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How essential are sway back legs?


atacrossroads
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Hi,  I was very disheartened to see a picture posted on World Ballet Day by a 16+ Vocational School on Twitter, showing one of their years in a pose at the barre.

 

Out of the 10 pupils shown, 8 have obviously sway back legs from some degree to another.  I've also noticed recently that when watching ballets by many companies, I am struggling to find a female dancer without sway backs.  My DD is studying full time and has a straight leg line.  She works incredibly hard both in school and when she gets home, is top of her year and would love to audition for one of the top vocational schools for 16+ training, but I am worried that they just won't give her a second look because she has no hyper extension.

 

Does anyone have any advice as to whether she has a chance in the ballet world, or whether there are any exercises we could try to give the illusion of a more sway back leg?

 

Thank you :)

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I think they are definitely a desirable characteristic, i agree that the majority of ballet dancers seem to have them. Unlike good turnout and feet though I don't think they are essential, and there are a number of dancers with straight legs (apart from the Russians who all seem to have them!). If you look at even principal dancers there are very few who have a 'perfect' physique so I wouldn't let your daughter be put off by it.

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I have slight hyper extension in my knees and it definitely makes ballet more challenging! My teacher is constantly telling me to straighten my legs so my heels can touch in first position, when I do a ronde de jambe a terre I feel like there isn't enough space for my working leg to pass through first position without having to adjust my supporting leg as it feels most stable when locked in a hyperextended position, which makes it slightly shorter than when it's straight!

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I'd be very interested to hear people's experiences with swayback legs as it's something that is getting picked up upon more and more recently for my DD, in particular in her associates? She has the habit of overlapping one knee with the other in first and I wonder about the effect this has on her core strength and stability and her turnout. It's one of the most basic foundations of ballet being in first and if you struggle to get that right early on what bad habits are going to be laid down I don't know.

Is it common for sway backs to effect leg strength too? DD struggles with jumps, she doesn't seem to have the lift or the straightness of leg, she can do it but it takes much more effort and she can't keep the technique up for long?

At her EYB audition on Monday they pulled her out to do two pas de chats and a "change mont" Luckily only two in a row- three would have defeated her!

She also has to concentrate on her elbows too, bending or softening them slightly to create a less quirky line? Do elbows and knees go together? So far it's something to be overcome!

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Thanks all for your interesting comments.  It certainly seems an extra challenge to work around the hyperextended legs and having to try not to lock into them a lot of the time, but so worth it for those beautiful lines. 

 

Interestingly Petalviolet my daighter has hyper extended elbows, just not the legs!  She has lovely feet and ankles thank goodness and as everyone says, no one has everything. 

 

I do find it all very interesting though.  Does anyone know what percentage of the population has hyper extended legs?  It looks asthough a good 90% of the professional females do.  With the male dancers I've noticed that it seems to be more around 60%.

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It used to bother me years ago when I did ballet that I didn't have swaybacks. I auditioned for White Lodge at the age of ten, got down to the last few before being rejected, but my straight legs weren't the reason (they said I had a faulty right knee which would give me problems - and how right they were!). So I don't think it's that important if it doesn't spoil the overall line.

 

I was watching a video of Leanne Benjamin on You Tube a couple of weeks ago, and happened to notice that her legs were just like mine - definitely not swaybacks!

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It's interesting what joints are hypermobile and what are not? I'd have thought if you were flexible say in your knees you would be everywhere but it seems there is a degree and that it effects some joints and not others? Bit of a lottery? Atacrossroads- can your DD put her elbows together behind her back?!! This probably sounds like a weird question!

 

DD has also got double jointed thumbs, how USELESS for ballet is that?!

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My dd is in year 7 at WL and definately doesn't have sway back legs!! She was hyper mobile in seven of nine places tested but not in her knees. Lots of factors go onto making a good dancer such as musicality, artistry, a good brain etc. Sway backs are only a small part of the larger picture.

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I totally agree Twoballerinas0004, but when the companies are chosing girls with sway backs as they have their pick from all over the world, you begin to wonder whether they'll get work ultimately at the end of all the training. 

 

I've also noticed that very pretty faces come into the criteria too which we'd not thought about before!

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Hmmmm, I think dancing girls are beautiful, but if you look carefully at their faces they are not necessarily pretty in a conventional sense. What strikes me is their open, direct, confident faces that glow with the love of what they do. There is a look, but not necessarily pretty.

