Your Body

Healthy, injury-free ankles require three things: mobility, stability and strength. But achieving this trifecta is easier said than done. That's why Dance Spirit turned to Abigail Bales, DPT, CSCS, for a series of exercises that'll strengthen, support and stabilize your ankles—and your dancing, overall.

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Your Body
Erin Baiano

We all know that girl who basically lives in crop tops and sports bras to show off her insanely chiseled abs. But strong stomach muscles aren't just amazing fashion accessories—they're also the key to everything from powerful jumps to proper technique. Dance Spirit spoke with Jessica Sander, a personal trainer in NYC, about the most effective exercises to help you score your dream core.

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Your Body

Christina Pazcoguin, a teacher at Pure Barre in NYC and a former ballet dancers, walks us through three stretching and strengthening exercises to help you achieve your best possible turnout. (Click the image to zoom!)

Want to see these exercises (and a bonus!) in real time? Check out the tutorial video here.

 

Your Body
Modeled by Ashlyn Mae (Nathan Sayers)

Ah, feet—we point, stomp and crack them (and everything in between). And though dancing all day makes them strong, they need special attention to help prevent injury. DS spoke with former professional ballerina and conditioning expert Rachel Hamrick, who recommends these four exercises to keep your feet in tip-top shape—and improve their overall look, from arches to insteps.

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Your Body

Ear-grazing développés, 180-degree turnout and a back that folds in half are items on every ballerina’s wish list. But hyper-mobile dancers know extreme flexibility comes at a cost: It takes an incredible amount of strength to keep their joints within a safe range of motion. “You see a lot more hyper-mobile dancers at the student level than at the professional level,” says Brynn Jinnett, founder of NYC boutique fitness studio Refine Method. “So many of them get career-ending injuries at a young age.”

Super-bendy? Support your flexibility with these stabilizing exercises. (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Beyond the risk of injury, there’s an aesthetic downside to hyper-mobility. Without proper stabilization, bendy ballerinas can appear weak or flimsy, particularly when partnering. Don’t be a limp noodle! Jinnett has four exercises to help balance and support your flexibility.

Banded Squat

Purpose: Builds stability in your hips and knees by strengthening your glutes, quads and abdominals

1 ) Begin standing, with your feet parallel and slightly wider than your hips, a Thera-Band tied around your thighs and your arms behind your head.

2 ) Press your legs outward against the band and squat as low as you can while still maintaining a neutral spine. To keep from falling backward, think of reaching the top of your head on an upward diagonal while sitting your hips back.

3 ) Return to the starting position. Do 12 squats, rest and repeat.

Note: At the  base of your squat, your weight should be so far back you could lift your toes off the floor.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Airplane

Purpose: Promotes total body stability by strengthening your hip, abdominal and back muscles

1 ) Begin standing, with your feet parallel and your arms by your sides.

2 ) Tilt your torso forward as you lift your right leg to the back, keeping your right foot flexed (with your toes pointing toward the ground), until your torso and leg form

a straight line, parallel to the floor. Reach your arms forward on a long diagonal.

3 ) Bend your left leg, keeping your torso and right leg lifted.

4 ) Straighten your left leg. Repeat steps 3 and 4 10 to 12 times, then switch legs.

Jinnett says: “If you have a flexible lower back, concentrate on keeping it neutral by squeezing your abdominals and lengthening from the top of your head to the heel of your working leg.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Bear Crawl

Purpose: Builds stability in your torso by strengthening your abdominals, back and shoulders

1 ) Begin on all fours, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees one inch off the ground.

2 ) Slowly crawl your right hand and left leg forward, maintaining a neutral spine.

3 ) Crawl your left hand and right leg forward. Continue crawling forward for 30 seconds. Repeat two more times, with 15 seconds of rest between each crawl.

Jinnett says: “This exercise is great for preventing shoulder strains from partnering, and for developing the coordination necessary for solid pirouettes.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Banded Bridge

Purpose: Builds stability in your hips and knees by strengthening your glutes and hamstrings

1 ) Lie on your back, with your feet planted beneath your hips, your arms by your sides and a Thera-Band tied around your thighs.

2 ) Squeeze your glutes and push your feet into the floor to lift your hips. Lift as high as you can while maintaining a neutral spine and tension in the Thera-Band. Hold for 5 counts.

3 ) Lower your hips to the starting position. Do 12 hip lifts.

