Category Archives: Exercises

When you read a book, you hold another’s mind in your hands. James Burke


 

Moon Over Moldova; photo by Leah Sawyer
Moon Over Moldova; photo by Leah Sawyer

 

I Have Been Reading A Lot of Books Lately

There is, among us, a retinue of dancers moving forward in the battalion of dancing life that is ballet. I have been reading blogs, posts, books, and seeing firsthand what it takes to pursue a professional career of dancing. There are many stories of dancers and their personal challenges, sacrifices and this all becomes a part of their artistic achievements. When you read a book, you hold that life in your head. Dancers and their audience are connected by a thread, too, sometimes a tapestry in convolution. They will always say, the ballet world is small, but it is not-it is intimate, a world of the language of ballet or the other dance they share in a convivial spirit of dance. This is true. There seem to be good people all over who have committed their lives to practicing this altruism, passing down what they know and love, and mostly lovingly fostering the development of their students in the dance world. My view and perspective are very limited, and by force, practical. Each step that my own daughter has made has been with focus and direction toward attaining her goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer. This has not been easy for her, unlike Sylvie Guillem, who quips that her dedication and love of the art did not come because she was nurtured in a “ballet environment” from an early age, but because she made the conscious decision that this was something she could do, something that for her there was a place, and that she came to love it- was not the only perspective, but an important one, that I thought about this year.

My daughter, Aingeal, is seventeen, and she has been dancing since she was about eleven. It has certainly not been easy for her and a place has not always been offered, encouraged, or extended. She has consistently pursued a path, that while extremely challenging physically, has been fraught with many difficulties of other sorts, too. It has been a great learning experience that cannot be summed up by me, in a short or simple way. But, she has shown fortitude, and an unflinching spirit to continually learn and improve despite having to take and get what she needed in a not-so-consistent manner, she felt. At the bottom (or the top) of this is that little moon over the coast in Moldova, a giant moon to her, of bright light, shining from possibly a million miles away, and sometimes large enough to warm you in its iridescence. I can tell what guides her and keeps her focused on that wide beam of light which encompasses many contenders and rivals. It is sheer willpower and determination, not because she was a “natural” in the typical regards. Those kinds of descriptors have come to mean less and less to me as I see wide gaps in ability and effort, and motivation, with those who apparently have the sought after assets, but when push comes to shove, can’t really engage the viewer unpredictably, and are far less than “capable” of producing art. That giant moon can warm and also burn you, and ultimately, you have to be able to step very far back from the landscape it offers and reduce it’s magnitude and awesomeness in order to seemingly squeeze it between your fingers, and control it; this is what you must do to achieve anything, and you must be able to do it your own way. This ability enables you to keep on dancing-and that is another part of the journey, and without judgement by others of your path, this might be a lot easier. There might be valid reasons for taking a different, less traveled path, and my experience has been that the person on that path is the object and not some other voice of reason or logic, however insistent it’s dogmatism.

I have never blatantly exposed her to the public, and I am not going to now, not in this little piece or snatch of writing. She is too wonderful and too full of possibilities to post pictures of, although everybody does it. I believe, for one thing, that if you do something right, correctly, perfectly, you ought to be seen doing that thing while performing, and that you should not be an exhibitionist. I think photos are a bad way to experience dance and dancers. It reduces dancers to pin-up girls and boys, and doesn’t connect you with the art. Ballet is about movement and what is achieved in a moment of time, something wonderful and it needs to be done doing it, in a theater, on a stage, in a studio, and it is always a work in progress-all the time- forever changing, growing, never the same, not static, frozen, posed, for that is the antithesis of movement and ballet, really. The opposite. One difference is the dancer is not merely a tool, or a body, but is also an artist, all rolled up into one and this can best be experienced by watching a dancer dance, live, moving, improving, growing, changing, expressing, not just stopping in a pose, but moving through the pose-evolving. Dancers transition constantly, they become artists.

I am not saying that ballet photos are not beautiful to look at (and tutus), pointe shoes are shiny, muscles and contortions imply strength, but not necessarily good dancing; they just do not speak volumes to me, as they might to parents or fans of children or certain dancers, about that singular person-not a dancer, and only in a stark and cold way about that imagery, like the little doll on the music box that goes around and around and around, they are commercial. They only represent or remind one of of ballet, or gymnastics, or pole-dancing, or the circus-which also is changing and moving all the time, just not identifiable as “ballet”. They are like a totem pole, trussed up in the colors of a tribe with the stock faces or photos of what a tree looks like, or a pose, much like those art programs where an artist closed inside a room is drawing a landscape or a body and it is sort of by the book-they suggest that this is HOW you do it. It is not. It begins with seeing. Hearing. Feeling. Learning. Moving. Practicing and performing. So many things, thousands and thousands of variables, skills, and this is what makes it an art, all of the assimilation and expression, eventually, of this. It is not liked seeing an individual tree, or a particular body, moving and swaying in the breeze, to the music, or in any kind of “live” action, which you are a part of, when you draw a tree-you are “in drawing.” It is like this when your are dancing-you are removed and yet, in it, and the viewer is up-close and involved in that moment, too.

So, photos are without any real expression or feeling, it is not unique, or individual, though the “art”of photography may be. I do not think “ballet” is a series of flat photos depicting a pose. I think this is why people have come to work on their calisthenics more than their dancing and other aspects important in theater, like a text is less rich than a face-to-face discussion. These are more like reminders of what it is like “to talk”, such as those little twirling dolls, and even more limited. I think ballet is art, and the components of the ballet, starting with a dancer, a musical note, costume, light, libretto, choreography, scenery, and audience, all together create an individual moment in time, or a series of moments, and cannot be distilled into one flat moment, though some beautiful imagery using body parts, lighting and color are created; it is NOT ballet. So, I have waited for her to dance, and have watched her in class and in performances and am surprised when that feeling hits me but not why I did not capture it in a picture. In art 99 percent of what you do gets thrown out, or becomes meaningless extracted from it’s whole. When I watch ballet, I am looking for something else, something a picture cannot ever convey-that is why I go to the ballet.

