Core Control for Dancers
What is core control?
You core is made up of all the muscles through the trunk of your body that help you stabilize. So the core is not only your stomach muscles. It is also the muscles around your sides, along your back and through your pelvis. There are deep core muscles such as your transverse abdominis, diaphragm, pelvic floor and multifidis (the muscles in between your vertebrae) and outer core muscles such as rectis abdominis, obliques, erector spinae and the gluteal muscles. The deep group is a supporting group, which works on a more subtle level while the outer group is made of big, active moving muscles. It’s important to strike a balance between the two. Sometimes we over activate our outer muscles and forget about the deeper ones which are just as important.
How exactly does the core help dance technique?
When you are dancing you have to maintain balance through a wide variety of complex movements. Your core stabilises the body so that you can perform demanding dance moves without losing control and helps you finish them safely and securely every time. It also helps with stamina because your core is involved in breathing and makes your movements more efficient. Out of control bodies expend energy!
The core muscles work together in coordinated ways to stabilise and so training them as a group in a range of different postures and movements is a good idea for dancers. The following are some exercises three former ballet dancers turned Pilates instructors prescribe for building good overall strength through your core.
Victoria Becka danced in Basel Ballet and Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf. She now teaches Pilates in Sydney.
I love these exercises as they help balance out the body and give strength for when we are standing on one leg for example in pirouettes or when doing adage.
Double and Single leg pelvic curls with the ball
Step 1: Place ball against the wall and lie on your back with the heels on the ball, knees bent at a 90 degree angle
Step 2: As you exhale, press the heels gently into the ball and roll the pelvis then spine off the mat one bone at a time until the hips are high and there is a straight line between the knees, hips and shoulders.
Step 3: Take a breath in and as you exhale peel back down through the spine until you are flat on tour back again.
Repeat 10 times and then try with one leg only. As you get better you can move the ball away from the wall.
Criss Cross with adductor squeeze
Step 1: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Place a soft ball between your knees. Place your hands behind your neck with your elbows wide.
Step 2: Curl your head and shoulders off the mat, pelvis in ‘neutral’.
Step 3: Exhale as you cross your left elbow to your right knee and gently squeeze the ball.
Step 4: Inhale and rotate your torso to the centre releasing the squeeze.
Step 5: Exhale and cross your right elbow to your left knee.
Keep alternating sides, maintaining the chest lift. Work your way up to 10 reps.
Kneeling glute lift
Step 1: On your hands and knees, knees aligned directly under the hips and hands underneath the shoulders, find a neutral position of the spine.
Step 2: As you exhale, shift the weight to left knee with minimal movement and raise the right foot up to the ceiling while keeping the knee bent, foot flexed and leg parallel. (careful to maintain alignment through the spine)
Step 3: Go back to the initial position as you inhale and now repeat with the left leg.
Do 10 reps on one side and then change sides. You can then try 10 reps extending the opposite arm forward, still maintaining good alignment.
Peta Green danced with the Sydney Dance Company. She trained in Pilates in NYC with Romana Kryzanowskaand has been teaching in Sydney for 20 years.
I love using the roller to help people find their core. The rollder doesn't lie. If you don't engage your core you simply fall off.
Core balance on the roller
Step 1: Lie lengthways along the roller. Breathe smoothly and slowly throughout exercise.
Step 2: Lift both legs up into table top.
Step 3: Curl your head and shoulders off the roller into a sit up.
Step 4: Holding this position see if you can come onto the tips of the fingers. If you’re feeling stable try one fingertip then maybe none for a second.
Step 1: Lying on your tummy place the hands at ear level on the edges of the mat.
Step 2: On the exhalation lifting the naval to spine start to engage through the back of the arms and lift the chest, as you lift imagine the shoulder blades are moving down the spine and sitting flat and not popping out like wings.
Step 3: Once you’re in the extended position make sure you are not sinking into your lower back by imagining your torso has a corset around it.
Step 4: On the way down feel like your waist is lengthening out of your hips and try and keep the tummy as the last thing to touch the mat.
Sophie Fletcher danced with the Australian Ballet, West Australian Ballet and the Czech National Ballet. She teaches Pilates in Melbourne at Master Pilates South Yarra.
Core work doesn't have to mean sit-ups/crunches. These exercises work the core in a familiar way for dancers and so transfer well to their work in the studio or on stage.
Step 1: Begin in a side plank on the hand, feet stacked and flexed, top arm reaching to the ceiling. Inhale to create length in the spine and turn the head to look at the top hand.
Step 2: On the exhale, pike the hips up trying to maintain both hip bones facing forward, twist the torso so that the top arm reaches through the space between your supporting arm and feet, head following the arm.
Step 3: Inhale to unwind and return to side plank with control and continue into slight chest expansion, arm opening through the starting position continuing slightly further behind and eyes following hand.
Step 4: Exhale to return to the start position and inhale to repeat. Repeat 4-6 times on one side and then the same on the other side.
Step 1: Starting position is propped up on the forearm, with elbow, shoulders, hips and knees in one line, torso is reaching on diagonal, making a long line from the crown of the head to the knees (hips off the floor) and the other arm is in 5th position. Gaze forward.
Step 2: Find retiré position of the working leg, toe on the supporting knee, without collapsing the supporting waist.
Step 3: From here developpé the leg à la seconde maintaining the support on the underneath side of the torso, the waist shouldn't sink or sag.
Step 4: Reach the leg away from you to lower and draw up to retiré again. Maintain natural breathing throughout. Repeat 10-12 times on one side before turning to the other side. Obliques.