What Do You Think Of When I Say Ballerina?

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Performing The Sylph in La Sylphide (Photo: Pablo Octavio)

Tutus… Tippy toes… Elegance… Beauty… Princess… Skinny… Athlete… Flexibility… Strength…

I am sure all of the above come to mind, and it is true, we ballerinas can be all those things, (I try to convince myself I am a princess every day) but in this post, I want to focus on the ballerina and her flexibility.

Flexibility is a very useful and often needed aspect of dancing but I would not say it is always the most important. Yes, some days, if not all, I would give my right arm to be more flexible but as I have gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, not only have I decided my right arm is a part of me I would not want to lose, I have also come to realise I can be ok the way I am.

Now, I wouldn’t say I am inflexible, not at all, but it has been something I have had to work on a lot growing up as it didn’t come naturally to me and I doubt I will ever be satisfied with what I have. It is hard not to get jealous of those lucky ones who were born with their legs knotted around their ears, especially now in this era of dance where we are all expected to have incredibly high legs and loose bodies to be ‘a good dancer’. With images of the impossible being done all over the internet, it can easily dishearten those of us who still struggle with a simple a la seconde after 20 years of trying. But I tell you, and myself, don’t let it; it is not the end of the world.

From my experience of working with different teachers, choreographers and ballet legends, I have heard countless times how much they ‘prefer a low leg’, or think its ‘not about the height of the leg but the meaning behind it’. With so many comments like this being said I am starting to believe them. Classical ballet was not built on flexible gymnasts but on artists telling a story. Of course, if you can do it easily and do it well, then do it, but don’t get discouraged if your legs don’t go as high or your feet do bend as much, find your own way of doing it. Work with what you have and never give up trying to be better at it. Be individual.

❝Classical ballet was not built on flexible gymnasts but on artists telling a story❞

When I first joined a vocational dance school at the age of 11 I could not even do the splits. Previously, I had done two auditions – one for The Hammond School (successful ending) and one for The Royal Ballet Lower School (not so successful). I remember at the Royal Ballet audition we all had to do the splits and other various stretches to show the judges our flexibility potential, and I was terrible compared to all the other girls. I left the room so upset, wanting my Mummy more than ever.

Having gone through that and not gaining a place at the school – to this day I blame my rubbish splits, I joined the Hammond School where I danced and stretched every day so that within three weeks I was running to my mum desperate to show her my splits achievement across the back seat of the car. Look at me now Royal Ballet! However, I did gain a place at the upper school 5 years later and got to show my split improvement.

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In the studio

Throughout my years at The Hammond, my flexibility improved endlessly and I was always given ways to improve through healthy encouragement. All over the world, there are many different methods to improve flexibility including extreme and unhealthy ones. Muscles are much more pliable at a young age and therefore the best time to reach the body’s maximum ability is as a child but I think there are good and bad ways to reach that goal. Yes, maybe if I had been pushed more or even forced into stretches at a child I could now be a walking rag doll, but I think I would prefer to be as stiff as a board than to go through any cruel methods.

If I were to advise anyone on how to improve their flexibility my tips would be:

✓Repeat every day

✓ Only stretch when warm, preferably after exercise

✓Stay in stretch for at least 30 seconds

✓Try to increase stretch during the 30 seconds

✓Repeat both sides about 3 times

✓If it’s not too late, start at a young age

In a lot of cases, the more flexibility one has the more strength the body needs to compensate. In dance, and I am sure in all other sports, it is so much more important to do a movement correctly using the right muscles that to sacrifice than just to get the leg higher, for example. We are often told in training to work with the legs a little lower in order to be better placed with the hips and to strengthen the correct muscles which will, therefore, eventually help increase the height. It is also much healthier in the long run.

So, that is my opinion on flexibility. I am sure many would disagree and maybe the reason I think this way is because I am not naturally loose. Like I said, I would love to have a body without limits but I am not so lucky and I have to work with what I have, we all do.

Performing with Douglas Richard in ‘Omnis II’ by Brice Asnar (Photo: Admil Kuyler)

If there are any specific areas of the body anyone would like more information on or exercises for please contact me. Always happy to help.

With love,

Harriet

 

4 thoughts on “What Do You Think Of When I Say Ballerina?

    1. Well, I hope my post encouraged you to realise thats ok and to never stop working at it but also recognising everything else you have. xx

      Like

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