If grand leaps and high extensions are not exactly on your agenda, you’re not alone. It is far more beneficial for an adult student to focus on their balance and posture before they try to attempt such demanding moves. Consider three simple balance checks to help you reassess your alignment and core strength.
1. Fifth position balance.
This may sound simple enough, but maintaining balance without the support of the barre can be difficult for novices, and rightly so—the concept of turnout is not natural. Our body was not designed to stand or perform in a turned out position. The next time you take your spot on the floor for center work, practice standing in fifth position. You can even put your hands on your hips. Your feet should be facing opposite toe to heel, creating four points of contact with the floor. Believe it or not, when mastered, this position can actually be quite comfortable, providing a reliable base of support. Until then, check your posture: are you wobbling? Are your knees straight, or are they bent because you’re straining your turnout? It’s essential for a dancer to achieve balance with a solid fifth position.
2. Relevé balance.
Standing in first position, do a demi-plié, then lift your heels. Your torso should be over your hips and your stomach in. Do your heels immediately fall backward? If so, work on bringing the inside of your heels forward, so they are facing the audience. This engages the piriformis muscle and encourages lateral rotation of the hips. Now, remove the training wheels, so to speak, and repeat this same exercise without the plié. Standing in first position, lift your heels from the floor while maintaining your turnout (technically, this is elevé). If you find yourself flailing, concentrate on strengthening your core and ankles. A seamless elevé and relevé is crucial if you want to nail that arabesque, pirouette, or dance on pointe.
3. Passé balance.
Trying to maintain your turnout while standing on two legs is hard enough, but balancing on one leg is an even greater challenge. Standing in first position—or if you’re really brave, fifth position—lift your foot into coupé, or pointed near the other ankle. You can keep your hands on your hips, or lift them to first position, or fifth on high. Hips should remain steady over your feet and spine lengthened. It may appear that your leg is what’s holding you up, but in reality, your core, gluteals, and back are doing the work. Don’t have any trouble getting those limbs up and moving? Flexibility is great, but if you’re going to achieve balance, it must be paired with strength and self-control.
These are some simple exercise absolute novices can use to check their balance and posture. In fact, try lifting your hand off the barre to test your balance during exercises like dégagé and passé. The quick footwork of dégagé and the vertically-challenging movement of balancing in passé will reveal how dependent you are on the barre for support, and will clue you in on how you can improve.