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Hamstring Connection to Arabesque

I was at TCU this past fall and Elizabeth Gillaspy and I were sharing ideas, concepts, challenges and training tips as we often do.  I was talking about how it was often surprising to find hamstring weakness in upper level dancers.  I was showing Elizabeth an exercise I was using for strengthening and she immediately jumped in about how the hamstring weakness shows up in arabesque – and before you know it – we created a hamstring/arabesque exercise to train dancers how to feel the connection of the hamstring while doing arabesque.

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‘Center’ strength for young dancers

I’m a captain of my school dance team and our younger girls seem to be lacking in mainly knowing their center, their strength there and how to hold it (as well as their strength in general). I was wondering if you know of any exercises that could help?

Thanks, Rebecca

Great question, Rebecca! And a very hard one to answer. There are many abdominal strengtheners that are out there for you to do as a part of your training of your younger members. Exercises such as leg lowering, or physioball situps, even the regular ‘crunches’ will help to develop strength to the abdominal muscles. What they don’t do though, is help to train the young dancer on standing and moving from a powerful core. That requires that they learn how to move in good alignment and at their full height.

Here’s a few tips to help them explore what that feels like.

The simplest and quickest cuing I’ve found to get someone to lengthen their spine is to place their own hand on top of their head (right in the middle, not by their forehead or at the very back) – and then ask them to lengthen upwards into their hand. Watch them lengthen their spine and then ask them to keep that length as they move.

You’ll need a theraband for the next of tips – it doesn’t matter whether it is a stronger or lighter strength. Take the theraband and place one end under a foot (only 1 -not both) and the other end in the same hand. Grasp along the theraband so as you bend your arm and get tall at the same time – there is a light pull on the theraband. Feel how the abdominals are engaged – not in an aggressive fashion – but in a long and firm fashion. Do a demi plié on one leg keeping a light pull on the theraband.

Now transfer the theraband to your other hand so you have a diagonal pull and again notice how that wakes up your middle area as you align your body and do a few demi pliés on one leg. Then put the theraband under the other foot and do the same thing again, first using the same arm as leg before switching hands.

Another easy exploration is to take the theraband in each hand and gently pull your hands away from each other as if you were going to open to second position with your arms (to the side) now keeping a small pull walk, gallop, skip, or move in anyway you’d like. In order to keep that gentle pull between your arms you will have to engage your core as you move.

These tips will help to teach a dancer what it feels like when they are using their core. It takes strength to stabilize a properly aligned body – and my college students have often had ‘aha’ moments after trying these exercises. I’ve even put loops in one end of a theraband and put their foot in that – and then putting the other end of the theraband in either hand – had them explore how many ways they could move keeping tension on the band. That is a fun exploration!

Once they have the idea that alignment and core strength go hand in hand – I think whatever they do to physically strengthen their core will have a much better chance of being used as they are moving.

I know they are lucky to have you as their dance captain!

Warm regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”


50% off on select DVD’s until midnight, January 4th!

Happy New Year!

I was sitting at my desk this morning reflecting upon the past year and setting new intentions for 2009. I am so grateful to have my dance community. As teachers, nothing makes us feel better than to share our knowledge with others, it is a win/win situation.

I thought about how wonderful the past week was with having my 3 children at home (plus a few of their special friends☺ I scaled back like many of you have, and yet this holiday season was one of the nicest ones in years because I wasn’t so stressed about doing it right. Fewer gifts and more laughing…

The kids and I had some good home-cooked meals (the African curry turned out super!) and played Cranium and Mad Gab, and my all time favorite card game ‘May I’. (It’s a Vogel tradition – I’ve played it since childhood – a type of rummy)

As a thank you to you, my appreciative dance community, my DVD’s are now half price – 50% off – until midnight PST, January 4th. My intent is to help you start the new years off right – with affordable and to the point (no pun intended) information to help you become even more amazing dancers and teachers than you already are.

When you go to the http://www.thebodyseries.com to order your DVD’s, the sale price will be reflected accurately in your shopping cart. There are 5 DVD’s being offered at half price

* Analyzing Turnout
* Analyzing Arabesque
* The Standing Leg
* Ballwork: Releasing Muscular Tension
* Strengthening the Lower Extremity

Perhaps you can round out your collection or give a gift to a special dancer.

