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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Weight-training for long-limbed 12 year old


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My daughter's  ballet teacher has recommended some strength training for my daughter at a gym. I see differing opinions on this forum about strength training. She is stronger year to year but her arms are long willows and the teacher noted the bit of calf muscle she was developing is gone! She has stunning lines - just not quite the strength. I am so nervous about her age- she is off to abt NY - and I think her teacher thinks she could use a strength boost before that. A couple of older girls go to a trainer but they are 17. I welcome any thoughts or experiences. 

Edited by Icygirl22
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Icygirl, at 12 she is growing. And, it sounds like she has a long limbed willowy physique. These types develop strength later, following their major growth spurts. I am not a believer in weight training, especially at this age. I don't believe that it is safe to try and push it. Ballet is a long, slow boil training process, and so is growth and strength. The fact that ABT has seen the potential for her to be in their NY program should encourage you to know that they see the potential, and are not worried about the strength at this point in time. At the end of the summer program, I would ask for a discussion with the teachers in terms of what they feel is needed in terms of her further training, and whether they see strength as a problem at this time. It's possible that she just needs more training, or, perhaps more intensive training. :)

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Thank you! Much appreciated. My heart tells me that it isn't right at this stage. I see her strength developing and she progresses every year. I like the suggestion to see how the summer goes and take it from there. My daughter is very much a slow boiler- always has been. Thank you for your advice.?

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Would they consider Pilates to be strength training? My willowy DD is also 12 and has started taking a Pilates-based dance conditioning class two days per week. We are fortunate to have a local Pilates studio that is owned by two former professional ballet dancers who developed a program specifically for dancers. I'm hoping it helps her weather the growth spurts and body changes she will experience over the coming years.

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I would feel comfortable with Pilates. If her core is strong, it might make the limbs seem stronger! My DD is definitely stronger than two years ago and much more flexible - but can't hold her leg much above 90 in second ( I think that is what she said! ) . I might chat to her teachers about that. Thank you ! 

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If the flexibility is there, the strength to hold it will come. Core strength can help, but it also just takes time. :)  

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  • 1 month later...

I have a son who is also 12, and who is extremely long-limbed and willowy, also waiting to gain the strength to fully use the natural flexibility he has. 

I realize the goals and issues for boys and girls are different in some regards, but nobody has suggested my son start weight training yet. He is tall for age, but has a lot of growth still to go. We even took him to the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries-- they offer free injury prevention screenings, you might consider trying to set that up while she is in NYC if you can, because they will give specific recommendations and answer your questions, and they are very knowledgeable about both dance and evidence-based practices in sports/dance medicine. For my son and I it was a nice compliment to what he gets at ballet school. The Harkness trainer did suggest some targeted strength work for particular areas (upper back and feet) but not a general weight training program at this age. She did emphasize greatly the benefit of cross-training for adolescent dancers. 

His teachers and the Harkness trainer all have assured him that the muscle strength will come with time and consistent work. Its hard for 12 year olds to be patient though, and to not compare themselves to other peers whose developmental trajectory is different. 

For my son, we have started having him do some gyrotonics and pilates, and  plan to have him incorporate that into his regular schedule next year. He has found it very challenging and even after a few sessions said it was helping him in ballet class.

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  • 2 weeks later...

That sounds very good. My daughter is in NYC now - started today. I don't arrive there myself until July 20th. In the end we focussed on core and a few wall squats for quad strength. I noticed she had another jump in height since March ( she looks like a giant compared to the other 12, 13s in her group! In all that we also discovered incredibly tight calves- so got into massaging, foam rolling and stretching. I think we will look for a Pilates class when she is back. I will go too!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I am a great believer in body weight resistance, meaning simply applying directed tasks to the body with nothing more than gravity as the resistance. Dancers can apply this through simple repetition of movements focusing on form. Barre work and floor barre are, in my opinion, not only the most effective strength training, but to a skilled eye can also reveal where she has weakness that effects her dance. If weakness is evident at the barre the treatment involves body weight only repetitive movements that address the weak area. Break down the barre work that is lacking in strength into its components and work on those in isolation until the movement in total at barre has improved. You will know that your dancer is stronger not based on the appearance of muscle definition, but based upon the quality of her motions at barre.

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Oh that is very interesting. She herself is quite aware of what she struggles with at the barre- particularly quick sharp movements like frappes. I will ask her though - thanks - interesting comment.

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  • 3 weeks later...

At the risk of veering a bit off topic, I thought the harkness center injury prevention assessment was helpful, and so did my son. 


To be more general, it has been helpful to get the input of people trained in sports and dance medicine, to learn what is normal, what to watch out for, etc. For my son and I, it gave us more and different information than his ballet teachers generally share. 

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