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BallerinaMom

Tips and Advice for a Returning Adult

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BallerinaMom   
BallerinaMom

Hello. This is my second post on this forum and I am desperately seeking some tips and advice.

 

I studied ballet for about 7 years as a child and was inspired to start dancing again last fall when I registered my little girl for ballet. It had been over 20 years since I danced so a lot has happened in that time including two children.

 

So, the studio that my daughter and I attend teaches the Cecchetti method (I studied Russian as a kid) and am now in grade 2 but am really struggling with a few things.

 

I seem to have absolutely no strength in my feet. I have a very hard time pushing myself up off the floor. What sort of exercises can I squeeze into my schedule to help strenthen them? Also, I haven't any plie in 5th position. First and second are ok although there is always room for improvement. I just can't seem to get much plie when my feet are crossed. When I plie in 5th, I feel tightness in the front of my lower leg. I don't remember having an issue with my plie when I was younger so am thinking this is an age thing (I'm in my mid 30's). It's improved a bit in the last year but I'd really like to improve it a lot more as this would help me so much. I am thinking I need to try to stretch my achilles tendon as well.... Of course, there are other things that I'd like to improve but those are the two that really need immediate attention. My teacher has commented that I have great turnout and placement. She's also said my ankles and legs are very strong but I have no idea what happened to my feet..... :)

 

I take classes only two days a week as I just can't seem to squeeze in anything else with my work schedule and shuffling the kids back and forth to school and their activities. I'm hoping as they get a little older, I can take on more classes. I tend to beat myself up when I can't do things as nicely or pick things up as easily as I did when I was younger. I have to remember that I'm not 14 years old and 98lbs anymore....

 

Any advice and/or tips will be greatly appreciated.

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rlyons   
rlyons

Hi,

I am just a new member too...so hope it's ok that I reply first, but I just wanted to tell you that I feel you. I had taken ballet classes as a young kid for only a few years, once a week, but always loved ballet. I returned to adult classes three months ago and felt like an idiot! I just turned 40, I am lucky enough to have a great over 19 class very nearby which only charges a few dollars for a class if you buy 10 classes. At first I went once a week and didn't see HUGE improvement but now I go three and sometimes four times a week and am improving dramatically. My issues are flexibility. My improvement there is slow but my grace and memory for the steps are getting way better! :)

 

I beat myself up too! But someone on here reminded me that it is about the dance, not about ME OR the steps....good advice I thought...

 

I am not sure about how to build up your feet strength, etc...but I am sure that you will get great advice here for that.

 

I am lucky to be footloose and fancy free as I have dogs and not kids so I have lots of time...I also work from home so it is nice to get out to meet other ballet dancers!

I don't think it's so much of an age thing as an out of practice thing! Look at all the great dancers who danced into old age; Fonteyne, Nureyev, etc.. Google world's oldest performing dancers...they are way older than us!

 

I have heard that yoga and pliates can help greatly for strength and flexibility as can practicing at home (which I do). Throw on some Chopin or other ballet music you like and let it rip!

 

I CAN say that going back to ballet has changed my life for the better! I feel great (except for some muscle and a little joint pain which I am getting help for), I am looking good, I feel confident and happy....

 

Well done for going back! It sounds like you have a lot going for you. I am sure that the areas where you feel you are lacking won't even be a worry in a few months:)

 

I can see that you have been back longer than me...so I bet you are way better than you think ! :)

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dancepig   
dancepig

Ah - the agony of de-feet! The best way I know to work the feet (other than in class) is with therabands. There are a couple of videos on youtube showing how to wrap the theraband across the bottom of the foot, then holding the theraband in each hand you point the foot then flex the foot.

 

As for a deeper plie - that has been the bane of my existence since I first went back to class about ten years ago! I love to wear high heels and that is really terrible for a deep plie. I have increased the depth of my plie, but it has been slow going. However, one stretch that is good is to put one foot in front ot the other, hold onto the barre, bend the front leg, keep the back leg straight and stretch into the front leg. I know someone on this board can explain this better than I'm doing, but hopefully you're getting the idea?

