Can you be TOO flexible as a ballet dancer?

OY VEY! I am so sorry that I’ve sort of “slacked off” on my stretching series. I’ve been sick for the past week and then I just sprained ankle on top of it. Apparently I can dance better than I can walk. 🙂 So while I’m taking a little hiatus from dance and intense stretching to let my body heal from the illness and injury, I figured I’d bring up a topic that seems to be controversial at the moment- can you become TOO flexible or overstretch when it comes to ballet?? I found an article about how the positions of ballet have changed over the years and how they require a different level of flexibility and it raises interesting questions about the pressure it puts on dancers to be crazy flexible. I’ll fess up… one of my guilty pleasures is following a ton of little ballet Instagrams that are likely run by 12 year old girls (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m “old” in comparison so it makes me feel a little silly haha). So my Instagram feed is overrun with pictures of girls doing tilts, oversplits, and various other insane in the membrane stretches.

One of the first pictures on google image search of "oversplits"

One of the first pictures on google image search of “oversplits”

Part of me is blown away at the awesomeness of the stretches. It’s really amazing to see what the human body is capable of when you stretch it out and push its limits. The other part of me is really curious as to the concerns and dangers associated with stretching to extremes. I am, of course, a huge advocate of stretching as I find it’s very important to keeping a healthy body as well as progressing in ballet. I am also very cautious and try to make sure to weigh the costs with the benefits before I do anything. For me, the biggest concern that I have with these extreme stretches are the dangers involved. Could you imagine if one of the chairs in the above pictures slipped out during the process of getting in this position?! Holy pain, Batman. Or when I see people stretching their arches by sticking their foot under a couch and forcing it down I can’t help but wonder how much potentially “unnecessary” strain they are putting on their joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles that could later lead to serious injury.

When trying to do research on the topic I found some really weird mixed messages. A lot of sources say that you can’t really be too flexible and that you should try and push and push until you can get further. A lot of other sources say that being overly flexible is neither necessary nor helpful in ballet because it actually makes you need to work harder to maintain the classic lines that make ballet seem graceful rather than looking contorted. Although I found a lot of opinions of parents of dancers, adult dancers, and teen dancers, there aren’t a whole lot of easily accessible resources based from more reliable “official” sources. So, because I am no expert and definitely cannot give you advice on the matter, I advise that you weight the pros and cons yourself before attempting any stretches of that magnitude and always recommend caution. But I figured it could be an interesting point of conversation. Do you feel that these extreme forms of stretching can help or hinder ballet? How do you feel about the ever increasing flexibility requirements of ballet and how it changes the way the lines of the body look?

 

On a more fun note, I also decided to do the ABC survey Kristen posted to tell you a little more about myself after the jump 🙂

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Ballet at home- DVDs, YouTube, and Tips

I am starting to feel like there’s an overarching theme to my posts- I’M BUSY! haha. But, to be honest, a big part of my life as a grad student who is also in the beginning stage of an internship is that I don’t have a lot of free time and the free time that I do have is at weird hours. I’m sure there are plenty of ladies and gents who may be reading this can relate to this! One of my favorite ways to get around this issue is to do ballet at home. This can be a real challenge, especially for beginners who haven’t had much experience taking a class. Where do you even begin? Well, luckily I spend the time between classes on YouTube doing mindless searching and have created a nice list for you along with some of my favorite ballet at home tips!

dvdsDVDs

  • “Ballet Class for Beginners with David Howard”. This DVD is my favorite for home ballet. It can be a little bit frustrating because you have to play some parts twice in order to do both sides, but it’s a minor inconvenience in my opinion. I was able to find the DVD on Amazon for about $6 and got it in a matter of days. Smoking deal! It covers a ton of different techniques and the run time is about 40 minutes, but that doesn’t include repeating. What I like about how it comes in chapters is that you can choose to mix and match your workout so that it never has to be exactly the same. 
  • The NYC Ballet Complete Workout. This DVD is less ballet class, more ballet fitness but it has much more ballet in it than most ballet inspired workout videos do. It takes moves like pliés and mixes them in with bicycles and crunches. It’s rough! I have managed to rope my fiancé into doing the videos with me and they even make him sore. The video isn’t necessarily the newest so the video and the music is super cheesy but thankfully you can choose to use the classical music in the startup menu rather than the awful “hip” background music. You can get it here on Amazon. 
  • Ballet Beautiful by Mary Helen Bowers. Holy grail of ballet fitness. The workouts are more based around the idea of sculpting a lean ballet body rather than ballet technique but I find that the workouts greatly improved my posture and technique in class. She has a few different DVDs. I have the “Classic 60 – Minute Workout” (which has since been rebranded as “Total Body Workout”) and “Body Blast”. Both are available here at the Ballet Beautiful website.  The DVD’s consist of approximately 15 minute workouts including two butt series, her bridge series, her famous swan arms series, total body workouts, and more. What I like about this format is that the workouts are totally mix and match-able. You can do 15 minutes of a total body workout, or you can build up to about an hour or more of workouts. It really just depends on what you have time for! Another wonderful asset she provides are her online streaming videos. They are similar to the DVDs but you can have access to them any time you have access to the website.

YouTube

  • Dancing’s technique based and educational videos. These videos are great! They’re made by eHow… Ok, slightly cheesy seeming but they have been so helpful to me. I suck, like bad, at things like rond de jambe and I love being able to watch these videos at home over and over again to see how it’s done and to try it. I have found value in almost all of their ballet videos. There is such a wide variety- warming up, technique, how to care for ballet shoes, how to do your hair.  Click here and start checking it out! 
  • Maestro Greenwood Online Classes. These videos are also really great. They have a lot of technique practice and they include some video with verbal instruction as well as video with just music. I enjoy that because there are times where I just want to hear classical music and copy what I see, but then there are other times where I really want to focus harder on exact technique. I also really appreciate the stretching videos! Click!

General Tips

  • Keep an inner instructor in your head. I try to my best to focus on my technique at home. It can be really hard to make sure you’re doing some things well when you don’t have someone there watching to correct you so try to remind yourself “posture”,  “breathe”, “stomach tight”, etc. Focus on technique because if you keep practicing it incorrectly at home, you may find yourself in a sticky mess when you finally get to a class and it’s twice as hard because you need to forget how to do it the incorrect way and learn to do it the correct way. 
  • Invest in a full length mirror you can move around if you don’t have one. It’s important to be able to see what your body is doing in order to do the step above. There are some pretty affordable mirrors at Target, Walmart, and thrift stores.
  • Build a barre (shameless plug to my DIY post! haha), or use a counter/chair/couch/railing. That extra balance is important, particularly for beginners, in order to help you learn the best technique and also to prevent injury from falling face first into the floor. haha.
  • Try to avoid doing ballet on carpet, it can be a little extra sticky under your feet and cause some tripping/toe injuries. If you do ballet on tile or wood flooring make sure you have proper traction.
  • If you can, try to video even just a portion of your workout… I totally get what some of you may be thinking: AWKWARD, I don’t want to see myself dancing. But I assure you, it will help you get better! You’ll have a nice opportunity to watch back the video and see that this whole time you thought your ronde de jambe was perfect but alas you forget to point your toes in the back! Or maybe you might even find something you’re doing better than you thought you were.

For now, I think that’s all I have for videos and tips but I will be sure to post again when I have more. I hope that you at home ballerinas find this a little bit helpful. Does anyone else have any home ballet tips or favorite videos to use? Let me know in the comments!

-Caysie

VB6 Eating Plan and Other Updates

51qV9xWV3OL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_ Last week, I stumbled upon Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before Six book/diet plan on Twitter, and thought it sounded like the perfect plan to get me eating better. Although I haven’t been able to get a hold of a copy of VB6 yet, the plan is pretty simple. Eat vegan and mostly unprocessed before 6, and then eat mostly normally, in moderation, after 6. I’ll be trying to eat healthier, although probably not vegan, dinners.

I’ve tried to cut back lately (and I’m so inspired by all the ladies I talked to about their clean eating), but it’s been a mostly failing effort. My biggest weakness seems to be mac and cheese and other forms of pasta.

I’ll be making a few slight changes to this meal plan, since I can’t seem to part with yogurt (I love Chobani, and I think otherwise I’d struggle with finding good sources of protein given that I’m a pretty picky eater). It’s also the reason I’ve dubbed this the diet of my childhood. I refused to eat cheese (except for the occasional pizza–go figure)  and cream cheese and many other processed foods until my senior year of high school. I also weighed about 100 pounds as a result (although that’s not my goal here, I just want to develop a healthier lifestyle).

While I’ve done a lot of meal prepping and shopping for breakfast and lunch ideas (lots of fruits and veggies), I’ve yet to figure out what a lot of my dinner meals will be. I’m planning on attempting this avocado pasta sauce recipe with some whole wheat pasta tonight, but after that, I’ll probably be trying different combinations of stir frys and other healthy recipes. I’ve you’ve got healthy dinner ideas, feel free to send them this way so I don’t fall into a pasta rut again!

How do you figure out new and exciting healthy meals to eat?

In other news, I will finally be heading back to ballet either tonight (probably not because I’m having some lower right calf pain, again, ugh) or Thursday. I really want to go tonight, but since it’s the advance class, I’m thinking it’s probably best to just chill out and not push it, but I’ll probably throw on some Kinesio tape and see how today goes.

How to Build 10 Foot PVC Ballet Barres

This article comes from Kelly on how to make full-sized PVC ballet barres, great for a studio or at home.

 

This is the instructions/ measurements for ours that I made for Pulse Dance Studio in Bedford:

Barre measurements:
59.5″ cross bars (x2)
9.25″ spacer (x3)
27″ (adult) 16.25″ (baby) legs (x3)
10.75″ feet (x6)
(4) 90 deg. cross fitting
(3) 90 deg. tee fitting
(8) 90 deg. elbow fitting
(28) 8×3/4 screws
(1) can of PVC glue
1 1/4 in PVC pipe was used when we made these (it was the heavier kind from Lowes)
Cut PVC carefully to make everything even. I used a table miter saw. Dry fit and mark. Glue top elbow, spacer, and tee together (we didn’t glue to leg so we could swap out legs if we needed more tall ones or more short ones) glue feet. Dry fit bars and legs and drill holes straight through fitting and bar for screws so they can be disassembled if needed. Put in screws, you’re done!
Makes one ten foot double barre out of PVC 🙂

July Challenge Abs and Legs

My plan for July is to work on both my abs and legs with a challenge, considering I’ve slacked on both recently (I was a standard #plankaday participant for most of April and May before I started to slack off). Since I’ve had some free time (I missed ballet this weekend because of a stomach bug) and I’m taking off this weekend because of Fourth of July. Both ab strength and leg strength are essential in ballet. Here’s my challenge based off what I think I’ll be able to do:

absandlegschallenge

 

I’ve chosen 3 of my favorite ab exercises and 3 of my favorite leg exercises, based on what I think will help me work out my own legs and abs based on what’s worked in the past. I’ll probably end up using my 3 pound weights in my hands for the lunges and eventually for the sumo squats.

Feel free to make adjustments as needed, and make sure you take a rest day each week. Let me know if you’re participating, I’d love to know how you’re doing with the challenge!

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