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How can I keep my focus during class?

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Okay, so class is going amazing so far but in our last class there we did pirouettes and I froze up. I literally lost focus completely and just couldn't process the steps. I felt like such a failure. The week before that I found I wasn't able to focus well enough and was making mistakes and I hate making mistakes. I'm a perfectionist. 

 

I've already made extreme changes to my diet. I have literally cut out junk food, soda and white bread and even cut down big time on my brown bread. Eating alot more rice and pasta and drinking tons more water and yet my focus seems to be slipping. 

 

Any advice?

 

Also any tips on how to strengthen my flexibility/leg height. When my boyfriend is helping me stretch I can get my leg up to 135 degrees sometimes close to 180 but I can't hold it. The second he lets go or I let go it drops to 90 degrees. I don't have my splits yet but I'm working on that. I've been doing extra core exercises to strengthen it. Is there anything else I should. I'm trying the whole, leg on counter and lift it up but my leg cramps up no matter how much I warm up or rub the heck out of it.

 

Hope everyone else is doing splendid :)

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Are you expecting a bit too much of yourself? Maybe need to relax and enjoy the class and expect that you will make mistakes at this stage. The more you concentrate on your lack of focus the harder it will be to execute the steps, I'm sure at times it happens to everyone at some stage.

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I think Jane's advice is spot on. try and relax and enjoy the classes. Everybody makes mistakes and the more you fret over them and the possibility of making mistakes, the more likely it is you will make them. You say you are a perfectionist but no dancer is ever perfect. You are forever learning.

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I agree as you have only just started going back to ballet classes I believe. You are probably expecting too much too quickly and in fact need to be careful as this can lead to unnecessary injury.

 

Are you comparing yourself to others in the class a lot? Perhaps be a bit kinder to yourself but keep working slowly but regularly to improve things like flexibility.

It seems you are already quite flexible anyway and it's strength you need to work on but this comes to some extent with the practice itself. Do you do any sort of Pilates for example?

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Are you expecting a bit too much of yourself? Maybe need to relax and enjoy the class and expect that you will make mistakes at this stage. The more you concentrate on your lack of focus the harder it will be to execute the steps, I'm sure at times it happens to everyone at some stage.

 

I think I am, I've got it into my head that because I have past experience that I should be among the top of the class but I'm not and it frustrates me. 

 

I think Jane's advice is spot on. try and relax and enjoy the classes. Everybody makes mistakes and the more you fret over them and the possibility of making mistakes, the more likely it is you will make them. You say you are a perfectionist but no dancer is ever perfect. You are forever learning.

 

I love that little quote, you're exactly right, no dancer is perfect. I need to get that printed somewhere.

 

I agree as you have only just started going back to ballet classes I believe. You are probably expecting too much too quickly and in fact need to be careful as this can lead to unnecessary injury.

 

Are you comparing yourself to others in the class a lot? Perhaps be a bit kinder to yourself but keep working slowly but regularly to improve things like flexibility.

It seems you are already quite flexible anyway and it's strength you need to work on but this comes to some extent with the practice itself. Do you do any sort of Pilates for example?

 

Yes, this is my first time back to proper classes in well over two years. I spent a lot of time in privates and now that I'm back in classes it feels a bit weird. I am comparing myself to others. We had a little competition in class on who can get their leg the highest during our grand battement derriere and although one of the girls held her bent leg up with her hands she won it and I felt a little cheated as mine was the highest. I was so proud I could hold it past 90 degrees and yet felt like a failure. And no I don't do pilates, there isn't anywhere near me that does pilates, there is barre fitness plus though. But I have a pilates book that I go through and practice a few moves in that after making sure I'm doing them right. 

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Is it quite a long class? or happening a long time since you last ate? I see your comments about improving your diet but you have to be careful not to under-eat as low blood sugar and dehydration both have a massive effect on concentration. I only suggest this as my DS was having a very similar problem- especially losing focus on getting to centre work (having used all his energy up at the barre). I advised him to take an energy drink and sip a little in between each exercise, so that over the course of the class he got some more energy and a big hit of water (about a litre). Bingo, problem solved. So successful his GF started doing the same and said it had a massive effect on her energy levels during rehearsal/performance.

 

I wouldn't normally push the idea of energy drinks as for general usage they are just a big hit of unnecessary sugar, but if you are doing ballet you can't run on empty....

