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: Lifting Your Hip for a Higher Extension
Banded Hip Flexion (Marching)
Equipment You'll Need: Mini loop, TheraBand
1. Stand hip-distance apart with your arms at your sides. Loop a mini resistance band around the balls of both feet. Start with a lighter resistance and work your way up to a heavier resistance.
2. Exhale and contract your core muscles, and bring your right knee up in front of you like you are marching.
3. Stop when it reaches the height of your hips; do not connect your foot to the supporting-leg knee like a passé.
4. Slowly lower the leg and repeat on the left side.
5. Do 8–10 reps on each leg, alternating sides.
Amber's Note: A "gripping" hip flexor is usually the sign of a weak hip flexor. Use resistance to help strengthen the muscles that lift your leg, so when you're at the barre or in center, your leg floats up with ease.
Side Plank (Progress to Side Plank With Hip Flexion/Passé)
1. Lying on the floor on your side, bend your knees so your feet are behind your body. Or, if you want to make the exercise a bit harder, align your head, shoulders, hips, knees and toes so they make a straight line.
2.Ensure your bottom elbow is directly underneath your shoulder joint—not in line with your ear or your ribs.
3. Drive the elbow down into the floor and, much like a suspension bridge, lift from underneath your armpit and what would be the "supporting" side, or side of your body closest to the floor.
4. Maintain a tight, uplifted position for 8–10 exhales. Keep your chin and spine neutral, and emphasize "lifting" the bottom hip. For one more progression, raise your top leg into a turned-in passé and hold.
5. Repeat on both sides; progress when ready.
Banded Turned-Out Passé Lifts
1. Stand at the barre turned out, with a TheraBand flat underneath your supporting leg and knotted around the instep of the working leg.
2. Lift the working leg to passé.
3. Without leaning toward the barre or allowing your pelvis to shift, detach your passé and bring your knee toward your armpit, working against the resistance of the band.
4. Pause for a moment at the top, then return to an attached passé position.
5. Repeat 10–12 times per leg.