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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Use of core in ballet steps....? How?


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I've long been aware of the importance of "core strength" in executing ballet steps. (It is a huge topic I realize).


Could some of our experts here tell me a few over-riding principles in terms of when core strength most MUST "kick in" to perform certain tasks in particular?


Having read other threads here at BT4D, adagio is one obvious set of exercises where, for example in lifting a leg, and slowly, the core is essential in doing the lifting (I think of it like opening a very heavy window -- things that the "average person" can relate to to really be able to understand when and in some detail, and how, to use the core to do the work for the dancer rather than only legs or feet.......)


(I appreciate all help but please note that I am not in any way asking for tips on how to develop core strength -- or why it is important, here..... There is infinite info on those other topics elsewhere.) I really specifically would like some details if possible on at what moment does the core strength take over, and in what exercises?


In a simple plie at the barre for example -- (just a wild example to try and illustrate what I am asking) -- Do you work your legs only on the way down, and core on the way up (for the "lifting" part?) Yet I know you must lift to go down, so is your core braced and working to its max the whole time during a pile, both up and going down?


I guess part of what I am wondering is does your core need to be braced 100% of the time -- forever -- in executing ALL ballet exercises? That does not seem right to me as I always have been taught that dance -- and life -- breathing, etc are a matter of some rise and fall - like ocean waves going in and coming out -- that the core -- or life does not remain static in one mode all the time -- it is a "give and take", ebb and flow........ But how does that principal apply to using core strength in ballet?


Some tips on center exercises in this regard too - especially grand allegro -- would be great so my core awareness could catch up to the perpetual emphasis ballet puts on feet and legs.....I so want to hand some of the "heavy lifting" off to my core and know how to make this work better for me, in order to create better ballet! - in everything.... from simple plies to turns and jumps.......


Thank you all in advance............... :nixweiss::nixweiss::nixweiss: (The icons wish they knew the answer, but finally must ask about this)............. :(

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Ludmilla, I'll admit, I'm a little bit afraid to tackle such a big question, but I'll try!


Honestly, I just stood up and executed all the basics of ballet in order to test my immediate, gut response to your questions, and it remains the same: I start seriously engaging my core the moment I take up first position at the barre, and my core is doing a fair amount of work throughout class. Now, I'm not as fabulous shape as some people, so if you are quite fit, your mileage may vary, but really, I'm hard pressed to find a time when my core is not fully engaged when I am dancing!


I wouldn't use the word "braced" for how I'm using it... The word "braced" implies to me a sense of being held or clenching, as opposed to what I feel my core is doing, which involves coordinating, guiding, directing, maintaining, connecting, pulling, or holding other things in place... Is it working to its max the whole time? Probably not. But it's working consistently.


Anyway, I'm afraid this doesn't answer your question about when your core can take over some of the heavy-lifting. With regards to that, I will say that I think many people first find that they don't understand quite how they need to use their core to coordinate rooting down into the floor and and pulling up out of their hips when their grand battements and extensions are not as high as they'd like.


Your questions are interesting to ponder. I'm sure I'll be thinking about them the next time I teach or take class this week, and I look forward to hearing others' responses.

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Dear insidesoloist --


I love, love, love your reply!! You captured the spirit of my question. I was really hoping for a response like yours -- something based upon personal, practical experience.


Your going through some exercises and mentally reviewing your sequences in classes you teach exactly speaks to what I am wondering about....


Most important is your statement that .............(the core) "is working consistently" --- EUREKA! -- and what it does ...."coordinating, guiding, directing.... connecting...." etc. -- this really captures a way of looking at this that nothing else I had read does!


What you describe indicates use of the core as having more a dynamic quality of evolving movement, rather than the firmness of say, a clenched fist, or the unmoving strength of a statue, for example. A very important concept that I would say i understand better now from what you described! If anything else comes to mind, please let me know? Thank you!


The way you described "starting to engage my core the moment I take up first position at the barre" says a lot, too!


Also I can tell that your use of the core is completely natural and "automatic" (by that I mean customary for you, and not sporadic or forced). Your description really helps. Next class, I want to become aware of it at the very start of barre exercises, and get to know it -- sort of like getting to know a new friend....work with it - do some experimenting perhaps..... It will be interesting.


I really appreciate your comments! :clapping: Yes, perhaps others can add from their expertise or experience as well.

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Could some of our experts here tell me a few over-riding principles in terms of when core strength most MUST "kick in" to perform certain tasks in particular?




at what moment does the core strength take over, and in what exercises?






I realize that may sound like a conflicting response initially, but really, your muscles all around your hips, deep abdominals, lower back etc - which constitute your core - are essentially where your upper body connects to your lower body - the upper limbs are attached to the spine which 'slots' into the pelvis, hence why we often call it your center - where the top meets the bottom - in the middle!!


