Actual Improvements!

Last week’s ballet class proved to be rather educational and, for a change, uplifting.

I was still feeling in top form and keeping up well both stregnth- and technique-wise. This inspired me to finally ask Birdie for advice about my weird foot sickling problem.

Sickled feet are the devil in ballet, as all of you kind dancing folk probably know all too well. They have been the bane of my existence ever since I started ballet… but not in the way you probably think.

You see, I never sickle my feet in relevés. No sir. My standing ankle remains straight no matter what. I sickle only my working foot and only when working in derrière. If I do a tendu devant, I have an acceptable line. If I then do a rond de jambe to the back and focus on keeping the foot position, I still have an acceptable line. If, however, I do an attitude derriere, that foot will sickle and any attempts to un-sickle it will only sickle it further. To get out of this cycle, I have to relax the foot completely, bring it to the front or at least into a tendu derriere and start anew. It’s like I lose all control of those muscles while my foot is behind me. Seeing it in the mirror does not help. I can see it’s sickling, I can feel it’s sickling, but I can’t for the life of me correct it.

This is obviously a slightly weird problem and I’ve been wanting to ask Birdie for her input on it for a very long time. So far, I’ve been counteracting this inexplicable appendage autonomy by focusing more on winging the foot and less on pointing it while in derrière. Birdie confirmed this, telling me to think heel in, not foot in, in coupé derrière. She explained that many people have more muscles for foot inversion than for eversion. If I think about it, my feet naturally sickle when they’re not bearing weight, so she’s onto something. I might need to spend some happy fun time with my theraband to improve on this front.

After this encouraging input, the rest of the barre went very well and I was ready to rock the pirouettes in the center. So naturally, I sucked at them. Pirouettes are hit-and-miss for many people: some days you’ve got them, and some days you haven’t. I do acceptable singles if I remember not to stick my butt out in the plié. This time, it didn’t seem to help.

Birdie gave me my other two eternal pirouette corrections about leaving my shoulder and arm behind and forgetting to spot. Sometimes, you get a correction, follow it and suddenly do much better. This was not one of those times. I completely forgot what the heck turning was and got very disappointed. Birdie, however, assured me this is normal:  if you cheat on your technique, doing it properly is sometimes harder, at least at first.

Thus pacified, we continued to the combination which, once again, ended in soutenu turns. Birdie casually suggested I try doubles. I was surprised, but I don’t often argue with teachers, so I tried. It would appear I consistently fall over after 1,1 of a soutenu turn. I felt, and Birdie confirmed, like my ankle was giving way, letting my foot roll inward and the rest of me topple over. These are (surprise!) the very same muscles that would counteract the sickle. Strength deficit, confirmed. Theraband, also confirmed. Having established that, Birdie very confidently announced that she’s looking forward to me doing doubles!

And yet another thing I have noticed: my calf soreness has returned, although to a much lesser extent. And I think I have found the cause for it: All of  sudden, my relevé is much higher! I have had the mobility to go up on demi-pointe properly for a long time, but I’ve never had the strength to stay there, especially not on a single foot. This appears to be much less of a problem now for no apparent reason.

I am, of course, inclined to attribute this sudden improvement to my strength training, but to be entirely honest, while I’ve been carrying my theraband diligently, I have only used it once so far. My workout is already well over an hour long, and at the end of it, I’m pretty tired and I still need to foam roll before running off to modern class. So my calves would appear to have suddenly gotten stronger without me doing anything. Yay?

I’m suspiciously eyeing my squats and deadlifts, as well as the single-leg squats on the Bosu, since those compound exercises are supposed to at least activate the calves, especially when done barefoot. But we may never know.

And anyway, since this equine has been bestowed upon us so generously, let’s not inspect its orifices, right?

3 thoughts on “Actual Improvements!

  1. I had a similar problem with sickling the foot derriere. I got that correction quite a lot in ballet. To be honest, in tap I sometimes lose all control of my left foot/leg, being right-dominant. You know it’s going wrong but you can’t for the life of you correct it!

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  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one! It’s frustrating sometimes.
    At the speed tap usually goes, I’m pretty sure I’d lose control of both my legs at once. Quick and precise movements are not exactly my forte.

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  3. Don’t worry, the sickling thing is really surprisingly common, especially in attitude derrière! I think it makes more sense for primate bodies, really (our wrists are similarly constrained, too)—if we’re shinning up a palm tree after some coconuts (or to escape from raging dire sloths), we can sickle our feet to help us grip the trunk, for example. Meanwhile, winging has limited uses outside of ballet and related movement arts. It’s handy when you’re disentangling a foot, but from a survival stand-point, I suspect the ability to sickle the foot is more valuable.

    It sounds like you’ve got good input on how to counter it, too.

    “…If you cheat on your technique, doing it properly is sometimes harder, at least at first.”

    Ugh, so yes. Last summer I churned out a triple that probably shouldn’t have even been a single in JB’s class, and he looked at me and said, “I have no idea how you even did that.” Thus did I decide to deconstruct my turning technique, and that was quite an eye-opener. Overcoming established habits is really hard, and retaining the proprioceptive and vestibular senses at the same time … oy vey!

    My brain is still convinced that if I do my turns straight up instead of up and back, I’ll face-plant directly into the Marley.

    Liked by 1 person

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