When you are at the website, check out December’s Dancing Smart blog postings in case you didn’t catch one of the 7 posts! Make sure to listen to The Science of Dance Training podcast that Lisa Howell and I did together just before Christmas.

Most of all, please accept my warmest wishes for a peaceful, abundant, healthy and dance-filled 2009!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Utilizing Turnout without tucking under

Greetings, everyone, and Happy New Year! May 2009 be the best year ever!

I’m wondering if you can help me with turnout. I understand the concept of turning out using the small rotator muscles underneath the buttocks, however every time I engage them, I can’t help but to engage my gluteus maximus also – which doesn’t benefit turnout. If I let go of my core I can relax these bigger muscles while maintaining turnout, so I’m wondering if this is an issue with how I hold my center more than turnout?
Thanks!
Emily

Congratulations for knowing that the turnout muscles are smaller and deeper – underneath the bigger gluteal muscles!

Whether or not the gluteal muscles contract depends on what the movement you are doing. The gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor – it takes the leg backwards and stabilizes the pelvis on the legs. They actually assist your turnout when you take the leg behind in a back tendu. If you are standing in first position and do a cambre forward and backwards, the gluteals will contract strongly when you cambre back.

When you are doing a demi plie, though, the gluteal muscle should not be contracting strongly because you are flexing the hip. If you contract the gluteal muscles when you are doing a demi plie, you will tend to tuck the pelvis under – not a desirable action.

So turning on the gluteals is almost automatic when you take the leg behind you – but how do you turn them off when you are moving your leg to the front or during the descent of a demi or grande plié?

One of my favorite exercises for teaching dancers where their turnout muscles are is to have them lie on their side with their legs bent with their knees forward and feet in alignment with their hips. Placing one hand on the top buttock area, slowly open your top knee like a clamshell keeping your feet together. If you do a set of 20 lifts (remembering to slowly close the knees together) you’ll definitely feel the deeper rotator muscles working, while being able to monitor whether or not the gluteal muscles are contracting.

Another good way to practice this patterning between the gluteals and the rotator muscles is to start by standing in parallel with one foot in coupe. You’ll then stay standing in parallel and slowly turn out and open the gesture leg to the side.

It is very easy to monitor whether or not you are keeping your pelvis square through the weight on your standing foot. Keep the 3 points of the feet firmly planted on the ground and don’t let your foot ‘roll in’ or pronate!

In time, you will have changed the pattern of always gripping the gluteals – and – your range of motion and ease of movement will be better!

Until next time,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Pain… should you work through it?

Check back often for new questions! Thanks to all the people who wrote in with appreciation for the podcast. I loved reading all your kind words!

I have a question about dancing while in pain. I hear such different opinions from different people. My daughter’s dance teachers will absolutely not let them dance if in any pain at all. She has them sit out. Yet, my daughters friend who has a different teacher is told to push through the pain, toughen up and keep going. I say this could cause further damage and they could be out for longer. I have seen other dancers dance at shows when they could barely walk due to muscle pulls. I think my daughters teachers are right and I’d personally never allow my daughter to dance in pain, but what is your professional opinion?
Thanks, Eileen

I agree with you Eileen. When we get young dancers believing that pain is just a part of dancing – we are doing them a huge disservice and setting them up for injuries. You may want to read my article posted on the website (under articles, a new section for me) on ‘Soreness versus Pain’.

Let’s take a closer look at what pain really is. When a dancer injures strains a muscle, breaks a bone, etc. that is called nociceptive pain. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines nociceptive pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” There is also neuropathic pain which is pain that results from an injury or problem in the nervous system. We aren’t going to talk about that type of pain – most dancer’s nervous systems are working just fine – and for that we need to be grateful!

When dancers hurt or injure themselves the nerves send a message to the brain. They are doing their job by informing command central that there has been some damage to the tissues. Some times the brain sends back a messages such as ‘get out of there fast!’, for example, when we accidentally get too close to a hot stove, our hand’s response is to jump away from the danger.

Pain can be dull or aching rather than sharp. The pain is still a message from our brain that we need to be careful – it keeps us from injuring the muscle or joint further. When we appropriately attend to the pain through a variety of methods, ice, changing our technique, rest, etc. the pain lessens because the tissues are healing. When a dancer keeps going in spite of the pain they run a very real risk of creating a chronic injury that may ultimately take them out of dancing for a much longer period of time.

