Teacher Training: The Warm-UP & Other Burning Questions

Fundamental Skills  #1

The best way to see measurable achievement in your studio is to collaborate on a goal and go for it. TOGETHER! Setting a daily warm-up routine will develop the culture of the studio and provide students with an opportunity to set personal goals. Pick a 1-3 songs you love and take a week or two for students to learn the sequence. Once they do limit the warm-up period to 10 minutes for a 90 minute class.

Example Mat Warm-Up:

(some progressions included)

  1. Jumping Jack, Jumping, and Jogging for about 30-45 seconds prior to music and hitting the mat.
  2. Laying on the back please have the students battement devant 12 times with the right leg then 12 times with the left leg. They should come to their hands and knees to battement derriere 12 times with the right leg and 12 times with the left leg. 
    • Progress to Grande Rond de Jambe – En de hor, En des dan
    • Progress to Grande Battement with patterns – Devant, Right, Left, Right, Devant, Right Left Down
    • Repeat all three progressions on elbows
    • Repeat all three progressions in backward plank/frontal plank
  3. The next stretch is to bring the right leg up as if cradling it, drop the knee to the side and hold the position. Keep the knee in the same position and allow the foot to be stretched by bringing the heel toward the shin and pressing the toe toward the other leg as it lengthens. Repeat this with the left leg. (skip for beginners or recreational dancers)
  4. Returning to the back, students should squeeze the knees together and begin with 30 crunches. Ribs to Hips
    • Increase by 5 weekly (Level 1 begins at 30, Level 2 begins at 60)
    • Legs Perpendicular while Crunching
    • Twist and Crunch
    • Legs at 90° – lift legs to ceiling with lower abdomen (don’t point toes to back wall, maintain the trajectory of the ceiling.
    • Hands under the lumbar spine – lower legs to just above the ground and lift, then alternate
    • Side/Oblique Variations including crunch and plank
    • Planks
    • Backward/frontal Plank with Battement
    • Jack Knife – Slow with specific rolling through the Spine, Fast with Power to a Balance, Then Straddle Balance
  5. Roll up to sit tall in a butterfly. Stretch the pelvis by gently ballistic stretching the pelvic by bouncing the knees. Stretch the back in three positions.
    1. Straight with the top of the head reaching up.
    2. Tummy reaching for the floor and the head reaching diagonally with a straight back, bending only at the hips.
    3.  Top of the head reaches to the floor while the abdomen contracts into the back stretching the spine toward the ceiling and back wall. Do not allow students to pull on toes, they must learn to grasp the ankles in this position.
  6. With legs straightened in front and parallel coming from the hips reach arms forward to use the three back stretches from the butterfly exercise. Students can lift heels off the ground to hyperextend.
  7. In a straddle position, dancers must rotate hips to turn knees toward the back of the room.  Use slow port de bra and clasping of the hand to help students increase strength in the pelvis to hold the turn-out. Then, stretch right side, left side, and center using the three back positions of the butterfly stretch.
    1. Skip #5, #6 once Jack Knife with Balance in Straddle is achieved.  Go to #7.
  8. Students should work to come through the center splits and hold the position then arrive in a frog stretch. Be sure to bevel the foot properly during the stretch. If students have high feet, they must lift the pelvis and distribute the weight between.
  9. Straighten legs behind and press arms straight to stretch the back. Shoulders and ears separated for long necks.  Walk the hands toward the hips.
  10. Bend the legs and reach the toes to the shoulders and lower cervical spine.
  11. Reach back to grab the outside of the ankles, then lift the position by pressing the feet away from the head.  Do this for 3-4 seconds three times, students like to rock in this position at a young age.  Older students must challenge themselves to endure as this level of flexibility is expected in pre-professional dance studies.
  12. Lying flat on stomach with arms and legs extended – Reach legs and arms up 3-4 seconds three times.  On the fourth time tap the backs of the knees and heels together.
  13. Back Bends then practice balancing with one leg.
  14. Rest in child’s pose for 30-60 seconds.

During the first month there will be a great deal of explaining to synchronize the entire group and hold each dancer accountable for the details of a clean performing edge.  Take your time and remember that excellence is built on the foundation of good communication and love.

Alignment and Distribution of Weight for Ballet Positions

The 11-12 pounds of the head are lifted off the feet by the neck and the muscles surrounding the cervical spine.

