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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How strong should a dancer be at 13?


Nyathina

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DD turned 13 in December and takes 7 hours of technique and 2 hours pointe each week. The refrain we've heard from her teachers (and from the auditions she's done so far) is that she is a lovely dancer but she needs to get stronger. At the end of a recent audition with a very well regarded school, for example, the instructor took the time to approach me at the end and tell me that she would love to work with DD but DD needs to get stronger before she would consider her for their 5-week SI. This lady greatly encouraged DD to attend their 2 week SI (which we cannot because of the dates) and she gave me her card to contact her with any questions. Another well-regarded SI also encouraged DD to audition again next year and commented that she needs to get stronger.

 

So my question is, how does one build strength in ballet - is it by taking more classes (I've heard of 12 year olds dancing 12 hours a week) or is there some other regimen that young dancers also follow that we are unaware of? I'm not really keen to add another class for DD at her current school - we will be moving on from there this summer - but in the meantime what can we do to help her build strength. She has PE classes at school 3 times a week and from what she's told me, she usually does the most sit-ups, squats etc. (far more than I recall being able to do at her age:)-. What does it mean to be strong as a dancer?

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Based on the training guidelines on this forum, it sounds like the number of classes is within those recommendations. I am wondering if there is any further detail on what the adjunticators meant about "strength".
Is it stronger technique? Better endurance? Better application of corrections to strengthen technique? Perhaps, more core strength?
If it is core muscle strength, I'd consider adding pilates. It has really helped DD learn to find and utilize her core more effectively.

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Those are good questions. Not being a dancer, I thought there was some 'universal' definition of strength in ballet. One of her previous teachers mentioned strengthening her core and I know that they did some planking in her classes (and DD could hold her planks the longest:). Maybe adding a weekly pilates class instead of another technique class might be something to do, I'm just getting that thought now thanks to your response. We have pilates classes nearby but from what I've heard, its mostly adults that go to those. Do you know if there is a difference between a pilates class that would be suitable for a 13 year-old vs. one that is open to all (adults)?

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For reference, I know that at every ballet school dd has attended and at another one in my area, 12 yr olds are all taking Pilates classes as part of the curriculum. Pilates at dd's former school and at her current school begins around age 9 or 10. They started in the level before they generally get pointe shoes.

 

Of course, they could be talking about movement quality or something else altogether. Why not take that comment to her current teachers and see what they advise.

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Has she had a growth spurt recently? Also sometimes at this age, even if they have the flexibility/extension they lack the strength to hold the leg....perhaps that is what they are referring to? This is hard to post game.

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At DDs former studio (pre-pro in the aspect that some students have gone straight to being professional dancers, and following fairly strict training guidelines.... But not recognized as a well known pre-pro nor attached to a professional company) they had strengthening classes fairly often. As in, every week, part of a ballet technique class would be dedicated to strengthening/conditioning, abwork etc. they also had a separate strength and stretch class.

 

As far as " how strong?" I have heard it said about other dancers who were by nature very flexible and hyperextended. They were told that they needed to build more strength and control before being able to move up a level/go en pointe/whatever. DD is somewhat opposite, strong but has to work on flexibility. :)

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Girls at this age are growing, and that can affect their coordination/strength/technique. Before doing anything about it, I would want to know in what way is she not strong, as camercad said. If it is core strength, that is something one can work on. But if she is long limbed and loose, that body type takes 'growing into', in terms of strength. It takes them longer to be strong than a more compact body type. I was also wondering if she is perhaps very small for her age, and has simply not developed the same amount of strength in ballet as some who have grown earlier and are more physically developed.

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I agree that you really need to find out what areas your DD is weak. It could be many things as previously discussed. I would encourage you to reach out to the ones who have made the statements and ask what her weaknesses are and what she can do to get stronger.

 

I have one of those long limbed, loosey goosey girls. Building strength at this point (12.5) is an uphill battle. I know it will all come together but at this point even with PT, pilates and a 5-6 day a week ballet schedule, her muscles are not as strong as they need to be.

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DD is long limbed and fairly loose (there are more flexible girls around her but not as tall). She asked her scholarship class teacher today what she needs to do to get stronger so she can hold up her leg etc. (This teacher danced professionally for many years and is the most experienced of the teachers DD currently has) and he said that her core and muscles are strong for her age, however, she has a curvature in the small of her back, which she needs to work on keeping straight when she does her strength training (Her former teacher recommended TRX and gave her a class on it so DD does that at home on weekends). The scholarship teacher said that once she fixes that, she will engage her core which will activate the other muscles she needs for doing leg lifts etc. So one of the things I will do when enrolling her in Pilates will be to ask the instructor to also give her exercises that will help align the small of her back. The teacher that introduced her to TRX had also commented that DD has a very flexible back and strong core and that she needed to "figure DD out" - this was said in a good way - but she left the school suddenly at the end of last semester. DD really liked this teacher as she gave many corrections and there was a lot of disappointment among the girls when she left so unexpectedly (she is not as experienced as the scholarship teacher so maybe that is why she didn't make the small-of-the-back curvature correction at the time but she could tell that something needed to be done). DD isn't particularly small for her age; she's 5'4" but very slender (that was me at her age, now if only the slender part could return:), and no doubt will also grow into her arms and legs once she reaches puberty. Is ballet more suited to shorter, more compact dancers who have a lower center of gravity I wonder.

Edited by Nyathina
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No, Nyathina, the long limbed ones are usually more suited, if they can also develop the strength. But it all depends on so many more things than that, so there is no way one can tell without seeing and working with the dancer. A lack of core strength is not unusual prior to puberty, but of course it does need to be addressed and developed.

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Nyathina, is your DD hyper-mobile? Do her legs sway backwards at the knee a bit?

 

Mine is also tall and quite thin. She is also hyper-mobile which is truly a double edge sword! As Miss Victoria said, tall leggy girls can be very well suited to ballet but at this age it does certainly seem that the more compact ones are in the lead!

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I was one of those long legged hyperextended ones, and at 13 I think I looked like a colt, all arms and legs! (And my arms were horrid! I had not yet been taught how not to hyperextend them!)

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Dd also got this comment about strength around 11-12, but it was mainly about her core. However, she is also hyper-mobile so I believe that most of the lack of strength just comes from that, puberty and perhaps needing to work a little harder in classes.

 

Dd did some Pilates/Gyrotonics and started incorporating sit-ups into her warm up routine, got through puberty, pushed herself a little more in class and also increased her hours over the summers/year and has come out much stronger on the other side.

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  • 1 year later...

My 13 DD has been told by her pilates/kineseologist that she has a slight curve to her lower back which causes her to have a cross strength issue with her upper and lower back. Opposite side weak and strong. Is this something that can be corrected with enough strengthening? My DD wants to know if hard work will be enough to correct this issue.

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juliaaidan - have you taken her to a pediatrician for a scoliosis check? I have a DD14 with scoliosis with similar strength issues, and in DD's situation, the answer is "It's complicated."

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