Health & Body
Paris Opéra Ballet's Letizia Galloni. Benoîte Fanton, Courtesy POB.

A beautifully winged foot is the perfect complement to an arabesque line. But according to Marika Molnar, president and founder of Westside Dance Physical Therapy, learning how—and when—to wing requires subtle work and an understanding of the leg's alignment.

Often, she sees dancers winging before, not after, they point their ankle, foot and toes. Instead, the wing should be the final touch. "If you follow the line of the middle of your thigh through the middle of your kneecap down through the middle of your shin, that line should come out where your second toe is," says Molnar. Then you can slightly wing your foot while maintaining that alignment.

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Ballet Training
Sofiane Sylve in Giselle. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Penché. So simple, yet so tough. Here, San Francisco Ballet School faculty member Tina LeBlanc offers her tips for a beautifully supported penché.

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Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe. Modeled by Hannah Seiden.

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.

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A correctly rotated, aligned and stabilized arabesque can feel elusive. It's tricky to find the right balance between strength and flexibility, so we combined two of our best tips to help you find your line. Read on for training advice, and visualization exercises to get that leg soaring higher.

Back Strength and Stability

You’ve probably heard it time and again throughout your training: Flexibility isn’t all that helpful unless you have the strength to support it. Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, offers this exercise to build lower-back strength to better support and hold arabesques. Try it two to three times a week as part of your warm-up before class, and you’ll be on your way to a stronger arabesque balance.

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You’ll need:

a physio ball

a clear space where the wall meets the floor

1. Position a physio ball under your hips. Lie facedown on top of it with your chest slightly curved over the ball and hands by the ears. Your feet should be against a wall, with the toes on the floor, heels on the wall and legs slightly bent.

2. Use your lower-back extensors, which allow backward bending of the spine, and your gluteus muscles to slowly lift your chest up and away from the ball. The body should pass through a straight diagonal before the chest continues lifting into a slight arch without crunching in the lower back. The core should also be engaged.

3. Curve back down over the ball and do 10 repetitions, increasing up to 20 as you gain strength.

If you don’t have access to a physio ball, you can also do the exercise lying on the floor. However, Heflin says the ball allows for an increased range of motion in the lower back and challenges dancers’ stability. —Madeline Schrock

 

What It Really Means to Stay Square

"Square your hips!" Susan Jaffe, dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts gives a fresh take on the classic correction.

Fresh Take: Jaffe says to think of a twisting energy in your rib cage to counteract your open hip, “like an internal ‘S.’ ” For example, if your left leg is in arabesque, you “square off” by feeling an opposite, twisting energy pulling up through the left side of your ribs. “Otherwise you’ll collapse the rib cage on the lifted hip,” Jaffe explains. “You need to lift out of that.”

The Real Issue: “Square off” can be misleading when it comes to arabesque or attitude. “If you’re lifting your leg in arabesque, your hip bones cannot be square because your knee and the top of your arch will face the floor,” says Jaffe. “They have to face the audience, and in order for that to happen, you have to lift your hip. What is square is the rib cage.” —Katie Rolnick

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You've probably heard it time and again throughout your training: Flexibility isn't all that helpful unless you have the strength to support it. Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of New York University's Langone Medical Center, offers this exercise to build lower-back strength to better support and hold arabesques. Try it two to three times a week as part of your core warm-up before class, and you'll be on your way to a stronger arabesque balance.

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