Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part III

by Jan Dunn, MS

Welcome to part three of our “core control series”! If you’ve missed the others, you’ll find part one here, and part two here. Enjoy!

(Readers!  Please know that in the Foam Roller Leg Lift Series, the correct photos, showing Sarah’s hands OFF THE FLOOR, did not make the transition from my computer to the computer–and I am now away from my home computer for two weeks, so can’t correct that error !

My apologies to all–and please know that after the first try at a leg lift, with hands ON the floor, all others are done with hands OFF !  -i.,e, the simple leg lift, then with extension (Step Two), and then with battement / leg lowering and raising (Step Three).)

Core Exercises

Now we are ready to actually do some “core” exercises! This one actively involves the TA (transverse abdominal) that we discussed in Part 1 – but remember that “core” really means back stabilization, and these kinds of exercises utilize all of the muscles we discussed in Part 1, even if we’re consciously focusing on only one of them, as in this next exercise.

Lying on your back, in NP, place your hands on your lower belly, as in the photo here:

Core NP

As you inhale (remembering all your cues above for a nice full breath), feel your belly rise slightly. Now, as you exhale, let your belly fall inwards, away from your hands. Don’t lose your NP as you do this–the whole point of the exercise is to use the TA in a NP position, where it is working to best help stabilize your back. Many dancers (and non-dancers) want to flatten their back / lose NP when they first try this – so watch out for that!

Core NP2

It’s also important not to “suck your belly to your spine”. The TA doesn’t need to work on 100% contraction (which that cue tends to do) to be effective (in a healthy back, it’s working at only about 30% of it’s full capacity).

This simple exercise is just initial awareness / training for how to activate the TA in a neutral position. If it’s easy for you, great. If not, and you find yourself wanting to “tuck” / flatten your back, then this would be a good one to practice daily, until that habit of “tucking” is no longer there.

Now we’re going to do some back stabilization exercises that may be more challenging (or maybe not!):

But before we do, a few words on the breathing pattern that will best help you with these:

Generally speaking, we stabilize our back best when we exhale with exertion –in other words, the hard part of the exercise. So for example, on the first exercise below, you exhale as you lift your leg.

Another thing to realize about breath use is that a forced exhale actually overuses the oblique abdominals, and does not allow the TA to fully engage. I’ve actually seen this on diagnostic ultrasound, and it was fascinating–when the dancer forcibly exhaled, you could actually see, on the screen, how the TA was not working, but the oblique abdominals were working way too hard (“hypertrophying” in scientific language). So just taking a normal inhale / exhale will serve you best.

Leg Lift Core Exercise

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Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part II

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha everyone!

A couple weeks ago we posted Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part 1, and I promised you a second part with some specific suggestions on exercises, to help you work on this important aspect of your dancing and everyday lives. Most of what I want to share in this (and the next) segment are exercises you would do outside of class (although if you’re a teacher, you can work them into the class you teach, as I’ve always done), along with the alignment tips and cues I’ve already given you – plus a few more here!

FYI, much of what I’m sharing in this segment I learned over the years working in physical therapy clinics, as well as in the Pilates world – plus a few that I came up with myself!

Special thanks to my “two Sarahs” – Sarah Carrasco, my Pilates colleague and former Broadway gypsy, who did the modeling, and Sarah Graham, PT, from Denver Dance Medicine Associates, who provided input on the medical / research pieces.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Sitting / Standing

I gave you the image / cue of the pelvis / rib cage / head balanced one on top of another, and the “sternum (breastbone) to pubic bone” cue. An easy way to make sure these ideas make sense before you stand up is to sit on a firm seat (not a cushy couch), feet flat on the floor. Sit firmly on your two “sit-bones” (ischial tuberosities in anatomical language). If you are firmly grounded on those two bony points, you are in a neutral pelvis.

