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Help! I'm Too Tall!

The terrific—and terrifically tall—Emily Kikta of New York City Ballet in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go (Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)

Has a recent growth spurt left you towering over your classmates? Here's how to make the most of the inches you've been given.

(Struggling with the opposite problem? Click here!)


Why Being Tall Rocks

"Having length is a gift," says Marisa Albee, a faculty member at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle. Your lanky limbs can create clear, elegant lines in space. You probably excel at adagio and waltz work, moving across the floor with grace and ease. Plus, "Tall dancers can have a commanding presence onstage," Albee says. "You're going to stand out, so you can't dance like you're hiding in the corps. You have to act like the principal in the room." Nan Giordano, the artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago, agrees: "When a tall person dances into his or her size—rather than curling over or trying to shrink—the effect is so statuesque and powerful." Owning your height can make you a force to be reckoned with in class, auditions and performances. Stand tall!

Fitness Fixes for Tall Dancers

"Tall dancers are often flexible, but have to build strength and stability," says physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez, owner of Manhattan Physio Group in NYC. "If you're really long and you're trying to move fast, your feet and legs might feel floppy. Also, tall dancers sometimes slump and slouch in an effort to mask their height." Here are the exercises she suggests for the vertically gifted.

To fight the flop:

1) Stand in parallel first position.

2) Dégagé front and land on that foot, toe-ball-heel.

3) Activate your core and keep your spine long as you push back onto your standing leg.

4) Close, and repeat to the side and back.

5) Repeat with the other leg, and then repeat the whole exercise turned out.

This exercise will help build strength, endurance and speed in your ankles and feet. It'll also boost your core stability. "Keep your spine moving through space as one unit," Rodriguez advises. "Holding your core will help you move quickly."

To beat the slump:

1) Tie a Thera-Band to the leg of a barre at floor level, creating the knot in the center of the band so the band's two ends are free. Lie on your stomach with the Thera-Band just above your head.

2) Grab one end of the Thera-Band with each hand and pull the ends down toward you, widening your elbows to form a W with your arms. (Your head is the midpoint of the W.)

3) Release and repeat.

Strengthening your back muscles will teach your body to hold itself upright. Improved posture might also lead to a confidence boost!

A Tall Dancer's Story: Emily Kikta, New York City Ballet

I'm five-foot-ten, which I believe makes me the tallest woman in New York City Ballet. I had my growth spurt early, and it was definitely awkward to be so tall at 13. At the time, I was the only tall kid in my classes at the Thomas Dance Studio and Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. My teachers weren't harsh, but they pushed me. I had no excuse to be behind the music or to lose my balance—I had to be able to do what everyone else was doing.

The only time I felt uncomfortable with my height was when I first transferred to the School of American Ballet at 15. SAB was a new environment, and I didn't yet know if being tall was a good thing! One correction I got a lot was that I had to travel more. With long legs, you have to move twice as much; you can't do grand allégro and only get halfway across the studio. I had to be more expansive, on top of moving quickly. I also had issues with partnering. My first year at SAB, I was paired with guys who were shorter than me, because they hadn't grown yet. I had to learn not to just do everything myself, but also to collaborate with my partners despite our differences in height.

Now, I love being tall. I've worked hard to be able to move as quickly and precisely as the shorter girls. Challenging myself to dance like people who are more compact than I am has helped me get to this point. Height is not an excuse. It's an asset.

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