Dance

Combatting Summer Dance Intensive Soreness: 8 Tips To Help Dancers Manage Soreness So You Can Keep Dancing At Your Best

Soreness. It’s very much a part of any summer dance intensive experience. At a summer dance intensive, you’re most likely dancing harder, for more hours per day, and for more hours per week than you usually do. You might also be doing new things- like conditioning, flamenco, or partnering work- that are challenging you in ways you didn't expect.

As a result, your body might feel quite a bit more sore than it usually does. With little time to recover between days of dancing, you need to do everything you can to keep your soreness down and your dancing ability up. Read on for the 8 top tips I gave some summer dance intensive participants earlier this week- simple strategies that can help you dance at your best all intensive long.

1. Understand that soreness is normal. “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (DOMS) or that stiff and tired feeling you have for about 2 days after working out really hard, is common when you do something that is new or something that is much more difficult than what you normally do. This dull ache in your muscles (sometimes you feel stiffness in your joints, too) is a normal part of pushing yourself to your limits. It can be pretty intense, but usually gets better within 2-3 days and gets less intense as you get more used to dancing harder and more. So, hang in there and give it time. With a multiple week intensive, you’ll probably feel less and less sore each week.

2. Warm-up. Although you may think that the warm-up in your first dance class of the day is enough of a warm-up, it’s likely not. Even a basic demi, demi, grande plié at the beginning of a ballet class is actually pretty intense and if it’s the first big movement or your day, your body probably isn’t ready for it. Arrive to your intensive early each day and take 5 or 10 minutes to get your body moving in a way that feels good for you. Your body is “cold” in the morning, so focus on small, gentle movements and easy active stretching, just until your joints feel loosened and your muscles are  a little warm. Just this one small step can make a big difference in the amount of soreness you feel at the end of your day.

3. Cool down. Dance intensive days can end fast, too. At the end of your last class, you are probably really warm, sweating, tired, and dancing “full out” to your best ability… Then, all of the sudden, you stop, gather up your things, and head out the door, right? This quick change from “full out” to full rest can be pretty shocking to your body and can add to your post-dancing soreness. Taking even just 5 or 10 minutes to stretch, relax, and do gentle movements at the end of your day can help your body slowly ease back down from 100%... and can help you feel much much better.

4. Eat enough protein. Protein is essential to keep you strong, healthy, and able to take on the demands of your summer dance intensive without breaking down. Specifically, protein is the stuff that your body uses to build and rebuild your muscles after you challenge them. How much do you need? 1.4-1.6 grams for every kilogram of body weight… which translates, for example, into about 90 grams per day for a dancer who weighs 125 pounds. Protein shakes or supplements are not necessary- regular foods like meats, nuts, milk, yogurt, cheese, rice with beans, and tofu often have plenty of protein to meet your needs.

5. Drink enough water. Water is another critical ingredient to your health and muscle function when you dance. It helps your muscles function efficiently so you don’t have to work any harder than you should or be more sore than necessary after a hard day of dancing. Drink water regularly and throughout your day to make sure you don’t get thirsty and have to gulp down large amounts later. While there are many recommendations out there about how much you should drink, the real answer is actually in your output… clear or light yellow urine means you are drinking just the right amount.  

6. Eat small amounts of food throughout the day. Even though food and water are super important to helping you stay strong and ward off excessive soreness, big meals don’t always work well with a tight schedule or with needing to dance hard all day long. Instead, keep snacks that you can eat in very small portions with you all day. Trail mix, pretzel chip + peanut butter “sandwiches”, or small containers of yogurt in an insulated bag are just a few options to help you make sure you get enough food for a whole day of dancing... without ever feeling too full.

7. Use “pampering” treatments. Pampering treatments are what I call those things that don’t really address the underlying reason why you are getting sore… but feel pretty good and just might help you rebound back todancing a little bit more quickly. Foam rolls, massage sticks, ice packs, camphor and menthol rubs (like Tiger Balm), compression clothing, and massage are all great options for managing soreness between dance intensive classes or days. A couple of words of caution: 1. Be careful to only use ice at the end of your day- not just before dancing- because the numbness and stiffness caused by ice are counterproductive and can be even dangerous when you are dancing. 2. Make sure that you don’t use any “pampering” treatments to try to cover up pain that should be evaluated by a medical professional.

