THE BALLET BLOG
by Ewa Sivertsen

How can dancers take care of themselves in the reality of overwhelming information flow?

1. HOW TO BUILD A MEANINGFUL BRIDGE BETWEEN PHYSIOTHERAPY, EXERCISE, AND DANCE WITHOUT BEING OVERWHELMED? 

Physiotherapy and dance - it's all about building bridges. 
This blog post is about how to find connections between self-development, dance art, exercise-and therapeutic approaches so that you won’t be stressed. Did you know that the Authentic Ballet concept serves dancers so they can be successful with performing their art and at the same time be able to take care of themselves as individuals? 

If dancers have a wish to succeed with self-care, the body, soul, and mind, have to be strengthened. This can be achieved through smart training as well as the knowledge and the tools to integrate the cognitive, the emotional, the spiritual (and more!) sides of an individual. We all know that intelligent exercising can improve dancers' technique and well-being and that we can find a huge amount of videos about this topic. 

But do we know how to benefit from exercise tips for dancers in a simple, self-empowering way without being overwhelmed? For many dancers it is a problem, so that's why I'll now focus on only one type of an exercise, a bridge exercise.
I hope that this one focus will create an important and meaningful connection to what you already know and that it will contribute in a positive way to your dancer wellness process. 

2. 'BRIDGE' AS A PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND A METAPHOR.


Last year in Oslo, I participated in a very interesting course arranged by the Progressing Ballet Technique Europe for Teachers, which inspired me to write this blog post.  At the course, I learned some smart, specific and effective tools to improve the classical ballet technique and prevent injuries that can be caused by the lack of pelvic stability and proprioceptive control. These tools are now an integrated part of my everyday practice and I would like to share them with dancers, dance teachers and therapists in my AB Blog. I have included various perspectives, which I hope will interest you. 

​​​​​​​Why is it all about building bridges? 

First, I’ll present the two concepts of the term 'bridge', which I consider interesting for all of you who work with dance. These are:

1. A 'bridge' in a meaning as a a physical start position for an exercise, often used as a fitness exercise and can also be ballet-inspired.

2. A 'bridge' as a metaphor for 'integration' to the everyday life, to relationships, to your dance community, and to your personal process. 

In my everyday practice as a physiotherapist working with dancers, I also think about these two questions:

1. Which smart work-out approach could be good for me to know more about to benefit you as a dancer?

2. What kind of knowledge and tools could be useful for your well-being as a professional dancer?

So now, let’s talk about a 'bridge' as a start point for a physical exercise. 


3. HOW TO CHALLENGE YOUR BODY WITH A FITNESS BALL?


A strong body center, where the activation of the core muscles is crucial for the feeling and connecting to the base. This is especially worth analyzing, while another part of the body moves. I compare this activity to a muscular 'grounding'. 
It’s interesting how this muscular 'grounding' influences the wholeness in dancing.  You can learn to connect to this strong center simply by you practicing on the start position 'the bridge'. This is basically a position where you hold your pelvis up and away from the floor while you support with your feet and your upper back. 
When I studied somatocognitive physiotherapy in Norway, which is a special pedagogical body-mind therapy, I learned the term: 'dorsal pelvis lift'. 'Dorsal' means that you are lying on your back. Although, in the 'bridge' exercise, there is actually not much of your back in contact with the floor. In general, there is not much support available when doing this exercise when we, for example, use a big fitness or Swiss ball. 

When the pelvis is lifted up and the feet are placed on the ball, there is only the upper part of the back, or a part of a shoulder girdle, which makes contact to the ground. In addition, there are some parts of the legs and feet relaxing on the ball and creating contact. This support is very challenging for your balance. If you have a big fitness ball, try out this position by yourself, and sense how it influences your pelvic stability and the activation of your core muscles, the butt, the back of your thigh, the calf and even your ankles. 

Progressing Ballet Technique is a method and an approach to the ballet technique which uses a lot this starting 'bridge' position. From the bridge, you can challenge yourself by minimizing the surfaces of support and the ground contact, so that the core muscles can be activated to the maximum. In the end, your body will memorize exactly where you have to work and hold the position, in order to keep good postural control and incorporate this skill into dance! Using equipment like a Swiss ball is, (together with a TheraBand so that the arms can be in motion), a very simple but SO challenging measure for your body!

You can really be surprised by how strong the effect will be on your feeling of stability. Especially the first times when the body reacts during the exercise with being off- balance. Every time you practice the 'bridge', you will be surprised and impressed by how the body adapts to this challenge. You will also discover that the power of muscular memory is a great resource for your dancing. So, try this by yourself and go up in a bridge position, placing your feet on the ball and the shoulder girdle staying in contact with the floor. 

Sense how the body automatically attempts to balance you. In addition, if you move your head from side to side or lift your arms up and over your head, then you will challenge yourself even more! With a TheraBand placed under the balls of your feet, and with a sufficient distance between the legs, try to lift up the elbows to the side, which will activate the core muscles even more. When you move the elbows to the side, you can feel the power on both the front and back of your arms. In addition, as there won't be more contact between the upper part of your arm and the floor, your pelvis stability will be pressed to work even harder!