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Is it quite a long class? or happening a long time since you last ate? I see your comments about improving your diet but you have to be careful not to under-eat as low blood sugar and dehydration both have a massive effect on concentration. I only suggest this as my DS was having a very similar problem- especially losing focus on getting to centre work (having used all his energy up at the barre). I advised him to take an energy drink and sip a little in between each exercise, so that over the course of the class he got some more energy and a big hit of water (about a litre). Bingo, problem solved. So successful his GF started doing the same and said it had a massive effect on her energy levels during rehearsal/performance.

 

I wouldn't normally push the idea of energy drinks as for general usage they are just a big hit of unnecessary sugar, but if you are doing ballet you can't run on empty....

 

Yeah, I find when I hit center work it's where I really loose my focus. I take a bottle of water in with me to sip at. The class is an hour long split between barre and center.

 

My class is at half 7 and I get the 5pm bus so I make sure I have had two full meals before then, my breakfast and a bit lunch before four so by the time I get to class it's settled. I have two sesame seed biscuits before class and sip slowly at my bottle of water so I'm not rushing to the toilet too often. I make sure to go before class and go again after class and then I get my dinner after class. I can't drink energy drinks as they go right through me, I can't have too much caffeine as I have a heart problem and since cutting down big time on my caffeine I've not had as many problems. 

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sorry- just to clarify I meant energy as in 'sports' drinks with sugar and electrolytes/vitamins- nothing with caffeine in! DS uses Gatorade (he's in the states so it's the most commonly available energy drink- perhaps here something like lucozade sport would be similar).

7.30 if you last ate at 4 seems a long time to me. But it may be a red herring - I only suggest it 'cos your problem sounds so like my son's..... worth a try anyway!

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I agree with others and it might help to view each class as a "process" and not some sort of competition ... you are not on Strictly  but leaning ballet, after all.  Surely the point of leaning ballet is not how high your leg goes up or how many times you can turn in one go, but to be able to "dance".

 

In addition, it may help to know that "concentration" (or rather, the length of time and depth of concentration) is also a skill which improves with time and needs constant training to maintain - rather like muscles. :) 

 

Having said all this, I am sure you actually know it already....and you will get over your anxiety  in three months' time.  

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Your boyfriend - or anyone else except your teacher - should not be helping you to stretch.

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When my boyfriend is helping me stretch I can get my leg up to 135 degrees sometimes close to 180 but I can't hold it. The second he lets go or I let go it drops to 90 degrees.

 

 

Therein is the proof of how important strength is.  You have the flexibility, but not the strength.  "Strength" will come from learning how to engage the proper muscles.

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There have been numerous threads on this forum on the interaction of strength and stretch - here is a repost of some of them:

 

 

 

One way that I have found worked really well for me - I am rather more tight than flexible - is either at the end of barre work or after class entirely:

 

Stand with one hand on the barre developpé your leg onto the barre to the front.  Make sure your leg is definitely aligned correctly, hips/shoulders and leg squarely in the front where it should be.  Now, lift the leg off the barre as much as you can, even an  inch or two will do.  Then after a count or two lower your leg back down to the barre.  Repeat several times and then repeat with the leg in second position.  I found this extremely efficacious.  Even though I am retired, I still do this regularly and my extensions are still shoulder high.  But they originally were barely hip high.

 

It must be done religiously.  Progress will not be speedy but it will occur.

 

Another thing:

 

Do your developpés (front/side/back) in fondu, then when fully extended, straighten your supporting leg.  Usually we are able to develop the leg a bit higher when in fondu and so taking advantage of that, try to keep the leg at that height as you straighten the supporting leg.

 

Another thing:

 

Rise onto either demi-pointe or full pointe, standing at the barre and do your developpés, after fully extended slowly come down to a flat foot.  Since this was done on a demi or full foot the extension was a bit higher, and now as you descend try to keep that extra bit of extension.

 

Another thing:

 

When you do grand battements don't allow the leg to drop back down, - lower it with control. This will take advantage of the stretch through the back of the leg on the way up and build strength to keep it there.  Brush up quickly with a strong push off through the toe, then retard the descent as much as possible.

 

Another thing:

 

This is a visualization - and visualizations can be important.  As you develop your leg picture a hand lifting the thigh from underneath and another hand pulling up your foot right where your shoe ribbons cross on top of your foot.

