Ballet vs. 'normal' life in this endearing video by the New York City Ballet. ...Gorgeous! :)
Fox News shared this refreshingly frank discussion by ballet darling Misty Copeland on the pressures dancers are under to maintain a specific (sometimes unrealistic) body shape, and the consequences this can have. For anyone suffering from their own body image issues at the moment, we encourage you to read this. You're definitely not alone!
It was about an hour after my last pirouette of the evening onstage with the American Ballet Theatre, and I was already in my pajamas. With a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, I ordered my usual: a dozen glazed doughnuts from my local Krispy Kreme. Once they arrived, I sat on my couch, turned on Sex and the City and ate them all straight from the box. They tasted so good, and while I was eating them, the sugary richness made me feel comforted and cared for. The next morning, I woke up guilty and ashamed, but a few nights later I felt so miserable that I did it all over again.
I was 21 years old, thrilled to be dancing with the most famous ballet company in the country, and I was bingeing regularly. I could pinpoint exactly when and why it started. One day after rehearsal, I saw my name posted alongside the words "See the artistic staff." They made all the company's big decisions, including casting, and for me this summons from them was nerve-racking. I remember sitting down in their office, so anxious that I was sweating.
They told me: "Your body has changed. The lines you're creating don't look the way they used to. We'd like to see you lengthen."
That, of course, was just a polite, safe way of saying, "You need to lose weight." I was so embarrassed that all I could answer was "I understand. I'd like to change this." And then I got out of there as fast as I could. When I reached my apartment, I started crying uncontrollably. I knew that since I was 5'2' and 108 pounds, most people would consider me super thin. But in my own little world, I was devastated to learn I was "fat." I had always been proud of my body—its strength and grace enabled me to pursue my passions. But now it had become the enemy.
Ever since I discovered ballet at the relatively late age of 13, it had been the one part of my life where I was the ideal. I grew up poor in San Pedro, California, sleeping on the floor of shady motels with my five siblings and not always sure when or where I'd get my next meal. I never thought of myself as special or particularly good at anything. But once I started ballet, suddenly I had a new identity: prodigy. I remember my first instructor telling me that George Balanchine, the revered founder of the New York City Ballet, thought that a ballerina should have a long neck, sloped shoulders, a small rib cage, a narrow waist and long legs and feet.
"You're everything he wanted," she said. "You're perfect."
But from a health perspective, when I moved to New York City to dance with ABT, I wasn't perfect at all. I was 19 and tiny—I'd never even menstruated. I know people see dancers as thin as I was and assume we must be anorexic. Actually, I just burned a lot of calories from the demanding routine of dancing up to nine hours a day. I didn't have an eating disorder—then. But about eight months after I started with the company, I fractured a bone in my back during a rehearsal. My doctor told me I needed to start menstruating because the hormones would help strengthen my bones, and he put me on the Pill. Almost overnight, my body was transformed. In one month, I gained 10 pounds, mostly in my stomach, and my 30B breasts swelled to double D.
It took me a year to recover from the injury and return to dancing, but I still wasn't used to having breasts and a belly. And when I finally came back to ABT and put on my leotard again, it was an even bigger shock: I didn't look or feel like the dancer I remembered being. Usually, ballerinas share costumes since we have similar builds. But now the leotards had to be altered for me—with a sheer material added to cover my cleavage, for instance. I hated this sign that I was different from the others, and I felt singled out for all the wrong reasons. I became so self-conscious that, for the first time in my life, I couldn't dance strong. I was too busy trying to hide my breasts. After a few months, I was called in for The Talk, and the bingeing began.
After that meeting, I became so ashamed of my body that I started wearing T-shirts and shorts over my leotard and tights during practice. For the first time, I made myself exercise at the gym just to burn calories, which was awful and didn't help. And I'd duck down hallways to avoid the artistic staff, afraid they'd tell me to "lengthen" again. I didn't even want to be seen in ballet class, which I'd always loved. I realized that bingeing wasn't a logical reaction, but at night, when I was alone, I got so angry: Who do they think they're talking to? I have so much talent. I'll eat what I want. But I knew ABT saw my once "perfect" body as a problem, so I resented them. And I hated myself for not being able to fix it. My perverse form of rebellion (and comfort) was doughnuts.
