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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Physical Preparation of Boys


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What should we as parents be doing at home or advocating for in our schools to help prepare our boys for ballet or any other avocation and life? In the studio time/burnout topic in Parents of Boys, Citibob talks about so many male dancers starting later. I'll bet that although those men hadn't had ballet training they had had good physical conditioning to make them good clay to work with. So many boys today in the US just have strong thumbs because all they've done is video gaming. It is thrilling to see a young man who has worked out and been involved in activities that have prepared his body decide to study ballet. How can we prepare boys better particularly in the US?


My mother frequently commented on how my kids couldn't do pull ups (we've since gotten a pull up bar) and that when she was in elementary school they had to do pull ups and rope climbs and a lot of physical training. Because my children participate in a Russian ballet program I've often wondered how our current physical education in our public school system in the US must differ from what the Soviet Union must have had. I realize part of the reason my mother's PE was as demanding as it was could have been due to Cold War competition.


Vaganova training theoretically begins at age 10 but I think those children in Russia ect. have had a good deal of physical preparation if not pre-ballet prior to that point. What should we be doing at home and school to help prepare our kids? Many schools no longer have play equipment because of expense and liability so boys can't even hang on monkey bars to develop their strength.


In my mother's day if a child were over weight the PE teacher told the parents. Now, no one wants to go there and childhood obesity is at a high. I'm not blaming the school system for weight problems but I do think that physical preparation of elementary children has diminished. Are children even checked for scoliosis in the schools anymore? In working in the schools I don't think I've heard a teacher say sit up straight, don't slouch. I'm not bashing teachers I know they have far more serious issues to deal with. But again in my mother's day...... (I'm not, however, wanting to go back to my mother's day. They had polio after all.)

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I think there are many ways to encourage physical activity at home. I know my kids have a lot of upper body strength and I attribute that to the fact that we have rings hanging from the boys' bedroom ceiling. The rings have been there well over a year and I am still amazed at how my kids play on them daily. We also have a chin-up bar in their doorway. I certainly don't stand over them and demand that they do chin-ups. But, the bar is there and the kids think it's fun to play with it and pull themself up on it (Yes, I have to watch my head when I walk in their room, but they jump up and swing on it practically every time they walk in or out their door). We also have trampolines (big one outside, little one inside), ropes hanging from trees outside, a floor balance beam and tumbling mat in the living room, roller skates and bikes on the front porch....


Okay, so my house sometimes resembles a gymnasium. But, it keeps the kids really active and well coordinated. A lot of familes have this type of equipment put away in the garage. Having it out in the living areas where it can be used spontaneously every day really contributes to an active lifestyle.

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My mom had this rule for weekends and holidays--it was essentially go outside and play (and stay out except for lunch and restroom visits) or help her with chores around the house. As you can guess, the kids in my family stayed outside all day. We were also a very active family. We skiied, biked, backpacked, and rode horses together. My parents didn't subscribe to cable TV, and since we lived outside the city, we didn't really get any sort of reception. I think that cut down on a lot of inside, sitting around time. We also had a number of animals to care for/play with and chores to do outside. We didn't live on a farm, but we did live on an oversized wooded lot.


I don't think kids spend a lot of time outside these days, and I think that might be a big part of the problem. My son likes to play outside with our dogs and before we lived on a busy street, he rode his bike and skateboarded a lot. Before he started ballet, he was a competitive swimmer, which is a pretty intense workout, even for a grade school boy! He was swimming 2+ hours a day, M-F, and then swimming in meets on the weekends. Now DS dances 6 days a week and likes to relax with a book or the computer during his free time. I do allow him to play video games, but I limit the time he can play to one hour once or twice a week and require all homework and chores to be finished in advance.


He has been working on building strength at home by doing pushups and other exercises. He takes pilates on a reformer once a week and works out with a pilates video once or twice more weekly. He is almost 12 now and is pretty strong! He's in much better shape than most all of his schoolmates.


What most kids are eating these days is a lot different from what kids ate during your mom's generation, too, and that also factors in to how their bodies look and their energy levels and moods.


Good post, I look forward to the discussion!

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I think it's really hard to say in any sort of general way. Yes, there are a lot of kids with very unhealthy habits. On the other hand, it seems to me that "fixing" those kids takes more than some tweaking here or there, and I rather suspect that few of us here have kids with those sorts of problems.


