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ArucariaBallerina

Getting hyperextension and winged feet

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Hi,

I hope this doesn't sound too silly, but I have very very very straight legs (they are not bent looking, but they're not hyperextended!) I guess in some ways it is a blessing because my hyperextended friends have lots of trouble with getting on their legs and their stability etc.

 

However the line is not as nice, and I have been told by a couple of teachers that I should perhaps stretch for more hyperextension to get the lovely curve (for example in the supporting leg for arabesque!) Does anybody have any advice for this for safe ways to get this?

 

And also looking for exercises for winged feet! I do theraband work to strengthen the 'wing' (where the top of foot sort of goes out from the ankle like the principals do!) and I luckily don't sickle thanks to working a lot on it, but just wondering if this is an expected in ballet and other exercises that I could safely do!

 

Very sorry for how long this is! And if I am not making sense haha (In the midst of GCSEs!)

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Perhaps I've misunderstood, but I thought hyperextension was something best avoided, not to be actively sought (and that your first sentence indicates why)?

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I'm not quite sure what you mean by "winged feet" but if you mean the foot sort of curves upward slightly from the leg....say in an arabesque ....then I have to say that personally I very much dislike this as I think it takes away from the natural line. I think this has become fashionable in recent years so I suppose it's the old story that if everyone  else is doing it then why not etc. 

Im not sure why it is thought desirable and can look positively horrible when the leg is in attitude!! Just my view. Just hope it goes out of fashion again! 

I don't know about this hyperextended thing. If you have very straight legs then that sounds good to me....I wish mine were straighter but most people like myself have to work hard at getting that ( normal) extension at the knee. There is a natural curve there so dancers have to work hard to get that lovely line. Some people have what's called "sway back knees" which makes them look naturally straighter without having to work so hard.....but I understand this type of leg does have other weaknesses ....possibly in relation to the hip ....but am no expert. 

When your teachers are telling you to work for hyperextension are they talking about the actual extension of the leg ( how straight it is extended away from the body) or the height of the leg ....eg: how much higher than 90 degrees you can raise the leg in arabesque for example? 

 

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I ageee about the fact that fashions & trends too often suggest dancers try & make changes to their own body’s natural lines.... possibly worrisome that some teachers are suggesting young still growing dancers specifically work towards achieving these what may not be natural to their body looks....

Remember also that photos are so often doctored to achieve the look of the day....that ‘winged’ foot may well have been manipulated digitally to appear so....

I personally dislike greatly the photos where even standing en pointe on both legs, the feet are in this ‘winged’ pushed away from ankle look.... if this is taken into their actual dancing then injuries will I suspect occur...

It is giving me great pleasure to see the wonderful photos that are being seen in the dance media currently in tribute to Margot Fonteyn on what would’ve been her 100th year...our young dancers today could do far better to try emulate her beautiful lines & artistry....

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I understand completely where you’re coming from and if you’re teachers have told you that your lines need work then that’s something to be taken seriously. Aesthetic lines are so important in ballet. Anyone who has watched company class ( ENB, SAB, RBS etc) will appreciate that the lines they create are REAL and certainly not doctored by photography!! Made with bodies specially chosen for the job whose owners have slogged for many years to create! Most pros have sway backs (  plus all the negative issues that go alongside) and the beautiful feet that go with them but certainly not ALL dancers which proves it is possible to work on your lines without having that natural facility. I wouldn’t suggest that there are any safe exercises you can do though to change your physical makeup in the areas you’ve highlighted so please don’t try. Extra rotation in the ankle joint will only lead to problems and injuries because it becomes more difficult to align the knee over toe especially on landings. As will pushing back your knee into a ‘too straight ‘ position, which will damage your knee, also affect the placing of your weight.