I am looking for an artist, a masterpiece, and sometimes I can catch this through her, so I know she is an artist, that’s all. If I could convey my own meaning simply, and effortlessly, maybe, then I would be a writer, and I am not a great writer. I am not trying to be, though. But, I do know about the pursuit of art, and I have pursued it in one way or another all of my life, mine, and that of others, by which I am more frequently satisfied, though less often than I hope to be. Great art rises to the top, and really great art remains there forever, or for as long as it is relevant to people. All I could say for many years is how hard she worked, whether she was on the music, how she looked in a costume, that she was pretty, whether she was able to dance, and various other things like that-topical things-the ones on the surface. Now I see a few more of the deeper things, such as certain muscles, a precision, an air, attitude, a glance, a pose, and much movement, precision, and she is engaging, but some of the more important basic elements were there when she just danced or moved with the music, for that is what the eye and mind do, they look to relate. They find line, symmetry, patterns, fluidity, and other things, and they note when they are missing or not there. These things would not be apparent at all in a photo, and only a little more is visible in a video. The theater is the arena for dance.

While I was watching, and when I wasn’t, she grew into a young lady, and the dancer in her grew also, so that they became one being together, and while I love her very much, I cannot fawn on pictures, but it is her spiritual self which has changed into a dancer, and she has this beautiful way about her when she is dancing, and that is what I am so so happy and thankful for; that she is able to enjoy dancing and explore herself through the medium of dance. I would not want to capture this in a photo or a video because I do not need to. She has grown stronger and more appealing to others everyday because of her ability, but more because of something else which I do not think anyone can put their finger on exactly, and photos are not the best conduit for this. It is her, and this is her own intimate form of expression and course, and not mine to post on social media or to exploit. Hopefully, it is in part, what people would pay to see, or not, one day; and that may be the one harmful aspect of posting too much about oneself, or anyone on social media, as it results in oversaturation of one aspect of her abilities. Ballet is in her imagination and you can only see that while she is dancing.

In her opinion, it is for the stage only, in class, to practice, and for a lifetime of dancing, and those many thousands of moments cannot be encapsulated into one photo. But there is a feeling of memory which a photo can relate, but it is not plastic or alive, so I am not going to post accompanying photos to this post, or any other, as long as I can help it. Her journey began to be difficult at birth, and during delivery she had her arm broken in several places, and her shoulder, due to a poor medical plan on the part of my doctors. She should have been a cesarean delivery, and had she been, I might not be here, and she might not be there. But, for several months after birth, she wore a little sling and the arm healed, with no manipulation or encouragement of the bones except naturally. She was able to see no doctor about it after it occurred, such is the medical practice, as long as she gave her real name, and even now, until those doctors were convinced it was too late for us to sue, so there has been no further x-ray of it, or investigation or cures proposed. Only ballet and normal childhood activity.

When you have a child, and you worry about possible disfigurement at birth, crippling effects, and their health and happiness, the last thing, I think, that a normal parent worries about is suing anyone-you think, “I hope she is able to do all the things she normally would; pole vault, etc” and not, “How much can I get?” Or maybe that is just me. I watched her grow and remarked, when the sling was off for daily changings of her undershirt, which held it in position, pinned to her lapel, how the arm didn’t move very much, and how she tried to move it, and how freely the other one moved and worked normally. It was just that, that perceptible difference which marked her path, maybe, and what was required each day in order to do the things she desired to do, reach, play, and grab, but also hug, use fine motor skills and it was that added effort she applied which made it better each day, and not the talking about it or recording each daily change for posterity’s sake. She was perfect otherwise, beautiful, and would stand on the bench, inside and looking out into the yard, and I swear the little birds and animals would come right up to the window when she did, and had no fear of her. She sang, and rolled and lolled and when she could finally hold a pen, she wrote, and she wrote reams and reams and reams, just in one year, of scribbles across the pages, approximating something she was compelled to say, or do, or achieve, and daily the patterns became more clear, more intricate, and finally words emerged, then speech, and description and communication, which then became more and more perfect, organized and immaculately contained in stapled pages, then in journals, then notebooks, and diaries, and larger notebooks and she has continued writing, and progressing to a purpose of greater communication or ability, fluency, or possibly for many other purposes unfathomable to me.

This is what happened in dance, too. She endured a lot of pain then, at birth, and for her, pain was not something which daunted her or repelled her in dance, and she moved toward it, rather than away from it, to achieve literacy, what was on the other side. Perhaps from memory, too, she was not going to let a little pain stop her. I remember when she first went to ballet class, and I really had no plan, no design, none at all. I took her because my grandmother wanted to pay for her to take lessons, and because she was attending a little school with her friends in our town of Laguna Beach, CA. I had danced, and had a proper respect for the pedagogy and was going to instill it in her, too, because that is what some parents do. I had to find her a good teacher, I knew, of ballet only, and that was all. But, her perspective was likely much different. For one thing, she was skeptical, and did not know if she would like “ballet”-had never even seen ballet really, and though she always liked dressing up and dancing around the house with her brother, beyond that satisfactory experience, and her obsession with carry-alls and passports, as opposed to dolls and toys, I did not think she understood it at all, but she moved and liked to move, most. But we went to a class and they were at a more or less primary level, each in their little white leotards and white demi-skirts and she joined in, rather late in the year, looking perfectly suited, graceful and beautiful. I thought it more of a beginning to becoming a young lady, a rite of feminine passage, what people DO naturally, a way to develop poise, confidence, agility, but she immediately saw it as a means to an end of something she was in pursuit of and which I clearly knew nothing about.

I knew for me what it meant, had meant, and my own perspective was all I saw, but I did reason that others had different motivation, so I accepted hers as hers, that’s all, but even then, I did not recognize hers as greater than mine, more impassioned, more necessary possibly, and that would have been hard to imagine even if I had been more sensitive or smart. That was it, first class, hooked. A new language, something she had not mastered, like the fine motor skills with her hand, and use of her arm, and she began a journey that took her each day, week, month, and year, toward her own very personal goal. She approached it pretty much the same way she had everything else and it was a suitable endeavor for a lifetime it seems. But now I only see this looking back.

