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Ballet Talk for Dancers


Jaana Heino

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A question to the teachers, but naturally I'm open to suggestions from anyone.


My problem is that the development of my extension has completely stopped. I'm at about 85 degrees, give or take 10 depending on direction and side, and have been there for about a year.


I'm fairly certain the problem is not my passive flexibility. I am very close to my splits now on each side, and when my teacher lifts my foot in developpé to the side it goes to the level my head without me even feeling the stretch or losing my aligment or turnout. So it must be either a strength issue, or an issue of technique.


One thing that bothers me is that my teacher is constantly telling me to use my inner thigh, and I am not sure I still get what she means. She's explained and showed and corrected me about a thousand times, and sometimes she says "good!" after the correction and sometimes not, but in no case have I been able to really feel my inner thigh engaging in a developpé... it naturally works, some, but I get a feeling that something is missing.


I would be grateful for explanations on that inner thigh thing, as well as any suggestions for strength excercises for extension in addition to classes - something that can be done home while reading papers would be brilliant, but if this is not possible anything goes. :lol:


As you might remember, this is my third year in ballet, I have just began pointe work, and take classes four times a week.


(I have the same problem with my turnout - having significantly more of it passively than I can use - but at least I feel I am continuously, if slowly, improving there.)

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Until a teacher comes upon your post and gives you a definitive answer <ill just offer my experience Jaana, that I've been doing a lot of Pilates recently and noticed a big improvement. The stronger my abs get -- from Pilates-style exercises -- the higher my extensions get -- and the stronger my rotation, also --


Darci Kistler answered someone somewhere that her extensions improved from Pilates.....

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Paul, I've heard rumor there's a Pilates studio in the town now, but haven't gotten around to checking what they actually offer - but if they had classes available at time suitable for me, that would be a little miracle. Getting to my four classes a week is a constant struggle. :lol: But thanks, if all else continues to fail that's certainly an option.

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Janana, I've started doing rolldowns, teasers, 100s, and a few other of hte deep ab/pelvic-floor mat exercises on my own every day, like for 20 minutes or half an hour..... It would be great to have a trainer, but once you learn the exercises and what you need to look out for and IF ou take class fairly often to get monitored and corrected -- well, it seems to be paying off....


Good luck with it all. It IS hard to trade off time for these things when there's still work to do and life to live....

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Hey, I know how to do 100s. Didn't know it was a Pilates excercise, though; I learned it from a teacher. :lol: Not something you can do while reading, but something doable at home, anyway.


I found out that the Pilates studio in town indeed exists and offers weekend basic courses (which you have to take to be eligible to take classes), and also classes that are geared for ballet students. The latter are at bad times, but I might be able to take a weekend course... so I add one more question to those in the original post: do you think a weekend course in Pilates floor mat excercises (by a certified teacher) would be enough to teach me how to do these on my own?

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To improve extension, you need to strengthen not only the leg, but also the abs, the back, and make sure you have a stable posture. :sweating:


So, here I'll only give you an exercise I find is great for the legs, but you shouldn't neglect the rest (if your abs are weak and your legs are extra strong, you will see that you just can't hold the leg up as your whole posture will anyway be wonkey!)


I've discovered this exercise as I went for an 'aqua gym' session, and I thought it was great for ballet:

So, you need a swimming pool :lol: and one of those spagghetti shape foam sausages. If you don't want to buy one of those or can't borrow it from the swimming pool, anything that will act as resistence utensil will work too... You musn't do this in a deep swimming pool (water up to the neck max)


Tie a knot in the 'sausage' and place one foot inside that knot. Now hold something on the side of the pool (the rail of the stairs to go in and out of the pool is best) and lower your straight leg under the water... I can promise you you will find those inner thigh muscles! :wub:

If the exercise is too difficult with the knot, you don't have to tie the sausage at all, but there is less resistence without it...

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Balletowoman, you and Allegra Kent! :lol:


Actually, what's been said here is all helpful, but what has to be done is to achieve a release of the hamstring muscles so that the rest of the muscles required to extend the leg freely can work. Here, ballet is not isometrics. The bottom of the leg shouldn't work against the top. So what's left? The abductors!

