A thought – well, more like a reality check – occured to me yesterday after ballet class. The thoughts actually started forming during class, specifically during the saute-torture, but it wasn’t until after class, alone with my thoughts, that I was able to stop them from just swirling around in my head and instead put them together into a proactive plan of action. As much as I have resisted the idea, it appears that while ballet is great exercise, in order to improve at ballet I will need to, well, exercise.
Theraband, Shake weight, and, of course, my slippers
It is obvious that some of my body parts are unevenly weaker than others, and unacceptably weak for ballet, namely my feet and the fronts of my thighs. It’s not too surprising, since I’ve been working up my strength for ballet over the last 20ish months primarily by doing (or attempting to do) the ballet moves I’ve learned in class and I didn’t have much strength to speak of beforehand. In fact, whenever I see a brand-new student actually be able to go up in a sort-of-high releve on their first day ever in class I am super shocked, impressed, and just a bit jealous – though I really, really, really hope I don’t show it, because that would just be weird. But it is a bit of a downer seeing someone do something that took me months to be able to do after not even a whole lesson. I guess it’s time to refer to the 1st Rule of Ballet: don’t compare yourself to others.
It’s not all bad news though. Now that I realize how inadequate my foot strength is, I’ve been taking steps (accidental pun?) to correct the problem. A big part of my foot strengthening exercises is my theraband, which I barely got last week. I’ve been using it almost every day since, and I have started to notice improvement in my feet. After using it especially, my feet feel extremely strong and I’m able to point my feet a bit farther than usual. The biggest improvement happened in my balance on releve too! I’m pretty excited because I wasn’t even expecting that. I’m hoping soon I will start to see improvement with my feet pointing during my sautes.
I also know my feet are getting stronger because when I walk now it has become so much easier to place down the toe part of the foot as opposed to the heel.
The fronts of the thighs are a different issue. My inner thighs have gotten stronger from ballet, by holding my turnout during all those plies and releves, and the backs of my thighs are somewhat strong as well (I would guess from releves since after doing a ton of releves the back of my legs always feels so nice and sore). But for whatever reason, the front of my thighs (not while turned out, the part that when you turn out would face outward) is disproportionally weaker. I guess I first realized this during ballet class last semester when our final exam combination’s choreography involved this move where we put our left leg out in front of us and then bent it, slowly lowering ourselves onto out bent right knee. We then kind of rolled onto the other side, did some port de bras still on the floor, and then got up from that position by slowly unbending our leg. All of this with no hands, just using the strength of the thighs!
Long story short, I wasn’t able to do the move – even after weeks of practicing – and the first day I attempted it resulted in me pulling the muscle and having to hobble around for a week or so. It was also really embarassing because it was one of those moves that everybody could do in class but me – though there was plenty of grumbling about the floor hurting.
So to build up strength in my frontal thighs I’ve been slowly practicing getting up and down from the floor in a similar fashion to the move from last semester. Of course, I “cheat” by having a folded up towel on the floor for where my knee is supposed to land, but mostly I focus on sloooooowly lowering myself down and sloooowly getting back up. It is not easy! I make it through it by thinking about the rewards (better ballet moves!), if I must be honest.
Another thing I’ve been doing for my thighs is an exercise I first heard about years ago. The directions were to stand with your back against a wall, feet a foot or so away from the wall, and bend your knees, sliding your back up and down the wall. When I first heard of this exercise I wasn’t really able to do it at all – which should give you an idea of how weak I was before starting ballet – but now after ballet I’ve started doing it and it appears to be going well. Also whenever I remember (not often enough) I try to do some squats and lunges. I first tried squats and lunges years ago because I’d heard that they make the backside look good – it didn’t work, nothing works like ballet for that – but now I’m just doing them to build overall leg strength.
The last thing I want to complain about is my arms. My arms are strong enough to not get tired during port de bras, but when I have my arms out in second I hate the way they look. Specifically, I hate the way the bottom of my arms look, and on a bad day it does affect my confidence in class. When they are out in second it almost looks like there’s flab or loose skin hanging down or falling out of my leotard sleeves. I wear a leotard with short sleeves so the sleeves end right where the problem begins. I’d been putting off doing anything about it for a while though, because sometimes it’s just a little funner to live in denial.
I’m not good at self-portraits here, just trying to show what I mean about the skin or flab “hanging” off of the arms while out in second (too lazy to put on my leotard, besides it’s in the wash).
I was cleaning out our storage closet last week though, and I found our old shake weight. A shake weight, for anyone who doesn’t know, is this weight that has a movable weight inside so instead of just lifting it you shake it and it’s supposed to provide a better workout in less time. Boyfriend and I must have bought it 3 years ago when we first changed our diet and lifestyle, lost all the weight and we were in our “let’s get in shape!” phase which was cut short by our car accident. Between the time of the car accident and the start of ballet I think I was too sad to do much physical activity – and for the longest time it hurt to even walk – so the weight went into the closet and was long forgotten.
Well, ever since finding it I’ve been putting that thing to work! I kind of want to say that I can already start to see some improvement in my arms. I would like to work up to being strong enough to do at least 10 pull ups. So far I can do… none. But three years ago – when along with the shake weight we got a home iron gym pull up bar – I could do the 10 pull ups, so it’s not an unrealistic goal.
When my arm is flexed, it looks way better. I’m hoping the Shakeweight will help. I want tank top arms (though I’m too shy to wear one out in public regardless).
Stretching is also something that I’m trying to get in the habit of doing daily. I need to make this a priority, because currently I only stretch when I practice ballet at home or during ballet class. I’ve heard ballet teachers talk to students about stretching at home while sitting there watching t.v. or whatever. And I’m sitting there thinking, “oh that’s only if you’re looking to go pro, or something. Besides, we don’t watch t.v. at my house”. But now I’m thinking,” Any advice the teacher gives, you’re gonna take it, and apply it, and maybe just maybe you’re dancing will improve.” So last night I found myself stretching while sitting there watching youtube and I was really starting to feel dancer-like. Now, to find a way to make this all be consistent for the long term!