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Kerrida

Balance and Leg Alignment

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Kerrida

Hi guys, I'm hoping to be able to get some advice/guidance to help me get a better grasp on how I can start to fix some issues I have noticed during my first few classes. I will of course be approaching the instructor again after next class, but right now I can only attend one class a week as I do not want to overload my schedule between full time work and school.

During my second class I noticed that I kept resorting to keeping my weight in my heels, which I knew from prior reading was the opposite of what I needed to be doing. I was also having trouble finding my balance releves and kept sickeling over to my little toe. That was nothing new to me as I had the same issue when I was doing inline speedskating, but I was mostly fine during our one legged squats after my knees were even slightly bent. Straight legged, I was unsteady.

As such, after class I approached the instructor to ask about difficulty keeping weight forward as well as balance so that I could focus on that at home. I also asked if my legs should be slightly bent or locked back straight. I was told that I wanted to be straight, but that if the kneecap pulled up it was too far as we don't want the knees locked. When I got home, I tried to see what she was talking about, but settling back into my usual standing, the kneecap didn't ever "pull up" until I actively engaged my quads. Since the kneecap only pulled up in that case, I wasn't sure where to go from there. 

As I do have some hyper-mobility in the knees I got curious and looked up if it affected balance at all. Which, to my surprise it apparently does? I tried to work on figuring out how to ensure the tibia/fibula and femur are aligned, but I'm not sure how to tell really. During this last class I think I was able to find it sometimes, but the moment I focused on the instructions being given I'd slide back into my normal "straight' leg. Sadly I wasn't able to stay after class this last time to ask the instructor as I had to get back to work.

Is there any way I can be certain I have my leg aligned properly so that I can try to better my balance? Additionally, I assume I need to do some strengthening in some areas to keep from naturally falling back into my hyper-extension? Are there any suggestions on things to do for this, or at least suggested resources to find such?

 

Hopefully that all made sense, and thank you all in advance. Though I've only just started, I'm having a wonderful time and eager to keep learning. Hopefully I can get settled to where I can go more than once a week.

 

Edited by Kerrida

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Miss Persistent

Welcome Kerrida! I'm so glad you've discovered ballet and are enjoying it.

You've unwittingly stumbled into a minefield :) But it's ok, many of us have been there and navigated through it.  Weight placement and Hyper-extension are two things that vex many a dancer and teacher.  Before we all start diving in too much to try and help, it might be useful for you to read Clara76's sticky post on alignment http://dancers.invisionzone.com/topic/35504-sticky-clara76s-post-on-alignment/ and watch this great video by Misty Copeland who has dealt with her incredible hyper-extension! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcvDK-_ufrs  There are a few fundamental concept you need to get your head around before you get too far down the track, and these are great resources with lots of info to get you started. 

Hyper-extension has a great impact on your weight placement which essentially will determine your balance so the two are very inter-related.  Essentially, your "straight" is beyond 180 degrees, which affects the way the weight falls through the lower part of the body.  You might need to strengthen some things, and also get used to working with an unfamiliar alignment through your legs.  I would have a look at the post/video first to give you a bit of foundation as to alignment and working with hyper-extension, and then if you have more questions we can can all happily assist!

 

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Kerrida

Hi Miss Persistent,

Thank you for the response. I actually had found Clara's sticky prior to this week's class which is where I found out about alignment I needed to aim for, and had found that video while I was writing my initial post! I was trying to see the alignment in the mirror while waiting for class to begin, but I wasn't certain if I was finding the right alignment or not. Are there other cues to help you know you found the right spot other than simply visual, such as feeling certain muscles engage or some other tactile cue?

I actually did not find out about my hyper-extension until recent years, even then was never told it would have such a profound effect on my balance. I certainly makes sense, and I'm surprised I didn't piece that together myself. I have no doubts that I need to work on strengthening the muscles, as once I do slide my knees forward out of the hyper-extension I don't feel very well supported unless I do drop further forward to where muscles engage as if I were about to do a squat. I'm not exactly sure the proper way to go about doing such. I know there's a slew of videos around YouTube for just about any topic, but always a good idea to get advice and recommendations for what's "the good stuff" from those far more experienced and qualified rather than trying to find it on your own.

