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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Anatomy books for dancers

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Guest MrWombat

I want to start this topic for three reasons:

1)To list good anatomy books for dancers (in some ways the only thing scarier than some dancer's ignorance about their instruments is that they seem unwilling to learn)

2)To point out possible inaccuracies within these books, which can range from slightly frustrating to downright dangerous.

3)To share insights which these books may have given, and possibly list ballet myths that have been busted.


Hopefully with the amount of input we have here we can keep ourselves from error, or at least provide that grain of salt if a post seems iffy.


The good ones I've found are:


Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Anatomical Fact from Fiction in the Ballet Class by Valerie Grieg

First off, this is just a whole lot shorter and more digestable than the other three listed later. It is a quick read, and manages to fit quite a bit of useful information in that read. She lists the limitations the Y ligament and hip structure imposes on femur movement in the hip, including the mere 60 degrees possible straight out to the side (which is why a la seconde above this has to be slightly forward of direct side). However, her section on turnout worries me. She quotes a study on turnout which showed that, even in the most advanced dancers, in "perfect" fifth position only about 60-70% of turnout comes from the hips, the rest coming from twisting the knees and ankles. The study seems to show that the dancers weren't in any immediate pain as a result. Ms. Grieg is also totally fine with it. I know there are different schools of thought on this, but just from what I've read any forced turnout from the knees and ankles is just plain bad, and can't really be maintained without friction from the floor anyways, so what's the point? To quote one of my teachers, "If you're on stage and people are looking at how tight your fifth position is, you're in the most boring ballet ever." I'm not saying you shouldn't be as turned out at the hips as you can, you should, but come on, let's show our knees a little love.


Dance Kinesiology by Sally Fitt

She covers the skeletal structure thorougly and the muscle structure quite thorougly, listing their connections and actions, though for some reason she neglects the intrinsic muscles of the foot (she neglects the hand too, but in a dance book that's understandable), whose actions are often misconstrued as simply "supporting the arch" by many dancers when that is quite far from their complete action (all 20 of them move the toes in some way). She also states that the range of movement of the femur in the hip joint to the front is only limited by contacting the chest, while it is well established that the Y ligament limits movement to the front to around 110-120 degrees, any further movement being from the lumbar spine. Other than that, it was quite good. I especially liked her emphasis on always finding a more efficient way to move, to always seek to have less strain, less tension.


Dance Technique and Injury Prevention by Justin Howse and Shirley Hancock

Does not go into as much detail about muscle connections as this is not its focus. It does give a brief description of each system of the body, the sections on the skeletal and muscular systems being the longest. It instead focuses on the various ways dancers hurt themselves, what to do afterwards, and just as importantly how they can help keep this from happening in the first place. He also notes specific points in dance technique that if done incorrectly have a marked tendency to produce injuries. If there's a thing I'm a little dubious about it's that the book states that the difference between a curled pointed foot and a good pointed foot is that the intrinsic muscles of the foot are compensating for the flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallucis longus. I think that in a well pointed foot, the long flexors are not employed at all. In fact, the only intrinisc muscles that can act counter to the long flexors are the lumbricals and perhaps the small extensor, considering how weak they are in comparison to the long flexors it is highly unlikely they would be able to counter them if the long flexors were engaged.



Dance Injuries: Their Prevention and Cure by Daniel Arnheim

In many ways quite similar to Dance Technique and Injury Prevention, listing many of the same maladies and their treatments. It does not go into as much detail about anatomy. He also lays sort of blanket definitions and treatments for problems like lordosis and straight back as muscular imbalances that require strengthening of the opposing muscles since they are too weak (which it really can be at times), and not listing the possibility that it is not a question of actual muscular imbalance but of misuse, that it is possible that what is needed is for the person to let the muscle relax.


If I'm in error about any of these please correct me. I'd really like to hear more about shorter, less comprehensive books that are less intimidating (not to mention time consuming) for the busy dancer, though I think that if you have time it's really worth it to read the more comprehensive works.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I love anatomy i'll have to check out these books thanks heaps

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  • 3 years later...

I loved Inside Ballet Technique, it's such a fantastic book. The injury preventions look useful too, I don't have any books on the subject (whoops) so I'll definitely check those out. Thanks!

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