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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adult beginners and non-straight knees


Jaana Heino

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Grace mentions in Grace for Grown-ups that one of the problems adult beginners have is "generally, keeping the knees straight en demi-pointe". This is one of my constant mistakes - if one class passes without the teacher saying "Jaana, the knees!" I'll probably either die of joy or be convinced that the teacher has stopped talking to me - so I am naturally interested in the topic.

 

So, I would like to ask if this really is one of the problems a greater proportion of adult beginners than child beginners have, and if so, if anyone has any idea why?

 

And are there problems children typically have, but adults have less?

 

I post on Cross Talk, since I think Ms Leigh and Mr Johnson don't currently teach adults, and I would like feedback from other teachers too, and didn't want to post on Teachers, not being one. And comments from younger people taking classes with adults are also welcome, too. Please move the post if this is not a good forum.

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We've both taught adults at some time or other, Jaana, and my take on it is that adult beginners have less flexible ligaments around the sides of the knee, which can make getting the knee totally straight a problem for many. However, by working carefully, and hard without straining, an adult student can get the knees to cooperate and finally come straight.

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Guest beckster

I guess we've been standing up for twenty or more years without really thinking about pulling up our kneecaps. Like standing with a truly straight back, it's a hard thing to learn and even harder to remember to do it all the time. Kids have only been standing up for maybe five years before they start dance classes, so they've had a lot less time to learn the "bad" habits of normal posture.

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I think for most adult students with this problem that I've seen it's not a question of flexibility in the knee. Quite the opposite: I think many of us are hypereztended and it's quite easy to bring the knee to the straight position - when we remember. :)

 

Beckster, I like your explanation of kids only having been standing for a couple of years before standing. :party:

 

Any further comments by anyone? Any problems kids have but adults don't, in the beginner phase?

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I think the form this problem takes is somewhat age-related.

 

From observing my classes I have gotten the opinion that it is more often the older adult beginning student who has to battle hypoextension for one reason or another - beginners in their 20s rarely have this problem. As Jaana said, milder forms of hyperextension are quite common in the early 20s adult beginner crowd around here. Finnish genes? :)

 

Päivi

 

(One of the unfortunate/fortunate with a less mild hyperextension. Maybe my beats will look neat when I'm 60! :party: )

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I'm not convinced that a greater proportion of adults than kids would have trouble keeping thier knees straight in releve. I could see that it may be more difficult for an adult to straighten the knee in an extension, because of increased tightness behind the knee perhaps. Hamstring flexibility can play a part as well. But just standing in releve with two feet? That said, I have seen people who can't seem to straighten them with ease, but I suspect it's just a matter of individual body shape. They probably would have had the same problem as children. Maybe it just takes a bit longer to correct in an adult.

 

Funny you mention about Finnish genes. The only Finnish dancer I've seen in class had hyperextension. She was a professional with Finnish National Ballet and it didn't seem to give her a problem. Her legs looked beautiful actually. Maybe a slight weakness in the inner thigh which she was working on. I am also very hyperextended as is another girl in my class. Both of us have a very Irish appearance and ancestory. If I'm not completely lifting from the inner thigh, my knees will start to give me a little pain. It's very important for all types of leg constructions to develop lift and strength from the inner thigh. Hyperextended and knock-kneed people have to be especially aware of this for injury prevention.

 

My knees have been this shape my whole life though--not sure if it has anything to do with age. Good thing is that hyperextension looks pretty, even though it's a tough construction to work with.

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Does all the teachers talk about hyperextended knees as well in other countries? Because that is what every teacher have talked about here as soon as somebody can't keep their feet together. Maybe it has something to do with the Scandinavian genes. :D

(For me, I can't keep my feet together in parallell or if my 1st is not turned out properly because of my hmm what is it called, the opposite to bow-legged??)

 

I don't have hyperextended knees, in contrary, I have a lot of trouble to even make my legs look straight :shrug: Teachers usually come to me and start correcting me until they feel how hard my muscles are working and realize that I have "bendy" legs by default. But as far as I remember I have always had legs that look bent. So in my case it has nothing to do with age.

 

But I haven't found trouble in holding a demi-pointe with (to me) straight legs since I always straighten my legs as far as possible until I feel strain on the backside of the knee.

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Mr. Johnson, how DO you work carefully to get straighter legs? I think I have what Susanne calls "bendy" legs -- it's really hard to get them to look straight without feeling like I'm jamming them or locking them in place.

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I don't have any problems with keeping my knees straight in either releve or extended positions, maybe it's because I started dancing when I was 13 and haven't finished yet. My knees where slightly hyperextended when I started dancing, but all those flat back execises in jazz class trained me to keep those knees straight instead of hyperextend them.

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There are some knees that, even though as straight as one can get them, don't look straight. This leg structure is very difficult to work with in ballet, because if you work them too hard you can injure them, but if you don't work them really hard, and and also learn to work the quad muscles really well, then they never look straight. Sometimes it's hard to know whether they can improve or not, but working with a theraband, and perhaps some Pilates work, might help to stretch them to the point of looking straighter.

 

Try sitting on the floor, legs out in front of you. Place a small rubber ball under the knee, flex the foot by pulling the theraband toward you, and try to squish the rubber ball. This will work the quads and hamstrings, and hopefully help to straighten the knees.

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Just the way I would handle that, Ms. Leigh! :shrug: In fact, I use it myself today, just to keep the knees from getting lazy.

 

And Susanne, the opposite of bow-legged (arqué) is knock-kneed (jarreté). It sounds so much better in French! :D

 

"He's so bow-legged and she's so knock-kneed that when they go walking together they spell 'OX'!"

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Jaana,

 

I started ballet at 35, and the problem you mention is certainly one for me (esp when I'm on my right foot). I think in MY case, when I don't straighten my knees in releve, it's because I'm trying to keep my heels forward, and if there's a LITTLE play in the knee I can get more rotation.... Learning how to hold the turn out from plie up to flat up to releve is a major study for me -- since I HAVE to lose turn-out in the transitions, but need to learn how to minimize that......

 

But I don't think I have yet learned how to lift my knee-caps rather than pull them INTO the knee-joint..... I've been hearing hte corrction for 20 years without it's making sense to me physically -- though I DO get the idea, I think, I can't feel it.

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I have this problem, I'm always getting corrected for bent knees.

 

The exercise you recommended with the ball and theraband sounds like just the

prescription for me!

 

Thank you Ms. Leigh!

 

Part of the issue I think is my skating and skiing - all done with bent knees to absorb shock.

 

I need a large amount of concentration to feel this.

 

Thanks!

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I can't wait to get a theraband -- that sounds like a great exercise, Ms. Leigh. Thanks! As it turns out, I just started taking pilates -- so the bent knees are yet another thing I'm counting on pilates fixing, along with the weak abs, the shoulder tension, etc. :wink:

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When I was a beginner, I remember a teacher having us stand in first position and using the inner thighs, trying to bring the legs in contact. I recall seeing that the teacher and a very few classmates could do it. Looking at myself in the mirror, however, there seemed like a three foot gap between my knees and I could feel my inner thigh muscles contracting like mad. I also recall standing in fifth position and essentially not having my legs touch each other.

 

That was quite a few years ago. Now, the legs are much straighter, I have contact in fifth position, and standing in first, my calf muscles are threatening to touch. I didn’t do anything to bring this about other than to keep going to class and persisting.

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