8. Understand that pain is not normal. While soreness is a normal part of challenging your body, any sensation that goes beyond what could be called soreness into what you would call pain is not- especially when it has a bad effect on your dancing or doesn’t go away pretty quickly. If you are experiencing pain, it’s important that you take care of yourself- back off from whatever movement is causing the pain and consult your doctor or physical therapist to get a clear answer of what is going wrong and how you can keep dancing or get back to dancing quickly and safely. If you’re not sure where to go or what to do next, call Melissa Reh, PT at (847) 345-2246  or inquire here for a free, no-obligation consultation to help get you headed in the right direction.

Happy Dancing!!

Additional Resources:

5 Top Ways For Dancers To Stay Healthy in 2017

But Isn't Being A Dancer Supposed To Hurt?

Fueling The Dancer by the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science

 

But Isn’t Being a Dancer Supposed to Hurt?

A few years ago, I was working with a dancer who was experiencing knee pain. As a part of her care plan, we had agreed that she would temporarily stop doing the things that most aggravated her pain- specifically jumps and leaps, while we sorted out her issue and helped her get strong enough to jump and leap again without pain.

Then, at one of her follow-up visits, she said that she was having pain again while doing leaps across the floor. I asked her if she stopped leaping when she felt the pain, and she said “No.” No? So, I asked “Why not?” She then shared that she kept going because her dance instructor had said something to the effect of…

“When you’re a professional, you’re just going to have to work through the pain.”

Have you ever heard something similar? I have seen that lots of dancers have- it’s like we believe that pain is a prerequisite for progress. I believe that it is so much a part of our heritage that it is really difficult to listen to anyone or anything that tries to tell us differently.

The pressure that dancers feel to perform at their highest capacity- even if it causes pain or injury- only adds to the intensity of this mindset. Pressure may come directly from instructors or coaches who are looking to have you performance or competition ready, like NOW. However, it can just as easily come from our minds... from the ideas we concoct that say we need to be perfect, beautiful, skilled, artistic, motivated, cooperative, and agreeable at ALL times in order to be successful dancers. Case in point: when I recently asked another dancer client what her definition of success was, she replied, “Dancing full out, all the time, in as many classes and performances as I want, with no pain, ever.” Can you relate?

Here’s the problem: We aren’t actually in charge. Our bodies are. Each time we ignore serious pain… Each time we feel we must be perfect… Each time we believe that we have to hurt ourselves to get better… We are fighting a fight that we can’t win.

Pain doesn’t lead to progress- at least not directly. Dancers who are in pain don’t dance bigger, more beautifully, or more confidently. They actually wither as their bodies try to protect themselves from worsening pain or injury. They get weaker, more unsteady, more fatigued, tighter, and less powerful. Pain is a real signal that something is going wrong- a sign that your body needs some help to overcome a problem. Progress doesn't happen until you face the real problem and address it. 

Now if you’ve been dancing for any period of time, you probably know that I don’t mean that dancing should never be uncomfortable, challenging, or difficult. That muscle burn during conditioning or the soreness you feel in your muscles for a couple for days after a tough class? They are indeed part of the package. The emotional pain of not being placed in a class, intensive,  or performance that you were hoping for? That’s part of being a dancer, too. The personal difficulty of giving your time to classes, rehearsals, and performances when you might prefer to be lounging on the couch or hanging out with friends? You got it. These are all parts of the rigor of dance training. They build you up to be a stronger, better, and more dedicated dancer.

However, severe or persistent pain that limits your ability to dance how you would normally be able to is not normal, not healthy, and not productive.

There may come a day, when your paycheck is riding on it, that you choose to ignore a nagging pain and continue with a rehearsal or performance that is expected of you, despite the danger that you may worsen your pain or get injured. That will be your choice to make on that day. But if that day isn’t here yet- if you are still a student, if you are in training, if you have any flexibility in your life or options, and if you are not ready to give up dancing for the sake of your next rehearsal or performance… please don’t. Please do take care of yourself. Take the time and get the help you need to get healthy and dancing well again.

Don’t spend now what you hope to have in the future. Your dancing is worth more than that… and so are you.

5 Top Ways for Dancers to Stay Healthy in 2017

What’s the best way to keep yourself healthy for dancing? Is it a better diet? More dance classes? More stretching? Massage? For every dancer there is a different answer. However, after years of helping dancers get healthy and back to dancing after suffering with pain and injuries, there are a few key strategies that I feel are most important for dancers who are committed to getting healthy, staying healthy, and dancing well today and for many years to come.

