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Talking of knees....


Ja Sm
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I am interested to know how easy it is to achieve that straight "banana" look ballet leg. Obviously for some people, it's what their knees do naturally. But what about for those whose knees don't bend in that way. Is it possible to train your knees over time to stretch out in this way? Are there benefits to these different knee constructions?

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My dd has sway back legs. These legs do look beautiful but really do need to be looked after carefully, and can be prone to injury. My dd is naturally like this but I have noticed that they are looking more banana shaped as you put it, whilst she has been training with the Bolshoi school. This could be that she is being trained to use her muscles properly. I didnt think that you could make your legs more sway back, but I could be wrong.

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I think we need Anjuli or Dr Dance to answer this one as they are so knowledgeable in this area. My dd is also fortunate to have the banana feet and thank goodness she doesnt seem to have had any injuries to them, however she is having problems with one of her knees for which she has had some treatment both here and in Russia. This apparently is through not using the correct muscles.

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Knees are very interesting :)

 

If you lined everyone up with feet either in parallel or in first position, you would find that everyone is different.

 

However, you can roughly divide knee construction into two basic types from hyperextended (swayback) to bowed. The hyperextended knee can be seen when the dancer stands in first position and the knees touch but there is a space between the heels. It can also be seen when the dancer stands with feet parallel and the line from the back of the knee is past the back of the heels.

 

In the bowed knee the heels touch while there is a space between the knees. This can also be seen when the dancer stands in parallet and the bow of open space is seen between the knees.

 

These two basic constructions (hyperextended or bowed) go all the way from a huge space between the heels (severely hyperextended) to a huge gap between the knees while the heels touch (severely bowed).

 

Most of us are somewhere between these extremes.

 

The severely swaybacked knee offers many problems and is a weak construction. If it is severe enough the dance student - even though well taught - will have increasing difficulty in controlling the muscles of the leg. In the more moderately hyperextended knee construction the dance student learns never NEVER to push back into the knee to straighten it (which in fact over straightens it), but rather to pull up - engage - the muscles of the leg - moving upward into the strength in the core of the body. Learning how to engage these muscles is crucial. The student has to learn how it feels - rather than how it looks.

 

The swaybacked knee if not used in conjunction with the correct muscles of the leg can throw the dancer off the central line of balance which runs from the foot on the floor (flat, demi or full pointe) through the body. For this reason as well as the dynamics of rotation - it gives the dancer trouble- and looks wobbly and distorted in pirouettes.

 

For these and other reasons the hyperextended knee is a weaker construction, difficult to learn to use correctly and prone to injury. However, in a moderately hyperextended knee which is correctly engaged - it is a beautiful line and compliments (and complements) a well arched foot.

 

On the other side of the equation, the severely bowed knee is almost impossible to work with. No matter how the dance student tries - it will never look straight though all the muscles are engaged. It, too, throws the central line off balance. It will affect pointe work but not allowing the dance student to come fully onto the platform of the shoe - the knee will always look and be bent.

 

However, if the knee is slightly bowed, with only a minimal gap between the knees in first position while the heels are touching - this need not be a career ender. It is a strong construction, seldom gives problems and the student can be taught to minimize the look of the knee not looking entirely straight. When I stood in first position with heels touching there was a one inch gap between my knees. This gave me a strong construction and I never had knee problems. I learned how to minimize its look and my knees in my pictures look perfectly straight. Of course, one inch is a minimal problem - so I was lucky.

 

As for the question asked by Ja Sim: "Is it possible to train your knees over time to stretch out in this way? "

 

To the extent that the student can be taught how to work with a moderately swaybacked knee or a moderately bowed knee - one cannot change the actual construction of the bones of the leg or how the joint of the knee is put together. The knee is not a ball and socket joint - it is a hinge. It is meant to have a large range of motion and is weight bearing. For these three reasons (type of joint, motion, weight bearing), it is fairly vulnerable.

 

I have seen and heard of some absolutely horrific attempts to alter the shape and line of the knees to suit an artificial notion of how it should look to accomodate ballet. Any attempt to alter the knee joint itself - is a prescription for disaster. You can't alter bones. You can learn to use a moderately hyperextended knee with the correct usage of the supporting muscles but you can't change the bones or the joint. The same is true for a bowed knee - you can't change the shape of the bones or the construction of the joint.

 

I remember one teacher who looked at that gap of one inch between my knees in first position and swore she would get my knees to touch - I ran from that room. Years later I had a conversation with an experienced physical therapist who told me of the many patients she had who had suffered injury from just such circumstances - someone trying to straighted a knee which is naturally bowed.

 

I am purposely not describing the various tortuous (abusive, really) attempts to alter knees - I don't want to aid or abet anyone who wants to do this who may be reading this board. In addition, when one considers that this is done to young people who need to walk for many many years - long after their dance days are over - makes me want to weep.

