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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet and Triathlons


Danny

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I have been doing ballet for two years now and really love it. Last year I joined my University Triathlon team to drop some weight and to get into better general fitness. The only short coming so far is that I can't seem to release my quads for developes and battements. Has anyone out there experienced this? Any suggestions? I really enjoy running and cycling so I would hate to quit after so much investment. Thanks!

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Problem is, Danny, you're working on that running, and that can be anti-almost-everything that ballet trains to encourage. The cycling isn't so bad, but the running is really counterproductive for an active dancer.

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Mel, why is running counterproductive?

 

I HAVE felt that cycling and ballet are at odds -- Only yesterday, I cycled for about half an hour and then took class in hte evening, and my quads cramped up in hte devellopes.... And in htis morning's class, I felt very turned in, and my glutes were like rock, I couldn't get them to release, which made quick steps very hard to control, I felt very clunky and heavy....

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Paul, when you do race or distance running, there's always the issue of gait. Running instructors will insist that each step be with the toe pointed straight ahead, and the repetition of high-speed lifting the knee straight forward will wear on the quads. Same goes for race or distance biking. If you're just doing touring, or biking to work, not so bad. You can stretch after, and the quads will simmer down. But running really reinforces turnIN, and that's something no dancer wants to build.

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Mel, Paul,

 

Thanks for the reply. You guys pretty much affirmed what I suspected. I guess I have to evaluate which I want more, dance or sports. How is cycling less detrimental?

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Mel and I have disagreed on this matter before and we might as well again if not just for fun. The act or running, cycling, or swimming has zero affect on ballet or any other physical enterprise for that matter. I can assure you there is zero evidence to support any assertion of interference. I can also assure you that track coaches don’t try to change a runner’s gait because it is just about impossible to change (track coaches are pragmatists if nothing else).

 

Having said that, why does training hard for triathlons seem to affect Danny’s ballet? Quite simply it’s a matter of energy, concentration and focus. If Danny is really training hard for triathlons, Danny isn’t going to have much energy, concentration or focus left for ballet class. Danny may be fine with that if he likes triathloning more than ballet. But if Danny likes ballet more than triathloning, the heavy duty triathlon training probably has to go, not because the act of running, cycling or swimming interfere in some way with his ability to move, but because he’s just plain too tired.

 

If you are into triathlon, marathon running or serious bicycle racing, serious swimming, or any major endurance sport, if you aren’t so tired at night that you have the almost uncontrollable desire to go to bed at 9:30-10, you aren’t training hard enough to get much success. It’s just the nature of training for those sports.

 

My advice to Danny is to pick one activity, whichever one he enjoys the most. He can always do the other later in life if he so chooses.

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Garyecht,

 

I really have no hopes of being a serious triathlete nor a serious dancer. Triathlon training is simply more interesting to me than just running, biking, or swimming and I enjoy the social aspects. If I keep training intensity low on my days off from dance can there be a happy median with gradual progress? Have you or anyone else out there personally gone through such a transition, from sports and ballet to purely ballet, and if so what was the result? Thanks Gary for your reply.

 

Danny

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Well, there was Igor Youskevitch, who was an Olympic gymnast and was asked by a fading ballerina to be her partner, even though he had no ballet training. Unfortunately, he started getting more applause and better reviews than she did, so there went THAT job! (He got much better jobs later! :angry: )

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Danny, I have to agree with everything people have said here. First of all, ballet training in and of itself is exhausting. If it doesn't exhaust you, you're probably not doing it right (and it takes time to learn how to do it right). Cross training as a triathelete --- even if it didn't work against what you're doing in ballet --- would take time and energy away from ballet. The ballet dancer who puts that time and energy into ballet will progress faster and further.

 

I bike for transportation --- maybe 3 miles per day. The ballet is exhausting and the biking doesn't help. But hey, we all gotta get from point A to point B.

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Danny

 

I’m an old guy, so my experience may not be relevant to you. And I do believe that part of life is finding ones own way and though you may benefit from the experience of others, essentially you have to learn on your own.

 

I tend to be someone who likes improving and seeing the results of hard work. To me, that means really dedicating oneself to an activity. We only have so much energy, and to get beyond beginner levels of any physical activity takes almost all of that energy.

 

Yesterday, I went to the bookstore to buy Twala Tharp’s new book. I can’t recall the title, but it has something to do with creativity. It should be in the self-help section. Now I wouldn’t normally buy a self-help book because I think they are all fluff and pop psychology, which I think is pretty much worthless. But I wanted this book because I see it as a description of how Twala works. And that I do find interesting, not because I am going to copy what she does, but because I hope it gives me some insight into her. In any event, the store didn’t have the book.

 

So I went to Barnes and Noble’s website and found it there. They had an excerpt that really resonated with me. Though its point was directed toward creativity, the excerpt reaffirmed my bias toward focusing attention. I do recommend at least reading the excerpt if not the book.

