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Dancers: How much protein do you need?

Protein Needs of Dancers: How Much, What Kind, and When?

 By: The Dance World Editor 

DI_protein_MAINFrom Dance Informa

Do dancers need extra protein? Do they need to use powders, drinks, shakes or amino acid supplements or should they just eat more? Sadly, the misguided “low-carb” fad continues to be a contributing factor in 70% of Americans being overweight or obese. In light of current research suggesting a link between meat and dairy and risk for long-term diseases…what should you think?

How Much:

Yes, dancers have slightly higher protein needs than the average non-athletic person, particularly if they are still growing adolescents. However, it is important that we think beyond this incorrect idea that most of our food should be protein and that we should avoid carbohydrates. Adequate protein is important, but too much can be harmful. Everyone is a little different, but guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are that 12-15% of all the calories you eat throughout a whole day should be comprised of protein which are strings of amino acids joined together like a train with many cars.

Read the full article Full Protein Article!

8 Ways to Make Pointe Pain-Free

By: The Dance World Editor

By: Rain Francis of Dance Informa

pointe

If you’re a professional dancer wearing pointe shoes all day long, you may experience some pain with pointe work. However, it is possible for pointe to be pain-free, especially for the beginner. If you have your shoes fitted correctly, and achieve the right level of strength and mobility, you shouldn’t be experiencing any real pain. Rain Francis teamed up with renowned dance physical therapist Lisa Howell of Perfect Form Physiotherapy to bring you this list of 8 ways to make pointe pain-free.

1. Get the right shoes.

Correctly fitting pointe shoes are absolutely essential. Once your feet have stopped growing, and have found a shoe that works for you, it may be more convenient to purchase them online, but for anyone who is still growing and developing, and especially for your first few pairs, make sure you see an experienced pointe shoe fitter, who has access to a wide range of styles. If the shoe is fitted correctly, it will be firm around the front part of the foot but should not be squashing your toes in together too much, as this can lead to ingrown toenails. If the box of the shoe is too wide, the foot will slide down into the box while en pointe, putting pressure on the toes, which can lead to bruised toe nails. If the box is too short it can cut in under the joint of the big toe and may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Always ensure that the wings of the shoe come up to the level of your big toe joint. As everybody’s foot is different, there is no one perfect shoe that is right for all dancers, and it is essential that all students at a school have shoes that specifically fit their individual foot type, even if this means that they are in different brands.

2. Be prepared. 

Every student should undergo a pre-pointe assessment with a qualified practitioner, for example a physical therapist who specializes in dance, or a private lesson with a very experienced dance teacher. This is important to ensure that you have the required range and strength before you attempt pointe work. Otherwise, you risk injury and developing incorrect technique, which can take a long time to correct. Be patient – if you don’t pass your pointe assessment the first time around, listen to the advice from your assessor and work on all of the elements that are identified before your next assessment. It may only be another six weeks of sticking to your exercises before you are able to get your first pair of pointes! Refer to Lisa Howell’s The Perfect Pointe Book for some exercises that will really help with your preparation for pointe work.

3. Strengthen correctly.

Ask your teacher for a structured program to improve your strength en pointe gradually. It is not just about being up on pointe or down on flat – it’s imperative to learn how to really articulate the foot in the shoe in every single rise and every tendu. Working through a graduated rise and being able to control your lowering is the most essential part of pointe work and will improve your strength and technique while helping to prevent injuries. For more information on this, check out the My Beginner Pointe program that Lisa developed with ex Australian Ballet Principal Artist Vicki Attard.

4. Use the right shoe for your level.

The shoes you wear should be appropriate for your level of pointe work. As a beginner, while just working at the barre, a softer shoe will help you learn to articulate the foot correctly in the shoe. When you move into doing things like multiple turns in the center, a stronger, more rigid shoe may be more appropriate. As you progress further with your pointe work, you may find you need a few different pairs of shoes – a really supple one for barre work and softer, more Romantic solos; and a stronger, more stable one for center work, or stronger variations, which require multiple hops en pointe.

5. Look after your feet.

Foot hygiene is extremely important, yet often neglected. If you don’t clean your feet and take care of your pointe shoes properly, you’re at risk of all sorts of nasties, such as blisters, ingrown toenails and fungal infections. Treat your toe pads or ouch pouches like socks: Remove them from your shoes and wash them frequently. You sweat a lot through your feet and wearing the same dirty pair of toe pads every day without letting them dry out can be a direct road to pain! If blisters do develop, make sure you deal with them hygienically and cover them up for class rather than letting the raw skin rub on the inside of your pointes.