We encounter a lot of obstacles, first and foremost being schoolwork. My kids have a rather heavy academic load, and by the time they get home from school there's not a whole lot of time left. They've only got about 4.5-5 hours from the time they get home from school until the time they're in bed. Figure at least an hour for homework, time for dinner, and time to get ready for bed and you've got just about enough time to get out to a dance class (or other activity) and back...and odds are they can forget spending a lot of time outside playing that day unless they get their homework done quickly. They do music practice in the morning to free up time after school, but they sometimes have to get in some practice after school as well, depending on the situation.


On the other hand, our kids have always been active and fit. They could use some more upper body strength, but they'll get there. I know that they do get checked for scoliosis in our schools. They have PE twice a week and recess every day (in elementary school). They work on a variety of things, including the usual Presidential Physical Fitness stuff (which includes flexed arm hang or pullups) and rope climbing and such (they get their photo on the wall if they make it to the top of the rope). DS1 holds the school record for 4th grade flexed arm hang. Personally, I think it's because he's so skinny he doesn't have much to haul up there! ;-) I know that many other schools have had to cut things like recess and PE more heavily, which obviously has consequences.


As far as preparing boys for ballet, I have mixed emotions about that. I think you try to give your kids every opportunity to be active and have fun, but you never know where they're going in life so beyond the general stuff I try not to focus in on specific preparations. I just try to enable their interests and encourage anything that seems positive. Even with music, which is very important to me, I just provided lots of music in the home and good quality, age appropriate instruments. I didn't set up specific goals or exercises. I just kept it available and fun. When it came time for more formal training, they had to make a decision and a commitment and move on from there. Same with dance. They were always exposed to dance (and other cultural activities), and they always had music to move to and space to move in, but I would hesitate to start some kind of formal preparation with a young child to ensure strength and flexibility. Even now, the boys aren't all that keen on stretching, even though they know it's important. If they want to get better, they have to decide and make the commitment on their own (with support, of course) to really develop their flexibility and strength.


So, I would certainly take steps as a parent to create a healthy environment and lifestyle, which is something they need whatever they decide to do in life, but I wouldn't focus on any particular preparation. Things that are important to me as a parent:


- healthy foods (though not militantly so)

- plenty of sleep (hard to get these days)

- time for fresh air and active play (which includes keeping homework levels reasonable)

- PE and recess at school (Personally, I think PE at school should include plenty of activities that students can do for a lifetime, rather than focusing only on team sports. This year our PTA provided the school with a few Dance Dance Revolution setups for when the weather is too bad for outdoor recess or when the kids have class parties or whatever--it's been a big hit.)

- good school lunch program, ideally developed by a professional nutritionist (many school lunches are appalling)


I think those provide a fine foundation, and the kids should be able to build whatever they want on top of that.

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Regarding the Vaganova Academy, I recall that vrs mentioned somewhere (a long time ago on the teachers board) that the students have a pre-ballet class before age 10 where they learn basic things like battement tendu as well as body-conditioning exercises (I believe; she could elaborate more). Apparently the classes are quite demanding.

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I really like all of the ideas I am reading here! What a wonderful idea to turn your home into a mini-gym :blushing:


I find it sad that kids don't play outside as much anymore, but I don't necessarily hold video games and TV responsible; I think video games and TV are the end result of more people spending time indoors here in America.


Our culture has become very violent, sadistic, and predatory. You can't just let your kids randomly roam the neighborhood anymore without the possibility that a pedophile could accost your child, especially since they are located very near your home. Just check the website of your local sherriff's dept.- but be prepared to be shocked at their close proximity to you.


Between that and any other of the laundry list of things that happen on a regular basis today, it's a miracle if you are able to live in a place where those occurrances are rare.


As far as preparing boys, I think that exposure to ballet is a good addendum to what has already been said above. Rent videos, take them to see live performances etc.

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What do ya'll think of gymnastics as part of a boy's dance training? I noticed that at SAB, the level 1-4 boys were offered a once-a-week gymnastics class (I didn't notice a similar class for the girls).


My kids are all involved in gymnastics, and I think it's a really fun way for little kids to run around and create good body-conditioning habits. Gymnastis is an activity that even toddlers can enjoy and because you are moving your body in all three planes, participants really develop their sense of balance and body awareness.

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There have been other threads about gymnastics and the positive or negative effects on ballet dancers. I think as long as there is good gymnastics training, it can be beneficial.

