Second in a planned series on ballet.
by Katherine Hartsell, PTA
If you are sitting to read this article, please momentarily stand up. Glance down at the habitual stance you have assumed and note if your body relates to the Degas Little Dancer sculpture in the photograph above. If you are a dancer, you are certain to have some similarities. It’s extremely likely that you have your legs rotated out. It’s also highly probable that this rotation is being expressed more so on one leg than the other. It’s actually also possible you are still sitting in a way, but instead of relying on a chair for support, you are kicking back onto your joints. You are perhaps hanging out on collapsed arches, locked back into your knees, or perching on your low back. You might have parked one side of your pelvis on your back leg, while thrusting the other half of your pelvis forward – essentially rotating your hips and spine. You might have your tailbone flipped out behind you, or conversely, tucked underneath you. The curves in your spine, which are most ready to support, absorb, and perform when placed in their natural waves, might be significantly distorted. Your signature posture is sure to feel normal (and probably looks normal to you because every other dancer seems do some variation of these themes), but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. If you are standing habitually with asymmetrical turnout, locked joints, a misplaced pelvis, and disturbed spinal curves, you bring these undesired patterns to your dancing.
Dancers that come for treatment at Boston Sports Medicine often ask about the best ways to warmup for ballet class. The next post in this series will specifically guide dancers through in-studio warmup principals, but the way one stands (and then walks) is the first, and arguably the most important, part of warming up for class, performance, and for dance life at large. At our clinic, standing and walking habits are addressed continuously because they greatly influence dancing patterns and overall health. If dancers can learn to perform these ordinary tasks with balance, stability, alignment, ease and awareness, they are much more likely to perform their extraordinary tasks with these same qualities.
The Degas sculpture represents postural habits that so many dancers share. These twisting, collapsing, locking, and skewing patterns are almost never intentional and are usually practiced unknowingly, but they can wreck havoc on ankles, feet, knees, hips and spine. If you truly want to begin warming up safely and optimally, start with standing up for it – literally. Become aware of the way you stand around before and during class, in the wings while performing, and in your daily life. Notice the way you walk at any given time, both inside and outside the dance studio. Instead of self-sabotage with each stance and each stride, point yourself in a new direction. With your toes. Bring your toes to face forward until the outer edges of your feet are parallel. At first, it will most likely feel strange and even turned in. However, this gives a much needed balance to your legs, stability to your hips, and space to your low back. These gains can help you excel, both as a dancer and as a human being.
The next post in this series will offer specific warmup strategies. In the meantime, direct your toes in the direction you want to go – forward!
Katherine Hartsell is a Physical Therapist Assistant at Boston Sports Medicine