Humans have probably always danced in one form or another since the beginning of time. One form of dance is ballet: Part sport, part performing art, its beginnings can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance courts. Performances took place in large halls and included other arts such as painting or poetry and even followed the dining menu theme.
If you're looking to improve your ballet or just seeking to prevent ballet injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that's just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
The word ballet is considered to be French but it actually originates from ballo, meaning dance in Italian. Ballo in turn is based on the Latin word ballare.
The earliest forms of ballet were performed in large chambers, with the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dancing floor. Thus, an important component of performance is a choreography that emphasizes floor patterns that can be visible from above. This requires dancers to cover a fairly extensive floor area, which in turn determines how a dancer's body moves and uses various muscle groups.
Within a very short time, the French courts adopted ballet, further developing its style and technique. Many steps and positions known today come from France, where French ballet master Raoul Feuillet recorded much of the dance technique in the 1700's. For at least two hundred years, ballet was dominated by female dancers, but later, male dancers entered the scene, adding more acrobatic aspects to the art.
The use of pointe shoes appeared in the 18th century to give female dancers an appearance of weightlessness. Around that time, however, ballet began to decline in France but continued to develop in Russia, Italy and Denmark.
Today there are many recognized ballet methods being taught worldwide, the main ones still being French ballet, Italian ballet and Russian ballet. Modern day ballet also includes neoclassical ballet and contemporary ballet, forms of dance that are more intense than older, more lyrical forms.
Present day ballet dancers train as much as athletes in various sports, working on strength, technique, proper form and stamina. Elite dancers in particular are at risk of various overuse and acute injuries.
Although ballet is not commonly considered to be a sport, when one considers the demands of the technical training and performances, whether socially or professionally, it is wise to consider the demands on the body and the kinds of injuries that can occur. There are steps that can be taken in order to minimize injuries. Having a good knowledge of anatomy and developing a few prevention strategies, including a stretching routine, will help keep a dancer healthy.
Ballet dancers are surprisingly strong, yet slim and supple. Which muscles are used in a more predominant fashion depends on the form of ballet and the gender of the dancer. For example, a male classical ballet dancer who performs lifts will require more upper body strength than a female dancer.
Although ballet dancers use all muscle groups, certain major muscle groups predominate. A ballet dancer not only spends a great deal of time developing form and technique, but also must dedicate a portion of training time to a strengthening and stretching program. Like gymnasts, ballet dancers, must be able to achieve an extensive range of motion. Ballet dancers in particular work to achieve flexibility in their back, hips, and ankles. This flexibility is what allows for certain movements and body shapes to be created and for the grace and ease of movement that is so characteristic of the best dancers. The following muscle groups are used predominantly by ballet dancers.
Most Common Ballet Injuries
Ballet dancers suffer injuries of similar severity and frequency as other athletes. Most injuries in dancers are of the over-use type, due to the repetitive nature of the training, but acute injuries can also occur when a dancer uses incorrect technique or experiences lack of focus and fatigue.
Most commonly, ballet dancers experience injuries in the lower limbs, hip and back.
The Top 3 Ballet Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won't be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for ballet; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
|Standing Reach-up Quad Stretch: Stand upright and take one small step forwards. Reach up with both hands, push your hips forwards, lean back and then lean away from your back leg.|
|Single Heel-drop Achilles Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step and place the ball of one foot on the edge of the step. Bend your knee slightly and let your heel drop towards the ground.|
|Kneeling Heel-down Achilles Stretch: Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward.|
While the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of exercises. So to improve your athletic ability, reduce injuries and really take advantage of all the stretching exercises on offer, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).
In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you where ever you go.
The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.