6. Use appropriate padding.

There are many different options on the market these days, but when choosing padding for your toes, look for something that has minimal fabric underneath the toes. Too much bulk here can interfere with the placment and working of the feet. Any padding you use should be minimal. The biggest issue with pain en pointe is usually due to the toes clawing in the shoe, and the knuckles rubbing on the underside of the box. Most dancers then feel they need to put something in place to stop the rubbing. However, it is much better to deal with the clawing in the first place, by developing the articulation of the foot and strength to the correct muscles to keep the toes long in the shoe. Clawing indicates the incorrect use of the long toe flexor muscles which can lead to problems in the back of the ankle, such as posterior impingement. If your toes are clawing, focus on learning how to articulate the foot better during all aspects of class.

7. Keep your shoes strong enough.

If you leave any padding in your shoes after dancing, the sweat may soften the glue of the box. This can cause the shoe to weaken and will result in your foot sinking down too far in the shoe. Always make sure to dry out your shoes thoroughly between each use, especially if you live somewhere that gets very humid. Having a couple of pairs that you cycle through during the week will help extend the life of the shoe, especially if you are dancing on pointe every day. You can also use a glue, such as Hot Stuff or Jet Glue to help re-stiffen the middle of the shank to extend its life. Also, each pointe shoe may have a few reincarnations; it may start off as a performance shoe, then become a class shoe, then a rehab/pointe exercise shoe, before finally the shank is pulled out and it becomes a demi pointe shoe for class work. Make sure you have shoes that are each stage, so you’re not using your stronger class shoes to do the really deep articulated exercises, especially when you’re doing more than 4 or 5 hours of pointe a week.

8. Pre-weaken your pointe shoes.

Pre-weakening (sometimes called ‘breaking in’) your new shoes in the areas you want it to weaken will help to stop it from breaking in the middle of the shank. It is important not to cut the shank, heat it or wet it; these things may have been done in the past but are simply not relevant any more. Pre-weaken the shank in the demi pointe area a little so that you can rise through it correctly, and also soften in underneath the heel so that the shank can sit in close to the arch when you are en pointe. You can check out a video on how to do this here. Just using your feet to weaken the shoes can cause them to break in the middle of the shank, which will make you start sinking down and back into the shoes, meaning you’ll need to replace them more often. The shape of everyone’s pointe is different, so measure where the breakpoint is in your foot (where the heel becomes the arch) then weaken the shank of the shoe at this point so that it sits flat against your arch. It will feel better, look better and can also help extend the life of your shoe.

Should you Strengthen your Quads?

 Should You Stretch or Strengthen Your Quads? [4 exercises to try]

dance legsThe way teachers sometimes talk about our quads, it’s easy to feel like we’re expected to dance without them.

“Don’t grip your quads!”

“The movement should come from underneath the leg, use your hamstrings, not your quads!”

“Don’t do squats, you don’t want to over-develop your quads.”

“Your quads are too big.” (FYI if a teacher ever tells you that, find a new teacher! Just my opinion…)

I’ve got news for you: Your quads aren’t bad.

And I’m going to explain why in today’s post.

*Guess who’s legs those are (—>) and you win an internet-hug! (answer at the end of this post, but please don’t skip ahead. Read the whole dang thing)

NO MUSCLES OR MOVEMENTS ARE “BAD”

Just like pronation isn’t bad. You may be warned against using your quads or pronating your feet, but you actually need these important muscles and movements to function optimally and avoid injury in dance.

You need to use your quads to dance, and ideally they should be strong. Trying to dance without your quads is just silly so you can stop feeling bad about it right now.

I’m talking about the “Lift your leg using your hamstring” cue during developpe or grand battement front and side, and other such movements. Sorry, it just isn’t possible. Your hamstrings don’t do that.

I’m sure you’ve had teachers tell you that to lift the leg, you shouldn’t be using your quads, but rather your inner thighs (adductors), hamstrings, and butt. And if you feel your quads “gripping” that’s bad bad bad and you will get big, bad, bulky quads as a result.

I would LOVE to see you do something badass like this developpe a la seconde without using your quads… Good luck.

I have muscular legs. It’s my genetic programming since puberty and even before. I’m athletic. I’m not a perfect ballet body-type.

As such, I was always told that this was because I was working the wrong way. My technique was all backwards. I was using my quads too much and that I need to stop because my quads would get too big and I wouldn’t be hired as a dancer. It made me feel awful about myself, my body, and my abilities as a dancer.

I’m sure many of you can relate to this fear of quad over-use.

But for the record, that’s all BS. You quads are supposed to lift your leg. Let them do their dang job.

