Pretty, Pretty Ballerina

*snicker*  OK, I couldnt resist the slightly snarky post title.  And since I am NOT the soul of brevity, I have to say some stuff about this post before I actually WRITE this post. 

I have a love-hate relationship with dancing, and ballet in particular.  On the one hand, starting ballet (especially hard-core-training-to-be-a-future-ballerina ballet) at a young age can seriously deform your skeleton.  The extreme turnout of the feet encourages the bones to grow into that shape, instead of growing normally.  Ballet improperly taught can cause serious knee injuries, and even properly taught it will expose you to all kinds of injuries that can affect you far into your life.  It is a discipline, like a high-impact sport, where most performers/players “retire” before they are 40 years old.

But even though I know there are all these strikes against it, I still want to be a pretty, pretty ballerina!  LOL 

But you don’t have to have perfect ballerina technique to get a halfway decent workout on the barre.  In fact, it’s probably better if you DON’T turnout a whole lot, since learning to turn out really should be done with a teacher (because you need someone to make sure you’re turning out from your HIPS, not your KNEES – otherwise, you’re in for a world of long-term pain).

Below, I’ve complied links to a pretty basic barre workout.  For myself, I’ll probably do the plies, some tendus to work my calf muscles, developpes and grande battements.  I’ll skip the rest of it, because I’m not looking to improve my technique, just to build some muscle. 

So here are some exercises (with video clips!) below.  I’ll comment individually on each one, but here’s some stuff to keep in mind re: all of it. 

FIrst, when you point your toe, articulate it as much as possible.  Here’s how to check it out: hold your foot off the ground (or sit in a chair and lift up your leg – whatever).  Flex your foot.  Now point your ankle without pointing your toe.  Imagine how your foot would look if you were standing on your toes to reach something: pointed ankle, flexed toe.  NOW point your toe.  (I keep writing “tow.”  It’s driving me NUTS.)  Now reverse it: flex your toes, but leave your ankle pointed.  Then flex your ankle.  Now try to do that every time you point your toe.  It will strengthen the muscles in your feet and calves, and give you those nice “ballerina calves.”

Also, if you want to turnout a little bit, make sure that when you bend your knees, you can stand with your back straight, look down, and see your toes in front of the inside of your knees.  If that sounds weird, don’t try it.  In order to get into a turnout that won’t kill your knees, stand with your feet together facing forward.  Roll back onto your heels, lift your toes and rotate your legs open.  Now set your toes down.  That is your SAFE turnout position.  You may find that when you relax in that position, you feel your knee relax.  That is NOT safe.  If you can’t keep your knee tight, but want to practice with a turnout, lift your toes off the ground.  Your big toe should be higher off the ground than your little toe, and your knees will automatically align.

Next, when you are doing an exercise, regardless of whether or not you have decided to use a turnout on your standing leg, you should go ahead and use one on your working leg, because it will strengthen your muscles, and since you don’t have weight on your working leg, there’s no danger of over-turning on that leg.  With that in mind, here are some thing to think about:
When you extend your foot to the front, think about leading with your heel.  Imagine trying to kick a ball with the inside of your heel first, before your toe hits it.
When you extend to the side, keep thinking about turning your heel to the front as much as possible.
When you extend to the back, lead with your TOE.  Leading with your heel will cancel out your turnout back there.  (Yeah, it does feel weird – it’s not just you.)
Also, when you extend to the back, try not to let your hips change.  If you put your right foot behind you, don’t let your right hip “open.”  The best way to get a feel for that is to stand facing the back of a chair.  Get close enough to put the fronts of your hips against it.  Stand up as straight as you can, and pull your core in.  That will cause your hips to “tuck under.”  Now extend your foot backwards, but don’t release your core or let your hip leave the chair.  Both hips should stay glued to the chair back.  That will work your butt like you won’t BELIEVE. 

Finally, if you’ve taken ballet, you know that the videos linked to below aren’t very good.  I did that on purpose, because they seemed more accessible than the ABT Dictionary clips.  You don’t have to do everything perfectly in order to get the workout.

NOW – yay for dance exercises that don’t hurt my knees!  LOL  FYI, I tried to embed the following clips, but the embed code has been disabled by YouTube.  😛

Plies
The basic warm up. 
I only do the plies in second position (wide legs) because to drop down into a grand plie hurts my knees.  The combination I like is 2 demi (or half) plies, one grand (big) plie, 2 releves (rise up on your toes and come down), 1 grand plie.  Allow 2 counts down, 2 counts up for your demis (and vice versa for your releves) and 4 counts down, 4 counts up for your grand plies.  Think about squeezing your butt cheeks together when you come up out of a plie, and when you go into releve.  If you think about working from the tops of your legs, these will work your quads, calves, butt and hip muscles.

