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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Training for Ballet

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Hi everyone.

As you might have noticed I am both new to ballet and to this wonderful site. I am male, 50 from Norway (sp pls excuse my poor English), and I have just started with basic ballett lessons. I just love it. To stand at the barre and practise new movements focusing on details is just great. We have also just started to do different jumps and hops.

However, I have always been training a lot. Mainly long distance running, cycling and swimming. I am fit with a good condition, but my strength isn't too good, and after runniung on asphalt for many year, I am sort of stiff. Now I want to transform most of my training to improve my ballett. So my question is:

1. What sort of training (other then the ballett classes of course) should I focus on and spend my time on ?

2. Is going to a studio lifting weights the righ thing ? If so, what excersises should be focused ?

Really, any advice or experience from others regarding what can improve the muscles etc that is important in ballett would be most welcome.

Perhaps anyone know about good places on the Internet for such info ?

Looking forward to se what appears.

The very best regards from Pilot ! B)

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  • jimpickles


  • Mel Johnson


  • Garyecht


  • davidg


I have received very good results improving my balance, flexibilty and strength through Bikram Yoga. It is basically 45 minuites of standing stretches and 45 minutes of seated stretches, performed in a very warm room. This type of cross-training has worked well for me and greatly improved my ballet technique.


Hope this helps. Keep dancing!

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After all that swimming and cycling, your cardio strength should be in good shape, and you should continue those activities.


As you've noticed, ballet needs all the flexibility you can muster, so you should concentrate on activities that help that like ballet itself, separate stretching sessions, and yoga. My personal opinion is that weight training is not right for you at this time.


Welcome to Ballet Talk!

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Welcome Pilot to the world of adult ballet. By the way, I came to dance from something of a similar background and age as you. If you look at the physical requirements of ballet, you’ll find that you don’t really need much in terms of strength or endurance. Most people would say that it is desirable to be very flexible, but as an older adult, you can be a complete stiff, and still do the techniques quite nicely. Yes, your leg might not go as high as others, but who really cares. We are adult dancers, not aspiring professionals.


You will find that by far the best way to condition your body for ballet is to take as many ballet classes as you can. The work you do in those classes will condition you better than anything else you can do. If you can take no more classes than you are taking right now, other types of dance classes (modern, jazz) are the best alternative. Once you become accustomed to the structure and nature of ballet class, by all means practice on your own.


Dancers stretch a lot. My sense is that we do that primarily because increasing our flexibility makes us feel as though we can move more easily. Keeping a low bodyweight does much the same thing and contributes to flexibility for many people. So I would stretch a lot—yoga is fine, so too are the stretches one does in other kinds of classes and in ballet class.


Many of we adults can’t take as many classes as we might wish and do wind up doing other exercise forms. For the most part, I don’t think these forms help or hurt ballet, unless all our energy starts getting directed to these forms, so I would do whatever you enjoy and just make sure that whatever you do doesn’t wear you out for ballet class.

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In the kinds of exercise you're used to, it's important to be strong and build up muscle. Flexibility is of secondary importance. The big difference with ballet is you need to be very strong, but very flexible at the same time. This is hard because strength and flexibility normally work against each other. The two are achieved in ballet training by doing them both at once --- in every exercise (once you understand how to do the exercies, which can take years). The ballet class is a brilliantly unique form of conditioning for this reason, and nothing else really takes its place.


The only place where ballet training is considered to be lacking is in cardiovascular endurance. One other thing: depending on your personality, you may also find it hard to relax enough to build the strength and endurance at the same time; your teacher may say you're "gripping". For those people, Yoga or Feldenkreis training for a while can be helpful.

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As pointed out, generally the specific strengths of ballet are best developed by the ballet exercises themselves. But I suggest feet can be specifically strengthened by non-ballet exercises - starting with calf rises. You need a lot of stamina in this so you can rise and lower on one foot for ever if necessary without tiring.

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Davidg's suggestion of Feldenkreis is an excellent one, and you may also wish to look into Pilates and/or Graham modern (if you can find a real Graham teacher nearby; that can be a challenge).

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What you need depends on who you are. I've seen beginner students who are "musclebound", i.e. big muscles and zero flexibility. I've also seen beginners who are very flexible, but weak and floppy; they have a hard time standing up straight and holding themselves at the barre. The two extremes need very different exercises to develop as a ballet dancer. I can't see you, and I don't know what you need in addition to ballet class, if anything.

