BrendaLee

For the over 40's, flexibility

15 posts in this topic

Hi everyone,

I have never taken ballet before, but will be starting soon. Previously was a gymnast. I am 44 and stopped gymnastics about 6yrs ago, but have not really worked on my flexibility for splits etc for at least 10 yrs. I have been working now for about 2-3 weeks, and have seen remarkable improvement. I was wondering how long you guys have found before your flexibility/splits were back. Also how many times a day is stretching recommended?

Thanks a bunch

BrendaLee

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Back? I've never been able to do the splits.... ! You don't need any of that for beginners' ballet, I'm sure you'll do just fine. You can work on your flexibility alongside your ballet, so it will be there by the time you need it.

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I'm with jane s--can't do the splits and I've been dancing for a long time. For the adult dancer, I don't think being able to do the splits is important. I do like the idea of being able to do something special like doing the splits just for the sense of one's ego. It's good for the ego to do something that most people can't, no matter what that is.

 

As to flexibility development, when I first began dancing, being a guy with little flexibility, I hated stretching. I knew I needed to improve my flexibility, so I did my best to stretch as much as my mind would allow. With time I learned to enjoy stretching. Now I do some stretches during the exercise sessions I do, as a warm-up before class, between exercises when I practice at home, and during daily life. It's more like a habit now.

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I'll add my data point on the other side of the adult dancer population. I did sports and athletics most of my life but started dancing as adult so had never even attempted to do the splits until ballet. The first time I tried, I was able to get all but about an inch off the ground and within about 2 weeks of added stretching, I could do front splits with either leg forward. Obviously, this was due to my biomechanics and natural hamstring flexibility and not effort or any sort of ability other than how my body is put together, which leads me to agree with Garyecht that ability to do the splits has little merit for adult dancers.

 

So I can do the splits thanks to genetics..big deal. I still have tight illiofemoral ligaments and don't have a tight 5th position or super high extensions and I struggle with flexibility in other areas where I am limited by my biomechanics. Stretching my body and working on my overall flexibility helps, and I've made some slow improvements, but we all have our gifts and our challenges and make the best of the body we have.

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I very much agree with the points made above, but just in case BrendaLee is interested in flexibility for its own sake rather than for its importance to ballet, I thought I'd share my experience as another former gymnast. I am not over 40, but I am over 30 and had more than 10 years between stopping gymnastics and starting dance. I was never the ultra-flexible type, but I did have all three splits. I've been dancing about 4x/week for 3 years now, and my flexibility has returned (or not) in somewhat surprising ways. My hamstrings and front splits came back very quickly, with just a quick 3x30-second stretching session after every class. My side split, however, is a different story. A foot off the ground, impossible to stretch without discomfort in the hip joint (rather than the nice stretch in the adductors I used to feel when younger), no discernible improvement since I started dancing. Clearly something is just different in my hips, and after a period of mourning I was able to accept that I'm simply not likely to get that flexibility back. As the posters above have pointed out, it hasn't mattered much so far...in fact, types of flexibility that I never thought about as a gymnast have turned out to be much more important! My shallow plies don't give me a lot of room to work with, and we won't talk about my stiff ankles and rigid metatarsals, which have been deemed unsuitable for pointe. At any rate, I share my experience not because I think it's generalizable, as my specific situation was certainly influenced by my motor habits and idiosyncrasies, very delayed puberty, etc during those 10 years off. I share it more as an illustration of the point that as adults, we are simply working with a different body than we had in our youth. What is working well for me now is to treat this new body as naive, starting from scratch and assuming nothing, and allowing myself to be pleasantly surprised when some advantage of my former training appears rather than to be disappointed when it does not.

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I am not very flexible, naturally. I have very good turn out (nearly perfect). I stopped dancing at 34 and returned well into my 40's. My flexibility did not return. When I was a performer, I had a perfect split with the right leg forward. I was close with the left leg forward. I was even less flexible to the side. I still got jobs. I still danced in a company (not a big one, but a company none the less). Now, I've got nothing. I can barely do a grand battement to the front at 90 degrees. My turn out is still there (I didn't achieve my good turn out, I was born with it), but the general flexibility ... nope. I don't care. When ever I roll into a new class in NYC, the teacher always asks me "so...who did you dance with?" So whatever it was that I "had", I've still "got it". Flexibility isn't dancing, just like pirouettes aren't dancing. It helps...but it is just a tiny part of the picture. I think a strong, lengthened leg, beautifully placed, that continues to grow, should be the goal of a developpe. If it goes high...then all the better. It is so much more beautiful and interesting than a leg that goes up high for the sake of height...without strength and length. Just my opinion. So I don't stress about lack of flexibility.