But as I grew more introverted at ABT, always nervous that I'd be criticized, I started to venture outside that tightly knit world to make friends. That's when everything began to shift. I noticed that most people didn't have the same rigid expectations I had about how their bodies should look. Gradually, I started to feel more relaxed and comfortable in my frame—and even happy with it. Then I met my boyfriend, Olu, who was studying law at Emory University. Since our relationship was long-distance for the first year, we spent every night talking on the phone. He'd tell me over and over that I was talented and beautiful. I'd never experienced that kind of affirmation before, even when I was being praised for having a traditional dancer's physique. As a ballerina, you always stand in front of the mirror searching for flaws. You're so used to criticism—from yourself and others—that it's hard to remember that your body is something to enjoy, not just a never-ending fix-it project.
Around the time I met Olu, I also found a mentor in Victoria Rowell, a former ABT dancer turned actress. After she saw me perform in Hollywood, she left me a note asking me to call her. I did, and when we met, we talked nearly all night long. I told her I thought I'd become "the fat dancer" and that I felt awful about it. Over the course of many conversations, she made me see that what I ate should be about making myself feel good, healthy and strong, not about attempting to please (or defy) anyone else.
"Your body is fine," she said. "But you'll feel better if you take care of it."
I'd always believed that what mattered was how I looked, how well I embodied certain standards of perfection. But now I started to understand that my body's natural evolution into womanhood had validity, too. Dancing had always made me happy, and I wanted that back. So my priority became simply accepting my new self. I focused on what I wanted: to feel good, to be confident in my skin again, to dance.
I really didn't try to stop bingeing. Instead, I started thinking about food not as solace but as the fuel that gave me the energy and strength I needed to dance—and to live. I paid attention to how my meals made me feel physically, started eating more vegetables and fish and gave up red meat and poultry. I still ate sweets occasionally because I love them—especially cupcakes and banana pudding—but now just one serving was plenty. Within a few months, I'd forgotten Krispy Kreme's number.
Over the course of the next year, I ended up losing a few pounds (finding a better birth control regimen helped, too), but I kept my full breasts and hips. My body was still different than it had been; I couldn't go back to being a little girl. But now I owned it. My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one. I started dancing with confidence and joy, and soon the staff at ABT began giving me positive feedback again. And I think I changed everyone's mind about what a perfect dancer is supposed to look like.
Over the next few years, things at ABT just got better. I became a soloist with the company—the first black dancer to do so in more than two decades. And in 2012 I landed my biggest role yet, headlining in Firebird. I remember walking out of rehearsal in jeans and sandals to get my hair done for the premiere. When I turned onto the sidewalk, I saw it: a huge billboard on the front of the Metropolitan Opera House with my picture on it. I was in profile, wearing a red leotard, with my chest and back arched so you could see my full, feminine breasts and my round butt. It was everything that people don't expect in a ballerina. I stood completely still for five minutes, just crying. It was beauty. It was power. It was a woman. It was me.
You asked for it so here it is! Our step by step guide for how to correctly and safely tie your pointe shoes.
Please note; there is more than one 'correct' way to tie up your pointe shoe ribbons, small variations in the method will come down to individual preference, or that of your school or teacher's (some prefer the outside ribbon to overlap for instance, whilst some prefer the inside to). If in doubt, just check with your teacher if there is a preferred method at your school. However, for the purposes of correct ribbon tying technique... this tutorial is a perfect guide for anyone who is a little unsure of the best way to go about tying their shoes!
This week in dance news...
The beautiful Lucinda Dunn, principal dancer of the Australian Ballet has just announced her retirement after 23 phenomenal years with the Aussie Ballet. "After spending more than half my life with The Australian Ballet, it feels like a lifetime ago that I joined the company as a 17-year-old" Said Dunn - "I'm extremely fortunate to have had a lasting career and been a part of history within The Australian Ballet, and am privileged to have had such a satisfying and inspiring career."
Dunn, who is the longest serving Ballerina the company has ever had will be taking her final curtsey at the end of the Manon season in Sydney on April 3rd. Artistic Director David McAllister said "One of my proudest moments as a new Artistic Director in 2001 was announcing that Lucinda would be promoted to principal artist. Since that time she has been a shining beacon of The Australian Ballet - a true ballerina." We wish you all the best with this new chapter in your life Lucinda, your presence and vivacity on stage will be missed by fans of the Australian Ballet everywhere.
For all the contemporary dancers out there... a little bit of tongue in cheek for your Friday!
We certainly recognise these moves!! ;)
TURNING OUT BETTER
Everything you need to know about turnout and how to improve it.
It's no wonder Einstein said "Dancers are the athletes of God" when professional dancers are expected to fulfill physical demands that, in the eyes of the non-athlete, seem virtually inhuman.
