This story originally appeared in the October/November 2014 issue of Pointe.
I'm 5' 9" and find it hard to keep up with the speed of shorter dancers. How can I improve my ability to move, change directions and stop as quickly as they do? —Karen
While it's usually more challenging for tall dancers to move as fast as their compact counterparts, it's not impossible—take a look at the speedy, vertically blessed women of Pacific Northwest Ballet and New York City Ballet! George Balanchine's choreography is notoriously fast, and both companies have their fair share of tall dancers. I'm 5' 8" and learned how to excel at brisk tempos—but I had to fine-tune my training and push myself to dance faster.
Building speed starts at the barre with tendus, dégagés and fifth position. During exercises, do you tend to slide the working foot in and out without making a true, stable fifth? Instead, make sure to feel weight on both feet each time you close (without looking choppy, of course). Doing so trains you to gather your limbs together more efficiently. From a solid fifth, you're set up to do anything—a turn, a jump, a piqué. Practice simple tendus and dégagés en croix, alternating inside and outside legs, gradually increasing the tempo.
In addition, prioritize musicality so that you're not always behind. Listen to all of the different components of the music—not just the counts, but the in-between notes that make up a phrase. Set goals during fast combinations to finish with the music. Even if your movements are small or feel sloppy at first, with practice you'll improve. Outside of class, you may want to try plyometrics—exercises that improve agility, speed and jump height. Consult a personal trainer, who can help you find appropriate exercises tailored for building speed.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.