strengthening knees and second position plié

Dear Deb,

I lately struggle lots with my knees, especially when I do a plie type exercises in second position, this is in gym and dance classes. I have to admit I am 40, but have been dancing all my life.

Was wondering if you have any suggestions to strengthen my knees.



Great question, Lisel! Plié in second position requires a slow controlled action from the quadricep muscle. This means the lower part of the muscle is doing an eccentric contraction – it is lengthening at the same time it is controlling your descent. That is the hardest kind of contraction for a muscle.

The other interesting consideration is that dancers tend to turnout more in second position than they would in first or fifth position. It’s just easier to be in a wide position and turnout.

One of the easiest ways to easiest ways to train your quads for that movement is by placing a physioball (one of the large balls that you can sit on) behind you on the wall. Your feet are away from the wall and in parallel first position and you are leaning with slight weight against the ball.  Then you simply do some slow and smooth demi pliés.

Slow and smooth is key.  Once you can easily do 10 – 15 reps on 2 feet try doing 5 single leg demi’s.  It will really work your balance so start with really baby demi’s and not lowering very far.

You could also sit and put a 5 pound ankle weight on one leg.  Slowly extend to straight, and then slightly (and slowly) bend the knee (only 4-5 inches) and straighten it again.  Be careful not to lock back into the knees when you are straightening.

By doing reps at a smaller range, slowly and smoothly, you are focusing the work more intensely.  This should translate to better muscular control in your second position plies.

As always – make sure your feet are accurately placed in a turnout range that your hips dictate.  In other words don’t turn out farther in second position than how you would easily stand in first position.

Hope that helps!


PS:  remember the early bird special on the Science of Dance Training Summer conference is only until March 30th! Check it out by clicking here!

Looking at a demi plié

click here to view a quick clip on demi pliés. Start to train your eye to see assymetries! I’ve got a few spaces left for the workshop in June – only 20 total participants. Come join me!

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?

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,


“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.

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.