THE QUAD-FEAR IS EVERYWHERE

Here are a few examples of this quad fear mindset from around the net:

A Q&A from balletdancersguide.com:

Q: “For two years I took a ballet class for one day a week. And my teacher told me I had extreme potential to be a professional ballet dancer. So she told me to sign up for the alabama ballet school which I did. In january she let me en pointe but the pointe classes weren’t that good so I had to practice and learn by myself at home. Everything went well except for developpes and grand battements. I used my quads instead of my inner thigh muscles. now i’m trying to figure out how do I not use my quads and just my inner thigh muscles for the developpes.”

A: “…Always remember, your developpes and grand battements both initiate from the backs on the legs (glutes). So during all your ballet classes, try to feel each movement initiating from the glutes as this will help to stop using your quads…”

Ok so yes it’s true that many dancers have trouble activating their adductors, but your goal shouldn’t be to stop using your quads. And FYI, your glutes don’t flex the hip (anatomy speak for ‘lift the leg’), so it’s impossible to use your butt for this movement. Your butt actually stretches as you lift your legup in front of you (more on that a bit further down this post).

And just check out some more comments under the main Q&A (in particular about the quads “bunching up”. How exactly does one make their muscles bunch up? Is that like an advanced spindle cell compression technique I don’t know about??)

Or check this out:

From this  thread on dance.net :

“In ballet when lifting your leg for something like a grande battement, you are not supposed to grip with your quads, you are supposed to push from underneath the leg, more so with the hamstring. This can be quite difficult because our first instinct is to grab with the quad.”

Our first instinct is to “grab with the quad” because one of your quads, the big rectus femoris, was designed to help lift your leg. Again, let it do it’s dang job! The hamstring  stretches when you lift your leg up, it does not do the work.

Nichelle from Dance Advantage does a really great job explaining the whole mis-interpreted “lift from underneath” cue HERE. She explains that this cue could just be a poor choice of language as the root of our quad confusion:

‘Note that the language in the phrase I’ve repeated above, “coming from underneath,” could easily be interpreted by students as implying that the muscles underneath the leg (the hamstrings) are responsible or must be used to lift the leg. It seems to me that this may be how the myth of lifting with the hamstrings gets passed along.’

Semantics are a bitch.

This post is to de-demonize the quads.

In fact, in the majority of dancers I work with, their quads are pretty dang weak. Sorry. It’s true.

All your quad aversion might be making you weaker.

For example, I love split squats as a supplemental strengthening exercise for dancers (more info on split squats later in this post). Many dancers I initially work with can only do 5 repetitions with their body weight before having to stop from intense quad burning. Does that sound like a dancer who needs to learn how to use their quads better?

Hell yes.

And just a note, even though we’re focusing on the quads for this particular post, remember that it’s not productive to isolate one muscle group under a laser, but rather I encourage you to look at how it’s functioning in context of whole body movement.

That said, welcome to quad city.

WHAT DO THE QUADS DO?

Lets talk about quad function.

There are 4 quads—–>

All of them straighten your knee.

Only one of them straightens your knee all the way(vastus medialis).

Only one of them also flexes the hip (rectus femoris).

Main quadriceps group functions: Knee extension + hip flexion. Aka anything that lifts your leg up above 90 degrees with your knee straight. That’s, like, a lot of stuff you do in dance…

The rectus femoris in particular is the quad muscle that lifts your leg up in hip flexion. Because it crosses two joints- the hip AND the knee- it is more common for this muscle to be inhibited, or weak, because it is bigger and has more responsibilities.

Here are some other important muscles that help to flex the hip in a developpe:

  • Adductors pectineus and magnus
  • Psoas major
  • Iliacus
  • Sartorius
  • Tensor fasciae latae (TFL)

Rectus femoris is the only hip flexor also responsible for keeping the knee straight. Because of it’s dual function, if it gets weak, any of the other hip flexors on that list could get over-used and tight.

Got tight hips? Maybe your quads are weak…

Or maybe one of the four quads is weaker than the other 3, and this imbalance itself makes your quads feel sore and “grippy”.

So to stretch or to strengthen- It’s not always a simple answer.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert at teaching dance technique and I’m not a ballet teacher. What I do quite well, however is provide dancers with supplementary exercises to help them experience their bodies in new ways that will automatically help them perform their dance techniques better.

So I’ll share some of my more quad-related nuggets with you today.

It’s not so simple as “foam roll and stretch your quads”, or “strengthen your quads with lunges”. Re-training your quads for optimal function is movement pattern dependent, meaning your quads might quite strong doing one thing, but soft as sh!t at another movement pattern.

I hope today to show you a few examples of different ways that I’ve worked with dancers on their quad needs.