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I have just spoken to my dd about her sway back legs and if they are looking more pronounced. She laughed and told me not to be silly, with all the training she has had in using the correct muscles they should be less noticeable. Its probably I am only just noticing them.

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Aha

 

This is so useful - my DS was recently told by a (Russian) ballet teacher he had fantastic feet BUT they were no use to him while his knees were so dreadful.

 

Twas ever thus with ballet - for years struggles with core stability - being overcome by a combination of cycling and (a little) natural growth. So now its the knees!

 

I suspect it will be the same with musical DD - is now finally getting to grips with double and triple tounging on the cornet - no doubt another challenge will rear its ugly head.

 

meadowblythe

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I swear my dd looks as if she has swayback and a little bowed!can it be?

Standing in first position she needs a space between her feet to have straight legs, sitting on the floor and straightening her legs her feet come off the floor,but when standing in parallel it looks like her shins are slightly bowed without changing the shape of the muscles around her leg?!! It looks very pretty but I can't understand properly what type of legs she has.She is very flexible but finds it very difficult to completely straighten her legs while dancing on demi pointe and at the bar.

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I would never try to over stretch the knees in order to achieve a "banana" look- one has to be careful what you wish for. A young student of mine is really struggling to cope with such legs and is over pronating as well and as such can barely stand correctly at the moment never mind dance.

 

I watched a company of Russian dancers at a local theatre last night and noted that many of the older dancers who had sway backed legs had also built up very top heavy thighs, especially the men and the elevation wasn't great from some. They were probably fabulous when young but I did wonder whether years of work had taken their toll- professional dancers don't always get technical corrections as it were! (Incidently I'm just making an observation and certainly am not criticising!)

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Thank you everyone. My dd has been told that when she stands in first position and heels touching, her knees don't touch. She can, however, bring them in by concentrating on pulling up through her knees. So she is presumably of the bowed construction Anjuli writes about. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me as her overall construction is fairly rigid and she has had to work exceptionally hard over the years on her flexibility. Pleased to read that it is not necessarily a problem if she chooses the ballet route in the future, though. But it's something else for her to think about while she's dancing until it presumably becomes second nature. She can't understand why it's not second nature to me to pull my tummy in !!!!

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If you go to google images you will find a wealth of pictures by typing in "knees."

 

There is one very simple line drawing showing the three major types: hyperextended, "normal", bowed.

 

Remember - the differences occur in either or both the shape of the bones (above and below the knee) and/or the construction of the joint itself. It's not an either or - it can be one or both.

 

One of the problems I encountered as a teacher was to get the student who needs to maintain a space between the heels - with knees touching while in first position (in addition to learning how to use the thigh muscle by upwardly engaging) was to get that student to honor that space every time the student passed through first position.

 

In order words, if the heels needed to be two inches apart to stand correctly in first position - then that two inches needed to be honored as the foot passed through first position in rond de jambe a terre - and any other exercise in which the foot passes through first.

 

Too many times the student learns to honor that space between the heels while standing statically in first position, but then ignores it when in motion through first position.

 

Am I making sense? It's still early morning here. :)

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Hi everyone - sorry I'm a bit late to the 'party', I've only just got in from work and got the computer switched on!

 

Anjuli has pretty much summed it up in that knee structure is largely set in stone. I say largely because I believe that hyperextended knees can actually become more hyperextended if the student works with their weight back and the knee pushed into hyperextension all the time. I'm interested Primrose that you think that your DD's knees have become more swayback as having watched the video of Russian training I felt that the style encouraged the weight to be back in comparison to the British or French training.

 

A dancer with swayback knees tends to have strong thighs and weak hamstrings, especially if they work with their weight back. On the other hand, if the dancer stands with their body weight shifted towards the front of the foot (so that a piece of paper could be pulled from underneath the heel) the dancer will find it IMPOSSIBLE to lock back into a swayback knee because the hamstring muscles become engaged if the weight is sufficiently forward.

Incidentally, this is why dancers with swayback knees sometimes have trouble jumping (due to weaker hamstrings).

 

I believe, and teach that knees should not be hyperextended while weightbearing eg if the dancer stands in 1st position their heels should always be touching, but I believe there are other schools of thought.

 

A hyperextended knee does so because the ligaments are looser and the bony structures are more spaced apart. Due to this, the knee needs extra strengthening to protect it as it is less stable. Therefore locking back into a swayback/hyperextended knee while weighbearing (eg standing in 1st with heels apart and knees together) will further stretch the ligaments and make it even less stable and prone to acute injuries like sprains or ligament damage.

 

Furthermore, the kneecap usually sits directly infront of the joint made by bottom of the thigh bone (femur) and the top of the larger shin bone (fibula). The femur and fibula should usually be vertically aligned so that the kneecap sits cleanly in front and can move freely without rubbing on either bone, as in the photo here http://images.emedicinehealth.com/images/healthwise/medical/hw/n5550515.jpg

 

However if the knee is hyperextended, it ends up creating an angle and the kneecap then ends up touching bone as it moves up and down, or catching on the patellar tendon (imagine the bottom of the lower bone in the image being moved 2 cm to the right, it would now be slightly diagonal). This can cause all sorts of chronic pain especially when weightbearing.