If that sounds like a lot of information, please download a little summary of the 5 examples of the bridge exercise with 
​​​​​​​variations by clicking here: 
​​​​​​​


4. HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR BALANCE POTENTIAL AS A DANCER?


Why is this 'bridge' position so smart and helps you to stress down? I would say it's because this is a typical muscle memory exercise which is very clear and gives you challenges you can be able to master. In addition, at the moment you come out to the center and start to dance your challenging choreography, your muscles will (even if it’s not the same context!), remember the work from the 'bridge' position and the muscles automatically will protect your balance in 'danger'. 
Moreover, with the correct activation of the core-pelvis-back-butt muscles, your turn out will connect as well. At the moment you perform an outward rotation movement, this activation will protect you from unfortunate harm and overload on the back, the hips, the knees, and even the ankles. The muscles which 'remember' well, will also be able to establish a good base for your actual range of motion and even improving it, through allowing more joint space.  With all these skills, you will be able to perform different ballet movements without the risk of bad body placement, and you'll be able to work with a sufficient range of motion, which are the essentials of injury prevention. Sounds genius, but a little complex? 

If yes I would recommend you to start with the elevated 'bridge' position as often as you can. Just try it and sense how it influences your body! As you could see in our summary of the 5 bridge exercises for dancers, there are many challenging variations of this basic position. The balance- and stability challenges of it are very fun and give you a feeling of mastering as you'll realize very fast, that your body is able to memorize the mentioned skills. The big exercise ball is there to give you the necessary feedback you need to activate proper, deep muscles. You can practice with a ball in addition to your own exercises. And 20 min./three times a week will probably be enough to see the difference on your technique and performance. Even if on stage, you don’t have a ball to challenge you (and it's good, you don't need more challenge there then you already have! :)), your muscles will connect anyway as they remember how to support you, in order to keep good balance. In addition to this, the sensation of proper placement and balance will also have a positive impact on your ability to cope with nerves as the brain will explain this message of balance as an order in the brain networks. For the brain, it means peace and lack of chaos. I believe this must be great for dancers working on stage because balance and control means everything for a dancer.

This is only my experience and the inspiration I got from attending at the Progressing Ballet Technique course.
Together with my professional knowledge as a physiotherapist, I wanted to share it with you and I hope it makes sense. If you wish to know more about the PBT technique and classes, you can find more information on their web page.

And, what about the 'bridge' position as a part of our lives?


5. 'BRIDGE' AS A LINK TO YOUR DANCER LIFE.


The existential aspect of building bridges in physiotherapy, dance, your
work out and your life outside of the ballet studio, is also integrated into the concept of the 'bridge'. 
The 'bridge', for me as a therapist, symbolizes a relationship without imbalances in power, which is based on trust and the dialogue. I have a strong belief in the therapy approaches which allow your experiences to be in the center of attention. In the therapy room you should be the main person who invites new things to your body. A therapist forcing you towards his/her expertise is in my opinion, a therapist who overlooks your real needs. 

As a therapist, I can only create a space making your personal process of exploring and transforming blossom. So my tip is to find a therapist you can connect with, who will listen to you, observe you in an emphatic way, and give you the necessary feedback which makes you grow and which doesn't make you feel like an object. 

The last thing I would like to write about in this post is the dance community. I think about this ideal community as supportive, encouraging and positive for you. 

My experience is to try and avoid people who make you feel guilty or not good enough. If it’s possible, I’ll definitely try to build a 'bridge' between you and this kind of person. If they only drain your energy and give nothing back, you should let the relationship go, without taking it too seriously. 
In the end, it’s your choice how to cope with the circumstances around you. And when you are in contact with your self and your body (the bridge exercises can help you to achieve that!), then you are able to define better who feels supportive for you and who's company loses you for energy. 

The dance community, when I participated in the PBT course, definitely gave me a feeling of being a part of something that we could share together, without judging each other. The common feeling of sharing and learning together gave me warmth and meaning into my everyday life as a physiotherapist and as an authentic ballerina. 

Keep being open to the world (work on your turn out muscles- more about this in the Cecchetti- inspired post coming soon!!), and never stop the beauty of your personal developing process as a dancer. 

My final tip is, don’t be afraid of trying new things. At the start you will probably fall off the ball and it’s completely a natural reaction. The worst thing that could happen is to activate of your  'laugh muscles' and laughing can be good for you to relieve the pressures of life. 

My final words are for you to build bridges in an way possible. Bridges for physical strength, the relationships, companionship, your power core, your turn out, your mental integration and for reconnecting your body to your social life. The bridge is a fantastic starting point for everything. When you see a physical bridge, you stop being overwhelmed because you see that it leads you from A to B. It's your choice whether or not you cross the bridge. 

It's like the way the Authentic Ballet Step-By-Step course is going to guide too. You can visualize the bridge as an act of connection to yourself and others. I believe this could be a gift for you, anytime you feel off-balance. 

Good luck with building bridges!
​​​​​​​I hope you enjoyed this blog post and thanks so much for reading it.
Happy New Year!


P.S. Remember to download the 5 examples of a bridge exercise! 

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