SHOULD YOU STRETCH YOUR TIGHT, OVERWORKING QUADS?

Most of the time, no.

Try first asking “why are they tight?”  because “they need to be stretched” is rarely the answer.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s important to not just to stretch or strengthen the quads  looking at them under a laser beam, in isolation. You have to look at whole body movement, and how and when the quads are working (or not) within that pattern.

Maybe your quads feel tight because they’re under-working and you need to stop stretching them… A viable possibility. A very similar thing happens with excessive hamstring stretching.

IMPROVE ALIGNMENT FOR OPTIMAL QUAD FUNCTION

Here’s what I see most often: A dancer who doesn’t have awareness of the position of their pelvis or spine or knees or feet during a given movement affecting how the quads (and other muscles, of course) are recruited.

Like the example of the split squat earlier, when a dancer learns where their pelvis should be in space during this exercise, it changes how it feels big time, and they go from being able to do 20 down to 5.

Another common example: Stiff feet and ankles can affect how the quads activate. Will just stretching the quads change how the foot functions? Probably not on its own, because the way your feet interact with the floor influence how things above them work.

And often hamstrings that hold too much protective tension (from overstretching, perhaps?) can prevent the quads from functioning properly. Trust me, all the hamstring stretching I did didn’t help me one bit to straighten my legs fully.

Stretching a muscle without working to improve the position of your bones- feet, pelvis, whatever- they are reacting to won’t change anything. It’ll just make that muscle feel kind of tight.

There are so many possibilities, and we all have our own unique story. I’ll share my own experience, and maybe you can relate.

MY QUAD CONUNDRUM

An n=1 example.

I’m a clear case of quads not functioning optimally because I never seem to be able to straighten my knees all the way while lifting my leg up. I got the “straighten your knees” correction a lot. Made me think, “dang, my quads are all grippy I should stretch them more”.

POP QUIZ: Which muscles straighten the knee and lift your leg? (you should know this by now…)

However, if I lie on my stomach and try to pull my heels to my butt to stretch my quads, I can’t get them all the way there. And I don’t feel a quad stretch despite the clear stiffness.

So which is it? Are my quads weak because I can’t straighten my knee? Or are they tight and need stretching because I can’t get my heels to my butt?

Should I stretch or should I strengthen?

The answer is kind of both, but mostly WORK ON ALIGNMENT. Which of course you couldn’t know without looking at me in person (this is why I can’t give you specific advice over the internet, guys!).

Remember your quads don’t work in isolation. They do what they do because of what’s happening above and below- The ankles, knees, pelvis, and spine.

In my case, mobilizing my hips and feet, and repositioning my pelvis helped me to feel better quad recruitment, and as a result of muscles doing their jobs properly and not needing to hold as much tension, I can get my heels closer to my butt, too.

I’ve seen this with several of my clients as well. Sometimes activating the quads will help them to release tension elsewhere that is preventing them from lengthening. Yes, activating the quads can release tension from the hips.

So yeah… It’s not as simple as stretch this, strengthen that.

Like many of my blog posts, you’ll probably have more questions than answers at this point. But that’s ok! I really do want you to think and ask questions. Don’t believe everything you think you know.

HOW TO OPTIMIZE QUAD FUNCTION FOR BETTER STRENGTH & EXTENSIBILITY

Strength meaning, you can activate them at the right time, generate enough force to lift your leg as high as you want, and protect your knees from exploding?

Extensibility meaning that because they activate at the right time, harmoniously with other muscles with similar and opposite functions, they can lengthen further because they don’t hold the excess tension that a poorly coordinated movement pattern tends to accumulate.

If  movements like plies, squats, lunges, hip bridges and even back-bends cause discomfort in your hips, lower back, or knees, could be sign your quads need some lovin’.

I’m going to suggest that the supplemental work you do to help re-train your quads should include movements and positions you don’t into very often in dance.

This means doing exercises that require:

  1. Breathing- Hard because I reckon you hold your breath for stability.
  2. Hip extension– Hard because our hip flexors get pretty tight and short in dance.
  3. Hip adduction– Hard because we’re always stretching our adductors
  4. Hip internal rotation– Hard because we’re always turning out.

Your quads might be pretty good at the dance moves, but get out of dance mode and the quad truth is revealed.

Not sure what any of those terms meant? I’m too lazy to explain in this post (it’s already too long), so prof Google can help you out if you want more info.

So what’s the solution for quad mastery?

MY FAVOURITE QUAD EXERCISES

For strength, releasing tension, and general awareness.

These will also help you to find center with your pelvis, making life better in general.

Split stance breathing

Inspired by Anatomy in Motion.

