The ballet beginner and the adult going into ballet class both want to learn and understand the best stretching exercises. Each wonders “what’s the best for me”? Those in love with, and already watching ballet closely, can see that high leg extensions, long curving back bends, elastic knee bends and cat-like jump landings, and high leaps in the splits, are the mere norm in classical dancing. A tall order for most!
After training hundreds of ballet students, I tell you, everyone is different, and almost each one wished they had just one more physical attribute, the one that everyone but they, had. You may be a ballet student with high arches, flexible hips, and yet – you have lousy turnout.
You may be a dance student with a long neck, elastic shoulders, a willowy upper back, and high arches, yet have a tight pelvic area. Believe me, it seems like even the most gifted ballerina has one area that needs a lot of stretching exercises, just to catch up with the rest of their physique.
Ballet is easy for practically no one, just in this regards. Yet, if you learn some functional anatomy, and if you KNOW what your least flexible muscle group is, you can get it up to par with your more flexible muscles.
Don’t despair if you do not have the easy flexible ankle joints, but you have a deep, elastic, demi plie. Your long and stretchy calf muscles will provide you with a range of motion from the depth of your plie, to your highest point of foot, giving you a strong jump upwards.
If you have a shallow demi plie, but more motion in the ankle joint, that movement will give you a strong push-off from the feet. Either way, you can work on the other, to get more movement, as well as more of a fashionable look in the result, which as we all know, ballet is very picky about.
If you have a small range of motion in both the ankle and demi plie (calf muscles), then you will have to patiently work on both areas. The good news is, no matter how slowly, you will improve, with understanding of your muscles and joints, and not with just forceful pushing on them.
The essential arabesque – you need to be flexible in the hips, psoas, or long postural muscle going from the thigh to the anterior of the spine, and through the upper back into the shoulder girdle, for a really fluid motion. Some dancers find themselves tighter in one spot, which is very annoying…but can still be corrected.
Understanding Myofascial Release
Releasing tension in the fascia, the wrap-around tissue that surrounds and joins all your muscles from head to toe, will release tension and elongate the muscles as well. Referring back to the lower legs and ankle joint flexibility, a relaxation technique for myofascial release of the shin muscles can be done BEFORE you stretch the ankle joint. You will feel more flexibility if you do it in this order.