Sunday, May 10, 2015

The 32 Fouettes - AKA The Grand Finale

The moment when you feel you might fall over and die right there on the spot but can't, is vital. You may have just finished the hardest section of your dance or for principals, the thirty two fuoettes or mineges of jetes at the end of the coda. You may have just run what seems like one hundred miles, but still have one left, or have yet another mentally challenging homework assignment. This is the last push, the ultimate test. You may feel that you don't have it in you, but oh, you do. It isn't whether you are fast enough, athletic enough, or smart enough... it's whether you believe in yourself, and have that drive to success. And boy, the feeling after is priceless. For us dancers, there isn't anything much better than dancing on stage in front of the audience. Well, except the applause and appreciation from the crowd just past those blinding lights. Getting through the ups and downs to the grand finale is what I have found at the end of each day, week, and now year as I come to an end with my blog. My blog hasn't just shown improvement in my writing, it has shown that it's okay to accept your struggles, but embrace your achievement.

TRUE. Credits to: 

Writing a blog isn't easy. I knew that before I started, but assumed choosing a subject I'm close with, almost too familiar with, would take a couple pounds of the load. See, that was where I was wrong. With ballet, we are always striving for "perfection", which we all know isn't possible. What I have learned through this blog though, is it's so easy to miss it all. If I only focus on what's wrong and what it needs to look like, won't dance just become something I don't enjoy? Eventually. Having to put all aspects of dance into words gave me a new perspective. I like to imagine that some other bunhead out there happened to fall across this school assignment that turned into so much more, and realized they aren't the only one facing this seemingly unachievable struggle. This to me, shows that you aren't made of your mistakes or problems. Multiple people will face the challenge of turned out positions, but can everyone show their love of dance on stage? Very few. Accept that you are doing something wrong, do your best to fix it, but allow your self to say "Hey, I did that pretty well." Seeing the things you are good at will give you pride from the inside out. And if you are making your way to the top in a breeze, you aren't reaching your full potential. Those hard pushes are where you can accept that what you are doing is not easy, and afterwards be proud that you did it. You receive so much more satisfaction when something difficult is thrown at you, but can get by it, even with struggle.

So, even when you see yourself no where close to Svetlana Zakharova or to those crazy olympians, as long as you are doing your best, it doesn't matter. Continue to push through each barrier, and you will notice yourself facing them with ease while approaching more... it is just life. Don't forget to applaud yourself every once in a while, though.

Below the Shoulders and Down

Abdominal Muscles-
I mean, who doesn't want that toned six pack stomach?  Especially if you are wanting to be able to do multiple turns. But people tend to exercise the one region of your stomach, rather than all parts.  It is very important to also exercise your obliques, lower abs, and all the other muscles in between. One excercise that will get your lower abs, and the smaller muscles that are hard to get is to start by laying on your back, and rolling up. You want to do these for a bit, going slowly up and down, keeping your arms by your ears. Then after you've done about ten or so of those, you will stop part way when rolling up / down in your "hard" area. This is the area you often miss, and therefore is weak. Once you find this spot, you will do small pulses, then continue rolling. For your obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your stomach / torso that help with control and placement, you can do either standing or sitting. You just lean to one side, then only use your sides to pull you back to neutral. It can be difficult to isolate those muscles, but they will help you maintain a position or contract and move it. After stomach exercises, you can stretch by going into cobra, a push-up position with your hips on the ground.

To stretch out. Credits to:

Lower Back-
"Aim high, arabesque higher," as they say.  These are the muscles that will pull your leg up (as well as back and hip flexer flexibility), so it is important to strengthen them.  You can always just do back ups--laying on your stomach and lifting your back-- or you can do something more challenging. It's basically the same thing, but using an exercise ball. You lay on it, stomach down, with the ball at your hips, so you are in an upside down V, or downward dog position. You will need somewhere to tuck your toes so you don't move forward; I usually place mine under the couch. From this downward slope angle of your back, you will come up so that you are in a straight line from head toe. This way, you are keeping your abs engaged, and when you go past straight, you are releasing them. You'll get an extra workout in your stomach, as well as help to prevent injury. After you've come up, go back down all the way, and just continue to repeat. Do this at a medium pace.

