I wanted to share something I was reminded of while working with one of my Bulletproof Ballerinas recently, a young, gorgeous dancer who happens to struggle with plantar fasciitis from time to time. We were working on a preventative-care exercise to strengthen this problem area for her. While the exercise is designed to load the lower leg and ankle, I didn't want her to put unnecessary strain where it didn't need to be. So, instead of sinking into her lower leg and foot, I gave her a simple coaching instruction to pull up through her spine and use her whole body. This caused a huge shift in her energy (although subtle to the eye), and suddenly she was using her full-body coordination to execute the movement. It was a totally different animal.
This got me to thinking about our injuries and problem areas. Sometimes we have a problem area because of genetics, as determined by the shape of our joint capsules, bone structure, and soft tissue features. Sometimes we have a problem area because of a lack of strength there, whether due to actual physical musculature or neurological capabilities. And sometimes we have a problem area due to a lack of strength in a seemingly unrelated part of the body. But no matter what the cause, all of these can be improved upon by learning to use your whole body in a more efficient, coordinated manner.
Let me give you an example from my younger years. I used to have chronic hip flexor pain and incredible "tightness" when lifting my leg past 90-degrees to the front or side. I thought it was because my hip flexors were weak, and so I added in extra exercises to strengthen this anterior hip area. Guess what? My problem got worse. It wasn't until years later when I started strength training with my entire body that I realized my weakness was not in my hip flexors but rather in my deep core stabilizers and hip abductors inability to ground my supporting leg into the floor.
This illustrates the insight that your whole body needs to be coordinated and work together as an efficient machine. Any missing link, weakness, or small oversight, as subtle as it may seem to the naked eye, is an energy leak and something your body has to waste valuable resources on to overcome. That's why training to build an overall full-body strength and coordination is crucial for getting you to your next level. Even being aware of small energy shifts (like with my Bulletproof Ballerina above) can make a huge impact in how your body performs. It can be the difference between feeling like you are forcing and grinding versus flowing.
This is so apparent in ballet class where we have a tendency to fight against our bodies, trying to rip and tear ourselves apart in an effort to fit a particular mold of the "perfect ballerina." It can feel like such a struggle as we deny our uniqueness and fail to listen to our bodies. But, you know those days when things "click," and your technique feels effortless? Those are the precious moments where you are in tune with your body, working with your body, and focusing all your full-body strength and energy to flow with a coordinated effort. No wasted energy; just efficient coordination and flow. These are the moments we want more of. Imagine where you could take your technique if your body was always working in sync at it's highest capacity.
That's why building this coordinated full-body strength is so vital for your dance career. Not only does it allow you to get to your next level in your technique, but it transforms your art into a passion that is satisfying and fulfilling rather than desperate and neurotic. The next time you find yourself in ballet class grinding and pushing and abusing your body...ask yourself if it might be better to come back into your unique body, find your internal flow, and start coordinating your energy and strength to work for you rather than against you.