Relaxing Your Hip and Back for Ballet

If you are like me, who find yourself sitting at the computer desk for way too many hours a day, you probably would have developed tight hip flexors, or psoas—the largest muscle group in our body responsible for flexing our legs from the hip joint. Well, this is bad news for anyone serious about doing ballet the right way, because a good ballet posture calls for a relatively neutral spinal alignment (vertical, but allowing for the natural curve of the spine). When the hip is tilted forward as a result of tightness in the psoas, it is more difficult to move your legs freely from the hip down, and it affects the balance and all sorts of movements too.

The following photo illustrates how an anterior-tilted hip looks like (yea, that was me many years ago 😉 ):

Anterior Tilt of Hip Joint, a no no for ballet - www.balletomanehk.com

I’m sure most of you have heard this instruction from your teacher in class: “Drop your tailbone!” or “Coccyx forward!” Basically, it is a reminder that we should keep our hip level and not tilted forward (or in some cases, backwards).

But most of you probably have found it difficult to maintain that neutral position, having to constantly be reminded or try to remind yourself.

There is a solution to this problem. But before I share the solution, let me just explain the reason why we have anterior tilt in a simple way: Our muscles in the back are too tight from many hours of sitting. The tension of these muscles must be released before they can do their work of properly holding the upper body in the upright position.

The following picture shows how we can release those tight muscles in a very easy and relaxing way. It is free and can be done in the comfort of your home. Find a chair, a sofa or any piece of furniture that has the height of the length of your calves, such as a low coffee table. Lie down on the floor. Place your calves on the flat surface of the furniture so that your calves and thighs form a 90-degree angle. If the surface is too low, try to pad it up with a firm cushion so that you get that 90 degrees. Lastly, place your arms on the side at a 45-degree angle to your trunk. Make sure the palms are facing the ceiling.

Egoscue Exercise - Static Back

Egoscue Exercise – Static Back

Now, you’re likely going to feel some tension at the lower back at this point. Try to place your hand under your back and feel if there is a gap. If you have a gap there, it is a sign that you do have an anterior tilt. What you do next is just to lie there, deep breathe through your diaphragm (horizontal expansion of rib cage), and relax. You can listen to music, daydream, go through ballet combinations in your head, or just dose off—whatever you feel like doing in a relaxed state. Just try not to watch TV as this would strain your neck and back muscles and defeat the purpose of doing this exercise.

Gradually, you will notice the tight muscles on your back loosening up. You may feel so relaxed that naturally fall asleep! How long should you be doing this? It depends on how tight your muscles are, but check the gap under your back after 10-15 minutes. If it is still there, I suggest staying there until the gap disappears. Half an hour would be really good as a start. Of course, if you are short of time, just do whatever you can. But if you keep doing this 10-15 minutes a day, you will find a difference in your spinal alignment. This simple exercise can contribute a great deal in achieving the “aplomb” that is so important for ballet. Try it, and let me know how you feel! Off I go to do this!

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4 thoughts on “Relaxing Your Hip and Back for Ballet

  1. This is invaluable advice not only for dancers but for all of us as we all sit a lot, as you have already mentioned in the article. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I will share it with my friends so that more benefit from it.

  2. Hmm this is really interesting! And here I thought that most people actually posterior tilt their pelvis. I also thought your lower back should have a natural curve? I’m asking because that’s what I read here: http://corewalking.com/untucking-the-pelvis-and-tucking-the-tailbone/ and here: http://corewalking.com/lumbar-curve-spine/.
    Do you know how these two differing information could be explained or combined? Or is there something I’m not understanding correctly?

    • Hi Christine, thank you for your comment. I think the author of Corewalking.com has assumed that most people tuck their tailbones, which simply is not true. The conditions vary from person to person, depending on their habits. In my post I have talked about anterior pelvic tilt because that is generally the result of sitting too much. If a person does not sit all day long for work, they probably won’t have this condition. The book “Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion” shows the readers exactly how to determine whether they are tucking their tailbone (or posterior tilt) or whether they have anterior pelvic tilt.

      On your other point regarding the tailbone, it is true that the lower back should have a natural curve. The problem with ballet dancers is that teachers traditionally teach that we should absolutely straighten our spines, and that often leads to the loss of the natural curve, which is not beneficial health-wise. That is why I have written in parenthesis “vertical, but allowing for the natural curve of the spine.” I hope this clears up your confusions. Let me know if there is anything else that’s unclear.

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