Back-up exercise. Credits to:

A stretch you can do to counter this exercise is to sit on your knees, grab behind your knees, and pull away creating a curve in your spine. A stretch you can do to become more flexible is to grab your leg in attitude behind you and pull, making sure it is behind you and that your shoulders are close to square. Another one is leaning back in your splits. I like to do this underneath a barre, so that I can grab the barre and walk my hands backwards for a greater stretch. Always keep in mind your limit when stretching... injury is the last thing we dancers want.
Counter stretch... not listed, but works great. Credits to:
Back attitude stretch. Credits to:

Head, Shoulders, Not Knees, or Toes

Now that we've reviewed our basic body parts through the song (title--kind of), let's continue on our body fitness.

Upper back-
This should be where all arm and upper body movement comes from. Let me just say, I struggle with this one like no other. It has taken a LOT of explanation from my teachers to understand the muscles to use... and I still can't do it. I find that you can be just a hair off from this position, but never actually be right on. And even though you are just barely away, it affects your movement and look. To me, this is what separates the principal dancers of a company... they have mastered how to move their upper body to match their legs, and it adds a whole other element to their dancing. It's up-lifting. First and foremost, the muscles used to hold up your arms aren't actually your biceps or triceps (although they help), it's your lats. These muscles are responsible for almost all movement of your shoulder joint, but are hard to find and strengthen (at least for me). You know when teachers tell you act like you are squeezing tennis balls in your armpit without actually moving your arm? They are trying to get you to engage your lats. Obviously if I have trouble doing it, I'm going to have trouble explaining, so I apologize. But, once you find how to use them, it will keep your shoulders form creeping up, as well as help with partnering. Check out this website to find strengthening exercises for your lats. Arm-wise, push ups, repeated arm pulses out to the side or any direction, resistance exercises with a Theraband, lifting, tricep dips, or whatever will help you with your upper body and control in movement. I would just suggest not to bulk up TOO much, especially if you are looking for long and lean muscles.

Lat muscle. Credits to:

Remember, any head movement shouldn't be too crazy, and should technically only be the result of your upper back moving. You also shouldn't be needing to strengthen your neck, but may need to stretch it every once in a while. Doing this helps to loosen the muscles connecting to you back, and keeps shoulders down (that also is an issue for me). All you do is gently pull on your head either directly down, to the diagonals, or the sides.

GENTLE. Credits to:

All I have to say about this is to keep them down. It probably means you are curving your upper back, or "lifting up" form the wrong area, or both! Thinking about engaging your abs and opening up your back and shoulders will prevent your ribs from jutting out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Health is Wealth

Of course, your health is first... if you question that, you need some serious change in views. As you can tell from my previous posts, there are lots of things you can do with your body to strive physically, but it all should come from a place where you feel well. Any uncertainty from the start is like chapter one in a book; for each new chapter, the more events happen, which could be serious injuries in a dancers case. Treat yourself well... you should be your own priority. Here are just basic things to do to get healthy, and stay healthy.

Let's start here, as in you are faced with restricting pains / injuries. Get on those like you would for a project due first period in the next morning! Go to the doctor, or one my favorites, physical therapy. Physical therapy looks for treatments away from medications or surgery (yay!), and towards massage, heat, and physical exercises. It does require some at home responsibilities to push towards less hurting, but puts you in more control of your body. If you are in bad situation where this won't help, it may require a visit to the doctor... not even an apple can keep you away in these cases. You've got to do what you've got to do, though. You're body needs proper care, especially in order to continue doing what us dancers do.

What you put into your body will highly affect your daily and long term self performance. Drink water everyday throughout the day, even when you aren't dancing, so that you will stay hydrated. I would even suggest electrolyte water during dance (specifically multiple hours of doing so), so that you prevent dehydration and absorb the water more quickly from the potassium and sodium found in it. Gatorade also does the trick; look for the Mio Fit water enhancers, for they give you vitamins and electrolytes, but have less sugar and other not-so-good ingredients. Make sure you eat a well rounded diet, with proteins to help build and sustain that muscle you work hard for, and fruits and vegetables for the vitamins needed to live, etc. Check out this page for more elaborate details on the ideal foods to eat to live above, and beyond the bare minimum.

Most importantly, listen to hints from your body of when you are pushing yourself too far and allow for time to rest. Sleep (and rest) is not for the weak (only), but rather for humans and especially those being active. You can't build a house if your basic building blocks are not strong, and therefore treat yourself right so you dance without unnecessary obstacles.
WRONG! Credits to :

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Knees to Hips

Like I said earlier, SUMMER! Oh, and ballet.