 

I’m not a professional dancer, but I do consider myself very serious about dance. I dance six days a week and sometimes twice a day. I also do some conditioning work at noon—a little running, weight training, Pilates, and stretching combination. I run to help control my weight, a slow slog on soft ground where I alternate running with stretching. A semi serious runner would laugh at my running, which is fine because I’m doing it for weight control, not for endurance. If there is any carry over at all to ballet class, it’s that I recover really fast after an allegro combination, much more so than others in class. There is no “interference.”

 

I’ve morphed my body three times in my life to accommodate different physical activities—Olympic weightlifting, bike racing, and dance, three activities that have absolutely nothing in common. And in each case, after a few years, my body changed substantially to be more like others who were in the same activity. That happens when you devote a lot of energy to an activity. The body is amazing in how it adapts to the stresses of training.

 

So my advice is to pick whichever you want and put your energy into that activity. Life is long and either activity you can do later when you are ready for it. But that’s just me. You have to find your own way.

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Gary, I did not know that you maintained such a well-modulated and coördinated regimen. You've accounted for purpose, time of life, physical condition, and many other factors that others might not, or to be more abrupt about it, would not, consider. Except for a totally sympathetic trainer in all that you do, and you haven't mentioned that, but it would be nice to have, if difficult to find, I'd say your dedicated program is perfect for you, and everybody who wants diversified physical activity should think long and hard in synthesizing a modus vivendi especially for them! :wink:

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Gary,

 

That is a very impressive resume, truly shows how amazing the body is. Did you quit cycling cold turkey when you started dance? Like your running situation, a real triathlete would laugh at my splits. I too run and bike to keep my weight down because dancing and dieting alone didn't work my matabolism enough. When I started training with the team I dropped about 30 lbs in a matter of months and that has helped tremendously with my petite allegro and everything else in general. Further, according to my teachers I'm improving at a good pace (I go to several different studios to double check). I think once my body reaches the proportions of a typical male dancer I will heed all of your warnings and concentrate fully on ballet.

 

I currently take four tech classes a week and have a couple rehearsals. By the end of each class I am completely wasted, mentally and physically. I certainly do not put the same effort into running or biking. The only major fear I had was the "interference" that Mel and Paul talked about. If you don't think there's pure physiological impact then I may continue with my routine a while longer.

 

I would love to hear more about your experiences going from cycling to dance and things you're doing now, partnering, performing, etc.

 

Thanks,

Danny

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Now, Danny, I think the horse is on you. Gary has obviously done his homework, and does what is right for him. What he does, or what I do, or Paul or anybody else does may not be right for you. You have to sit down with what you know and work out your own synthesis of what to do. And it will take a lot of long, hard thought. Gary has plotted a course for an autodidact, and it's a difficult course for anybody. One needs a great deal of self-awareness, technical knowledge and skill to execute. If you want to bounce one physical activity off another, you've got to be aware of the consequences on your own body. Let me just say, though, that if I were in a hire/fire position in a professional ballet company right now, and I found that one of my dancers had taken up distance/speed running, I'd offer them a choice. Lose it or move on.

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Danny, you need to figure out where ballet fits into your list of life priorities. If you dance for fitness, flexibility, fun, or some other hobby factor, go ahead and have more fun with triathlon if you want. If your aim is a professional dance career, you shouldn't do anything that gets in the way of achieving that goal.

 

I'm a seriously senior dancer (Drosselmayer in our Nutcracker) who is also a pretty good runner (possible age-group podium position in local races). I've never seen any evidence that my running hurts my dancing. I also like road cycling distances of 60 - 100 miles. After a ride like that, I wouldn't dream of going to ballet that night because I know my body, and that body wouldn't be able to perform in class. I know my limits, but I also know American Ballet Theatre isn't evaluating me for a company position. Ballet is a hobby and its importance in my life ebbs and flows with the seasons and my other goals.

 

Triathlon can be an intense time and energy consuming training regime all by itself. After all, you are trying to balance training for 3 distinct sports. Add in dance, you may be over-reaching.

 

Professional sports teams contracts include clauses that prohibit their athletes from engaging in activities that they've deemed potentially harmful. You'll NEVER see a Denver Bronco skiing at Vail. Does that make sense? It doesn't matter, if they want the Bronco bucks, they sign the Bronco contract.

 

I challenge those who claim running with your feet parallel hurts your turnout to come up with some physiological/kinesiological evidence. Parallel is a benign neutral position, neither good nor bad for turnout. If you were supposed to run turned in, that counter stretch could lead to excessively lengthened ligaments, which would be a bad thing, but a neutral is just that - neutral. Biking forces you to use not only parallel feet, but parallel alignment all the way to your hips, yet nobody seems concerned about that. Running's documented adverse effects are caused by the weight bearing aspects of the sport which cycling doesn't have, not the lack of turnout.

 

You've already discovered one of the major benefits of triathlon training. It is a superior cardio workout which also means it is a superior way to burn off excess calories.

 

If you've made it this far, you realize every paragraph of my letter offers facts, but overall they contradict each other. Similarly, in the totality of YOUR life, factor in the plusses and minuses and come up with what combination of ingredients seems to work for you, test the combo over time, then change as necessary.

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