I will cut out the many (now) years in between and note that she led me where she wanted to or needed to go and I followed, not always the perfect accompaniment (myself): driver, mouthpiece, personal factotum, sounding board, bank, beggar, and loving mother, but she surpassed my knowledge in some regards very quickly and is now far beyond me. I no longer even service her needs really, because she is strong in her path and my advice, contrary to her own best instinct, perhaps, might lead her astray. It must be what she wants it to be, and so to blame no one else, I am not there to pressure or help her, except as I can, because this is never the path to greatness in art. Art is an individual path. Only great teachers or artists, may contribute to another hopeful; only they understand one another. I did not think to make my daughter an alien to me, far from it-my children are my only and greatest friends, and only they truly love me, know me, forgive me. But there is also a remoteness in the serious study of ballet which eludes me-I am not an artist of it. They have their own levels of personal achievement and placement, a pecking order, support and encouragement, things that we rarely learned about and she now occasionally experiences; they each have a place that is known to only that dancer, and is shared only by dancers with each other. It is truly passed down. That is her world- this is mine.

She has remained sweet, honest and nice to others, as she was on the bench in the window, but she has grown to fill that space inside completely and has a depth that I cannot fathom. She is stronger than I give her credit for, stronger than anyone will probably ever know and only the best will appreciate her fully, give her what she needs. She is an artist. She is a dancer. She has sought to express with her body, and to communicate in a language, though basic enough to all of us, is for her a special language to express, with that body of hers, feelings and emotions, patterns, and paragraphs, sentences and pictures, which to the artist and audience, have mutual conveyance and understanding, but it is an art-not a pose. There is more in a gesture, truly felt, and understood by all, seemingly simple and yet so complex, that we immediately understand. There is so much to it though, and it is continually challenging and demanding, that I cannot begin to be a part of it, nor do I understand from a distance that other side of it,which cannot be expressed in words, just how and why it is so completely different a place for dancers, an inner sanctum, but it is. So, in some sense, she is very quiet about it, and the more quiet she is, the more I know she is content, and happily working toward a proficiency in another language, which only little bubbles of excitement escape to share it’s life and depth, or apparent deep thought, open disappointment or frustration, even depression is all communicated physically, and anger might be the cause of other action. Elated, joyful, cat-like behavior and physical snuggles, resembling purring, but not a lot of talk. I hope it is a phase-it is so difficult, because I cannot share her spectrum of feelings, cannot communicate back-ward in this way to her, and only know it by a sort of recognition now, and begin to know that it is communication by its repeated appearance as such. In my house, people speak English, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, art, and ballet. It is great and you learn wondrous things from them about their culture, but that does not mean you become proficient in the language by watching (as critics and parents think)it yourself. But we try to understand, see another point of view. It means you are exposed to it, just like any other language, but you are not necessarily fluent, capable, or necessary. Being able to order in Chinese is a long, long way from writing a classic in it, or reading a classic with the deep understanding of a proficient. She and I have a long way to go, I much further and may never really fully understand. I am not fluent. I am really blind, deaf and dumb. She is becoming fluent in ballet and to some extent I am mute. I think this is wonderful for her and increasingly difficult for me to understand even. But when I watch her dance, then I am convinced once again, that this is her place, where she belongs, some place she can do something. What makes dancers dance?

When she is a great artist, if she reaches a point where she is competent, powerful, profound, famous, markedly different and you can’t take your eyes off her, ever (and I am sure even great artists are boring sometimes), then will that be truly something special for me to witness? Assuredly, it will be the same experience of art, and fame or validity of a public kind will not take that away or change it for me, or make less artistic or moving, that which I have always been privileged to see and have already witnessed, all those many thousands of moments, I remember. It begins to make more and more sense and I re-accept her commitment and dedication, and unswerving devotion and sacrifice to achieve and continue doing something she really loves and must do. A picture might trigger a certain memory, or stage of here continuum, but I would not be able to gain that from a photo, posed, poised to dance, but not dancing what I have in my head. That is where the picture, as her mother, comes to life. I could only see this from watching her dance, seeing her move, experiencing all of her, and seeing her voice, feeling it while she is performing on a stage. Then she is another person, a dancer, an artist, and I am moved the same way I am moved by any other great artist-this is how I know and how I have always known that it is not about competition, or praise, or photographs or fame. It is about art and the pursuit of it and a level of true artistry, performance, and imagination, but most importantly, it is about being able to communicate and being driven by the passion to do so.

It is a long journey to be a great artist, if that is what you want to be. It is as fleeting for a writer to find the perfect phrase, or for an artist to know in his own heart that indeed this work is a masterpiece, as it is for a ballet dancer to have that moment when there is catharsis, and the moment is perfection; like those few bars of music playing when we recognize perfection, and that tune has it’s lasting reverie and effect upon us once again. This is the singular power of art. It is like water to life-just that very instant, when life is summed up by something created and communicated by art, and even some people agree, that this hits the magical spot, even for a brief moment, a split second, but long enough to want to isolate that part and play it over and over again, until we tire of it, have our fill, and to feel that moment, or to see that vision, to feel that pathos, or to repeat that expression, and in ballet, too, or in dancing, that begins in the artist and they must have control over it to some extent to be able to perpetuate it, without set music, pat variations, recognizable scenery, for that is, in a way copying another moment of art, or just decoration, superfluous to the art of ballet itself-but it is not possible in a picture to capture, or a film any of that moment at all. But it is in that moment, for a dancer when it feels perfectly expressed and like fire, it catches everyone’s attention, and for the dancer, the journey to that split second, maybe, it was all simply worth it. They might wonder if anyone saw it, if anyone else shared that moment with them, but it does not decrease that moment if they did not. This is an artist.

