Inside PT
Photo by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Nicole Buggé

You may not understand exactly what causes a tight IT (iliotibial) band, but you've probably experienced that uncomfortable tension along the outside of your thigh. While it's not actually a muscle, the IT band may require daily stretching, says Suzanne Semanson, physical therapist at New York University Langone Medical Center's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. The IT band is made of fascia, or tough connective tissue, that attaches to the pelvis through the tensor fascia lata (or TFL)—a small muscle between the pelvis and femur—and runs down to the outside of the knee.

When you're dancing with a fully extended knee, the IT band stabilizes the knee so that it doesn't move sideways out of alignment. However, “it is commonly tight in dancers due to compensatory patterns and overuse of the TFL," says Semanson. For example, if you force your turnout too much from your knees or rely on the TFL (instead of muscles in the hip) for développés to the front or side, this area might be too tight. The IT band and TFL can also build up excess tension from the demands of dancing several hours a day.

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A correctly rotated, aligned and stabilized arabesque can feel elusive. It's tricky to find the right balance between strength and flexibility, so we combined two of our best tips to help you find your line. Read on for training advice, and visualization exercises to get that leg soaring higher.

Back Strength and Stability

You’ve probably heard it time and again throughout your training: Flexibility isn’t all that helpful unless you have the strength to support it. Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, offers this exercise to build lower-back strength to better support and hold arabesques. Try it two to three times a week as part of your warm-up before class, and you’ll be on your way to a stronger arabesque balance.

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You’ll need:

a physio ball

a clear space where the wall meets the floor

1. Position a physio ball under your hips. Lie facedown on top of it with your chest slightly curved over the ball and hands by the ears. Your feet should be against a wall, with the toes on the floor, heels on the wall and legs slightly bent.

2. Use your lower-back extensors, which allow backward bending of the spine, and your gluteus muscles to slowly lift your chest up and away from the ball. The body should pass through a straight diagonal before the chest continues lifting into a slight arch without crunching in the lower back. The core should also be engaged.

3. Curve back down over the ball and do 10 repetitions, increasing up to 20 as you gain strength.

If you don’t have access to a physio ball, you can also do the exercise lying on the floor. However, Heflin says the ball allows for an increased range of motion in the lower back and challenges dancers’ stability. —Madeline Schrock

 

What It Really Means to Stay Square

"Square your hips!" Susan Jaffe, dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts gives a fresh take on the classic correction.

Fresh Take: Jaffe says to think of a twisting energy in your rib cage to counteract your open hip, “like an internal ‘S.’ ” For example, if your left leg is in arabesque, you “square off” by feeling an opposite, twisting energy pulling up through the left side of your ribs. “Otherwise you’ll collapse the rib cage on the lifted hip,” Jaffe explains. “You need to lift out of that.”

The Real Issue: “Square off” can be misleading when it comes to arabesque or attitude. “If you’re lifting your leg in arabesque, your hip bones cannot be square because your knee and the top of your arch will face the floor,” says Jaffe. “They have to face the audience, and in order for that to happen, you have to lift your hip. What is square is the rib cage.” —Katie Rolnick

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