13 October 2014

Stephen M. Apatow
Biomechanics Specialist & Technical Consultant
Founder, Director of Research & Development
Sports Medicine & Science Institute
International Dancescience Development Program
Phone: 203-668-0282
Email: s.m.apatow@edancescience.org
Internet: www.edancescience.org
Faculty: Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts
Facebook: edancescience
Nominated: International Dance Council (UNESCO)

United Nations Arts Initiative
Internet: www.unarts.org

Centers for Disease Control called to require proper stretch and flexibility training before every classical ballet technique class

Classical ballet training is recognized as the most advanced technical movement mechanics training in the world.  The biomechanical ideal in training, represents the most stable, balanced,  integrate relationship of the spine and extremities for injury prevention, advanced sports medicine treatment and performance optimization.  The International Dancescience Development Program emphasizes the importance of education and training in classical ballet based biomechanics and orthopedic analysis for the medical community.

For many years, the importance of classical ballet specific flexibility and alignment training has been emphasized for dance education programs.   In classical ballet (the foundational training for all styles of dance), training is executed in a turned out alignment,and requires specific stretches that must be integrated into the pre-class warm-up.  Unfortunately this guidance is many times ignored, at a cost of progressive joint stabilization and deformities in childhood development, that make correct postural alignment a virtual impossibility, and follow the student for a lifetime.  See:



Classical Ballet Specific Stretch & Flexibility Exercises


A recent article in Dance Magazine "What Are They Doing Wrong?" [1] mentioned the topic of dynamic vs static stretching before the classical ballet technique class.  The first thing that came to my mind was the range of motion or flexibility required to work with correct alignment, during each progressive exercise in a classical ballet technique class. 

See, in classical ballet training, incorrect alignment in a development program (that can begin in some cases at 3-5 years of age), will shape the bone growth patterns and articular development, that can last a lifetime. 

Only perfect practice makes perfect. – Vince Lombardi.

Today, I present this topic as an Olympic development athlete [2,3] who entered classical ballet training in my early 20's, with no dance background.  Training through scholarships, I was thrust directly into advanced dance classes, in an effort to optimize postural alignment for sports specific training.  3 years into this adventure, I moved from a modern, Jazz and ballet, [4] to training at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts. [2]  By the time I reached Nutmeg, the combination of a sports medicine background and hard work helped me develop the foundational flexibility required for advanced classical ballet training. 

This meant, as a 20 year old, I was able to change my body, enhance my flexibility, bone and articular level stability and function.  The importance of this story, for youth at all ages who are pursuing excellence in classical ballet training, is that there is hope with hard work, in an objective to reach your own personal potential in the most advanced technical movement mechanics training in the world.

Hip Range of Motion: Turnout

In the turned out position, the weight should fall from the body to the thigh and directly through the knee and ankle.  This distribution of weight can be achieved if the external rotation of the lower extremities occurs at the hip.

As a rule, external rotation of the foot should only occur to (1) the mechanical ability to track the knee cap  over the center line of the ankle and foot and (2) the center of gravity (vertical axis) 2 inches behind navel, dropping between the heels (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th).

Today, Pilates and Yoga are a popular focus for cross training in many ballet programs.  These programs are tremendous, as are a broad range of dance disciplines, such as modern, jazz and tap.   But in a classical ballet development program, it is critical that classical ballet specific flexibility and strength are developed to optimize, not impede progress.

If we stretch and strengthen the body in a parallel alignment, the body is trained to work in parallel.  This contributes to the challenge of classical ballet dancers working with parallel alignment, or turnout below the knees.

The following classical ballet specific stretches, target flexibility and joint range of motion objectives, that need to be achieved before every classical ballet technique class.

The Turnout Stretch

After a slow progressive warm-up, the turnout stretch should be executed slowly
, below a threshold of discomfort.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

The Lower legs are positioned at 90 degrees, ankle on top of lower leg (do not sickle foot). From a seated position stretch forward, flat back.  As the turned out femur moves toward the center line, or an over-crossed position, this represents your front extension toward 135 degrees (in regards to a turned out upper leg).  Lying back encompasses your range of motion in a standing turned out position.  Again, as the turned out upper leg moves toward the centerline, this represents your 5th position.

This stretch is your reference point for the degree of turnout that is being executed below the knee, if you are working from a fully turned out position in technique class.  If the upper leg only turns out to 45 degrees, then your alignment reflects a dancer with 45 degree turnout, even if you have perfect turnout below the knees.  Our 
objective is to be working to the fullest of our personal potential, with correct classical ballet alignment

Note: In the seated turnout stretch, the upper leg can be stabilized with a wrap or a Thera-Band, to assist the slow progressive stretch into the lying back position. 

All exercises need to be done slowly and below a threshold of discomfort.

Incorporating turnout into functional extensions

The objective to achieve a fully turned out front split, begins from the upper leg. The goal is to keep the hips square, with attitude (90 degrees lower leg), front and back, working progressively toward alignment of each fully turned out leg, through the centerline of the body.

From the attitude position, each leg is extended maintaining full rotation of the upper leg. Please note the difference between a fully rotated extended leg, and a parallel extended leg. 

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Be sure to work with correct classical ballet alignment, in each position and remember "If you can't execute correct alignment on the floor, you can't execute correct alignment at the barre."

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'air at 90 degrees

The following stretch sequence focuses on the range of motion required to execute Grand Rond de Jambe en l'air at 90 degrees.

Hips square, allowing pelvis to stretch toward the floor, with a fully turned out leg in the arabesque position.  In the front split, each leg would extend with full turnout or upper leg rotation.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Hips square, extend the back leg to arabesque, then rotate the leg through to the a la seconde position.  Smooth transitional movement encompasses the range of motion needed for grand ronde de jambe en'lair at 90 degrees.  

As a strength exercise, when warm, lift the leg off the ground
(arabesque, a la seconde)
and hold it there through the sequence.  

The next sequence is extension of the legs into the a la seconde or straddle split, flat back forward working toward legs at 180 degrees.  The next sequence is rotation through the hip complex, through the front split (hips square) on both sides.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Alignment of the Shoulder Complex

Postural alignment of the shoulder complex is one of the most neglected areas, second to hip turnout, in classical ballet training.

Correct upper extremity alignment is demonstrated when (1) the shoulder complex is held back and down, (2) head of the humorous stabilized as far behind the clavicular head as possible, (3) major muscle groups include concurrent contracture of the pectoral and latissimus muscles to stabilize the shoulder complex and stercliedomastoid muscle in the neck.

This alignment will result in a flat back position (non-winged scapulas) in port de bra positions,representing the optimal alignment and connection of the arms to the upper extremity.

Shoulder Stretch

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Photo Credit: Sports Medicine & Science Institute, 2013.

Range of motion of the shoulder complex is crucial for correct alignment of the upper extremity.  Holding a rigid band, rope or pole, position the hands wide enough (elbows rotated up in port de bra position) to allow a smooth transition overhead.  As the range of motion opens, bring the hands closer together.  The arms must be held straight, all movements executed with correct alignment.

Note: Olympic swimmers possess close to the mechanical ideal, demonstrating full functional range of motion of the shoulder complex. For dancers, Swan Lake or Swan Arms are a great reference point for
variant aesthetics.


1.  What Are They Doing Wrong?: Dance Magazine, July 20102. Url: http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/July-2012/What-Are-They-Doing-Wrong
Joint Health - The Evolution of Classical Ballet Based Biomechanics: UNArts: International Dancescience Development Program, 16 July 2012. Url: http://edancescience.org/ref/jointhealth7162012.html
Nutmeg Nuggets: Staying in peak condition: Register Citizen, Torrington, Connecticut, 13 June 2012. Url: http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2012/06/13/entertainment/doc4fd95a51ebe28806466056.txt
4. Lee Lund Dance Studio: Url: http://www.theleelundstudioofdance.com/faculty.html

Selected Bibliography

Agrippina Vaganova, Basic Principles of Classical Ballet, Dover, 1969 
Alfred A Knopf, The Classic Ballet, New York, 1984
Clinics In Sports Medicine, Injuries to Dancers ,Saunders 1983 
White-Panjabi, Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine, J.B. Lippincott, 1978 
Rosse-Clawson, The Musculo-Skeletal System in Health and Disease, Harper & Row, 1970 
Stanley Hoppenfeld, Physical Examination of the Spine and Extremities, Appleton, 1976 


