Tag Archives: ballet class

Stretching: When and How Much?

photo by Marcello Gambetti

Here’s a sight you are guaranteed to see before any ballet class: dancers draped across the barres, bodies scattered on the floor in various contortions, stretching hips and hamstrings. Stretching is how dancers start their day, with no two routines the same. But are we really doing our bodies a favor or a disservice? When, how and how much do you stretch? Go too far at the wrong time and you can really injure yourself… perhaps for good.

photo by Bob Knight

I speak from experience. When I was in my teens my stretching routine always included laying on my back for single leg stretches. I’d wrap my hands around the back of my calf and bring the leg in towards my body. Once I got it past a certain point I could grab under the arch of my foot and crank the leg up near my ear. This worked well for quite awhile… until it didn’t. One day, without warning, I felt a searing pain up the back of my left leg. The pain didn’t go away after a few days so I spoke with my teacher about it. She informed me that I’d overstrained my hamstring.

She was right and man, did it hurt. All the time.

It was so bad that I couldn’t even sit through a meal. The pain would get more and more intense the longer I sat. The worst part was that during that time I went on my first trip to Paris… the city where people often linger over their meals for hours.

Not me. I had to excuse myself in the middle of every meal and take a walk around the block. Let’s just say it was painfully embarrassing (excuse the bad pun, but it’s accurate).

Eventually it healed but it was never the same. Even now, decades later, my left hamstring remains much tighter and stiffer than the right.

There are right and wrong ways to stretch. These articles below are my top picks about stretching, written by experts from the dance world, people who know their stretching stuff, like physical therapists. I hope you enjoy.

1. Physical therapists talk to DANCE magazine about how dancers go wrong in stretching.

2. Pointe Magazine divulges how to get better feet.

3. A flexibility expert shares tips here.

4. DANCE Magazine’s Stretching habits all dancers need to break.

5. Read about the ten best stretches you’re not doing here.

6. Improving hip flexibility, 3 methods compared.

7. DANCE Magazine’s three types of stretches to integrate into your routine.

8. Are you stretching the wrong way?

9. Your best body beyond the hype.

10. Why you’re warming up wrong.

Ballet is About Precision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been thinking about how precise ballet is, right down to the position of the fingers. The head is tilted and the arms are placed just so; the feet are presented daintily. Every dancer is practicing to be precise with each movement, which takes a lot of hours and effort. Now with hindsight, decades after I chose to pursue a different career, I’ve realized that ballet is the gift that keeps giving–because that same drive to achieve precision continues to inform everything I do.

One of my dance friends says it’s always easy to pick a dancer out in a crowd. Dancers learn how to fully inhabit their bodies in a way that most people don’t. All those hours of dedicated practice learning to control every last piece of the body (including those fingertips, of course!) translates into grace for life.

While I’m grateful to have an understanding of how to move well and how to maintain fitness, precision is the thing that really pays off. I don’t think I could be a writer without it (at least not a very good one). There’s no one to tell me what to write, when to write it or if it should be burned immediately. Any amount of precision comes from within and nowhere else. This isn’t always easy. Without my years in ballet I don’t think I’d be nearly as productive or as exacting today.

So let this be a moment of gratitude to all of the teachers who have helped develop these gifts, especially the School of American Ballet‘s Mr. Richard Rapp, who taught me the proper way to hold my fingers–the final punctuation mark that completes a ballet dancer’s line.

Just like dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s.

look at those fingers!

 

What It’s Like to Wear Pointe Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most people think that pointe shoes are all pink satin perfection but never give a thought to what it actually feels like to put them on your feet. I’ve been thinking about it more lately as I’m working on my novel–many scenes take place during ballet classes. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate thing with them since my first pair. Honestly, I’ve some to the conclusion that pointe shoes are like cement ball gowns; luxuriously beautiful and clunky as hell.