As you review this short list, see what fits for you and please try it. Don’t forget to seek the help of your parents, dance instructors, or medical professionals if you need it.  Wishing you a happy, healthy, and dancing 2017!

1. Look Back

New Years is a great time to sit back and reflect on what went well or didn’t go well in your dancing last year. How was 2016 for you? Was it a great year? What made it great? Was it a difficult year? Why? Taking a peek into your past can give you a great sense of where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished- was it a lot? Was it less than you hoped? Why? Be honest with yourself about 2016 now so you can go ahead into 2017 with a clear mind. While you’re thinking about last year, also take some time to think about why you dance and what it means to you. Grab a piece of paper and write it down. Purposefully remembering why you love to dance gives you the perfect backdrop from which to make great future choices about your health and your dancing.   

2. Look Ahead

Now, it’s time to decide what you’d like 2017 to look like. While no one can actually tell the future, picturing the changes or accomplishments you’d like to see in in the next year can help you make sure your everyday health choices are headed in the right direction. Goal setting is a powerful tool to help you focus your energy on the results you want- those that are most important to you. Clearly set goals also help you avoid the unhealthy behaviors (like ignoring pain) that might keep you from reaching your goal. Get specific, focus on the actions you need to take, and start small. What's one thing you'd like to do to make 2017 your best year yet? Ok. What is it going to take to achieve that one thing? Write down everything you need so you can start working on getting it.

3. Improve Your Nutrition

How has your nutrition been in 2016? Was it great? Could it use some improvement? The nutrition you give your body is fuel for your dancing- the better stuff you put in, the better stuff you're going to get out. Protein helps you build strong muscles, heal from injury, function normally, and have sustained energy. Active dancers need about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kilograms, then multiply that number by 1.5 to estimate how much protein you need). Fruits and veggies contain vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that provide you with energy you need for your body to work well, especially under high demand situations, like long or difficult classes or rehearsals. If you feel your nutrition needs a boost, make a plan. What’s one change you can make to your nutrition soon... and stick with? What might have been keeping you from making that change already? What help do you need to make that change a little easier to fit in to your busy dancing life (could be something simple- like getting a small cooler so you can keep a yogurt snack cold while you dance or a water bottle that you can refill)? Reflect on these questions so you can make the best plan possible. 

4. Fully Address Nagging Aches and Pains

While massage sticks, foam rolls, and the occasional ice pack can be great tools to manage the everyday stiffness or soreness you might feel after dancing, they are not made to address injuries or lingering pain. If you have been experiencing pain or haven't fully recovered from an injury, your 2017 health is already in jeopardy. Take the time and get the help you need to fully heal and get strong again. It’s one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your dancing. Not sure where to start? Call or message me to schedule a free phone consultation or make an appointment with your primary care doctor today.

5. Get More Rest

Getting enough rest is a real challenge for dancers- especially those who are in school or working outside of dance. Sleep is an extremely important part of rest- without enough, your mental and physical function gets worse and you are more at risk for an injury. However, sleep isn't the only kind of rest dancers need. Taking a break from dancing when you need to, making time for other things that you love to do, and knowing when to back down from intense classes or schedules are also smart and effective ways to avoid burning out or getting seriously injured.


Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry. Great health is not about perfection. It’s about making small, but consistent, changes in the right direction. Take it one step at a time. Once you’ve mastered your first positive change, you can take on the next one. I sincerely hope that 2017 will be your best dancing year yet.

 

Additional Resources:

Nutrition: Alisa Levine Bloom, MPH, RD, LDN www.liveyourbest365.com

Dancer Health: How Do I Know How Much Is Too Much?

Dancer Health: 5 Ways To Keep Injury From Ruining Your Dance Career

 

 

How Do I Know How Much Is Too Much?

How do I know for sure how much is too much? I received this great question at "The Art of Active Rest" last March. This question reflects a real fear of injury that many dancers (and many active people!) have. Injuries are both physically and personally painful because they complete disrupt your ability to do the very thing you love most- dance. If we could know where the line is between just feeling pain and actually becoming injured, it would be much easier to actually prevent injury.

The bad news is that there is no rule, no hard and fast answer, that can protect you from injury. Each person and situation is different. Have you ever been perplexed by how someone can take great care of themselves and still be frequently sick or injured? Or have you known someone that seems to bounce back from just about anything? These disparities between actions and results can be confusing and frustrating.

