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Improving extension--

Guest sally-mandy

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Guest sally-mandy

I've just started back at ballet as a 42 year old. I'd given up hope that I would ever get my leg above 90% in developpes, etc. until last night. My teacher came over and pulled my leg up much higher--over my head--and said I could get it up there eventually because I "have the flexibility" but it has to come from a "strong center."


Hmm. I feel doubtful, like I may never get it very high, but what do I know? Not much.


What do all of you know about improving extension? How long can one improve it over time? And it seems like it must involve a pretty strong leg also, no?



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I've been taking classes for four years now. I was 27 when I started. I am at 90 degrees on good days, maybe a bit above at the side. On most days, still a bit below. Most of my classmates who were true beginners that four years ago seem to be about equal to that, though one classmate of same age with me who started a year before is to be able to do around 100-110 degrees constantly. I've noticed significant development of extension for all of us during the last year - the first three years were more about learning the correct rotation and alignment to do it.


Not that I still have perfect alignment etc, but maybe you get my point. :(

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Guest dedicated

My problem is my lack of flexability. My hips and my hamstrings are extremely tight. It is and has always been a constant issue for me even when I was pregnant. When I develope and grab the inside of my ankle to bring my foot up to my head I can't even get my leg straight forget bringing it above my waist like EVERY OTHER WOMEN in the room can do - even the lady in her 70's can do it. I honestly look like a stiff guy!


I always feel very self consious.


Straight extensions are problematic but I agree flexibility is not as important as strength. My extensions do not suffer as much because of my inablilty to be flexable.



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During my years off dance for lack of knowledge where to find any or my foot problems I tried a couple of alternatives for exercise. I went to water aerobics at the "Y" and from there got invited into something called Body Recall. That is for seniors and is done mostly from a chair. I was 35 for my first class (close to the next youngest) and went home after and cried because I couldn't keep up with the 70 - 80 year olds in that class. Later I found they had been going there for many years and felt a little better. The only thing I excelled at in there resembled that stretch we do in ballet with the hand on the foot up in front and carrying it to the side. From a chair I was pretty darn good at that.

Now I am back in Ballet with a few people older than myself and I am looking around the room at legs going right up into 140 degree front and side extensions. I had to ask. I found they did take their individual 20 year breaks and came back but that was 8 to 10 years ago.

I think that will be of some comfort as I look at my 50 to 60 degree extensions; for a while anyway.

I really need to call and see when the pilates classes are being held these days. Last I knew the one evening one conflicts directly with ballet class. Maybe they brought back another class???? They only charge $3 per class too.



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I have always been able to hold my leg in a position for quite a long time, but I am not quite sure why because, as my teacher says, I have really had to work on my "spaghetti middle." I think it is a particular kind of strength that is required. I don't know if any of you remember doing the Presidential Physical Fitness exams in elementary school (if your from the States). You know how you had to hang in a chin-up from a bar? I had the world's skinniest arms with zero muscle when I was a kid, but I could hang there longer than anyone else in the class. But could I pull myself up to a chin up? No. It didn't really make sense to me. I think there is a difference between raw muscular strength and muscular endurance, and perhaps you need good muscular endurance for good extensions. In ballet, my difficulty isn't holding a high extension because I have good flexibility and muscular endurance; it is getting it there without compromising placement and alignment.

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Guest sally-mandy

Thanks everyone. Hart, I had the very same experience with the Presidential Physical Fitness test as a child. I used to dread it and wonder which icky president was responsible for it. Good point about the difference between muscular strength and endurance, and maybe that is my issue too.

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Every time you move your leg, the rest of your body must compensate in order to NOT move. In particular, your back must compensate. When you grand battement, muscles in the back contract and balance in a particular way so your back stays still while your leg flies around. That is a "strong center," because the muscles working to keep you together are in the center of your body --- lower back, lower abdominals, etc. A"weak center" means the muscles in the center are not well trained and do not do much to brace and stabilize you as your limbs move around. With a weak center, you can only move your leg so high before you start to fall over --- and your body will automatically stop the movement at that point.

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Guest sally-mandy

I have just realized that my developpe is not 90 degrees. Oops. Kind of embarrassing, but...I never was good at geometry. So...90 is now a goal to shoot for. Thanks all for sharing what is realistic for you.


I've never had much education in physiology either, so I'm not sure why it FEELS LIKE my leg is doing so much work in the developpe. Maybe I am doing them wrong. What David G said about using the center not to move makes sense. I feel that in grand battements.


Wouldn't it help in developpes, though, also to strengthen the quads?

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I agree that it takes about three years of constant work to really start seeing it going above 90 degrees easily. Some people have natural extension, but for most of us, it just takes a long time.


Try making the standing leg very strong and pulled up and making the working leg looser. If you make the standing leg strong, there's less of a chance that you'll "torque" off of it and lose your alignment and center.


The quads do not need to be abnormally strong. Most people have sufficiently strong enough quads already. Many teachers say to show the heel and try to feel like the developpe is coming from under the leg, so that you are turned out. There's other approaches, but that one seems to be effective for many. You dont want excess gripping in the quad. If you feel that, it means you're not turned out.

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Guest pink tights

Davidg---I totally agree. A 'strong center' is essential for extensions, balance, and turns. How long have you been dancing? Ever do any pas de deux? For women, if you don't have that strong center it's impossible. Core strength is key.

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Guest adancingartistforlife

Davidg is absolutely right, a strong center is essential. I always say "The body controls the limbs - the limbs don't control the body"


Especially when you get into partnering. I was demo-ing with a female teacher in a partnering class recently...ex prima ballerina. When I promenaded her, I felt 0 resistance...none. She was so on her center. Her core control was unbeleivable

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Guest dancer'sheart
Davidg---I totally agree.  A 'strong center' is essential for extensions, balance, and turns.  How long have you been dancing?  Ever do any pas de deux?  For women, if you don't have that strong center it's impossible.  Core strength is key.


Do you mean strong abs and pulling up? My extensions on my left are fine but when it comes to my right it's always heavy. I'm right handed by the way. So I have to work extra hard on the right side especially when balancing on my right leg on pointe. It's like when I'm on pointe on my left I'm floating and on my right I'm grounded. Any advice?



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Guest pink tights

Strong abs, strong back, and yes, pulling up (just don't lift the shoulders!). One side is almost always weaker. Also your supporting leg must be strong or everything falls apart.

Extensions are not pretty if your upper-body alignment is off.

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