By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)
If your dancer is looking to improve in ballet, there is one tried and true solution – practice at home! Most young dancers don’t take enough hours of class per week to get away with not practicing at home and still expect to see results, whether that’s balancing longer in arabesque or finding that additional rotation in a pirouette.
Dancers are always told they need to stretch and exercise at home, but some might need more encouragement from a parent to actually follow through! Our favorite exercises for turnout, strong feet, and good posture are explained in depth so you can help your child improve in ballet!
There are tons of helpful ballet exercises that can be done safely and effectively at home, without any equipment, but the exercises detailed here target some major muscle groups that need to function properly for ballet. For even more helpful exercises to help your dancer improve in other styles of dance, check out our series here!
Best Exercises for Turn Out
Ballet requires good turnout, meaning the rotation of the legs from the hips. Some humans are naturally turned out, but many young dancers need to stretch and strengthen regularly to achieve their maximum safe turnout.
The best stretches and exercises for turnout at home are straddle wall splits and side-lying clams.
How To Do Straddle Wall Splits
To safely execute a straddle wall split, you will first need to be physically warm – this stretch should ideally be done after class, once your dancer is home, or before leaving the studio.
Now, find a blank wall in your home. Or, if you have space behind your couch, you can use the back of the couch.
You will lie down on your back with your rear end facing the wall or back of the couch. Scoot all the way down so that your rear is on the wall, with your legs pointing up to the sky.
With your hips turned out to their maximum safe turn out, slowly lower the legs along the wall to either side. Depending on your hamstring flexibility, hip flexibility, and rotation, your legs may fall easily to the sides or stay closer to a V.
From here, allow gravity to gently push your legs down. Maintain pointed or flexed feet in this position to activate the glutes, calves, and quadriceps, or relax to ensure a juicy stretch of the hamstrings and the hips.
How To Do Side-Lying Clams
A side-lying clam sounds funny, but it can be a challenge for dancers! Side-lying clams help strengthen the hip flexors, which are important for maintaining turnout during ballet.
First, lie down on the floor on your left side. Your left hand can be used to prop up your head, and your right hand can press into the floor in front of your body for stabilization.
Next, keeping your legs stacked, bring both knees slightly toward the chest so they are bent at about a 45-degree angle.
Then, keeping your heels together, lift your top knee up, opening the legs like a clam shell. Hold for a few seconds, and then bring the knees back together.
Repeat this exercise 20 times on the right, and 20 times on the left. For an added challenge, wrap a theraband around the thighs. This will create more resistance and help build more strength.
These turnout exercises will also help your dancer improve in lyrical dance. For more lyrical exercises, read our article The Best Lyrical Dance Exercises To Do At Home!
Best Exercises For Strong Feet
Ballet dancers need strong and flexible feet to create the beautiful long lines we all crave, and to support the body in balances and turns. Luckily, the best exercises for strong feet are also some of the easiest!
Simple élevés and pointing and flexing with a theraband are some of the best exercises to achieve strong feet at home.
How To Do Élevés
An élevé (ay-luh-vay) is simply rising up on the balls of the feet from a flat position. Élevés can be done in all ballet positions, but the best options for practicing at home are from parallel or turned-out first position.
The best place to practice élevés at home is my personal favorite, at the sink while brushing your teeth, but you can élevé anywhere that you have a flat surface and some time!
My suggestion is to make it a game that even parents can participate in – after all, everyone could use strong calves and ankles!
Standing in parallel first, rise up onto the balls of the feet, being careful to spread all ten toes on the ground. Press into the ball of the foot without allowing the foot to sickle or fall outwards. Pull up on the thighs and squeeze the bum, then slowly lower the heels.
Repeat as many times as you like! The more, the better!
For an added challenge, place a tennis ball between your ankles while you rise up on the balls of your feet. By squeezing the tennis ball, the calf muscles are activated even more, and the ankles do a little more work!
How To Strengthen Feet With a Theraband
Therabands, or exercise bands, come in many different colors which denote their strength. At Dance Parent 101, we like this set of bands. You can begin with the lightest color band, which is the lightest strength, and work your way up.
Begin sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you. Loop the center of the band around the bottom of the ball of one of your feet, so that half of the band is covering the ball of your foot and half is around your toes.
Then, pulling each end of the band towards you, create some tension as you flex your foot. Maintain this same resistance in the band the entire time.
Slowly point your foot so that the toes catch some of the band. Be sure not to scrunch the toes as they point.
Starting with the toes, flex the foot back up. Repeat the exercise 30 times on each foot. If the lightest band is too easy, move up to the next color.
Best Exercises for Good Posture
Posture is important for everyone, but especially ballet dancers! If your dancer needs some help in this department, try doing these exercises with them instead of constantly nagging, “Stand up straight!”
The Superman exercise is awesome for many things but especially helps in engaging the back muscles and opening up the chest to create better posture. As an added bonus, it’s great for dancers and non-dancers alike, meaning mom and dad can take part in the fun!
Start by laying flat on the floor, facing down. Reach both arms straight out above the head, with palms down on the floor. Keep the legs turned out and feet pointed for this exercise.
Next, lift your chest, shoulders, arms, and head off the floor, trying to keep your legs on the floor.
Try to lift just slightly higher if you can. Hold this position for a count of 3, then lower.
Repeat this exercise 10 times. If this is too hard, try keeping the arms bent at 90-degree angles next to your face instead of straight out in front.
Downward Facing Dog
This exercise comes from the world of yoga and is incredibly helpful for opening up the chest. In daily life nowadays, everyone is slumped forward, texting, working on a computer, or generally feeling the weight of the world (children included!) Downward facing dog opens up the chest, strengthens the back, and can be done by anyone!
First, start by lowering yourself down to your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly over your hands and your knees under your hips.
Then, tucking your toes, push your hips up and back so that your weight is evenly distributed between your hands and your feet. You should be in a V shape, with your rear in the air.
Hold this position for 10 seconds, thinking of pulling your ears away from your shoulders and pushing your hips towards the ceiling.
Return to your hands and knees by bending and lowering the knees. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
If you are interested in how yoga can benefit you or your child’s dance training, check out our article The 4 Main Benefits Of Yoga For Dancers – Quick Read!
These are just a few of the best ideas out there to help your child improve at ballet at home. You may also encourage them to practice other steps they’re working on or rehearse their recital dance or a combination from class. With diligent practice both at the studio and at home, your child will see results in no time!