January 8, 2008

Dancing Smart Newsletter: 1/08/08


Using a blog for the newsletter has gotten thumbs up! Thanks to all who emailed or posted a comment. Let's go right to the question of the week!

My ballet teacher told me I sometimes don't straighten my legs in élevé as much as I should. She said I needed to tighten my quad muscle. I thought I was doing that. What muscle is she talking about exactly? She said it is above the knee. Is that all I need to do to have stick straight legs? Is there any other way to keep my knees straight at all times?
Thanks, Val

I've got a couple of thoughts, Val. One is that you might have some weakness in either the quadriceps muscle or the calf muscles, or both. The quadriceps muscles are hip flexors and knee extensors. That means they bend the thigh towards the pelvis and they straighten the knee. Here are pictures of the quadriceps muscles and the calf
muscles. In the picture of the calf muscles, the gastrocnemius muscle has been cut away so you can see the soleus muscle underneath.

Start by standing in parallel, sideways to the mirror. Are your legs straight with the knees in line with the hips and ankles? You don’t want the knees to be behind the middle of the hip and ankle because they would mean they are hyperextended, and you don’t want the knees in front of the middle of the hip and ankle, because that means they are slightly bent.

I’m assuming that when you are just standing still – your legs are
straight. Now slowly start to rise onto the balls of your feet. As you rise, do your knees bend at all? If so, there is some weakness.

To address the weakness you can do two very simple strength exercises. The first is to stand at the barre on one foot and do slow single leg relevés and élevés. Make sure you aren’t gripping the floor with your toes when you do so. You can do them in parallel and in turnout.

The second exercise is doing very small single leg demi pliés, both in parallel and in turnout. You again don’t need to lower very far, or do very many repetitions before you notice the quadriceps tiring. If your thighs are sore the next day then that is a sign that you overdid the repetitions and pull back some.

The other comment I want to make is that knees come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes the shape of your knee makes it look like they aren’t straight. If you have knobby knees like the picture of a very famous actress that is shown below – they may not look straight when they are.

One way to see if you have a structural problem with straightening your knees (and I have only seen a few people who couldn’t straighten their knees) is by lying face down with the only the lower part of the leg off the table. Notice in this picture that the right heel is higher than the left? This is a sign of a more significant contracture in the muscles – or a structural concern.

Again, if you can stand with straight legs – or lie down with your legs straight, then you need to focus on strengthening the muscles around the knee and ankle for your élevé and relevés. Good luck!

Until next time,

Warm regards,


“ Education is the key to injury prevention”