September 25, 2011


Had an interesting class last Friday. Was so tired my pirouettes were tilting backwards, ready to fall straight into bed. Never mind finishing class first. And of course our teacher chose that evening to introduce new divertissements. Fun and fast. Or was that fast and furious? I vaguely recall some seriously quick Bournonville-style steps.. The kind that require an alert mind and a state of wake-ness. Instead I was still trying to figure out my feet and counts when my teacher was yelling at me to use my port de bras too! Well, maybe next time.

Much more fun was showing off my seriously improved left-leg extension! First up, we did our usual foot-in-hand stretch (or talon à la main as Madame would say), and it´s been much better for some time already. I have been religious about stretching, which for a tight-muscled and jointed adult dancer is really de rigeur. A must.

Still, after having been at it for some twenty years - you´d think there would have been more impressive results already! Eight years ago (before my three-year ballet break), my best assisted extension to the side was probably toes level with chin. Don´t ask me about degrees, I suck at math. That gorgeous picture ( to the left: add a long arm holding the leg and you´d get my picture (which is a pretty good picture). Since then, more progress has been made. Today, on a good day, my stretchier left leg goes foot-in-hand all the way up. We are talking about 10 minutes before 6 o'clock here. Seriously, I never looked at my ankle from that angle before. And I gotta tell you, it´s a whole new world!

Sadly, we all know that feet-in-hand do not neccessarily stay up without manual help. Usually gravity kicks ass as soon as we let go. However.. I´ve been building muscle for a long time. In fact, a bit too much - I bulk up very quickly. But, now it seems that strength and flexibilty are finally coming together! When I let go off my foot, the left leg stays up at the same heigt as the picture above. It´s a short but sweet moment, much better than my usual crashing down in the blink of an eye! On Friday, when we did our developpés devant into plié, my left leg rose and rose - and look mom, no hands! Of course it was no way near pro-heights, but I´m still very happy about my progress. My teacher noticed too. Now if I only could get my much tighter and lower right leg to follow suit..

Quite a few have asked me to share the stretching & extension magic. But what can I tell you? There really are no tricks and short-cuts. Also, I can only speak for my instrument - and we are all unique in our own little idiosyncrasies.. But what I can give away is this:

Be consistent. If you´re a tight bod like me (talking muscles and ligaments, not over-all firmness), you need to stretch on a daily basis. It does not have to be the same routine and intensity every day, but make a habit of stretching anyway.

Relax. Muscle tightness is often accompanied by tension. Do not force / bounce / jerk / push your stretches. Listen to your body, breath. Be calm and focused. Think long.

Warm up and loosen up. You don´t have to drip with sweat, but don´t stretch when you´re all cold and stiff. Go for a walk or a jog, do push-ups and abs. Loosen all your joints, from head to toe. Use a pinky or tennis ball on tight spots. Even massage the soles of your feet.

Try out yoga. You don´t have to get into the philosophy if it´s not your thing, but you learn many ways to stretch your body. Yoga also helps to get calm and centered.

Be patient. If you want to get into splits (still my holy grail with right leg in front), loosen and stretch everything else first. Be patient. Be consistent.

Check out these links and video for further help:

Improving Extension. Dance Magazine, 2008.

Ballet Shoes Pointe Shoes.. And Adult Ballet Class: How to Start Stretching..

Dance Stretching Safely for Splits

Photograph: Ballerina Project, dancer: Irina. Photo: Dane Shitagi.


  1. Hi Johanna,
    I just found your blog and I find it very inspiring and interesting. I have just started with ballet lessons and I am already 25. But I really like it.
    Thanks for sharing all your experiences!

  2. Hi!

    These 5 pieces of advice you gave us are so good. I mean really! Also some of them apply to every-day-life, when it comes to proggressing in something. Be consistent, be patient. I like it! :)

  3. I've noticed that tension in the upper body makes my lower body tighter too, especially hamstrings. I took some acrobatics lessons years ago, and my teacher told us to warm up and stretch every part of our body, starting from face and neck. If chin is tensioned, it makes the pelvis tensed, too. Body is such an amazing instrument, isn't it!

  4. Hi Yvonne!

    You know, for an adult beginner you´re still pretty young. I was 21-22 when I started, but I have plenty of friends who took their first ballet class in their late twenties or early thirties. Better late than never!:)

    I would love to hear more of your journey and progress, so keep those comments coming in. And you can comment anywhere (even in my oldest posts), I always check for news.

    Thanks Yvonne - and keep dancing! :)

  5. @Iepukka - thanks!

    Personally, I find patience the most hardest bit of advice. I´m just not a patient person. However, I am quite stubborn - which means I don´t give up on something I really want! :)

  6. @Aija - how very right you are! Everything in your body is inter-connected by fascia - if you tense your neck, it will make even your calfs tighter.

    You took acrobatic lessons? How cool. And gutsy! The last time I did anything remotely acrobatic was in my teens. Which is longer ago than I care to remember ;)

  7. Great post again, i love it. I have always been fascinated by that 6 o'clock position and seeing how they hold it there. Congrats on that 10 to 6 :))!
    When i was younger (12 or so) i did two years of gymnastics and when i couldnt continue went crazy not to loose the flexibility so continued streching regularly; my dad got me a book that has been a kind of a bible to me ever since, it explains the stretching exercises quite well, how to breath and how to hold it.It´s not thought for ballet but in general and then there´s a section with stretching recommended for different sports, including dance&gymnastics and how to do the splits too. It´s written by Bob Anderson.
    I also came upon some saying in the internet that i found interesting: Flexibility: you use it or you loose it; you gain it over time not over night ;))

    oH, just a note :) I started ballet when i was 31 so...but enjoying every single moment of it.

  8. Hi Baluka!

    I like that saying: "Flexibility: you use it or you loose it; you gain it over time not over night." It speaks the truth, especially when you are not naturally flexible. And as we get older (you know, 30+++), it is even more important to keep using it!

    I´m glad you´re enjoying ballet. And why should you not? You are a young woman in her prime! :)

  9. I'm glad you recommended one of my posts! I enjoy your posts.


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...