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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dividing the question


Mel Johnson

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Something that may help in reaching an understanding for adults who wish to essay pointework is the other side of the coin of the skeletal development question which affects "age-to-pointe" in early adolescence. Teaching to adult students is a real specialty, and needs real specialized understanding of the mechanism being trained. It doesn't have to be a formal study of developmental anatomy, although that doesn't hurt! Experience counts for a lot! There are quite a few structures in the feet and lower leg which ossify at around age 25, and unless the area has been kept limber by whatever activity in the student, there can be problems, some marked enough to preclude an adult student from going to pointe.

 

Particular to this discussion are the carpals. Oftentimes, we see adult students who are unable to articulate the foot completely because the bones and ancillary ligaments have more or less solidified in a "pulled-back" configuration. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to encourage the student fully to articulate the foot through to the pointed position. (In the event of failure, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your activity) Note that we "encourage". We never "force", although that language can be reserved for especially hard cases, and judiciously applied. After all, we're all adults here.

 

Another, much rarer, phenomenon, is hypoextension, where the knee joint reaches full travel before it gets to straight. Experience is needed to be able to discern whether motion is being restricted by soft tissue, or if the student is actually bonebound, which is like musclebound only harder. The bonebound are pretty much done for when it comes to going to pointe, although continued ballet study won't hurt them. Just no pointe.

 

There are other issues, too, but I think if we divide the question of adult pointework into sections, and keep to the discussion on each section, we can make some real inroads among both students and teachers into understanding the whole topic of pointework for adults. Start your own sections as they occur to you. :)

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Another, much rarer, phenomenon, is hypoextension, where the knee joint reaches full travel before it gets to straight. Experience is needed to be able to discern whether motion is being restricted by soft tissue, or if the student is actually bonebound, which is like musclebound only harder. The bonebound are pretty much done for when it comes to going to pointe, although continued ballet study won't hurt them. Just no pointe.

 

How can one tell if the restriction is due to soft tissue? And if it is, what can one do to soften that tissue up?

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Often, you can tell simply by observing with an experienced eye. The tension about the back of the knee on the tendons and ligaments is obvious when it's soft tissue. If you can't eyeball it, palpating (feeling) the area nails it down. Again, experience is necessary. If the student's knee straightens when not under tension, particularly from gravity, then true hypoextension is not present. Concentrating on stretching the legs and pulling up through the knees is helpful to any ballet student, but to adult students even more than teens.

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Thank you for this info Mr Johnson. It's very informative.

 

I wonder if the little bit of ballet I did as a teenager, and other sorts of dancing helped me in keeping my arch pointed enough.. and also I always had a tendency to walk on my toes.. as well as walking like a duck. Which led to various older ladies giving me lectures on how a proper lady should walk when I was younger. Now that I do ballet, I can blame ballet for my duck walking and toe walking, but I think it was sort of a genetic thing.

 

Also, on the knees, at a Jazz class last week, for the first time ever, the teacher had us sit down, legs as far apart as possible, and practiced pushing our knees down, making it as straight as possible while our core was strong, lifting our heels and then relax. Repeat. He told us this is one of the most important thing to learn -- keeping our knees straight.

 

I've realized that I have a tendency to let my knees go soft, and I have to be super aware to keep them straight, especially in cambres forward and back.

 

Reading Dance Magazine's insert this month on different dance teaching masters programs made me think about going back to school just to specialize on adult ballet students.. it's a growing trend, and I wish there were more study in it :)

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The field is much larger than it used to be, and seems to be growing. As with teaching for the very young, teaching adults has a special knack, which not all teachers have, and that's fine. Everybody's got a niche. Teaching adults, I find, is tricky partly because the teacher has to explain what may seem like very elementary concepts, but do it in such a way that it engages the student's brains, and not seem like condescension. I've seen quite a goodly number of students who have begun ballet from the beginning as adults, and some of them are very, very good, indeed! They are especially valuable to civic companies, where the "life credits" come in handy, and serve as emotional anchors for the younger ones.

 

It sounds to me as though your activities have preserved your range/flexibility/strength through the lower legs and foot. That's a great thing! :) Adult students who have dance in their life history have an advantage in this respect, but it's not limited to just returning dancers. As long as the student isn't fighting genetics, adults can become quite proficient, and some even excel.

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I would like to chime in here (if I may). I started pointe at age 23. At the time I was not with a really good teacher. I would like to say that my REAL pointe training did not begin until I was 24 at the current ballet school's student division program that I am currently in. Granted, I feel that my current teachers do not emphasize pointe work enough and usually rush through it in like 5-10 minutes. Therefore I have been forced to do atleast 15 minutes on my own after class (although I must admit my "non-regular" teachers on Mondays and Fridays do give atleast 30 minutes of pointe work). So, including my own practice of releves and echappes, I'm on my toes 6 days a week, I also take ballet 6 days a week. Because I am in the division level I am in the class with teens and I hear (even if I don't personally get) the corrections the teachers give to them and immediately apply them to myself.

