Exercises for Ballet Dancers: Physio and Equipment

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The athletic performance of a ballet dancer requires a combination of strength, flexibility, and balance. Exercises for ballet dancers are a crucial component of a successful performer.

I have had the pleasure of volunteering my physiotherapy services for Canada’s Ballet Jorgen prior to their performances in London over the last several years.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience these shows from a very unique perspective; through the eyes of a physiotherapist.  You can’t turn off a physio! As most of the audience watches and enjoys the rond de jambe, demi-plies, and releves, I watch and enjoy the postures, flexibility, and strength.  I also analyze each movement and  assess their potential for causing injury immediately or over time.

What truly amazed me is that despite the fact that some of these dancers performing had pain or discomfort, nobody in the audience aside from me and maybe a few others would have known.  These professionals maintain the elegance and beauty of their characters helping us become immersed in the story they are telling.

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Research: Ballet Injuries

Leanderson et al. reported that ballet dancers were most likely to suffer injuries of the lower extremity.  They stated that the most common traumatic injury for ballet dancers was ankle sprains, while the likely result of overuse was tendinosis (or chronic degeneration of the tendons). Further, Smith et al. discuss that foot and ankle and spinal pathology are the most predominant areas of injury among professional and pre-professional dancers.

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Rehabilitation and Exercises for Ballet Dancers

The principles behind treating a ballet dancer and prescribing physiotherapy treatment is based on understanding muscle imbalances.  We would typically see a ballet dancer with more mobility or flexibility than the general public.  However, with greater flexibility comes the need for greater strength to provide control over a large range of motion.

Equipment for ballet dancer rehabilitation

Ballet dancers who are often on the road might want to consider keeping a few items on hand so they can keep up with rehab.  These may include a:

  • Foam Roller
  • Muscle Roller Stick
  • Peanut Massage Ball
  • Resistance Bands
  • Trigger Point Massage Ball
  • and more

Physiotherapy for ballet dancers may include:

  • Manual Therapy including Soft Tissue Release
  • Acupuncture or Dry Needling
  • Core strengthening
  • Cross Training
  • Active stretching
  • Balance
  • Cardiovascular

Physiotherapy exercises for ballet dancers will often address the constant and repetitive load on the legs as well as promote a strong core.  The following exercises are a great addition to your ballet workout routine.

  • Dead Bug
    1. While lying on your back, raise your knees and hips up to 90 degrees
    2. Raise your arms up towards the ceiling
    3. Engage your core by drawing in your belly button and keeping your spine neutral
    4. Slowly lower one leg and the opposite arm down towards the floor.
    5. Hold for 3-5 seconds than return to the starting position
  • Active Hip Flexor and Calf Stretch
    1. Standing in a split stance with one leg in front and the other behind you.
    2. Keep your rear foot flat on the ground and facing forward
    3. Shift your trunk forward without letting your rear heel come off the ground.
    4. Squeeze your glutes at the end of the movement to create a stronger hip flexor stretch.
    5. Hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
  • Lighthouse Balance Exercise
    1. Stand on one leg.
    2. Keep both arms extended in front of your body, with your hands together.
    3. Slowly move the right arm out to point to the side of your body while keeping your eyes on the moving hand.
    4. Return to the starting position and complete the same movement with the left hand.
  • Glute Bridge
    1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
    2. Squeeze your glutes and engage your core.
    3. Raise your hips off the ground, forming a straight line between your shoulders hips and ankles.
    4. Hold for 3-5 seconds at the top before lowering back down to the ground.
  • Seated Figure 4 Stretch
    1. Sit in a chair with one leg crossed over the other, so the ankle is rested on top of the other knee.
    2. Place both hands on the knee of the leg on the ground.
    3. Slowly slide both hands down the shin of the leg on the ground.
    4. Reach down as far as you can towards your planted foot while you feel a good stretch in your hip.
    5. Hold for 10-15 seconds before coming back up to the starting position.

Take a look at this extreme workout regimen of an American Ballerina, highlighting some challenging exercises for ballet dancers:

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, teaches us how it takes ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery.  This is an excellent author and the book is a must read.

Conclusion

To sum it up, I learned an important lesson with these performers that I will surely take back and share in my own practice.  With the right motivation, immeasurable work ethic, some collaborative support, and the passion to create something spectacular for the world, regular people can do really incredible things.

If you’ve never been to the ballet, I highly recommend experiencing this for yourself.  Check out Canada’s Ballet Jorgen to see when they are touring in a city near you.

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References

Leanderson, C., Leanderson, J., Wykman, A., Strender, L., Johansson, S., Sundquist, K. (2011). Musculoskeletal injuries in young ballet dancers. Knee Surg Sports Taumatol Arthrosc. 19: 1531-1535.

Smith, T., Davies, L., de Medici, A., Hakim A., Haddad F., Macgregor A. (2016). Prevalence and profile of musculoskeletal injuries in ballet dancers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physical Therapy in Sport, 19, 50-56.

Exercises for ballet dancers
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