08 July, 2011
Exercises to Improve Ballet Balance
As you move through space, your body makes constant adjustments to keep you balanced. If you train in ballet, poor balance can cause an otherwise sparkling performance to fall flat -- literally. Adding balance exercises to your daily routine can help you hold static poses without wobbling, shift forward into penche and land smoothly after a series of fast turns.
Ankles as Anchors
Strong ankles and feet contribute to better balance when you dance. Exercises that boost ankle and foot strength include classic ballet exercises, such as slow tendues and releves. In releve, keep your weight directly over your second and third toes, without letting your feet roll forward or backward. To build strength in the muscles that support your ankles, do a series of resistance band exercises to work your plantar flexors, dorsiflexors, invertors and evertors. For the small intrinsic muscles of your feet, use the classic towel scrunch or practice grabbing and releasing marbles or other small objects with your feet and toes.
Boosting strength in your core muscles -- including your back, abs and hips -- improves balance by helping you stay properly aligned. You can beef up your core by taking a Pilates mat class or by performing basic core exercises -- including glute bridges, front and side planks, bicycle crunches and supermans -- after class or at home. If you go the Pilates route, choose your instructor and class setting carefully, especially if you have specific weaknesses that might contribute to your balance issues. Because a large-group setting might be too impersonal and the instruction too general, consider working with a private instructor to pinpoint and improve your weak spots.
Prepping Your Proprioceptors
Proprioception exercises develop a person's sense of position in space. As you move and as your environment changes, heightened self-awareness makes it easier to find and maintain your balance. One of the most basic proprioception exercises involves standing on one leg for 30 to 60 seconds. To make it more challenging, close your eyes or try standing on an uneven or unstable surface, such as dry sand, a small folded towel or a wobble board. To make the exercise more ballet-specific, practice the one-legged stance in turned-out first position. You can also repeat the exercise facing away from the studio mirror or with the lights dimmed or flickering to simulate challenging onstage conditions.
Improving your balance depends, to a large extent, on trial and error. Keep plugging away in class, making a mental note every time some small change in your alignment seems to help. Your attitude and mental awareness can also affect your balance ability. Visualizing in terms of opposing energy, suggests Nichelle Strzepek at DanceAdvantage.net, is sometimes helpful for balance. For example, imagine you're a tree whose roots have burrowed themselves deep down into the ground while the branches -- your head, neck and limbs -- extend far upward or outward.
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