1. STRETCH DAILY - Make it a pointe to stretch every day, even if only for 30 minutes. Don't have your splits yet? You could get them over the holidays. It's really important to not go days and weeks without stretching your body, especially with the extra sleep we hope you're getting! Hours in bed can cause you feel stiff and tight. Focus on areas that you want to see more flexibility in and choose a couple regimen to repeat daily or twice a day. Repetition and consistency should produce results!
2. CROSS TRAIN - Cross training is important for all kinds of athletes. We recommend this when it comes to any kind of off season. Pilates, gyrotonics and yoga are great options for dancers. Cardio is also great, whether you go on a long brisk walk, a light jog, or use the elliptical. Swimming is also very ideal for dancers as it works your legs, lower back, core, arms, and upper body in a way that puts less stress on your joins (unlike running or other high impact activities).
3. STRENGTHEN WEAK AREAS - A break from the studio is a great time to focus on any problem areas that come to your attention. If you want a better arabesque, then focus just on that. Select a few exercises to repeat daily to strengthen and condition this movement or balance. Here's one just for arabesque.
4. EAT MINDFULLY - We know it's the holidays and that comes with much cheer :) especially in the form of food. Many people overdo it during the holidays and end up regretting it, then hasten their way into unrealistic new year's resolutions. Try finding a balance. every meal should include a healthy fat, a protein, and a complex carb (i.e. good carb). If you have certain things you enjoy and treat yourself to, do so in moderation. Continue to hydrate even though you aren't training, and love your body with what you eat.
5. AVOID CRAZY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS - What is one thing you'd like to do differently or see change this year? Whether it's in your dance or personal life, the new year often gives vision for something we want to do differently. This isn't a bad thing, but making drastic or too many changes at once is often the cause of failure. Keep it attainable and reasonable. then give yourself some action steps to attain that goal or two. If that's getting more sleep, then great! if it's stretching almost every day or getting your splits this year, more power to you! For some people, not even having a new year's resolution is the best plan. For some interesting thoughts on this topic, check out The Whole Food Diary's post, "Why I gave up New Year's resolutions."
It's Nutcracker season!
You're running from rehearsal to rehearsal, reciting choreography in your sleep, and probably going through one too many pairs of pointe shoes.
I remember this time of year, conveniently situated right around the same time as high school exams. I would get sick by the time Nutcracker week hit (every year). It's easy to become overtired, injured, or simply just feel burned out by the time performance week hits.
So we put together a mini survival guide below!
🖤 ALWAYS WARM UP
This can be an easy step to skip the closer you get to the show especially as you grow tired or are eager to perform. However, a body that hasn’t been warmed up well (especially in a big, drafty theater) will not perform well. You don’t want to be on stage wishing you had taken more time to stretch or to do those jumps. You want to enjoy yourself on stage. Hopefully your company offers company class beforehand, but if not—even if it’s just for a rehearsal—do take the time for a short warm up. Focus on more than stretching: try moving, jumping, and getting that blood flowing.
🖤 EAT WELL
This is also an area that is easy to slack in—I mean “hey, it’s the holidays!” right? And you’re busy, so who has time to meal prep? But consider this: the benefits of nutrient dense foods not only improve your performance, they keeps you from getting sick. Dehydration, junk food, and sugar (with lack of sleep) all make for the perfect storm. So be sure to hydrate, and to eat colorful foods. Include complex carbs for energy, plenty of good fats, and heavy protein since you are recovering constantly. Try not to overdo the caffeine. I once heard a professional dancer at a top company say, “two weeks before the show I quit drinking caffeine completely in order to stay as hydrated as possible for my performances.” And she was playing Odette. So drink plenty of water, and keep yourself well nourished.
🖤 PRIORITIZE SELF CARE
Do you know what your SELF needs? By self care we mean many things…including sleep. Take note: are you tired during rehearsals? Do you need to apply ice/heat to an area afterwards? Do you need an epsom salt bath to recover? Do you need more sleep? There are many ways to prioritize self care and we encourage you to take the time to listen to your body during this season. This might mean making sacrifices, but as an athlete your body and your physical state need to be prioritized during such an intense time.
🖤 TAKE WHAT YOU WANT
What do you want to walk away from this season with? Is it pride in your accomplishments or how well you performed? Is it the joy of newfound relationships and memories that you made? Don’t let stress or the busyness of the season steal from you being present, as well as focused. Performing in the Nutcracker offers so many rewards…try to focus on these things and enjoy the ride. Know how you want this season to look for yourself and protect that. For me, lots of family time, good food, endless parties, self care, and being super present are all defining values of my holiday season. If I know that ahead of time, I don’t get lost in the other things…and I walk away with no regrets.