 

Just remember, slow and steady wins the race!

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Pirou   
Pirou

Ballerinamom,

 

I also danced for years as a child and took about 25 years off before coming back. I was also completely shocked when I started back to find that I could not get up to a high demi pointe! I mean, really shocked. That was second nature to me growing up. My heels barely went up off the floor. It was very upsetting to realize that I had lost that. Anyway, I just wanted to reassure you that if you were up before, it will come back. When I started back, I was over 40, could not go up on my demi anymore, and had an extension of about 35 or 40 degrees. 3 years later, not only do I have my demi pointe back, but I have been allowed to start pointe, my extensions (at least to front and side) are well over 90, and my podiatrist noted that my arch is now hovering more than a quarter inch above my now-obsolete orthotics, and I have managed a split on one side. I am still improving back flexibility and Achilles tendon/calf flexibility, but the return of movement in other parts of my body reassures me that it is possible for those also to come around.

 

I think 2 classes a week is good to start back with, and in between classes you can do simple things to get your feet moving again, like ankle circles for flexibility and maybe a few calf raises hanging off the edge of a step for strength.

 

I might be careful about going for too many classes while your Achilles tendons and calves are still very tight. This is just what my experience has been, but I also didn't have my plié back in the beginning and wound up with Achilles tendonitis and a stress fracture early on from too many classes/too much jumping/too soon. I recovered from those 3 years ago, but now it seems that ongoing Achilles tendon inflexibility can also be a contributing factor to stress fractures because when you land or walk on an inflexible Achilles tendon/calves, it's that much more impact on your bones. I've just had a specialist look at some chronic ankle and metatarsal pain I'm having, and he is diagnosing the cause as chronic tight achilles tendons and calves for just that reason. He will be sending me to a dance rehabilitation specialist in a few weeks, and she will be giving me exercises to stretch these out to a more normal level. I think they will most likely be exercises that are very general and that anyone could do without harm.

 

:) If it is okay with the moderators, I would be happy to describe the exercises here when I get them.

 

In the mean time, as a former yoga teacher, I recommend daily sun salutations with 5-breath pauses in downward facing dog as a gradual, gentle calf and achilles tendon stretch. That's what I'll be doing between now and the time I see the dance PT to start getting my lower legs stretched out again.

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Garyecht   
Garyecht

I think for all adult students, whether one is a raw beginner or one who had a lot of experience in a younger life, the most important thing is about attitude. Either way you are talking about creating a different life style—new habits, new activities, and new ways of thinking. That isn’t easy. We are all subject to inertia.

 

In my mind, the key aspects are patience, persistence and practice. You have to be patient with yourself and your progress. You will have your ups and downs as you progress, so you have to be persistent when times don’t seem so favorable to you. And you have to practice, whether by taking enough classes or sneaking in little practice sessions during your day.

 

If that weren’t challenging enough, you also have to wrap it all in a sense of pleasure. You have to enjoy what you do.

 

I don’t think there is any one roadmap to getting where one wants to go. I love hearing what others do and often try those things. Some things work out nice, while other things don’t. That’s to be expected. In the end you have to find your own way.

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TemptressToo   
TemptressToo
As for a deeper plie - that has been the bane of my existence since I first went back to class about ten years ago! I love to wear high heels and that is really terrible for a deep plie.

 

Interesting...I live in 3-4 inch heels, and have found I have really strong ankles and a really high releve as a result. Balancing on demi is also easy. My plies aren't super, but they are adequate for what I need from them. :wacko:

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dancepig   
dancepig
QUOTE (dancepig @ Nov 18 2010, 06:13 PM)

As for a deeper plie - that has been the bane of my existence since I first went back to class about ten years ago! I love to wear high heels and that is really terrible for a deep plie.

