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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Extension Strength


Guest kristinene

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Guest kristinene

I've checked teh archives and was unable to find an answer my question. How can I develop the muscels I need to increase my extension? My flexibility is ok - splits on left and right (if I'm warm!) but I struggle to get my leg past 90 degrees. Even when I was a young dancer, and studied much more seriously, I had poor extension. I have no desire to be an acrobat, I just want to continue working and improving - but I'm not really going anywhere at this point! Thanks in advance!

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Kristinene, if the flexibility is there, then the extension should also be there if you have been studying for a long time. It could be a lack of rotation, so that when you are standing up and working correctly placed you can't get the leg higher than 90º because of keeping the hips aligned and using the rotation. Holding an extension takes strength in the abs and back muscles, as well as the quads and hamstrings, however just getting it there is basically flexibility. How are your grand battement?

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Victoria, I am curious. What would your first reaction be if you heard that an entire dance department needed to work on their extensions, including otherwise advanced students with no flexibility problems? I know what my first impression was when I heard this echoed by several teachers, but I would like your gut reaction to the majors being collectively addressed this way.

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Guest kristinene

My grande battement to the left are good - my leg is high enough to make me happy at least! To the right they aren't as high, to be expected as it is my bad side, and I am working on getting them higher. When I do attitude devant my leg is fine, but drops as I extend. I assume this is probably a problem between both flexibility and strength, just by thinking of the physics involved.

 

My turnout is pretty un-inspiring! I don't have any natural turnout at all, and taking most of my teen years away from ballet probably didn't help! I am slowly working back into it now, but it was never great to begin with. So that could definitly be part of the problem - I'll work harder on turn out too.

 

Are grande battements lying on the floor a good way to increase my extension? I do enjoy floor barre now and then, and maybe it is something I can do at home. I know where my placement should be - and when it isn't there! :D

 

I've been doing some Pilates (video), not for a specific reason, just because I enjoy it. Are there specific Pilates excercises that would help?

 

Thanks Ms. Leigh!

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Kristinene, I don't know the Pilates mat exercises well enough to advise on that, however floor barre is good as long as you have been taught how to do it! My guess is that the rotation is your biggest problem, though, so working a lot on that would be the most help. Also patience, as it takes a long time to regain things when you have been away from them throughout those crucial teen years. :D

 

Funny Face, I'm not sure how I would react, however I think it would be with some degree of incredulity! I mean, everyone is always working to improve everything, including extension, however, I doubt that would be the main problem with an entire department including advanced dancers. However, I am responding from the view of a very long time teacher, and not from that of a student. As a teacher, if I was in the room and heard that, and was looking around and seeing very well trained dancers with fine extension/rotation/placement, then I think I might be very tempted to start looking for a different dance dept.! :angry:

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Are grande battements lying on the floor a good way to increase my extension?

 

kristenene: i realise you only asked for ms. leigh's advice, but i am offering mine, all the same! i'm "like that"! :lol: my answer to your question (quoted) would be NO - this will 'only' work your flexibility - not the strength to hold extensions.

 

my understanding is that the strength to hold extensions is built by isometric exercise - by which i specifically mean, in this case: SLOW LOWERING of the leg. in other words, working on very controlled lowering of your grands battements - when you are STANDING UP - would help.

 

but to target your goal more directly, i would suggest leg on the barre (in whatever position), then lift a little (well-placed), and slowly lower. do a set of repetitions of this, even if you can only lift the leg a few inches at first. don't overdo it. repeat this (at least) daily, gradually adding more reps and/or more height, over time. doing abdominal crunches with good form and good breathing will help also.

 

in pilates, lots of their exercises DO help: this is a good way to go. the "hundred" is quite specific to the abs, which are what you need to develop - probably! :wink:

 

funny face - my response to your class situation would be that they all have weak abs, therefore that posture has probably not been adequately emphasised. ms. leigh seems to be assuming that, in other ways, these dancers "appear to be" well-trained. i am NOT assuming THAT! :angry::D

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Actually, I was kind of assuming that either the teacher was just using a blind statement, without awareness that some are very good, OR, that the teacher has some sort of fixation on acrobatic extensions. Of course it could well be that the whole group does not have extension, but from the way Funny Face wrote the post, I got that many did and that the comment was unjustified. I could be totally wrong, of course! :angry::D

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ah! .... oh, i understand THAT, now. i hadn't read funny face's pst that way. but now that i go back and read it again, i can see how YOU are reading it, victoria. maybe it means that SOMEONE SAYS that the entire department needs to work on their extensions (despite being flexible, etc)...

 

ah, now... - in THAT case, i would think perhaps it is just someone who is fixated on extensions, in line with recent superficial fashion... :D

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HI -- here I am again to take care of any confusion about my question. The internet is wonderful, but it certainly doesn't take the place of face-to-face discussions.

