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Ballet Talk for Dancers

'Holding' the back.


Mazenderan

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I have a query regarding the muscles in the back. Before a pirouette, we're reminded to hold our back, and not to 'let the back go'. I'm interpreting this as 'hold your back rigid', but find it very difficult to actually do this. I can't 'feel' the muscles in my back, and can't tense them (when I try I just end up tensing and protruding my abdominal muscles). This is really frustrating me, as I've been working really hard on my alignment and have noticed improvements in other areas - I can feel and hold my turn-out better now and am generally more pulled up.

 

If it helps at all, I'm generally hypermobile. My physio said that this hypermobility is particularly marked in the lumbar region. Oddly though, I feel quite stiff and inflexible in upper back bends - like there's no give.

 

I'd be grateful for any advice :wink:

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Victoria Leigh

Mazenderan, nothing in your body should be "rigid"! Holding the back does not mean tensing it or becoming rigid. It just means to maintain the lift in the body, starting with the abs. When learning to do pirouettes it is not unusual for people to relax the abs and the back muscles before the turn is over and then you fall out of the turn. Maintain the feeling of spiraling upward and keep your arms supported by your back muscles. If you tighten, the only thing that happens is that the shoulders go up and the head cannot spot. Try taking a breath in the preparation and exhaling as you go into the pirouette. :wink:

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Thank you, Victoria. I can complete my turn in a single pirouette, but my suppoting leg falls into a plié as soon as the turn is complete. Any suggestion on how I can keep that leg relevéd long enough to hold the pose before going back to a plié?

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Agnes-

you have 2 things going on here: one is the inability to control your alignment yet, and the other (which is related directly to your alignment) is the strength to stay en rélevé.

 

I agree completely with Victoria on the "holding" the back ending up being rigid. To be specific- what usually happens in pirouettes is that the abdominal band is let go and the ribcage is thrust either forwards or backwards creating an imbalance that impedes the turn. Try doing exactly as Victoria said: breathe while you turn and engage the muscles, but keep it live, not rigid!!!

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Thank-you Miss Leigh and Miss Clara. :nixweiss: That makes so much more sense! I've to essentially maintain the same sense of uprightness that I feel in a retire, and not 'sink and twist'.

 

I do often forget to breathe during certain steps - particularly pirouette. I'll try and remember to keep breathing :)

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Now that the real experts have replied, I'll offer my recent experience.

 

But first, I'd better say that this worked for me, this week. It may not work for anyone else, or at this time - we are all blind until we are ready to see a new thing.

 

A week or two ago, I got a correction that my body was very ready for. I am very excited about it! :shrug: It was to "engage the lats." That's the latissimus dorsi, a sheet of muscles that goes from the spine to the rib cage, from the hips up to just below the shoulder blades. Google for the name and you'll find some pictures. Once I did this, my upper back, neck, and head became much easier to place correctly. It's easier to locate (for me, anyhow) if you place your hands at navel height in first or second position, and think about supporting your arms from the middle and lower back rather than from the shoulder.

 

Sadly, this distracts my attention from the abs, but when I concentrate on both engaging the lats and the "belly to back" abs at the same time, my lower core feels much stronger and ready to do what needs to be done.

 

Engaging muscles seems to fall somewhere between relaxing them and tensing or gripping them. I am still struggling to feel this... :)

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I usually tell my students to pull their shoulder blades down, which automatically engages the lats. When I started at the Kirov Academy, my upper back would sometimes be tired by the end of barre because I was not used to standing correctly, but these muscles must be engaged constantly when dancing, along with the abs and turnout muscles. It can be quite difficult to get students to do this consistently.

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Personally I think its the quadratus lumborum, which is a bit lower and deeper than the lats. But apart from all that, I've found that the most fantastic exercise for holding the back is "The Plank" which our teacher imposes on us mercilessly. For those who dont know it, lie on your front, clasp your hands, and rise on your elbows and toes, keeping the body ABSOLUTELY in a straight line. Hold for (up to) 2 minutes (if you can). (And if you can hold it that long without practice, you are probably doing it wrong, most likely raising your behind out of the straight line).

 

Though I thought I had strong abdominal muscles from yoga and Pilates, this has really helped my posture a lot, and it seems to engage all the muscles of the trunk that you need for holding the back in the correct way (including the quadratus lumborum, which to me doesnt seem to get exercised much in most Pilates mat exercises).

 

Jim.

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Jim! were you in my class on Wednesday??? :P Our teacher (a retired soloist with the major company in Birmingham) is also a pilates teacher, and we do this at the start of class -- twice held for 20 counts, and the third time 25 or 30 if you can hang on.

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