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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Yet another adult beginner!


NoTwoSnowflakes

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Sorry. This is gonna be long! Feel free to skim!

Ballet has always fascinated me, but I figured that it was one of those things that you either learned as a child and continued with, or forget it.

I spent the vast majority of my adulthood pursuing athletic/fitness activities that I frankly don't like to do very much and always end up being a chore. No inherent enjoyment other than the satisfaction of grinding them out. The only thing I ever really can cite some kind of tiny interest in was pilates, but even then. I did like the precision and focus on alignment and core strength. But that only gets you so far.

I had a bit of an epiphany when it occurred to me that ballet offered everything pilates did, but in a wonderful, artistic and beautiful package that I already knew I loved dearly and would dearly love to learn.

So I started adult beginner classes late last Fall and, well, I'm hooked. For the first time ever, I'm doing something I truly love and the work isn't a chore, it's anticipated and desired.

But I'm having trouble with certain things, and I'm having a hard time knowing the difference between pain and soreness that's par for the course and goes away as strength increases, or something that's a signal I'm doing it wrong and will ultimately hurt myself, or, worse, that I am incapable of doing for reasons of anatomy or age. Despite a fit and active lifestyle for the most part until kids, I came into this with several years of not actively working out.

I also don't know what kind of flexibility I can reasonably expect to gain, or whether or not, for example, my problem with turnout is an anatomic limitation or simply a result of never having asked my body to do it, and a lack of strength in muscles never called into action. I have NEVER EVER danced. I don't even really dance casually. If I don't spend every single last fiber of strength in my buttocks holding my turnout, it looks terrible.

I can't do a backbend really at all, and my third port de bra barely looks like I'm bending backwards, unless I pinch my lower back, thrust out my pelvis, and crank it down. Obviously, this is no good. Plus, it's painful and I find I'm constantly fighting the urge to cheat it with pelvic tilt, which gets me better (fake) turnout AND (fake) cambre to the back, so it's a constant fight, that I often lose little by little so that by the end of class I've got back pain that makes tears spring to my eyes.

I cannot do splits at all but the flexibility is improving. My quads are definitely getting markedly stronger: I can hold a developpe to the front and side a lot higher now (sad for dancers, but I'm proud of my 90 degrees) without collapsing my core, sinking into my supporting hip, or shaking; all were problems I had to a much greater degree a month or so ago. But my quads have always been strong from years of running and cycling, even after a few years of ignoring them. They clearly rose to the challenge quickly. Of course, to the back it's a disaster as I'm limited greatly by a lack of mid-back flexibility and what appears to be the hamstrings of a gerbil. As soon as the pelvis tilts even a little, the lower back just pinches in if I want to maintain any semblance of holding my ribcage up and open. Without it, I'm limited to a leg two inches off the floor, or otherwise my leg that acts as a lever to lower my torso: raise leg, lower torso the same amount. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to look like a T when you've got a leg extended to the back, lol! But yet I can't tell if it's anatomic and never going to improve, or a fixable alignment issue that is cheating development of my glutes and hamstrings, or I'm doing it largely correctly and the strength will come if I'm not impatient.

Anyway, I'm turning 40 this year and while I've never thought of age as limiting me in any way (my activities up until now were largely endurance, where age doesn't really start significantly limiting you for quite some time), but for the first time I'm a little afraid I could really hurt myself badly, especially since I have the capability of pushing myself too hard sometimes.

I wish I had a better sense of what's possible here. The whole endeavor is so new to me, and I bring into it just a depressingly low level of knowledge about it, and myself in it. But that's the only depressing part. The rest is just a joy because I am absolutely loving the whole thing. I actually have a small amount of anxiety that I might hurt something and have to stop taking classes. Oh, the horror!

I just struggle with the lower back pain, some kind of pain new this week that googling tells me is in the "piriformis" muscle (it's either a nerve issue or I simply hurt the muscle itself), and a sadly strained inner thigh muscle due to pushing flexibility too much too soon. Also, my guess is my core is just not strong enough yet, which, considering I started so incredibly weak, should not have surprised me. Abs are finally stronger, but hamstrings and glutes are not getting where they need to be, probably as a result of cheating my alignment too much. Which is probably what's causing the lower back pain, too.

Please somebody tell me this is all fixable and a predictable state of affairs, given where I started and how soon ago it was.

Edited by NoTwoSnowflakes
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Hello NoTwoSnowflakes!

 

I just wanted to drop in to encourage you to stay strong and keep working at it! It's clear from your detailed post that you have a passion for ballet and are really interested in getting better and that's great! It will take time and a lot of effort, but things will begin to come together for you little by little.

 

I would suggest being very careful when pushing yourself. It's important to always use proper technique to stay safe (no "faking" or "cheating your alignment" as you said). If you feel pain, let your teacher know. He or she can help you determine if it's due to doing something dangerous. If your teacher feels that your technique and placement are correct and you still feel pain, consider seeing a doctor to rule out any issues. I will often have little aches and pains, but I have learned to determine the difference between "good" soreness and injury. In the case of injury, I head directly to the doctor.