Edited by Kerrida

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99carrots

Hi Kerrida, 

I myself am not terribly hyper-extended, but even a slight degree of it can be challenging to work with as I found  both throughout my own dance career and those of students I have taught.  The way that I have dealt with my own minor hyper-extension and the way that my teacher advises students with more significant hyper-extension to do so is through correct use of turnout.  Based on observation, people with hyper-extended knees usually have a tendency to "relax" into their hyper-extension, which puts a lot of pressure on the knee cap and prohibits full, proper use of turnout.  This "relaxing" also can lead to a tendency to tip the pelvis forward (stick the buttocks out), which can strain your back - this also means you are not activating your turnout muscles properly or engaging your lower abdomen, two key elements of working with hyper-extension.  

Instead of locking back the legs and trying to make a "straight" leg line, I think of lifting upwards.  I think of activating my glutes (think squeeze, but not tightly gripping them... it is . a difficult balance that I still find myself struggling with after 4 years of effort... but hey, that's ballet for ya!) When my glutes are activated, I further think of my outer thigh muscles wrapping around the backs of my legs towards my glutes.  As for the quads, they should be engaged and pointed out over your toes.  

So, all of these body parts and muscles (feet, knees, quads, outer thighs, glutes) should feel like they are "wrapping" outwards and upwards.  At the same time, your inner thigh muscles and sartorius should be spiraling up and out as well.  Thinking of your muscles as spiraling, rather than just locking, will help you find the activation of the turnout muscles that you need.  This lifting, spiraling, and flattening of the lower abdomen will (this is going to sound weird), in a way, "cancel" out your hyper-extension, as the engagement of the muscles will make your leg truly straight.  It is SO hard, and that is coming from someone who has very little hyperextension.  However, by working towards developing these muscles, you will find that you will gain strength, stability, sound technique, and muscle tone.  I hope this makes sense!! 

There is an article online from Pointe magazine entitled "Our Best Tips: Dealing with Hyperextended Knees."  It outlines a couple exercises that may help with feeling these seemingly elusive turnout muscles.  

Best of luck -- you are not alone in this struggle :) 

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Miss Persistent

99carrots has some great points. (Cool name too!)  Spiraling upwards through the leg and body is an excellent cue.

It's important that you re-teach your brain and muscles what is "straight", as they probably have their own idea!  I would start by sitting on the floor and doing this exercise from Lisa Howell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcjOVEXeMA4  A lot of people with hyper extension find they need to strengthen their VMO (your quad muscle that runs down the inside front of your leg) to be able to find the correct alignment in standing.

Once you've mastered it on the floor, try it in standing.  A good cue can be to stand parallel, weight and posture correct and think of the insides of your knees drawing forward, upwards, and around (there's that spiral again!).  Make sure you don't roll onto the outside edges of your feet.

You will probably find that initially you will need to check your standing alignment visually, as it will all feel very weird to begin with.  You can practice finding "straight" for ballet by standing in 1st with the heels touching, your pelvis properly aligned, and your weight forward over the b-a-l-l of the foot.  You will probably feel like your knees are a bit "bent" in this position, but try and maintain it while you activate all your leg muscles as 99carrots says, spiralling up and out.  Feel like you are sending energy down to push the floor away from you as your legs and body grow upwards.  For the moment don't worry about exactly what is engaging, just be sure your weight and posture are remaining correctly placed.  The phrase "pull up" in ballet is the most useless phrase ever if you ask me.  Rather, think of pushing the floor away from you to lengthen your legs and your body.  You should feel a whole bunch of muscles activating everywhere! Make sure you haven't pulled back into your knees (locked/pushed back into your hyper extension), visually check in the mirror, count to 5, relax and try again.  It's all about getting your brain and muscles to feel comfortable in a new position.

You will likely find you will need to practice this in isolation for weeks before you can confidently dance this way.  In the meantime, at the barre try cues like putting your sit bone over your big toe joint, and even thinking of dancing with your heels in the air.  Imagine leaving a space underneath your heel that you could slide a piece of paper in and out of.  These will help you keep your weight placed forward.  (Don't forget these are images - don't literally try and put your sit bone over your big toe joint or you will ruin your posture!!)

Let us know how you go! As 99 carrots says, you are not alone!