The good news is that our body gives us clues to help us stay safe. If we listen carefully, we can take advantage of these clues to help us make a good judgement call about how to best take care of ourselves. 

Here are a few signs that your body might need some help staying safe from potential injury:
1. Your are experiencing pain that is not improving or is gradually worsening over time (days, weeks, months). 
2. You are experiencing a set back in your flexibility, strength, balance, or stamina even though you are dancing or exercising often or very intensely.  
3. You are feeling uncomfortable or unsteady with specific movements that are usually not a problem for you.  
4. The normal soreness you feel after dancing is worsening or lasting longer than usual.
5. You are at the end of a long day of classes and rehearsals and your ability to dance well is declining. 
6. You are feeling aggravated, frustrated, or mentally and emotionally fatigued when it comes to dance or other exercise. 

I encourage you to be honest and courageous as you evaluate your body's signals. It's very easy to accept these negative experiences as normal and expected in life and in dance. However, a reasonable expectation of normal is that these experiences come and go, NOT that they come and stay. Your time dancing should be mostly enjoyable, not mostly painful.

So, how do you know for sure how much is too much? The judgement call is yours, but I hope this answer will give you some helpful guidance. Rest assured that you are ahead of the game by even asking the question.

If you'd like to learn more about how to protect your body from injury and how to get the most out of your time and effort dancing, please join me for "The Art of Active Rest" on Wednesday, August 3, 2016. If you have more specific questions about your situation, please contact me at (847) 345-2246 to schedule a free consultation. 
 

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 6/6

Turnout Q&A Image.jpeg

Hello and welcome to the 6th and final post about “Turnout,” our workshop at Dancenter North. Last Saturday we reviewed some of the dancers’ favorite exercises and did some Q&A about turnout. Although I joked with the dancers about my elaborate “non-answers” to their questions (because the real answer to most questions is “It depends...”), we did cover some important ideas about turnout. I hope these Qs and As will be helpful to you, as well! 

Q: How can I improve my turnout without hurting myself?

A: The dancers themselves were able to answer this question beautifully. Their very correct answers highlight the fact that improving turnout is a process. Here are their answers: 

  • Work slowly. 
  • Stay where your body is comfortable. 
  • Try to do a little more each day. 
  • Push it when you can. 

I’d also add: 

  • Work on improving strength and flexibility throughout your entire body, not just your hips. 
  • Focus on good alignment and dance technique within your comfortable turnout range- don’t crank your turnout at the expense of the rest of your technique. 
  • And finally, as we said in week 1: Start with success and your body will give you the rest. 

Q: How can I make sure I am turning out from my hips? 

A: First of all, don’t force your turnout by planting each foot separately feet with hips and knees flexed, then straightening both knees. This technique, called “screwing the knee” can cause excessive compensation through the knees and feet. Instead, gently place your feet where you think they can go without feeling excessive strain in your legs (keep legs fairly straight while you do this). Then, lift up one leg to passé. If you can keep your pelvis square and level, you are likely using the correct amount of turnout for your body, which will likely include a good amount from your hips. 

Also, if you are turning out from your hips, your knees will ideally glide right out over your toes, not toward the insides of your feet during a plié. If you have difficulty aligning your knees over your toes, get assistance from your instructor or physical therapist- some people do have alignment variances that prevent the knee from tracking straight over the toes. 

Finally, check with your dance teachers. An instructor who is knowledgeable about correct technique and alignment throughout a wide range of dance movement will be able to help you be sure that you are turning out from your hips appropriately. 

Q: How come it’s easier for others to achieve their turnout?

A: Everyone is different. Our bodies, our histories, and our training can all influence how well we turn out. Hip socket depth, femur alignment, soft tissue flexibility, and strength are just a few of the reasons two people might dance with different amounts of turnout. Please remember: turnout is a process and a technique, not a static characteristic of a person. Respecting your body and putting the work it to make improvements will help you find your best turnout.  

Q: How long will it take to reach my goals?