I know how challenging it can be to translate our body’s messages – from dancing and doing gymnastics myself, and teaching for the past (gulp) 30 years! It takes time and awareness to learn what is the soreness of a newly activated muscle is compared to the strain of tendonitis. This is part of the dancer’s education if they continue dance for any length of time.

And – there are always ways to work with pain besides ‘ignoring’ it! Sometimes an adjustment in alignment or turnout can immediately take the painful stress away. That would be good information, yes?

Sometimes resting for a day while stretching and icing can do wonders. Sometimes it takes a physician or physical therapist to help decipher what the pain message is.

My message to dancers? Learn to listen. To your body’s physical messages, as well as to your emotional responses and intuitions. Don’t freak out when you start to feel discomfort – but instead ask yourself with real curiousity – hmmm.. I wonder what this means? Do I need more sleep? Need to eat better? Stretch more? And so on..

Happy holidays to you all!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Announcing The Science of Dance Training Podcasts!

We’re almost at the end of the year and Lisa Howell and I have been planning
some very special joint projects for next year. We are both passionate and
committed to educating dancers and teachers on how to get the most out of
your dancing. We’ve created a blog at TheScienceofDanceTraining.wordpress.com

We decided that we wanted to end this year on a very special note and are
going to be doing a free podcast that will be available online. We hope to
record the podcast before Christmas – and we need your help. We want you to
email possible questions that we can discuss in the podcast.

To celebrate our collaboration and to make it more fun – the six people who
get chosen to have their question answered in the podcast will get to
choose..

one of Lisa Howell’s dance education manuals, which include…

  • The Perfect Pointe Book and AV Course
  • The Front Splits Fast Flexibility Manual
  • The Advanced Foot Control Course
  • Core Stability for Dancers Manual

And you’ll be able to pick one of my products from The Body Series…

  • Tune Up Your Turnout book
  • Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being Analyzing Arabesque DVD
  • Analyzing Turnout DVD The Standing Leg DVD
  • Ballwork: Releasing Muscular Tension DVD.

If you are interested in being one of our 6 winners this is what you’ll need
to do.

Go to thescienceofdancetraining.wordpress.com and submit your question.

You can also submit your question by sending an email to
thescienceofdancetraining@gmail.com

Send in more than one question, if you like, to increase your chances of
winning. Lisa and I hope to do a monthly free podcast as a way of saying –
thank you for being a part of our dance community.

Send your questions in quickly – we’ll be choosing the winning questions
this weekend – watch for another announcement saying the podcast is ready
for your listening pleasure!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Feet & Proper Posture

My ballet teacher has been helping me a lot with my feet because they are my weak spot. She said that I am too strong in the outer part of my feet, instead of being strong in the inside part. She said that I am more prone to injury because of this, and that this is incorrect.

I know this is true, especially because my feet are pretty close to flat. I “roll in” my ankle in class and outside of class when just walking around. I try not to roll in as best as I can. I was wondering if there are any exercises to help strengthen my inner part of my foot.

Thanks, Rachel
PS: I have a theraband.

Rachel, I’m not sure what you mean exactly with the stronger outer part versus inner part of your foot. When your foot rolls in it is called pronation and yes, there are definitely exercises you can do to help strengthen the muscles of the feet.

Your first focus is to bring your turnout in to where you feel equal weight between the pads of the big toe, little toe and heel. Check how you are standing when you are waiting in line at lunch – or standing and brushing your teeth. The habit of pronation probably occurs in your regular life as well as in ballet class.

Start with rolling for a moment or two on a tennis ball or pinkie ball to release and relax the foot muscles. Start by simply by ‘playing the piano’ with your toes. Keeping the pads of the toes on the floor, lift the toes up in the air and starting with your little toe, put it down on the ground, then the 4th toe, etc., with the big toe being the last. Now reverse and lift the big toe up, the 2nd toe next, and so on. You can use your hands to help do this exercise. If your feet start to cramp, stop and roll on the ball for a moment.

The next exercise is to practice pointing your feet by separating your toes as they begin to lengthen. You will start to cramp on this – and again – stop and roll on the ball before trying it again. You can do this exercise easily with putting the theraband around your toes and pressing gently against the theraband as you extend your toes.

Next tip – get rid of your flip-flops! Wear good supportive shoes with an arch support to help you keep from rolling in. Becoming aware of your rolling in or pronating is the first step in changing your feet – and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of standing with equal weight on the 3 points of the foot.