Jinnett says: “Dancers with hyper-mobile hips often struggle when working in parallel, because their legs have a natural inclination to turn out. Strengthening the leg muscles in parallel helps balance that inclination.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Your Body

As dancers, we talk a lot about “finding our centers”—but what does that actually mean? It refers to the invisible pole of support in your core that makes you feel like you could

balance for days. Once you experience the freedom that sense of stability can provide, you’ll want to find a way to access it every time you dance. Professional dancer and Figure 4 Barre instructor Lindsey L. Miller shares three stabilizing exercises to help you conquer even the toughest balance challenges.

The Toe-Heel Rock

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the muscles in your ankle to promote stability in relevé.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Stand sideways about one foot away from a wall. Lightly touch the wall with your right hand and lift your left leg to a parallel coupé. Place your left hand on your left hip.

Rock forward onto the toes of your right foot, lifting your right heel as high as you can.

Miller Says: “When balancing on your heel, it’s natural to want to stick out your butt. To keep your weight centered over your foot, think of almost tucking your pelvis.”

Rock backward to the starting position, then lift the ball of your right foot off the floor as high as you can, keeping your body upright and your hips centered over your foot.

Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.

Incorrect

Because dancers’ big toes tend to be stronger than their pinky toes, rocking back to the heel often looks like this, with the pinky-toe side of the foot tilted toward the floor.

Correct

Focus on lifting up the pinky-toe side so your metatarsal stays even.

The Roll-Down

Purpose: This exercise helps you access your deep transverse abdominal muscles, which are essential to balance.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Stand with your back against a wall, your feet parallel and hips-width apart and your arms by your sides.

Curve your head forward and begin to roll down through your spine. Keep your hips and heels connected to the wall.

Miller Says: “It’s difficult not to fall forward during this exercise. To find your balance, focus on contracting your lower abs and pressing your hips and heels into the wall behind you.”

Once you reach the bottom of the roll-down, grab on to opposite elbows to keep from relying on the floor for balance.

Beginning at the base of your spine, roll your body back up to the starting position.

Repeat two more times.

The Horizontal Tilt

Purpose: This exercise promotes balance in turnout by strengthening your oblique muscles and the external rotators in your hip.

Begin in a “T” position, standing on a straight, parallel right leg with your left leg reaching behind you (foot flexed and parallel). Tilt your torso forward, so your body—from the crown of your head to your heel—forms a straight line parallel to the floor. Reach your arms toward the floor with your palms facing each other.

Bend your right leg, making sure your knee tracks over the center of your right foot and your left leg stays in line with your torso. Hold the rest of your body still.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Miller Says: “To give yourself an even greater balance challenge, try looking up at your top hand when you unfold into the turned-out position.”

Stretch your right leg to return to the starting position.

(Lucas Chilczuck)

Open and unfold your body by turning out your left leg and reaching your left arm to the ceiling, so your body faces out instead of down. Gaze down at your right arm as you continue to reach it toward the floor, and squeeze your abdominals. Hold for a count of three.

Return to the starting position.

Repeat five times, then switch legs.

Your Body

We’ve all heard it: the chorus of cracking joints that comes with the first plié of class. A lot of dancers treat barre as their daily warm-up, but a ballerina jumping into class cold is kind of like the Tin Man trying to move without his oil can. Conditioning expert and former professional ballet dancer Rachel Hamrick has four pre-barre exercises that will get your body ready for that aggressive dégagé combo.

You’ll need: an FLX ball or a medicine ball

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Vinyasa Flow

Purpose: Yoga is a great way to prep your body for ballet class. The repetitive nature of vinyasa flow gets your blood pumping and your body temperature rising, helping to gradually increase your range of motion.

1. Begin in a full plank position with the FLX ball between your ankles. Your body should form a straight line, starting at your heels and continuing through your neck. Think of pulling your belly button towards your spine and rolling your shoulders back and down. Hold this plank position for 10 slow counts.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Hamrick says: “Throughout the vinyasa flow, squeeze your inner thigh muscles together to hold the ball in place. This will generate extra heat and keep you from hyper-extending your knees.”

2. Untuck your toes and lift your chest so that your back arches. Squeeze your quads so that only the tops of your feet touch the floor, and think of lifting your chest up and forward to avoid crunching into your lower back. Hold this upward dog position for 10 slow counts.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

3. Lift your hips toward the ceiling so that your body forms an upside-down “V” shape. Reach your heels toward the floor while keeping your spine lengthened and your shoulders away from your ears. Hold this downward dog position for 10 counts. Repeat the entire sequence 3 times.