 

Another thing:

 

When you start your extension lift the knee as high as you can, and then develop the rest of the leg from there.

 

Another thing:

 

If you can do the stretch where you take your heel in your hand and extend to second position, try to slowly let go of your foot and maintain it in the air.  If you can't do it holding onto your heel, then hold onto your ankle or calf.

 

A good stretch/strengthener for arabesque:

 

Stand at the barre in fifth position, sideways, with one hand on  the barre.  Tendu your outside foot to the back.  Now, do your very best back bend, remembering to obey all the rules of alignment and with ABSOLUTELY no weight on your back tendu foot.  Now at the depth of your backbend, lock into that back leg with your back muscles, come up bringing your tendu back leg with you into arabesque.  Don't come up one inch without bringing your arabesque leg with you.

 

Keep it coming up, up, up, and then go into penché without unlocking that arabesque leg from your back.  When you've hit the extent of your penché, come back up to arabesque - leg still locked in your back.

 

None of these things will work over night - but with dedication and work - they will help. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STRETCH AND STRENGTH Some Basic Concepts

 

There are basically two types of bodies – those that are strong and those that are flexible.  We are all, however, a bit of both – leaning slightly more to one side or the other.  Each type of body has an advantage and a disadvantage.

 

Usually people who are very flexible tend not to be as strong – or let’s use the word “stable”.  They can bend in all directions and have a high and easy extension, but have trouble maintaining the extension or their stability (balance), for any length of time.  These people tend to look like they are going to fall around.

 

At the other end – are the strong people – they are very stable – can hold their extension “forever” but it’s just not high and doesn’t have a light look.  These people tend to look like they are so stiff, that they can’t move.

 

Most of us are somewhere on that scale – slightly to one side of the scale or the other.  You can work on both stretch and strength with specific exercises to improve both.  It takes time.  It takes patience. And, it takes dedication, working on it steadily, not just once in a while. 

 

There are rules that the dancer must follow when working on either stretch or strength, in order to accomplish what you want to accomplish and not get injured in the process.

 

You must be fully warmed up.  This does not mean walking into a warm room wearing sweat clothes.  It does not mean rubbing on a topical ointment and feeling it warm your skin.  It DOES means working slowly through the ballet barre (or other dance warmup) completely.  The internal temperature of the muscles, tendons and ligaments has to be raised so that both stretch and strength can be realized and increased, safely and efficiently.

 

Ideally medium stretching should be done after the exercises at the barre are completed and the larger stretches done after the entire ballet class.  After that, again ideally, the dancer should walk around instead of getting right into a car and driving, because as one sits the muscles contract again.

 

Neither stretching nor strengthening should be forced in any way.  Pain is indicative of a problem and is a warning to stop. 

 

 

 

 

STRETCH – Basic Concepts  - more

 

First a repeat:  Always be well warmed up.  Never force anything.  If pain occurs stop. Keep it simple.  Relax into the stretch.  Be patient.  Do it regularly.  Don’t put your body into any position from which it can’t easily escape.  Don’t endanger one part of your body to stretch another.

 

I have purposely picked the simplest of stretches in each category.

 

I believe that all stretches can be divided into three basic categories:

 

The body alone – stretching against itself.

The body against the floor.

The body against an object.

 

In my opinion the body against itself is the safest.  When the body is not braced against an immovable object, such as a barre or the floor, or a wall it is the least likely to get hurt.  The following are a couple of the many, many examples of the body stretching against itself. 

 

If you really fulfill the demands of grand battement you are stretching toward a split.  By maintaining the correct alignment of the torso and the standing leg, with a strong push off for the battement, you are not only kicking but also stretching with little danger of injury. 

 

For stretching the spine and back of legs, hold the legs, knees and feet in proper alignment and simply bend forward.  Keep one hand on the barre for balance – in case you get dizzy.  It is CRUCIAL that the head be fully relaxed so that the spine can also relax.  Now simply allow gravity to lower the body downward (give it a few moments) until your hands can touch the floor.  This is a passive stretch, safe and effective. 

…………………………….

The body against the floor:  Be sure when you are on the floor you sit on a towel so you are not on a cold surface.  Cold contracts muscles.  Though the floor is an immovable object against which you are bracing the body, if used passively there is little danger. 

