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Ballet Talk for Dancers
GinaP

Balance on Demi Pointe Tips

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GinaP

Just joined an Adult Open Division Absolute Beginners class at 58 (!!!) and would appreciate tips on balancing on demi pointe. My balance (full footed) in yoga is really good, but that doesn’t translate to DP! I totter like mad and it’s so disturbing. 

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RaisingBallerina

Well to improve demi pointe you're in the right place - ballet class!  The barre exercises are all designed to develop the strength and flexibility necessary.  I'm not a teacher, just an adult ballet student "of a certain age" who has had to return to the studio more than once after foot/ankle injuries (not ballet related) and re-start from scratch.  In my experience there is ankle strength (and flexibility), core strength, posture, and proprioception all involved and a weakness can be in any or all of those places.  At home you can try 10-20 reps of very slowly rising from first position flat to demi pointe on two feet facing your kitchen counter (like a barre), holding at the top, and really focus on the muscles that need to engage to keep from teetering.  It is a whole chain ankle, inner thighs, hamstrings, glutes, lower abs, mid-back, shoulders, neck, head. When your posture is correct and everything is working, your heels coming up should look like rising in an elevator - a spectator watching your would see no change but the movement upward, but actually a whole bunch of things are working.  If you start wobbling before you get to a full demi pointe, then just stick with a range that you can do well, even if just an inch off the floor, and build from there.  If it feels really strong then try - while holding on to the barre or counter - closing your eyes and maintaining the balance as long as possible.  Once you get more comfortable with these reps in first position, you can try it from fifth (or third).  The next step is single leg - holding on to a door jamb at home or facing the barre, like alternating 5 on each side.  You can progress to doing those on a thick pillow to challenge stability.  And remember to keep breathing!

It's worth mentioning that even advanced dancers are always "working" for their balances!  They are perpetually teetering and making microscopic corrections, it is their extreme strength and training that make those corrections imperceptible to the spectator so it looks effortless.

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Chasse Away

Hey Gina, 

As many things in Ballet, balance is a result of many muscles working together and many details of technique working together! There is no “quick fix”, and there is no easy answer for how to achieve something because there are many things (abs, center of weight, posture, arms, legs, feet, eyeline, etc) that need to be correct that contribute to balance. Raising Ballerina is right, keep going to class and you will see improvement. Rises and other supplemental exercise will help as well. Best of luck!

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GinaP

Thanks for the suggestion, Raises and Chasse! And for the reminder to be patient. I’ve been trying to make 2 classes a week for the last two months, usually averaging at 1.5, but also trying to practice at home and at work (where I have a sit/stand desk). Thinking about alignment (concentrating demipointe on my first two toes, being mindful of my core and stretching up, etc) — it’s a lot for a beginner! I’ve shied away from center work a bit because of my balance issue, but at the same time pushing myself to stay in it because I think that’s best in the long haul! Thanks again for the encouragement....

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RaisingBallerina

GinaP if you enjoy anything about the classes, the music, the port de bras, the community, I encourage you to keep it up!  Kudos to you for trying something new!  Ballet is always "a lot" but that's what makes it so rewarding.  We are all working at an individual pace, and despite what the outside world thinks I have found the adult ballet community to be a supportive, forgiving, inspiring place to do the work.  I hope you find that, too!

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Miss Persistent

Also try practicing rises in a parallel position.  You can even pop a tennis ball in between your ankle bones to help you keep your alignment.  Rises in parallel activate a different part of the calf muscles which is also important.  For balance, practice some proprioception exercises.  Even just simple things like standing on two feet in parallel and closing your eyes - you'll help your body develop its internal sense of balance in space.  If you can manage two feet, try one foot.  Patience is a virtue :) Just keep chipping away at it and you will improve.

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GinaP

Thank you for that! Will do!

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LaFilleSylphide

Actually, balance is kind of a trick. Once you learn to sort of control and be aware of your muscles and can adjust them, it literally becomes an issue of placement. Easiest to remember is that everything is in contra... I'll get to that in a second. FIRST let's talk about basic balance.

In ballet, whatever is touching the floor is your entire point of balance. For instance, on demi pointe, the ball of your foot is the thing in contact with the floor, and typically the weight is somewhere towards your first, second and third toes-ish (all 5 toes touch the ground though). That then means, according to physics, that your center of balance must be directly over the top of the metatarsals, like a plumb-line. So your center, abdominal/core, must be placed directly over the point of contact on the floor. That is why it is not always accepted that when you plié in 4th position for pirouette, that your weight be exactly centered between two feet, but that your weight should actually subtly be already placed over your front foot, that way during the turn, you aren't trying to both balance AND turn AND place your center over that point of contact on the floor... it's already there in plié and ready to just be stacked up on top of that point of contact. 

Take any photo of a dancer in a real balance (ie, not caught mid movement by a fast shutterspeed from a photographer, but in an actual balance). You can almost always draw a line through whatever is touching the floor up through their core/center. This is also why practicing a pirouette from 2nd position plié is important. It's do or die, you learn really quickly to already know how to adjust your weight towards that supporting leg/foot before the turn even begins to rotate. 

Second, static balances in big poses - Contra balance is SO the key. If you are in an attitude derriere, for instance, if you are balancing on your right foot, and your left leg is in attitude derriere, be aware that not only does your hip and abdomen have to be directly over the point of contact on the floor (ie. your metatarsals or your pointe), but that your right shoulder and arm should be ever so slightly back as well, to create a contra-balance. The opposite is also true, if that left leg is in attitude en avant, then the right shoulder and arm should also be very very slightly forward (held through the back of course), to counter balance the position. The most difficult is balancing with your working leg in an extended second position. This is where your muscles need to really know how to be held in turn out, because in an extended second, the working left leg must be as far side into second as possible, and the right arm and shoulder has to find that perfect medium between being somewhere in between a pure second and slightly back. You'll know right away if your working leg has come too far forward or is in that ugly not quite second not quite avant position... because you just won't balance probably. It should always feel like you're pushing towards that counter balance, especially in your glute - one could say it feels like the muscles twist a bit, but I hesitate to use that analogy because it is definitely not a twist. It's quite difficult in this position, but you can also feel that same feeling in retiré, in fact, I suggest feeling it first in retiré. Move your entire center/core and hips directly over the top of your point of contact, really push that working knee in retiré back (you'll feel it in your glute), and make sure you feel that that knee is going towards the back while the opposite shoulder (in this case, the right shoulder) is also slightly back to make that counter balance feeling.

 I'm not sure if I was being clear or helpful, but I hope I was. I could show you in person and force you to feel it, though it takes some time to learn to control your muscles  to the point where you can self correct in difficult movements and during instant transitions or mid turn.

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GinaP

That’s really, really super helpful!!! Thank you! It’s a lot for me to absorb right now, two months into ballet, but you’ve given me a lot to keep coming back to. The essential point(e!) for me right now is for the center of balance to be in line with the metatarsals. Thank you! I’ll also start to be more attuned to contra balance — I think I have some sense of that from balancing poses in yoga, but my body still doesn’t “know” ballet.... Thank you again! (I do wish you could show me in person!) 🙏🏽💃

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