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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Inflexible or incapable?


next2normal

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Hello all,

I have been in ballet for about 5 months now. I am currently dancing 1-3 times a week (I attend basic ballet technique once a week--sometimes twice and also take occasional classes in modern and musical theatre). I was naturally given a very low arch, wide feet, and tapered toes...basically the trifecta of hideous ballet feet.

 

This past week I bought a theraband and have been working my feet for a few minutes everyday with and without it. I am also trying to make a habit of doing a short barre (plies, tendus, degages, grand battements, rond de jambes, fondues, and developpes) and stretching everyday. However, I still am NOWHERE near being able to create a straight line from my leg to my toes when I point. My arches and toes seem to be benefitting, but my ankle is pretty inflexible and doesn't point or flex very far.

 

It's a little hard to discuss this without being able to post pictures. But, can I eventually work myself up to having a suitable full pointe or am I setting myself up for overuse injuries by fighting tooth and nail to get better feet? I am 20 years old, so my bone structure is set.

 

*I am not in any pain from doing these exercises or dancing

 

Edited by next2normal
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I'm a long way from 20 but I think you're setting yourself up for overuse injuries. I had a terrible injury a couple years ago after upping my activity too much too fast (tore a calf muscle, no warning at all, it just went pop; two months on crutches). You're a lot less likely than me to have problems, but you just don't know. I danced as a child, teen, and young adult then had 30 years off. It took me 1-2 years of regular ballet classes before I felt comfortable doing full-on barre or anything like that at home. Because I knew I didn't know enough to avoid reinforcing bad habits. I stretched, I did weights, I walked, and I did simple barre kicks in the pool.

 

I know what you mean about the straight toe line. I don't have that either but then I have calf problems (problems I hadn't a clue about until my injury). Pointing your toes puts a lot of strain on your calves. If you do too much one way (one direction, one side, etc), it can imbalance you and create new problems.

 

You're young, and you sound very fit to be able to do so much without working up to it or having any issues from it. So maybe you can jump right in. And I'm no teacher or expert. We have plenty of those here and I know some will chime in. I'm writing because what you posted has what I see as red flags for injury.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

I suggest you get some ideas on how to work with the physical attributes you have - a great book that I use all the time is "The Perfect Pointe" by Lisa Howell. Ms. Howell is a physical therapist and knows how to safely work towards one's own "best" line regarding feet. One can purchase it from Amazon.com and I believe if you do so from the link provided here, Ballet Talk will derive a small benefit from your purchase.

 

Her book is not inexpensive, but I feel is worth the money. We can do a lot to enhance and work with what we have been given naturally. It takes time, knowledge and dedication, just like everything else in ballet. And, BTW - 20 years old is definitely not too late to make changes in one's technique. It can be done.

 

Good luck to you.

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You can eventually stretch some of those ligaments to make that straight-line if your bones allow it. It does take a lot of work but I see that happen with some of the adults that I take class with. Funnily enough, the straight-line instep is the strongest instep you can have. Those beautiful pop out insteps are very weak. As long as you are sensible, and it does not hurt, keep doing what you're doing. I also second the suggestion to look at the The Perfect Pointe book.

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There are many factors that can affect how much range we have in our feet and ankles - and a whole bunch of them are NOT to do with bones! There is a lot of soft tissue in the feet and lower leg that can be worked on to allow the joints more freedom which increases range. If it's something you really want to work on, I think it's important that you find out what is going on down there. If possible it's worth getting a professional to look at the situation who can at the very least tell you if there are any restrictions or problems. Then you know what you are working with! I am a firm believer that it is always worth finding out the cause and seeing what can be done to improve it. There's no point just bashing away with exercises if they aren't what your body needs. If you are busy trying to strengthen something but what your body really needs is flexibility then you aren't going to make much headway (or the other way around!). So find out what the problem is, and work out what can be done about it! I lament that a lot of people are often too soon to say "it's just my bones" or "it's just my ligaments" - "It can't be changed" "it's too late" "I'm too old". Yes be realistic - perhaps you wont ever have feet like banannas, but who's to say they can't be improved if you go about it the right way for your body? Every body is different. It will take effort and time - 5 months is a blink of the eye in ballet terms so be patient with yourself.

 

I would also second the Perfect Pointe book - it has a lot of great info and exercises. I have used it with many, many students and all have been able to improve what they had.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, next2normal. Glad you found us - and the Adult Dancers forum. Lots of advice and understanding here.

 

I've never had the ballet "good feet" but I've learned how to use them over the years, so that I occasionally get comments from teachers about "good use of feet" - which make me glow!

 

And 5 months is nothing in terms of realigning your body and developing muscle memory (sorry :blush: ). And if you're only doing an actual ballet class once a week, it does take a while to get it into your body. To get dance into your body, you're doing the right thing by doing other classes when you can. But I'd go a bit slow on doing your own barre - it's too easy to embed bad habits on your own.

 

Instead, I'd be looking at cross-training: other kinds of movement training to build core strength and aerobic fitness, for example. So a mix of Pilates, supervised weights training and some sort of high intensity aerobic exercise (running, rowing, etc). It's so much easier to develop correct technique when you're not also battling with lack of strength or feeling puffed out & exhausted as well as trying to get your head and body around the demands of technique in a ballet class.

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I think you have a disease common to 20 year olds--impatience. Changes in body structure come slowly. Think years instead of months or weeks. I like your doing a basic barre at home and I like your using Therabands. But think of those activities as a way of building strength and technique rather than as shaping your feet. In fact, I'd encourage you to forget about shaping your foot and instead think about the technical aspects of ballet you are learning in class.

 

I wouldn't worry about overuse. Just enjoy the feeling of what you are learning in class.

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Just to give you some perspective on timing, it took me a good 6 months to get enough flexibility back into the top of my foot and front of my ankle to not feel that they were strained when I was pointing in class (after >20 years not dancing). Lisa Howell has an ankle stretching exercise that might be good to start with, where you kneel with your feet under you to gently stretch the fronts of your ankles (using a towel as a prop if you don't have enough range of motion). Her book is also very well thought out and a good investment.

 

I second the notion of having this as a longer-term goal - it certainly won't happen in a matter of weeks.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for all the answers, everyone! :0) I know it won't happen overnight, but I guess the only way to see if it will ever happen--if my ankles are hereditarily too stiff--would be to consult a doctor.

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Thanks for all the answers, everyone! :0) I know it won't happen overnight, but I guess the only way to see if it will ever happen--if my ankles are hereditarily too stiff--would be to consult a doctor.

 

I think there are number of simple things you can try and "experiment" with without consulting a doctor. It sounds like you're obsessing about bone structure, when that's only part of what makes ankles move or not move. The soft tisses (muscles, ligaments, fascia) in your lower limbs have a BIG impact too. Things like calf stretches and massages, massaging your feet, and rolling your feet on a ball are all safe and easy things that have proven results. For getting strength into the calves so you can use that new found range of movement try some rises or theraband work. Go slow and gentle if you are worried about overuse, but a doctor isn't going to be able to tell you ahead of time if it will work - any doctor or PT worth their salt would probably say "give something a try and see..."

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