But now getting back on topic, perhaps one of the most taxing, difficult and (if not performed properly) damaging requirements of ballet (particularly modern ballet; let's face it, current standards continue to exceed even the grandest ambitions of early ballet afficionados) is the expectations of turnout. In today's highly competitive and ever-growing industry 'flat' turnout (the rotation of the hips to a 180 degree alignment) has become not just an advantage, but a requirement.
Whilst many teachers do counsel students not to 'force turnout' beyond their natural capabilities, and to 'work with what you've got' the realities of most real-world ballet companies demanding flat turnout as a prerequisite for consideration leads many young dancers to force turnout, putting excessive strain on hip, knee and ankle joints, and leading to rolling, instability, and often serious, long-term injuries that can plague them long after their dancing years are over. Not only does this kind of practice lead to problems later down the track, it also compromises the quality of the dancer's technique and creates weaker joints (particularly in the ankles, where extra strain leads to continued rolling and stretching of the supporting tendons and ligaments.
Assesing your 'natural' turnout.
To avoid such injuries each dancer must first develop an awareness of their own natural turnout capabilities, as this will allow you to work intelligently to consciously improve your turnout, without forcing anything beyond the natural limits of the body. Firstly, recognising the factor/s that are most limiting your turnout will help you to understand the boundaries of your own body, and focus on improving the areas that will most benefit rotation, these factors are;
Direction of the Acetabulum - just like everything else in the body, the shape, size and direction of the acetabulum (hip socket) is different for each individual, and those born with more forward-facing sockets will have greater difficulty turning out than those born with quite lateral facing ones. Whilst the range of motion allowed in the acetabulum will vary from person to person, and is a fixed amount (unfortunately no amount of stretching will give you a greater rotation in the hip socket than your natural bone structure allows) steps can be taken to loosen and improve the range of flexibility in the muscles, tendons and ligaments that surround the hips and upper femur.
Ligament Elasticity and Laxity - The iliofemoral ligament which resides on the front surface of the joint and connects the ilium to the femur is the ligament responsible for supporting and preventing over-extension in the hip by limiting the range of movement. As you extend or laterally rotate the hip the ligament is elongated and pulled tight, however rigorous stretching can lead to a gradual increase in the ligament's laxity (though this should be done with the upmost caution as a firm iliofemoral ligament is key to ensuring joint stability and preventing injury). Ligaments that are stretched too far and have lost their laxity will never fully regain the same level of elasticity or stability. As dancers, we often experience tight hip flexors, so gentle stretching is usually beneficial, just don't over-do it!
Size and Shape of the Femur - the femoral neck, which is the area of the femur (the bone in your upper leg) that connects the leg to the hip via the acetabulum, may also have a significant impact on the amount of external rotation possible. Someone with a slender, relatively narrow femoral neck will have greater mobility than another with a broader or less concave femoral neck.
Muscle strength and flexibility - Now for the good news! ...Sure, you can't really do anything about your femoral neck, the orientation of your hip sockets, or the natural laxity of your ligaments, but muscle strength and flexibility you can definitely improve! Just like everything else in the body, there's only so much that can be done to alter your physical faculty from the predetermined limits dictated by your genetics, but regardless of whether you are 'naturally' flexible or not, with consistent conditioning you can loosen and lengthen your adductors and internal rotators whilst strengthening your external rotators and improving your overall turnout.
And finally, the last major factor that will determine your turnout abilities is The Brain! - Without the mental focus and desire to improve, altering your turnout is a lost cause. Not only is the brain the control centre for all motor skills and muscle movement required in the process of turning out (so without focus and attention the muscles cannot be expected to turn out correctly without any effort on your part!), but it is also here that the passionate student will find the willpower to persevere when others falter. Turnout, like everything else in ballet requires precision and hard work but as long as you have the knowledge and the passion the 'impossible' can be acheived.
Natural turnout gauge:
Lay flat on the ground, stomach to the floor and draw the legs up in a turned out position with the soles of the feet touching (Don't sickle!). Keep bending the knees until you're in the 'frog position' (See below). Keep the pelvis firmly connected to the floor, allowing the ankles to rest as close to the ground as possible. The distance of the toes to the floor is not of any significance (as this only represents ankle joint flexibility and we are focusing on the hip rotation), instead note the distance of the legs from just above the ankle to the ground. If your feet are stuck up in the air then you will have quite a limited range of rotation in the hip sockets and need to focus on gently loosening up the ligaments and muscles that might be limiting your hip's range of motion, whereas if your ankles easily reach the ground, or close enough, then your main challenge will be in being able to engage and maintain your natural turnout (ie. making your natural turnout your working turnout).
