Balance Perspective

I’ve been doing a deep dive into functional movement and how it might help explain certain technique challenges. I discovered an asymmetry in my own movement which was strongly influencing my ability to balance on one of my legs.

Balance, both the standing on one leg kind, as well as balance in muscle usage is key to staying healthy and fit at all ages! The interesting tweak in my thinking came when thinking about how to improve this balance asymmetry. Do you start with improving the movement pattern or improving your proprioceptors?

Perhaps it is the chicken and the egg question…. and they certainly work intimately together – but prior to finding the clip below I would have given a student, and myself, the goal of standing on one leg for up to 3 minutes. Certainly a worthy goal and it will improve your ability to balance on one leg.

But could it be even more effective to address the balance challenge through improving the dysfunctional movement pattern? The answer is yes. Evaluating a movement pattern for where mobility or stability is off and working to correct the deficiency is bringing your motor control and balance… well… back into balance!

Doesn’t mean that you can’t still practice balancing at those odd moments during the day – that will absolutely help you improve your balance standing on one leg. If you are balancing on one leg and doing other things at the same time it is even better1

Brushing teeth on one leg (including the bending over to spit in the sink), reaching down to pick something up on one leg, or even washing dishes on one leg will challenge and improve your balance. My go-to balance exercise was tossing a pinkie ball between my hands – but I’m not sure it was challenging enough.

So this week… challenge your balance in all ways and share your experiences in the comments below!

Here is the clip that started me thinking in a new way…. enjoy!

To your success, Deborah

(I just passed my certification for being able to offer a functional movement screen (FMS) – I’ll be talking a lot about what I’m learning in the months ahead:)

Training Penchés

In the process of working with my son who sustained a grade 2 hamstring strain/tear this week I’ve been thinking about hamstring training and rehabilitation. I’m always trying to figure out the mechanics of an injury – no matter what the sport. If you know how or why an injury occurred then you can bring specificity to your rehab efforts. Specificity is an important principle in strength training. It means your conditioning exercises should be as similar as possible to the pattern of the movement you are training for. Don’t worry – I’m going to bring this back to dance in a moment.

He injured his hamstring during a heel hook move while bouldering. Think of doing a grand battement and then pulling yourself up by pushing down on your heel as you reach one arm upward to continue the climb.

Definitely needs both strength and flexibility – similar to what a penché requires. Dancers focus more on training flexible hamstrings to get those high extensions and splits but often are lacking in strength, especially when the hamstring is lengthening or doing an eccentric contraction, which is what the standing leg of a penché is doing.

Let’s first test the general strength of the hamstrings. Start in a bridge position and lift your pelvis up off the floor. The hamstrings are shortening or concentrically contracting when you do this. The same is true if you place your legs on a physioball and lift your hips up to form a straight line with your body. Still a shortening contraction. Both exercises will help the hamstring become stronger, especially if you do them one-legged, but aren’t specific enough to the requirements of a penché.

For eccentrically training the hamstrings you could begin by lying on your stomach, one knee bent with a 1-5 pound ankle weight on. Then slowly… slowly… straighten your leg. You are beginning to train the hamstring to control that lengthening contraction.

A fun way to train lengthening contractions of the hamstrings is to stand on one leg in front of a chair and slowly lower yourself to sitting. It’s harder than it sounds. Most of us will plop down at a certain point rather than controlling the descent. The lower the chair… the harder it is.

The next variation could be placing one leg on a chair (or physioball) and slowly reaching towards the floor with the opposite arm. Don’t expect to actually touch the floor at first. Only reach as far as you can smoothly maintain your balance. The other leg will not reach up into an arabesque but stay on the chair. This is also surprisingly hard to do well!

The final variation is to actually do the penché by lifting the back leg into arabesque (which is a concentric contraction for that hamstring), and then slowly flexing at the hip into the penché, maintaining good upper back and arabesque alignment.

These exercises will certainly help train your penchés, but also are really good for making sure your hamstrings are both flexible and strong!

To your success,

Deborah

Ankle Mobilization Variations

Here are 2 variations to add to your ankle mobilizations. The most important and first variation that I showed you can be found here. I received a lot of positive feedback on that clip!

If you have questions please email them to deborah@thebodyseries.com.

To your success,

Deborah

Aggregating Marginal Gains aka Incremental Changes

What does it mean to aggregate marginal gains? It’s when there are small, incremental changes in multiple aspects of an activity or process that add up to a remarkable change over time.

For a dancer, improving turnout by one percent, their flexibility by one percent, and alignment by one percent add up to improving their technique way more than just one percent. Each aspect influences the whole positively or negatively.

For example, a student who is working to improve their turnout can make a choice to make their first position more than what they can create at the hip joint. At first, this decision can bring them some positive feedback as they look in the mirror and see themselves in a more pleasing first position.

Over time, though, that decision can bring with a host of other negative impacts that are only felt when enough time has passed. Pronation problems, knee issues, tightness at the hips for example.

How could a teacher shift that? By guiding the student to focus instead on a 1% change, which could be maintaining equal weight on the feet at the barre or sensing the engagement of the external rotators at the hip. In other words, shifting their focus to incremental changes in their process rather than the end result.

As teachers it requires us to breakdown the different aspects of dance into more bite-size pieces so that our students know that there are multiple places they can improve and each one adds up to ‘improved technical skill’.

Duh… I can hear some teachers groaning… of course… !

I get it – as teachers we understand good technique is more than high extensions. AND…. I think many of our students still focus on the end result more than the process… how they look rather than what they are feeling.

When they are evaluating themselves on whether or not they nailed the triple pirouette or jumping combination it can takes them out of a learning mindset. The mindset where they learn to pay attention (somatically) knowing where their weight was in that pirouette, or where their alignment was as they took off into a leap. Understanding that dance is very complicated neurologically and being patience and methodical will pay off! After all it takes over 200 muscles to take one step – can you imagine the neurological patterning it takes to do a demi plié?

Making incremental positive changes in other areas in their life will also influence their technique. Drinking enough water to be fully hydrated, getting enough sleep, etc. are important influences to what happens inside the studio. Encourage them to take those small one percent steps. It may be as simple as drinking an extra tall glass of water first thing in the morning to improve hydration.

We need to remind them that small steps/habits/actions taken daily create BIG results!

To your success,

Deborah

Ankle Mobilization

Wanted to share an awesome mobility exercise for the ankle. This clip may help those with short demi pliés and/or tight soleus muscles. The band that I am using can be found on Amazon (under $10) I would use the orange or red band.

This exercise reminds the ankle how to flex effectively without overusing the tibialis anterior muscle or foot tension. Try it and let me know your results!

To your success, Deborah

Spine Mobilization

Here is a quick video on mobilizing the spine. Try it and see how good your spine feels afterwards!

to your success, Deborah

Mobilizing Exercises

Decided to share thoughts about mobility versus flexibility and show you how to change a more traditional hip flexor stretch into a mobility exercise. Try it and see what your response is! Might be helpful for some students who struggle with regular stretching.

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,

Deborah

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!

Deborah

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,

Deborah