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Intermediate ballet exam and strength


Ja Sm
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My dd is studying the fairly new RAD intermediate syllabus. It is unlikely that she will do the exam for at least another year, as she is not yet 13 so is in no rush. Her ballet teacher says that the guidance puts a lot of emphasis on strength. However, she has not yet put a class forward so can't yet judge quite to what degree. Has anyone any thoughts on this? My dd has always been strong rather than flexible but is also on the younger side. Apart from her dance lessons, she swims and does school sports ( currently athletics) but is there anything else she can do to build up her strength?

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When ballet teachers talk about strength, it has nothing to do with being able to swim 20 lengths or do 16 push-ups :) The strength that is needed for the new Intermediate syllabus, is, for example, the ability to balance a rather difficult adage, holding the legs at a good height without wobbling. It is about core strength and control of feet and legs and arms and back. But ballet technique is far more than that. In our feedback session with the examiner after the session, she noted how important strong technique is. She explained that having a strong releve onto demi-pointe for pirouettes not only enabled the student to execute a good pirouette, but also allowed him/her to use the dynamics of the music correctly. The muscle work needed for ballet is different from sport, because we need to show beautifully elongated lines and not tough bunchy muscles. Actually even in sport there is different muscle use and power according to which sport you're doing.

 

I entered students for the Intermediate for the first time this year and they found it very difficult, particularly as they had not learnt the new Intermediate Foundation before working on the Inter syllabus. You definitely do need stamina and technical strength - that is true - but you also need quality and musicality and presentation as well. I think rather than worrying about doing extra activities to build strength, your daughter should practise, practise, practise all the new steps that have been introduced, double pirouettes both en dedans and en dehors, batterie, etc etc etc! If she's getting enough ballet lessons a week, I'm sure she'll be fine.

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My daughter has taken the Intermediate exam and didnt find it any different in requirement from the old IF exam.  As said, the strength will come from taking class and working hard - I'm sure her teacher wont even recommend her taking the exam until she is demonstrating ease of execution and control in her work.  The strength will come.

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I was watching my dd do an Intermediate class and good core strength is definitely required, particularly in exercises like the rond de jambe en l'air, developpés etc. A Pilates class aimed at dancers may help, but if that's not possible you could always ask the teacher for some age appropriate core strength exercises. Other than that, ballet will of course help! :-)

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Thank you that's helpful. Actually her core strength is excellent and she has lovely musicality and presentation. However, when she works her legs etc, you can see her muscles shaking with the effort, which she finds a little embarrassing ! But I guess it shows she is engaging the right muscles? A year is a long time, so it sounds like she is on the right path.

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Shaky muscles are a sign of weakness but that's ok if the dancer then repeats the exercise a few times over - this will then build strength eventually. Doing the exercises that she struggles with will ultimately help, but the concept of loading + rest must be understood.... In order to perform a certain exercise successfully, it must be done over and over to create sufficient load to stress the muscles. This 'stress' causes microtrauma which may or may not be felt soon after or there may be be delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This microtrauma then repairs itself when the body is at rest, and it is this repair activity and time that causes muscles to get stronger. Without this time, repetitive microtrauma builds up and causes chronic inflammation.

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Yes Aurora, my dd will have been studying for the grade for over 2 years if she takes it next spring. I can not see her being ready for it any sooner

drdance, can I clarify? Does the shaking muscle mean that she is working at full capacity? It's only really visible in her legs and I know that she does work exceptionally hard during her lessons. She never seems to suffer from aches or soreness afterward.

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Slightly off on a tangent, but my dd used to swim competitively when she was around 11/12 and as a consequence she ended up with very well developed, albeit incredibly strong, thigh muscles. As such, she came to rely on those strong thigh muscles a little too much and has had to learn to work differently in ballet to ensure she uses the right muscles for the right things. Just a watch out on the swimming.

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How the strength in the core of the body is used is reflected in the extremeties - legs, for instance.  If the body is engaged correctly the stress - demands - on the legs will be lessened and used more efficiently.

 

A simple example.....

 

If one places one hand on the lowest rib and then the other hand on the top of the hip bone on the same side as the rib - there is a space of some inches where there is no skeletal support.  This is a spine in the back - but no weight bearing bones between the top of the hip bone and the bottom of the lowest rib.  This area is almost completely dependent on being controlled by the muscles of the back and the abdomen. 

 

It is this area which "sews together" the top of the torso to the bottom.  In the flurry of the moment - dancing -  the student often neglects to keep these muscles fully engaged and working together. 

 

The abdomen itself can be divided into four parts - quadrants: upper left/right and lower left/right.  These quadrants must be equally engaged.  Otherwise the body will fall off toward the quadrant which is not engaged.