In this exercise you must stand with both legs parallel (internal rotation), and as narrow as you can manage (adducted). The back leg (extended hip) is the “working” leg, that you’ll be focusing on straightening while it is in extension behind you.

All you have to do is breathe. Put one hand on your back, one on your stomach, or even put your hands on the sides of your ribs. As you inhale, expand into your hands. As you exhale, get all the air out. Aim for a 3 times as long exhale to inhale. Exhale so much that you give yourself no choice but to inhale. Try to keep your butt relaxed.

As you do this, you may notice that the position of your pelvis changes subtly. As you keep your awareness on your back leg straightening, you may notice your hip, calf, or ankle stretching, and your quad starting to burn. Good. Keep going. Keep breathing. Go until that quad burn becomes too intense. I don’t know how long this will take you.

Go for a little walk around. How does it feel to have awoken your quad and reposition your pelvis with your breath and focused awareness? Probably kind of lopsided, but loose in the hip and awesome. Do the other side now.

From here, some exercises to strengthen your quads and improve alignment include:

Deadbug

Half kneeling

Split squats

 

Try these out, and see how your new positionally stronger quads feel in dance.

One client asked me once, how do these exercises transfer into dance?

Think of it this way-  You were a human first, and a dancer second. Make the human stronger, and the dancer will be too.

Also, take a look at the performance pyramid below.

Many dancers specialize so early and start dancing as young as 2, and so never got the functional movement, or general physical preparation part. Our performance pyramids are all upside-down!

By re-balancing our bodies to be good a general movement first, and then layering back on the performance, and THEN specific skill (arabesques and stuff), you’ll definitely notice a difference.

You’ll also be a lot more durable and won’t have to worry about your knees while you dance.

But you don’t have to agree with me or believe me. Just give the advice and exercises a try for yourself. Try strengthening your quads rather than stretching them. I think you’ll notice a huge difference in your alignment, your movement, mobility and strength, and how your body feels on a daily basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. How did these exercises work for you? And if you’re a life-long quad-stretcher, let me know how it feels, perhaps, to stop stretching them, and work on strength instead.

Very curious.

And if you want more exercises and ideas like the ones in this post, then you’re going to LOVE Dance Stronger.

Dance Stronger is my latest project- A book and 4 week training program designed to get you stronger for dance (duh).

The exercises in this post are actually directly from the program (the reject videos, because of the bad sound quality, sorry!), but to get a full understanding of how to integrate them into your dance cross-training, you’ll have to join the full program when it’s ready in August.

I think you’ll really love it (my trial group are getting fantastic results so far).

What you need to do is click —>HERE<—, and let me know that you want to be notified when Dance Stronger is ready for lift-off so you can be a part of our amazing community of strong, empowered dancers..

If you loved this post (or if you hated it) please share with a friend. Let’s stop the quad fear, together.

PS *Misty Copeland’s legs. Obviously

A Dancer’s Rights

By: The Dance World Editor

By: The Dance Project

10 Rights I Wish I Knew I Had as a Dancer

Some lessons, I suppose, are best learned the hard way, and I hope that you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes.

The biggest mistake? Not knowing my rights as a dancer.

Knowing my rights, that I had the power to make my own decisions and stand up for them, could have kept me dancing for longer.

Some of these ideas may ruffle some dance-parent and dance teacher feathers, but I think it’s important for dancers to be empowered and know that every part of their career is a choice, and THEY need to make those choices.

10 things you are entitled to choose as a dancer:

1. You  have the right to choose your dance studio/teacher. If you have a teacher that makes you feel bad about your body or your abilities, you should voice your concerns and find a new teacher.

2. You have the right to rest when you’re in pain, and not to feel guilty about it. No teacher should allow you to feel bad about sitting out because of an injury.

3. You have the right to do what you want with your summer and off-seasons. Dance teachers and parents may push summer intensives onto you, but if you know you need rest, or have something else in mind that you feel to be more productive and enjoyable, do that thing!

4. You have the right to ignore negative body talk. If teachers, peers, or parents suggest that you don’t have the “right body” for dance, give yourself permission to disregard it.

5. You have the right to a good performance therapist or rehabilitation specialist. One who understands dancers- Their bodies, their needs, and their mindset. Find someone who knows that dance is not the problem, but that a lack of education is. Allow that practitioner educate you on how to keep your body performing pain-free. You have the right to more than just a passive therapy, adjustment, or massage, but to be taught how to integrate this correction into your movement.

6. You have the right to filter the nay-sayers who tell you that dance isn’t a viable career choice, or that a dance degree won’t get you anywhere in life. Whether you get a career in dance or not, dance is a wonderful holistic form of education.

