Q: I've just seen the most extreme case of hyperextension I've encountered in 30 years of teaching. When the dancer stands in second position, her knees are only a few inches apart. How can I help her have a beautiful line without hurting herself?
A: Hyperextended lines are revered and desired, yet research shows that extreme hyperextension puts great strain on the knee ligaments, making them more vulnerable to injuries. I generally tell dancers they should only hyperextend when their leg is non–weight-bearing—this will give them that gorgeous arabesque or développé line. It's during standing and weight-bearing positions that problems most often occur.
Here are my suggestions for your student:
1. She needs to strengthen the muscles around the hip—especially the glutes and hamstrings.
2. She needs to stop pushing into her knee flexibility—that means no oversplits. She should try to catch herself standing in hyperextension outside of dance class, and correct herself to stand in neutral with the joints of the lower leg in line with each other. No slumping and sitting into her hips. As her teacher, encourage her to bring her heels closer together in first position than what feels comfortable. With her extreme hyperextension, even if her heels are an inch or two apart, bringing them closer together will vastly improve her alignment and decrease the potential for injury.