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I'm not over 40 (I'm over 30), but I have been working for more flexibility and especially working for my splits. I started out with very little flexibility and after about 15 months, I have noticed a significant improvement. I was very flexible in high school (years ago!) but even then, I was never able to quite get my splits.

 

I just ordered one of those stretching units that uses a pulley system to help you stretch in a standing position. (Am I allowed to post the brand name?) I ordered it from one of the major dance supply websites. It's not here yet, but it had positive reviews, so I thought I would give it a try. Many of the reviewers stated that they were able to get their splits after using the unit consistantly. Stretching on the floor in a straddle position causes pain in my knees, so I need a good way to stretch while standing. We'll see how it works out.

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There's a safe, equipment-free alternative to doing the straddle stretch on the floor -- lie on your back with your seat right against a wall, and just let your legs fall apart. Relax and gravity will do the work.

 

Really, most people will see improvement in their flexibility after following any consistent stretching regime for a while. If purchasing a device gives you the motivation to be disciplined and you feel it's safe, I suppose it's fine to use one. But if you can find that motivation without the device (or having spent the money for the device!), it won't be necessary.

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On flexibility: part of the reason I returned to ballet after many years away was that my sole form of exercise had been biking, which was making me dangerously inflexible (as in, pulling muscles when I went to lock my bike).

As a teenager I had been only moderately flexible (with about 3 classes/week)--I could get close to front splits, but not all the way, and there was no hope for side splits.

 

After moderate effort (4-5 classes a week, most of which included a solid barre stretch, and a bit of pre-class hamstring floor stretching), I had both front splits, but my "straddle" flexibility is probably worse than when I was a teenager. Oh well.

 

And Willimus: my observation is that even when former serious/professional dancers return to class and are weak/out of shape/whatever, the ballerina/ballerino polish shines through--even if your body won't do what you want it to do, you at least know what it should be doing, and it shows.

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Frankly, I tend to be suspicious of stretch "machines" -- they an be dangerous. They strike me as a quick fix. Much better to let gravity do the work, as gav suggests.

 

And actually, I've always understood from my teachers that flexibility in & of itself is not "ballet." Flexibility needs to be developed as part of technique, and part of the art & craft of ballet. Maybe you need flexibility to enhance your line, but an elegant, well-aligned & placed arabesque at between 45 and 70 degrees is far better than a high leg, with shoulders & hips out of alignment.

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There's a safe, equipment-free alternative to doing the straddle stretch on the floor -- lie on your back with your seat right against a wall, and just let your legs fall apart. Relax and gravity will do the work.

 

 

Frankly, I tend to be suspicious of stretch "machines" -- they an be dangerous. They strike me as a quick fix. Much better to let gravity do the work, as gav suggests.

 

Both very good points. I am familiar with the stretch gav mentioned, and I agree it's a good one for most, but because I have old knee injuries, stretching that way still causes me pain. My teacher supervised while I stretched that way to be sure I was doing it properly, but the pain was still there, so we thought it best to find another method.

 

Calling the product a "machine" may be a bit of a stretch (no pun intended! :D ). It's really just a strap with a loop for your foot on one end so you can use your arms to hold the other end and gently increase the height of your extensions. I appreciate your points of view and will be sure to use extra care when stretching. :)

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tamaram26 - Here is a stretch you can try that will not put any stress on the inside of the knees that the "against the wall" stretch described above often does. If a dancer is not able to maintain lateral rotation of the legs, then the knees will be stressed, producing pain. In this alternate stretch, the dancer still uses the wall and is still lying on the floor.Lie on the floor, but put your feet on the wall in the position that would be a grand plié in 2nd position if you were standing upright (ie. both knees will be bent at about 90 degree angles, with knees lined up to be over your toes, your feet will be about as far apart as they would be in your second position grand plié and of course your bottom will not be touching the wall). You can get a very good inside thigh stretch by gently pressing out (not down) on your inside thighs with your hands, using your arm strength to increase the stretch. I give this one all the time to my students because it is very safe and quite effective. Another really good thing about this stretch is that you are in complete control all the time, thus further reducing any chance of injury. As you gain more flexibility, just walk your feet closer to the floor, always making sure your knees are still lined up over your toes. :)

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Thank you, Pas de Quoi. That stretch makes a lot of sense the way you described it. I'll look forward to trying it out tomorrow after a good warm up!

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Oooo, Pas de Quoi, what an interesting stretch. Just reading it, I can feel it!

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thanks a lot for the stretch, PDQ! i also had problem with straddle split on the wall thingy, so I am ecstatic about the alternative.

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