 

The problem is that the student must not only understand this, and work on it - but also reaslize that it takes time for muscles to acquire the ability, memory and strength to work together.  When it all comes together the body is in balance.  When the body is in balance - the whole edifice is less stressed - can work longer.

 

When this happens the stress/work of the legs in supporting and balancing the whole of the body will be eased - and the whole thing comes together: balance equals control. 

 

A dance student who finds this "sweet spot" of balance will realize the epiphany of being "in balance."

 

The body is the dancer's instrument.  Unlike other artists, the dancer has a unique problem.  For a pianist, for example, the instrument already exists - the problem is to learn to play it.  For the dancer, however, the body must be developed.  The mind and understanding must guide it - and also needs patience to grow the instrument.

 

I hope something I've said here helps.

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I am becoming even more fascinated now! I love your description of the body in balance Anjuli. My dd's teacher has said that she engages her core well, and she certainly has enviably flat abs! I notice that her leg starts to shake at about 90 degrees but she can hold it there. She achieves about 130 degrees with a sweeping motion(!)...she tells me that's a grand battlement. But it sounds as if she could perhaps focus a little more on her core as well, Anjuli?

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Ja Sim:

 

Your daughter is still so very young - and she's growing still.  It sounds to me that if as her teacher says she is engaging (using) her core well - that is a huge plus and on the right road.  At her age I wouldn't be at all concerned with height above 90 degrees. 

 

Any kind of sweeping uplift of the leg such as grand battement will always be a bit higher than the height the leg achieves in a held position.  (Yes, I know there are ballerinas who can hold the leg behind their ears - but we are talking here of students - young students - not fully accomplished dancers). 

 

There are a number of things one can do to close the gap between a static position and the dynamic height of the leg  when speaking of the height of the leg.  However - at her age it just doesn't seem urgent at all.  She is working well developing core strength and centralizing her balance (according to her teacher) and I would be pleased with that.  It's a huge lesson to learn, understand, assimulate and incorporate.  And, apparently - she's doing well with it.  Strongly held height will come in its time.

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I have mentioned this before but there are some common misconceptions about 'strength' in dance.

 

Pure muscular strength relates to the maximum load that one person can 'lift' in one go. In dance this attribute is very rarely required, as it's not really very functional. The only example would be performing a single developpe or single battement lent. The height that this leg goes to depends to partially on flexibility, and partially on pure strength across the whole range of flexibility.

 

Muscular power is a combination of strength and speed. Movements such as grande battements or jumps require a high level of strength, which needs to be very quickly executed. This requires rapid contraction of the fast twitch muscular fibres rather than slow twitch. Some people have a larger  proportion of fast twitch fibres so will be good at jumping but struggle with adage, or vice versa.

 

Muscular endurance is the major player in dance - and is often confused with strength. Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscles to perform contractions repeatedly, or to sustain a contraction longer than a second. Most dance movements require muscular endurance. It is related to strength, so some strength training may help improve it.

 

Shaking muscle is a sign of fatigue or muscle weakness - either way it's a sign that your DD won't be able to perform much more at the time. Don't worry that she's not sore afterwards, there will still be some gains however it might be worth increasing the frequency of working on those movements. How often does she take ballet class? 

 

As for the core - if her teacher says her core is strong then I'd trust her teacher. The core is important in 'lifting up' the body 'out of the hips' which will allow a dancer to lift their leg higher. The iliopsoas muscle also has two parts, one is mostly core and and one is a hip flexor so this muscle will affect leg height to some degree. But ultimately, the height of the lifted leg relies on strength and endurance in the hip and thigh musculature, primarily.

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Thank you, some extremely interesting comments here and very useful too. My dd does weekly two graded ballet classes each 45 mins, two vocational each 1 hour 15 and a monthly private lesson(1hour). She also does 45 mins modern. I feel that's about right for her.

And then there's homework, lounging around watching tv, applying makeup, texting......what a busy life they have !!!

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Maybe it would be worth adding a few hip strengthening exercises in on days when she doesn't have a ballet class just for 5 minutes of an evening. I can advise if you want. Send me a PM. However it sounds like she's doing plenty and the strength will come.

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Ja Sm - are your dd's school PE lessons on the same days as her ballet classes? She might just be really tired by the end of the day.

 

If my dd has a heavy schedule (shows / exams / audition etc), her school very kindly lets her skip PE and do her homework in the library instead.

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Hi taxi. Yes, they are as she does ballet 4 nights out of the week. But she has boundless energy, always has. She certainly never seems to be particularly fatigued. I think it sounds as if her young muscles are just working hard !

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Thank you everyone. I just feel that I need to clarify a little, though. My original question was about the amount of strength needed for the intermediate exam, i was not actually saying that my dd has had a loss of strength. Sorry, didn't mean to mislead all you lovelies. Xx

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