Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2019 is The Year of the Derriere!

Happy New Year!

So much ahead for 2019: new company members, new show, new choreography and music and theaters and classes and outreach and--

Hold onto your derrieres, people! Don't get ahead of yourself - get behind yourself!
(Ha! See what I did there?)

That's right, I want to talk about behinds, butts, derrieres. That fleshy part on your backside that is ever-important for ballet is also called your gluteus maximus. Above it and off to the side is your gluteus minimus and on top, closer to the spine is your gluteus medius. The maximus is the one we use most often and we casually call it (them because there are two of them) your glutes. Along with your hamstrings (those long ropy muscles at the back your thighs) and your quadriceps (the big-bellied muscles at the front of your thighs), your glutes are responsible for all kinds of things in ballet, the most important of which is stability.

Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain. or By Mikael Häggström, used with permission. - Image:Gray434.png

When you engage the muscles of your glutes, hamstrings and quads, you become an incredibly stable force, whether that stability is being used for adagio balances, multiple turns, or general pointe/releve work.

In the average everyday world, we use our quads a lot: when we walk down the street, climb the stairs, drive a car. We are most often engaging those muscles, which makes a lot of sense. They're big and they're in front. They take control. But when we do that, we don't develop our hamstrings as well as they could be developed so in exercises that require equal engagement, we find ourselves weak in the back of the thighs. That weakness translates into poor stability.

Are you weak in the hamstrings? Try this:
Stand on two feet in parallel.
Lift one foot off the ground.
Can you balance?

Want to challenge yourself further? Try this:
Stand on a pillow on two feet in parallel.
Lift one foot off the pillow.
Can you balance?

Now let's look further back, into our glutes. Those muscles are big but they might not be as strong as they could be because you are engaging your hip flexors too much (those are the muscles at the front of the hip that crease our legs at the hip joint). We use those a lot when we walk and when we drive and frankly, when we sit at our computers for hours at a time. The muscles underneath don't get used as much so when we need them to engage and be strong, they are weak and wobbly.

Are you weak in the glutes? Try this:
Stand in first position turned out.
Bring one leg up to retire and hold it.
Are you wobbling? How long can you hold that position without wobbling?

Want to challenge yourself further? Try this:
Stand in fifth position.
Releve to passe and close the leg to the back; repeat and bring it to the front.
How many times can you do this without collapsing?

Hey, I'm as guilty of this weakness as anyone else! I have to tell my brain to activate my glutes just about every time I go for a releve. It's a hard muscle to use consistently. But when I do, oh boy, can I balance!

There are loads of exercises for strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Some of you may choose to go to the gym and use machines there. Some of you might cross train with yoga, Pilates or Gyrotonics. If you don't want to do anything like that, just be mindful of those muscles when you are at the barre. You can engage them as soon as you hit your warmup stretch and plies.

Whatever you do, just be sure to incorporate some exercises for those muscles or they won't be there when you need them.

Happy dancing~

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