 

As for swaybacks, definitely not required but the leg should look fully straight. No exercises are going to give the look of swayback, the only thing you'll achieve is a damaged knee joint. Focus On all the lovely things your dd has and try to get her to work harder at those so the 'less desirable' traits matter even less.

 

I'm sure everyone has seen someone who looks every inch the dancer, but get them to move and it's a disaster and the opposite where someone doesn't quite look right and you sort of discount them initially but as soon as they dance you can't take your eyes off them. Very few people have everything, and our dc can only be the best THEY can be.

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I'd be very interested to hear people's experiences with swayback legs as it's something that is getting picked up upon more and more recently for my DD, in particular in her associates? She has the habit of overlapping one knee with the other in first and I wonder about the effect this has on her core strength and stability and her turnout. It's one of the most basic foundations of ballet being in first and if you struggle to get that right early on what bad habits are going to be laid down I don't know.

Is it common for sway backs to effect leg strength too? 

She also has to concentrate on her elbows too, bending or softening them slightly to create a less quirky line? Do elbows and knees go together? So far it's something to be overcome!

 

In first position and in ronde de jambe, my dd was advised not to touch her heels but to work with the slight natural gap caused by the hyperextended knees. So in first position she has a gap of over an inch, which she bears in mind when doing ronde de jambe as well.

 

Hypermobile dancers often have issues with strength too, especially when younger, and this needs to be worked on with the help of an understanding teacher. It will get better.

 

Bendy knees and elbows do seem to go together!

 

Thanks all for your interesting comments.  It certainly seems an extra challenge to work around the hyperextended legs and having to try not to lock into them a lot of the time, but so worth it for those beautiful lines. 

 

Interestingly Petalviolet my daighter has hyper extended elbows, just not the legs!  

 

It is generally recommended you don't 'pull back' and lock the knees into position but 'pull up' with the thigh muscles instead. Hyper extended elbows do look weird don't they, my dd has them too, and spent quite a few years on getting the position of her arms right.

 

It's interesting what joints are hypermobile and what are not? I'd have thought if you were flexible say in your knees you would be everywhere but it seems there is a degree and that it effects some joints and not others? Bit of a lottery? Atacrossroads- can your DD put her elbows together behind her back?!! This probably sounds like a weird question!

 

DD has also got double jointed thumbs, how USELESS for ballet is that?!

 

Double-jointed fingers are pretty useless for playing the recorder or the piano as well!

 

There is a difference between hypermobility and hyperflexibility/hyperlaxity.

 

In the first, it is usually that the bones in the joints are constructed in such a way as to have a greater range of movement in the joint than the general population. In the second, it is combined with loose/stretchy tendons and ligaments, which causes the joints to be unstable.

 

There is something called Benign Joint Hypermobility Syndrome or BJHS (if anyone is interested and would like to read up on it, there is a lot of stuff on the internet). Having a hypermobile dd I've read up on it quite a bit over the years. Quite a lot of relatives on my husband's side of the family have it too.

 

Incidentally, swayback knees can cause issues with pirouettes - it can be difficult to hold position and balance correctly.

 

I'll go away now  ;)

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Don't go! Stay put please!

 

Yes that was the advice DD had, to keep a small distance between her heels but even when she does this one knee still isn't right but maybe that's more of a turn out issue at the hip? Everything is connected I guess like cogs so if one bit isn't aligned correctly everything gets thrown off. She needs to work on maintaining her turnout and her legs etc it takes a lot of concentration and effort to stand up straight with your heels together and turn out I'm starting to appreciate.

 

I had always linked hypermobility to children with very long limbs in my mind so it's strange that it also seems to effect her too? She's above average height but it's all torso. Oh and I don't swayback spot I short torso spot. There is always something you covet whilst some one else wants what you have!!!

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In first position and in ronde de jambe, my dd was advised not to touch her heels but to work with the slight natural gap caused by the hyperextended knees. So in first position she has a gap of over an inch, which she bears in mind when doing ronde de jambe as well.

 

 

That's interesting - most teachers I know (including my own teacher training with the RAD) discourage this practice as it throws the body weight back beyond the heels, and encourages dancers to 'sit' into their swaybacks rather than activating the quadriceps and hamstrings. But I do know from watching videos of the Vaganova academy that they seem to work with their weight further back so perhaps its a difference in training styles! 

