Update: I produced this blog post in 2013 in my second year at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and it’s had many, many views. The exercises have stood me in good stead and I use many of them in my training now as a professional. If you’d like to see updated versions of these stretches and my current routines, then go over to my Instagram page.
Since I’ve been at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy one of the things I’ve worked really hard on in my training has been my flexibility. My flexibility has never been a strength and no one really has ever been able to help me before. However, my gymnastics classes here have really helped build my flexibility and all of my teachers have shown me exercises that I now do every day.
My old dancing teachers from Fearons Middleton School of Dance in Barnsley have asked me to share these exercises with them so that they can help their pupils benefit from them as I have.
So here’s what I do for a warm up before class. I do many more exercises throughout the day and evening which I hope to share with you later but here are a few to start with. If you’ve not done anything like this before, do them with a teacher first.
This is frog – if you are not already flat in frog, hold it until you are flat (by flat both heels and hips should touch the floor at the same time). I put my toes under a ledge so that I can inch forwards little by little lengthening the frog position in order to rotate my hips in various ways.
Pull yourself right towards your legs and hold for eight seconds.
Start with a straight back, bend forwards with the aim of keeping your back as straight as possible and your knees all the way to the floor. If you have something to grab in front of you, do so to pull yourself forward and make yourself as flat as possible. Hold for eight seconds.
Start off in frog sitting position with a straight back, take any foot, flexed, with the opposite hand threaded under the leg, fingers grabbing round toes; the other hand grabbing the heel (so both hands should be crossed). Straighten the leg and pull towards you keeping your back straight at all times. Hold for eight seconds.
From that position lie down whilst still holding the foot and hold for eight seconds pulling your leg towards you.
Then roll onto the opposite side to the working leg, adjusting your arms so that the opposite hand to the working leg grabs around the foot and pulls it sideways down so the elbow touches the ground while the other hand threads through and supports yourself on the floor. Hold for eight seconds. Repeat all routine for your other leg.
This is oversplits –start at a height where you can sit with your hips touching the floor perfectly squarely with your opposite arm holding your front leg while the other holds the back leg. Hold this for as long as you’ve got time for before the class starts – minimum 16 seconds – spend some time with your arms in fifth, bending all the way forwards, and then reaching backwards.
Then rotate yourself into side splits, again holding as long as you did for the last one.
The rotate again into other leg splits – the aim is to get the hip of your back leg touching the floor. Again your hips must be perfectly square.
Repeat the whole of the oversplits sequence with the other leg.
Then do plank for a minute.
Then first of all arch your upper back off the floor (forearms still on the floor) followed by the lower back arch (only hands on the floor and arms stretched). Bend legs and touch your head with your feet – hold for eight seconds.
Return face to the ground, open your legs a little and clasp your hands behind your back, arms stretched. The arch your back off the floor; your arms as if someone has grabbed them and is pulling them in order for you to do so. Release hands and raise them through second position into fifth position.
From here I also like to do port de bras going through arabesque arms both sides.
Return once more face to the ground, then bend legs and grab both feet in each hand. Stretch your arms – this stretch is more for the flexibility of your shoulders than your back. Hold for eight seconds.
Finally, stretch your feet by placing one foot, pointed and resting on the floor like in this picture, with the knee of the other leg pressed against its heel. Keep the knee of the working foot turned out and use all your weight to push over on your instep. Hold for 16 seconds and repeat with the ther foot.
If I’ve got time, I also use my stretching band to sit in side splits like this and lie on my back so I can stretch past side splits.
So that’s about it for my pre-class exercises – have fun! I’ll update you next month on the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s 240th anniversary show, my theatre visits (Marco Spado) and more ….