Sarah sitting

Another way to find sitting NP, is to sit tall and slowly rock in between arching your back (lumbar spine hyperextension) and slouching forward (flexion in the lumbar spine) — and stop somewhere in the middle, where there is a moderate natural curve in the low back.

Suggested images to think of here could be:

  • Your pelvis is a full bowl of water that doesn’t tilt / splash either forward (meaning you would be arching your back – “swayback”) or backward (meaning you would be slouching).
  • Put a finger on your two hip bones in front (your ASIS – anterior superior iliac spine) and your pubic bone. Those 3 bony points should form a triangle that is perpendicular to the floor, with the public bone pointing straight down.

Once you feel firmly anchored on those sit-bones, use some images that lengthen your spine upwards. Some of my favorites are:

A spiral of energy going upward


A water fountain from the base of the pelvis, going up and out the top of the head.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

The Eric Franklin drawing of the “bobble boy”, that I used in Part 1

Bobble body

Drawing courtesy of Eric Franklin

A magnet on the top of the head reaching up to a magnet on the ceiling (that particular one seems to appeal more to men – more mechanical, I guess!).

And last but not least, that image we used in Part 1, of the sternum directly vertical with the pubic bone. That applies to sitting as well as standing!

sternum to pubic boneOnce you have gone through those various cues sitting, you can apply the same images / thoughts to standing. All of those are going to help kick in the back stabilization muscles that we’ve been discussing

One last important thing to remember when sitting – most couches / chairs / car seats almost force you to “slouch”, to rock the pelvis under. Can you see where that compresses the discs and vertebrae in your lumbar spine (low back)? Always try to sit so that you can really be upright, in a NS.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Supine (on your back)

OK, so we’ve got NP / NS sitting and standing. Let’s now talk about lying down (supine – meaning on your back, in medical /anatomical terms)….because most of the exercises I’m discussing here are done in a lying down position. That’s because when you’re upright, gravity is pulling on you and you are more likely to go into your old / maybe-not-so-healthy-alignment patterns. When we lie down to do this kind of “neuromuscular repatterning” (because that’s what it is), to introduce new concepts into our body, it takes us out of our normal relationship with gravity and makes it easier for these new patterns to get started. Make sense?

Many times people say, when they are lying down, “how do I know for sure if I’m in NP or not?”. You would be surprised at how even dancers don’t quite get this when first lying down / trying to find a NP! They are almost always flattening their back unconsciously.

I use a physical therapy trick that I was taught long ago, working in Pilates rehab programs in PT environments. It’ called “the Plop”. Seriously! That’s what the PT’s I worked with called it, and I still use the term. It works like this:

Lying down, with your legs bent / feet on the floor, lift your hips just slightly off the floor – like this:

Plop 1

Drop your hips down. Don’t carefully place them down, literally let them “plop” (but never do that if it causes pain in the lumbar spine).

Plop 2

The plop gets you into your own neutral pelvis–it allows muscular holding patterns (like unconsciously wanting to flatten your back) to release for just a few seconds, before those patterns might want to take over again. Think of the plop as your “set point” or “home base” – i.e, “Am I in neutral? I’ll plop and see”.

Another way to get into NP lying down is to slowly rock your pelvis back and forth, from an arched back to a flat back, and then find the place in the middle where you have a natural lumbar curve.

As soon as you do find a neutral pelvis, whether you use the Plop or the rocking method–notice immediately how much pressure is on your sacrum (the broad flat part of your lower back). If you stay in NP, that pressure should stay the same – i.e., if you either arch or flatten your back, it will change.

Your “pelvic triangle” that we talked about earlier, in sitting / standing, is now parallel with the floor / ceiling, with the pubic bone neither pointed up or down.

You can use the water bowl image as well, only this time the water bowl is resting on your belly, and completely level / not spilling either way.

An image I learned recently that I had never heard, and I love, is to imagine a plate on your belly with a marble in the center–and the marble can’t move. That image really refines working in neutral, at least for me. That comes courtesy of my Pilates / dancer colleague here on Kauai, Sarah Carrasco, the model for our photos!


