Archive | August 2013

Improving Your Leg Extension

side extenstion

 

So many dancers ask how to improve their leg extensions. Developing a good leg extension is one of the most cherished things a dancer looks forward to. Here is a re-post of  important information in creating that beautiful extension in you.

 

 

There are a number of things that ballet teachers work on diligently to develop in their dancers. First and foremost is a love of dance. Next is the appearance of the dancer’s body. Correct alignment, stretched and pointed feet, good spotting technique, beautifully stretched out leaps and higher jumps. But one of the most impressive skills that is sought after, is high leg extension. I am referring to the working leg either to the front or to the side. This is practiced first at the barre, then moves to the center with adagio music and developpe exercises. A standard ballet class will have at least one exercise at the barre and one center floor. Both barre and center exercises will repeat right and left sides, to train the extension that defines the beautiful slow developpe.

The typical ballet class is not enough to develop the necessary strength, flexibility and coordination required of the dancer to develop the necessary muscle groups to achieve the highest of extensions. I would like to recommend that while practicing at home that several conditioning exercises should be done. Conditioning outside the dance class, at home, will show good results for back strengthening, arabesque height and front and side leg extensions.

There are two muscle groups involved in good extensions. The quadriceps and the hip flexor muscles.

The quadriceps are a large muscle group that includes the muscles on the front of the thigh. It is the a large muscle that extends out of the knee, forming a large fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the thigh bone. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to flex the thigh bone. They are situated on the upper thighs and just beneath the hipbones. Hip flexors allow for lifting of the knees and bending at the midsection. Because they continuously work to support the body, hip flexors tend to become stressed and tight, which can prevent the highest of leg extensions

Here is a five minute exercise that should be done in three sets of ten repetitions on both legs. It should be repeated three times per week for six weeks to get some better extension results.This exercise is to stretch the hip flexors. 

Sit in a long sit position: back straight and both legs extended front

Lean back on your hands

The leg to be exercised is turned out with the knee slightly bent like a front attitude

The other leg is bent and the foot is flat on the floor

Lift the attitude leg slowly and then bring it back down again, in three sets of ten repetitions.

The achievement here is to use the quadriceps as little as possible and work the hip flexors.

Another way to stretch the hip flexors is to:

Lie flat on your back, and pulling one leg into your chest.

Lift the other leg up and pointed towards the ceiling and turned out.

Then slowly lower the leg until it eventually rests on the floor.

As you hug one leg, feel a release in the hip flexors in the extended leg.

Hold the working leg off the floor as close to the floor as possible for about 20 seconds before releasing the foot to the floor.

Remember to keep the small of the back pressed to the floor. Repeat for the other leg.

Stretching the quadriceps is important for good leg extension and hip flexors stretch ability and should not be totally neglected.

Lie on to your stomach flat on the floor.

With a flat back, relaxed neck and relaxed legs, Begin lifting your right foot and lower leg upward and bend it at the knee.

Lifting your body up slightly, reach back behind you and grab your right foot with your right hand.

Pull your leg upward and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds.

Next, perform the same quad stretch using your left leg.

You can also perform quad stretches for your hip flexors from a kneeling or standing position.

Or…Use a chair or wall for support if needed.

Pushing backwards toward a wall with your leg bent between your body and the wall during quad stretches will intensify the stretch and provide support. So instead of holding your foot, use the wall behind you for balance and stretch.

For a more intense stretch,

Start with your left leg. Kneel down on your left knee and position your right foot in front of you, knee bent.

Place your right hand on your right leg to guide your balance. Your other hand should be at your hip.

Keep your back and head straight, with your abdominal muscles tight. Shift some of your weight to your right leg, moving forward slightly. You should feel your left thigh stretching.

Extend the left leg behind you so that you are on the ball of the foot.

Raise both arms straight up above your head parallel to your ears.

Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat it three times, then switch legs.

There not many things in ballet as beautiful as a high leg extension…..one that can be held with ease. Work on it!

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How To Find The Right Dance School

vaganova grade 2 ext (2)

Finding the right fit in a dance school for you, with the new dance season approaching, can be a  task. Let’s talk about what you are looking for ….. 

 

The first step to finding the right dance school for you is discovering what you truly want to do with dance in your life. Realize what your goals, dreams and desires are in respect to dance. Do you just want some exercise? Do you just want a social activity? If your focus is purely social and a little exercise, then your journey is much more easier than you thought. Just ask around.

But, if you absolutely love to dance —if you eat, think, sleep and dream dance — and have the thoughts of a professional career, either on stage, as a teacher or choreographer, then your goal is to find a school with teachers who have a focus on those same ideals. A teacher who has your dreams in their heart as well.

Once you know what kind of a dance school you are looking for, it will be much easier to find it. First, talk with the owner of the school. Do the teachers who work for the school have some type of certification or are on their way to one? What kind of experience do the teachers have? Where did they study? Don’t just be impressed with rows of trophies, since to be judged is always just someone’s opinion. Not all schools with rows of trophies have the dancer’s heart first and foremost in their value.

Well rounded dance programs should offer an array of classes with the main focus on classical ballet and ballet technique with possibilities of pointe work in the future. Jazz, tap and modern should be second on the list of classes to search out. All of these classes contribute to the building of a well rounded, well informed dancer.

Does the school offer a graded syllabus where the dancer will progress to a certain level from year to year? This is an important question to ask. Just as you would graduate from grade to grade in school the same should be for dance school.

Does the school know what method of ballet that they offer. You would be surprised that some local dance schools have no idea that there are different methods or the differences between them. I teach the Cecchetti method, but some of the others that are foremost are the Russian Vaganova method and the Royal Academy of Dance method. We will discuss their differences in a future post. It is good for a school to focus one method instead of combining methods as many do. The variations in the syllabus and the technique can confuse a dance student.

Are you interested in an end of the year performance? Are you interested in dancing in a Nutcracker at Christmas time? Although these two aspects of dance school are important for learning stage presence they should not be the focal point of the studio, learning and increasing your dance technique should be the main objective.

Some signs of quality dance training are:
-Proper placement in class and focus on correct fundamentals
-Emphasis on correct execution of steps, with focus on clean lines, strength and stability,.
-Technical proficiency of a majority of students in the school. -Graduating dancers with intent to continue dance.
I am hoping that this dance season will be your best one ever,

learning good solid technique,

gaining strength,

progressing

and having fun!