Stephen M. Apatow
Founder of Humanitarian Resource Institute (UN:NGO:DESA), United Nations Arts Initiative, Pathobiologics International, and Sports Medicine & Science Institute International Dancescience Development Program.
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Sports Science: Professional and Academic Experience includes:

  • Academic: Exercise Physiology, Sports Medicine, Sabbatical 1984.
  • 1984-90: Full time training for ultra distance running, ultra-distance cycling, national & international level competition in cross country skiing and rowing.
  • 1985: Accepted to the national development camp for cycling, Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • 1986-89: Through the help of Tony Johnson, heavyweight rowing coach at Yale, began cross training sweep rowing and sculling with the New Haven Rowing Club.
  • Studied modern, jazz and ballet training at the Lee Lund Academy from 1985-88 and the Soviet System of Ballet Training at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts from 1986-89. Graduate of the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts Professional Program in 1989. 
  • 1987: Presentation at Rossignol Cross Country Ski Clinic, speakers included Bill Koch and Lyle Nelson coordinated by Mike Gallagher, (former Olympian and Olympic Cross-Country Ski Coach), Mountain Top Inn, Chittenden, Vermont.
  • Martial Arts: As a participant in the study of martial arts for over 20 years, classical ballet training provided a scientific method (utilizing a similar approach used in eastern bloc development programs) to optimize speed, strength, leverage mechanics, force generation and technique. Current training emphasis is Judo/Jujitsu. Founder: JudoSport International. 
  • Technical consultant for Cheryl Madeux, Finalist, Lausanne International Ballet Competition in 1990. 
  • Technical consultant for U.S. National Team athletes from Harvard University, members of World and Olympic Festival Teams. Sports applications include professional football, national level wrestling, hockey cross-country and downhill skiing, skating and martial arts. 
  • Speaker at 1990 Coaches Association Meeting for Sport Canada at the Olympic Complex in Ottawa, Canada. 
  • Upon request, applications of the analysis correction and retraining procedures to enhance the joint flexibility and technical performance for classical ballet training have been applied to musculo-skeletal disorders that include entrapment neuropathies, Scoliosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Asthma, Fibromyalgia, Frederick's Ataxia and Multiple Sclerosis. One of our cases with Rheumatoid Arthritis was submitted to the National Arthritis Foundation Peer Review Board in 1990. Analysis and corrective procedures have been adapted to help spinal herniations for physicians at Yale Medical School. 
  • Small animal veterinary application of human biomechanics procedures leads to work with hundreds of horses in dressage, hunter-jumper and western training programs. (See: Expanding Human to Veterinary Biomechanics Applications)
  • 1994-98: Corrective procedures developed to enhance the technical ability of the international level dancer in ballet were adapted into dressage and hunter-jumper specific training programs for both horse and rider. This work was formally introduced as an equestrian development program at the USDF Adult Camp in Boise, ID in 1997. In 1998, the USDF Region V Adult Camp in Jackson Wyoming provided USDF University Credit for the lecture presentation on "Biomechanics and Structural Analysis of Both Horse and Rider." 
  • 1999: Presenter at Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • 1999 - Present: Research and development of programs associated with the optimization of classical ballet training, Olympic development programs and specialized orthopedic applications.
  • 2002 International Sports Science Association Fitness Therapist Review: The Science and Practice of Rehabilitative Exercise integrate theory and practice in the health care arena. This specialized field utilizes information from the world of rehabilitation, pathology, functional anatomy and physiology and blends it with the world of fitness training dealing with aerobic conditioning strength training, skill development, exercise progression and prescription for special population groups. 
  • 2003: "Optimization of Classical Ballet and Sports Development Programs" workshop was introduced at the 11 state American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) Combined Convention on February 12, 2003 in Reno-Sparks, Nevada.
  • Currently on faculty at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts, director of the International Dancescience Development Program.  Consultancy work with all sports and Olympic development programs continues through JudoSport International, encompasses classical ballet based biomechanics training through  martial arts based technical skill development.


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