As dancers, we all have our vices—those little technique cheats that we know are incorrect, and we try our best to fix whenever we can remember...but at the end of the day, we just can't seem to banish them for good. After all, these cheats usually appear to help us: They can get our legs higher and our petit allégro a little faster, not to mention help us crank out that one extra rotation in a turn we dream about. Unfortunately, cheating proper technique also sets dancers up for a myriad injuries caused by improper alignment and undue stress on the body.
The good news: Every cheat can be beat. That is, when you know exactly what muscles and mobility pathways you need to strengthen in order to execute the step correctly. To help on that front, Amber Tacy, personal trainer and founder of the dancer-focused fitness community Dancers Who Lift, is here to guide you through a series of exercises designed to help you overcome the most common dancer cheats.
The Cheat: Jumping without fully landing your heels on the floor
Equipment You'll Need: Step or yoga block, mini loop, TheraBand
- Stand barefoot on the balls of your feet with your heels hanging off a step or yoga block. Hold on to a wall, doorframe or barre for balance, if necessary, but don't use your arms to help you.
- Lifting one leg off the ground, perform single-leg relevés with the other.
- Move through a complete range of motion, from as low as you can go hanging off the step to your highest relevé. Try to do as many as you can with a full range of motion.
- Perform 8–10 relevés, then repeat on the other leg.
Amber's Note: If one leg is too challenging, complete the exercise with both legs simultaneously performing the relevés.
Split Squat Jump + Pause at Bottom
- Step one foot back and sink into a deep lunge, bending both knees as if you're going to half-kneel down on the ground. Make sure your front heel doesn't pop up as you lunge back.
- Explode up and jump into the air, using your arms to propel yourself upward.
- As you land, assume your same starting position, and sink down into a deep lunge.
- Pause, without wobbling.
- Repeat 5–6 times per side.
Amber's Note: Practice rolling through your feet as you take off and land.
- Assume a kneeling position with the front foot elevated on a book or yoga block.
- Wrap 2-inch wide band around the front ankle joint, and have it anchored behind you so it's applying a backwards pull.
- Gently lean forward, pushing the front knee over the toes, hold for 2–3 seconds, and return to the kneeling position.
- Keep the heel completely glued to the floor, and avoid popping it up throughout the exercise.
- Perform for 30–60 seconds per side.
Amber's Note: This mobilization should be a priority for any dancers who spend a majority of their time in "plantar flexion" (pointed feet, like on pointe or dancing in heels), as it gives your Achilles tendon the opportunity to safely go into a fully lengthened position.