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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Sway back, turn out and straigtening knees


carpoolleader

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carpoolleader

I'm not sure this topic belongs here, so please forgive me if I have posted in the wrong place, but here is my question:

 

I have a 13 year old daughter who is a lovely dancer but has a slight sway back, average turnout at best (though her teachers say she uses what she has well) and difficulty straigtening her knees (they straighten but it takes constant attention for her and she says it hurts). I think that all three problems could be related to each other. I have been paying for some private pilates sessions for her with a former professional dancer turned certified pilates instructor. My questions are: are these problems (sway back, limited turnout and difficulty straightening knees) often related and is she better off working on them with a pilates instructor or a physical therapist or neither?

 

If anyone can weigh in and give me advice I would greatly appreciate it!

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Victoria Leigh

These things can be related, or not. It depends. A sway back is an alignment and muscle control problem. When the back is out of alignment the rotation will not work properly. The knees could be unrelated. There are people who have problems straightening their knees, as well as some who hyperextend, or over straighten. The hyperestension is more related to alignment than the knees that don't straighten. Some can be corrected, some can't. The teacher should be the first one addressing this, and also making it clear to you that, IF she is addressing it, it takes a lot of time. It's not something that can be corrected overnight, or in a short period of time. If the teacher is not doing it, then a Pilates expert, preferably one who was a dancer, would be good, and a PT could also be helpful. Start with the teacher. If I have problems with a student and they are not responding to the work I am doing, then I would be the first to suggest Pilates or a PT.

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carpoolleader

Thank you Ms. Leigh. I know what you mean about it taking a long time. She has been working on the knees particularly for a couple of years and while we see some improvement she still has a long way to go. We will be patient. Thank you again for your help.

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Yes, my daughter just turned 13. She also is being told consistentently to tuck in her bottom and pull in her stomach. java script:emoticon(':)',%20'smid_17')She has heard this correction enough times in the last year that she is determined to not hear it anymore and she is studying herself carefully in the mirror.java script:emoticon(':angry:',%20'smid_30')

 

She also feels like she cannot straighten her knees all the way and get that beautiful arched leg-look. I didn't know if this would affect her success at her first time auditioning for SIs this year. Surprisingly, she has had a wonderful acceptance response from major SIs. She has chosen PNB for her first SI experience.

 

Mrs. Leigh, are there any exercises that she can do in order to help her knees. She is becoming very flexible and her knees already look much improved. She has seen some girls at auditions go into a split and then put a can under the ankle for an added "stretch". Are these girls stretching the ligaments under their knees? :pinch:

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Victoria Leigh

Piquetoes, don't worry about the extra posts! I got rid of that for you. And, welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers :)

 

I really don't like the word "tuck" at all in relation to placement and alignment. It can make the student sit in her legs. Yes, one must USE the buttox muscles, however, tucking them under is a very bad thing. :angry:

 

As for the knees, I do not like the exercise you describe above. A better one would be to get a worn out tennis ball, or a rubber ball, and just sit on the floor with the legs out straight in front, place the ball under the knee and squish the ball. She can do one leg at a time, or both with two rubber ######. Flex the feet and contract the quads and push down on the ball.

 

By the way, the emoticons are located on the side of the Reply box. Just click on the one you want! You did it right on the last one :pinch:

 

You can also type it in if you know the code for it. Use :word:, like colon wink colon.

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I'd like to add that, as Miss Leigh said, there is more to the problem than "bent knees" or "sway-back".

 

Let me address the first poster. From what you are describing carpoolleader, I am seeing a child whose allover alignment needs help. I see a child who arches her back because her pelvis is tilted and she doesn't know how to find neutral-pelvis; this causes her legs to literally rotate in as opposed to maximizing natural turnout. Because she tilts her pelvis, her ribcage is thrust forward likely garnering corrections from her ballet teacher like, "Close your ribs" and "Suck your tummy in". So now she tries to close her ribs which affects her shoulders and further prevents her body from moving correctly.

 

So we need to un-stuck her! :thumbsup:

 

The bones of the body must be aligned properly with the muscles supporting them, so we need to find 'plumbline'. Plumbline is when a person is standing still in proper alignment, and a literal plumbline is dropped from the Iliac crest to hang down to near the ankle bone. If one's alignment is off, the line will hang either forward of the ankle bone, or behind.

 

(I'm going to quote myself here because I am too lazy to re-write it :P )

Picture a skeleton hanging from a post, like in a lab.

 

See the pelvis. Visualize those 2 bony structures at the very bottom of the pelvis. Those are what you feel when you sit down. They are called the 'sit bones'.

If the skeleton is hanging properly, those 2 bones will be pointing straight down at the ground. If one were to attach a light to them, there would be 2 perfect circles of light on the floor.

 

Now move up to the ribcage. Notice that the ribcage comes from the spine and therefore, we need to think about the ribcage as being both in front and back. The ribcage would be centered over the pelvis, parallel to the floor, neither higher in back nor front, neither sticking out forward nor backwards.

