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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Lack of strength


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Strength has always been my problem, as I'm really flexible and build up strength really slowly. But I've been away from ballet for quite a while, and I seem to have no strength left whatsoever. It feels as if I do not have the strength to execute a lot of steps, while I still know how to do them. (For example, doing développé à la seconde in the centre, I could barely lift my leg 45 degrees!)


I know it will come back in time, but for the moment, I only have access to one ballet class and 2 jazz classes a week, 5 hours of dance total. Though the jazz classes are very technical and involve a lot of classical technique, and they will certainly aid in building up strength, I don't feel that will be enough.


What could help me gaining strength?

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Walking fast? Swimming? Getting the right kind of weight training regime -- get some advice from a personal trainer at a gym about the kinds of strength you want to develop & how eg lean muscle not bulked muscle. But fast walking up hill always gets and keeps up my strength.

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Swimming is an option, walking up hill is not (no hills around for miles and miles and miles and... ;-))

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If swimming is an option, try using a kickboard - holding with the hands on the bottom edge, arms straight out in front of you, then just kick, very fast, from one end to the other of the pool, do several laps with the flutter kick, several laps with the frog kick, and keep going!

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I used to use a noodle in the pool. Tie it into a pretzel shape, put your foot through it, and do exercises with it (e.g. pushing, pulling, rotations, etc.)


I built up strength by working out at the gym, though - using the machines for my legs as well as my arms and back. It's not just legs - you need to develop the whole body to really strengthen in the legs.

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Remember that ballet strength is specific. If don’t have access to a gym or don’t want to go to a gym to increase your general level of strength, I’d suggest taking the ballet class combinations you do in class and repeating them at home two or more times without rest. Also doing the barre combinations without a barre (or whatever to support you) is good I think.

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Pilates might help. I'm loosey goosey, and pilates is helping me to identify the muscles I should be using and to strengthen them. I feel more stable, and certain aspects of my dancing have certainly improved.

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Wow, here's a dilemma on the same line as the original poster - I currently only have access to dolly dinkle classes, I do walk a lot, but not fast, and I don't have a swimming pool or a gym. I was sick for the last 4 weeks (if not more) with a tropical illness, now I'm having a hard time even getting through a set of pliés and am barely starting to build up the strength to walk very slowly again about 2 miles per day. I'm currently living in a tiny country called Laos, so modern conveniences like personal trainers and kickboards aren't available! (Haha, who'd think of a kickboard as a modern convenience?)


I have a strict regimen of strengthening exercises that we used regularly at my previous ballet school, but I just find that I can't do it. Is it common to get so weak and lightheaded so easily and quickly? It's really only been about 4-6 weeks of being bed ridden. What can both of us do to regain strength? What can I do to not feel like passing out anytime I try to re-attempt barre (or even stretching for that matter)?

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I had this same problem about 2 years ago after having about of bronchitis and pneumonia - simultaneously. I was completly out of comission from everything for about 6 weeks. When I went back to class, I started with a basic beginner class. They were still holding onto the barre with two hands (lucky for me). I went down in a grand plie in fifth and couldn't get back up! :blush: I had to basically blank out my mind and let what muscle memory I had left take over. I got my primary strength back by doing as much walking as I could (breathing was still difficult and it was February) and taking more basic beginning classes. The beginning classes tend to help me get more strength because the movements are slower and larger. It took about four months for me to get back to "normal".

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Agh! 4 months! It's just the most foreign feeling in the world to have to concentrate on say... walking up and downstairs and hearing your body pop like a bowl of rice-krispies cereal when attempting a simple tendu. I'm just not the most patient person in the world, but literally upon rolling out of bed the first thing I wanted to do was a giant grande battement! Hahaha, not there yet.

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When that happened to me, about 3 years ago - serious illness - I talked to the pharmacist and she gave me tips on what vitamins to take. Started taking them in addition to building up gradually (light workouts and beginner classes again) and I was okay after a while. The energy started to come back in a week, though, after starting the vitamin regimen.

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Have you ever seen how much and how quickly muscle atrophies when someone breaks their leg? You can see it happening within days (at least I did) of being non-weight-bearing. After 4-6 weeks, right and left legs look comically different, and it takes far longer than 4-6 weeks to get equal strength back. (I know -- how is that fair?!?)


Think about yourself that way. You've been resting your whole body, including both legs, including your heart and lungs. Start slowly -- walking, probably not even as much as you usually do, standing by the counter when you cook, and those everyday sorts of things -- and be patient as you gradually add back other activities. If you're having trouble walking up stairs, maybe you're not ready for tendus and ballet conditioning quite yet? But it'll come!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am having the same problem!


It turned out that flexibility is an easier problem to solved through stretching. However strength is a bit more tricky. I am still always short of breath when doing allegro section. My teacher recommends that I swim or do treadmill exercise to improve my strength, which I haven't got a chance to do.


In the mean time, I discovered that deep breathing during exercise really improve strength. I try to inhale as much air as possible when doing allegro exercise, often by breathing through my mouth. I would inhale in every jump I make and it surely improve my stamina for that stretch of exercise. I don't know if this is a correct way to do exercise, but I found it helpful.

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