7. You have the right to tell a dance teacher when to not touch you. Dance teachers mean well, and most of the time it is totally OK when they use touch to correct you, but some teachers take it over the top- Forcing you into stretches that are beyond your limit can sometimes harm you, and you must learn to tell them politely to please not do that because it hurts.

8. You have the right to choose how much and how seriously you dance. This may sound silly, but I know there are some dancers out there who are pressured by their parents or teachers to dance more or compete more, when they might only want to pursue dance for fun. Speak up!

9. You have the right not to let the fears of others affect your decisions.  You don’t have to let anyone-teachers, parents, peers- make choices for you. Accept advice and constructive criticism, but if you are making choices to please someone else, it isn’t going to help you.

10. You have the right to drop out of a dance program, change careers, or take 17 years off from dance and not feel bad. Life is crazy and unpredictable- You don’t know where it’s going to take you. Your best dancing days might be in your 40s. If taking a break from dance now means you’ll be able to enjoy dance as an adult, that’s an acceptable choice to make.

Did I miss anything? What other rights do we dancers need to stand up for?

How to Stretch your Feet

By:The Dance World Editor

By: Ballet Hub

Stretching and strengthening your feet have many benefits to your overall technique and presentation as a ballet dancer.  Dancers have found all sorts of ways to stretch feet over the years using all sorts of tecnhniques like cramming their feet under a piano or couch, using tools built specifically to stretch feet, or even asking a friend to do it. And while some are effective, some other techniques can actually be quite risky and may result in injury.

A dancer strives for two things, among many others: strength and flexibility.  One without the other and there is an imbalance.

Today we’ll show you a couple ways to stretch your feet that are both safe and easy.

These foot stretches are simple stretches that don’t require you to buy anything, ask anyone or use any tools.

Foot Stretch Technique #1: Grab and Pull Back

simple safe foot stretch for ballet dancerThe basic idea, as you may have guessed, is that you grab your foot and pull back.  Let’s take a look:

  • Sitting on the floor, place the foot you want to stretch over your other thigh to create a figure 4 with your legs.
  • With the hand closest to your heel, push into your heel.  Be sure to relax your Achilles!  (the large band coming down from your calf that attaches to your heel)
  • With the hand closest to your toes, place it over your toes and up your foot a couple inches and pull back so that your foot arches, feeling a nice stretch on the top.

And that’s it!  It’s simple but effective.  Need a little more stretch?  Read on for technique number 2!

Foot Stretch Technique #2: Wrap n’ Push

It’s not really called “Wrap n’ Push,” as that name was made up just seconds ago.  More important than thinking of a creative label, is how effective this foot stretch really is!  If you find that stretching your feet with your hands hasn’t quite worked well, this one is for you.  Let’s take a look

  • Once again, sitting on the floor, place the foot you want to stretch over your other thigh to create a figure 4 with your legs.
  • Lift your foot up slightly and wrap your arm (that is on the same side of the leg you bent) under your bent leg, grabbing the top of your foot toward your toes with your hand.
  • With your free hand, place it on top of your hand that is grabbing on the top and bottom half of your foot.
  • Lean slightly forward so that your elbow is tucked more closely under your calf and the top of your arm is pushing right into your calf muscle.
  • Now that you’re setup, be sure not to feel any tension in your knee and remember to relax your foot and Achilles.
  • Begin stretching your foot by pulling back with both of your hands and at the same time equally pushing your leg forward.

 

 

foot stretching technique for ballet dancers
Stretching TechniqueSitting on the floor, cross one leg over the other to make a figure 4.
Foot stretching exercise for dancer on floor
Wrap your arm underneath your leg and foot, placing your hand on top, over the bottom half, of your foot.
foot stretch for dancers increase flexibility
Place your free hand over the hand that is already holding your foot.
foot stretching on ground for better feet dancer
Begin the foot stretch by pulling back with your hands while your lean forward.

By pulling equally on your foot with your hands and pushing out with your arm, your leg shouldn’t actually move, but you should feel quite a bit more extra strength to better stretch your foot.

You can play around with this one to best suit it to your body, but the push and pull action that allows for the additional strength is the general idea.

Remember, you should never feel that you are straining or “working too hard” to stretch your feet.  You don’t want to overstretch your feet.  Ease into it slowly and take a break from time to time to let the whole foot relax.  You will end up getting more out of your stretches this way.

a great foot stretch for dancersHere is one final look at this effective stretch, but from the angle you’d see if trying it for yourself.

Why Are These Foot Stretches More Safe and While Some Others Aren’t?