 

Keep working on your flexibility. It's a very slow process. I was never super flexible, but I have come a long way. As adults, I think it just takes a lot longer to gain flexibility than it does for kids. I try to stretch 5 or 6 days a week (after doing some sort of warm up), even if I only have 10 minutes. I still can't do my splits, but I'm closer than I've ever been before.

 

I also want to add that age is not necessarily a limiting factor for pointe! I started ballet as an adult beginner and I just got pointe shoes last month at age 31. There are many factors that will determine if a dancer is ever able to work en pointe. (There's a ton of great info about pointe on this board!) If pointe is one of your goals, I would encourage you to talk to your teachers to see if it's a possibility for you. If not, keep in mind that ballet is beautiful with or without pointe shoes! :)

 

Keep working hard and remember to celebrate the little victories. There will always be things you can improve on, no matter how good you become. Focus on how far you have come and enjoy the things you have accomplished so far. Oh, and welcome to Ballet Talk!

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First of all, it is nice to read that you've found something truly enjoyable for you in ballet. :) One can really see the enthusiasm from your post.

 

However, I think you really need some patience. Everything in ballet develops slowly and with patience. You said you started taking classes not too long ago - I don't think you should "cheat" and force things like flexibility and turnout. In the beginning, it can be frustrating to see that things won't work as well as for others who have been dancing for longer or as well as one wishes they would work. But in the end, the focus is not about how high and how far you can go, especially not as a beginner, but about doing movements correctly. I can imagine that impatience can be strong when one is a late-starter, but even in such a position, improvement happens with patience and correct execution of the movement, again and again.

 

I agree with tamaram26, if you are not sure about the nature of a pain, talking to the teacher can help you determine whether it is due to a wrongly executed movement or just normal soreness. With time, you will gain some knowledge of your body and how far you can push yourself without danger, if you pay close attention and listen to your body.

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  • Ballet is an awesome thing, but it is a gradual thing, it takes time and patience (well at least for me). One needs to be willing to work slow and smart ( ask questions, if something hurts, stop, you know your body). I occasionally have trouble with my lower back, I have to write that ballet helps tremendously, particularly barre, when I try to focus on things like placement and alignment, stretching also helps a lot. For me doing things slowly and methodically in an intro or beginner class, then allows me a little more freedom to work in the intermediate classes I take. Keep working, and enjoy it, ballet is a magical, awesome, thing, that I have respect for.

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However, I think you really need some patience. Everything in ballet develops slowly and with patience. You said you started taking classes not too long ago - I don't think you should "cheat" and force things like flexibility and turnout. In the beginning, it can be frustrating to see that things won't work as well as for others who have been dancing for longer or as well as one wishes they would work. But in the end, the focus is not about how high and how far you can go, especially not as a beginner, but about doing movements correctly. I can imagine that impatience can be strong when one is a late-starter, but even in such a position, improvement happens with patience and correct execution of the movement, again and again.

 

Absolutely. I should point out that the "cheating" is not intentional. I'm trying very hard not to do it. It's just that when I start to get tired, I catch myself out of alignment. Then I correct it.

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If you feel pain, let your teacher know. He or she can help you determine if it's due to doing something dangerous.

 

She's been a great resource. She constantly asks me how my back feels and is good about paying special attention to my positioning. And she's not shy about it. I get a lot of pretty sharp corrections from across the room, and if not fixed properly, there's a hand to push or poke or point out exactly what isn't right. As I get stronger, I'm able to correct it better without her having to physically manipulate me there.

 

I used to, for example, simply not be able to hold myself up in alignment on demi-pointe, but now she can get me to pull up and I can do it with just an eyebrow pop from her, lol.

 

I swear, that woman has eyes on the back of her head.

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Did my post seem impatient? Weird, because I don't feel impatient. In fact, I actually fear the time I would be expected to move up to the other class. I like it here. Our intermediate class is a very big jump. I am definitely excited to improve, but I don't have any fixed expectation for how long it'll take. My anxiety comes from the fear that I will do something wrong enough to make me have to quit it, or that I won't make the improvements at all due to anatomy or age. I can see being with this for a long time to come, so I don't feel any particular rush to get to any particular place, as long as I'm doing it the right way to ultimately get me there. I probably do need to stop pushing extensions or other things if I get the sense that I'm favoring it over proper alignment. I'll definitely pay more attention to that.

Edited by NoTwoSnowflakes
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If pointe is one of your goals, I would encourage you to talk to your teachers to see if it's a possibility for you. If not, keep in mind that ballet is beautiful with or without pointe shoes!

For sure! Like I said, I don't actually think it's possible, but perhaps it is. I'm certainly not doing this with the goal of it, that's for sure. If anything, I came into it with the pretty fixed idea that that ship had sailed, haha. I totally agree with the principle that pointe is not the primary goal of ballet. I think the only reason I let it seep in is because I otherwise seem to have a foot shape that's suited for it.

Believe me, the last thing I need to do is deliberately invite things that really can injure you severely. So it's not something I'm consciously working towards.

Edited by NoTwoSnowflakes
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Oh, and my teacher is also my younger daughter's teacher and she loves being able to say that her mom and she have the same teacher!

Edited by NoTwoSnowflakes
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