My hamstrings are so tight! They’re limiting my extension. Do you know of any good stretches to loosen them up? —Cara
Tight hamstrings are so frustrating! Luckily, stretching really does help. The first exercise I’d recommend is something you probably already do—stretching with your leg in front of you on the barre—but there’s a trick to it. After about 10 seconds of stretching forward, straighten up a bit and push your leg down hard into the barre, engaging your hamstrings for another few seconds. Then relax and lean forward to stretch again. You should be able to go a bit further than you did before.
The other key to loosening your hamstrings is massage. You can massage the muscle with your fingers, starting at the back of the knee and working up toward the hip. But a tennis ball is especially effective. Sit on the floor and move the ball around under your leg to locate your tightest spots (you’ll definitely feel them!). When you find a knot, hold the ball in place for 15 seconds to help the muscle release.
I went to a great ballet summer program last year, and they asked me to stay for the fall term. I said no, because I thought I was too young. If they ask me again next year, should I go? —Trinity
It’s hard to know what’s “the right time” to leave home. I started at the School of American Ballet’s year-round program when I was 15. But my mom moved to NYC with me, and my dad commuted there on weekends, so I still felt like I had a normal home life. Most students, though, live in dorms. And while ballet programs usually do a fantastic job caring for their students, it can be difficult to live by yourself. I think it’s a matter of personality. If you’re an independent person, you can probably handle moving away at a younger age; if you’re a homebody, you may want to wait longer.
The great thing about going away to a big ballet school is that it really will benefit your career. My dancing reached new heights at SAB. The level of talent I saw was mind-blowing, and I was constantly inspired because everyone there wanted the same thing I did. It made me want to work even harder and be even better.
The most important thing is to discuss your options with your family. This is something all of you should be on the same page about. Your family needs to be ready to let you go—and you need to be ready to work harder than you ever have.
My nondance friends don’t take my dancing seriously. They don’t understand why I can’t always hang out—and sometimes they hint that they don’t think what I do is difficult, or even athletic. I’m tired of explaining myself, but I don’t want to lose my friends! What should I do? —Alyssa
I had such a problem with this when I was younger. None of my “friends” could understand why I’d want to miss a football game or sleepover for ballet. People constantly made fun of me. Eventually, I realized that these people were never going to change their opinions—because they weren’t even trying to understand what dance meant to me. I came to the conclusion that they weren’t actually my friends. A true friend supports you no matter what, and at least makes an effort to “get” you. She doesn’t put you down because you’re different.
But I know how hard it is to let go of friendships, even toxic ones. Evaluate your friends honestly. If they don’t come to see you perform or constantly brush you off, start to distance yourself from them. Try making new friends at your studio, since the people there will better understand your passion. And you can always turn to family. It’ll get better, I promise!
Curious about cross-training with weights? Click here to watch Katie break down dancer-specific exercises.
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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Isabella Boylston in "The Bright Stream" (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy American Ballet Theatre)
Beloved by ballet fans for her lucid technique and onstage effervescence, by her Instagram followers for the deftly curated photos and videos she shares of her glamorous life, and by fangirl Jennifer Garner for all of the above, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston is one of the rare ballet stars who's achieved mainstream fame. A native of Sun Valley, ID, Boylston trained at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2005. She entered the main company as an apprentice in 2006, and attained principal status in 2014. In addition to her successes with ABT, where she dances nearly every major ballerina role, Boylston has served as artistic director of the annual Ballet Sun Valley Festival, which brings high-level performances and classes to her hometown. And speaking of famous Jennifers: Boylston recently appeared as Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in the film Red Sparrow. Catch her onstage with ABT as Manon, Odette/Odile, and Princess Aurora during the company's Metropolitan Opera House season this summer in NYC. —Margaret Fuhrer