Also… they are very awkward to walk in since the toes are solid blocks. It’s kind of like walking in ski boots. Keeping that in mind now try to imagine jumping in them. Every time the dancer jumps the landing is supposed to be silent. Like a cat… but not a cat in ski boots. Not an easy thing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirouettes are another story. Let’s talk about turns for a second. The tip of a pointe shoe has what…. maybe three square inches of area in total? It’s like spinning on your toes on an area the size of a postage stamp. Nothing short of miraculous when you think about it.

It’s been many years since I had to wear pointe shoes every day. I’m thankful for that. These days I prefer dancing barefoot and feeling my feet against the smooth wood of a dance floor. However I recently purchased a pair of pointe shoes to use in photographs. From time to time I put them on and play around. Man, do those suckers hurt. I mean, they really, really hurt (more about that here). I’ve had to ask myself how I ever managed to wear them all the time for as long as I did.

But hey, they look good, don’t they?

If you dance en pointe, you are hardcore. Just how hardcore? Read more about that here.

red pointe shoes are hot

10 Reasons to Study Ballet at Any Age

© Grier Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every holiday season, after seeing the Nutcracker, millions of little girls go to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads… Sugarplum fairies, that is. But five-year-olds haven’t cornered the market on the desire to learn ballet; the truth is that there are just as many businesswomen and mothers with the same dream. It’s never too late (or too early) to follow your heart, slither into a leotard and tights and join in a ballet class, and the benefits are huge. For instance:

1. Discipline. There is something to be said for the fine art of mental control. While the lack of it is usually glaringly apparent in five-year-olds, it lurks in the deep recesses of the minds of most adults, too. We’ve just gotten better about camouflaging it. Mind over matter is a huge skill that can be applied in every facet of life for the remainder of one’s lifetime.

2. Grace, strength and control. It’s easy to identify a ballerina in a crowd, and this trio of benefits is a good part of the reason why. Dancers move differently than the rest of their human counterparts, because they have spent a great deal of time and energy cultivating grace, strength and control. Precision of movement is one of the most fundamental requirements of ballet, and the good news is that it’s transferable to other athletic endeavors. That is why many football players, gymnasts and other athletes also spend time at the ballet barre.

3. Flexibility. More flexibility means greater range of movement and less potential for injury. Who wouldn’t want those two things? Ready to sign up yet?

4. Great exercise. Let’s face it, bodies were made to move, as often as possible, every day. Why else would we have all these moving parts? Since exercise is absolutely necessary for health and longevity, we may as well pick an activity we enjoy. This will probably sound like a biased statement, but dance is a whole lot more fun than the gym. Or consider this simple equation: Joy of movement= laying the groundwork for a life time of good exercise habits.

5. Better posture. One of the first things you will learn in ballet class is how to stand up straight. Where else will you learn this if not in ballet class? And to reiterate an earlier point, this is another one of the reasons why it is so easy to identify ballerinas in a crowd.

6. Outlet for personal expression. For some of us, it’s hitting a pillow. For others, it’s yelling from a mountaintop or scribbling away in a journal. But it can’t hurt to add another option to your list.

7. Listening and memory skills. There’s an awful lot of stuff to learn during the course of a ballet class, not to mention the fact that the terminology is all in French. The only way to stay ahead of the game is to pay very close attention to what is being said and demonstrated, and then do your earthly best to remember when to do what. This is fantastic for keeping your brain lively.

8. Body awareness. You’re probably aware enough of some parts you would like to change, erase or give away. That’s not the type of body awareness that’s being addressed. Instead, you will grow awareness of how to move all the different parts of the body, and what is attached to what. And hey, your balance will improve. Dramatically.

9. Spatial awareness. Ballet classes begin at the barre but end in the center of the room, with lots of jumping and twirling. Not only will you learn to move in desired ways in the desired direction, you will also learn how to do all this without crashing into anyone else. Works really well in crowds.

10. Fun. This one pretty much goes without saying, but is one of the very best possible reason to sign up for ballet, which is why it was saved it for last. Who couldn’t use a little more fun in their life?

Whether you are five or fifty-five, you can enjoy the benefits of ballet class. How many other hobbies can boast fitness, posture, balance and fun? It’s never too late (or too early) to pursue the dream of dance.