Teaching Tips

Ask Deb: How Do I Get My Students to Really Engage Their Abdominals?

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Q: I tell my ballet students to pull up the front of their abdominals, but when I put my hand on their stomachs, I don't feel anything. What can I do?


A: Even when dancers do daily abdominal exercises, it doesn't necessarily mean they will use them efficiently. Too many students engage their abdominals so fiercely, it's as if they have put an invisible belt around their waists and cinched it closed. When they need to take a deep breath, they lose their abdominal support entirely.

Take five minutes to explore the sensation of the deep core when it's turned on and working. Have your students start on their hands and knees with a flat back. Ask them to slowly peel one hand off and then place it back down again without shifting at all. As they do this, they will sense that their abdominals are supportive and staying flat. Remind them that this won't be a big sensation.

Next, have your dancers stand and imagine lacing up their abdominals as they do their shoes. Have them place one hand below the belly button so they can feel the abdominal wall drawing up and inward. Their other hand should be just below the sternum where the ribs come together in front. The area just below the sternum should be relatively soft so they can continue to breathe easily while they are using their abdominals. This should not feel like a strong contraction. Then, have your students walk around the room for at least two minutes while maintaining the upright, neutral pelvis and long spine. That is how we should walk all the time.

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