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The way you stand makes a huge impression, whether you're in an audition or just walking down the street. Awareness of your posture will help you achieve a more engaged and gracious épaulement, project confidence and strengthen your upper back. Read on for our best tips and exercises.

Two Exercises for a Strong Upper Back

1. When you begin your first plié combination of the day, you’re likely feeling refreshed and ready to go—not to mention standing tall with good posture. But as class goes on, and the mind fatigues, bad habits can creep in. By center, your upper back may be slumping forward, and your posture less than perfect.

Julie O’Connell, director of performing arts medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, says she often sees dancers standing with their shoulder blades too far forward and the chest caved in. She suggests this exercise to help correct this postural problem. Though the motion is minimal, it can have a big impact on your overall épaulement. If you feel your upper back rounding during class, you can even do a few reps in between combos, to remind your body of the proper alignment.

  • Stand straight against a wall, using it as a contact point for your shoulder blades.
  • Lift both arms in front of you to a 90-degree angle. The wrists should be in line with the shoulders and the elbows should be extended.
  • Using the serratus anterior muscles (which wrap from the upper ribs around the scapulas), slowly reach both arms forward in a punching motion, feeling your shoulder blades move away from each other as they glide along your rib cage.
  • Return to the starting position, so your shoulder blades are resting alongside the spine. This is correct, engaged alignment. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

2. Many dancers struggle to stop habitually hunching their shoulders. Raised shoulders not only erase the look of a long neck, but also make it harder to correctly use your back muscles and core.

Try this: Strengthen your upper back to develop the muscles necessary to properly support your arms. Marianna Lobanova of the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC, suggests this exercise, repeated daily: Lie facedown on the floor with your arms and legs stretched out. Lift your upper body for at least 10 seconds, moving your arms into fifth position overhead and keeping the lower extremities completely still. Repeat at least three times.

Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, director of The Rock School for Dance Education, who has coached dancers including Beckanne Sisk and Michaela DePrince, warns students to watch their posture outside of the studio. “Encourage your friends to tell you when you’re slouching,” she says. It will help train your back to support you even when you’re feeling tired or tense.

Be careful: Don’t lock your shoulders in place. “When there’s no movement,” Spassoff warns, “you’ve lost your épaulement.”

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Raymonda (photo by Erik Tomasson)

Your Posture Can Enhance Your Performance...

If you’re trying to perfect your portrayal of a dramatic character in any story ballet, research suggests you should focus on your chest. A study recently published in the journal PLoS One used eye tracking to determine that observers most frequently looked at the movement of a dancer’s chest when asked to decide if she was enacting happiness or sadness. Don’t underestimate the subtlety of slightly sinking the sternum or proudly presenting the collarbones.

...And Your Mood

When you’re dreading an especially rough day at the studio or a challenging performance, improving your mood could be as simple as changing the way you walk. A recent study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that subjects who walked in a more depressed style (with shoulders rolled forward and less arm movement) experienced worse moods than those who walked in a “happier,” more upbeat style.

In the study, participants were shown lists of positive and negative words, and then asked to walk on a treadmill, where their gait and posture were measured. After, they were told to write down as many words from the list as they could remember. The people who had walked in a more depressed style remembered more of the negative words, and vice versa.

Previous research has already shown that our mood can affect the way we walk, but these results suggest that the opposite is also true. So the next time a difficult rehearsal is getting you down, hold your head high and put a little extra spring in your step as you walk to your next class. It might just give you the boost you need.

Power Up Before an Audition

If you’re heading into an audition and feeling nervous, try striking this power pose: Take a wide stance with your head held high and your arms energized and extended to form the letter T with palms facing down. Research shows that holding a high-power pose for two minutes can make you feel more confident, and it lowers your cortisol levels, meaning you’ll feel less stressed. Plus, this “fake it till you make it” strategy is a quick and easy way to strengthen your lats, deltoids and triceps, giving you more defined port de bras.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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When you can't remember the choreo. (Julie Kent in Lilac Gardens, photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

Whether you're polishing choreography for your upcoming student showcase, or boosting your stamina for your summer intensive (or both!), these tips for better memory will come in handy!

  1. Better learning through oil. Yep, rosemary oil contains a compound that helps with memory formation.
  2. Understand that the first few weeks will be a struggle. Common sense tells us that it takes time to master something, and studies have shown that brain activity spikes during the first few weeks of learning new choreography. It stabilizes after a few weeks, once you've "mastered" the new information.
  3. Power naps are your friend. If you have the chance to snooze or zone out in front of Netflix, choose the former. German researchers found that people were better able to retain information after a nap than after a binge session.
  4. Coffee, coffee, coffee! (In moderation.) It can boost your short-term memory. Yay!