 

Here's a more comprehensive explanation, and I really do want your input on this. The way class is set up for the dance majors at the university is that there is an advanced level of ballet 4 mornings a week (Fridays are swing days -- that is, this day is used for guest artists of all kinds of dance). Intermediate is 4 mornings a week. (You're not accepted into the program unless you're at least intermediate level in both modern and ballet to start with). On two days of those four days, the intermediate and advanced students take a combined class. So, whether you're intermediate or advanced, you end up taking two days a week with one teacher, and two days a week with another.

 

Those going for their BFAs are doing a full morning of a dance -- modern immediately follows ballet. Those students are also involved in electives such as salsa or jazz, etc. There are also Pilates classes for majors. And, there are long rehearsals for the college dance company as well, so these people are working hard at their technique.

 

The intermediate class has been taught by a woman who is more of a modern dancer. The advanced class has been taught by a woman who is more of a ballet dancer. (But both have trained in and taught both ballet and modern). About a year and a half ago, the advanced teacher began focusing on extension, saying that she was finding it lacking in the dept. in general. She urged the girls to stretch out more after barre (such as trying to use the wall rather than the barre to stretch) and to practice trying to hold it. I think the point was valid in that these otherwise advanced students did not seem to have particularly high extensions (not the way I remember my first time in dance program decades ago).

 

At the beginning of the fall 2002 term, we had a new male teacher who has danced with both Joffrey and Royal Winnipeg. He still has a good deal of technique in him, and demonstrates nearly full out. He gave us kind of a wink the first time he taught class, and said, "I heard I'm supposed to work on your extensions." So, yes, the class was told that collectively.

 

When I asked for your gut impression, I was thinking that perhaps something was missing from the classes themselves. I have heard it commented by the teacher who initially made the comment that she is surprised to see weak stomachs on students who are taking Pilates (that perhaps they are not incorporating that training into their ballet technique). But -- I'm still puzzled. Dancers have been able to achieve high extensions for years and years, before Pilates became as prevalent.

 

Also -- coincidentally -- a student came here from Russia at the same time that the new teacher started, and her presence in class has caused somewhat of a stir. Her extensions are extremely high, much moreso than anyone else's. At first, I think it was somewhat intimidating to the other students. But -- this new student does many distorted things to achieve that extension, such as bend the standing leg, raise the hip, sacrifice turnout -- and, she actually works on increasing her hyperextension despite being cautioned about it by teachers. (She will do things like splits with the front leg raised on a chair seat so that it bows even more than normal). When the other students see those kinds of maneuvers to achieve extension, they become kind of turned off to it.

 

So, this is why I ask what the devil is affecting an entire class of otherwise really fine dancers. I mean, it can't be some kind of mysterious virus (LOL). And, these students are coming to this university from all different states and all different studios. What's going on?

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I find that the only way to lift my leg past 90 degrees while laying on my back is to lift with the abdominals. I think grand battements are very difficult to do while laying down. You really have to feel the lift coming from the core muscle groups. And there's no margin for losing hip alignment the way there is with a standing grand battement. Plus you don't have the floor to push through.

 

I noticed today during floor barre that I could get my leg past the 90 degree mark only by pulling in my abs. Done properly, with the lower back maintaining contact with the floor, abs pulled in, and the hips perfectly square, grand battements on your back can build a ton of strength. It takes some practice to really feel the correct muscles, and a good teacher helps.

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Guest kristinene

I'm glad I started this topic! Thanks to everyone for their advice and input. The only reason I specified Ms. Leigh is because I haven't been here long - and I knew she existed! I am starting to learn who is who now - and really appreciating all that is out there.

 

I'm going to take a lot of this advice, and I'll put up some posts on progress as time passes. Incidently, the 100 is a great way to strengthen abs - I'm a big fan!

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A fellow dancer noticed a huge technique flaw in the way that I work which somehow escaped the eyes of every ballet teacher I've ever had. I was demonstrating a developee by going into retire, lifting the knee as high as I could, and trying to straighten the leg. My leg "dropped" down to the 90 degree or so level that I can hold. I'm not in the prime of my strength and flexibility right now, but even as a teenager/ younger adult, with daily ballet classes, my extension was never much higher than 90 degrees and it is extremely frustrating, especially when I see dancers who are neither stronger nor more flexible than I am, with sometimes inferior technique overall who have no problem at all obtaining a high extension.

 

My friend was watching me work at just 45 degrees, little ronde de jambe en l'airs and small developees and noticed that I ALWAYS allow my knee to drop to the level of my extended foot, instead of continuing the lift. I noticed that even when I'm lying on the couch and stretch my leg out in front of me, or to the side, I allow the knee to drop to come in line with the level of my foot, instead of continuing to lift the leg, so the foot comes into line with the knee. If I think about it, I can easily lift the foot to come in line with the knee, but it's not my natural impulse. It takes a real concentrated effort. Granted, the strength and flexibility to hold a very high extension need to be there, but I'm wondering if many dancers, who are otherwise fairly strong and advanced, are perhaps repeating the same mistake that I am and developing the wrong patterns of movement early on, even before a high extension is attempted.

