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Stretching Advice for a Pre-Beginning Beginner :)


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#1 Casi Leigh

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 11:19 AM

Greetings, beautiful dancing people! I'm brand new to this forum and I'm searching for some information which I hope someone might be able to help me find.

Before I ask my question, a little background info: My name's Casi and I'm 25 years old. I've just enrolled in my very FIRST ballet class which begins with the fall semester of my senior year in college, this September. I've never danced a day in my life (unless you count the Mashed Potato, at which I am a seasoned pro!) but I've been an athlete since youth and remain in fairly good shape as I bicycle and have recently taken up yoga again. I've been a secret admirer from a distance of ballet since I can remember and I suddenly realized the only thing that had stopped me from pursuing my dream of dancing was the stigma that had haunted me through childhood that I was "too tall." (I'm six feet tall and have been so since junior high!) That seemed like a silly reason to not at least attempt something in which I'm very interested so...here I am!

The mere thought of the class excites me beyond all reason and, at the same time, makes me extremely queasy with dread. I'm not exactly what most people would deem "dancer material." I'm studying to be a librarian; I'm extremely shy, a little on the self-conscious side, and decidedly clumsy. In the words of one of my favorite actresses, Anne Hathaway, "My goal in life is to be invisible and I'm good at it." :o However, I want this more than I can remember wanting anything ever so that's reason enough for me to give it everything I've got.

Now, onto my question: I'm concerned about my level of flexibility, even if I am just beginning. For my height and age, I'm not terrible but I certainly cannot even come close to being able to do the splits or touching my head to my knee. My range of motion in my hips and legs is what worries me most.

Is there a reliable online source or book I could consult to construct a daily stretching regimen to help me get into shape during the weeks prior to the beginning of my class? I'm familiar with basic stretching techniques from my days as an athlete but I'd like to find information on how to put together a routine that will help me be more prepared for my class.

Thank you all very much for any help and have a wonderful day!

#2 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 11:34 AM

Lovely introduction, Casi. :o Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers!

We love it when adults tell us that they are starting ballet because it's been a long term dream, and they are doing it in spite of having a lot of apprehension about their ability. We respect that a lot, and know that it takes a fair amount of courage to actually begin as an adult. You will feel very comfortable here on Ballet Talk, I think, because we have a lot of adult students, and a lot of those who also started as adults. They will be most encouraging to you, I know!

As for flexibility, a lot of that will increase through the classes themselves, and the particular stretches that you will learn in class. I am not a great advocate of trying to learn physical exercises through books alone. There are so many approaches to exercising, and I really think that one needs to learn by being taught exactly how to do each exercise. They can be damaging if not executed correctly. (For instance, splits. They are a great stretch, and that is their purpose. HOWEVER, they should never be done without all of the right muscles being warmed up first. That is what you will learn in ballet class, how to warm up before stretching. Splits involve rotation, and it is very easy to strain hamstrings and groin muscles by doing them when not properly warmed up.)

I would suggest either going to Pilates or Yoga classes if you want to do something productive prior to starting your ballet classes. I prefer Pilates, however, many people do very well with Yoga. They are quite different in their approach, with Pilates being more physical and regular Yoga being more mental and less active, except for perhaps hot yoga. :)

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#3 swantobe

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 12:55 PM

As Ms Leigh said, I think your Yoga should be sufficient for now. Warming up is SO important - I tore my hamstring doing the splits because I wasn't properly warmed up - not fun! Yoga should give you some flexibility back, but just doing simple things like stretching your hamstrings (touching your toes) after exercising will help.

I think it's so great that you're starting ballet! :o I'm just sad you didn't get to experience the world of ballet sooner...
Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, for it is no mere translation or abstraction of life. It is life itself. - Henry Havelock Ellis

#4 dancepig

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 02:28 PM

Welcome Casi! So nice to hear you are joining us! As Ms. Leigh said, Yoga and Pilates are great for ballet students. I take both, and find they both add something different to my dance work. Pilates is perfect for strengthening the core, yoga is wonderful for stretch and balance. However, don't worry too much about it. When you're a beginning student, you're not expected to have a lot of turn-out and/or flexibility. It's always nice when you do have turn-out and flexibility, but it's not expected of you. Your teacher will assist with getting you where you want to be. It's most important you learn turn-out correctly. If done incorrectly you could hurt your knees, and it's not productive.

Let us know how you're getting along. You can post all of your questions here, there are many experts in all sorts of ballet related areas, shoes, clothing, technique, and a great place to share your good times and vent about the not-so-good times.
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#5 Casi Leigh

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 03:26 PM

Thank you so much for the warm welcome, everyone. I'm so glad to have found a community to consult for advice and information as I begin.

I'm so grateful for the advice to just stick with my yoga classes. I'm relieved to hear I won't be at a terrible disadvantage by approaching my first class with limited flexibility.

Victoria, thank you so much for the advice about the pilates classes. I've signed up for a class at the facility where I take yoga.

Lau and dancepig, I very much appreciate your kind words! I'm really excited to learn more as I get started and this seems like a fantastic resource to find answers to lots of my beginner questions. :wallbash:

#6 jimpickles

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 05:03 PM

I think its interesting that when people who dont know about ballet hear that I do ballet (as an older adult beginner) their first question is usually 'how's you flexibility?' I think that this is because flexibility is one of the most immediately noticeable differences about ballet dancers. But in my mind its only one factor, and while extreme inflexibility is of course a limitation, once one has moderate flexibility there are so many other things that to my mind are the limiting factors (skill, strength, etc).

Jim.

#7 diane

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Posted 08 June 2009 - 05:33 AM

That is so true, Jim!

My many adult-beginners are also usually quite worried about being too inflexible; whereas when they actually start lessons, they usually are concentrating on many other things, and the flexibility comes slowly and "naturally" with the work.

-d-

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Posted 08 June 2009 - 08:55 AM

Hi Casi Leigh: I suggest you check out a website, Dancing Smart, for some great information on all aspects of ballet. The site owner, Deborah Vogel, has lots of information about stretching that is specific to ballet. It may help you get "a leg up" quite literally on your upcoming ballet lessons.

Yoga is great but I think you'd enjoy learning about these stretches and strengthening exercises.

Take good care and happy dancing! :D

#9 Garyecht

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 09:12 AM

I will put myself up against anyone on this board with respect to thisóI am the most totally inflexible dancer around, no if, andís or butís about it. And Iím going on my 15th year of dancing and stretch 6 days a week. Having said that, I think Iím reasonably decent dancer. The point is, that for a recreational adult ballet dancer, flexibility really isnít that important to our enjoyment and the reward we get from dance. For a professional, flexibility is vitally important and I think every dancer wants to be more flexible than he or she is, but from the adult perspective, we have what we have, wish we had more, and constantly stretch to increase our range of motion. The good thing is that we do improve with time.

Like the previous writers, I think Pilates and yoga are a good source of stretches (I vastly prefer yoga to Pilates, however). I also think you can learn stretches from books or internet sources just fine. Iíve found that when it comes to stretching, there are really very few rules. Personally, I think you have to experiment and find the kind of stretching that seems to work best for you. The one thing I will say that the important thing is to stretch a lot. Flexibility is a lot like dance. You have to do it a lot to make improvement.