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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Splits for the "Flexibility Challenged" among us


DreadPirateRoberts

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The part of class that I abhor the most is doing splits -- I'm an adult male dancer who just

started ballet a few years back, and whenever we do splits (usually after stretching at

the barre) I am in agony. I always TRY to do a split, and end up rather precariously

balanced with my front leg and feet straight, my back leg kind of bent to the floor, and a

large gap between the middle of me and the floor. This means that I end up with my torso

bent forward, and one or both hands trying to stabilize myself and keep from tipping

left or right. It is uncomfortable to say the least, and right at my threshold of pain.

What makes it worse is that everyone else in class is much more flexible than I am,

and so I look like a nylon-clad cross between a giraffe and a stranded manatee -- a

panting lump of discomfort amongst folks who are appear nonchalantly relaxed while

doing splits, checking their nails in mid-straddle, taking cell phone calls, and so on. :)

 

My questions (yes, I actually have a couple) How do you recommend for less

flexible folks to learn splits? Are there ways to position my feet, or legs that are

more productive, safer for my body, and more likely to lead to improvement than

others? How much discomfort should I tolerate? (I know that's a subjective question

in some ways, but I'm asking it because I am actually willing to be very uncomfortable

IF I know that I'm on the way to improving something and not damaging anything!)

All the pictures I see in yoga/dance books have fabulously flexible folks looking perfect,

and so I was wondering if there are guidelines for the flexibility challenged among us, too.

 

Any ideas you could share, be they physiological, pedagogical, oreven how to better

attempt a split, and get up from an attempt without looking stupid would be appreciated!

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I recently purchased a book called "Relax into Stretch." This book suggests that to practice splits one shouldn't be lean forward as you pointed out, but instead practice between two chairs or something similar. Use your arms on the chairs as support and keep your torso straight. Of course you would probably have to practice this outside of class unless you have some chairs available during class! Another concept in the book is while you are in this splits position imagine squeezing your legs together like a scissors, obviously they won't go anywhere because of the floor, after you have squeezed til you can't squeeze any more, relax and according to the book, you will sink further into your splits. The author claims splits in 3 months assuming you have no physical limitations that would prevent you from doing the splits in the first place. Unfortunatly I can't quite find the will power to practice this every day, so I am still struggling with my splits during class as well. Good luck!

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Continue to practice, but when the end of stretching comes, and the stretch feel turns into the pain feel, bend the back knee, and sit out of it in a jazz split. There's no reason to put yourself in jeopardy.

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I started dancing again after a 51/2 year hiatus and struggled with regaining flexibility, though my body tends to be more on the flexible/weak side of the spectum. Gaining abdominal strength has been MUCH more of a challenge for me. It took about 7 months of daily work to get into a full split, even with a fair amount of natural flexibility...so be patient with yourself.

 

I learned them this way. Go onto one knee with the other leg straight in front of you. rest your hands on the ground. Flex the front foot and push your foot into the floor, so you feel a flexion in your hamstring. Then breathe out and slide your foot gently forward until you feel a stretch. Keep your leg in it's new position and press into the floor again, flexing the foot. Then relax into the stretch some more. Keep both legs completely turned in with your hips perfectly square throughout. This is sort of a modified PNF stretch, like what elise mentioned. It relies on the principle of flexing the muscle, then it goes further once relaxed. Your hands are on the floor and you're completely supported since the back knee is on the floor, so there's no danger of really hurting yourself. I'm not certain about the torso position. In the beginning, I don't think it's of dire importance. Just make sure you're not holding tension and your hands are on the floor to support yourself.

 

For myself, I also found thet once I just needed that last inch to go, it helped to feel my back leg really stretch back as straight as possible, and I didn't think about the front leg at all. This got me down all the way.

 

There are all kinds of stretches that will help, depending on where exactly your own body has tightness. For most people though, it's the old hamstrings that need the stretch. Be sure to stretch the hip flexors too. Make sure to do some work on loosening the leg in the hip socket and getting that warm before you even attempt to do a split. A ballet barre should do the trick.

 

The purpose of splits is to increase flexibility, so even if you're not all the way down, you're still doing the work to increase flexibility. With every stretch, keep absolutely correct form or the whole thing will be counter-productive. Don't twist your hips.

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Thanks, Elise, Mel, and Lampwick for the good advice! I'll buy the

"Relax into Stretch" book, and also work on this more often than

the 3 times per week of my current classes. Like you, Elise, I find

myself really not motivated to do splits -- but perhaps working into

them more gradually will help. Thanks, Lampwick, also for the pointers

about form and hip position... and, yes, I will try to be more patient with myself.

Not my strong suit, in general, but ballet is doing a good job of changing

that -- never in my life have I ever felt like I was making such SLOW progress

at something! :(

 

Again, thanks to all of y'all -- this forum is SO helpful and encouraging!

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Slow progress is what ballet is all about. Patience and perseverence are rewarded. It's about like flying an airplane. "Hours and hours of sheer boredom while at constant attention, punctuated by moments of stark, staring terror!"