Knees (again):
 A common way that you can hurt your knees is by forcing turnout from your knees and feet, causing strain to those joints. You can tell this is happening if someones knees jut out forward when they plié, as well as their feet may roll towards their arch. Instead, think of all rotation initiating from your hips, using your inner thighs, focus on your knees always being directly above your toes, and lifting your arches.

Lunges, leg lifts (in parallel too), and leg curls are all great strengthening exercises for this muscle. There is one that will really do the trick, and by really, I mean burning. You need an exercise ball, and simply on your back, with lower calves on the ball, and use your hands for stability at your side. Raise your butt about a half foot of the ground staying in parallel, bring your heels toward you, (the fun part) then push them out again. Do about two sets of twenty, or wherever you feel like you need to be. Enjoy.

Many people (including me) have tight hamstrings. The best way to stretch, and although painful, is putting your legs straight in front of you while seated with flexed feet, and lean forward. Arching your back in downward dog, sticking one leg out in front of you while on one knee, laying on your back and pulling one leg as close as you can to your face while slowly flexing and pointing, also all work.
Strengthening wise, if you are pulling up your knee caps, it probably means you are engaging them (which will make them stronger). You want to aim for long, lean quads, rather than more bulky ones. Look here for exercises if you need that extra strengthening, but I feel that you will work them the right amount in an ordinary classes. And for stretching, there are two that I prefer. The first one is sitting on your knees, and slowly walking your hands back, aiming to keeps your legs on the floor. The other one is putting one leg in a right angle lunge position, and the other bent against the floor, then pushing your hips down... it's a good one.

Both knees stretch and one knee stretch

*the stretches under gluteus are good for loosing up your hip, as well.
I don't know of many people looking to strengthen their hips, considering it's mostly bone, so I'm going straight to stretches, which will give you much more range of motion. Going into a grande plié in second position, then pushing your knees outward with your hands is simple and one of favorites. The "frog" and "butterfly" are basically a position in between a plié and grande plié, either laying on your stomach (frog) or back (butterfly),also loosen this joint up.

Frog stretch. Credits to:
Second position stretch

Gluteus (turnout muscles):
First and foremost, turnout. This is the muscle that should initiate it, with the help of your inner thigh, and will probably get extremely sore if you use it all the time. During class, just keep thinking about your heel going forward / up, and your knee to the side. An exercise that is good for this is laying on your side, with your hips stacked directly on top of each other, and lifting the top leg about two feet then back down. Then you can do knee drops, turning in then out back to retiré, and développés and envelopés.

Stretching this muscle is the kind of stretches that "hurt so good" because they get deep down. Doing a pigeon pose with your front foot in a right angle, pushing down your knees in butterfly and leaning forward, crossing one leg over the other bent one and twisting, placing one knee on top of the other with your feet going outwards (placing your knee on your other foot, and your foot on your other knee does the same trick as this one, but less intense) are all of my favorites. Refer to the pictures if my terrible explanation doesn't help!
Less intense stretch of one below (knee on knee)

One leg cross twist stretch

Pushing knees and leaning forward in butterfly

Pigeon stretch (ignore arrows). Credits to:

Never give up! You can do it! Set goals! I know you want those lean, but strong muscles! Just thought I'd throw out some motivation... I know I need it.

From the Knees Down

In the following three posts, I will be talking about exercises and stretches for your body to help you obtain those "ballerina goals", otherwise known as the "ballerina look." As always, do what's best for you and don't go to the point of pain, but only slight discomfort. Let's get to it, especially because you know what's around the corner? SUMMER.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a ballerina's knees is hyper-extension. This is something you are born with, or aren't, and therefore you SHOULD NEVER FORCE IT. It does create beautiful lines, but you can be just as beautiful without those knees that bend backwards. One thing I suggest for all dancers looking for those sculpted muscles is simple. Use them, especially in this region by "pulling up" your knee cap. This engages your muscles in movement, using them for initiating movement, rather than your bones or joints.

The difference between pulled up and relaxed knee caps. 

Your calves are probably constantly being worked if you are doing pointe, or just ballet in general, since your foot is in a pointed position more than a relaxed one. You should engage your calf anytime you point your foot or straighten your leg to get the most efficient workout. This usually means pointing your foot all the way to your toes, as well. One good exercise for your calves is relevés. It is best done in multiple positions, as well as doing them on one leg. You can also make it more challenging by standing on a stair so that when you lower, you are going further than a regular standing angle of the ankle. 