Improving your level of turnout
So you now know what limits turnout, and what muscles are used, and also the limitations of your own body, but how do you go about improving your turnout?
Firstly, your goal should not be to stretch your turnout directly, but rather to stretch out the muscles that are most limiting your range of movement, not necessarily stretching them outwards either - sometimes the solution can be counter-intuitive and turned in stretches can be the most beneficial. Many dancers have an imbalance between their quads and hamstrings, their hip-flexors and their glutes, abductors and adductors, and their external and internal hip rotators, with the former being over-worked and the latter often under-worked and/or weakened. To improve your turnout while maintaining good technique you should focus on strengthening the right muscles and releasing the over-active ones in order to give you proper alignment. This in turn opens up and strengthens the external rotators, allowing you to access a whole new range of external rotation.
Exercise 1: Prone Internal Rotation Stretch
Lie on your stomach on the floor. Place your forehead on your stacked palms. Bend both knees so that the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling. Keep your hip bones in contact with the floor throughout this exercise. Lower your right foot outward and toward the floor. You may not be able to go far and still keep the hip bones down; just go as far as you can with good form. Hold your foot out for a slow, 30-second count. Keep your right knee in contact with the floor and do not twist your knee. Bring your right foot back up and repeat with your left foot. Go back and forth slowly eight to 12 times. Take slow, deep breaths and with each repetition try to bring your foot a little closer to the floor.
Exercise 2: Supine Internal Rotation Stretch
Lie flat on your back, arms perpendicular to the body, with the right leg bent up in a tabletop position (the thigh at a 90° angle to the body and the lower legs parallel to the ground) and the left leg bent in towards the body, with the foot resting flat on the ground, in line with the left hip. Take the right leg and cross it over the left, so that the ankle is resting on the outer side of the left knee. Slowly allow the right leg to internally rotate (towards the floor) whilst letting the weight of the right leg gradually pull the left leg down towards the ground, once you have gone as far as you can go relax into the stretch for a count of 20 before swapping and repeating with the other leg.
...On a side note, if you do happen to have a willing partner around who can help you this is a great extension to the stretch that will activate and release the gluteal muscles as well as the ligaments and muscles of the hip.
Exercise 3: Flexed Turnout
Lie on your back, and bring both legs up to a 90-degree angle L-shape. Keep legs turned in, flex your feet and engage your core muscles through your pelvic floor and low back. Using your hip abductor and gluteal muscles, turn your legs out with heels together. Repeat 16 times.
Exercise 4: Clams
Lay on your right side, with your head supported by your right hand and the right elbow on the floor. Place your left hand on the ground in front of you. Bend your knees out in front, so that your feet are in line with your hips. Turn your left leg out from your hip, so that it opens like a clam. Lift your leg and turn it out as far as you can, using your turnout muscles in your hips, and hold this turned out position. Close your leg and repeat the exercise. Repeat this exercise twice on the other side.
Advanced (with a Theraband) - Lay on your side with your knees bent one on top of the other and your elbow resting on the ground to allow you to sit up a little (make sure you are really over your hip and not sinking back). Wrap the theraband around your legs, midthigh. Rotate the top leg out and in, about 10-15 times. Make sure you don't over-work the muscles, a little at a time is much more beneficial than a lot in one go!
BONUS Partner Stretches - If you've got a buddy, sibling, partner or parent ready to help then these stretches are a great addition to your stretching routine!
Maintaining correct postural alignment and not forcing the joints beyond their natural limitations is essential for preventing injuries where turnout is concerned. Often students believe that the harder they push the more results they will see, however, excess pressure on the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons can cause permanent damage and even decrease turnout ability. This is because in order for the body to maintain the rotation in the hips the muscles and ligaments must be flexible but not stretched, as a lack of tension creates weakness and instability. Also, over turning out causes excess pressure on the knee and ankle joints which are not capable of outward rotation like the hips are, and therefore leads to loosened, unstable ligaments and tendons that are no longer able to stabilise the ankle joints.
One such injury young dancers must be careful of is Tibial Torsion, the added pressure that is applied to the knee and ankle joints when turnout is forced beyond natural limits can cause permanent, harmful rotation of the tibial bone. In such cases the Tibia grows so that the bone has rotated out of alignment with the femur causing permanent deformity and inhibiting physical performance (see below). If you're rolling, tensing the arches or gripping the floor with your toes whilst turning out then you are rotating beyond your natural turnout.