A: This is another question that really “depends”. During this workshop, we were able to measure each dancer’s turnout before and after doing even just a few exercises, and they were all able to see a positive difference. So, in that case, we were able to see positive change in just a few minutes. More significant and permanent change will likely take longer. What your goals are, where you are starting, how much time you put in, how much focus you have, whether you stay safe and successful with your movement, what your injury history is, what your training history is, and how quickly your body adapts to change are all factors that contribute to how quickly you might reach your goals. The important part is putting in the work on a regular basis. Keep at it and you will likely see improvement. If you do not see any positive change over a period of weeks or months, your dance teacher or your physical therapist may be able to help you figure out why and help you make it better. 

Q: How can I hold my turnout longer?

A: Warm up before your start. Start by using your successful turnout, not by forcing it (see question 2 above). Practice using it throughout all movements you perform in class. Listen to your teachers and ask for individual help if you are unable to understand or execute the technical instructions they give you. Lather, rinse, repeat. Doing technically sound work, over and over, will help you build the endurance you need to hold your turnout longer. 

Q: What exercises should I do before class so that I am able to hold turnout from the beginning?

A: The simple, but not easy, answer is whatever exercise helps you the most. This requires that you be a scientist with your own body. Try different stretches or exercises that you already know, but test/retest your turnout before and after doing the exercise. Which one helps the most? Do THAT one before class. Not sure if a new exercise you saw will help? Try it, and test/retest your turnout as above. One size does not fit all for exercise.  Don’t worry if your friend, teacher, or even physical therapist, shows you an exercise that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t help you. Do what works for you and don’t think twice about it!

That being said, some of the dancers in this workshop really liked warming up before class with this exercise. Feel free to give it a shot and see if it works for you!


PLEASE READ FULLY: A 3D pivot matrix is a movement sequence that can help your feet, knees, and hips work together in a coordinated fashion. The 3D pivot matrix can be either a warm-up or conditioning exercise. For best results, step only in the directions that are comfortable and/or only step as far out as is comfortable for you.

** Please discontinue this exercise and consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are unsure as to whether this exercise is right for you.**


Thanks so much again for joining us! Please comment below or write me at melissa@kinesipt.com if you have any questions- I'd be happy to help in any way possible. Happy Dancing!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 5/6

Wow. Time really does fly! We've now spent 5 weeks learning and practicing a myriad of different ways to help dancers improve turnout. We've previously worked on building both strength and flexibility throughout the legs and feet, but Week 5 of our turnout workshop at Dancenter North brought us further north in the body- to an area called the thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is the name for the region of the spine comprised of the 12 vertebrae where ribs attach. Although the word “ribcage” kind of brings to mind the static structure of a birdcage (indeed, our lungs and heart are enclosed safely within it), this area of the body has the capability to move quite a bit. The reasons why thoracic spine and ribcage movement are relevant to turnout can get a little complex, but we’ll dive in to a couple of them here. 

1. When we realize that the human body works as a complete system, it is natural to realize that movement of one body part is absorbed and distributed through the entire system. When we move our head, arms, or shoulders in one direction, that movement must continue somewhat through the spine (just try moving your head or arms without moving your spine- you won’t be able to get very far!). If the thoracic spine and ribcage do not move very well, they will not be able to absorb the movement of the upper body, and that movement will likely be translated to the hips, or even to the knees. So, having a flexible thoracic spine and ribcage is important to turnout because stiffness of these areas can make it very difficult to hold hip and pelvis placement while executing porte de bras (movement of the arms). 

In class, we observed this phenomenon by standing on one foot, in passé, with both legs turned out. We then reached our arms out the the sides and rotated our upper bodies to the right and left. Try this at home, (being careful to avoid causing pain or aggravating any existing injuries!) and notice how your pelvis moves in response to your upper body movement. Our goal is to be able to allow your upper body to move as far as possible while maintaining good control of your hips and pelvis so you can still maintain good turnout in the legs. Doing exercise designed to help your thoracic spine and ribcage move better can be a great step toward reaching this goal.

2. Gaining strength and control of thoracic spine movement is also critical to maintaining hip and pelvis alignment and turnout while dancing. Fortunately, we have many muscles (4 layers of abdominal muscles) and quite a bit of connective tissue that connect our spine and ribcage to our pelvis. When we exercise 3 dimensionally and with a focus on building both flexibility and strength throughout our movement range, these muscles become a tremendous asset to our dancing.  I've included a couple of videos below to give you a visual on this concept. 

Video #1: A twist on the porte de bras stretch, promoting thoracic spine and ribcage movement in 3 dimensions. Remember to only work where you are comfortable and successful. Allow your body to give you more stretch when it is ready- don’t force it. Please discontinue this exercise and consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are unsure as to whether this exercise is right for you. 