My knees are straight, my feet are curved (although I wish my ankles were way more flexible). And I must honestly say that at this point 80% of my pointe problems are psychological, nothing to do with strength or flexibility at all.

I am not trying to fan the flames of controversy here, but I do believe that if I was in an "adult" pointe class my pointe work would be worse off. I say that because

a-the combos given to the teens are challenging and I atleast TRY every thing and I believe some of these combos would not be given to adult students in an adult class even if the number of years on pointe (roughly 3) were equivalent between the teens and adults,

b-aside from New York city WHERE else will you find an adult pointe class offered SIX days a week? Every ballet studio that I have seen online that offer adult pointe it is either 1 or 2 times a week, and finally

c- just from my experience in open level technique classes I know that many adults are told, "Okay, if this hurts/if you don't feel comfortable with this.... then don't do it..." In my classes the teachers have NEVER said anything remotely close to this to the teens, thus never to me either and if I'm afraid to do that lame duck pirouette ending in the passe leg developpeing to a la seconde... the first time I may mark it, but the second time I DO it and if I fall so be it!

Don't forget that timidity also causes injuries, and because I am surrounded by fearless teens I too try to take on their bravery and I do believe this has been a positive.

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Your experience should underscore ripresa's good point about training for adults. Finding a simpatico school for adults with teachers who have a gift for teaching such students is hard to do right now.

 

I think this post points :) and is more about the general conduct of class. Start a thread on that, if you like. This one is about knees, ankles and feet. It will remain open.

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Often, you can tell simply by observing with an experienced eye. The tension about the back of the knee on the tendons and ligaments is obvious when it's soft tissue. If you can't eyeball it, palpating (feeling) the area nails it down. Again, experience is necessary. If the student's knee straightens when not under tension, particularly from gravity, then true hypoextension is not present. Concentrating on stretching the legs and pulling up through the knees is helpful to any ballet student, but to adult students even more than teens.

 

So I could ask one of my teachers to look at my legs/knees and give me some feedback? They both have a great deal of performing and teaching experience, so I would think they'd have a good eye for this. I've been told to straighten my leg and it FEELS straight, so now I'm wondering what's going on. :)

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Certainly, you may ask your teachers about anything that concerns technical work in class. Having "the eye outside the self" is very important now, as you may not be able to feel what's going on properly.

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As long as the student isn't fighting genetics, adults can become quite proficient, and some even excel.

 

 

Thank you for your positive viewpoint. Even though I already knew so, hearing it from a moderator helps to validate it on this forum. :)

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Particular to this discussion are the carpals. Oftentimes, we see adult students who are unable to articulate the foot completely because the bones and ancillary ligaments have more or less solidified in a "pulled-back" configuration. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to encourage the student fully to articulate the foot through to the pointed position. (In the event of failure, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your activity) Note that we "encourage". We never "force", although that language can be reserved for especially hard cases, and judiciously applied. After all, we're all adults here.

 

I'm assuming that you are speaking of the tarsals, which are the bones of the back of the foot and part of the ankle, and the metatarsals in the middle of the foot. And then there are the phalanges or toes, which can also ossify leading one to have trouble walking, much less dancing.

 

In the adult ballet class that I teach we do articulation excercises before every class. I describe it like puttting on stilleto heels, three inches high. ( I'm tempted to have a show and tell day and have everyone bring their highest dress shoes. :)) I'm still surprised at how difficult it is to articulate through all the levels of the foot before bringing it to a point. Something so simple is yet so elusive to some.

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You are correct; I must confess that I was writing that and contemplating my wrist, and this lovely ganglion cyst which has formed there. Sometimes, the carpals act like a distant early-warning system for adult students with no prior study. A wrist with a limited range and flexibility may indicate ankle and midfoot stiffness which may or may not preclude the student from working on pointe.

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And my stiff neck? Does that indicate anything?

 

Well, I'm wandering way off topic with that one. Never mind, I'll go ask my husband...I'm certain he knows all about it. :)

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Unless you're a quadruped; then they're called carpals!!! :innocent::)

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Unless you're a quadruped; then they're called carpals!!! :innocent::)

 

Ummm...hate to correct your correction, especially when it was so cute, but the wrist bones are the carpals and the foot bones are the tarsals. Which is why I get carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrist and not my foot. :unsure: The bones in top of the hand and foot are metacarpals and metatarsals, respectively. Phalanges refer to both toes and fingers.

 

Doctor husband confirmed this for me. But, we got the gist of what Mr. Mel was saying anyways.

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