Whether you're a serious ballet dancer or a student who loves graceful technique classes and the elegance of arabesque, paying attention to your iliopsoas will pay off in your performance. Those are your hip flexors, the muscles you use to lift your knees, bend at the waist, turnout and maintain proper position en pointe. The hours you spend sitting in school or at a desk shorten and tighten your hip flexors, as do many ballet moves. Stretching will keep hips flexible.
Pointe and the Psoas
Your iliopsoas -- the psoas muscles or hip flexors -- can make your feet look bad and prevent you from getting up over your pointe shoes properly. Pointe Magazine says tight hip flexors pull back your hips and interrupt the unbroken line from hip to toe. You need a well-defined arch and a straight line from your shin to the top of your foot as you point. Shortened hip flexors put extra stress on your ankle joint, making it very difficult to achieve a beautiful, strong line and curved arch -- and putting you at risk for injury. Lie on a mat with a foam roller under the tops of your thighs. Balance on your forearms and slide back and forth on the roller from upper thighs to knees to stretch your hip flexors.
Open Hips Mean Better Jumps
When you're repeating passes and developpes, your hip flexors get tighter. That will affect your turns, your jumps and your balance. Before you start that first plie in class, give your hip flexors some love by kneeling on your left knee, lunging with your right leg at a 90-degree angle and stretching your left arm over your head to the right to increase the stretch. Then reverse the position and stretch the right side. You'll begin barre centered over your hips so you are working in the correct position and moving more effortlessly. At home, lie on a mat with your hips raised on a yoga block. Hug one leg to your chest at a time, letting the other leg relax toward the floor in an easy stretch that opens the front of your hips.
The Trick to Turnout
Turnout is everything in ballet, but few people have naturally perfect, 180-degree turnout. Work the hip flexors to help rotate your hips open, so you won't be tempted to force a turnout at your feet or by sinking into your hips and tucking under. That will eventually cause injury, but it will never strengthen turnout or help you to dance better. Instead, do an exercise the American Ballet Theatre uses to increase flexibility in the hips by several degrees. Keep both legs turned in as you kneel on one knee, lunge forward with the other leg and rest both hands on your bent knee. Hold your back straight, core engaged, glutes squeezed and hip bones squared as you push into the bent leg. Feel the hip stretch in the kneeling leg and the front of the thigh. Hold for at least 15 seconds, repeat three or four times, and then gently release and switch legs.
Most dancers cross-train, which usually involves some form of repetitive motion that can tighten hip flexors. To keep hips supple, do your hip flexor stretches post-workout and then cool down. After a run or a cycling session, balance on one leg, square your hips and pull the free foot toward your butt until you feel the release in your hip. Switch legs and do the same on the other side. Avoid that clicking sound in the front of your hip joint when doing developpes or battements by stretching and strengthening hip flexors. To strengthen hip flexors, lie on a mat with your left foot flat on the floor. Raise your extended right leg as high as your bent knee without lifting your lower back. Repeat three or four times and change legs.
- Pointe Magazine: Ballet at Its Best: Bad Feet?
- Pointe Magazine: Your Best Body: No Big Deal
- Dance Spirit Magazine: The Truth About Turnout
- Dance Teacher Magazine: 10 Common Dance Injuries
- Dance Magazine: Your Body
- MayoClinic.com: A Guide to 10 Basic Stretches
- USA Today: Hip Flexor Muscles Can Help You Stand Up to Pain
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .