Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Feeling Wobbly? Try These Four Exercises for Longer, Stronger Balances

If you're feeling wobbly in adagio or wish you could hold your piqué attitude a bit longer, there are ways to assess and improve your balance. Try these four exercises, recommended by Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet's director of physical therapy.


You'll need:

  • painter's tape or masking tape
  • TheraBand
  • something sturdy to tie the TheraBand to, like a chair leg

Airplane Series

The airplane test assesses dynamic balance, or how stable you are as you move through positions. "It can be a helpful indicator of where in the chain is difficult for you," says Southwick. This progression lets you focus on balance and strength simultaneously, while preparing you for adagio.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg extended behind her. Her body is parallel to the floor, and her arms are spread to the side.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

1. Start in parallel passé and extend to arabesque, creating a straight, horizontal line from head to toe. Hold your arms in a T, like an airplane.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg, which is bent. The other leg is extended behind her. Her body is parallel to the floor, and her arms reach toward the ground.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

2. Plié and straighten 5 times. (Work up to 10 repetitions.) If you're feeling stable, incorporate the arms, reaching toward the floor as you plié, and returning them to a T as you straighten.

Ask yourself: Can you maintain a flat line from your head to your toes and keep your pelvis even? "A lot of people will twist the pelvis or turn that leg out," says Southwick. Check your weight placement: Are you back in your heel, or are you too far forward on your toes?

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg extended behind her, and her body is rotated open so that her torso faces the camera. Her arms are extended vertically.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Add a progression: Standing on a straight leg, rotate the torso open so one arm reaches toward the floor and the other toward the sky. Return to the flat-backed arabesque position.

Single-Leg Balance with Eyes Closed

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg in passe. Her hands are on her hips.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

"One of the main tests that we do on professional dancers is to see if they can balance for 60 seconds with their eyes closed. Everyone should be able to do it for at least 30, on one leg, in parallel passé," says Southwick. If you're having trouble balancing, this test can reveal areas of weakness, like instability in the ankle, knee or hip.

Why parallel: Testing your balance in parallel is important, she says, because your base of support is narrower versus when you're working in turnout.

Injury recovery: If you've had to scale back due to an injury, you may have lost some of your proprioceptive feedback (a sense of where the body is in space). Closing the eyes and balancing helps improve this without relying on your vision.

Make it more challenging: Stand on a less stable surface, like a memory foam pillow or a BOSU ball, and repeat the balance with eyes open.

TheraBand Clock Exercise

Tie a band around something stable, like the leg of your bed or a table. Stand in parallel with your right leg in the loop (and the support point to your right). Using both feet, relevé and lower into a plié with control. Rotate an eighth of a turn to your left, and repeat the relevé and plié. Continue working around the circle, like a clock, until you are facing backwards. (For one position, both feet will be wound up in the band. That's okay.) Repeat on the other leg. This can also be done turned out.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in pli\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator. We see her legs in profile..

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9 turned out, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Watch your alignment: "The TheraBand is pulling, so you have to work to maintain balance with good alignment," says Southwick. Make sure you don't sickle your ankle or overcompensate in the other direction.

Make it more challenging: Try the series balancing on one leg, with the other foot in coupé or passé.

Star Excursion Balance Test

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue tape star on the floor. She stands in pli\u00e9 with one leg in tendu to the side. Her arms are in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Tape a starburst pattern on the floor and stand in the middle of it with your supporting leg in plié. Reach the working leg out in tendu, along the tape line directly in front of you, as far forward as you can. Return to center and work your way around the star, doing a tendu along each line. (Try to keep the hips square, though this won't be possible in all positions.) Southwick recommends practicing this in both parallel (see left) and turnout.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue tape star on the floor. She stands with one leg extended behind her on the floor. Her arms are in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue star taped on the floor. She stands in pli\u00e9 with one leg extended in tendu in front of her. Her arms are extended in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Why it's good for dancers: It requires strength, flexibility and proprioception. "The working leg is basically going on an excursion," Southwick says of the exercise's name. As you work your way around the star, you're experiencing different forces on your standing leg.

Make it more challenging: Holding the arms in second provides the most stability, but you can also try it with your arms overhead in fifth or crossed in front of you. "You're trying to simulate things you might do in adagio," says Southwick.

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Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

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Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

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Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

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