The Power of Pilates — Using Pilates to Strengthen Your Core for Ballet

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Cross training can sound intimidating: what about time commitment, additional expenses, or  lack of energy? However, don’t let these factors prevent you from adding a new exercises to your daily routine.

During my dance career, I experienced a plateau period when I didn’t notice advancements in my dancing. This was a frustrating time, and I struggled to find a reason why I wasn’t improving and gaining strength. I noticed my most prevalent weak area was my core, so I searched for exercises that would be most beneficial. Over time, I realized that I needed to incorporate some type of cross-training in addition to my usual ballet classes. I found my niche in Pilates, the ultimate core building series of exercises invented by Joseph Pilates. I realized that I needed a strong core, or powerhouse, to get to the next level.

Pilates is a fantastic cross training option that will improve your dancing and overall well-being. Focusing primarily on core strength, Pilates provides the perfect accompaniment to ballet’s core centered exercises. The moderately paced mat classes offer a low impact yet effective workout that will sculpt the body into a long, lean silhouette.

After completing the beginner phase of training, the workout starts with a challenging abdominal series, requiring immediate movement. Not to be mistaken for the series of prolonged yoga poses, Pilates requires swift execution of with rare, brief rest periods between exercises. The movement continues at a steady pace, including targeted leg, arm, and back work. The assortment of exercises prevents loss of interest and provides a full body workout.

Ultimately, the goal of Pilates as a cross training exercise is to enhance the lean muscle mass achieved in dancing. Also, Pilates leads to increased core strength and flexibility, as well as improved posture. For those who are searching for additional ways to improve their dancing, Pilates is a fantastic option for reaching the next level.

Image via Flickr User Migration Museum Project

The Dancewear Project’s Awesome Striped Ombre Legwarmers

Ever since I ended up with stress fractures in both of my legs (and given that I have pretty bad ankles, too) — I’ve been addicted to wearing legwarmers when in the studio. Even if it’s a humid 95 degrees out in Philadelphia. I’m always on the hunt for pretty legwarmers (it’s so easy to get sick of your standard black) and jumped at the chance to try the The Dancewear Project’s Striped Ombre Legwarmers:

i-qGJXKhx-L_grandeA photo from The Dancewear Project’s website

I first came across The Dancewear Project because they launched a leotard line with Ballet Zaida (which if you’re not following on Instagram you should be). So I reached out to Melissa at The Dancewear Project and she kindly offered to let me try a pair for free! And I fell in love with them.

Since I have fairly big thighs, sometimes finding legwarmers that can go up to them and not restrict them can be tough — that’s why I was so happy to pull out Dancewear Project’s legwarmers and find out that they were super stretchy and super cute (I seriously love all things striped — and that’s the only downside to these legwarmers to me — is making sure I’m not clashing with a striped top when I pack my dance bag!)

The legwarmers are warm, but breathable, and look cute, too. I love them for my classes that I take in slippers — they can be pulled down over your ankles to keep them warm at barre but then quickly pushed up for across the floor work. I think I’ve only worn them once for pointe class, but I liked them for that class as well since they could be both pulled down over my ankles and rolled up quickly. They wash nicely, too, and will definitely remain something I keep wearing year-round, and I’ll probably pick up a second pair, too (the pink ones are adorable, too). Here’s some of my photos from after class (I’ll add some more once I get the chance to take pointe shoe photos, too):

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I can’t wait to try out the rest of The Dancewear Project’s line, too! If you’d like to, you can use the code adultballerina at checkout for 20 percent off!

3 Essential Stretches to Improve Your Turnout

Whether you’re trying to improve your flexibility, warm up for class, or just relieve some muscle soreness, stretching can be extremely beneficial. For this tutorial, we’ve picked our favorite basic hip-opening stretches inspired by our favorite yoga poses and in-class exercises.

Each of these poses can be modified to be either more or less intense, so choose the best variation for you. As always, listen to your body and keep in mind these tips for safe stretching:

  • Repeat the stretch on both sides. Don’t give up on one side when it can’t quite do what the other can. Symmetry makes for good alignment!
  • Breathe. It seems obvious, but it’s a natural tendency to hold your breath during a deep stretch. Taking deep breaths sends oxygen through your blood and to your muscles, which both feels great and helps your stretch.
  • Move slowly in and out of stretches, and never force yourself past the point of pain. Protect your instrument!

Drop-Second Plié

Stand in a wide second position, turning out only as much as your hips will allow. Hold onto a barre, table, chair, etc. for support as you bend into a deep grand plié. This stretch will be wider and lower than a proper grand plié, and you’ll want the weight of your pelvis to drop between your heels. Be careful of over-rotation — always keep the arches lifted, with all five toes rooted into the floor.

If you feel stable enough to balance in this position, try lifting your hands off the barre and placing them at your chest, palms together. Place your elbows at the insides of your knees and push your hands downward to push the knees back and open. Remember to breathe! To recover, gently take your elbows away from your knees, place your hands back on the barre, and use your glutes to rise and straighten your knees.

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Back to the Basics: Five Tips for Polished Dancing

5-Tips-For-Polished-DancingBallet is an intricate, complicated style of dance. Whether training begins at a young age or later in life, the technique is challenging and requires not only great strength of the body, but of the mind, as well. Sometimes, successfully memorizing combinations and releasing the distracting thoughts of the day is a triumph in itself.

At times, the details of the steps may overwhelming. However, by focusing on five key points of ballet technique, your dancing will look polished and clean, even if you muddle up the ronde de jambe combination!

Five Tips for Polished Dancing:

Keep your core tight.

In every movement of every combination, keep your core tight. By pulling your abdominals up and squeezing your glutes together, your dancing becomes a strengthening exercise, in addition to artistic expression.

Fix your gaze slightly above eye level.

A small increase in eye level can do wonders! Try to avoid looking at the floor, which creates a shy, unsure effect. Your upper body presentation will instantly improve, as well as your self confidence.

Release tension in your hands.

Achieving a lovely, gentle hand position is tricky, especially when holding muscle tension in your hands. Try this easy fix: touch the tip of your middle finger to your thumb throughout  the combination. The tension leaves automatically!

Use your back to support your arms.

While performing quick footwork at the barre, your arm in second position may gradually begin to droop. Use your back muscles to support the position, rather than letting your arm grow tired. A strongly held arm completes every position.

Relax and smile!

While a giant smile might come off as a little extreme, maintaining a happy, pleasant expression captures everyone’s attention. Remember, dancing is supposed to be enjoyed, so let the joy shine from your face!

Sometimes, tiny changes bring about grand improvements. By integrating these five tips into your class time, your dancing will look clean and polished!

Image by Gabriel Saldana modified using Creative Commons permissions

Check out these core workouts to help improve your stability + more for ballet!

Featured Image modified from CCFoodTravel.com with CC permissions

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