The 16-24 pounds of arms are lifted off the feet by the deltoids, trapezius, pectoralis major and subcutaneous muscles connected to the upper thoracic spine.

While the shoulders, chest, and rib area of the torso are harder to describe in pounds, they must be held and lifted by the, latissimus, rectus, and oblique abdominal muscles.

The abdomen must also be held off the feet.  To do this the pelvic muscles will absorb the job.  This means dancers must strengthen psoas major and minor, Iliacus, obturator, adductors, and tensor fascia latte, piriformis, gluteus medius, and tensor fasciae latae. How challenging considering most professional ballet dancers are still working to identify these pelvic muscles!  The gluteus maximus will take over if dancers aren’t slowed into using correct alignment at the barre.

The pelvis must be held up by the thighs.

The thighs must be held up by the lower leg.

The ankle must be extremely agile and strong to then support the entire structure balanced above it.

Arms + Fingers

Lengthen arms to almost straight in early studies. Fingertips should begin with an okay sign, then progress to hamburger hands, finally, students should master elonge.

Preparatory Arms

Lifting breath, en bas, to first, and extend. Head tilts to the standing side (as demonstrated during training).

Positions at the Barre

Use significant time crawling around on the floor under your students to help them achieve the specific motions they are required to achieve (as demonstrated during training).

I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.
-Pablo Picasso-

Burning Questions

Q: What is a trustworthy progression of Ballet Skills that will help us match physical and psychological development?

A: The easy answer to this question is REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT! Create a cycle of repetition that leads to strong muscle memory.  Then lengthen the body with age appropriate stretches, then strengthen the pelvis, then strengthen the core, then repeat!

The more thought-provoking answer is that…The benefit of teaching all children ballet barre and dancing skills is that they naturally allow for a progression. Monthly lessons are prepared for teachers to reach the strategic goals set by the consulting agreement and stated challenges the teachers are having. I love to work with studios to collaborate on meeting the needs of student physical and emotional spec·i·fic·i·ty. Studios thrive when they know where they are heading and they go there together!

Remember! The Gluteus Maximumus and Quadricep will dominate the dancer like a bully if they are released to adagio or complex combinations/tricks too quickly.

Q: What are the Best Practices for Stretching

A: Hands on Stretching is the best way to help students feel and understand their stretch. Be sure to help them identify the ways we stretch. Awesome article from MIT on Stretching. Instructor knowledge about stretching comes with time. It is best to be cautious with students and help them learn the positions in the beginning. With time and exposure to master teachers, dance faculty will learn to motivate and challenge the class expectations so all students stretch to an agile and flexible state for dancing. Flexible muscles can get strong! Tight muscles have nowhere to go but to bulk up. It takes time for all teachers and students to feel and understand their stretch reflex, even longer to control it.

Be sure to learn new ways of stretching and challenge your students with different forms of stretching. Use a checklist in your roster if you need to!

  • ballistic stretching
  • dynamic stretching
  • active stretching
  • passive (or relaxed) stretching
  • static stretching
  • isometric stretching
  • PNF stretching

the hold-relax – This technique is also called the contract-relax. After assuming an initial passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds, after which the muscle is briefly relaxed for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch which stretches the muscle even further than the initial passive stretch. This final passive stretch is held for 10-15 seconds. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.

the hold-relax-contract – This technique is also called the contract-relax-contract, and the contract-relax-antagonist-contract (or CRAC). It involves performing two isometric contractions: first of the agonists, then, of the antagonists. The first part is similar to the hold-relax where, after assuming an initial passive stretch, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. Then the muscle is relaxed while its antagonist immediately performs an isometric contraction that is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.

the hold-relax-swing – This technique (and a similar technique called the hold-relax-bounce) actually involves the use of dynamic or ballistic stretches in conjunction with static and isometric stretches. It is very risky, and is successfully used only by the most advanced of athletes and dancers that have managed to achieve a high level of control over their muscle stretch reflex (see section The Stretch Reflex). It is similar to the hold-relax technique except that a dynamic or ballistic stretch is employed in place of the final passive stretch.

Q. How do I get dancers to stretch their feet when they dance?

A. Slow way down to an excuciating tempo in Beginner Levels and physically move the feet during tendu so that your students can FEEL the experience (as demonstrated).

Thanks for tuning in for a lesson on TEACHING! Enjoy your team and have an awesome year!

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