Hope everyone is keeping warm! One quick announcement before we get into the newsletter.
I have created two hip flexibility assessment forms. One is a form that you can duplicate (in case you want to test your students) and mark your results down, and the second document explains how to test for your turnout, hamstring flexibility as well as iliopsoas, quadriceps and ITB flexibility.
I will send you these 2 forms in exchange for a product testimonial. I would like to post on my website more specific testimonials about how you have used any of my products – or a specific aha or insight that was gained through a piece of information. (Which could include information you have received from the Dancing Smart Newsletter) For example, writing your story of how your arabesque improved with doing an exercise you learned from me – or how you put the anatomical pieces together on an issue that you were struggling with.
Send your testimonial to Deborah@thebodyseries.com, and I will send you the 2 forms as a thank you. I will be posting the testimonials on my website and will identify you by your first name only – or initials, whatever you feel most comfortable with. If you would like to identify your city and state or studio (if you are a teacher) that’s fine too, just let me know.
Thank you! And now to the newsletter…
In this newsletter I want to talk about flexibility in general and then specifically stretching your hamstrings.
Most dancers think of flexibility as the length of muscles and the range of motion they can create at a joint. This is what gives the dancer that beautiful line of an arabesque or the height of a développé.
Flexibility needs to be balanced with strength in order to be able to execute all those beautiful dance moves – so ultimately dancers are working towards the best muscle tone they can have – which is a muscle that is both flexible and strong.
I have dancers tell me they are stretching consistently and still not feeling like they are gaining flexibility. What else can influence your flexibility?
One answer is fascia. I’ve talked about in many previous newsletters how fascia is connective tissue. There are different layers of fascia but the anyone who has bought chicken breasts at the grocery store and then trimmed it has seen the whitish sheet of tissue covering the meat (which is the chicken’s muscle) This fascia helps to keep the muscles divided and protected. Sometimes this fascia can get knotted or adhere to other tissue which influences the whole fascial band and can create pain or challenges to your flexibility. This is where myofascial massage is useful. Myofascial means fascia related to the muscles and it is a different type of massage than just deep tissue. The focus is on releasing pulls and tensions specifically in the fascia.
There are sheets of fascia throughout your body. Tom Meyers has written a fantastic book called Anatomy Trains that goes into great detail about all the different lines of fascia. The fascial line I’d like you to look at today is the posterior back line. You can look at a picture of the muscles that are connected by this one fascial line by going to (cut and paste into a new tab or page of your browser – so you can keep reading!)
When you look at the second image, which is the superficial back line you can see that the muscles at the bottom of the feet are connected to the calf muscles, then hamstrings, then up the back all the way onto the head!
Now it may make more sense that if you have a dancer who perhaps is a teenager, awkward about their posture, slumping slightly with a forward head – that the tightness in the fascia of her neck might influence her hamstring flexibility! Conversely, I’ve had dancers who work SO hard at standing up straight that they give themselves a stiffened spine – tightening the fascia in that area – which can influence their hamstring or calf flexibility! We aren’t trained to think of these other areas away from our intended stretching as impediments to our flexibility – but they might be.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and find a qualified myofascial massage therapist (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea☺), what I am suggesting is that if you aren’t getting the results that you want from your stretching you need to look at other areas of the body that are tight that may be influencing your muscles.
For example, let’s talk about hamstrings. For years now I have been introducing pinkie ball work to my students. Before I let them put the pinkie ball under their hamstrings to loosen them up I ask them to stand up, roll all the way over easily and compare how the two hamstrings feel. If one feels tighter, then they put the pinkie ball underneath their foot as they are standing and roll their foot on the pinkie ball. They are releasing the plantar fascia and massage the muscles of the feet. We do this only for a minute or two and then I have them roll back over to see how their hamstrings feel.
Typically, 75% of the students say that they felt the hamstring loosen up on the side they used the pinkie ball on! That’s pretty exciting! Then I go into talking about how they have a fascial band that goes from the bottom of their foot up to their head. (Remember the diagram?)