Because you use these muscles so much, they get very tight, and there lots of stretches, but downward dog or simply extending a leg behind you in standing position does the trick. Stretch it often during class (especially after combinations) to prevent them from cramping and becoming even tighter. 

Feet are often mesmerizing beauties, or the thing ruining your line. You can improve them of course, but it isn't hard to cause damage. Strengthening wise, there are two major things. Theraband and how you use your feet in class. You can buy Therabands of different strengths and what it does is cause resistance for your feet as you point and flex, and helps you work your whole foot. On that subject, during class anytime your foot leaves the ground, extends along the floor, or rises up to relevé, you should be using all parts of your foot. Think of massaging the floor (or even air) and articulating how you point your foot. 

Now as for stretching your feet, this is where you can hurt yourself if you aren't careful. Stretching them on your own (with your hands or the floor) is the best way to stretch them because you are in control and can ease off if it's too hard of a stretch. One way, is to sit with both feet straight out in front of you and gently push on your arches, working your way on to your toes, eventually pushing on your whole foot. This stretches your hamstrings as well. Another way is to stand, and cross one foot over the other so that the top of your foot is towards / on the ground. Plié both legs (slowly), pushing the foot crossed forward, with that heel slightly outward so your aren't stretching in a sickled position.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

13 Common Dancer Problems

You know those things that dancers do, that are a little strange from the point of view of strangers, even though they probably know you're a dancer because it's only a thing dancers do? Well I'm going to list them here, and don't even pretend like you don't do them.

• Turns and leaps in grocery stores
So tempting when there is just empty space, without having to cut corners or jump in place with the usual walls at the studio. You feel free and alive... until a shopper walks into the aisle with a funny look, of course. "Is it also possible to buy some of your floor, it's perfect for turning?!"

•Bobby pins just about anywhere
The car, just about every bag, bed, sibling's jean pockets, lunch boxes, shoes, the driveway, interweaved into the carpet... you name it.  But then when you are in the process of doing your bun, they are nowhere to be found. How does that even happen? There must be a secret hiding place for bobby pins, and one day I'm going to crash that party... only to realize that the party is the bottom of my dance bag and in the corners of the dance studio from flying out during fouettes.
Desirable. Credits to:

•"Now reverse it..."
As if my legs aren't tired enough. And put right on the spot to figure out which way to tondué now, or pirouette and land in what corner in time to actually do it.

•Pedicures are still a thing?
It's been awhile, I must say. The massaging, warm water, superior smells, and myriad of colors is nice, but I don't always enjoy the strange faces of the nail artist after telling them "Don't touch my calluses." Especially you are paying money for something that will soon be scrunched up in a pointe shoe. Not worth it.

•You don't have hairspray?
Say whattt? To all my non-dancer friends who I guess can mange their fly-aways without this magical potion.

•Dancewear shopping.
It not doubtful that I spend more time shopping online for dance clothes than real clothes (and that's saying a lot, considering my fondness for shopping). I've even gotten to the tenth page on google looking for new stores... I must've been desperate.

•*Crack* *Pop* *Crack*
I'm surprised I haven't set off an earthquake from the amount of popping my bones produce in plies. I often have to tell my friends to wait a sec for me to pop my hip.

•Imaging a dance in your head when a song comes on
My words: "This would be a great song for a contemporary dance" "I've done a combo to this... kick, turn, slide, step, step, hold 7 and 8.

•"Check your attitude" isn't just a line you hear from your parents
You just can't ever get it spot on... in both places.

When no one sees your perfect turn
DID ANYONE JUST SEE THAT?! Of course not. Now, when I'm going to go across the floor and everyone is watching, I will barely make that double with a sloppy landing. So awesome.

•Summer is spent more inside than outside for at least a month
Ballet + indoors = summer intensive = no tan.

•Beauty IS pain (especially new pointe shoes)
Getting new pointe shoes never gets old, they are just as pretty every time, but somehow manage to morph into bricks for the first class. Hello, five new blisters.
Oh so pretty. Oh so painful. Oh so expensive. Credits to:

There goes my wallet
$80 spent on soon-to-be dead shoes, and to be put in the pile with the dozens of others.