But in some smaller ways, they must feel this all the time, or maybe more often and finally, very often, to continue. This is not to be confused with a student in class, who appears to be teachable, or who can afford to pay for privates, or does performance after performance by rote, dresses up, wears a costume, does a competition, photographs themselves, etc. It is how that artist alone floats in the water, survives, learns to paddle, and then weathers the elements and the storms to continue to dance originally, before they become recognizable, and how they can move you, communicate with you personally, and this requires you, as the audience, and the artist, as expressor to complete the circle. It isn’t static. Sure, you can say, viewing it again, it is right THERE, at 2:21 when you felt chills run down your spine and you practically leap out of your seat, moved to dance, but it is not the same as the actual moment when someone’s dancing really struck you, as different and unique on a live stage or the impact in context of the entire ballet or performance. There is no real magic otherwise, only perceived. It can never be the same for you, not the same as dancing, as it is for the person doing it, either, but it seems possible, and moves the paraplegic, the autistic, and others to do the same and to express themselves by using the language of ballet and movement. So, we all think we know about it, but the perspective for the dancer, what truly motivates them, aside from obsession, is not necessarily apparent. It is not meant to be. But in all great dancers, and those who continue to dance, it is there.

In class, people will say her upper body is beautiful, without realizing just how much work it takes to keep that shoulder down, or how much pain it causes one to dance, to hold one’s arms, and how when you are dancing, you forget that pain, and that in some way this is God’s blessing to you, that he enabled you to feel no pain in your feet, not wear even a toe pad, and how you have your teachers to thank for saying “all right, remove the wool-here we go!” and how you never looked back and just kept moving forward despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles and when you thought no one was interested-they were. It’s ironic that she should have such beautiful expression to me, that I can see her mastery and control of this instrument growing daily, and how long it has taken to perfect something more difficult than what she already has had to achieve, for her, and how much eternal joy can be gotten from moving at all, and being able to dance, and how that alone can be enough to propel you, and that you are unstoppable really, because nothing could hurt or be more difficult to overcome than those initial obstacles, and you achieved those. How those ballet muscles must literally be holding that little body together and without it, though I had never even contemplated it, how she might have suffered and been deformed, or had limitations, when now she has so few. How it has molded and shaped her, and helped her to overcome some things that might have seemed impossible had she stopped to actually think about it, or took cures, or dwelled on it, listened to any other voice than her own and the music, and how incredibly strong she is and has become, and how this strength suits her, and yet how she is also capable of expressing such vulnerability and how this, too, looks good on her.

If I took her to class and this was the result, only, I could find no fault with it, or our journey, only gratitude in it, from a mother’s perspective-ever. What could have been was far worse? So, she has always had to work hard, but not for the same reasons other people have, or the same ways, and maybe that is why I will never be able to fully speak her language, why it will always be a little alien to me, hers alone, really, because I took those things for granted, and I was not born with that same stick-to-it-tiveness, or determination, and I did not get up in the morning and say, “I have to dance!” But she does. I look at her, and I am so proud and happy for her, but I do not want to see pictures. They just do not communicate well enough the infinitesimal detail which she strives for, the expression which she ultimately seeks, or any of what I see or feel. So, I owe it to her to keep that journey private in a way, and to not interfere with her perception of herself, and to let her try to become what she wants, evidently, more than anything else, to do. I do not want her to look back too often and say,” that is what I was,” but instead, “this is what I am and will be.”

It isn’t what people think of your pictures, it is what they think of you in class, that you catch their imagination and hold onto it, hear your voice in your dancing, and are riveted by your performance, are inspired by your effort, see your very soul shining forth, your strength, your differences, and not your similarities-what you do differently from other people, and how that is unique. This is important, that you say something in a way that is distinctly you. People all communicate differently, and she is developing a way of speaking of her own, that comes with hard work and practice. Maybe something more, too, and maybe that is in all of us to some degree, but that is what makes ballet art, and never sport.

It is how you do something wonderful with the same pair of old shoes you draw, and how you make each performance and each step meaningful and vitally necessary. Art has an epitome, a reachable point of perfection. It is in our perception of it, not only others. There is a way to grab it between your fingers and control it, roll it around and ponder it, and then let go, stand back, and let it’s wide light engulf you. When she is comfortable in her ability to communicate, she soars, and I think that is what is important, and that journey is different for everyone, uniquely so. I do not believe that anyone who wants to do something, no matter their age, their ability, background, or their income level should matter-if they have a strong enough will, and an opportunity, I have found, they will find a way to accomplish it-despite all the advice, opinions, naysayers, competitors, dream-killers, and sad-sacks. It is the joy you seek, and some intangible reward, and that I know, which is the momentum for continuing. She is living proof of that many times over, and she literally needs to continue, no matter what. To continue is always a fight financially, and costly to keep moving ahead and progressing in level, it requires deftness and intelligence, too, but it has to be done somehow, and we have continued on, despite deadly setbacks, ridiculous politics, and other reasons which really have no place in ballet education, the arts, therapy, or communication. It shouldn’t be so difficult to pay for when someone really needs it, or wants it, to get the right education for you to continually get the extra help, encouragement, or opportunities that you need to go on and try, and each day is happier and happier still the closer you get to all of your goals, and to that place when you are better, and it’s reaching all of those little muscles, deployable now, and in your control, so you can speak ballet fluently, but it is very difficult and expensive just the same-part of the challenge. But, you have never shrunk from a challenge. I pray you get more!

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Pointe magazine – Ballet at its Best.


The Workout: Rebecca Krohn

Balanchine powerhouse

By Jenny Dalzell (reprinted by Mysylph)

Published in the February/March 2014 issue.

Krohn with Justin Peck in Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Glancing at the long and sinewy Rebecca Krohn, one might not guess that the New York City Ballet principal eats about every two hours. But to keep up with the rigorous rehearsal schedule that comes with her job, Krohn has figured out a mix of strengthening, refueling and daily maintenance that keeps her on top.