 

Only a couple examples follow of many, many floor stretches:

 

Sit on the towel, legs stretched out in front of you and bend forward hands reaching toward your toes – relax into the stretch – hold a few moments and try to go a bit further and relax again.  Never proceed in furthering a stretch without the interval for relaxation.  A relaxed muscle stretches – contracted muscles do not.  Without relaxation you will be working at cross-purposes.

 

Another example:   Still sitting on the towel, bring the bottoms of your feet together. With your hands GENTLY press your knees down toward the floor.  Never pull your feet with your hands.  Now bend your upper torso forward and relax over your legs.  Again relax, and proceed – relax and proceed. 

 

When this same stretch is inverted – when you lie face down on the floor with the bottoms of your feet touching, this is now a much less benign stretch because your weight is bearing down on your hips and knees in a much more forceful way, and so the possibility for injury is increased.

 

……………….

The last type of stretch and more dangerous is bracing your body against an object such as a wall or barre.  If you do stretch on the barre remember – you are asking your body to hold you on one leg and stretch too.  Never lose the alignment of the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles of either leg in order to stretch on the barre.  You gain nothing and lose much.

 

A simple split on the floor is as effective as a split on the wall and far less dangerous.  Avoid showy stretches.  Simple ones are equally as efficacious.  Never put your body in an untenable position from which is cannot easily escape should something untoward happen.  An example of this is hanging your heels over the edge of a stair step in order to stretch Achilles tendons and calves.  Simply placing your feet together facing forward and leaning into the barre, with derriere in, is as effective and not nearly as dangerous – as a slip off a stair step.

 

 

  I hope somethhing here helps.

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sorry- just to clarify I meant energy as in 'sports' drinks with sugar and electrolytes/vitamins- nothing with caffeine in! DS uses Gatorade (he's in the states so it's the most commonly available energy drink- perhaps here something like lucozade sport would be similar).

7.30 if you last ate at 4 seems a long time to me. But it may be a red herring - I only suggest it 'cos your problem sounds so like my son's..... worth a try anyway!

 

Ah, I'm with you now. Sorry. I shall certainly give it a try, Lucozade is one of my favourites, I drink a lot of it during the winter when I'm really sick (bad immune system.)

 

I eat at four because I have to get two buses. My bus from my home to Belfast takes half an hour and it's at 5pm and gets me in at half 5 giving me ten minutes to grab a bottle of water and a little snack before my next bus which takes me to my class and gets me there for seven. Half an hour of warm up and stretching before actual class :)

 

By the time I get to class I don't feel as full and empty everything before class so I don't need to go during class. I may just need to eat more carbs to give me that extra boost. 

I agree with others and it might help to view each class as a "process" and not some sort of competition ... you are not on Strictly  but leaning ballet, after all.  Surely the point of leaning ballet is not how high your leg goes up or how many times you can turn in one go, but to be able to "dance".

 

In addition, it may help to know that "concentration" (or rather, the length of time and depth of concentration) is also a skill which improves with time and needs constant training to maintain - rather like muscles. :)

 

Having said all this, I am sure you actually know it already....and you will get over your anxiety  in three months' time.  

 

Thank you so much for this. I think I just need little reminders. I'm going to try and get a canvas, something simple with a pair of pointe shoes on it and right some of these quotes down. Give me some motivation in hopes to earn those shoes once again. 

Your boyfriend - or anyone else except your teacher - should not be helping you to stretch.

 

They are safe stretches that I have done all the time, I know my limits and make sure not to push them except in class. They're not like wall stretches but simple ones where after I've warmed up I use a theraband or my boyfriends aid to work on my extensions. That's really it. Nothing too drastic. 

Therein is the proof of how important strength is.  You have the flexibility, but not the strength.  "Strength" will come from learning how to engage the proper muscles.

 

My core never has been strong, turn out, good feet and flexibility have come natural to me but my actual strength has always been poor. I think it always came down to the point that I severely lacked upper body strength to use in working my core through half sit ups etc. It's much better than what it was but as they say, hard work pays off. 

There have been numerous threads on this forum on the interaction of strength and stretch - here is a repost of some of them:

 

I have saved your post into a word document as it was the most amazing thing I have ever read. Thank you so much for posting this, it was such a delightful read. 

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