Normally, in a real class, plies would be followed by:
Tendus
Degages
Frappe  (Or, more accurately)
Rond de Jamb 
 (Or, more accurately)

I’m not including them here because I don’t think on a straight work-out level they give you enough bang for your buck, so to speak.  (The Rond de Jamb is actually a good hip workout, but frankly keeping your hips level is hard to master, and so it isn’t something I would add here if you’ve never done it.)

Fondu
Fondus are great for building muscle through slow, controlled movement.  The idea is to have both legs bend and straighten at the same time, which is harder than it looks, lol. 

The last two are the biggies.  These will work your upper legs like no one’s business.

Developpe
Developpe 2
Developpes help build all the upper leg muscles.  In order to keep from building bulky thighs, this is where you really want to focus on leading with the heel to the front and the side, and leading with the toe to the back.  Doing that will cause the leg to turnout slightly, and force your hips and hamstrings to help support the weight of your leg (instead of your quadricep taking all the weight).  If you are quite flexible, you’ll discover that as your leg rises to the side, the turnout of the heel will cause the foot to rotate more the higher it gets.  In other words, if you were able to lift your leg up to your head, you would see the sole of your foot in the mirror.  (Imagine if you sit on the ground and bend over to touch your toes.  The sole of your pointed foot and your face are facing the same direction.  It’s the same thing in the air.)

Grand Battement
These are the big kicks that everyone associates with ballet.  In reality though, you shouldn’t think of kicking your leg up, but rather floating it up and floating it down.  That gives you more control over the movement and forces your legs to work harder.  It is very important with this exercise to recognize form over height.  Do not, do not, do NOT allow the leg you are standing on to bend, or your torso to crumple.  Go back and watch the video above, paying close attention to her torso.  Now watch this one.  Do you see in the second video how the girl’s torso collapses, even though her leg is high?  You don’t want that.  When your torso collapses it means you’re just throwing your leg up there, and you’re not getting any benefit from that (in fact you might hurt yourself).  So watch your torso and keep your legs straight.

So that’s the scoop.  And finding links and cool stuff to post was WAY harder than just yammering on about something that I’ve been thinking about, so my hat is off to those of you that do it regularly!  I won’t be doing something like this again for a while, LOL.

(Although I still want to be a pretty, pretty ballerina.)

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5 responses to “Pretty, Pretty Ballerina

  1. Thanks for sharing the links! I never took ballet as a child, and I think my legs would fly off my body and run for cover if I ever tried it at my age! 🙂

  2. LOL, Missicat! Yeah, it can get rough. But if you don’t turnout too much and just do the plies in second, the developpes and the grande battements, that will be a pretty good leg workout without hurting your knees. Nothing has to be high – in fact, unless you’re super-flexible it’s better to keep it all pretty low and just concentrate on working the muscles. And if you want some killer calves, add the tendus to the mix. That’s what I’ll probably do: plies, tendus, developpes and grande battements.

  3. why do I SO NOT WANT MY DAUGHTER TO TAKE BALLET?

    Im searching high and low for a (fingerquote) studio (unFQ) where they will start the 2.5 year olds with HIP HOP 🙂

    the only fondu(e) I want in my life is CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE.

    that said Im still off to explore the links.

    keep me posted on your exciting lifestuff!

  4. HA! Miz, you’re too funny. Actually, a really good studio won’t start a little kid in ballet until they’re at LEAST 6, and preferably 7. They need for their bones to harden a little bit so they don’t grow wrong. Frankly, if you find a studio that offers to give her ballet lessons that young, I wouldn’t take ANYTHING from that studio – if they’re screwing up the kids in ballet, they’re probably screwing them up in other dance, as well.

    At 2.5, most places will only offer some sort of “pre-dance” class, but when she gets to be around 5, you should be able to find places that will enroll her in jazz/hip hop or tap. (In my experience, little kids LOVE tap – it’s an acceptable, even encouraged way to make lots of noise! LOL)

    Although some smaller studios will take kids for jazz and hip-hop when they’re young, most classically-oriented studios won’t let kids take jazz or hip hop until they’re a little older – usually around 7 again. The reasoning is that jazz and hip-hop are styles that emanate from your hips, and it’s slightly sexual by nature, which is not so great for little kids.

    So if she wants to take dance classes, enroll her in pre-dance or “movement” or something like that, and hold off on the jazz (and the ballet, for that matter). Tap would be good around 5, and if she really wants to take jazz or hip hop at that point, make sure and look around for a studio that isn’t teaching a sexual style. Most places will let you sit in on classes and watch before you sign up.

    LOL, I just realized how long that got! Ooops. Here endeth the lecture. 😉

  5. I was such a tomboy that the idea of ballet and the tutus and pink etc scared me to death.

    But wow, I love the exercise names, they’re so classy! Much better than “pull-ups” and “squats”.

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