Nutcracker time is the sweetest. We encourage you to make the most out of it while it’s here 🙂.
With love and gratitude,
ACHILLES TENDINITIS: one of the most common injuries amongst ballet dancers. Act quickly before it threatens your career.
Learn how it starts and how to treat it. Many ballet dancers unknowingly feel the beginning symptoms of AT (Achilles Tendinitis) and do not catch it in time. Treating it early is key to avoiding taking time off, physical therapy, or even surgery.
WHAT IS IT?
Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. And we all know how much we use our calf muscles. When you land a jump, it's what absorbs the force coming down. Every time you plié, relevé, flex or point, you're using it. Now you can imagine the amount of strain on this tendon throughout your career.
Achilles tendinitis (AT) is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon caused by overuse, excessive pronation, extra straining, or tightness. These factors can be the result of many things: sudden increase in one's training such as going to summer camp, developing bad and unknown habits, foot anatomy (abnormally shaped heel bones), or over-training (such as on a professional level). Typically, sufferers develop it from overuse on both a pre-professional and professional level. They key is catching it early.
HOW TO SPOT IT
Depending on the cause, you might feel the symptoms differently. You could feel pain at the base of the heel (where the tendon connects to the bone) or at the back of your ankle, further up. It may start as just a light ache during pliés, or a tender shot of pain when you point your foot. Sometimes it just feels as though that tendon is a little light or as if it's pulling even when you warm up. These are all early signs of tendinitis.
I developed AT twice during my career. The first time was following my summer intensive at age 15. I went from dancing 4-5 times a week, in 90 min classes, to dancing full days with breaks in between. This abrupt shift in levels of training and hours spent dancing caused both my heels to flare up with pain. I took some time off, and let them heel before jumping back into fall classes. I also alternated between heat and ice to flush out the inflammation.
Unfortunately, it came back during my adult years due to a bad habbit I had formed. I would feel pain in the back of my heel whenever I pointed my foot. My instructor pointed out that I was pointing my foot incorrectly in a tendu. Instead of going to the ball of my foot, pressing into the floor, and then pointing, I was going straight to my point and over-pointing my foot, causing heavy strain on the tendon. I started breaking down my tendus with her and for a few weeks, was only allowed to point to the ball of my foot, no further. This trained me to reuse my ankles, toes, and feet in a way that did not strain that tendon.
HOW TO TREAT IT
The good news is that AT will go away with proper treatment. I would start by asking an instructor or an expert if they can diagnose the cause of it. If it is something that can be corrected such as misalignment, incorrect technique, or a bad habbit, I would start there first. If overuse or excessive strain is the cause rather, try resting, icing, and consuming anti-inflammatory foods or drugs if necessary. Compression is also recommended, and certain ointments can help. Rolling out your foot on tennis balls or rollers can also help release the muscles encasing the tendon. Sometimes AT is caused by the dancer's anatomy, in which case surgery can resolve the problem.
HOW TO PREVENT IT
Here are some specific causes of strain and stress on the Achilles tendon that you want to avoid:
1. Forcing your turnout - can cause your feet to pronate
2. Failure to press heels into the ground following jumps - I'm guilty of this one.
3. Failure to rise completely to 3/4 toe in relevé
4. Wearing heeled shoes frequently
Here are some things you WANT to do:
1. Warm up!
2. Increase your flexibility: stretch your calves and your achilles tendons
3. Use "tendinitis ribbon" with elastic over that tendon
4. Pay attention to corrections regarding how you use your foot: how you roll through it onto relev, how you land on it, how you point it, etc.
I enjoyed writing this piece for you! I hope it was informative. Don't hesitate to ask us any questions :)!
let's face it: criticism, whether from oneself or someone else, is pervasive in the world of ballet.
You stare at the mirror and see what you aren't doing right. Your teacher gives out corrections during all of class. Ballet technique requires you to perfect less than perfect movement.
What if all those voices of outward and inward criticism become debilitating?
In case you've experienced this: we've written out a few tips to help you deal with criticism and even turn it into a #weapon rather than a #foe.
#1 CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORIES
You might nail that single, double, or triple pirouette one day, and no one might see you. Or, your teacher may very well see it and give you a correction rather than a compliment. Your arms may not have been correct or your timing may have been off. Don't disregard the correction but do celebrate what you did WELL. Your small victories are worth celebrating because they are the stepping stones of your progress. So be proud of yourself!
THIS will cause you to feed on positive feedback, which encourages you, and makes you want to continue to strive for improvement. Celebrate when you correct a movement or successfully make a permanent adjustment you've been asked to make. Applying corrections takes time, and changing our daily classroom habits can be tedious. But when you succeed, TAKE NOTE of it. Remark on how much work it took to get you to this place and give yourself a pat on the back.