On the menu: Before or after class, Krohn has a smoothie made with Greek yogurt, fruit, coconut water, spinach and sometimes half an avocado. “I also eat simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the day. They’re not filling, but they’re satisfying. And I always keep a chocolate and peanut butter Luna protein bar in my bag in case hunger strikes.”

Cross-training: Private Pilates classes three times a week in the off-season, and on Mondays in-season. “I have a little bit of scoliosis and I always feel more even after the sessions.”

Rolling out: “I have a ball for each part of my body: small rubber balls from vending machines at grocery stores that I use in between my metatarsals; a slightly larger ball for my plantar fascia; and the next size up I use on my calves and back. The biggest, called KONG Balls, are for the front of my hips. I found them at the pet store—they’re for dogs.”

Recharge: A 15- to 20-minute cat nap between rehearsals and performances. “I lay down and put my legs up against a wall to decompress my back. Plus, your feet get so swollen from standing all day, sometimes you can barely get your pointe shoes back on.”

Stamina secrets: A lean-protein–filled meal, like a chicken breast, two hours before curtain. “It’s enough to keep me going through the evening without getting hungry. I make sure I have water on hand, and adrenaline helps. Once you’re in the zone, you just do it.”

via Pointe magazine – Ballet at its Best..

Your IT Band is Not the Enemy But Maybe Your Foam Roller Is


I am not sure this applies to dancers per se, but it is food for thought.

 

Your IT Band is Not the Enemy But Maybe Your Foam Roller Is | Breaking Muscle.

Foot and Ankle Injury Prevention Tips for Dancers


Dance Injury Diagram-The Foot
Dance Injury Diagram-The Foot

About now dancers in pre-professional programs, those starting back from a lazy Summer, or those simply not accustomed to the new level of pointe or technique they are experiencing will begin to feel pain in different places when dancing. It is no fun sitting out, but the wise dancer checks herself to see what is wrong and tries various remedies to heal the pain. It is human nature to do so, and those who ignore it could be in for some less than trifling troubles later. An unchecked injury, whether from overuse or a real problem, rarely gets better on its own if you dance through it. Anything to stop you is enough to verify the cause of. Who wants to wince with pain during a classical variation?

Foot/Ankle Injury Prevention Tips for Dancers

1) Proper training and teaching are essential to allow dancers of all ages to develop their skills without injury. If your school is having you overdo it then you have to watch out for yourself. That means make sure you are doing the exercises correctly, not repeating combinations twice or more a day because of duplicate classes, even if it means talking to the teachers and explaining to them this is all new for you and you need a little time to work up to full throttle. Proper training and teaching would encompass this rapport with your teachers-who else knows more about it than they? Talk to them. It is your instrument and they cannot replace it breaks and it is up to you. There is no warranty with your equipment-no customer service either!

Rest Ice Compression Elevation= PRICE (Precaution)$$$
Rest Ice Compression Elevation= PRICE (Precaution)$$$

 

 

2) Take adequate rest to allow the body to heal itself from daily wear and tear. If yours is a particularly rigorous schedule, rest often, do nothing in between, ice, soak, massage, apply cremes, take ibuprofen, use epsom salts, pamper yourself. No one else is going to. It gives your hands and fingers a workout. Try heat and ice, or hot water (as warm as you can stand it), then as cold to increase circulation and healing to the area. Obviously don’t do that which hurts you. Take it easy if you have a second portion of the day as rigorous as the first. Build up slowly and bring issues to the attention of some people who care so they can be thinking, researching and trying to find ways to help you, too. Don’t stay quiet about it. Cry if it helps. Dancing is not easy. You deserve to be pampered. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

3) Maintain energy levels by eating and drinking adequately. No nourishment, or little nourishment, in dancers is a common cause of injury. Lack of nutrients causes the lessening of the production of Estrogen in the body and can lead to injuries. Better eat right! Take your daily vitamins (at least) and don’t forget to eat MEALS. Drink plenty of water.

This feels good-do it!
This feels good-do it!

4) Conditioning and strengthening of the leg muscles that support the arch are crucial. Yes, on top of dance, you need to ask your teachers for exercises that will increase the strength and flexibility of the muscles you are using everyday, so as to try to keep up with what will be expected of you. Ask your teachers for foot strengthening exercises. If they hurt, it is probably a sign that you are weak and need to strengthen. Flexibility and strength in the foot of a dancer is critical, wouldn’t you say? I mean you can’t dance without them-that would look funny. Use a tennis ball, rotate them, point and flex them, put them under the bed, sit on them-DONT’ BE LAZY.

5) Try to avoid dancing on hard or uneven surfaces, which could cause injury. What surfaces are you dancing on everyday? walking on? Where is the impact being absorbed? This is pretty hard to prevent, but perhaps classes should be held in the studios with raised flooring, but those are often not available. Wearing pointe shoes and even tightly fitting ballet shoes all day takes its toll. Shoes that are too tight, too narrow, or do not have proper arch support can also lead to increased problems, swelling and even fractures. Try to reassess all you are doing before you blame the floors. Chances are something will cause improvement, if you try. Are your straps or ribbons too tight? Are you releveing properly? Are you sickling? are you using your plie in your jumps? Landing properly? Check everything. Keep track-keep notes, dates and times, so you can look back and say, “during this class this happened and after class I felt this way.” Then you begin to see a pattern of activity, or action, which cause pain, or relieves it.

Naughty no-nos and Dancing-DOS!
Naughty no-nos and Dancing-DOS!

6) Take care of your shoes! Wet and worn out shoes are not supportive, and without support and on pointe for long periods of time, any dancer will experience pain. Stress moves to other soft tissues when a dancer compensates, causing injury to those areas as well. Keep them clean and dry, adding alternating pairs to your collection as needed for rotation. Always put your feet first! Skip the new leotard-better get shoes! Try different shoes for different classes. Sometime a higher vamp might be necessary for extended dancing as the foot can strain with overuse. Support, support, support!