 

 

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Kerrida

Hi 99carrots,

Thank you for that description about spiraling out as well as pointing out about how giving into the hyper-extension relates to turnout as well. Figuring out how to get all those turnout muscles engaged was what I had planned on sussing out after I understood how to start resolving the balance and alignment issue. Certainly was surprising to learn that simply engaging those muscles properly would be a good start.

I have spent the last little while trying to work with that spiraling concept and certainly noticed that it seemed to naturally pull my knee forward as well as rotating it out into a better alignment. Best of all, I didn't feel as wobbly on the ###### of my feet when I did releve. However, assuming I'm activating things properly, I highly suspect that my muscles are going to be crying after the next class. I'll be sure to ask my instructor if I've got the right idea with it now before the next class begins.

 

Miss Persistence, thank you for that video link. Seems like it'll be quite helpful, and tiring for a while! I will admit that "pull up" kept leaving me confused when it came to lower body, but the spiraling image made it click I believe.  However, the sit bone bit you spoke of has me a bit confused. I assume that'd be the bone structure I feel is I sat on my hands? When you say imagine keeping it over the joint of the big toe, do you mean shift forward slightly so that my weight migrates more to the ball, or is it more for how to keep the pelvis tucked and aligned properly?

Thank you both again, this has been an amazing amount of help. I will work on these things until next class, and hopefully I'll be able to verify that I am applying them properly.

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Redbookish

Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, Kerrida.

You've had some excellent advice, but I'd add (from the perspective of an adult ballet student) that as you've just started classes, you're also probably just finding your rotators & turn out muscles. So it's all new, and a lot to take in all at once. 

I find Eric Franklin's books on visualising & imagery really useful - the drawings & text are really accessible for those of us without formal training in anatomy.

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Kerrida

Rebookish, you are absolutely right about just starting to find them, and definitely going to take some time to learn how to use the right stuff and do it correctly. One thing I have realized, even if you know going in that learning this is going to be hard, you aren't prepared for just how hard and involved it is in reality. So much new information coming at you, and trying to process what is being asked while also trying to figure out how to make your body perform the stated task is quite daunting. However, it's been worth it!

 Also, thank you for the book suggestion. I will definitely make sure to look those up!

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Miss Persistent
On 6/1/2018 at 1:03 PM, Kerrida said:

  However, the sit bone bit you spoke of has me a bit confused....... or is it more for how to keep the pelvis tucked and aligned properly?

Agghhhh!!!! ABORT ABORT ABORT ABORT!!!!! 

My apologies for not being clear in my explanations.  I hope this is clearer;

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, ever TUCK your pelvis in ballet.   This is the quickest route to bad posture, tight hip flexors, no balance, and a whole bunch of other stuff you don't want to go near.  A tucked pelvis is not an aligned pelvis. Much better analogies are to think of a lifted pelvis, or a neutral pelvis. https://goo.gl/images/BXKYeg

Yes, we are talking about the bony bits you can feel when you sit on your hands.    In Clara's alignment post, she talks about imagining your sit bones are lights shining down from your pelvis, and you want them to hit the floor beneath you which is a good analogy.  If you tucked your pelvis they would point forward in front of your feet.  Another way to think of it is to place your hands in an upside down triangle shape, thumbs together, index fingers touching and place the triangle on your lower abdominals/pelvic floor (between your hip bones).  The triangle should be vertically aligned, not tipping forward towards the floor, and not titled back to look at the ceiling.  I like to think of a plumb line - a piece of string falling with gravity through your body. Imagine the string coming from the center of the spine, through your body, out between your sit bones and falling between the heels in 1st position with everything (head, spine, pelvis, legs) lengthening along the line.  You're trying to think of placing your aligned (neutral) pelvis so your sit bones lights are shining down onto your feet, not behind them and not infront of them - just straight down.  You should feel your weight transfer onto the forward part of your feet it you are positioned correctly.  When you move your weight onto one leg, move your sit bone spotlight over that one foot, on demi-pointe it goes over the toes of that foot etc.  Again - these are just images and analogies. You can't physically put your sit bone over your toe - but you can feel like you are and this will help align your body to balance well.

I agree with Redbookish - Eric Franklin's books have great imagery in them if you find imagery is working for you.  Good luck and keep plugging away!