 

The head would then float at the top of the spine.

 

Picture tucking the sit bones forward on your mental skeleton, or arching them backwards. Can you see how it would affect the rest of the bones? The lower back must adjust, but also every other bone in the entire body must adjust as well.

 

When the pelvis is tucked, it pulls the ribcage down, and forces too much weight to be placed in the upper thighs. It continues to cause problems on up the body into the shoulders and neck by causing neck tension, shoulder-rounding, and chin-thrusting.

 

When the pelvis is tilted backwards, it compresses the lower back and forces the ribcage forward, which will also cause chin-thrusting or tucking.

 

The job of our muscles is to support the bones. The dancer can only achieve full rotation of the legs when the ribcage is lifted (think: Boning in tutu bodices) up equally in back and front and supported by the ab muscles, and the pelvis is neutral. Having the ribcage supported and lifted up off of the pelvis allows the legs to work at their maximum efficiency and allows the body to move quickly or slowly in control. It also allows one to feel the rotators and engage them.

 

Have her try to find what I am talking about by looking at herself sideways in the mirror. I hope that will help a bit.

 

Now on to piquetoes-

That "cannot straighten her knees all the way and get that beautiful arched leg-look" is called Hyper-extension, and it is a problem when in a weight-bearing state!! It is beyond straight, and not "straightened all the way". It has to do with the joints of the body and is determined by genetics.

 

The problems with weight-bearing hyper-extension are numerous. Knee replacements surgery is one possibility...

 

One of the other problems is that your weight is placed back over your heels when you over-straighten your knees. Teacher comes along and says the dancer's weight is too far back. So dancer compensates by leaning forward. This places undue weight into her thighs (among a myriad of other problems) and will contribute to bulky thighs.

 

Everything gets out of proper alignment when one thing is out, because it has to compensate for the other thing.

 

Basically, tell her to find her own strengths, and not try to work on something she cannot change, like her bone structure.

 

It is not a neccessity for a professional ballet dancer to be hyper-extended, although many are. Hopefully, they are taught how to use it correctly, and how it can make shapes in when the leg is in the air. But again, not a job requirement :thumbsup:

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  • 2 months later...

I have been reading through this particular thread, for dd also has trouble with knees. She says they are "too straight", would like them a little hyper-extended for the curve line. I told her about the tennis ball exercise, which she willingly tried, but would like to know the concept. Can anyone give us an explanation of HOW and WHY this exercise works? Sometimes imagining the solution helps the problem.

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Mel Johnson

Tell me, has your daughter ever expressed an interest in growing a second appendix? That's what hyperextension is: No earthly good in the first place, and a potential source of trouble down the line. The tennis ball exercise works because it stretches the tendons and ligaments at the back and sides of the knee which prevent the knee from making full travel to straight. If you have naturally straight knees as a matter of skeletal structure, you won't be able to produce hyperextension, no matter what, and a good thing, too.

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Itsme-

Please tell your daughter that unless she wants to ruin any chance she may have at a pro career, she should not try to create hyperextended knees :D

 

Hyperextension is not a requirement of a professional dancer and your dd will literally ruin her knees if she keeps trying to create hyperextension in her legs.

 

Time for her to focus on her own strengths as a dancer and learn how to enhance them. :cool2:

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Mel Johnson

And straight knees is a strength!

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Oh my goodness! Please excuse the ignorance. I will show these quotes to my d, a.s.a.p. I am not sure what gave her the impression that hyperextension is a requirement and a good thing, but I can now tell you that I, (and more importantly, SHE), am and will be relieved. One less obstical to work on.

Thank you so much for your responses.

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carpoolleader

Oh my! What a wonderful group of postings on a subject that is very near and dear to us! Clara76, thank you for your very thorough description of proper alignment. I will print this for DD and ask her to apply this knowledge when she is in class. I wish her teachers taught like this.

 

I don't get to this board as often as I would like so I am a bit behind on all these great posts to my original question. I do want to add that I just recently had a conference with her school directors and they think DDs legs are very nice, but she just needs to keep lengthening those thigh muscles and they thought that private pilates would be a good route to go for working on this and increasing the hip flexibility. In the meantime, she will do the excercise with the worn out tennis ball.

 

I must say that it is kind of nice to hear from others who have had a similar problem and know that it is correctable and also that lack of hyperextention is not the end of the world - in fact quite the opposite! Thanks to all of you for your input!

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It's alright, Itsme. Don't feel bad because there's a whole lot of bad information out there- it's easy to get sucked into the vortex. :devil: But please do let your daughter know what we've said.

 

And carpoolleader-

no problem!

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  • 1 year later...
I'm not sure this topic belongs here, so please forgive me if I have posted in the wrong place, but here is my question:

 

I have a 13 year old daughter who is a lovely dancer but has a slight sway back, average turnout at best (though her teachers say she uses what she has well) and difficulty straigtening her knees (they straighten but it takes constant attention for her and she says it hurts). I think that all three problems could be related to each other. I have been paying for some private pilates sessions for her with a former professional dancer turned certified pilates instructor. My questions are: are these problems (sway back, limited turnout and difficulty straightening knees) often related and is she better off working on them with a pilates instructor or a physical therapist or neither?