 

On a different tangent: The 9 point testing scale for hypermobility is called the Beighton scale, and is used, in part, to assess if someone has a hypermobility syndrome: (Images 2-5 are tested on both sides; so it all adds up to 9)

 beighton.png

Edited by drdance
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My daughter was told to maintain a gap between her heels. My daughters ability improved dramatically when she had a teacher who taught her how to work and improve her sway back legs. My daughter was always told that she had beautiful legs and feet, she was lucky in that they were also strong but did require a different approach to training.

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All three of us have them to a greater or lesser extent - I'm nursing my right knee all week after accidentally loading it when locked - think I stumbled on a stairs. Our advice is to learn to keep the leg straight but not locked when loaded and let it overextend a little when it's working not supporting - which offsets the line of my giant calves somewhat!

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Thank you Dr Dance that is such a great diagram!! Brilliant! When DD does 4 just yuk yuk yuk stop it eeeek. I've not tried 5 on her but shall give her fingers a gentle prod tomorrow. Those elbows.... Hahaha I don't know why I'm laughing but it's just nice to see it in a proper demonstration when you normally just accept your child's quirks as being just 'them'.

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Primrose , was that in Russia?  I personally teach students to stand with heels touching in 1st, and to activate their quads to 'pull up' without locking back. 

 

This website has some great images and is really useful for explaining how I prefer to manage hyperextended knees:

 http://danceproject.ca/managing-knee-hyperextension-in-dancers/#.VrO3GvmLTIU

 

9-Hyper-extended-Knee.jpg This image shows the line of body weight distribution - on the left, 'giving in' to the swayback shows how the body weight falls predominantly through the kneecap whereas on the right all the weight is borne through the whole joint.

Edited by drdance
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Sorry I really don't know anything about hypermobility and this has also been picked up in the lower school finals thread Amos has started but.. If your DD has these mobility issues pointed out in the diagram does that mean she would completely fail a physio for lower school auditions? I mean not that we are in this position but just a bit worried now. :-(

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That's interesting - most teachers I know (including my own teacher training with the RAD) discourage this practice as it throws the body weight back beyond the heels, and encourages dancers to 'sit' into their swaybacks rather than activating the quadriceps and hamstrings. But I do know from watching videos of the Vaganova academy that they seem to work with their weight further back so perhaps its a difference in training styles! 

 

On a different tangent: The 9 point testing scale for hypermobility is called the Beighton scale, and is used, in part, to assess if someone has a hypermobility syndrome: (Images 2-5 are tested on both sides; so it all adds up to 9)

 

 

DD's a 7 (from memory) on the Beighton Scale, and has completely flat turnout - from the hips. She's not at the Vaganova Academy though!!!

 

When she stands in 1st position she can actually (if she is asked to demonstrate) get a gap of about 4 inches between her heels.

 

During normal class she maintains and controls a small gap of about an inch, and actually if she puts her heels together it looks - and to her feels - like her knees are bent. 5th position also presents its challenges as she cannot get anywhere near toe/heel without 'bending' her knees.

 

She spent her first ten dancing years with an RAD teacher who always made her keep her heels together. It was on her two associate programmes and more recent teachers who have said that no, she needs a gap otherwise her core position and balance isn't right and she isn't engaging the right muscles. She's also seen one of the top dance physios in the country who has also confirmed that yes, she needs to work with a slight gap... just not the full 4 inches :blink:

 

What works for most, doesn't always work for everyone I suppose.

 

Edited to add - just checked, she's an 8 on the Beighton Scale.

Edited by taxi4ballet
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This thread is interesting as my dd is hyper mobile, but no one has ever mentioned it being a problem or advantage in ballet to us. The doctor advised me to take her to gymnastics to help with dds And it has helped as she is now also very strong. She rarely stretches but has always more or less has all 3 splits, and even her fingers sway back. However it does have major disadvantages too, she we've just arrived back from a and e accident prone dd has severely sprained ankle from her school netball tournament, she is forever going over on her ankles as they are so flexible side to side as well as pointing and flexing. She is really subseptable to injury. So, I would say joint hyper mobility syndrome is definitely not an advantage, even quite inflexible children seem to be able to acquire flexibility if they stretch when they are young. It also gives her a kind of broken look I think, I am hoping it wIll look better when she is an adult and her joints tighten up a bit. And hoping her ankle heals quickly as she can't walk on it ????

Edited by Snowflake
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