7) Dancers should adopt new training schedules slowly. This is the number one ignored reason for overuse injuries by students because they AND teachers press forward, into maxed out training schedules, failing to accommodate for rehearsals, competitions, etc. Too much, too soon, can result in an injury and especially when taking even one day off, but especially a few, take it easy when you return, stretch as opposed to dancing hard even if you risk insults, it is better than injuring yourself just to keep up. How are you going to have a career in dance if you injure yourself permanently???? I never think returning to pointe on Monday is a good idea, but after a week off no pointe should be taken for a few days. You have to build up again. after a Summer, WELL! what do you think? Get plenty of rest at home. Even if that means going directly to bed after supper. Feet up. Soak, Massage, Eight hours. Why do you think professional dancers like to sleep late? And they DO!!!

8) Not everyone can have custom-made dance shoes. Although not always possible when dancing, but more so off stage or out of class, wear supportive footwear, and if you need to wear orthotics, wear them as often as possible. I recommend a wide variety of gel arch/foot supports, shoes and ZUMIES (AT CVS) for walking around the house. As important as the surfaces in the studio, are the street, sidewalks and concrete flooring found everywhere. A dancer lives on their feet and especially sore, they feel everything! Put your feet up. Try wrapping your feet to see if that stops or relieves the pain. But always, wear special and comfortably supportive footwear out of class. NO PAYLESS GARBAGE. Good shoes. Not always sneakers either because they do not have enough support on the sides. Finding good shoes should be a number one priority and just another example of how you should treat your feet. Would you put a baby in those shoes? Your mothers did not and how dare you treat yourself less well and carefully than they would!

Pronation and fallen arch foot pads. All dancers have impact to their feet. Fact.
Pronation and fallen arch foot pads. All dancers have impact to their feet. Fact.

 

9) Although I have already expounded on this in other articles, I will say it again: If dancers perform excessive pointe or demi-pointe work one day, they should focus on other types of work during the next workout. Try skipping the second technique class. Move your schedule around to try not repeating movements or overusing certain muscle groups. If you are doing variations, repertoire, privates and rehearsals-you do not need a second technique class everyday. Try jazz and modern, yoga, pilates, anything but a repeat of the same exercises you already did once in the morning. I have heard some dancers attribute their superior technique to 2 technique classes per day. On some level this might be okay, such as during Summer, or when other classes are not available, or when the opportunity arises (such as master classes), but one has to be very careful not to overdo it everyday. Repeating exercises with the hips, tendus, feet and other movements can cause overuse injuries in dancers that have not built up the stamina and strength to do this. at any rate, we are all just like the Duracell Bunny-at some point, there is a limit. Don’t let that happen when you are so young! Make an effort to work on different muscle groups and not repeat the same exercises.

Don't wait for a f.l.y. guy or your MOM-massage your OWN feet!
Don’t wait for a f.l.y. guy or your MOM-massage your OWN feet!

10) Most importantly, early recognition of symptoms is key to understanding the cause. Stop activity if pain or swelling occurs. If the pain persists after a few days rest, consult a sports-medicine physician or preferably a dance therapist or doctor. It is sometimes worth traveling to see one as opposed to getting the wrong advice. Work to break bad habits: leaning in one’s hips, poor posture, not pulling up on point, sickling. Left to chance, these might throw off all of your good training, creating areas of weakness and poor alignment which can literally stop a performance career. Fix these things now, and never look back on them, don’t keep nursing them. They are easier to correct than the one million ways they can cause you more problems in the future left unattended. Keep on Dancing!

Gracie’s Story-South Coast Conservatory


Gracie’s Story – YouTube.

Katie Scarlett: dreams like blood: Aerial Straps Reel on Vimeo


Katie Scarlett: dreams like blood: Aerial Straps Reel on Vimeo on Vimeo

via Katie Scarlett: dreams like blood: Aerial Straps Reel on Vimeo.

Hip, Lock and Key or Sylph Perception


I always liked  to do this:

Hip wave

There are many ways of doing it, not just the pose in the picture which may be wrong or right. What always seemed important to me about doing it, and many other modern dance positions-I’ll call this one the “hip wave”, is that they “align you.”  You will find this (probably better explained in many modern dance technique books.” I recommend two (2)-On The Count of One and The Dancer Prepares (I am always recommending these-there are many more), just two classics. I am classic-that is another way of saying older.

The exercise: It is sort of like wearing a blindfold and smelling, tasting, hearing and feeling stimuli, without the use of sight-let’s us not forget that sixth sense of (sylph) perception. Lying on the floor can help you with many problems-immediately note the amount of curvature in the spine, translated into not feeling the lower back (or any other part of the back!) resting on the floor. Breathing will help with this-another post. Feel the part of the back that receives more pressure (and is doing more work) which will be tighter and uncompromising-this is what you need to focus on relaxing into the floor. Part of any dance technique, ballet included is communicating with your own body-before you can communicate to others, you have to have control of the self. If your body is not doing what you tell it to, order or demand it to, then it is time to start some serious investigation into your sylph, and find a way to reach your body, just the way you might try to reach someone else. Why try less hard when the stubborn party is you! More reason to be able to teach it….be successful.

In this position (above pictured), as in other positions of modern dance, at first you will possibly feel completely disoriented. I am not talking about gymnasts, handstands or other “set” movements that may be a part of your everyday routine or circumspect. I am talking about isolating what makes you feel uncomfortable and why, then reworking it, or controlling it, to get it to work for you-find out what is so great about it/not so great, by experimentation. I could steal other writers and bloggers and websites information and give this information to you in boring technical terms, sports terms, but it would not really reach most dancers. Dancers are visual and sensitive creatures frequently who learn best by delving into self exploration, diagnosis and psychology-and they are right. I am asking you to assume this position and let it control you, in a way. The dancer above is in control of this position, but in being so controlled, she is losing out on the many possibilities of the position and assuming just the one rather tense/practiced one we see. It looks alright, maybe too perfect, to some teachers, absolutely incorrect modern. The purpose of this position for say Isadora Duncan or Doris Humphrey might have been freedom, letting go, discovering one’s range of movement. In isolating this aspect, we simply increase the tension in order to control the pose-not what will be helpful, in short-more harm, useless.

