A week or two ago the question “Which is a ballerina’s strongest muscle?” was raised in class. After a brief discussion, it was unanimously decided: her core. And that is probably the area that is generally left behind in favour of technique and steps being learnt and rehearsed.

A ballerina’s core is seldom on display as much as her legs, feet and arms but without a strong core,none of the other elements of dance can truly function to their optimal potential.

Generally speaking there is little time spent during class on improving core strength because there is always just so much more dancing to be done! Therefore, a dancer needs to supplement her ballet with strengthening classes either at home or in a separate class. Some studios offer additional stretch and strengthening classes. Pilates is a good add-on for core strength and stability.

For ease of reference, I have included a few of my favourite core strengthening exercises here. If these are done regularly, say 2 or 3 times a week, a marked improvement in core strength will be noticed as well as improved dance ability. You can create your own combinations and number of repetitions as you gain strength.I have also included the link to Kathryn Morgan’s Ballet Barre for Core strength. https://youtu.be/YrkQDE29Z6c This workout can be used along with the abdominal exercises to create an awareness of the importance of core strength whilst dancing. Remember to warm up and stretch first before attempting these exercises.

  1. AB ISOLATIONS

Lie on back with arms at sides, knees bent, inhale to fill lower abdomen with air

Exhale and pull down (toward the floor), and in, to support the back as you hollow the abdominals

Repeat x 8

  1. UPPER AB SLIDE

Lie on back, with arms at sides, legs hip width, knees bent

Slide the arms toward feet, parallel to floor

Lift shoulder blades off floor while gliding arms to feet for full contraction

Tuck your chin and lengthen as you begin to avoid strain in neck

Repeat x 10

  1. ISOLATED AB CRUNCH

Lie on back, with arms at sides, legs hip width, knees bent.

Place hands behind head, elbows open to support neck

Pull abdominals into back as you bring knees toward chest

Extend knees slightly – inhale

Exhale, keep lower back flat, and lift shoulder blades off floor into crunch

Lift and lower shoulder blades

2 x 10 reps

Keep chin down. Small movement.

4.LEG LEVERS

Lie on back, with arms at sides, legs hip width, knees bent

Place hands behind head, lift head off floor, supporting head in palms

Pull lower abs in as you lift legs up in bent position

Inhale, lower legs about 20˚, keeping lower back flat on floor

Exhale as you pull legs back with abdominal muscles

Lower abs should hollow and not bulge; keep back flat; will get easier as abs strengthen

Repeat x 8 slow

5. LEG EXTENSIONS

Lie on back, with arms at sides, legs hip width, knees bent

Lift head and bring right knee to chest – engaging upper abs

Exhale pull lower abs in and extend left leg out, keeping lower back flat on floor. Inhale

Exhale. Brace as you switch legs

Stomach pulls deep as leg reaches out – visualise extending your legs beyond your body

6. AB OVALS

Lie flat on back with hands behind head, elbows open. Inhale

Exhale as you lift to the right and into oval

Come to centre with stomach braced to spine

Continue oval to left, gradually returning to starting position

Can be done with elbows in or out

Repeat in opposite direction

Repeat x 8

 7. OBLIQUE LEG EXTENSIONS

Lie on back, with arms at sides, legs hip width, knees bent

With hands behind head and elbows open, lift shoulders off floor to engage upper abs

Lift legs to a 90˚ angle and inhale

Exhale and extend right leg out, right armpit towards left knee, elbows open. Inhale

Exhale, change legs, inhale…and so on for 8to 16 reps

 8.SPINAL FLEXION & EXTENSION

Begin on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale and arch your back

Exhale, pulling stomach to spine and drop head down between shoulders, looking towards your pelvis

Inhale to arch, exhale to tilt. Continue 4 to 8 reps.

To further engage the abs, lift knees slightly off the floor in the arch, exhaling fully.

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As with many things in life, the benefits of strong abdominal muscles will not only benefit you in the ballet studio, but in your daily life as these muscles are a vital support system to the all-round well-being of your health and fitness!

REFERENCES:

Stretching Anatomy: Arnold G. Nelson; Jouko Kokkonen 2007

New York City Ballet Workout: Peter Martins 1997

Dance Anatomy: Jacqui Greene Haas 2010