Video #2: A plank on hands and feet with 3D pelvis movement will challenge your abdominal and hip muscles to be both flexible and strong throughout your movement range. Remember to only work where you are comfortable and successful. Allow your body to give you more stretch when it is ready- don’t force it. Please discontinue this exercise and consult with your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain or if you are unsure as to whether this exercise is right for you. 

Next week is week 6! For the last week of this blog series, I will post some common questions about turnout, as well as my best attempts to answer these questions. Please feel free to add any of your questions to the comments below and I'll do my best to answer those, too. Thanks for joining us!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 4/6

Hello and welcome to the week 4 recap of our turnout workshop at Dancenter North. We are having lots of fun working together and every week I am hearing more good things about how these dancers are feeling with their turnout. They are doing some hard work and seeing it pay off. Great job, ladies!! 

During week 3, we focused on the hip joint structure itself and performed exercises designed to stretch and strengthen each hip joint individually. This week we looked at the relationship between the two hips and worked with the idea that the hips are really just 2 joints separated by 1 bone (the pelvis). Any time the pelvis moves, both hips are affected. We can use our understanding of this relationship to help us train our hips to be coordinated together as we gain flexibility and strength for better turnout. 

A screenshot of the bony anatomy of the hips in Skeletal System Pro III- a really cool app for viewing the bones and joints. Check out how the two femurs (thigh bones) connect to the sides of the pelvis. Picture the movement of the hips and pelvis when you perform a battement or an arabesque. Then, try it yourself, placing your hands over your hip joints to feel how the two hips work together when you move. 

A screenshot of the bony anatomy of the hips in Skeletal System Pro III- a really cool app for viewing the bones and joints. Check out how the two femurs (thigh bones) connect to the sides of the pelvis. Picture the movement of the hips and pelvis when you perform a battement or an arabesque. Then, try it yourself, placing your hands over your hip joints to feel how the two hips work together when you move. 

We also worked with the concept that when we dance, flexibility and strength are movement qualities that almost always work together. For example, what good is enough flexibility to turnout to 180 degrees if you don’t have enough strength to hold it while your are dancing? Each exercise that we did this week required us to find successful hip movement that used the components of flexibility, balance, and strength all at the same time. By moving this way, we make our exercise program congruent with the needs of our body when we dance.

How convenient! Instead of doing separate exercises for flexibility, strength, and balance, we can do one exercise that helps improve all three of those movement qualities. 


See below for an example of one exercise we performed last Saturday. These lunges, performed in a kneeling position, allow us to focus on improving the flexibility and strength of both hips in 3 dimensions. Feel free to try this at home, but please be cautious of the following: If performed as demonstrated, this exercise requires kneeling. Use a good cushion under your kneeling knee- one that allows you to kneel without pain or discomfort. If pain free kneeling to perform this exercise is not possible, you may find that doing this exercise in standing is much more comfortable and still beneficial. 

Also, please move only where you are successful- do not push into any motion that causes pain anywhere in your body. This exercise is not meant to substitute for your own personal wisdom about your body or the opinion of a doctor or physical therapist that is familiar with you and your medical/movement history. If you have questions as to whether this exercise might be right for you, please consult a qualified medical professional. 

If you feel good doing the kneeling lunge matrix, try it a few times this week. Perform 5-10 repetitions of each lunge direction on each leg. Don’t worry if your thigh and hip muscles get sore for a few days after- that’s normal and will likely improve as you get stronger and more flexible. Then, during the week, especially after any soreness has gone away, check on your turnout. If it feels or looks better to you, then this was likely a good exercise for you. If not, don’t worry. There are lots of other things that might help you find more success in your turnout


Thanks for joining us! Next week we move on to the spine. You'll be amazed at how we can use movement in the spine to help improve your turnout. See you then!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 3/6

Welcome to our week 3 recap of Kinesi’s “Turnout” workshop at Dancenter North. I continue to hear that the dancers attending class are keeping up with the exercises they learned during Week 1 and Week 2 and are feeling that their turnout is becoming easier and more comfortable. Fantastic! That’s exactly what we are aiming for. This week we learned a little bit about the hips- how they are structured and how they work.

The hip is a “ball and socket” joint that functions, like all other joints, in 3 dimensions. The ball is located at the top of the femur and the socket is located on the pelvis. 

