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 attribute of a dancer 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 envious of those lucky ones who are 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 all over the internet of the impossible being done, it can easily dishearten those of us who still struggle with a simple a ‘la secondè’ after 20 years of trying. But I tell you, and myself, don’t let it be so – 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 it’s ‘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 don’t bend as much as you would like – find your own way. 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 RBS – to this day I blame my rubbish splits. However, 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. Five years later, I gained a place at the Royal Ballet Upper School and got to show them my improvement.
Throughout my years at The Hammond, my flexibility developed enormously and I was always healthily encouraged with ways to improve. 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 rather than to go through any cruel regimes.
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 an individual 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 than to sacrifice 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, these are my thoughts 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.
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.