We haven’t really talked about breath, and as with many of these topics, it’s one that could have an article all to itself–but for now, let’s just go over a few important points:

When we take a breath, we want a full expansion of our rib cage, not only to the front, but also to the sides and back. Many of us are “frontal breathers”, not really expanding the rib cage in all directions. That’s not healthy, because:

  • Where each rib meets the spinal vertebrae, in back, is a joint, and joints are designed to move – to remain healthy and avoid arthritis as we get older. A breathing pattern that only expands to the front, not to the sides and back as well, does not involve much movement at that joint – so we want to fully expand our rib cage each time we take a breath.
  • In-between each rib are small muscles called the intercostals, and like all muscles, they are designed to move – but with a rib cage that is more “held”, not moving much except to the front, they don’t move a lot. Again, not a good thing.
  • And last but not least, if the rib cage is expanding in all directions, as it is designed to, we can more easily access that important abdominal muscle, the TA (transverse abdominus).

So for all those reasons, learning to fully expand the ribs is really good for you. I’ve met many dancers who do great with that, but others who don’t. Here are a couple imagery cues to think of:

imagine that your ribs on the sides and back are beautiful sails on a sailboat, and with each breath they are billowing outward.

  • Imagine that your lungs are balloons that are expanding in all directions with each breath. (Make the balloons colored or with beautiful patterns if that works better for you.)
  • Use a theraband to help get the idea of a full ribcage breath. Tie it around your chest, and with every breath, feel the ribs expanding side and back.

I often use a toy to demonstrate full use of the breath / rib cage – it starts out compact and small, and then it expands wide in all directions (just as your rib cage should).


ball 2

OK! In the interest of keeping things to a reasonable length, we’re going to stop here for today and pick things up tomorrow with specific core exercises. Don’t miss our Part III then!

Jan Dunn

Jan Dunn

Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance.  Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs

Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.  She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.

Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.


Inside My Dance Bag: Alabama Ballet’s Tricia Bianco

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Emily Orcutt Photography.

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Emily Orcutt Photography.

How many years have you been doing ballet?

I began training when I was two and half, so I’ve been dancing almost nineteen years.

What are some roles you’ve danced with Alabama Ballet?

My favorite was the Cowgirl in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo. I also loved performing Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as a Blue Girl in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs.

What’s your favorite thing about ballet?

My favorite part about dancing is working hard and seeing the results. It’s so gratifying and there’s always something to work on and perfect even further. And there will always be another goal ahead of me to tackle. I also love the feeling when I’m onstage. We spend so much time in the studio for maybe three minutes on the stage, but when I’m up there I feel so alive.

What’s in your dance bag?

Bloch Heritage pointe shoes, jumper, cover-ups, leg warmers, Tiger Balm – a dancer’s best friend for achy muscles, sewing materials and new pointe shoes – to sew on breaks, Abigail Mentzer and Bulletpointe skirts, bobby pins, hair elastics, hairbrush, supportive athletic tape, and Kenesio Tape – I had a Deltiod sprain last season, so it supports my arches on long days, and, for snacks, I usually keep an apple and some seasoned almonds in my bag for sustainable energy, and, of course, H2O to keep hydrated!



Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Melissa Dooley Photography.

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Melissa Dooley Photography.

Tricia Bianco began dancing when she was two and a half years old at Alabama Dance Academy under the direction of Pamela Merkel, Michael Vernon, Jamie Hinton, and Tammi Carr. She has received and accepted scholarships to summer programs with Boston Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Alabama Ballet. In 2011, Tricia competed in Youth American Grand Prix and was Top Twelve in the Southeast region. Tricia was offered an apprenticeship when she was seventeen with the Alabama Ballet in 2012, and is excited to be returning for her fourth season and first year as a Company Member.