What about letting the leg go where it wants initially, playing with it, and then possibly, letting the leg fall naturally in a 360 degree circle, bringing it back up each time after it falls to its maximum ability to do so? What is wrong with falling, letting go? The muscles of the rest of the body will act to protect you, let them. See how they do this. Trust them. Don’t think so much about thinking so much! Raising and lowering the leg in a relaxed fashion, is much more difficult in this position than it seems because you are fighting the natural use and range of your muscles. It’s funny how gravity pulls the leg “up” and our instinct is to pull it back down (up). It feels very unnatural and there couldn’t be anything more natural about it. Imagine being in space-anti-gravity.

Watch a child do it-there will always be one who spends a lot of time in this position-dancer. For whatever reason, this child knows this is funny and will often laugh to himself because you (adults) do not get it. They immediately understand why this is not “normal” as if they have discovered something no one else has, giving them power over their elders. They will try various things in this position, trying to emulate an “upside-down person”, a “backwards” person. They will try to walk and run backwards after this, and do other things the opposite way, realizing that not only are unexplored ranges of movement challenging, they are the antithesis of moving forward, possible, interesting. Life moves you forward, the coach yells “go” and you do not move backward-this would be seen as retarded to middle-school students, dumb. It is the joke in many Disney and related children’s movies, slowly reaffirming silently to children acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and it is the slow progression of “speeding up,” industrialization, which prevents many people taking the time to sit through a ballet or dance program. What child or any human, left alone, does not find the movement of motion pictures fascinating in reverse? This era knows the dvd, but what of the vcr, microfiche-or the pages of a book read backwards?  Of course, once we explore this range we forget its initial curiosity, take it for granted, and continue to move forward the rest of our lives, but the truth is you can get to the same destination by turning around and walking backwards-but we lose the sense of where we are going, because we are not trained, so dependent are we on our eyes, to proceed without them leading us. If our other senses are engaged more frequently, they become better honed and more useful. Doing it “with your eyes closed” is losing meaning in today’s society. But life is busy and hurried and we do not take the time to “look back,” so even more oftentimes, it is hard to see beyond….

When in this position for the first time, do not use a mirror to check your progress or how you look. Try to adjust yourself to your surroundings-yourself and the planes of space. The ceiling is now the floor-or is it? Actual dancers spend much of their time in the air, being suspended by a partner, and diving or jumping-all leaps of faith and it is very important to get used to having  to realign yourself without two feet planted on the floor. Close your eyes if necessary to block out external stimuli and find your center of balance. Then raise your leg as high as you can comfortably. Comfortably is the key word here. Do not lock your hip. Use your toes and back and arms. Forget what you have learned in ballet or dance class-it does not help you here. Move your leg around in a complete circle-not all at once, and slowly. Floor-range, at every conceivable angle and degree. Then try the other leg. It may be necessary to “come up for air” as this is fatiguing and when fatigued, we grip, we try to hold on, keep it up. Not yet. let it fall! Don’t grip your hips. Once you start to feel the movement within your hip, you will also begin to notice the muscles that naturally are in use. These are the muscles that will be strengthened with this exercise. and your mind. You are letting your body teach you where your range is, and this is it, really, naturally. You begin to see the strength of gravity and how much a leg actually weighs! Quit a lot. You see how you have trained those muscles to teach that leg to do everything from an upright position. How you are not uniformly strong-how naturally weak those muscles are in reverse. Interesting.

You can strengthen back muscles from this position, too. It is a natural trait for the muscles to try to lift the leg and you will find this is what is most fatiguing this exercise or position is, as apparently we all have really weak backs in different positions. It is rare to find a person unilaterally trained. As you adjust to your new range, you can increase strength and turnout from this position, too. You can gradually rehabilitate your hips and isolate problems with your usual alignment from this and other unusual positions. This tricks your body into “starting over” putting your body and your sylph back into control one step at a time, one exercise at a time, one day at a time. You can learn to “tilt” into and out of this position and to increase your range of movement front to back, side to side, and all places in between. You will find muscles in your sides that are not strong, not being spoken to, not trained. Forgotten. its possibilities seem almost endless if you are willing to discover them. You can attempt it on releve. It is just one point of discovery, but it is a good place to start learning where your actual turnout is, how you can gently improve it, and whether you are forcing turnout all around. Since there is no place for you to lean, or rest against, although you can try that too, one is relying on one’s own body for support and one’s mind and tendencies for instinctual directions or fixes. Try to do this bending one leg, or both, turn, scoop, and a whole new plateau of movement will appear, a level, literally, not experienced by most classically trained dancers or grown-ups. I think this might have been how modern dance technique was discovered. What are we not doing???There are six strings on a guitar, 12 on a classical. A dancer should have use of all 12 strings of his/her instrument, not half or a third, or one. Right? I have known guitarists who can get nearly all of the same notes out of a six-string guitar, but it quite a bit harder on the instrument and the guitarist. It is more work.

Although the common issue of hip pain when forcing turnout can lead to other injuries, particularly fractures of the femoral neck, bursitis, tendonitis, etc….even actual displacement of the hip (yup), finding your correct turnout is like a key and a lock. Every mechanism is different. You cannot put your key into the grooves of your lock like everyone else-you have to find the groove that will allow your leg to rise comfortably, turnout comfortably. It is not the dancer with the perfect flat turnout it is the dancer with the comfortable turnout, beautiful turnout, that catches our eye. If your key will not turn in the lock, chances are, you are trying to move your leg against the cup-shaped acetabulum, hitting it against the mechanism, just like a key in a lock. If you train the muscles and ligaments around that area to “force” the leg through unnatural poses, it trains the muscles to repeat this exercise even when you tell it to do the right thing-muscle memory. It is akin to walking into a wall-you will either directly hit it like a bird on a sliding glass door, or you will scrape and careen off it, damaging the bursa and the cartilage in the joint. It should be a smooth transition with no bumps or scraping. If you notice these feelings when doing this exercise, the best thing to do is to see a doctor. If you are still in the preliminary or early stages of experiencing this problem no permanent damage might have occurred, at least not irreversible damage (possibly), and id instructed by your doctor, you could then see a physical therapist for exercises to do for increasing the correct usage of the surrounding muscles and ligaments as well as for strengthening the leg in the socket and increasing mobility in the hips.

