if you don’t re-injure the muscle by overworking it again the next day, you should feel as if you are on the road to recovery.  

Other areas of shin pain, deep between the bones or the lower part of the shin area will require more extensive rehab and rehab should be guided by your PT or doctor. Trying to release any muscular soreness as described above typically won’t make it worse, but it might not make it better either – which is why you want to get shin splints properly diagnosed and not just ‘push through the pain!’  You need to correct any faulty alignment and respect the pain. 

Bottom line… the longer you try to keep dancing/jumping/running with shin splints… the longer it may take to recover.  Having shin splints doesn’t mean that you have to become a couch potato and not exercise – but you do have to allow the tissue that is loudly talking to you to heal. 

To your success, 


New Pointe Shoes!

I recently got my first pair of pointe shoes! Do you have any tips for what to practice, getting better, and staying safe on them?

Love getting questions from student dancers! Thanks, A. for writing to me. I’m sure your teacher will be guiding you on how to break in your shoes and giving you some exercises at the barre.

Let me give you a few additional tips. First… balance…balance…balance flat-footed in your pointe shoes. Having pointe shoes on is very different than soft slippers. Occasionally put them on at home and stand in good alignment in parallel, first position, and on one foot. You can do other things while you are balancing, brush your hair, your teeth, stand while chatting to a family member, etc. You want to get familiar with your pointe shoes – and it is very important that you practice in good alignment and with the weight being centered correctly on your foot.

Getting better at pointe and staying safe with them is a function of your muscular balance and strength. You need strong intrinsic muscles (these are the muscles in your foot. You don’t want to be a toe gripper or scrunch your toes under when pointing. Long strong toes and arch muscles are key.

There are many exercises for strengthening the muscles of the foot such as playing the piano with your toes, and doming and/or pointing the foot without letting the toes curl.

Make sure your calf muscles are also strong enough to keep you pulled up out of the pointe shoe. Can you easily do 25 one-legged rélevés in parallel? Here’s a great article about the Australian Ballet company’s focus on strength over stretch.

Slow motion walking in demi pointe is a great exercise for your calf muscles as well as your balance. Do it barefoot first, then in your soft slippers, then in your pointe shoes (on demi pointe) Don’t do slow motion walking on pointe until your teacher gives you the go ahead.

It’s really exciting to get your first pair of pointe shoes and I love that you are wanting to work correctly and safely. Thanks for reaching out!

To your success,


Working with Plantar Fasciitis

The last newsletter looked at plantar fasciitis from different perspectives.  Click here to read if you missed it.  

Today’s newsletter is about treatment considerations and suggestions.  You’ve got a diagnosis from the doctor or physical therapist, and hopefully also had a good alignment analysis to see if there are any biomechanics issues at play.  Follow your practitioner’s treatment protocols, and perhaps you’ll find a few other suggestions from the list below that may help!  

Rest: Stopping the overuse syndrome of plantar fasciitis is tricky.  It’s hard to not be on your feet! Rest may mean a couple of days or even up to a week or more away from the activities that irritate the plantar fascia.  Dancing or teaching and then icing and doing ‘good’ things for your feet isn’t the same as really truly taking time away from weight bearing activities.  At times doctors will recommend a walking boot that helps keep stress off of the plantar fascia.  Wearing the boot doesn’t give permission to still be on your feet for 10 hours a day without concern.  My point is REST is IMPORTANT.  This is the one area that if properly utilized can really make a difference.  Not sure whether that means a few days or a few weeks – that is dependent on each case, but you can cross train in ways that don’t irritate your foot.  Swimming, Pilates, etc. are all good alternative activities to keep in shape.  When you are coming off the rest cycle – you have to ease back into your activity.  You can’t just jump back into class and undo all your good rest efforts!

First thing AM: Warm up your ankle and foot if possible before taking those first few steps in the morning.  Put your feet into shoes or slippers with an arch support instead of walking barefoot to the bathroom.

Icing: Can be very helpful in the beginning of plantar fasciitis and for decreasing pain. (Temporarily numbing the pain.)

Contrasting cold and hot water: There isn’t a lot of research showing contrasting water baths is spot on for plantar fasciitis, but on the other hand doing contrast baths is a very gentle way to give your tissues a workout.   It can help improve circulation around the injuries tissue and is a cheap and easy process to try.  Do 3-6 alternations between heat and cooling.  Two minutes of heat, and then 1 minute of cool, repeat 2 more times (ending with the cool/cold)

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs: They don’t have a lot of evidence of being a successful treatment, even though they are commonly prescribed for plantar fasciitis.  There is some evidence that using NSAIDs compromise or retard long-term tissue healing. (1)  Instead, ask your doctor about using Voltaren Gel instead of ibuprofen.  This is an NSAID in a tube, and you rub it on the affected spot and it is absorbed through the skin.  It is commonly used for arthritis pain (first heard about it when my dad was prescribed it for a bad shoulder). It seems promising for arthritic pain (helped my dad for sure) and best case scenario it could provide some pain relief with lower risks of side effects compared to other anti-inflammatory medication.  You do need a prescription for it.

Massage: While massage will not change the plantar fascia directly, it can go a long way in helping to ease tension and stress in the calf muscles.  Sometimes there are even areas above the knee that seemingly help release the pull from plantar fasciitis (hip area, hamstrings, etc.) Feels good – and as we know – the muscles are connected facially to each other and makes sense that releasing tension in one area may help one stand more efficiently on your feet.  

