XXXIII: Athletes vs. Ballet Dancers, Is It Possible To Juggle Them Both?

Many of you know that I am a ballet dancer and have been for quite a long while. I am also fairly athletic in that I work out and compete in a number physical activities and races throughout the year (although I’ve slowed down significantly this year).

I've noticed, however, that after a week of running a bunch, I suffer at ballet because my hips are too tight to give me any turnout. And, after a week of hardcore ballet rehearsals, my thighs, arms and shoulders just don't have the strength to make it through a gym session (even if I make it an easy one). These things have left me wondering if a balance between the two is even possible anymore...

Being a Ballet Dancer

Ballet is a full body workout. To even stand in first position takes full-on mental and physical discipline. I've worked at this for years and I still have days where I suffer given my inability to get my feet to do what my brain tells them to do. Or, my all time favorite instance of not being able to shut my brain off enough to actually get through a rehearsal while also looking like a functioning human being. 

I do, however, thank Heidi at The Ballet Studio here in Sacramento, CA for all of her patience and hard work at teaching me over the years. I'd also like to extend a huge thanks to my former ballet teachers at The Vallejo Ballet in my hometown, Vallejo, CA. 

I found an insane love for ballet because of these people, and although I don't have the ideal ballerina body (my hips are the least flexible part of my body and my feet are downright awful), I still want to be able to be both an aggressive athlete and an elegant ballerina. My other physical activities, however, make it difficult when my larger muscles are sore from running or lifting weights, and then I go to ballet and attempt to work my smaller muscles (which feels impossible when the larger muscles are already upset with me).

It is difficult to paint a vivid enough portrait of all that must be considered, body wise, during any given evening at ballet rehearsal. For this reason, I've found a couple of cute animations that lay out what must be considered with each below-titled motion, move or position. These do no lay out every ballet position or every leap or jump, but they do give you a minute taste of what ballet dancers have to keep in mind at every moment on the moment:

Being An Athlete

I don't compete as much as I used to simply because time does not permit, but I have goals of getting back to a competitive level soon. I honestly just miss the thrill of it all! 

I always flashback to my days as a wrestler because those were my best competition days, hands down! I lived for that mat time whether I won or lost. I trained long and hard for each meet and even though my diet usually wasn't where it should have been, I still managed to work out enough to maintain the weight that I was supposed to in order to compete (because God forbid I let Coach Jessica O. down for not making weight). 

Nowadays my competitions come in the form of the many runs, races, and obstacle courses that I sign up for throughout the year. That means that my training consists of running (a lot) and lifting weights/strength training. 

For those of you that know about ballet, the muscles that are formed from being a ballerina are usually a bit softer than those you get from going into a gym and just lifting weights. Don't get me wrong, you can totally get ripped from being a dancer! Look at Misty Copeland or Michaela DePrince, but these two are dancers that have found the balance between their athleticism (which is a part of dance) and their dancing. They seem to be able to workout and maintain their turnout and the right type of flexibility which is what I just can't seem to do. 

Even though I stretch after each workout, when I go back to ballet, I just can't seem to get any rotation in my hips (and therefore, any turnout, any extension, etc.)! I know that my stretches work because my Jetés and Grand Battements are becoming things of beauty, but I cannot help but to harp on the fact that my turnout is just abysmal because of all of the running. So, I wonder...

Is The Balance Even Possible?

The answer has to be 'yes'. I can see that the answer is yes in the dancers listed above. In order to adjust my methods a bit to see what helps my turnout, I've looked up alternative ways of running. I tend to run on two extremes: I'm either on my toes, or I'm flat footed. The position of your feet when they hit the pavement, track or treadmill determine how your body reacts (the tougher the medium, the harder the impact on your calf muscles, shins, knees, etc.). So, I am picking one and sticking to it! I am used to running on my toes, but will now make it a point to run from heel-to-toe. This change will certainly create shin splints until my body is used to it, but with this, I'll be able to adjust my stretches to where I keep the strength in my ankles for pointe, and can work on the rotation of my hips for my turnout. But, I figure that, if I keep switching up the way I work out/run, then I will continue to experience extreme muscle rips (soreness) and shin splints which keep me from getting where I want to be as a dancer.

My hope is that these little changes (the heel-to-toe running and different stretches) will assist in reaching my dancing goals, but we shall see! I will definitely post an update after a couple of months of this to see if I have to, once again, change my methods.