In order to advance to learning more difficult steps, you’ll need to invest in strength and stamina FIRST. Or at least work on it concurrently. I also realize why professional and advanced dancers go back regularly to work in slower and beginner classes.

 

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After a few years of dancing almost everyday, including taking a couple of ballet exams, I was slim and toned. I was sufficiently drenched in sweat after every class. Every one was complaining I was too skinny.

I thought I was sufficiently strong, and my stamina in ballet was alright. At least that was what I THOUGHT.

I had greatly improved but I felt something was missing. I personally felt that I did not have a classical look. I felt something was off…. and I did not have the lifted look and ease of well-trained dancers. Even though I’m an adult ballet dancer – that was something I wanted! I WANTED that classical feel more than than say, doing some lukewarm fouettes en pointe. I rather be a beautiful dancer in beginners class than a jerky awkward one in advanced class. HOW DO I GET THAT?

So I went to consult every ballet teacher I know to help me with that. Finally one of them figured out my problem and he said to me, “You are not strong enough. “(Later he added, you need to work on your flexibility too – it is not enough. By now I can do all my splits cold – and yet it is not enough but I’ll save this story for another post.)

WHERE WAS I NOT STRONG ENOUGH? I was exasperated.

We did a slow basic class and it was soon clear to me that he was right.

 

WHERE WAS I NOT STRONG ENOUGH? I was exasperated.

We did a slow basic class and it was soon clear to me that he was right.

AREAS OF WEAKNESS

Here are some of the areas of weakness that I have, which may be common to the adult dancer too:

  • Weak supporting legs & core

I did not have the strength to sustain a ‘push down and pull up‘ on my supporting side for more than 10 seconds, lest last for the entire single barre exercise.

  • Weak hamstrings

I didn’t have enough stamina to maintain a full active stretch of the back of the knees during tendus or anytime the leg is activated. This is how the professional dancers move so cleanly with a sense of directed energy. They think of making the inner leg line long (instead of the ‘outside’ line – which results in bulky looking quads).

  • Weak core, abductors, hip-flexors, inner thigh muscles, foot, ankle,

I did not have the strength to fully point my leg in devant-front or derriere-back leg.

My favorite dream position is a beautiful ecarte leg line. Teacher quickly made me realize how weak my glutes, core and hamstrings are weak, as I cannot HOLD my maximum rotation and my maximum height/range.

Until now, the higher my ecarte leg, the less energy I have to send through all the way to my toes. It stops somewhere mid thigh. I have difficulty straightening my knee and stretching my ankle and arch.

  • Weak foot, ankle, insufficient stamina

I did not fully push the floor and point my feet fully in changements. Thus, in entre chat quartes, my feet doesn’t look strongly pointed but looks rather loose, even though supposedly my technique wasn’t so bad.

  • Weak inner thigh muscles

My inner thigh muscles are so weak to really squeeze them into a tight fifth especially in a releve in 5th position. My inner thigh muscles quickly failed when I do an assemble. After brushing out my back foot, I have to think of clapping my inner thighs to assemble the entire both legs in the air before landing. My legs are slow, it is not really ‘clapping’ and overall, there is a lazy look.

 

GREAT.

So, that means that if I wanted the classical look, I had to strengthen all this. No point knowing the right technique but not having the muscles strong enough to do this.

Because even if you understand, you are not strong enough to execute! Poor execution leads to bad habits and at the advanced level, you will soon realize you are unable to learn advanced steps because of both poor technique and lack of stamina. Even if you did manage to execute the advanced steps, you may not look ‘ballet-ish’ while doing it. This is what I personally don’t like. I mean everyone has different ballet aspirations, and I wanted a classical feel the most.

So here is what I had to do.Here is what I did and I am still continuing to do.

  1. Slow down considerably, be conscious of working purely.

 

I started to take slower classes so I can concentrate on building strength. Every slow plie and tendu, I’m forcing my body to push the ground and I’m lifting and standing as tall as I can. I realized I can sustain this longer and longer and now I can sustain it throughout barre.

Be conscious of working purely, and be aware of your areas of weakness. If your teacher keeps reminding you of the same thing, think about that during the exercise. I have a tendency of not straightening my leg in a rond de jambe jete, so I think about that. I also have a lazy left core, so I consciously exert more energy in pulling that side up.

2. Do conditioning exercises

I would mentally command myself to squeeze my inner thighs for a few seconds longer when I’m in fifth position both on flat or on releve BOTH BEFORE AND AFTER every barre exercise. I hold it a little longer than everyone else. I figure that with those few seconds, I am getting my inner thighs stronger.

I don’t always do this, but I should. I should do this set of conditioning exercises, taught by my teacher. It consists of scissoring action with my legs fully pointed in a set of 60.

Sit ups and reverse sit-ups always help. And planking too.

3. Practice rises and releves

I try to do them both at the barre and in center.

It helps activate your core, and you are training your body to be more sensitive to your center. It also helps to have a mental image, “TIRE BOUCHON” which is what Teacher always yell at me, which means corkscrew. It helps to send mental consciousness down to that leg to make it straighter than how straight it already is. Sometimes we have a false image of what our body is doing versus what it is actually doing. I tend to have a slightly bent knee and a insufficient pull up on my left side (my lazy side) thus my right pirouettes aren’t as good as my left. AND THAT IS ALSO THE REASON WHY I HOP during my turns.

4. Petit Allegro

Most adult dancers are not fans of allegro, because they are not used to moving as much as children. However, if you want to dance ballet, you should not sit out, otherwise, you’ll never have enough strength to go en pointe. You’ll won’t enjoy dancing variations because most of dancing is 80% (if not 90%) allegro!

That is why I love ballet teachers who incorporate lots of allegro in their classes.To me, it is one of the marks of a good teacher. Allegro combinations are more tedious to come up with compared to pirouette combinations. Some teachers make you turn all day long because it is easy and uses a lot of time.

My teacher got me started on what he calls an ‘endurance changement exercise’ (64 at least) which I felt I was at the brink of shin splints every time I did it. I USED TO HATE IT. I couldn’t fully point my feet before I reached halfway. I did them for a year. Now, I’m fairly comfortable with it. BUT then he started me on this horrible assemble combination, where I had to do about 20 assembles with the 2nd set incorporated with sautes (later on entre chat quatre). I’m still working on it, and I am still feeling that I don’t have enough to give fully what this exercise requires.

Strength and Stamina will come

However, I must say I am getting stronger. The other day I glanced in the mirror during open class (I don’t look these days and take class facing away the mirror) as it was an en face combination, and I was quite surprised at my assemble. It looked much better than before, and I’m starting to look at ease while dancing.

Dancing with ease – my goal.

So it made me realize, the only way to look at ease is to have both the strength and stamina, which is hard to get. It requires a conscious effort to be extremely focused, to not give in to tiredness or emotions, to work diligently and as purely as possible. It takes a sense of humility to go back to slower classes even though more advanced class is more exciting – and work work work.

Strength and stamina will come. By then you’ll be more ready to learn the advanced steps. I mean, everyone has different goals. Some dancers just want to dance in advanced class, not caring so much with details and that is fine too! However, if you would like to do a beautiful Brisé volé, you will need strength and stamina!

 

 

 

 

 

Seira
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