Photos by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Hannah Foster.

Simple But Effective Ankle Strengtheners for Dancers

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Pointe.

Even after years of pointework, ankle strengthening never stops. Freshen up your warm-up routine with these three daily exercises from Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of the New York University Langone Medical Center. Although the movements are subtle, “these work on building stamina in the ankle and supporting muscles," she says. Each should be done barefoot or in ballet slippers.


Calf Raise with Tennis Ball

1. Stand in parallel with a tennis ball between your ankles, just underneath the medial malleolus—the bony bump on the inside of the ankle.

2. Rise to relevé while squeezing the tennis ball in place and keeping the alignment of the legs.

3. Lower and repeat 20 times.

What it does: This strengthens the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), as well as the muscles of the inner thighs and ankles that help with stability.

Heel Walks

1. Walk on your heels with straight legs and all 10 toes off the ground.

2. Continue moving around the studio like this for 30 to 60 seconds.

What it does: The walks build strength in the tibialis anterior, located in the shin. It also helps counteract overly dominant calves, which are often seen in dancers.

Romberg Balance

1. Stand facing the barre and lift the left foot off the ground without letting it touch the right leg. Close your eyes and remove your hands from the barre.

2. Balance for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat on the opposite leg.

3. As you gain stability balancing barefoot, you can progress to doing this in pointe shoes (while standing on flat) for more of a challenge.

What it does: This improves proprioception, the sense of your position in space. According to Ponniah, this plays a major role in ankle stability and overall body awareness when you're dancing.

Latest Posts


xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Hiding Injuries: Why Downplaying Pain Can Lead to Bigger Problems Down the Road

Sabrina Landa was thrilled to be offered a traineeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. "As a trainee, everything felt like a chance to prove myself as a professional," she says. Her training hours increased and she was dancing more than she ever had before. When Landa began experiencing pain in her metatarsals partway through the 2018 Nutcracker season, she notified the staff. "But in fear of losing my shows, I downplayed the severity of it," Landa says.

She notes that no one pushed her to keep dancing but herself. "I was 18 and was aiming to receive a contract by the end of the year," she says. "I felt so much anxiety over missing an opportunity that I was afraid to be honest about my pain." Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic staff were understanding and supportive, but Landa minimized her injury for the next few months, wanting to push through until the season ended and contracts were offered. But after months of pain and an onset of extreme weakness in her foot, Landa was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her second and third metatarsals. She spent the next three months on crutches and six months off dancing to allow for the fractures' delayed healing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Skjalg Bøhmer Vold, Courtesy Merritt Moore

How Quantum Physicist Ballerina Merritt Moore Learned to Dance With a Robot (Plus, Her Newest Film)

When the world went into lockdown last March, most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks