The Teaching of Classical Ballet: Common Faults in Young Dancers and Their Training
Here are some common ballet mistakes that dancers need to try and avoid at all costs. Repeat the same mistakes over time can lead to stress and injury to the body.
Here is a list of the most common ones that we see in the dance class.
Pinching the Shoulder Blades Together
Sometimes in an effort to open up the chest, the dancer opens too wide and the shoulder blades pinch together at the back making a deep line between the shoulder blades. If this happens, the dancer won’t have freedom in her arms and she won’t have any support in the upper spine. This also causes the trapezius and the rhomboid muscles in the back to strain.
In this case the dancer needs to think about widening her shoulders out to the side. It may help to fill the lungs with air and make space in the chest. Think about keeping the hands soft, as if the shoulders are pulled back to much, the hands will feel restricted.
Some dancers have very hyperextended legs. These are legs that almost look as though they are bending backwards when the knees are stretched. It sometimes becomes a habit to give in to the hyperextension by letting the knees overstretch and the feet part too much when standing in a closed position.
Although the hyperextended leg can look very attractive in dance, especially in the arabesque lines, the dancer needs to take care not to overstretch the leg, as they normally tend to have weak external rotator muscles. The legs will want to collapse in on themselves when landing from jumps, thus causing the body weight to fall over the knees. If hyperextension is not worked with carefully, the joints that maintain the alignment of the legs can be damaged and the dancer could end up with twisted knees or sprained ankles.
The dancer has to train not to give into her hyperextension, and this means she must think of lengthening her legs rather than straightening them. The knee must never lock backwards, and the dancer almost feels like she is dancing on bent legs. The dancer will have to take particular care when training her turnout and keep it activated at all times from the hips.
When the dancer stands in first she must focus on having her feet together and relaxing the quadriceps. If the quads are contracted, the kneecaps are pulled back to much.
Curling the Toes
Curling or clenching the toes is a very common fault. The dancer will either curl her toes while standing flat-footed or when she points. Clenching the toes while standing makes the feet a very unstable platform on which to stand, and this creates problems for the rest of the body, by placing unwanted stress on the joints of the legs. Clenching the toes will also prevent the articulation of the feet, which is so necessary for ballet.
If the dancer has a problem with clenching, make her sit on a chair with the feet on the ground. Drag the feet towards the body and slowly raise to demi-pointe as you do this, working on a forced arch and keeping the toes flat on the floor.
I have also heard that weaving a strip of cloth over the second toe and alternating it below and above the successive toes and leaving it there during barre work and other non-dance activities will help the dancer to start feeling those toes. I have yet to try this method for fixing this ballet mistake.
Rolling the Feet In
Sometimes dancers try to get their feet to turn out more than the hips allow for, and this causes the arches of the feet to roll inwards. Turnout is always from the hips and is not about forcing your feet open. This ballet mistake places a whole lot of stress on the tendons of the feet and will lead to injuries as the rest of the body will overcompensate for the imbalance when your knees can’t line up over the toes.
The dancer needs to think of turnout as an activity, not a position. Dancers need to concentrate on standing on the heel, the ball of the big toe and the ball of the little toe. These three points must remain in contact with the floor at all times when the foot is flat on the floor.
Over-Arching of the Spine
This is one of the most common ballet mistakes. The tummy muscles are not supporting the spine, which causes the lower back over arch and the tail bone to stick out at the back. The pelvis must neither tip back or tuck under, otherwise, the range of motion in the hips will be limited.
The dancer should think of having her tailbone down and her navel lifted upwards. Think of the four T’s – no tucking, tilting, twisting or tipping of the hips.
In order for a dancer to fix her ballet mistakes and habits, she needs to stay mindful and focused throughout her class. When trying to fix a problem, the dancer will really need to focus on that mistake for a while, but as the muscle memory kicks in, it won’t be so much hard thinking anymore, as the body will take over.