Toned, strong muscles lie within a ballet dancer’s long, thin legs. Strong leg muscles allow a ballet dancer to jump high, turn with balance and control, and execute the slow, held motions of the graceful adages. If you’ve ever experienced sore leg muscles after a particularly challenging ballet class, you realize that the muscles used in ballet aren’t exactly the muscles you use in your normal daily activities. You can improve your dancing by strengthening specific leg muscles.
Located on the backs of your thighs, your hamstrings allow you lift your leg in arabesques, maintain proper ballet posture and jump. To strengthen these muscles, lie face down on the floor, with your hands under your forehead and your legs held together. Bend your knees and flex your ankles so that the soles of your feet face the ceiling. Exhale as you lift your thighs off the floor a couple of inches, while keeping your upper body in contact with the floor. You should feel the muscles in the backs of your thighs working. Hold the contraction for about five seconds before lowering your thighs to the floor. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
The inner thigh muscles, or adductors, bring your legs toward the center of your body. In ballet, these muscles help you maintain your turnout and the alignment of your pelvis. Strengthening these muscles can improve your ballet alignment and your jumps, particularly your assemblés and jumps with beats. To strengthen these muscles, lie on your left side with your legs straight. Place your left arm along the floor and support yourself by placing your right hand on the floor in front of your body. Turn out and lift both legs off the floor, using your abdominal muscles to keep your body from rolling forward or backward. With a small pulsing action, contract and release your left thigh against your right thigh 10 times. Relax and repeat at least two more times before switching sides.
Calf strength is essential for jumping and working on relevé. When strengthening the calf muscles, pay attention to the alignment of your ankle. Keeping your ankles and heels in line with your second toe will stabilize your ankle and help prevent ankle sprains, both in your ballet classes and in your daily activities. To strengthen your calf muscles, stand facing a barre or counter top, and use this surface for support. Place a small ball, such as a tennis ball, between your heels, in the space just behind your ankle bones. Lift your ankles as high as you can, squeezing the ball gently between your heels so that it doesn’t slip. Hold the top of your relevé for about five seconds before slowly lowering your heels. Repeat 15 to 30 times.
Being aware of your hamstrings and adductors can help you during your ballet class. Try performing these exercises, as well as the exercise for the calf muscles, as part of your warmup. Then, during the barre, concentrate on feeling energy running down the back of your legs, from your buttocks to your heels. This engages your hamstring muscles, which will allow you to properly place your pelvis. Also, think about activating your inner thigh muscles every time you stand in first or fifth position. They will help you maintain your turnout.
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