Since joining Alabama Ballet, her favorite roles have included Showgirl in Roger Van Fleteren’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Juliet’s Friend in Van Fleteren’s Romeo and Juliet, the title role in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo as Cowgirl, Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, and Blue Girl in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs. She also teaches at Alabama Ballet, and is a teacher for the Ballet’s outreach program, City Dance. Tricia also teaches at Westwood Ballet. Tricia feels very blessed to be a member with the Alabama Ballet, and is looking forward to her first season as a company member.


Interview: Matthew Powell Of “Find Your Fifth”

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of "Find Your Fifth". Photograph by Shane Ohmer

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of “Find Your Fifth”. Photograph by Shane Ohmer

What drew you to the profession of teaching dance?

To be honest, it was at first for very selfish reasons! As a young dancer, I was given some advice from my Artistic Directors to begin teaching as a means of improving upon my own technique. As a dancer, it is sometimes difficult to feel what exactly your body is doing. Teaching provided me with the opportunity to take the role of the onlooker, see corrections that needed to be made on my students, and apply them to myself. I started teaching at a very young age, and I really think it enriched my dancing on the whole.

What does your average work day look like? Give us a little snapshot of your life…

I’m freelancing a good bit these days, so my schedule is a bit all over the map. At the moment, I’m in Carlisle, PA teaching for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s summer program and having a blast, but there is always a long list of ‘to do’s’ to keep my life running back in New York. Here’s what today looks like:

7:00am – 9:00am – Answer questions for this interview over coffee and a bagel.

9:00am – 10:30am – Teach my morning class at CPYB

10:30am – 1:30pm – Head to Staples to print, sign, scan and email a contract for a new ballet I’m creating for Point Park University in Spring of 2016. Then I head to the Post Office to ship two orders of ‘Find Your Fifth.’ We are a small start-up, so orders are processed not through a company, but from my apartment in Queens (or wherever I happen to be). You should see my living room. It’s a ‘Find Your Fifth’ extravaganza in there!

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Inside My Dance Bag: Miami City Ballet’s Samantha Hope Galler

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s  "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker". Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

How many years have you been doing ballet? 

I began ballet at the age of five, so twenty years now. 

What are some roles you’ve danced with Miami City Ballet?

I joined Miami City Ballet in 2014. Since then, I have performed roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as the Harp Soloist in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations.

What’s your favorite thing about ballet?

Being completely swallowed by light on stage.

What’s inside your dance bag?

I usually have about 6-7 pairs of Capezio Arias to rotate, gel toe pads, second skin, toe spacers, Sansha ballet slippers, two rollers, stretching stick, headphones, iPad, grey theraband, shoe scraper, fashionable duct tape, band-aids, Oragel, scissors, towel, hand cream, alcohol wipes to clean my feet at the end of the day, alcohol spray for pointe shoes, extra rosin, perfume, garbage bag pants, purity face wash, wine holder for my pointe shoes, Salonpas deep relief roll on, pliers, sewing kit, red stretch strap, and, for snacks, I always have Gu Brew and Quest bars to get me through my day if needed, plus tic tacs or mints.

Samantha Hope Galler Dance Bag Contents 1


Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler, a Bedford, Massachusetts native, spent 13 years training with The Ballet Academy, Inc., under the direction of Frances Kotelly in the Cecchetti Method. She performed six seasons with The Northeast Youth Ballet under the direction of Denise Cecere. She continued training, on scholarship, with Boston Ballet School and received the PAO Merit Trainee Scholarship. She received the NFAA Honorable Mention Award in Ballet. Galler spent summers training at Boston Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Boston Conservatory. She danced with Cincinnati Ballet in their 2008-2009 season under the direction of Victoria Morgan.

