August 1, 2008

Dancing Smart Newsletter: Bowed legs

Quick announcement: I'll be in NYC for the Dance Teachers Summer Conference sponsored by Dance Teacher Magazine and MacFadden Performing Arts Media. I hope to see many of my loyal readers! The subject of my two classes will be, Conditioning the Body for Jumps and 10 Tips Towards Keeping Teachers in Top Shape.


Hope to see you August 9-11!

I have read lot about bow legged issues in ballet, seeing as how I have them myself. Only it seems I was not only born with bowlegs, but my feet naturally turn out at the ankle. (My mother has told me stories of being told to massage my feet and ankles so that they will eventually correct themselves) It leads to awkward moments when I am fussed at for not placing my weight into the correct spot. (I tend to lean out towards my pinky toe both in basic walking and in ballet)

I have tried the ankle circles with the theraband, the relev├ęs on both one foot, and both feet. I am missing something?

Thank you,
Krystal

Bowlegs are a structural challenge versus a muscular one. It is not at all uncommon to have a dancer with bowlegs who also turns out at the ankle. That is a logical compensation the body creates to put the feet flat on the ground. As you noted, otherwise bowlegged dancers have a tendency to supinate, or lean out towards your pinky toe in walking.

(note that the right leg in the photo looks as if it is either slightly longer or more hyperextended than the left. Also note that the knees are not facing the same direction as the feet. The feet are in parallel, and the knees are turned in)

Having bowed legs does not mean you can't be a dancer – but there are a few things I want to draw your attention to. The first is making sure you are not hyperextending your knees while standing. You didn't say whether what your joint flexibility is –but as we have discussed in previous newsletters, when you allow the knees to move into hyperextension, the thigh bone rotates inward, and the knees move apart – effectively creating bowlegs. In fact I have worked with dancers who thought they had bowlegs – but when their legs were in neutral position and straight had the hip, knee and ankle in alignment. It was only when they pushed into their hyperextension they looked like they were bowlegged. I don't think this is the case with you as your mother and docs were aware of your leg alignment from an early age.

The second is to focus your turnout as efficiently as you can at the hip rather than relying on the turnout created by the feet. This will help prevent foot, ankle and knee strain. You have more turnout at your feet, probably because of tibial torsion. This again is a structural issue where the shin bone rotates over time, while growing, in response to the foot's desire to be flat on the ground.
Dancers who have external tibial torsion as you do, can 't line up their knees and feet well. If you try and pull your knees out to line up with your feet it shifts you to the outside of your foot – and creates strain at the outside of the thigh.

As always, I would encourage you to stay focused on where your weight is on your feet. Keep it as even as possible between the three points of the foot. Pad of the big toe, pad of the little toe and heel. Your feet are your connection to the ground and you need it to be stable. How do dancers sprain their ankle? By rolling on the outside of the foot.

It's not so much that you are missing something with working with bowlegs – it is more that efficient alignment is even more important. You need to keep the weight of the body from dropping into your legs. This is done by making sure your pelvis efficiently lined up, with deep abdominal support and imagining your legs and spine lengthening away from the floor.

No matter what your age is, even if you are at the end of your growth, you can become a beautiful dancer by developing good muscle balance and range of motion along with efficient alignment. Just remember that the way you stand and move outside of class has an enormous amount to do with what happens inside of class and keep up the good posture even when those around you are all slouched and slumped over.

Until next time,

Deborah

"Education is the key to injury prevention"