#2 TURN CORRECTION INTO YOUR SECRET WEAPON
You can't get better without feedback. That's just the bottom line. You need consistent, regular feedback from supportive sources. Do not confuse a harsh correction as shaming or discouraging. Sometimes teachers can feel insensitive in their delivery, but this doesn't mean they don't have your best in mind. Some instructors are particularly hard on their students because they want them to succeed. Either way, you can choose to view it through your own lens.
Choosing to see each and every correction as a stepping stone to better technique, better performance, and beautiful movements will truly help you be thankful and apply it. Remember, teachers are not there to pester you--they are there to help you evolve. Feedback and correction will get you to WHERE it is that you want to go--so take it and treat it as gold. Apply it, rather than stuffing it away.
Lastly, keeping a positive, thankful attitude will prevent you from getting bogged down in the steady stream of corrections every student receives. I once heard a ballerina say "ballet has made me grateful for the journey, the process of learning and hardwork, rather than the end result."
#3 CONSIDER THE SOURCE
Who is the source of the criticism? Is it a well-informed, instructor? Is it a critic with no value? Is it a peer? Or is it your ever so harsh critic...yourself?
When receiving feedback it's important to consider the person giving it. What are their motives and are they trying to help you? Do their good motives offset the harsh delivery perhaps? And if it's yourself, do you need to change the way you "talk" to yourself? If it's an instrutor, are they motivated by knowledge, or bias? It helps to become objective sometimes and look at who is giving the feedback from an outsider's perspective, where you can think more analytically about its value. This will also help you sort through criticism and learn which ones to value, and prioritize, as well as which ones to forget :).
#4 TURN THAT SELF CRITICAL VOICE INTO A CHEERLEADER
And lastly, it really will help you in general (in life!) to turn that self-critical voice that many people hear daily...into a loving, compassionate cheerleader. Dancers, in my opinion, can be some of the most self-critical people. We are often perfectionists, hard working and focused individuals. With this can come lots of self-judgment and feelings of not being "good enough." All of which only slows you down. So if you are feeling discouraged, bogged down in self-critcism, or simply not good enough, chances are you need a warm, compassionate inner voice who SEES your strengths and calls out your potential.
It may take time to change the voice inside you, but it is so worth the process. Get tactile with it: write a list of what you're good at. If you don't know, ask others who know you and love you. Start to meditate on what you like about yourself and what you have that no other dancers has. Embrace your individual strengths and unique stage assets, because these are the colors of your own, individual expression.
I hope you found some meaningful nuggets in this post. Have an incredible week filled with fall colors and pumpkin flavored goodies :)
How To Prevent Pointe-Related INJURIES
It's easy to misuse muscle groups or to develop bad habits over time. These things can alter your pointe work from good, to bad, to painful.
To avoid foot strain and injury -- apply these
4 SIMPLE TIPS as you train en pointe:
1. USE KEY PARTS OF YOUR BODY - Use everything in your foot, lower leg, and body the way it was designed to be used. This will translate into strong, less injury-prone pointe work.
This may seem obvious, but dancers are not always trained to utilize other parts such as their inner thighs, feet, and lower legs. If you do not draw on these other key areas your body will try to compensate in other, more vulnerable ways. This is where injuries come in.
A lot dancers have weaknesses in their feet and end up using other structures or muscles that were never meant to be used.
2. USE INTRINSIC FOOT MUSCLES V. EXTRINSIC ONES - If your intrinsic foot muscles are weak, your feet are more susceptible to injury and stress. This is another reason to focus on strengthening exercises. For more information on identifying the difference between these two groups and how to strengthen intrinsic muscles click here.
3. DON'T CLAW YOUR TOES - Clawing also known as "curling" can lead to blisters or corns. If you curl your toes, you will likely not use the correct muscles in your foot. This results in a weakly positioned foot on pointe. You can correct this habit by simply correcting your tendu. Practice a proper tendu exercise that breaks down the tendu movement for you, and corrects any place you were in error. You may need to do this slowly and intentionally, many times over again to get the correction into your body. Try wearing socks at the barre so you can see the articulation of your foot through tendu. Click here for a demonstration.
4. DON'T GRIP TENDONS - Gripping your tendons happens at the front of your ankles. This can lead to some damage over time, mainly tendinitis. I formed a habit of doing this and it resulted in inflamed achilles tendons. Not fun. Ask your instructor to examine you closely for this. If you have this habit, really try to break it. Habits can develop even after years of training and doing things properly. For some photos on what gripping looks like, click here.
Let us know if you have any thoughts on this topic! We'd love to hear.