Samantha spent five seasons with Alabama Ballet under the direction of Tracey Alvey and Roger Van Fleteren. During her tenure there, she was promoted to principal dancer. She had the honor of performing some of her dream roles including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, The Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, The Sylph and Effie in La Sylphide, Myrtha and Moyna in Giselle, Dryad Queen and Mercedes in Don Quixote, and the Rancher’s Daughter in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo. Her Balanchine roles included Dark Angel in Serenade; The Sugarplum Fairy, Arabian and Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™; and the principal roles in Allegro Brillante and Tarantella. She has also performed in Jiří Kylian’s Sechs Tanze, and Van Fleteren’s Shostakovich and Romancing Rachmaninov, both world premieres. Samantha joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2014.

Follow Samantha on her website and blog.


How Ballet Helped Me Learn How To SUP Surf

Ballet on a Surfboard - Miami Beach

Ballet on a Surfboard – Miami Beach

by Todd Fox

I’m a Bunhead Surfaholic!!! That’s right, my career focus and lifelong passion has always been ballet and there’s not many things in this world I love as much as ballet, but surfing is definitely one of them. I surf every chance I get and am probably one of the only surfers in Florida who strikes ballet poses while riding a wave. Over the years I’ve surfed on all sorts of boards including long boards, short boards, foam boards, plank boards with no fins, kayaks, canoes, boogie boards, etc.– if it floats I’ve surfed it and probably tried to do some ballet on it as well.

Ballet on a SUP - Miami Beach

Ballet on a SUP – Miami Beach

A few years ago I began noticing more and more stand up paddleboard (SUP) surfers catching waves at the local surf breaks here where I live in Miami. I had previously paddled a SUP on our calm south Florida inter-coastal waters and it was super fun but surfing on a stand up paddleboard looked intense. I couldn’t believe surfers were dropping in on waist to chest high waves while using a paddle to maneuver these giant heavy SUP boards. It looked like an incredible workout as well as a ton of fun so I decided to give it a try and bought a used 10’6″ Surfseries SUP off Craigslist to start learning with.

Ballet on a SUP - Miami Beach

Ballet on a SUP – Miami Beach

I had been a traditional board surfer for many years and figured the transition to surfing on a SUP would be relatively easy, plus I’m a professional ballet dancer and have good strength/balance/coordination, right? WRONG!!! I couldn’t believe how incredibly difficult it was to balance on a SUP in choppy water and the workout was much more intense than I imagined, it gave a whole new meaning to the word exhaustion. Paddling a SUP on nice glassy calm water is an amazing full-body workout but when you add waves, rip currents, and rough surf to the equation, the physical demands become much more extreme. Complicating matters was the fact that where I surf most often, Miami Beach, rarely has “clean” easy-to-paddle surf, most of our good surf is accompanied by rough, choppy ocean conditions. Without going into too much detail, this is due to Miami’s geographic proximity to the island chain of the Bahamas located directly to our east. On my first attempts I could only manage to stand on the SUP briefly, once the board started to wobble or bob up and down as a result of the choppy surface water, I would immediately lose balance and fall off every time.

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CD Review: Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class

The Classical Class Photo

Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class
Christopher Hobson

by Rachel Hellwig

Christopher Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class features arrangements of classical music from Schuman to Strauss to Shostakovich.

Among familiar ballet tunes you’ll find the buoyant “First Shade Variation” from La Bayadere, the whirling finale from Paquita, Prokofiev’s charged “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet, the “Grand Waltz” from Les Sylphides, and “Siegfried’s Variation” from Swan Lake.

Other works include the luxuriant “Flower Duet from ‘Lakmé’” by Delibes for adage at barre, Malcom Arnold’s serene, skimming “Allegretto from ‘Scottish Dances ‘” for adage in center, Schubert’s quirky “Moments Musicaux” by for petit allegro, the lilting “Skater’s Waltz” for grand allegro, and Faure’s delicate, haunting “Pavane” for port de bras.

If you’re looking to incorporate more classical music in your ballet classes or seeking to supplement popular music, this collection is a good choice.

Preview tracks here and purchase on iTunes.


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