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Part of the appeal of ballet training is that it mostly is a stand-alone discipline, and doesn't require much in ways of special equipment. Adult students may find that they need other things to help, after they've been studying awhile and can identify specific problems.

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Guest mic31

I've been asking my teacher alot about cross training. She just says the best extra training for ballet is more ballet. Kinda old school but it actually works for me. :ermm:

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I've been asking my teacher alot about cross training. She just says the best extra training for ballet is more ballet. Kinda old school but it actually works for me. :thumbsup:


Especially for all of us adult dancers who must fit ballet into our daily lives. If you were a professional dancer taking class, rehearsing, and performing all day, your ballet quota gets filled, but for the rest of us just finding time to take class a couple times a week is sometimes a challenge.

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I'm going to add a query, because I feel that the issue of cross training goes further than was addressed above. Most sports will use a lot of very specific exercises, which are not part of the actual sporting activity, to deal with certain specific strength or coordination issues. Ballet seems unusual in that the accepted position with minor exceptions is that the best cross-training for ballet is ballet.


On the teacher board someone has asked what is the best strengthening for inner thighs. I dont want to reply there because someone not a teacher has replied there and got told off. So I will link it to this discussion. Because it is clear to me what the best strengthener for the inner thighs is: what (some) martial artists call "sumo squats" - a VERY wide 2nd, with feet directly below knee joints, with maximum opening of the thighs to the side, and hips if possible lowered lower than the knees - then raise and lower the body in squats. This works the inner thighs like nothing else (you have to concentrate to make sure the hamstrings dont come in, though they are not favoured by the position).


So even though I think that this is very strengthening, is it contraindicated for dancers? Or is it just that dancers "dont do that sort of thing"?


I use it if I want to wear out my adductors before stretching them, since that's an area I'm not too good in (put to shame by the girls in the class who can sit perfectly happily with the legs out to the side in a straight line).



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By definition cross-training means doing activities outside the primary activity one is training for so that “the best cross-training for ballet is ballet” makes no sense.


I think the principle of specificity is pretty much accepted, not just in ballet, but in sports also. That principle says that the best way to improve an activity is to do the activity. The best way to get better at ballet is to do ballet. That isn’t cross-training. It’s development.


As an older person who has spent most of his life in sport, I’ve seen how training has changed. In general it has become more specific and intense, which I believe accounts for most of the improvement in things like records.


There are a number of reasons why one might do cross-training. Injury prevention is a common reason. Change of pace, recreation, or just pure enjoyment are others. But in general, cross-training neither helps nor hinders development in the primary activity. There are exceptions, of course. All shot putter’s lift weights, which is not the same as shot putting. Exceptions are rare, however, in instances where developed skill (as in ballet) is primary within the activity.


With respect to the question about strengthening the inner thighs on the teacher board, the question is really more complicated than posed. If one is going to have a test of inner thigh strength, the best way to train for that test is to exercise the inner thighs with weight and resistance training. This will maximize the strength of those muscles. But this is also irrelevant from a ballet perspective. Ballet does not require maximal strength. It requires “enough” strength through specific ranges of motion to perform movements in a technically adequate way.


The above also points out an essential difference between training for sport and for dance. In sport, one is always trying to recruit more muscle fibers to participate in the movement one is doing. Doing so makes you stronger, faster, and so on. But dance is different. Yes, you need some strength, but for the most part you are trying to use only the minimum effort to perform a movement. That is one of the things that makes dance dance. Much of our development as dancers involves simply learning what muscles need to contract and what muscles need to relax (or decontract) when doing a movement.

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Jim, it seems to me that the position you describe would actually stretch the adductors rather than contract them...? One exercise I've found helpful is the following:


Lie on your side (for example, your right side), your legs and body making a straight line. Turn out your left leg, bend the knee, and place the sole of your left foot on the floor just in front of your right leg. Flex your right foot, and keeping your right leg parallel, move it up and down against your left leg (like a violin bow).


Garyecht is correct; cross-training is helpful for issues such as injury-prevention or strengthening a particular muscle, but if you are working properly in ballet class with a good teacher, ballet class will give you the strength you need for ballet.

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