 

Lizard

Purpose: This position stretches your hips’ external rotators so you can maximize your turnout throughout class.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Get into a low lunge, with your right leg forward at a 90-degree angle and your left leg stretched behind you. Place both forearms on the inside of your right thigh so that they’re parallel with your right foot. Think of trying to get your chest as flat and long as possible. Hold for 30 counts and repeat on the other side.

Hamrick says: “To increase the stretch, think of hugging your right knee into your midline, rather then letting it open to the side.”

 

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Single-Leg-Switch Abdominals

Purpose: Working your core before class will prepare you to engage those same key muscles during balances and pirouettes.

1. Lie on your back with the FLX ball between your shoulder blades. Bring your right knee in toward your chest and curl your upper body so your knee is in line with your forehead. Place your hands on the top of your right shin, keeping your elbows wide and your shoulders down. Extend your left leg on a high diagonal and pull your belly button in.

2. Switch your legs so that the left knee pulls in toward your chest and your right leg extends on a high diagonal. Do 20 repetitions.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Hamrick says: “Think of pushing your knee into your hands to help you engage your core.”

Modification: Scissor Abdominals

For a more advanced abdominal warm-up, straighten both legs and hold your top leg from behind your calf or thigh. Keep both legs straight as you switch legs. Do 20 repetitions.

 

 

Toe Roll

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the intrinsic muscles on the bottom of your feet, prepping them for everything from relevés to grands jetés.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee slightly so you can place the FLX ball beneath your left toes with your heel resting on the ground.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

2. Straighten your left knee so that your left arch shapes around the ball as it rolls away from you. Push down on the ball with your toes and arch as you hold the extended position for 10 counts. Repeat 15 times with each foot.

Hamrick says: “Keep your toes straight throughout this exercise to train your foot not to knuckle when it points.”

 

Your Body

We’ve all seen her: that dancer whose jumps just seem to defy gravity. From suspended sautés to soaring grands jetés, she takes the audience’s breath away every time her feet leave the ground. What’s her secret? She’s got backup—of the gluteus maximus variety.

Strong glutes can take your jumps to the next level, giving you the lift you need to squeeze in a switch leap or an extra tour en l’air. We turned to Giulia Pline, a yoga- and barre-certified instructor in NYC, for four exercises that will give your booty a boost.

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Bridge-Pose Leg Raise

1. Lie on your back with your feet planted beneath your hips and your fingertips reaching toward your heels. Raise your hips so they form a straight line with your torso and thighs, balancing on your shoulders.

2. Lift your right leg to the ceiling, pointing your foot and extending the back of your knee.

3. Inhale as you raise your hips even higher, then exhale as you lower your right leg so it’s parallel with your left thigh. Do 10 of these leg raises. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again, coming down between each side to give your legs a rest.

Pline Says: “Engage your glutes to keep your pelvis lifted and your hips square throughout the exercise.”

 

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Modification

For an extra challenge, lift the ball of your supporting foot off the floor so you’re balancing on your heel.

Pline Says: “Balancing on your heel helps activate the hamstring and glute of your supporting side.”

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Tabletop Pulse

1. Get on all fours, with your shoulders over your wrists and your knees under your hips

2. Lift your right leg in line with your torso, bending your knee to form a right angle. Flex your right foot.

3. Inhale as you push through your flexed foot, raising it toward the ceiling.

Pline Says: “Keep your spine lengthened and your abs engaged throughout this exercise. Don’t allow the pulsing of your leg to arch your back.”

4. Exhale as you lower your right leg, bringing your thigh back in line with your torso. Do 50 pulses. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again.

 

 

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Tabletop Cross

You’ll need: a tennis ball

1. Begin in the same starting position as the tabletop pulse.

2. Place a tennis ball behind your right knee, squeezing your hamstring and calf together to keep the ball in place.

3. Lift your right leg so your thigh is in line with your torso, flexing your foot.

Pline Says:  “Really concentrate on squeezing the ball throughout this exercise. The added effort will activate the hamstring and glutes of your working leg.

4. Inhale and pulse your leg up, then exhale and bring it down and across your standing knee.

5. Lift your right leg so that your thigh is back in line with your torso. Do 15 lift-crosses. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Grand Plié Wrap

1. Begin in a wide second position with your hands on your hips.

2. Do a grand plié, tracking your knees over your second toes. At the bottom of the plié, pulse your knees outward, so that they now track over your pinky toes. Pulse 20 times, then come up and repeat.

Pline Says: “Think of the wrap coming from the backs of your legs. This will help you initiate your gluteus muscles.”

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Modification

For an added challenge, lift your heels at the base of your grand plié, holding strong through your ankles as you wrap your knees outward. Pulse 20 times, then repeat.

 

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