Front view of the right hip joint. 

Front view of the right hip joint. 

Back view of the right hip joint.

Back view of the right hip joint.

The hip can move:

  • because the femur moves inside the socket (like the moving leg hip in battement), or 
  • because pelvis moves over/around the femur (like the standing leg hip in cambré), or
  • because both the pelvis and the femur move at the same time (like both hips in grande jeté). 

Regular movements performed in ballet and other forms of dance use all of these types of hip motion. During class last Saturday, we utilized mostly a “top-down” approach with exercises that cause movement of the pelvis over and around the femur. 

As we discussed in Week 1, starting with successful movement is a much safer and more effective strategy than pushing into painful or very tight directions. And here’s the super-secret-magic* key to why: Movement is 3-dimensional. It occurs in 3 planes simultaneously at all joints and in all muscles of the body.

A visual depiction of the planes of motion. Forward and backward movement occur in the sagittal plane, side to side movement in the frontal plane, and rotational movement in the transverse plane. Although these planes are depicted as separate, all human movement has components in all 3 planes of motion. 

A visual depiction of the planes of motion. Forward and backward movement occur in the sagittal plane, side to side movement in the frontal plane, and rotational movement in the transverse plane. Although these planes are depicted as separate, all human movement has components in all 3 planes of motion. 

If we have difficulty moving in one plane of motion, we will have difficulty moving in all three planes. On the other hand, if we can gain mobility in one plane of motion, we can gain mobility in all three planes. 

Our bodies and brains are very smart. They will try their best to protect you from danger and pain is one of the ways they protect you. A stretch should feel good (though it can be a little intense) and should result in an improvement in movement in that direction. A feeling of very intense tightness or pain in the hip when it is fully stretched let’s you know there’s no more room to go. Rather than pushing hard into that direction and risking damage to your joints, ligaments, and tendons, stretch in a different direction that can be improved without pain. 

For example, if pushing your hips to turnout (when standing up or in a frog stretch) is getting nowhere, try doing an exercise or stretch that causes your leg to turn in (see below for one to try). Turning in often feels really good for dancers and can be a great strategy to improve your overall hip mobility. I’ll say it again- when your hip moves better in one direction, it moves better in all directions. Sometimes turning in is actually a better way to work on turning out! 

Stand on your left leg facing the barre and place your right hand on the barre. Then gently circle your left hand and right foot "around the corner" to the left until you feel a little bit of stretch in the outside of the left hip. Gently bend your left knee and keep your left foot planted, toes forward. Repeat 5-10 times as needed, then reverse to the other side.  Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.

Stand on your left leg facing the barre and place your right hand on the barre. Then gently circle your left hand and right foot "around the corner" to the left until you feel a little bit of stretch in the outside of the left hip. Gently bend your left knee and keep your left foot planted, toes forward. Repeat 5-10 times as needed, then reverse to the other side. Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.

Note: If you are experiencing intense or unrelenting pain in your hips with movement, please consult your doctor and/or physical therapist for further evaluation. These strategies are appropriate for healthy hips and are not meant to substitute for good professional or medical care. 

Thanks again for joining us! Next week we will learn a little bit more about the hips and learn more strategies to maximize your successful turnout. See you then!

*Just kidding, guys. Although this is an important point, there's nothing really super secret or magic about it. It's just a truth of how your body works!

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 2/6

The dynamic and adaptable human foot contains 26 bones and 33 joints. Getting them moving well can help your turnout!

The dynamic and adaptable human foot contains 26 bones and 33 joints. Getting them moving well can help your turnout!

During Week 2 of our "Turnout" workshop at Dancenter North, I was so happy to hear that some of the dancers had felt that their turnout was already improving since Week 1. Yes! Great job, ladies! Now, onto the feet:

  1. Foot structure is highly individual. Flat feet? High arches? Whatever! How your foot functions is much more important than what it looks like. Ideally, your foot should function a little bit like a spring, flexing gently downward as you put weight onto it or perform a plié, but also rebounding back up when you take weight off of it or rise onto relevé. 
  2. Your foot contains an astounding 26 bones and 33 joints. These bones and joints move 3-dimensionally to keep you connected to the floor as you move. This incredible function not only allows you to keep your balance, but also feeds movement, like a chain reaction, to the rest of your leg and body. 
  3. Although our ankle joints have lots of motion in the sagittal plane (front to back motion seen when flexing and pointing the foot), they are still 3-dimensional joints. The small amounts of frontal plane (side to side) and transverse plane (rotational) motion at the ankles have a big influence on the ability of the ankle to flex and point fully. In addition, maintaining good rotational ability through the ankle allows your lower leg to contribute to the total turnout of your leg.
 