What you can do is study pictures of how you want your lines to look and visualise this each time you do it, especially in front of a mirror. If you can be very focused, you will notice your legs become straighter and your ankle lines ‘finish’ the end of picture you are creating.It takes time and focus.  At the end of the day, whether it is fashion or not, this is where we are now, in 2019, how ballet adapts and changes and what company Directors want, which seems appropriate to take into account if you want to end up with a contract and working in Classical ballet ( maybe you don’t but you obviously care enough to note the importance of detail) Lines and aesthetics have been important since Balanchine brought them to the forefront and long before that!

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Just another thought, better to practice your arabesque line en l’ air. Hate to see students pressing and squashing their toes into ‘fish’ on the ground when the weight is supposed to be over the ball of supporting leg.

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But for me it is precisely because of lines and aesthetics that I don't like the winged foot look ....it takes away from the beauty of the natural line 

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9 minutes ago, LinMM said:

But for me it is precisely because of lines and aesthetics that I don't like the winged foot look ....it takes away from the beauty of the natural line 

 

Totally understand that LinnMM and when it is too exaggerated, I don’t like it either! I think it’s where the subtleties of ballet come in. Tiny degrees of detail that make a difference.

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10 hours ago, ArucariaBallerina said:

I have been told by a couple of teachers that I should perhaps stretch for more hyperextension to get the lovely curve (for example in the supporting leg for arabesque!)

 

If I were your Mum I would be having words with these teachers if this is what they’ve said.  

 

A person is either hypermobile or they aren’t.  At the Ehlers-Danlos/Joint Hypermobility end of the spectrum the connective tissue disorder that gives - among other things - swayback knees causes chronic pain, propensity to injury, sublaxing and dislocating joints and a whole host of other medical issues.  

 

Even dancers with “just” swayback knees should always be mindful of *not* “sitting back” and locking the knee joint backwards, but rather strengthening the muscles above and around the joint to pull up and support the knee in a straighter position.

 

Your supporting leg in arabesque will look nicer if it’s sufficiently turned out and the weight is balanced evenly across all 5 toes.  Personally I’m not a fan of a very winged foot; as long as you’re not sickling then you’ll be fine.  

If you want to safely increase the lateral range of movement in your ankle then working safely with therabands is fine if you are doing exercises prescribed by a Dance Physio.  

 

Not all dancers have swayback knees or banana feet, by the way.  Watch Natalia Osipova dance without tights; her feet are really quite straight all the way from under the knee to the platform of her pointe shoes, which actually is ideal.  

 

Work safely with what you’ve got.

 

 

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Agree with Anna C that working safely within your own physical facility is the most important element of training and key to success. Any improvement of your lines must be done within those boundaries.

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By the way, I hope I didn’t sound too cross, Arucaria.  It wasn’t a silly question - I just get cross with potentially unsafe advice by teachers and I get frustrated with the fashion for perceived “beautiful lines” which in practice often equates to students and dancers overstretching, doing oversplits, using artificial means to try to change and exaggerate what nature has given them, all the while storing up problems for their bodies in the long term.  

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Just to be clear that purity of ‘line’ has absolutely nothing to do with overstretching and contorting ones body into unnatural, hideous   positions which may lead to both short term and long term injury. It is about balance and harmony from the core radiating through every part of the body, fingers, toes and beyond.

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Please don't try to create hyperextension - you can't anyway, as it's a genetic thing: the individual make-up of your body. IT may be that you need to think about lengthening your whole line - creating the dynamic pull from crown of the head to tip of the toe in arabesque etc. BUt that is about slow careful training.

 

I'm still learning to pull up my knees, rather than lock them back, and I'm not really hyperextended. And I don't like it when people call hyperextension "swayback" because locking back into the knees (the "sway") is very bad for ballet technique: it puts the weight back in the heels. It can distort the alignment of the pelvis, and put effort into the quads, thus leading to heavy quads and not that flat fronted look - from stretched and lengthened hip flexors.

 

Just inadvisable all round.  

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Oh my goodness!  I’ve not been on here for a while but had to respond to this post. Arucaria, you are such a diligent, hard worker and take your dancing very seriously, which is fantastic.  And I 100% agree with Anna’s advice.  There is no way any self respecting ballet teacher should tell you to hyperextend your supporting knee in an arabesque - damaging in the extreme to a young growing body. I seriously hope you misunderstood that direction!!! 