 

Interesting...I live in 3-4 inch heels, and have found I have really strong ankles and a really high releve as a result. Balancing on demi is also easy. My plies aren't super, but they are adequate for what I need from them

 

Right, the heels can help strengthen the ankles and help with balance, but they tend to shorten my achilles. However, I love my heels and won't give them up. I have very smurf-esk legs :clapping:

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luceroblanco   
luceroblanco

I struggled with similar problems, tight achilles and weak feet. I'm still working to improve them. My achilles improved a lot with exercises my teacher gave me to stretch my calf muscle (when I did the exercises regularly). I suffered a severe cramp in one calf though, before my teacher recognized the problem and gave me the exercises. (This was last winter). He/she also gave me foot exercises using a theraband and also to improve my arch. I had very flat feet and the exercises did help in just a short time to improve it and give the appearance of an arch. You can try picking up a tissue with your toes (or picking up marbles). I'm still working on pointing my feet more. My feet definitely have gotten stronger but I have a long way to go. I did have a sesimoid fracture years ago when I danced and since then I think my feet muscles just atrophied from lack of use. If you look at professional ballet and modern dancers feet you can see the muscles and the tendons, they are so strong. A year ago my feet looked soft like a baby's feet. I have much more definition now.

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Redbookish   
Redbookish

Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers (BT4D), Ballerinamom. You'll find lots of good advice and comradeship here.

 

I think also that a mantra we have is that the best way to improve your ballet is -- more ballet! But it's difficult to fit it into a busy schedule (my workload at the moment is ticking over 7 days a week, 10 hours a day, so no dancing). Other members have given you really good advice here in this thread, and you might do a search of this forum to read other people's advice and experience.

 

It's not really recommended to practice ballet on your own, but you could think about putting more exercise into your daily routine? Simple stuff like stairs instead of lifts, walking more, and so on. The other thing that might help is the New York City Ballet workout tape. It's pretty safe to do on your own, and can be quite strenuous.

 

Most of the things that you are worried about will improve over time -- it's a slow burn technique, ballet! But I'm sure your teacher can show you a simple calf stretch that's also good for your Achilles -- but don't push stretching your Achilles, please! A damaged Achilles is not a nice thing ...

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Marjolein   
Marjolein
QUOTE (dancepig @ Nov 18 2010, 06:13 PM)

As for a deeper plie - that has been the bane of my existence since I first went back to class about ten years ago! I love to wear high heels and that is really terrible for a deep plie.

 

Interesting...I live in 3-4 inch heels, and have found I have really strong ankles and a really high releve as a result. Balancing on demi is also easy. My plies aren't super, but they are adequate for what I need from them

 

Right, the heels can help strengthen the ankles and help with balance, but they tend to shorten my achilles. However, I love my heels and won't give them up. I have very smurf-esk legs :clapping:

 

 

My goodness, I then wonder how long my achilles tendons would be if I didn't wear heels. I live in my 3 inch heels as well, and I have the deepest demi plié ever. My ankles are rather wobbly on demi pointe though, while I can very firmy stand and walk in my heels.

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BallerinaMom   
BallerinaMom

Thank you all so much for your suggestions and words of encouragement. I think I'm going to try the NYC Ballet Workout and maybe sneak in some work with the theraband under my desk at work....

 

I really love dancing so much and would love to at get back to the way I was when I stopped 20 plus years ago....!!

 

Thanks again!!!

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loohoo44   
loohoo44

Great advice so far! I'm in my early 30's and have been dancing for the last 7 years, I didn't growing up so I don't have a 'younger' self to compete with. But sometimes I still find my pace frustrating when compared to the teens I usually dance with.

 

What helps me is to pat myself on the back at least once during class, when I do something well. Some days it may only be a nicely held balance or not falling over at the end of a turn. :-) Other days it's a nice arabesque or double turns! Doesn't really matter, as long as I take a second to recognize the progress, no matter how small, and congratulate myself. Even if I do nothing else right for the whole rest of class, the memory of that one thing I felt I did well makes me smile. Of course I'm always trying as hard as I can and always want to do better, but these little moments keep me coming back to class week after week.

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