Foot Note: Forcing your turnout to the point where your arches roll in toward the floor limits the ability of your foot to stay stable on the ground while you are dancing. Try readjusting your turnout to an angle where your foot can be comfortably flat and your arch a little bit springy- this is your successfully turned out position!

 

During the Week 2 class, we worked on a number of exercises to help the foot and ankle move and work well. Check out the stretch below and try it for yourself- remembering to stay pain free and work where you feel comfortable and successful. 

Thanks for joining us- see you next week!

Two approaches to stretching the calf in three dimensions:  Position/Movement: Face the barre or a wall, use hands for support. Place 1 foot on the floor, toes forward, toes in, or toes out (whichever is most comfortable). Move other knee 5-10 times in each direction: straight forward and backward, then straight side to side, then rotationally to the right and left. Allow your body to follow the movement of the knee. If your ankle on the standing leg isn't moving, bring that foot closer to the wall and try again. Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.  Pictured Left: Towel roll under the heel lessens the (dorsi)flexion in the ankle allowing more side to side and rotational movement success.  Pictured Right: Towel roll under the ball of the foot causes more dorsiflexion in the ankle, which challenges the foot and ankle to be more flexible in all 3 directions.

Two approaches to stretching the calf in three dimensions:

Position/Movement: Face the barre or a wall, use hands for support. Place 1 foot on the floor, toes forward, toes in, or toes out (whichever is most comfortable). Move other knee 5-10 times in each direction: straight forward and backward, then straight side to side, then rotationally to the right and left. Allow your body to follow the movement of the knee. If your ankle on the standing leg isn't moving, bring that foot closer to the wall and try again. Please discontinue this exercise and consult your doctor or physical therapist if you feel pain.

Pictured Left: Towel roll under the heel lessens the (dorsi)flexion in the ankle allowing more side to side and rotational movement success.

Pictured Right: Towel roll under the ball of the foot causes more dorsiflexion in the ankle, which challenges the foot and ankle to be more flexible in all 3 directions.

Cultivating Successful Turnout Part 1/6

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of working with a few dancers at Dancenter North on turnout. This was the first of 6 weekly sessions designed to help these dancers better understand and execute turnout while dancing. As a complement to this class, each Wednesday of the following week I will post a brief summary discussion of our time together. It is my hope that these posts will help even more dancers get a glimpse of the work we did and learn some concepts that might also help you improve your turnout. As with every physical endeavor, success is created with a process, which is why I have entitled these posts “Cultivating Successful Turnout”.

For our first week together, we discussed three concepts that will guide every exercise and activity we do together during this workshop. 

  1. Turnout involves your whole body. From head to toe. Our bodies are made up of multiple segments that are interdependent and constantly interacting with each other. Although we focus on the hips and a primary source of turnout, the shoulder, spine, knees, ankles, and feet do influence how well the hips can turn out. We must address how each of these segments move in order to achieve our best turnout. 
  2. Turnout involves multiple physical capacities, not just flexibility. Your body requires strength, balance, control, and endurance to achieve and maintain good turnout while you dance. Developing each one of these components to turnout can help you not only improve your ability to turn out while standing still, but during dynamic movements such as passé, développé, or grande jeté.  
  3. Starting with success is critical. When our bodies perceive that they are under stress and in danger, they will likely react protectively. Therefore, forcing maximal turnout will likely contribute to more muscle tightness and less mobility, which is the opposite of our goal. Allowing our bodies to work from an initially comfortable position (we used the standards of little to no perceived joint strain and good stability when standing on one leg) enables a sense of safety and supports more movement and control as we progress. 

Success Tip: In your next dance class, start with only as much turnout is completely comfortable. Then watch your comfortable turnout gradually increase as you warm up. 

Next week, we will explore the role of the feet in turnout and will work on some exercises to enhance the contribution of our feet to our turnout. I will be reviewing comments and questions about turnout submitted by the dancers participating in this workshop and encourage you to comment below to join the conversation. We hope you will join us as we continue our journey toward success!