You could also try releasing the fascia closer to the top of the line. Round forward again so you can sense the difference in tension between your 2 legs. Let’s say your right hamstrings or calf felt tighter. Stand back up and take your left hand and place your fingers on the right side of your neck and massage gently where the muscles meet the base of the head as well as along the right side of the neck down to your right shoulder. Spend 30 seconds to a minute gently massaging this area. It should feel good – if it doesn’t you’re probably massage too hard! Now round back over again and see if you feel a difference in your legs.
If you do – then it is worth making time for either pinkie ball work or some other form of self-massage and then evaluating how your flexibility is improving with this additional focus. I’m not saying to stop doing more traditional hamstring or calf stretching – but if your stretching isn’t giving you the results you want, it’s useful to try a few other ways to see if your results change.
After all – you are smart dancers….
Signing off from another Dancing Smart Newsletter!
“Education is the key to injury prevention”
“Before I let them put the pinkie ball under their hamstrings to loosen them up I ask them to stand up, roll all the way over easily and compare how the two hamstrings feel. ”
I read your blog and have a question about what you mean by “roll all the way over”. I think you mean roll down successionally throught the spine. Is that correct? Are your feet together or apart? Where can you get pinkie balls?
That is correct, Makgotso. They are hanging over with straight legs to simply feel which hamstring might be tighter, before they try massaging the bottom of the feet with the pinkie ball – or massaging with their hands their neck. Look for any type of firm rubber ball to use. Some dancers use tennis balls because they can’t find pinkie balls. If you can’t find anything that works well for you, contact me and I’ll send you some for $2 a ball.
Thank you very much for this information. I´ve had listen about the fascial tissue before. Your explanation is very usefull. I’ll try the work with the pinkie ball and the massages.
You’re welcome, Dylade!
Thanks for this great article. I am an ex Ballet dancer and now a Pilates Instructor. I have read cover-to-cover Tom Meyers book and highly recommend it. Very useful read for all dance students.
You’re welcome, Nova! It’s great that you are taking all your dance knowledge into your Pilates practice!
For those who have sent in a testimonial and have received the hip assessment forms (it’s not too late if you want to still send in a testimonial:) I got a question from Linda that I thought I would post (with her permission) and then post my answer to. Here is the post from Linda:
A couple of questions, can you not have a tight psoas with a normal Quad?
I know what to do for a tight everything else except the tight ITB, I forget how to stretch that?
And say if someone has a tighter left hamstring, should they be doubling the amount of time stretching the left as opposed to the right to try to get more symmetry? (I know it’s hard to be perfectly symmetrical!)
I love the chart, I’m going to make copies and do assessments next week. I knew how to do the turnout and hamstring assessments before from your video, but I would just tell the kids what I found, but now we can record it and refer back to it. They now each have a folder that they put their anatomy sheets that I bought from you, so they will have way more info than I ever had as a kid and hopefully I am helping to create dancers who stay injury free!
PS. I had a girl from another studio in my class and when I told the kids that “W” sitting is very bad for them, she said, my dance teacher has us do that and then lay on our backs! OUCH! It just makes me mad to think of the injuries she is possibly causing her students! I think everyone who teaches dance should have to watch all of your videos and read all of your newsletters! It made me think, maybe you can do one newsletter on the biggest “old school” stretches or exercises that should be laid to rest forever!
And here is my response……..
Yes, you can have a tight psoas with a normal quad. Dancers often focus and stretch their quads more than they do their psoas. Stretching the ITB can be done in a couple of ways. First, if the ITB is tight I would have them working with the pinkie ball on the outside of the hip as the gluteus medius, minimus and TFL make up the muscular component to this very strong fascial band. (or the foam roller is great for this too) Then standing on one leg (with the other foot just resting in front) imagine a C and an imaginary string attached to the standing leg hip – pulling gently to the side as you stretch the same arm over head to make that C. I often rest my other arm on a chair or table so I can release more. (Hmmm… I’ll have to do a youtube video on this stretch)
As far as your question for your uneven hamstring tightness – I do suggest that dancers stretch unevenly at least until they have made up some of the difference.
I’d be happy to do a newsletter on the old school stretches – give me a couple more ideas besides the W stretch and I’ll put it on the list. (She did send some suggestions – and I’m open to others, too!)