 

As for ‘fishing’ Your feet in an arabesque, it’s got to be giving a beautiful line and not break it up.  A small fishing is acceptable and some people have a natural shape that lends itself to that.  To exaggerate it and try to develop something your body is not happy with will inevitably lead to injury.  A sickle is ugly and poor technique but a small fish can look beautiful as long as you are still stretching the foot fully and not hooking the foot. 

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Thanks everyone, I will take the advice of my usual teachers which is just to try to perfect what I have! Personally I think  Margot Fonteyn's lines were beautiful too, I just know lots of professionals nowadays have the wing and hyperextension (the swayback knees!) and wasn't sure whether this was natural or something I had to work at!

 

It was just one teacher who advised me to be slightly wing/ fish and she emphasised that my feet still have to be completely pointed and never put weight on them.

 

The other teacher I didn't really like very much anyway - it was at a drop in class a few months ago, and she said

"you are a very hard worker and passionate and you use your feet well, but you won't become a professional unless you get flat turnout by doing middle oversplits with the blocks behind your hips (I haven't tried this because I don't think it would be helpful at all, I have physio exercises which are much better), and get your leg up to your head in extensions like the Russian dancers. And your knees have to go backwards! And you need to get more sleep so you can grow."

She was one of those scary ballet teachers so I won't be going back (I love my usual teachers and respect their advice of perfecting very basic technique and line) ! The only advice I took was to get more sleep 😄

 

 

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Very wise of you, AB! Good luck. x

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Your 50 year old self will thank you. 

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Crikey Aracuaria definitely best avoiding that teacher. Over splits are potentially very risky. It's one of the things I hate most on Instagram - tiny tots (often rhythmic gym I think) doing it. Horrendous....

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Look up labrum/labral tear. This collar of cartilage around the hip is easily damaged and often requires surgery.....

 

 

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Wise words from lots of fantastic knowledgeable mums got to you before I could!

 

In young children (ie before around 10) it is possible to stretch ligaments around knees and hips to create more hyperextension and more turnout - although WHY anyone would want to forcibly stretch a child’s joints to make them unstable and prone to lifelong injury (not to mention harder to control etc) is way beyond me. But each to their own.... 

 

As for the winged/fished foot - I do this a bit in arabesques as the bow in my lower leg makes the line look “downwards” otherwise. It’s totally possible with a bit of strenthening and paying attention to the line of your foot whilst you’re stretching it. To help, you can work on ankle eversion exercises whilst non weight bearing - my favourite is sitting parallel with legs stretched out in front, feet stretched (good toes!) Start with the feet touching each other from heel to big toe joint then try to separate your big toe joints away from each other sideways whilst keeping heels touching. You should feel the outside of your lower legs/calves working.  It’s actually quite a handy one to have in your arsenal of strength training as it strengthens the muscles on the outside of the ankle which helps to guard against/ aid recovery from lateral ankle sprains. I would never recommend a dancer wings their foot en pointe though as you’re just asking for injury! 

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Just to chime in on this... there seems to be a lot of this talk going on and I honestly thought it was just girls-looking-at-Instagram-chat until I actually overheard a teacher telling girls they “should make their knees swayback like he did”.... hmmmm... not just the girls talking rubbish then ... this guidance came from a teacher with some exercises he had recommended. Needless to say DD didn’t do that class again :) 

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On 01/06/2019 at 21:14, annaliesey said:

Just to chime in on this... there seems to be a lot of this talk going on and I honestly thought it was just girls-looking-at-Instagram-chat until I actually overheard a teacher telling girls they “should make their knees swayback like he did”.... hmmmm... not just the girls talking rubbish then ... this guidance came from a teacher with some exercises he had recommended. Needless to say DD didn’t do that class again :) 

Urrrrggghhh 🙉

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