The muscles which surround this important junction should be (and really - are subconsciously at least) active always, helping hold you together literally! In dance, what we do is become even more aware of them and recruit them in a specific way to support the functions of ballet (eg. rotation of the legs, lifting them in the air etc etc)


I would say your core never "takes over" it is more a constant force, always engages, always working, always supporting. If your core "took over" all you would be doing is standing there completely still - and while you would probably have abdominals rivaling Superman, you wouldn't be dancing ;)

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The core is ENGAGED 100% of the time. It is not clenched...it is engaged. And let me say, this doesn't happen over-night. It takes time. and when I say Time...I mean Years. And it isn't just the abdominals...it is so much more. I use so many different images when i teach this, and different images work for different people. Here are two that seem to work for students at a more beginning level:


Imagine you are wearing a tutu with whale bones (I guess they make them from plastic now). That bodice will close your rib cage, hold in your stomach and lengthen the torso...so find that feeling with the muscles.


Another one that I use is the "chocolate fountain". Have you ever seen these things at party, where melted chocolate flows up a center tube and then cascades out the top...and you dip bits of fruit in it? I say feel the muscles pull up on the inside and down on the outside...the way the chocolate flows. Not sure if that is clear...or even helpful...just a thought.

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Excellent responses from all. Willimus’s post did make me want to take what he said a little farther. I realize that few if any people care about this, but I find it interesting so I’ll follow up a little.


As people have said, the so called core isn’t a muscle but rather is a collection of thousands of muscle fibers surrounding the trunk. At no time in daily life, even in sleep, is there an instance where none of these fibers contracts (i.e.,is used). At the other extreme it is impossible to contract every single fiber. The body always holds something in reserve. Even when a muscle fiber contracts, it is only a matter of moments before fatigue sets in another muscle fiber must contract to keep the body stationary. Just standing still requires a complex system where different fibers are firing and relaxing.


Hold this notion of complexity for an aside.


In ballet alignment is a fundamental concept. Torso muscles are the key to remaining aligned when other parts are moving. In moving additional torso muscles must be recruited to maintain alignment and balance. That’s the primary function of core muscles in a ballet class.


Back to the notion of complexity. Early in our ballet careers we learn about alignment and as part of that we learn to lengthen through the spine. Now we all know that muscle cannot lengthen on its own. It only lengthens when an opposing muscle contracts. But if we try to lengthen through the spine by thinking of the muscles we need to contract, most all of us will fail miserably. The contraction pattern is just too complex for us to manage. If we imagine the lengthening, however, the right muscles contract quite nicely without our thinking about them.


And that’s the point in my mind. It’s the image one tries to project that creates the right muscle use and not thinking about the muscle use that actually creates the image. At least that’s how it works for me. It's a basic principle I keep.

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Thank you all for great comments! The unique perspective of each of you helps me to understand this so much better!


Miss Persistent..... All of what you said is wonderful explanation of this, and your comment that ....."while you would have a core to rival Superman you would not be dancing!" -- This is both highly significant -- in telling me what proper use of the core in ballet is NOT- and so funny, I fell to the floor with laughter!! It is so funny to imagine!! It makes a serious point about the balance - of proper use, overuse, and perhaps misuse, for ballet. (in other words the core is not "on its own" in the effort...) What you said is so helpful! .... especially the word you used, "recruit" -- to recruit the use of the core -- I really like that expression because it indicates the type of team effort (between core, legs, and all that the core is comprised of, for instance) that helps to visualize.... What you say makes a lot of sense!


Willimus, this helps tremendously! .... "not clenched, engaged"... very useful to look at it this way. The images you use are wonderful! The chocolate fountain, especially -- I can picture just exactly what you mean and another parallel w/ a chocolate fountain is that (when turned on) it is always moving (as your motto says!), is luscious and of great interest to watch with the cascading, and so on.... - and your point about the different elements making up the core is very helpful!


Garyecht -- from other posts of yours I seem to recall you've had a career as an athlete prior to ballet, and your perspective is really interesting. Viewing this as complex, and at the same time, something that naturally occurs, (one can tell the body what to do and the body can then figure how to do it in a sense) -the lengthening which at the same time, contracts elsewhere-- I can not paraphrase what you've said eloquently) -- This is useful and practical for working on this!


Again I appreciate your views, based on expertise and the extensive experience of all of you. I was so stumped by this and now it is as though I've seen light at the end of a dark, mysterious tunnel! Thank you, all! :jump:

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Just thinking about this as a student (not an expert teacher), I don't think there's a moment where I'd not be aiming to have my core engaged. I was taught to think of the abdominal muscles as a corset, and also taught to think of how the muscles help me align the skeleton -- so I try to think of my skeletal alignment, and engage my muscles to keep that alignment steady.


And I have the voice of one teacher who was very influential for me always in my head reminding me "Navel to backbone."


I find that Pilates and now yoga help me to think about my skeleton & alignment, particularly as my besetting fault is to let my ribs flare out through an inappropriate flexion in my middle spine around my waistline. So I'm always using a Pilates correction of keeping the connection between the ribs & the hips to help with that.


One thing we did in class ages ago, but that I still use to help visualising, was to do pliés with our eyes closed. Try it -- you really go inside your body & start to attend to spinal alignment.

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Willimus - I used the chocolate fountain idea with my teens last night.They really liked the idea and found it made sense, thank you.

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Redbookish -


Thanks for weighing in on the core being engaged basically all the time in ballet... Your suggestion about doing plies w/ eyes closed really does force me to envision, and become more aware of, all the core and interior muscles - front and back of the torso.

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