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First World Ballet Problems

Yesterday, I struggled to get my développé to 90 degrees, let alone above. The muscles whose job it is to carry the legs just said, “90 is all you’re getting today, and you’re only getting it at the cost of immense effort.”

I blamed my lack of condition, of course — which was fair, but missed a critical element: the cross-training problem.

” Cross-training” means training until you’re feeling cranky and irritable, then kvetching at your poor innocent husband for no good reason.

Wait, that’s not right.

“Cross-training” means, in short, mixing it up to keep things balanced — tossing in a little cycling if you’re a dancer, or a little dance if you’re a cyclist.

The operative phrase, here, being “a little.” Or, well, “just enough.”

Last week, I banged out several hours on the bike, including a bunch of zippy climbing sprints, and basically none in the studio.

Should it come as any surprise, then, that I’ve managed to lose a bunch of the ground I had gained in correcting the muscle-balance problem attendant in being someone who, for several years, spent around twenty hours a week riding a bike and did essentially no cross-training?

I am lucky, in a sense, in that my body adapts very readily to exercise — but I tend to forget that, as in everything else, if I want the balanced muscles necessary for ballet, I need to make sure I’m not essentially overspending in one area while underspending in another (an aside, here: it says a great deal that autocorrupt — ahem, that is, predictive text — recognizes overspending as an existing word, but not underspending).

While a trained cyclist does make some use of the muscles that flex the thighs, it’s paltry in comparison to the use made of those that push down (I’ve touched on this before). Especially for someone like me — one who straddles the line between light rouleur and climber, and thus relishes his ability to crank out brutal speed on short- to medium-climbs — it’s all too easy to lose sight of how quickly that can add up to a disaster at the barre.

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I had forgotten that a couple of Saturdays back I was enjoying easy extensions well above 90 degrees even though my right hip was still weirdly tight.  A couple of classes before that, I wrote about the fact that getting the leg higher made a promenade en dedans in écarté derriere (or was it avant? I’ll have to check that later) much easier — and when I said higher, I meant “hey, my toes are basically at shoulder-height right now!”

So basically, I’ve now created a situation in which I’ll need to overcome a muscle balance problem again, one which I’d sorted before.

In short, this means dancing more and riding less (and more gently; probably no more 20+MPH sprints on the rolling climbs for a while) — in short, shifting the balance back so I’m actually allowing cycling (which I do as a matter of course, although I love it) to act as cross-training for ballet (which may be the one thing I love more than cycling).

I’m not sure yet how to achieve this balance — or, well, the exact details elude me.

The “pushing down” muscles in the legs already get a greater workout in daily life (one word: stairs!) than the “pulling up” muscles (or the “pushing up” ones that lift from beneath the buttocks and thigh in ballet), so I need to take that into account.

Regardless, this is entirely a First World Ballet Problem. I recognize that it’s the result of something in my body actually working well (maybe too well), and I’m grateful for that (not that I feel grateful right now, but I’m rationally aware that this is a Good Thing). I also recognize that “développé at 90 degrees” is a goal that many adult dancers find elusive, and I shouldn’t complain too much.

Yet again, I’m reminded that ballet is a great analogy for life (tl;dr: It hurts, and there’s always someone yelling at you — wait, no, that’s not the analogy I wanted ;)). You have to work to keep everything balanced (and not just when your instructor hairy-eyeballs you and growls, “You know you can balance in passé relevé without the barre.”).

So, um, yeah. There we go.

I plan to write about this a bit more, as there are tons of articles out there that day,” Cross-training is good for you!” but not too many aimed at explaining how to figure out how much cross your training actually needs. I should probably Ask Denis about it and just post an interview. Maybe even a video.

Speaking of which, I have not forgotten that I owe all you guys a ballet video about balancé. I’m trying to figure out where to film it.

So that should be coming along soon, too.

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