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I am a faithful reader of your newsletter and I found your book, Tune up your turn out a great help too. Now at 40, I am taking 3 classes a week, I feel that the largest improvement in my dancing would come from understanding of the muscular recruitment of proper posture.

I can’t seem to get hold of the right balance between my deep abdominals, hip flexors and extensors. I don’t know if I am tucking under or holding my center. The visual that I got from my teachers is that I should think belly button to the spine, or lengthen from the bottom of my spine, but I don’t find this very helpful. Should I really be aiming for a straight lower back devoid of its natural curve?

I naturally stand swayback, in a slight turnout with hyper extended knees. Standing in parallel feels really weird, as if my knees are about to knock, and correcting for the exaggerated lordotic curve I end up on bent legs with tight hip flexors and ribs fanning out. I am experimenting with different recruitments, but I am afraid of acquiring bad postural habits, and I certainly don’t need any more of those.

I know that you can’t possibly diagnose my posture by email, but I was hoping that you might have a few tips, or visual images I can try. I know a bit about musculoskeletal anatomy, so to me it would be more useful if someone could address the issue in those terms, as in get out of the quads, use more hip flexors, for example, but this is wishful thinking with the teachers I encountered here.

I would be grateful for your advice.

Zsuzsanna from Budapest, Hungary

Sounds like you have learned a lot over the past 6 years! First – check out whether or not your slight hyperextension is connected to your swayback. Very often it is – and when you bring your knees out of hyperextension, the pelvis comes out of its forward or anterior tilt.

Your lower back will not board straight – and I wouldn’t want you to work towards that – clearly as you describe it creates other problems. What if you shift your focus to the pelvic bowl? If you were lying down on your back with your knees bent and your lower back just resting on the floor I would want you to feel that the pubic bone and the two points on your pelvis that feel like they are sticking up are on a level plane. (Those are your ASIS, or anterior/superior iliac crests)

Note that if you flatten your lower back against the floor your ASIS are probably closer to the floor that your pubic bone, and when you arch your back your pubic bone is closer to the floor that your ASIS.

Now come back up to standing. In standing it is more challenging for me to have a sense of the ASIS and pubis relationship so I shift to thinking that my pubis is lifting gently towards my sternum above it. This helps me to maintain the correct torso/pelvis alignment without putting my thinking (and corrections) into my lower back.

I also imagine that the pelvis is a bowl and I keep a small amount of lift between the pubis and my belly button in order to keep the front of the bowl from spilling their abdominal contents out as they do when you go into a swayback.

Let me know how it goes with bringing your knees to neutral when standing (you can hyperextend when its in the air) and bringing the front of your pelvic bowl up.

Best wishes!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Painful Knees

Question of the week…
I am 13 yrs. old and i have been having problems with my knee. I have pain under my knee cap and sometimes it get to the point where it hurts to walk. (It also hurts to walk up and down stairs and especially if I go into a deep plié or a grand plié) I am a very very active dancer and I would like to know what is wrong with my knee. I just went to the doctor two days ago and they said I should stay take about 5 days off of dance and take the anti-inflammatory medicine they prescribed for me, but as the days go on it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I really hope you can tell me a way to help heal my knee so I can start dancing again. Thank you so much for all your help.
MARIAH

Dear Mariah,
I would first say to follow your doctor’s advice, and take the time off from dance – and take the medication to reduce any swelling. If you are having pain while walking or climbing stairs, you certainly shouldn’t be in dance class until you can do daily movements without pain.

That being said, once your pain is better you’ve got to figure out why it started hurting. Have you gone through a recent growth spurt? Bones grow faster than muscles, and knees are often a place that feel those ‘growing pains’.

Was their a change in activity prior to your knee hurting? Did you start a new technique class, or start with a new teacher, or just come off summer vacation? It can be a real shock to the body when you are off from dance for a while, and then jump in and start taking daily classes.

What’s your turnout like? Is the knee that hurts on the side that has less turnout? Often our turnout is unequal and we compensate by rotating the foot out farther on the side that has less turnout at the hip, and then we put a twist at the knee.

It’s also possible that a piece of cartilage got irritated for some reason that will remain unknown – and – by taking care of it, you will be back to dancing in no time at all. Best wishes for a speedy recovery. Continue to ice, rest it, and follow your doctor’s suggestions. It’s possible that he will put you in physical therapy next so you will be guided in correcting any imbalances of muscle strength and flexibility.