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!

‘Would You Rather’: Ballet Edition #1

Responding to the “Adult Ballerina Project“‘s first ballet edition of “Would you Rather!”, here are my answers to her five questions:

#1 Would you rather be incredibly naturally flexible or have endless stamina?–By Kyla

At my age, neither can be easily attainable, but if I’m only give one choice, I’d choose incredible flexibility–it would create the great looks on stage–provided I don’t have to dance very long!

#2 Would you rather take an early morning class (6am) or a late evening class (9pm)?

Early morning class. Late evening classes mean cortisol build-up at a time of the day when the body should be winding down. Not great for health.

#3 Would you rather do 32 changements or 32 fouettés?–By Beth

I could do 32 changements but I’d rather be able to do 32 fouettés, for the obvious reason that I can’t actually do even one! And fouettés are like the ultimate yardstick of technical virtuosity. Oh well, perhaps another life time!

#4 Would you rather do a développé with proper technique or a higher développé suspecting your instructor doesn´t see you cheat?–By FGH

Oh, please allow me the vanity of doing higher développés 😛

#5 Would you rather have beautifully arched feet or perfect legs?–By Kyla

Another question that reveals I have neither. And here is another vain answer: Beautifully arched feet.

If you are interested in posting your own questions on your blog, do so and go to Adult Ballerina Project‘s page to post your blog’s link.

Anna Pavlova and Turned-in Legs

Anna Pavlova

Ballet dancers have this obsession about turnout… or worse, that “perfect” 180-degree turnout that is so elusive and unattainable for most of us. But has anybody ever noticed how turned in the legendary Anna Pavlova was? And none of that diminished her artistry and dramatic appeal by even a tiny bit. Just read this passage which describes how Rudolph Nureyev liked the turned-in aesthetics:

“Rudolph has always admired the beauty of Merle [Park]’s legs — slim and turned in like Pavlova’s, with the same highly arched insteps…” (“Rudolph Nureyev, The Life” by Julie Kavanagh, Penguin 2007).

In the following video, you will be able to see some rare footage of Pavlova dancing solos. Listen to what the program host, Margot Fonteyn, said about Pavlova’s dancing: “Pavlova disregarded pure ballet technique. When it suited her it was only because she was interested in being expressive. Virtuosity had no purpose unless it served the purpose of dance. And yet at the same time, she had the speed and strength which would be hard to equal today.”

Cheers to turned-in legs and expressive dancing!