Ok, let’s talk about stretching and flexibility. There are TONS of different stretches that ballet students should be doing several times a week to achieve the level of flexibility that is needed to be a dancer. It has been my observation as a teacher over the past several years that for most students, the only time they ever stretch is when you make them do so during class. Yes of course there are lots of very dedicated students out there who DO stretch on their own, but for the most part I’ve found that most don’t. When I ask my students why they don’t stretch on their own, 99% of the time they tell me that “I don’t have time.”
So, before we get into the stretches that you should be doing on a regular basis, the first thing you need to know is that before you stretch, you need to be warmed up. The PERFECT time to stretch is after you have finished a ballet class, but if you are going to be doing these stretches at home, you will need to spend at least 5 minutes getting your body warmed up. Even just walking around the house, going up and down stairs, and/or doing a few plies and tendus should be enough to prepare your body for stretching.
Ok… here are 10 stretches that you can do in 15 minutes or less — many of these can even be done while you are doing homework, reading a text book, watching TV, etc. So no more excuses people!!!
- Right Split (60 seconds)
- Right leg in front, left leg behind. More important to keep the front leg straight as you stretch than the back one. Keep one hand on either side of your front leg to keep your balance. Pointe your front foot as you stretch.
- Left Split (60 seconds)
- Middle/Center Split (60 seconds)
- Siting on the floor with both legs out to the side. A good way to see how near or far you are to achieving a full middle split is to do this stretch pushed up against and facing a wall or using a line of tape on the studio floor (put your heels on the tape and then try to scooch up as close as you can to sitting on the tape, too).
- Reaching forward in Middle Split (60 seconds)
- Butterfly (60 seconds)
- Pike (60 seconds)
- Sitting on the floor, both legs are straight out in front of you with the backs of the knees on the floor. Reach forward with your arms toward your toes and drop your head. Ultimate goal is to have your stomach laying on your thighs with knees straight.
- Frog (60 seconds)
- Lying on your stomach, bend your knees and put the bottoms of your feet together. Your knees will be facing away from each other. Keeping your hips on the floor, try to get your ankles as close to the floor as you can. (*Note – Some teachers would rather you have your ankles on the floor to start and then work to achieve having the hips on the floor.)
- Toes to Head (60 seconds)
- This might have been called “mermaid stretch” or “seal stretch” when you were younger. Starting on your stomach, push up on your hands keeping your hips close to the floor, bend your knees, and try to touch your toes to your head by arching your back. It will be easier if you let your knees be apart (kind of like the frog) while you do this stretch instead of keeping them very close together.
- Bridge (60 seconds)
- Start lying on your back, put your feet and hands flat on the floor and then push your body up off the floor by arching your back. If you are new to this stretch, you might want to have someone spot you until you get the hang of pushing up into the arch.
- Foot in Hand (60 seconds per leg)
- Standing at the barre (or near something to hold onto if doing this at home), grab one of your feet and then extend/stretch your leg out to the side (think of it as a developpe a la seconde where you are holding your arch/foot). Ideally, you do this on a straight standing leg, but when you first start trying this you might need to keep your standing leg in a bit of a plie until you gain the needed flexibility. You can also perform this stretch to the front (think developpe devant holding the foot) and to the back (think arabesque/penchee holding just below the knee).
Please note that with all of these stretches, you should never “bounce” — this can be damaging to your muscles. Also make sure you breathe and try to relax as much as you can so that your muscles aren’t too tense. As for how often you should be stretching, I would recommend doing all of these stretches 5-7 days a week. Sounds like a lot, I know, but you will be shocked how quickly your flexibility will improve! And your teachers WILL notice!!!
***Special thank you to my stretching model and student Payton Dupont.***