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I have a student now training at a vocational school in England. We used to nag him to do upper body strengthening etc, but he didn't do much really. However, once he started at this school at 16+ upper body work, pilates etc etc were part of the syllabus. I can't recognise him now after a year of intensive training, so I think that in a way it may not matter too much. Boys grow at odd rates and sometimes part of their body grows faster than another. It may not be safe to do too much strengthening exercises when they're growing so much. At 16, 17 it all comes together and woosh, they're men with the strength of men and the upper body training and pilates works well.

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I'll bet that although those men hadn't had ballet training they had had good physical conditioning to make them good clay to work with.


I believe that physical education, starting at a young age, is important for all boys and girls. This is important for our health, not just for the needs of the profession of ballet.


For an 8-year-old boy, I see no reason to expect that that boy will decide to pursue ballet as a career. So it makes sense to pursue physical activities that are educational and enjoyable, whether they be gymnastics, ballet, karate, soccer, biking, etc. Often, it will depend on what is available in a quality way in your area.


I bike everywhere, and have since I was 10, so physical activity is built into my day. I plan on bringing my children along in that activity at a young age as one way to build physical activity into their lives --- it will start with a bike baby seat, then later a "third wheel" trailer for them to ride and pedal on. I will not have a TV either. The modern world is a toxic environment when it comes to exercise and nutrition, so we must take concrete, positive steps with our children to combat all the negative influences.

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I applaud your goals for your children :D

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What about swimming? This builds upper body strength and stamina. Also other water sports are great if you are near a lake or the sea. Our family waterskis and wakeboards (don't worry there are not the same dangers as snow skiiing). My DD has also been going to diving classes once a week for some years, i.e. launching yourself off a diving board, not swimming underwater with a tank. Many of the warm up stretches go well with ballet, it is fun and helps strengthen the legs as they run up the steps again. It builds up confidence and daring too.

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Swimming is great exercise too.


But this reminds me of a guy I know. He was a competitive swimmer during his early puberty years (11-14 I think). I mean, he really swam intensely. So much so that he didn't eat as much has he should have (it really is hard to eat a lot when you're exercising a lot). The result is he has a football player frame, but he's really short. A couple years later (mid-teens), he got involved in ballet and became a professional dancer. Not exactly the proportions considered ideal for ballet. But with his powerful frame and low center of gravity, he can jump and turn like anything. He can also lift anyone he likes no problem, however tall she is; and he doesn't have to go down to get under her like most of us have to.


I think he point of this is that pushing physically too hard during those critical years can lead to lifelong consequences.

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:yes: I would have to agree with Hamorah about the upper body strength developing later for a boy. My DS did not do much strength training until last year at age 16 - and not too many weights, he worked out on the ball and the bonsu ball (half ball). Now at 17, he has developed good musculature and I think he even grew a bit taller as well. It is very interesting to watch the physical development of the male dancers - they all mature at different times. I wouldn't push the strength training at an early age, although, what I think males lack is a dedication to increasing their flexbility. The boys who stretched regularly and really worked at it from a younger age, now have better extensions, full splits, arched feet, etc, than those who didn't seem to care. My DS says he always stands behind his female partner at the barre - he is motivated by her great extensions/flexibility and tries to keep up! :blushing:
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I know the idea of a regeim is counter what some of you think is appropriate but I know others do subscribe to them. Routines and lists have been a life saver for our disorganized life so I've come up with one for the boys Physical Training since the public schools' seem too varied for my liking. Here's the list I've made into a poster. Tell me what you think.


Stretching- With pictures of dd doing the stretches she typically uses for warm-up


The Presidents Physical Fitness Challange- Chart with the goals by age and pictures and instructions

This includes sit-ups, push ups, pull ups, stretch and reach, shuttle run and 1 mile run


jumping exercises- Two modified plyometrics that ds does in ballet men's class and in Tae Kwan do, verticle jump and standing long jump. Their floor is set up for jumping safely. Old Wood floor with carpet pad carpet and then shop floor pads on top. The standing long jump will be outside after mud season.


Ending with Stretching again - With pictures of dd doing the stretches she typically uses for warm-up


DS1 is 12 so I'm thinking he could start a dumbell routine next year but I'll check for sure with his Men's class teacher.


DS1 likes doing things he can quantify and also likes reaching goals and getting awards. He likes the idea that if he completes the goals for his age on the Fitness Challange he can get an award from the President.


Regarding all this PT ds1 was showing off while warming up for ballet class one day and did a clap pushup. At that time the ballet school's Executive Director came. He's a retired Marine Col. and over 60 years old. When he came in he showed ds how it was done properly. Now ds is saying he wants to be a Marine when he grows up.

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