The biggest reason why these foot stretches are more safe is because you are in complete control of the stretch and you are doing it with your hand, meaning you are not adding additional stress on your body.  For example, other stretches may often involve the dancer prying their feet underneath a heavy object and stretching their knee until they feel a stretch.  By doing so, the dancer is placing an incredible amount of tension and strain on the knee joint, muscles in the leg, and digging their heel painfully into the ground for more leverage.

You don’t want to overstretch your feet.

Another popular (for unknown reasons) method for stretching feet is asking a friend to stretch your feet.  For this to happen, the asker first must assume that the stretcher is actually okay with touching his or her feet.  Then the asker usually sits on the floor with a leg stretched out in front while the stretcher pushes down with a lot of force.  This is basically the same idea of prying your foot underneath a heavy object, but now you are at risk of your friend pushing down with enough force that by the time you yell out “Ouch!” its too late and you’ve overstretched your foot.  This technique, though popular in schools, is not recommended for many reasons, besides safety, you are now relying on someone else to do the work for you, which is like asking someone to do all of your homework while you get the credit.

Still, Always Be Careful

Stretching your feet is always recommended, so long as you aren’t facing an injury of course.  But that being said, you always want to be careful.  Don’t stretch your feet so much that you’re actually causing them to be weak, which leads us to our final tip.  Also, be sure that you stretching your feet in a sickled position.

Always Wrap Up With a Few Strengthening Exercises

Now that you’ve stretched your feet so well, you want them to be able to get there on their own without help from your hands.  There is little chance that will happen without adding some exercises to strengthen your feet in the range of their new found flexibility. After you’ve done some foot stretching, be sure to grab a therapy band for some strengthening exercises or do some tendus.

A dancer strives for two things, among many others: strength and flexibility.  One without the other and there is an imbalance.  Weak but very flexible feet can be just as much of a hurdle as strong but flexible feet when it comes to ballet technique.

For more on this article CLICK HERE

Secret Cure for Ingrown Toenails

By: The Dance World Editor

 By: Shannon Marie Rugani

As if dancing on my toes wasn’t painful enough, I suffered from ingrown toenails for years. It got to the point that I didn’t even know what a healthy toenail was supposed to look like. I saw a podiatrist who said that I should have surgery to remove part of the ingrown toenail. The recovery time would take two to three months before I would be able to dance again. I didn’t want to miss out on dancing for that long so I suffered through dancing on four ingrown toenails.

One of my colleagues told me about an old wives’ tale to get rid of ingrown toenails. I was so desperate to try anything that I gave it a try. It worked! Not only did they go away, they have never come back!

According to the old wives’ tale, you cut a V-shape into the center of the toenail. The nail gravitates toward the weakest part of the nail, so if the sides are weak, the nail will grow toward the side resulting in ingrown toenails. By cutting the V in the center of the nail, it starts growing toward the V to close the gap. The nail starts growing in rather than out. This is such a simple yet effective cure and I’ve been cutting a V into my toenails ever since.

For those of you who do not have ingrown toenails, I’ll tell you how to prevent them. Cut your toe nails straight across, then use a nail file to smooth the sharp ends of the nail. Stop somewhere around the tip of the toe before it becomes too short to prevent sensitivity. If you keep your nails square, you will be able to avoid ingrown toenails.

ingrowntoes

I am not a podiatrist, but I hope this simple trick helps you either get rid of ingrown toenails or prevent them from ever happening. Happy dancing!

For more on Shannon Marie Rugani click here

 

INJURY PREVENTION 101

By: The Dance World Editor

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa

Nutrition

We often think of using food as fuel: ingest it, burn it, use it for energy. However, food and beverages are what our bodies use for every function, from muscle contraction to nerve impulse to new cell formation! Many foods, especially natural and minimally processed foods, provide us with many nutrients that our bodies use in a myriad of ways. For example, the mineral calcium is well known for being a hugely important part of bone health by helping us build and maintain bone density. But, did you know that calcium is also critical for creating an electric impulse that travels down a nerve, or for allowing a muscle to relax after contracting? Our bodies host a complex orchestration that allows us to function under conditions ranging from maximal exertion to complete rest.

There are six nutrient groups: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Water.  Most foods contain more than one nutrient but it is important to eat a wide variety of food to make sure we get them all! ALL are important, so do not cut any out of your diet.

Carbohydrates are primarily used for short-term energy while fats are primarily used for long-term energy, insulation and cell formation. Proteins make muscles and many other cells, and we need to consume enough carbohydrates and fats so that we aren’t using up our proteins for energy. The only complete food source for protein is meat, so vegetarians must make sure they eat a good variety of plant-sources to get all the essential amino acids.

