As a dancer, you would think that balance is a natural, or at least a readily accessed concept. Dictionary.com defines balance as a state of equilibrium or to be equal or proportionate. Thus we think of dancers being able to balance on one foot, defying gravity and appearing as if they could maintain a (static) pose or shape forever. And it’s true that most dancers tend to have pretty good balance in this sense. However, I have been noticing in mystudents, and in myself, the need to reconsider the idea of balance in broader terms.
One physical issue I have been experiencing and also have noticed lately in my dance students, is a lack of balance in the hip joint. Dancers are keen on being flexible and it is easy to envision a room of students stretching in the center splits or simply folding their torsos over their legs. To get your leg up there for those extensions they so crave (particularly that side tilt they are so fond of) the hamstrings do need to be flexible. But, to get those legs up there, they are also in dire need of great strength!
We have been noticing a lot of overstretched hamstrings in our students and a general lack of strength training. When the hamstrings are both overly lengthened and weak, this leads to higher risk of injury. Also, the dancers tend to forget about their hip flexors (which do a lot of work in dance class), so they are coupling their overly lengthened hamstrings, with over worked and under stretched, and thus shorter, hip flexors. These two factors combined can lead to a pelvis that is constantly, or easily, tipped forward, leading to troubles not just with the hip joint, but up and down the chain. As the pelvis is displaced, back or knee issues can also arise.
We have been working on encouraging our dancers to stretch their joints equally, spending just as much time on the front, inner, and outer portions of the hip as they do with the back, as well as encouraging more strength training. Below are a few good exercises that mostly target strengthening the hamstrings, but also involve stabilizing and working other body parts simultaneously.
Lying on your back, place the lower legs on a workout ball. Place the hands on the floor and lift the pelvis into a bridge. From this position, draw the legs closer to the body and then extend out again. Repeat 8-12 times. As strength builds, you can do this exercise with only one leg on the ball and the other leg extended up or at a slight angle away from the body.
To work the abs and hip flexors, this exercise can be done starting in a plank position with the ball under the shins. Holding the plank, then bring the legs closer to the body, bending knees and bringing them under the torso (almost like a childs pose position in yoga, but not quite that far in). Repeat this 8-12 times. This video demonstrates the next step, which would be going from a plank to a pike position, which works more of the shoulders and back as well. Start by trying the leg curls, then this version with straighter legs.
Sit on the floor with your hands firmly planted just behind and outside the shoulder joint, legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Press the pelvis off the floor so that the torso and knees are as close to a straight line as possible, knees at about 90 degrees. Lift one leg out straight at about a 45 degree angle. From this position, lower the pelvis almost to the floor and then press back to the original position. Do this 8-10
times and then switch legs.
A bridge and its modifications is another similar exercise. This clip shows several variations. The final variation is similar to the exercise described above, however,
you would not alternate, rather do the full 8-10 reps on one leg, and also the position is not lying on the back, but rather in a crabwalk-type stance with weight balanced on the feet and hands.