 

I certainly have the strength to hold a 45 degree extension, yet still have an impulse to drop the knee to the foot, even at this height. It's a really horrible habit that I want to break. I think it's really ingrained in my muscle memory too. It's almost funny watching my leg drop, contrary to what my conscious mind is telling it to do. I do it at any height, even twenty degrees.

 

Maybe a lot of other people are doing this as well. I wonder...

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Guest kristinene

lampwick,

 

Here I am in my office, at work, doing developpes on my lunch break! I almost wish some one had a camera! :thumbsup:

 

Yep, I'm doing the same thing as you, and like you no one has pointed it out. Of course, it could be a recent deveopment since I only came back to ballet a year ago. Thanks for the hint - I bet this is definitly part of the problem!

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kristinene,

Walking to the cafeteria, it dawned on me that a lot of people must have this "flaw". If you think about our natural impulses, the way our bodies are coordinated, it makes total sense. If we have to kick something out of the way, or step up onto something, our knees naturally follow our feet. For survival's sake, our brains are probably "wired" that way, so we're coordinated enough to aim a kick, or to step onto an object.

 

Maybe people with naturally high extensions don't have good survival instincts :thumbsup: I'll tell myself that next time I feel bad after adagio.

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Granted, the strength and flexibility to hold a very high extension need to be there, but I'm wondering if many dancers, who are otherwise fairly strong and advanced, are perhaps repeating the same mistake that I am and developing the wrong patterns of movement early on, even before a high extension is attempted.

 

I certainly have the strength to hold a 45 degree extension, yet still have an impulse to drop the knee to the foot, even at this height.

 

I personally view a 'low' extension as something to build upon. Before I go on about describing the exercise I do with my students, I must emphasise that the correct way to work on a developpé is indeed to unwrap the TURNED OUT leg, from the knee, to the lower leg (and not unwrapping the lower leg and somehow readjusting the height of the upper leg!)

 

So, for those students with 90 degrees extension who I believe can do better, and in this instance only -and where I know that nothing (on face value) would prevent a higher extension- I would ask the student to work 'against' what has been said previously. I did that a few times, and slowly, I see that placing the knee higher before the developpé has helped some students to build the strength from there and achieve ultimately a higher extension. When this is solid and I see the extension has been understood, we work on achieving the same height with a perfect 'knee' to start with (without lifting the knee)

However, when I agree this 'cheating', I ALWAYS ensure that the posture to start with is strong (no rounded shoulders or bent standing knee, as this achieves nothing) and I also ensure that work at 45 degrees is indeed correct first.

 

So, in your case, if you have real difficulty achieving a developpé at 45* without dropping the knee, I would build from there. Don't go higher until you are certain your placement is correct at that height (but don't neglect the building of strength or flexibility on the other hand, so that when this is understood, you're not left with no option but to keep your leg there, as you have lost those skills in the meantime)

Also ensure that the leg in developpé is turned out properly. It will also 'look' like you drop the knee if your leg is turned in. This starts with a correct degagé, and you could also work on pas de cheval to begin with. Build slowly upon that. I see that you actually want to come back to basics to achieve a higher developpé, so kudos to you for thinking this way!! You are perfectly right. If you can achieve a beautiful developpé at 45 degrees, you will find the work at 90 and above easier. (and passed 120 degrees, it's actually quite a lot easier to lift the leg... the law of physics again! Much simpler to have the leg close to your centre of gravity).

 

Once you get that right, I would actually do it 'the wrong way' to achieve the height. I know it's unortodox, and really, you have to understand this is not how you ultimately do it (and shouldn't be prescribed to impressionable, non placed teens), but when I agreed to do this with mature, well placed students, we achieved some good results...

 

Another thing you can build upon is holding the leg underneath the knee (when it's bent in a very high retiré) Remember first to have a HIGH retiré (one where you feel the muscles underneath your leg holding your knee up, rather than just plonking your toes inside the little nook of your knee :huh: ) Viewed from an outside eye, it will almost look normal, but from your point of view, you will try to place your toes well above the knee (reaching for your belly button almost!) From there, develop a very high knee to the ceiling (I can tell you that if you achieve this well, you have already built strength in the process) and ONLY THEN, grab your leg from behind and underneath with your arm (bent at the elbow or just hold the leg with your hand if it's too low and distorts your trunk) and try to achieve the developpé from there. If you can't do it, don't straighten the knee totally, but feel the way your leg will developpé high in the air (when eventually you can do it :blushing: )

Now, let go of your hand (and straighten the leg if it wasn't done so far, making sure the posture of the trunk is correct, but also trying to still develop as high as poss. The leg will drop *a little* but hey, it's only a trial :thumbsup: ) Now lower the leg ever so slowly, again making sure everything else is placed (avoid releasing the effort then. It's very hard, snd often the side pf the body closer to the barre will tend to droop a bit. It should be lifted A LOT more than you think is necessary... This will also build abs strength)

 

Phew, that's it! Try again and again and again, and I can assure you that if you do this 2 or 3 times (correctly) at every class, you should see a difference in less than 4 months. It hasn't failed with my students, but bear in mind they started from a correct developpé at 45*, so correct this first, and then try this exercise.

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