 

If anyone can weigh in and give me advice I would greatly appreciate it!

 

 

I just found this web site... as a Traditional certified Pilates instructor and studio owner and someone who grew up studying Classical Ballet well into my twenties... I am wondering how your daughter is doing?

 

I'd like to add that, as Miss Leigh said, there is more to the problem than "bent knees" or "sway-back".

 

Let me address the first poster. From what you are describing carpoolleader, I am seeing a child whose allover alignment needs help. I see a child who arches her back because her pelvis is tilted and she doesn't know how to find neutral-pelvis; this causes her legs to literally rotate in as opposed to maximizing natural turnout. Because she tilts her pelvis, her ribcage is thrust forward likely garnering corrections from her ballet teacher like, "Close your ribs" and "Suck your tummy in". So now she tries to close her ribs which affects her shoulders and further prevents her body from moving correctly.

 

So we need to un-stuck her! :o

 

The bones of the body must be aligned properly with the muscles supporting them, so we need to find 'plumbline'. Plumbline is when a person is standing still in proper alignment, and a literal plumbline is dropped from the Iliac crest to hang down to near the ankle bone. If one's alignment is off, the line will hang either forward of the ankle bone, or behind.

 

(I'm going to quote myself here because I am too lazy to re-write it :shrug: )

Picture a skeleton hanging from a post, like in a lab.

 

See the pelvis. Visualize those 2 bony structures at the very bottom of the pelvis. Those are what you feel when you sit down. They are called the 'sit bones'.

If the skeleton is hanging properly, those 2 bones will be pointing straight down at the ground. If one were to attach a light to them, there would be 2 perfect circles of light on the floor.

 

Now move up to the ribcage. Notice that the ribcage comes from the spine and therefore, we need to think about the ribcage as being both in front and back. The ribcage would be centered over the pelvis, parallel to the floor, neither higher in back nor front, neither sticking out forward nor backwards.

 

The head would then float at the top of the spine.

 

Picture tucking the sit bones forward on your mental skeleton, or arching them backwards. Can you see how it would affect the rest of the bones? The lower back must adjust, but also every other bone in the entire body must adjust as well.

 

When the pelvis is tucked, it pulls the ribcage down, and forces too much weight to be placed in the upper thighs. It continues to cause problems on up the body into the shoulders and neck by causing neck tension, shoulder-rounding, and chin-thrusting.

 

When the pelvis is tilted backwards, it compresses the lower back and forces the ribcage forward, which will also cause chin-thrusting or tucking.

 

The job of our muscles is to support the bones. The dancer can only achieve full rotation of the legs when the ribcage is lifted (think: Boning in tutu bodices) up equally in back and front and supported by the ab muscles, and the pelvis is neutral. Having the ribcage supported and lifted up off of the pelvis allows the legs to work at their maximum efficiency and allows the body to move quickly or slowly in control. It also allows one to feel the rotators and engage them.

 

Have her try to find what I am talking about by looking at herself sideways in the mirror. I hope that will help a bit.

 

Now on to piquetoes-

That "cannot straighten her knees all the way and get that beautiful arched leg-look" is called Hyper-extension, and it is a problem when in a weight-bearing state!! It is beyond straight, and not "straightened all the way". It has to do with the joints of the body and is determined by genetics.

 

The problems with weight-bearing hyper-extension are numerous. Knee replacements surgery is one possibility...

 

One of the other problems is that your weight is placed back over your heels when you over-straighten your knees. Teacher comes along and says the dancer's weight is too far back. So dancer compensates by leaning forward. This places undue weight into her thighs (among a myriad of other problems) and will contribute to bulky thighs.

 

Everything gets out of proper alignment when one thing is out, because it has to compensate for the other thing.

 

Basically, tell her to find her own strengths, and not try to work on something she cannot change, like her bone structure.

 

It is not a neccessity for a professional ballet dancer to be hyper-extended, although many are. Hopefully, they are taught how to use it correctly, and how it can make shapes in when the leg is in the air. But again, not a job requirement :blushing:

 

I am new to this web site and have to say as a classically trained Ballet dancer and now a Traditional Pilates certified teacher and studio owner t was wonderful to read you post. I am working with a 13 year old dancer, tight in her pelvic floor, SI joint and hips and trying to compensate by turning out from her knees. Your post offered some amazing visual images that I can offer her. However, I have also found that part of the tightness in her pelvis is due to her bones growing faster than her muscle. The child has an amazing Balanchine era body, long and lanky! But her muscles have yet to catch up with her body. So, she is tucking the pelvis, splaying ribs and trying in too many way to compensate versus working with her body. THANKS! your visuals helped.

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You're so very welcome and I am honored that something I said helped. :(

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