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If you're not confident doing the split and it doesn't bring anything apart from pain, how about a jambe sur la barre instead? Place your leg side, front (or back, but it's more difficult) with a nice position to start with, and bend your body towards the leg. You won't need to go too far to feel the stretch, and it's an 'intermediate' exercise before doing the splits while you gain a bit of flexibility. Don't go far, especially if it means compromising on the posture. Don't even bend to the leg if you find this already challenging (maybe doing demi plie will help at first). Feel the stretch, stay in it for a while, and attempt to remove the leg off the barre, slowly. You will gain flexibility and strength... The rest is up to you and how quickly you pass each steps.

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I am sorry, probably again a language problem, but I do not understand "jazz split". Could you describe it a bit so I can figure out what it is?

 

Personally, I have been working towards splits for a year now, and have been stuck at the last inch or two for about three months. I still feel the stretch in the muscles, so there should be potential for more, but it's just not coming up. Very frustrating!

 

From my own experience, I'd suggest that someone still far from splits does not even attempt a split, but stretches the necessary bits (hamstrings, hip, etc) separately until they can get low enough to easily get support from arms. If a teacher requires splits in class, then, well, there's nothing much that can be done, but it might be a good idea to at least ask if "preparatory" stretches would be allowed instead, and if so, which ones the teacher recommends.

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I think a jazz split is one with a bent back leg, turned out.

 

If you're *just* about able to do a split and need that last inch try this;

 

Start in a lunge with the back leg completely straight and stretched out and the front leg bent, with the hands on either side of you on the floor. It's very important to feel the energy coming out of that back leg. That's what you want to remain focused on.

 

Put your tosro over the front leg and slide the back leg back, keeping your torso bent over the front leg. It's a little easier to get into a split if you're forward over the front leg.

 

Focusing on sending the energy out through my back leg and stretching it totally straight really helped me get that last inch. I send the energy out and really stretch the hip flexors. I always perform splits turned in parallel, then focus on working the legs in different positions once I'm there. Turning out the front leg, rolling over onto the hip to stretch the flexors further, etc...

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Thanks Balletowoman! I've been doing stretches such as jambe sur la barre

(front, side, and as you said, the worst: back) with plies and bending toward

and away from the leg for a while, and that does help. What I like about those

is that I can control how far I go, and I don't feel as wobbly and ungraceful

as I do when I am trying to balance on my legs for a not-very-successful split

on the floor!

 

And thanks Lampwick for the advice to focus on the energy coming from the back

leg -- I will try what you described in class tonight and see how it feels. I'm

printing out all of your suggestions and putting them in my ballet bag, so that I

can read them over before class.

 

Thanks again!

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DreadPirateRoberts,

The back leg thing only really works once you're almost all the way down in a split. It's to get those extra few centimeters out. Right now, I think you probably need some hamstring stretching. You may not have too much success with the second method I suggested (which was more for Jaana Heino's benefit). The first method I mentioned would be the best for you right now, as it more actively seeks to release tension in the hamstrings. I feel as though you should probably be practicing a split with your back knee on the floor, turned in... for now at least :wink:

 

I don't feel as wobbly and ungraceful

as I do when I am trying to balance on my legs for a not-very-successful split

on the floor!

 

Don't do any splits trying to hold your balance with your legs. You have to have your hands on the floor for balance. It's very dangerous to try and do a split with your legs only until you're very flexible and strong. Your teacher should not be permitting this.

 

Have fun :D

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Guest beckster

One stretch I found very helpful was to stand, feet in parallel one in front of the other as though about to do a hamstring "runners" stretch. Then just lean forward over the front leg to put your hands on the floor. You may need to experiment with how far apart your feet are to get a good stretch. This helped me to stretch the muscles that were preventing me from getting into splits.

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Thanks, lampwick, I will try that.

 

The DreadPirate and anyone else in the same position I repeat that I got to the "almost there" by doing stretches other than splits; I usually didn't even try a split except once in a month or so to see if I was closer already, when I began working towards them. I didn't find it useful to stretch in a position that took so much energy to maintain and made it impossible to relax. I stretched hamstrings, hips, etc separately and only started to actual splits once I was so close to the ground that I could do them with really stretching in them instead of just hoping it would be over soon. :rolleyes:

 

The back-leg-bent stretch didn't work for me; I found it really hard to get there. I've only started to manage it once I've gotten closer to the true splits. I don't know why this is.

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Thanks again y'all for the advice -- I tried the "jazz split" (knee-on-the-floor)

and yes, it gives me the ability to balance and also still stretches me quite

well! I find I am also benefiting from the hamstring stretches suggested

here and jamb sur la barre stretches too.

 

I spoke with my teacher about this too, and he said: "Be patient. It will

take a long time, but you WILL find your flexibility improving." So there's

hope; now if I can just dredge up some more patience! :rolleyes:

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DreadPirateRoberts,

I like the name! "The Princess Bride" is one of my favorite books.

 

Thanks for bring this subject up. I'm in the same boat! I've taken notes.

Edited by silvergreydancer
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