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Bend It Like Ballet

If my Instagram feed is anything to go by, we adult ballet dancers place a lot of importance on flexibility. We stretch our bodies, attempting to gain even a fraction of the flexibility required of a ballet dancer. Of course, the older we get the harder flexibility is to achieve. Try as we might, we will never have the flexibility of a teenage dancer.

When I first began dancing I never really knew anything about ballet or the flexibility required to perform many of the positions. It was only in my 2nd year as a beginner that our ballet teacher started including flexibility exercises in our classes.  As I advanced, I started to fully appreciate the limitations a lack of flexibility can present, so I included a stretch class into my weekly dance classes and have been doing that class for 3 years now. It has helped in so much as it's better than doing nothing at all, but since it's only 30 minutes a week the benefits are not spectacular. However the class has helped me focus on my trouble areas, such as my hips which are eternally tight.


I am most commonly asked about the splits and how long it took for me to achieve them. When I first decided I needed to do the splits in order to have a better leg extension, I focused on lengthening and stretching my hamstrings. I did this for just over a year and I got pretty much nowhere with my splits, in spite of the fact I had quite clearly stretched out my hamstrings more than enough.  It was only when I went online and did some research that I realised the reason I wasn't getting my splits was that my hips were much too tight and not my hamstrings. I then started including lots of hip flexors exercises and within 4 months I finally had the front splits.

However my physiology will not allow me to do the side splits. The curve of my pelvis just won't allow my leg bones to sit at 180 degrees. Ever.  I could stretch all day long and it simply won't happen.

Part of being an adult dancer is accepting that there will be physical limitations and to try and not get too despondent about them. It's hard of course to want so badly to do this beautiful thing but for your body to fail you, but ballet is frustrating that way.

With stretching and flexibility, whether that's for ballet, yoga, pilates or a martial art, the key is to find out the problem areas and focus on those with targeted exercises. You'll improve much faster. 

Flexibility is possible at any age as long as you don't set your goals stupidly high. Will I ever be able to developpe my leg up to my ear? No, but I can now get it higher than 90 degrees and that's probably my limit. If it was good enough for Margot Fonteyn it's good enough for me!