 

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Kerrida
2 hours ago, Miss Persistent said:

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, ever TUCK your pelvis in ballet.   This is the quickest route to bad posture, tight hip flexors, no balance, and a whole bunch of other stuff you don't want to go near.  A tucked pelvis is not an aligned pelvis. Much better analogies are to think of a lifted pelvis, or a neutral pelvis. https://goo.gl/images/BXKYeg

Understood! I hadn't even considered tucking the pelvis in that way (as shown in that image), that looks like it'd make even walking very awkward. Though I chose poor wording, I believe I had the right thought as I was thinking of "tucked" more as "don't stick your butt out"?

Thank you again for the help. Hopefully I'll find out that I'm applying everything properly at class on Tuesday!

Edited by Kerrida

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Redbookish

Instead of "tucked" I try to think of the weight of the pelvis going down, and my spine and neck pulling up and out. My teacher asks us to think about our ears going towards the ceiling. Another way to think about the lengthening of the spine that helps me (again, advice from a teacher) is to try to keep the top of my skull in the same place as I descend from a rise onto demi-pointe - that reminds of lifting up from my pelvis, while plies remind me to let the weight of my pelvis descend naturally straight down. It's like remembering that your skull weighs several kilos and using that weight to help you in a forwards port de bras.

I recently did a lovely class taught in such a gentle way (Hendrick January subbing for Hannah Frost at Danceworks in London) where he talked about folding and relaxing into the folds of our knees. And the plie being a knee fold which allows our hips and thighs to open outward - it was all so gentle and logical. In some stretching he gave us (fairly standard quad stretch, pulling foot to buttock) he asked us to let the foot move towards our hand - it took all the wrenching and strain out of the movement!

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Miss Persistent
3 hours ago, Kerrida said:

Understood! I hadn't even considered tucking the pelvis in that way (as shown in that image), that looks like it'd make even walking very awkward. Though I chose poor wording, I believe I had the right thought as I was thinking of "tucked" more as "don't stick your butt out"?

Thank you again for the help. Hopefully I'll find out that I'm applying everything properly at class on Tuesday!

Phew! Words, images, pictures, forums etc etc can only get us so far - that's why it's so important to work with a good teacher :)  Try not to get too focused on your poor butt! If you are able to lengthen the spine upwards, the pelvis should follow.  It's best to think of the hip bones lifting upwards from the front (using your lower abdominals), and even though you should feel your sacrum dropping downwards, you don't want to try and use your butt muscles to 'pull' it down. Your glutes shouldn't be used as a postural muscle, rather your deep abdominals and your deep back muscles.

Let us know how you go after Tuesday, but make sure you don't get discouraged if you have trouble doing it often (or even at all!).  Learning ballet is a really long process, but it sounds like you're already understanding it's going to take time and a bit of fiddling.  Keep it up, and keep up the love of ballet!

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Kerrida
On 6/4/2018 at 3:07 AM, Miss Persistent said:

Let us know how you go after Tuesday, but make sure you don't get discouraged if you have trouble doing it often (or even at all!).  Learning ballet is a really long process, but it sounds like you're already understanding it's going to take time and a bit of fiddling.  Keep it up, and keep up the love of ballet!

Just got back from class. While I didn't get a chance to talk to the instructor before class, I did get to after class. All of those things absolutely did help, and she confirmed that I was applying it properly. She did comment that she had noticed I was a lot more stable on my feet, and more sure of movements. I know I let things slip a lot as I added the additional bits to trying to focus on. It ended up being almost musical chairs with which aspect fell out as I'd try to correct the previous. My legs certainly did get more of a workout though, which I was expecting. 

 

Lots to learn, which will never stop I'm sure, but I'll absolutely take the victory that I was able to understand the advice given by all of you and apply it. I can not thank you enough!

Edited by Kerrida

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Miss Persistent
7 hours ago, Kerrida said:

I know I let things slip a lot as I added the additional bits to trying to focus on. It ended up being almost musical chairs with which aspect fell out as I'd try to correct the previous.

Hooray! Good on you that you were applying it correctly and great your teacher noticed the difference. Musical chairs is absolutely normal!  Just keep plugging away doing as much as you can and it will come together over time.  Best of luck :)

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