Stretching: You’ll want to stretch both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles of the calf. That means you’ll do both straight and bent kneed calf stretches.  If you can flex (dorsiflex) your toes at the same time you’ll get a pull into the arch as well.  I didn’t know about the yoga stretch called broken toe pose before doing my research, but some people felt it got into the arch and plantar fascia area better.  Try it and see if the 2 feet feel different.  Mine did… and while I don’t have plantar fasciitis I’m going to keep playing with this stretch to see if I can even out the flexibility of my toes.

Strengthening: There is some promising research that strengthening the calf may decrease pain of fasciitis even faster than stretching (2) The heel rises that were used were NOT rélevés.  Place your forefoot on a thick book and put a towel under the toes (that are on the book) This places a small pull on the plantar fascia.  Start on 2 feet and don’t go up to the toes, bringing the heel above the toe height should be enough and don’t overdo.  

Hopefully, there are a few ideas that you can try.  Let me know your results and what has helped you if you have successfully rehabbed from plantar fasciitis.  I’ll share your stories with other teachers that may be struggling currently with this issue. 

To your success,



(2) Rathleff MS, Mølgaard CM, Fredberg U, et al. High-load strength training improves outcome in patients with plantar fasciitis: A randomized controlled trial with 12-month follow-up. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015 Jun;25(3):e292–300. 


Arthritis and Dance

Just finished 3 workshops in October and had such wonderful interactions with amazing teachers! So many great questions were asked and today’s newsletter was inspired by one of them (Thanks, Donna!)

We were discussing stiffness, fascia and came around to arthritis when I made a comment about how doctors throw out that diagnosis way too often for people over the age of 50 – and how I considered it a garbage pail diagnosis. Meaning… it doesn’t really tell you much about what to do – why you might have it and can it be reversed.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis, but the most common form is osteoarthritis and probably followed by rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease where the immune system begins attacking the joint lining, causing pain and swelling that eventually results in bone and joint deformity. My mother and maternal grandmother had severe RA – and to be honest – they both strongly influenced my desire to be healthy with full mobility. Both of these strong women became totally bedridden. Some of the things I will mention in this article could be helpful with someone with RA or one of the many other types of arthritis – but what I want to address is the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear degeneration of joint cartilage and bones. It causes pain and stiffness and is often first diagnosed in middle age. I’ve talked with numerous… a LOT… of dance teachers who were given the diagnosis of osteoarthritis even without the benefit of x-ray or MRI confirmations. The teacher goes in with complaints of stiffness or pain at the hip or knee, and comes out with a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication and told to keep moving until the pain is too much at which time a joint replacement can be considered.

I want to address suggestions for this type of arthritis from a voice of reason. It’s how I like to approach working with someone’s chronic injury. How many different ways can health be positively influenced?

Dancing along with many other sport forms asks a lot of the body! What we know is that when the body is anatomically aligned the weight is appropriately transferred through the centers of the joints. This is why it is uber important that our students learn how to work their turnout accurately in the hip joint rather than pushing rotation, tucking under, shifting the head of the femur up against the cartilage of the joint where joint disfiguration will occur.

But it isn’t just how they are working their rotation in class it’s even more about their daily standing, walking, sitting and sleeping patterns that can plant the seeds (or not) towards future osteoarthritis. Alignment matters… and even more so outside of class! (note the image on the right is not well-aligned, lots of people typically stand on one leg and unknowingly influence their fascia, their muscles and joints!)

All types of arthritis have an inflammatory factor. What are ways to decrease inflammation in the joint? We just talked about having good structural alignment as the first focus. Secondly, I would look to food to try and decrease inflammation. I have never been an advocate as a one-size-fits-all approach to food. We have different chemistries and respond differently to food. Some people can eat bread – and others are better off being gluten free, which then can decrease inflammation.

Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are definitely high up on the inflammatory food charts along with artificial trans fats, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, processed meat. There is a reason that when I worked at the Center for Dance Medicine we would see a spike in achey bodies and joints in January after holiday food splurging.

It’s all about balance, right? For most people it doesn’t mean you can’t ever have chocolate, but it shouldn’t be the top food group you take in to fuel your body. Inflammation doesn’t just happen at your joints, but also in your gut. I recently did a gut test ( to look at what good and bad bacteria was in my gut and found out one of my inflammatory foods is coffee. (imagine a very sad face:) Now I have a cup of coffee maybe once a month, rather than my one cup a day… and yes… I notice a difference in my gut health. The test also encouraged me towards certain foods to get a better balance and population of certain probiotics, so it wasn’t quite as simple as taking one food out of my daily diet.

It takes time for inflammation to decrease. Besides becoming aware of the food (fuel) you are ingesting, getting good exercise for yourself (beyond teaching class) losing weight if need be, and managing stress (which means getting an appropriate amount of sleep too!) all will influence inflammation.

I want to add one more suggestion and that is to keep your fascia in good condition, elastic and responsive. To that end, proper alignment is key, but we also need to maintain the resiliency of our fascia, so that we don’t start feeling stiff and sore.

When I get the occasional bloodwork done I ask if I can add testing my C-Reactive protein level. This protein increases as inflammation increases. If you find that you are on the high side, even without physical ailments, it would be a good choice to lower the silent increase of inflammation before it shows up in some physical or physiological disorder or disease. Inflammation is connected with many diseases, not just arthritis.

And all inflammation isn’t bad… the inflammation that occurs after an injury is a good thing and a part of the healing process. But chronic inflammation is NOT helpful or useful.

So there you go… I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one… but thought it might be interesting to look at arthritis from a broader perspective of how to change the health of our joints.

To your success!