Once upon a time, I could not understand how some dancers could balance for… I could not understand balance at all! Now I’m the annoying one showing off a balance in attitude derrière for 10 bars (waving my arms around just to brag a bit more…). Let’s look into the recipe for a good balance
10 ounces of axis
A pinch of tensegrity
2 cups of strength and control
3 teaspoon of head placement
1. Align your body parts to find the perfect axis
Review your placement when standing in turnout.
If we are looking at you sideways we see an axis: front of the malleolus, knee, top of the iliac crest, center of the rib cage, shoulder, ear hole, crown of the head. This is the most fundamental ingredient to your balance.
If, for example, your bottom goes back of this alignment, another body part, probably your rib cage will have to move forward to compensate. You might manage to stand balance but it won’t look graceful…
2. Lengthen, lengthen, lengthen: actively give directions
The number one mistake to ruin a balance is to try to lift your whole body up, up, up and try to reach the clouds. As a result, you don’t have a strong and stable supporting leg and side, your toes might not even be on the floor as they also try to join the cloud-party and you fall over.
Instead, push the floor away right underneath you to lift you up. Use, and spread, whatever surface of your foot on the ground: toes and ball of the feet at least and the heels when possible. Think: down to go up.
I want you to feel that anything below your hip bone is reaching down and anything above it is reaching up. If you prefer images: imagine the floor and the ceiling slowly crushing you and you are pushing the floor away with your foot and the ceiling with your head.
There, you’re standing up proud. That feeling of amplification is tensegrity, it’s the key to graceful movements and essential to your balance.
3. Mix all the ingredients with a firm but not stiff grip
Balance requires a lot of strength and control to hold your body in alignment. Standing still is actually standing in perpetual movement and continuously readjusting yourself to stay balanced. For those who prefer Physics to recipes, I recommend heading to the Khan Academy.
What that means is that strength does not mean stiffness. If you are stiff then you cannot continuously micro adjust your placement and remain at an equilibrium. Strength is just a measure of your muscles ability to recruit their fibers to do the job you ask them to perform.
4. You’re the cook: remain calm and breathe
I cannot advocate too much to use an active and conscious breathing when dancing. Breathing helps recruit muscle fibers and actually accompany your movements. Because inhaling tends to create a slight spine extension, and exhaling a slight spine flexion, use this knowledge depending on where you typically fall. If you typically fall back: try to exhale deeply and gently. If you tend to fall forward then calmly inhale.
From experience, I usually recommend most dancers to exhale at the start of a balance, I find that exhaling helps setting the spine in place and lengthening it right from the beginning as well as it plays an essential role in activating the core muscles you need to control your torso and hip placement.
5. The cherry on the pie is not optional
We often hear: if you look down: you’ll fall down. But that’s not very accurate. Of course one can balance looking down. It’s not a matter of where your gaze actually is, it’s a matter of head placement. Your head must be in proper alignment with your spine as mentioned above.
So if you’re rehearsing Sylvia’s piqué en arabesque penché en avant, you’re probably better off looking somewhat down than breaking your neck looking up…
Second thing: inner ear balance system control. One of the most important balance systems is our inner ear. It works like a level in your head and tells your brain how to readjust your body stand balance. This means that any ear infection can affect your balance and that head placement is much more important that you might have thought.
What’s the secret to everlasting and steady balance?
The number one secret is ‘applied anatomy’. Don’t just learn anatomy but understand how to apply it to help you with your balance. You can find a lot of information on the Internet, buy some great books or start following our Anatomy for dancers Masterclasses. Keep your mind alert and always think how what you’re learning can help with your ballet practice. You’ll be surprised by how much you pick up and how fast you improve once you have this mindset.
Then, develop a routine of exercises to help you improve what you need to focus on. Core de Ballet has developed a 3 weeks conditioning exercises program “Improve your balance”. Most of us need strengthening the lateral and posterior muscles chain so start including exercises like the Airplane, side kick, dynamic plank, lunges.
Lastly: practice, adjust, practice. Do you know how to practice effectively? Rome wasn’t built in one day, your balance won’t either. But if you work at it every single day, if you work equally on both legs, if you work on it in different poses and from various steps, your body will quickly pick it up and build the neuromuscular connexions required to master this skill. And soon you’ll be part of the everlasting balance freaks club, post a video on Instagram and tag Core de Ballet to receive your membership card.
P.S.: There are only very limited ballet where one needs to balance for an extended time. The goal is to master balance to master quick change of supporting leg, directions. In other words: master balance to master graceful movements.