Postural Alignment for Ballet

Second day of Kathryn Morgan’s 12-Week Challenge: I had to switch things around as I couldn’t really do the cardio as suggested on her January calendar. It was raining cats and dogs for the most part of the day, so I decided to do some gentle stretching instead, especially since I have developed some muscle aches after my first class yesterday (as expected!). “Yoga” was suggested for Thursday, so I decided to swap “cardio” with that. And since I haven’t really properly learned to do any yoga myself, I opted for Egoscue exercises instead.

You may never have heard of Egoscue exercises. They are exercises for correcting our postures so that our main loading joints align properly, giving the entire body balance from left to right and from front to back. I learned to do these more than eight years ago, about the same time I started to take ballet lessons. At that time, I had a severe case of back pain, and I tried many different modules until I hit the jackpot—the book “Pain Free” by Pete Egoscue showed up in my local bookstore right in front of me. Following the exercises for back pain in the book helped me get rid of most of the pain and I was able to function normally again.

Later on I realized that ballet strictly requires a symmetrical alignment of the body and mine was far from the ideal. In fact, being desk-bound for my work made my right shoulder much lower than the left, and there was a serious imbalance between my left and right hips. Such imbalances caused pain in the lower body, such as pain in the knees and ankles. So I looked into the Egoscue Method further and found the following book: “The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion.”

The book shows three different kinds of imbalances and mine (left-right and anterior pelvic tilt) are two of those covered in the book. The other one is posterior pelvic tilt. I started doing full sets of exercises to correct both the left-right and front-back imbalances. I did them first thing in the morning every single day for about four years, and the result? Voilà!

Egoscue_Condition1_Before-After-Left

2007 vs. 2011

Egoscue Exercise for Condition 2 - www.balletomanehk.com

Life got busy, and I haven’t been doing these exercises diligently after the initial four years. Sure enough, the long hours sitting behind the computer screen have taken a toll on my posture again. With Kathryn Morgan’s 12-week challenge, I have found the motivation to squeeze some time into my busy schedule to realign my posture again.

Some of the exercises are borrowed from yoga and some are unique creations by Pete Egoscue himself. Below are some snapshots of what I did today:

Egoscue - Downward Dog - http://www.balletomanehk.com Egoscue - Frog - http://www.balletomanehk.comEgoscue_Standing-Quad-Stretch Egoscue - Abdominals - http://www.balletomanehk.com
Egocue - Supine Groin - http://www.balletomanehk.com

I feel so good now that I have aligned my posture for the day. The whole body feels relaxed and light, and the exercises have given me the kind of gentle conditioning that would prepare me for the ballet workouts that are coming up.

Thanks to the rain, I did manage to do a tiny bit of cardio after all—it made a mess with my garden on the roof, so by cleaning up the mess, I did get my heart rate pumped up and I got a little sweaty too! 😉

How has your challenge been so far? Share with me in the comment section below.

Dancers, Go out in the Sun!

Louisa_PointeShoes_Rocks

Summer is here! Dancers, what are your plans? To many of us who are in love with the barre, the prospect of taking a summer break without any dance class is just a torture, isn’t  it?

Pointe-Shoes-on-the-Rock-5

Well, let’s take a look at the issue from a different perspective. Dancers spend most of their waking hours indoors, inside the studio, away from exposure to natural light. Without the benefit of the sunlight, our skin would not be producing enough Vitamin D, which is a vital hormone that aids the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, among hundreds of other benefits it brings to the body. I referred to Vitamin D as a “hormone” instead of a vitamin, because it functions differently from vitamins,  in that it can actually be manufactured by the body itself without the help of food. Its production is triggered by exposure to sunlight. Knowing that it helps the absorption of the important minerals that contribute to bone health, it is therefore of utmost importance for dancers to get adequate amount of Vitamin D.

A study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting has linked too little vitamin D in the body to an increased risk of muscle injuries in athletes. While the study involved football players, you have probably seen the list of the most demanding athletic activities, in which ballet ranks higher than football (sorry I can’t find that list now). So the warning from the research can definitely be applied to ballet dancers and students alike.

Louisa_Dancing-on-the-Roof

Practicing barre on the rooftop

By now, you probably have guessed what the best way to get Vitamin D is. Yes, get out in the sun! But do so without those horrendous “visors” ubiquitous in Asia, and sans the carcinogenic sunblocks. In case you haven’t heard, most commercial sunscreens contain questionable ingredients that could lead to cancer or hormonal disruption and other terrible long-term health issues. In the reference section below the article, you can find a link to how to choose sunscreens that are safe. Personally, I do not use any sunscreen at all, except for a thin layer of tinted moisturizer by 100% pure on my face. My body likes getting the tan. I have a lot of natural pigments (melanin), which protects me from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. I also eat a lot of vegetables in a rainbow spectrum on a daily basis, which serves as a natural protection from sunburn. I have read that people in tropical countries apply coconut oil to protect their skin (http://bit.ly/1gHJJfL). I haven’t tried it myself but you might want to give it a try (best to use extra virgin coconut oil).

I have once overheard a conversation involving the parents of a girl who hopes to become a professional dancer when she grows up. The parents were asked about the summertime activities they have planned for the girl. They replied: “She wouldn’t be going outdoors much. It’s best for her to keep her skin color fair, as it would be ideal for ballet dancers. She’ll be swimming in indoor pools and mostly playing indoors.”

I balked at such a suggestion. Not only is this a most unscientific approach to their daughter’s health, it also reinforces the stereotype that ballerinas should have fair skin (read David King’s blog post about the idea of “passable white” in ballet, http://bit.ly/1SuWrdC). Why can’t we, Asians, maintain our natural skin color and create our own ideal for ballet dancers?

Well, I’m way past the age of becoming a professional dancer, but in my whimsical way, I like to think of myself as an “outdoor ballerina”—having fun in the sun—and I am not ashamed of my brown skin. Let’s have some fun in the sun this summer, shall we?

 

 

References:

Vitamin D: Health Benefits and Recommended Intake

Vitamin D Deficiency Links to Risk of Uterine Fibroids

Lack of Vitamin D Leads to Muscle Injuries

The Environment Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens

Classical Ballet: An Art or a Sport?

First Position… Again

First Position_Sep17, 2014

It was raining at lunch time today, so I had to give up on working out barefoot outdoors. Took my very old pair of ballet slippers to an empty room in my office building and practiced ballet for the first time since my surgery. Experienced all the usual things that an absolute beginner experiences: shaky legs, low extension, stiffness, inability to hold my leg in the air for even one count. The list goes on. This gives me the insight that when I was doing ballet full out a year ago, I was often feeling inadequate in my techniques. But from the perspective of an absolute beginner. whom am now, I think that kind of judgment on myself was way too harsh. And so the same goes for every one of you ballet buddies who think you aren’t doing great. You are doing excellent!

In today’s practice, I almost forgot the steps for each simple barre exercise. But I didn’t fret too much about it. And as you can see in my first position here, I don’t have much of a turnout to speak of, but I did not try to force it when I practiced. Instead, I focused on using the core and hamstrings, which I have been working on in my Pilates sessions in the past few months. Without the help of a real ballet barre–holding on lightly to the edge of a white board, I was all the more aware of the use of core muscles. While the execution was quite pathetic, I did my best, and came out feeling quite surprised about the amount of sweat I worked up with.

It was a good start.