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Mr Johnson, can you suggest something for me to do (still preferably at home, on my own, and if it can be done while reading even better :wub:) to achieve the release of the hamstrings? Just thinking of transferring the work from there to the inner thigh has not been helpful for me. :lol:


Balletowoman, I love the idea of the pool excercise, but unfortunately my schedule will not allow getting into a pool to do that very regularly - where I live at, we don't have outdoor pools at our yards everywhere, and even if we did they would freeze over. ;) Getting to an indoor pool is not really an option; while there are several in town it would still take too much time.


So, still looking for:

- further explanations on the inner thigh thing

- excercises for extension strength to do at home (I have one of those rubber band things, a mat to lie on, and a railing thing that can double as a barre, though without a good floor by it), preferably while reading (I do a lot of that daily, currently I stretch while reading)

- opinions on whether a Pilates weekend course would be helpful for practicing at home

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I know that extension plateau... I've been stuck at one for about 4 months.


You can do something similar to what balletowoman suggested using the theraband (which you said you already had). Wrap the band around your foot, hold the ends of the band in your hand. Then, lying on your back develope to the side. Maintaining resistance in the band, slowly lower your leg to what would be the floor if you were standing up. (Let me know if that's confusing) I'm not necessarily recommending this as an excercise to strengthen (I'd talk to your teacher before doing that), but you can definitely feel those inner thigh muscles engage. I'm still trying to get that feeling consistantly in my developes! I think I'm going to take the suggestion that Paul has made, and go back to Pilates class.

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Someone probably mentioned this in some other post somewhere, sometime; but I shall do so again now anyway. :wink:


One of the most important muscles for extensions higher than hip level is the psoas.

This is the only one of the muscles from the leg (upper inner-thigh) which attaches above the hip; which of course makes sense when trying to lift (not just throw) the leg higher than the hip.

It goes from the top-inside of the thigh, through the lower torso and attaches at the back, behind the kidneys, above the waist on the spine.


There are many exercises one can do to strengthen this muscle, and it's close companion, the iliacus.


One which I have found particularly helpful, though not much fun, is to sit in a mid-wide second position on the floor, keeping the back extremely straight - not slouched at all.

Then bend one knee, pointing it to the ceiling. (It helps to put one hand in front of the body, the other right behind, to give welcome support) Then slowly straighten the knee, but do not drop the foot. (!)

This is usually not easy, and especially not if the back is kept quite straight and perpendicular to the floor, which is essential for the correct muscles to be forced to work.


Repeat often.


And, stretch out these muscles often, too.

(this is best done with the legs parallel or even slightly turned IN, one behind the other, deep lunge)



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Diane, I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean with your exercise. My best guess is: med-wide second on the floor, lift one knee towards ceiling (both feet are still on the floor), then hold the knee steady and straighten the leg, so the foot lifts off the floor, so that the whole sequence is like doing a developpe except that you are starting sitting on the floor in second.


I tried this and it was quite difficult! I'd like to get stronger, but I don't want to do this exercise if I've misinterpreted you (the one I'm doing, with my luck, could lead to injury ).

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Mr Johnson, can you suggest something for me to do (still preferably at home, on my own

I regret to say that I cannot, because I cannot see what you're doing now. About the best advice I can give you is to stop straining at the hamstrings and relax them.

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THanks, DIane --


I haven't done that exercise in a long time, I'll try it again.


I remember my teacher saying NOT to continue with it if the tops of the thighs (i.e., the quads) kicked in, and on my left leg that DID happen. hte right side was a much happier camper than hte left.


the two sides are more nearly egual now, it's time to give it another try.


ANd thanks for the explanation about how the psoas is working.

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Thanks for the advice. Diane, I like that excercise, and Paul, the point about not continuing if you need the wrong muscles is excellent.


Mr Johnson, I sort of expected that you can't say anything more without seeing me... I will continue working on it with my teacher - she's very helpful, but I thought I'd try my luck here too, since we are both starting to get frustrated. :hyper:

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Yes, jayo, that is what I meant. Sorry for not being more explicit. B)


And, yes, Paul, thanks for mentioning that about NOT using the quadriceps!

That is an important part... though of course they will have to be used to some extent, as some of those four muscles also straighten the knee. :clapping:

But, you should not go into massive-cramp. :hyper:


Oh, and did I mention to keep the back straight? :rolleyes:


(this exercise is one we used to do back in my early teen-years in Oakland, Ca.; as I recall, no one really _liked_ doing it, but it is one of the most effective for this purpose which I know of)



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