Welcome to this issue’s Beyond Stretching column with Zac Jones from Heal Yourself and Move! In part two, we will be sharing strategies to help dancers safely maintain their range of motion and extensions over the Christmas break.
Dancers often encounter challenges in maintaining peak physical condition during holiday breaks, where the notion of rest may inadvertently lead to prolonged inactivity. Contrary to popular belief, optimal recovery does not require complete cessation of physical activity. Instead, consistent but reduced-intensity practices – for specific skill enhancement – can prove beneficial during these periods. Shorter sessions, focussing on a specific technical element, such as locating the deeper muscles and allowing the power muscles to switch off are just one example. So, let’s take a look at the number one thing everyone loves to work on to create the never-ending and elusive ballet aesthetic – extensions.
Have you noticed in class, that no matter what you do in dance it can seem like there’s a tight quadricep and hip flexor getting in the way of everything you are trying to achieve? Think about your arabesque and développés – what gets in the way? Jones likes to term this as “quad black!” This is the point that finishes the length of your extension. He notes, “Flexibility has nothing to do with this. You can be very flexible but find it very difficult to get the leg above 90 degrees, not because you lack strength, but quite possibly because of ‘quad block!'”
Here is an exercise that Jones has developed to help you test the level of tension in your hip flexors and quadriceps, as well as practice releasing the “quad block” when those muscles switch on:
Step 1. Start standing in ballet first (heels together and toes pointing out at a comfortable angle).
Step 2. With the tips of your fingers resting on the right quad and hip flexor, begin to transfer weight from foot to foot and explore as much of the feeling of your feet and ankle bones ensuring to keep the right quad completely soft.
Step 3. Begin to raise your right heel whilst exploring all the remaining contacting points on the bones of the feet and toes whilst still keeping relaxed in the quad.
Step 4. Cross your right foot to 3rd position and continue to raise and lower the heel of the same foot keeping the hip flexor relaxed.
Step 5. Rest the outside of the right heel against the left shin so that the right leg feels completely supported and the right quad can easily turn off.
Step 6. With the outside of the right heel resting against the left shin, bring the right foot from demi-pointe and back to flat, keeping contact.
Step 7. Lift the right foot off the floor completely but with the outside of the foot and ankle resting against the left lower leg and the right quad staying relaxed.
Step 8. Glide the right foot up the left leg still resting with full support on the left leg and with quad relaxed until you reach full retiré.
Step 9. From demi-pointe to a pointed foot, place the toes and rest the foot on the left knee. (You can have your hips moving in and out and let your body be responsive to the movement as long as the quad is relaxed.)
Step 10. Bring the leg down and compare the difference between the right and left side in terms of ease of passé retiré and then into full extension.
What did you notice?
Integrating awareness exercises like this, along with dynamic stretching promotes gradual expansion and range of motion, thereby fostering flexibility without inducing excessive tension. Other techniques, such as foam rolling, in tandem with stretching exercises, alleviate tension in outer muscles and promote elongation and relaxation. Another aspect you can work on is conscious breathwork, breathing in and out, and with the movement which will assist you in developing a robust mind-body connection to refine control and fluidity in movements.
Writing out a low-intensity plan within this framework for the holidays will help achieve desired results whilst allowing your body the rest it deserves. The key ingredients include:
- Less intensity
- More breath
- Tailor your output for specific skill enhancement
- Remain connected to your mind and body through mindful and conscious movement.
By incorporating these strategies into your routine daily, without exerting undue force on your body, you will witness a gradual improvement in your motion range.
To conclude, downtime from intense training schedules offers the opportunity to integrate mental and physical focus and fosters seamless, tension-free exercises – like Jones’ above – that help promote the extensions you are seeking in your arabesques.
Keen to learn more and see an improvement over the break?
Share what you noticed, by taking a photo or video to compare the differences, and post your comments and photos in the Heal Yourself and Move Facebook group.
To find out how to get this applied even more effectively to the extension of the leg without excess tension, book a free 15-minute développé breakthrough session here!
As a reader of Dance Informa, you have exclusive access to over 50% off the best holiday based flexibility, strength release and skill upgrade training materials from Heal Yourself and Move. You can get your trainings here: onlinevirtualstudios.com/healyourselfandmove/xmas-special-sale-2023
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.