It is also of great importance that dancers are aware of maintaining a 'neutral pelvis' (where the bony bumps - the anterior superior iliac spines - on the front sides of your hips are at an equal level to the pubic bone so the hips are not tilting forwards or backwards, as either of these extremes performed whilst dancing places the whole body into unhealthy alignment that can increase rolling and joint injury.
So, why turn out, exactly..?
It's a relevant question. We're constantly being told to turn out more in ballet, always being reminded to fix our feet, make our 'fifths' tighter and keep our heels down in arabesque, but why? Is it purely an aesthetic choice, and what makes turn out 'pretty' anyway?
Well, turnout does in fact go beyond the purely aesthetic. The main practical application of turnout is that it allows us to facilitate sideways movement with more ease, and the external rotation of the hips allows for greater abduction, ie. we can lift the leg higher and much more easily in seconde. When a devéloppé is performed in a turned out position (as opposed to parallel) the leg can lift far higher before the bones of the hip interrupt. That being said, turnout has gone much beyond a practical bearing as far as ballet is concerned. As ballet progressed through the ages and continued to refine and perfect itself with each new generation of teachers and students, turnout became more and more an aesthetic preference and a requirement, with 'ideal' turnout becoming continuingly extreme until today's standards were reached, in which many companies accept nothing less than the 'perfect' flat one hundred and eighty degree turnout. Alas, if only we could all have a seconde like Svetlana Zhakarova (See below!). However, whilst 'perfect' flat turnout isn't achievable for most of us mere mortals, everyone can improve the way they utilise the turn out they do have and become a better dancer for it.
..So know that you know absolutely everything about turnout (seriously!!), all that remains is for you to intelligently apply this information in order to help you improve with your own dancing. And (if you'll excuse me getting a bit corny for a minute here..) remember, whilst turnout is obviously important to the art of ballet, it isn't technique that makes a great dancer, it's passion ...so don't get caught up in the technical 'stuff' and loose your passion, enjoy yourself!
Happy dancing. :)
Suggested Reading: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/imported/info/turnout_for_dancers_exercises.pdf
http://balletuni.com, http://www.theballetblog.com, http://danceproject.ca
Check out this fantastic compilation of some of the most iconic dance scenes in movie history, set to Kenny Logins catchy theme song (for the movie of the same name) Footloose!
Attention young dancers in Melbourne!
Yellow Wheel is holding auditions for its pre-professional dance company's 2014 program, for dancers age 14 years and over:
Sunday 9 February
Tuesday 11 February
Yellow Wheel is a collection of young dancers, all of whom are determined to pursue a career in dance. The dancers come from a vast range of schools, universities and institutions and all have the common goal of being part of a collaborative, creative process with an emphasis on producing high-grade dance works. Dancers who are a part of Yellow Wheel become part of an ensemble for the whole year, rehearsing on Tuesday nights and most Sundays and working on a number of key projects. See website www.yellowwheel.com.au for more details.
The Australian Ballet shares another beautifully made short film on the relationship between Pas de Deux duo Amber Scott and Adam Bull. Partnership at it's best! :)
Name: Maxine Rose Age: 15
How did you get into dancing, and how old were you? I was two years old when Mum put me in a dance class. She said it was a way of using up my energy because I always have too much!
What do you like about Energetiks Dancewear? I like that Energetiks Dancewear has affordable dancewear, but also gives very good quality and it lasts a significant amount of time.
Do you have a favourite style of dance (if so what)? My favourite style of dance would have to be contemporary because I feel like I can express the way I feel through movement, in the way words can't.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In five years I will have finished school! I hope to be able to go to a University and complete a Dance Qualification, to then persue my life-long dream of opening a dance school.
What do you like to do when you’re not dancing? You would more than likely find me stretching, but I'd be on Instagram too. I can't live without it!
All-time favourite dance movie: I absolutely adore First Position! The ballerinas are absolutely exquisite with their technique, and I aspire to look like them one day.
Best dance memory/moment: It would have to be being awarded Junior Dancer of the Year or winning Age Champion two years in a row!
Food you can’t live without: Mangoes!
The person you’d most like to meet (living or dead): I'd love to meet Ashleigh Ross or Lady GaGa!
Favourite saying or advice that inspires you: My favourite saying is "Dance isn't just dance, dance is magical." And the best advice ever given to me was from my teacher "You are not a failure, you are a high achiever." She has done so much for me, I could never thank her enough for sticking by me.
Want to be featured as our Energetiks
Dancer of the Month?