Vitamins and minerals are used in many different bodily functions. Fat-soluble vitamins are easily stored in the body but water-soluble vitamins are easily flushed out so we need to consume them on a daily basis. Did you know water is a nutrient? It is so vital to your health that losing only 1% of your body weight in water can result in the ill effects of dehydration. Plenty of research has shown that losing even 2% can result in huge deficits in physical and mental performance!

Gradual Loading

This sounds like a term more suitable to carrying boxes! Basically, we do not want to overwork our bodies by doing too much too soon. We should make physical changes gradually. Research has found that dancers tend to get injured when they have a dramatic change in their workload, either a rapid increase in the amount of dancing or a quick transition to a new style of dance for which the body is unprepared.

How can we prepare our bodies for such changes? Rather than jumping right into a new schedule or new repertory, we should do what we can to introduce our bodies to the change by taking time to increase the volume and/or intensity of physical load. This could mean gradually increasing the number of classes we take as we transition from time off back into our full dance schedules. Or it could be increasing the number of repetitions we do of class combinations to improve strength or endurance in preparation for starting a new rehearsal period.

Another example might be as specific as introducing our bodies to a new dance style or choreography. A little research will go a long way; if you find out you will be doing modern rep and you are not used to working in parallel, start doing some exercises at home that strengthen your adductors and internal rotators. If you know you’re going to be doing a high intensity dance that has you sweating and panting, add some cardio exercises and increase your reps in class until your endurance is spot on. When you know the demands, you can make smart adjustments and prevent overuse and fatigue.

Read the full article here for more injury prevention information.

Photo (top): © Handmademedia | Dreamstime.com

Dancer Recommended Recipes!

By: The Dance World editor

By:  Amy Omernick

dancerreicpesblog

Check out what these dancers recommend as great recipes for dancers! We have a few of our own too.

 

Kimberly Braylock, San Francisco Ballet
Kale Chips
Click here for the recipe via Smitten Kitchen 

Melissa Chapski, Ellison Ballet
Chia Raspberry Drink
Click here for the recipe via Mama Natural

Miko Fogarty, Indiana Ballet Conservatory
Dried Mango
Click here for the recipe via POPSUGAR

Samantha Figgins, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
An Avocado and Hummus
Click here for the recipe via Inspired Taste

Angeli Mamon, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Luna Bars
Click here for the recipe via Chocolate-covered Kate 

Shannon Rugani, San Francisco Ballet
Greens Energy Bar
Click here for the recipe via Epicurious

Danielle Hernandez, The Dance World Editor  & Competitive Latin Dancer

Strawberry/Kiwi Smoothie (add a scoop of protein 11-14 grams recommended)

Click here for the recipe via All Recipes 

Want more on healthy dancer recipes? Email the Dance World Editor!

danielle@on1dancewear.com

 

Pilates & Dance

PILATES & DANCE

By: The Dance World Editor

By: Kristen Padden

Looking for the perfect cross training exercise to enhance your dance technique?
Pilates may be just the thing to help you strengthen your core while increasing flexibility and it happens to be lots of fun too!pilatesimage1

Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham all used the Pilates method!

WHAT IS PILATES?
Pilates is a mind-body exercise program developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Pilates uses movement and breath to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. Full body movements performed on a mat, or using specially designed equipment, focus on the core muscle groups of the abdomen and the back.

THE PILATES – DANCE CONNECTION
Although founder Joseph Pilates was not a dancer, he worked with many famous dancers when he moved to the United States from Europe. Dance greats like Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Rudolf von Laban, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham worked with Pilates and often sent their dancers to see him for injury rehabilitation.

So why did these dance masters, and hundreds of dancers since, take to Pilates so eagerly? For one, both disciplines use the whole body, and focus the mind in their movements. Both Pilates and dance tend to create long and lean muscles, and use resistance and momentum to work on strength, flexibility, and posture.

In addition, many of the exercises in isolate key muscles used in dance technique, thus naturally strengthening dance movements. When I studied dance in college, Pilates training was part of a body alignment class I took. After several months of working on the Pilates Reformer apparatus, I noticed my balance in ballet class had improved, as did my pirouettes, and strength in jumping.

pilatesimage2

 

Click HERE for more on Pilates

How to do a Firebird Leap

How to do a “Firebird Leap”

By: The Dance World Editor

To properly execute a Firebird leap you need to do the following…

1. Take a good preparatory plie and use the momentum from that plie to execute the leap.

2.  While pressing your front leg forward with a pointed foot, simultaneously arch your back with arms in an open or closed 5th position and bring the back leg into attitude position.

3. Always finish your landing with proper plie rolling through the feet to prevent injury.

 

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