 

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A beautiful pirouette is one of ballet's most elusive elements. Sometimes you float through multiple rotations and sometimes you can hardly balance on one leg. Here are some of our best tips for nailing your turns, every time.

  1. Go back to basics. Make sure you've mastered the fundamentals of correct alignment before you go for multiple rotations.
  2. Know that there's more than one right way to do it. Struggling to adjust to Balanchine-style pirouettes? Focus on shifting the majority of your weight forward over your front foot and extend your arms to find a long position.
  3. Use positive thinking. Getting over the fear of turning and making yourself stay up on pointe to finish your pirouette is paramount to success.
  4. Up the ante. Do you fall apart during fouettés? Focus on your coordination and build stamina in your standing leg.
  5. Get scientific. Understanding the physics of how pirouettes work can help you conceptualize ways to adjust your technique. This TEDx talk breaks down the physics of a fouetté into easily understandable terms:

Happy turning!

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

Inside PT

A dancer backstage at YAGP finals. Photo by Kyle Froman, via Dance Magazine

Spring performance season is an exciting time, but it's also a hectic one. Between performance prep, studying for school exams and gearing up for summer intensives, your stress levels may be higher than usual. Here are some of our best tips for taking care of yourself during this busy time.

  1. Watch out for hidden stress. Sometimes anxiety can creep up on you before you have a chance to figure out what's causing it. Be aware of these sneaky sources of stress so you can avoid them.

  1. Take a social media break—the right way. Research has found that using social networks actively, like posting a shot of you and your fellow dancers backstage, is more beneficial. Scrolling through your Instagram feed and looking at all the fun others seem to be having might leave you feeling lonely or envious.

  1. Write it out. If you're doubting yourself the night before a performance, try jotting a few thoughts in a journal. It's been found to increase self esteem—and could even help you perform better. (Still nervous the day of? Try this helpful self-talk trick to beat stage fright).

  1. Fuel up. When you're busy, it can be harder to keep up with your usual nutritious habits, but it's important to fuel your body with foods that will give you the energy you need (hint: find the right balance between protein and carbs).

  1. Find moments to unwind. Even if you only have a few minutes between activities, there are quick tricks you can use to relax, so you'll be ready to take on the rest of your day. It could be as simple as looking at photos of baby animals.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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Emma Hawes (photo by Sian Richards)

'Tis the season to start dreaming up resolutions, and if one of yours is to boost your workouts, then we have you covered. Read on for a round-up of some of our best workout tips!

1. Don't be afraid to target your weaknesses. The National Ballet of Canada's Emma Hawes uses her workouts to focus on stabilizing her hypermobile shoulder joints. Use the extra reps in your own workouts to focus on what actually needs strengthening, not just what you wish was different (i.e. endless foot exercises).

2. Have you been trying to squeeze in morning workouts but just can't get yourself out of bed on time? Research shows that jump-starting your day with physical activity (as opposed to hanging out in a split before barre) has a whole host of benefits. Here's how to make it happen:

  • Mark your calendar. You wouldn’t skip out on a doctor’s appointment you’ve had on your schedule for months. Similarly, when you pencil in your gym time, you’re more apt to follow through.

  • Invite a buddy. When you know your friend is waking up early to meet you at the gym, you’re less likely to bail on your cross-training plans.

  • Get to bed. Though it’s never good to scrimp on sleep, it’s especially important to wake up feeling rested when physical activity is first on your list.

  • Lay out your clothes (and any special shoes or equipment you’ll need, like a yoga mat) ahead of time, so you’re not rifling through your dresser for a sports bra at the crack of dawn.

  • Pack your bag with anything you’ll need for your dance day if you’re going straight to the studio afterward.

  • Prep your breakfast. Don’t forgo the first meal of the day in order to fit in a workout. Instead, pack a portable breakfast, like a homemade smoothie made the night before, or yogurt, a granola bar and fresh fruit.

3. Give yourself enough time to warm up before performing. Acacia Schachte, who danced with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, commits to Pilates, yoga and a ballet barre before she hits the stage, so her core feels steady and she can dance freely.

4. Try something totally new, like TRX training. Even though this workout was developed by a Navy SEAL, tons of dancers swear by it because it forces you to work against your own body weight—even when you're off balance or destabilized.

Rebecca Krohn (photo by Henry Leutwyler)

5. Fuel yourself properly. New York City Ballet principal Rebecca Krohn eats every couple of hours because her body needs it. Find a balance that works for your energy levels so you can dance your hardest.

6. Take a nap! Sleep is essential. We broke down the best ways to catch some shut-eye, even when you're rehearsing nonstop.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue. 

 

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