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We have had experience of both schools of thought on teaching a child with hyperextended knees. My dd who has banana legs has been taught to have no space between her heels in first and also to have a small space between her heels which she finds more comfortable. I must stress at no time has she been allowed to sink back into her knees so they are fully hyperextended. The small space she is now allowed just makes it more comfortable and easier to hold her turnout where as before when she had her heels together in first she found her knees jostling for space! If that makes sense?!

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Swayback knees or "banana" legs are not the only reason of heels not touching in first position. My DD is very thin so her knee joints do "stick out" and are very slightly turned in. If she is forced to keep heels together in first then she will need to keep one knee at the front of the other. So she must Never do that! She keeps her knees together properly, is encouraged to contract/lift quadriceps and then she just have this gap between heels - I think it's about 1-2 cm.

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As for the two schools of thought mentioned above (to allow space between the heels or not).....

 

I have allowed a student to have approximately two inches of space between the heels if needed to accomodate the turnout and structure of the knee. Each individual merits an individual solution.

 

As for the weight being forward - always - always - throughout the ballet movement vocabulary. Whether stationary or dynamic - the weight is forward. Even when heels are in contact with the floor, they are not grounded into the floor.

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I always thought that bowed legs meant they bowed out sideways? Mine have always been described as bowed because if I stand in parallel with my feet together there is a large gap between my knees because of the curve of my two long leg bones. In 1st position my knees and feet both touch and look straight from the front but side-on you can see they curve backwards. The same sort of legs that malnourished children get but in my case is down to genetics. They can also curve the other way, so in parallel if the knees are touching there is a gap between the feet but in a 1st position it's not noticable. My boyfriend has legs like this so with a bit of luck our children will have a combination and end up with straight legs!

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Shimmer - Yes! - bowed legs (called genu varum) tend to follow the pattern you describe; in parallel the bow is visible but in 1st the heels and knees touch. The opposite is knock-knees (genu valgum) where the knees touch in parallel but there is a gap between the heels, although the leg viewed from the side appears straight. In this case, unless the ballet dancer has totally flat 180 degree hip rotation they will find that their knees want to 'overlap' in first position, and they will want to leave a gap between their heels. In this instance a gap of a couple of centimetres is ok, but I still believe that a gap any larger than this will encourage the weight backwards, will further stretch ligaments in the knee joint and leave the dancer prone to tendonitis/bursitis/impingement issues.

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  • 2 years later...

I could be wrong but I think my dds legs appear a little bowed when she relaxes back into her knee hyperextension. If she stands in parallel with them in a relaxed stance she has a gap in her knees and her knees turn in a little, however if she bends her legs slightly (they still look straight) she can make her knees touch. If she sits on the floor or in splits she can pop feet off the floor by about an inch with her feet pointed so not severely hyperextended, she practises this a lot, so I don't know she's been told it is a desired attribute. Her arms are a different story, poor thing has hugely hyperextended elbows, possibly to the worst degree I've even seen, I am hoping they will correct themselves a little as she grows as they look almost broken when she holds them out in front of her, I have been told that hypermobility will help her in ballet, sports, and even in music.

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Dear Snowflake...my dd has extreme hypertension in her arms in particular...our GP actually laughed and said she had "milkmaids arms" when I asked him about it at the age of 3!

My dd was fortunate to have very caring and supportive dance teachers who took a lot of time getting her to stand in front of the ballet mirror and showing her how to hold her arms so they didn't appear to be hyperextended....it took a long time but with practise and patience my dd actually ended up with beautifully shaped and expressive ballet arms! As for her knees..well that is another story!! But to sum up nobody has the " perfect" ballet body...there is always something that you need to work on and just as you get it sorted...they grow! Anyway it didn't stop the RB from giving her associate places..summer school places..so don't worry:) have a chat with her ballet teacher would be my advice. Best wishes

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Thanks Bluebell, I took my daughter to the doctor at age 3 also, on my mother in laws advice, and she also laughed and reassured me that although her range of motion may look different to average, it is normal for her. To be honest her knee hyperextension isn't really severe, my ds's knees are more so, but not so much his elbows, it is strange how it can be more pronounced in certain joints then others.

 

It's lovely to hear your about your fellow hyper-mobile elbowed dds now beautiful ballet arms :-)

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Ha I know what you mean about the funny arms! If I hold them parallel (palms facing each other) above my head they are bent even when they're straight! (If that makes sense!) I've learned to work with them & helps me teaching children with similar arms, I know what they're feeling/not feeling!

 

Both my arms & legs feel straight when not exactly, arms are actually easier to work with correctly in ballet (for me) than jazz, having long arms too makes it hard to get them fully straight on fast counts, they're aching today as I was really focused on that when I was rehearsing super fast jazz yesterday!

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