Empowerment – Three Small Ways to Build Strength for Ballet
Have you seen the Wonder Woman movie yet? What are you waiting for? Not only is it a great action film, terrific story, with great touches of humor, but it is overwhelmingly gratifying to watch a powerful, feminine character triumphing. It left me feeling stronger than I’ve felt in a very long time.
You need to be strong to dance ballet as well as to save the world. Last month I talked about ankle strength, but core strength is also key to ballet. I’m not just talking about engaging deep abdominals, but core hip and back strength as well.
One thing that makes Diana Prince a great superhero is how she discovers her powers in the moment, reflexively. Strength in ballet is like that too. It is strong without hardness, or gritting your teeth or holding your breath. It’s a solid standing leg when doing a degage or develope or engaging your core in a pirouette.
There are small ways to improve strength that can make a big difference to your dancing. In rebuilding my strength from being sick for two months, I came across this quote by Dali Lama that seems apt especially this summer: “If you are feeling like small things don’t make much of a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Here then are three small ways to condition your body to become stronger.
1. One minute plank. We do planks at my gym, Mark Fisher Fitness. Planks work your arms, shoulders, legs, butt, and abdominals. My goal this month is to start each day with a one minute plank. I did my plank today! How to do a plank:
- Spread and flatten your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders. If you feel pain in your wrists, put your elbows on the floor under your shoulders instead.
- Stretch your legs back so that your body is in a line from your head to your heels and come onto the balls of your feet and press your one minute timer.
- Press your heels back, Lift your hips and squeeze your butt, tuck your hips under, and hollow your belly into your spine. Imagine you are wearing a belt and you are pointing your belt buckle towards your chin. Open your chest and widen across your collar bones. Breathe! Squeeze your butt and hollow your belly again!
2. Stand on one foot. Since nearly everything in ballet is done on one leg, practicing standing on one leg with good pelvic alignment (like I learned in physical therapy) can help prepare and strengthen your hips and legs and core, and will improve your balance. In doing this you may notice one leg is more wobbly (weaker) than the other. Doing this every day will help even that out. The beauty of it is you can do it while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes or any time you are standing and waiting!
- Stand with your feet parallel. Check that your pelvis isn’t tucked under or tilted back. Zip up your lower abdomen, stand up tall and transfer your weight to one foot.
- Make sure your hips are level right and left as well as front to back. I’m working towards three minutes on each leg.
- Try it with your eyes closed which makes balancing a lot harder.
3. Baby Cobra If you’ve been to a yoga class, you may know this one already. It’s an amazing way to strengthen your back and abdominals. Yes, a strong back will also help your pirouettes.
- Lie on your stomach with your legs together, turned parallel, so that you feel your toenails on the floor and stretch your legs back behind you.
- Lift and hollow your lower belly away from the floor. Keep that abdominal support, so that you bend in your upper, not lower back as you do this.
- Put your hands on the floor next to your ribcage and peel your shoulders and chest up off the floor.
- Drop your chin to keep your head in line with your spine and lengthen out the top of your head and out your legs and feet.
- Come down and rest and try it again. The second time after you come up, take your hands off the floor and hold the position using the muscles in your belly and upper back.
By strengthening your abs, hips and back, you create an intrinsic strength that will help you balance, work better on one leg, hold your alignment, and be more efficient when you move. Take that out into your daily life and pay attention to how you hold your body. How you sit, stand, walk, cross or uncross your legs, (keep them uncrossed!) and on which shoulder you hold your bag (alternate!) makes a big difference when you get into the studio. Your body will get stronger by consistent positive actions and exercises even if they seem small, making you stronger and more capable to do all that is required of you in ballet and in the world.
Please see the Classes page for my current teaching schedule. I’d love to see you at the barre!