I am a ballet teacher in San Diego and have been incorporating many of your stretches into my regular class syllabus – starting with very young dancers (ages 7 & 8) all the way up my adult students. It’s never to early (or late) to start good stretching habits. The one exercise that has made a tremendous difference for me personally is using the pinkie ball on the ITB. Teaching (and standing) for many hours a day was taking its toll on my body and I would often go home at night and feel so stiff (not to mention feel like heck in the morning just afer getting out of bed). Now I make it a point to get in the studio at least 45 mins. before my first class and make sure I get a proper stretching warm up before teaching. I especially pay close attention to outside of the hip and work the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and TFL area with a pinkie ball. The results have been amazing and in the last 6 months I have noticed a great improvement in my over all strength and flexibility. My students tease me – because they know I am never without my pinkie ball in my dance bag. In fact I also keep a tennis ball and small green Foot Rubz ball in my bag as well. They all think I must have a small puppy dog in my dance bag, since I have so many “doggie play toys”. Thanks for the wonderful work that you do, changing dancers lives and helping us live stronger and dance longer!
Diana, Thank you for your very kind words! I too have a ball collection of different sizes and firmness. I’m known as the ‘ball lady’ in Spain because I took a box of pinkie balls to show Spanish businessmen and women how to take a moment and release some tension. It was hilarious – everybody was laughing at how funny each other looked using the balls against the wall – and – everyone wanted to take one home!
I use all your dvds, books, blogs, and manuals daily to help my dancers become more intune with their bodies. I know if they understand their bodies more they will become better dancers, because they will not be frustrated by the mechanics of the movement, lack of flexibility, and injury. You have educated so many students and teachers by making the education of anatomy user friendly. My students love the handouts I give them every week from the “Meet Your Body Series.” My advance students are now on the third Level ” Your Body in Dance Movement Patterns.” They really enjoy analyzing movement patterns. They love the Pinkie Balls the best! I see a real difference in their flexibility when we use them. They use them on their own and know exactly where on their bodies they are going to get the most benefit from the balls. They are more relaxed when we incorporate them in class making class more enjoyable. They always ask to do the “Miracle Stretch” from the DVD ” Analyzing Arabesque” . We test their arabesque height before and then after the streches and wow what a difference there is in their leg height. Please continue making these wonderful products available to the dance world.
Isabelle Cook- Spokane, Washington
Isabelle, thank you! I appreciate your words and have enjoyed our conversations at the past Dance Teacher Summer Conferences!
Thank you for the excellent reminder of the posterior back line.
As a ballet teacher and Alexander technique practitioner I have read Tom Myers book, and find it very useful. I will try the pink balls with my students who have tight hamstrings, and see what their reaction is to the release. There is most definitely a clear correlation between the tightness in the head and neck and the rest of you!
Thanks for all your useful information!!
Deborah — I always love your dancing smart newsletters but was especially happy to read information for the “aging dancer!” I’d like to suggest that you consider writing a book aimed specifically at the aging dancer (or alternatively create a DVD of exercises aimed at us). I could help spread the word, during the course of my own work with people. It is definitely a matter of accepting the reality of where we (the “aging dancers”) are, and how much or how little we can change where we are, in order to become more flexible, strong, and fleet-footed. You have the gift of knowledge about how we can do that without doing damage to our bodies, since it is often tempting to force ourselves to keep up with the young and limber sylphs with whom we are often in ballet class!
Nancy – Thanks for your kind words and I will consider your product idea! I’m working on a multimedia presentation on what’s essential for a teacher to know about anatomy right now, but I will put that on the list!
I have been reading your newsletter for years and must say you are my inspiration. I was not introduced to the anatomical side of dance as a child growing up – it was just about achieving the correct line with little regard given to the fact that there could be anatomical limitations or a science based approach to a visual art.
I have used your info and DVD’s to help dancers learn more about their bodies and how they work anatomically so they can dance to the best of their ability without compromising their bodies. Kids love anatomy -they tell me it even makes them feel smarter in science/biology classes at school because they know things about muscles and bones that other kids haven’t learned yet!
I especially like your pinkie ball video and so do the kids with tight hams! Thanks for caring enough about dancers health and well being to put together all the information you make available. I teach a limited number of dance classes now because I am back in school working towards a career in Physical Therapy- thanks for the inspiration!
Shari, thank you very much for your kind words. You’ve made my day telling me you are working towards a career in PT!