Photographed by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Hannah Seiden.
As choreography becomes increasingly demanding, dancers must adjust their flexibility and strength to match. One major aspect of 21st-century ballet is a pliable back. Michelle Rodriguez, MPT, OCS, CMPT, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group, and her colleague Sarah Walker, DPT, recommend these exercises to build a balance of fluidity and support in the spine. If you dream of dancing work by the likes of William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor, these are for you.
- a barre
- a physioball
- a foam roller
- a yoga mat
Standing Hip Extension
1. Stand in parallel as shown. Relax the shoulders and ribs and maintain a neutral pelvis. To stabilize your trunk, draw your abdominals in and think of lifting the pelvic floor up. Lift up through your arch and inner thigh and imagine a long line from the sitz bone to the heel.
2. Keeping your pelvis and entire spine square to the barre, push the ball out with your glutes, lengthening into a low, turned-in arabesque. As you move, reach your head toward the ceiling to avoid sinking in the spine.
3. Slowly draw the ball back in, keeping your trunk lengthened.
Reps: Do 10 times on each leg, 4 times per week during your pre-class warm-up.
Expert advice: Elongating the space between the hips and spine trains the body to support flexibility of the spine during activities like arabesque. It also protects the back from overusing certain muscles, which can actually lead to decreased flexibility.
Rolling Out the Thoracic Spine
1. Lie over the roller with your hands behind your head and knees bent with feet on the floor.
2. Lift your hips into a small bridge and gently walk backwards and forwards to move your spine over the roller. Limit the rolling to your thoracic spine, from the base of your shoulder blades to the bottom of the rib cage.
3. When you reach a stiff area, lower your hips and arch your head and chest over the roller. Pause for 2–3 deep breaths.
4. Slowly contract your core to come out of the arch before moving on to the next tight spot.
Reps: Do 5 complete rolls through the thoracic spine, pausing as needed. Repeat 3–5 times weekly to encourage spinal mobility.
Hip Flexor Stretch
1. Kneel on your right knee, and tuck your pelvis under by lifting the pelvic bone up towards your nose. Squeeze the glutes on your right side and hold on to a chair, barre or wall for stability.
2. As you lunge, reach the right arm up and over toward the other shoulder, similar to a side cambré.
Reps: Hold for 2 sets of 30 seconds before switching legs. Do twice daily when warm.
Expert advice: Depending on how tight you are, you may feel the stretch in your hip flexor at any stage. Try not to lunge too far forward or you may miss the stretch. This exercise promotes mobile hip flexors, which are key to a healthy, flexible spine.