Repeated forceful attempts at trying to put the key into the lock the wrong way will damage the hip, lock and key. Remember a key always should move easily in the lock. If it doesn’t, that is a possible congenital disorder of too little lubrication, or a sign that bursa are already damaged, engorged or inflamed. I do not recommend the use of cortisone injections to decrease size of swollen bursa-the best medicine are anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (taken once or twice), and then complete rest. Other medical symptoms and explanations of bursitis are available here:

http://www.onhealth.com/bursitis/page2.htm#what_are_bursitis_symptoms_and_signs

 

Another symptom of gripping the hips is that your derriere will get bigger, or appear to, because the muscles are tight. There is a stretch called “the triangle” to help remedy this condition.

Probably stemming from yoga exercises, this will help loosen your gluteous maximus muscles after a workout. As long as you are warm, this exercise can be done often, but try not to sit in it too long (15-30 second holds, building up from 2-5 times per leg).

Strong, supple gluteal muscles keep the legs, pelvis and torso properly aligned. When your glutes are too tight — from excessive working or over-training, your alignment can be affected, leaving you with pain in the sciatic nerve, knee or lower back. A curved back is one indication of the need for this exercise. Forced turnout is also a possible culprit. Use a triangle stretch to retain or regain gluteous flexibility and counter soreness, stiffness and pain in your lower half and the aforementioned caboose enhancement. Do this stretch daily, and after each class, if your butt muscles are particularly tight.Advice before doing:

Warm up for 5 to ten minutes at least to increase circulation in the areas you are going to stretch do that the exercise has a maximum benefit to those targeted spots-you will feel it if it is working and it will not feel as keyed in if you do not-you will learn the difference. A brisk walk will suffice if you are not dancing. It works best after a class, especially one in which you lift your legs a lot and this works well after pointework.

First pose:

Sit on the floor facing a “front” with your spine perfectly straight, shoulders down (correctly) and slightly back. Extend your legs extended in front of you. Keeping your legs together (ankle bones touching preferably), start to bring your knees up to point toward the ceiling, sliding the flat feet toward you buttocks a few inches off the ground-not up by your chest-you are going to put the left leg over the right-stacking it so to speak. When knees are pointing directly at the ceiling, feet flat on the floor and back straight (shoulders down)….Second Pose:

Begin to slide your right foot more toward your buttocks (and up toward your chest), keeping your position aligned as before (spine, flat feet, ankles together, shoulders down). If you need to, use your hand to put your leg into a position closer to your body-after practice, you will not need to “assist”. Your right leg will be forming a “comfortable” triangle with the floor. Picture the next pose, which is to bring the left leg up and over the right, when preparing to position yourself.

You will be aligned with the right knee directly in front of or “square,” with your pelvis.

Pose Third:

Now, pull in or “retract” you left leg, until it is also in a triangle and put it over your right leg. Slide your left foot along the floor, resting it alongside your right hip and forming a triangle with your left leg. Make whatever adjustments are necessary to “stack” your left knee directly over your right. Press your inner thighs together gently. You should feel a little tension in your outer left hip. Also, there is a tendency for the left hip to raise, the right hip to press into the floor and the alignment to go awry. take a moment and find a comfortable but correct position with the hips “square,” both as much on the floor as possible, back straight and shoulders down.-this is a continual battle and part of the “fun.” This natural and correct alignment will do wonders for your stretch and your pose-almost no one doesn’t have stretching going on somewhere in this and those especially “out of shape” or incorrectly trained, will have much to grapple before becoming fluent in this pose and able to control it for the best stretch.One problem with people who believe they have control of this stretch is the tendency to grip with their hips, the floor and use the stomach muscles to “scoop” the leg into position. It is the back, straight, which gives the support necessary to relax the leg and for “crossing over” the other leg.

4th Pose:
Keep your back long and extend forward from your hips, placing your fingertips on the floor in front of you for support. When you feel moderate tension along your left buttock, hold the position for up to 30 seconds, breathing normally. Return the torso to an upright position and then repeat the forward hinge up to four times, then reverse.
Keep on dancing!
This link has some of the information here and a “training program” available online, although all of this information is generally available elsewhere.

http://www.theballetblog.com/article/improving-technique/training-turnout-part-2-isolating-your-true-turnout/

If you live in NYC-OUT THIS NUMBER IN YOUR CELL PHONE NOW!

212-598-6022-Harkness Dancer Clinic

They have a One-on-One Injury Prevention Assessment Program ~FREE~

The Harkness Center offers one-hour, free-of-charge injury prevention assessments for dancers. During the injury prevention assessment session each dancer is seen individually for an hour by a therapist who reviews the dancer’s complaints, medical and nutrition histories and performance during a battery of tests. The screening is designed to evaluate the risk the dancer is exposed to and to discuss the dancer’s concerns before an injury occurs. At the conclusion of the assessment the dancer is given an individually tailored injury prevention exercise regime with recommendations for modification of their technique, training strategies, footwear and/or dance environment. The aim of the screening is to maximize each dancer’s potential for wellness. Thousands of dancers have participated in this program and have rated it 3.9 out of a perfect 4.0 for its relevance and helpfulness. Harkness has educational programs for dancers!

For additional information and to download an individual assessment form:

http://hjd.med.nyu.edu/harkness/patient-services/injury-prevention-assessments-and-workshops

If you have specific question email: harkness@nyumc.org

 

Keep On Dancing!!!