Q: I've made the transition from ballet to modern and have noticed an alarming decrease in ankle stability when on relevé. I assume this is due to a loss of ankle strength. What kinds of exercises are best for strengthening my ankles to alleviate this problem?
A: Modern dance often asks you to control your ascent and descent from relevé in odd positions and postures, unlike in ballet where you typically are going from a pointed foot, stepping up into piqué or going straight from a plié to a relevé. I suggest that you first practice balancing on one foot (in parallel and in turnout) while turning your head and doing simple port de bras. As your balance becomes better with that variation, add in cambré and bends with the upper body for more of a challenge. Try timing yourself and balancing on one foot for up to three minutes at a time. You'll be amazed at how long three minutes can feel when on one foot!
After some successful flat-footed balancing exercises, begin to challenge yourself doing single-leg rises with the balls of your feet on the step of a stair, or on a thick book. Allow your heel to lengthen below the book or stair and then slowly rise into relevé, sometimes with a straight leg, sometimes rising from the smallest of pliés. Do both legs separately, and notice how many it takes to begin to feel tired. I don't think it is asking too much to work toward doing 20 relevés without much fatigue. Please pay attention to how you are rising: Remember that you want to keep the weight evenly balanced on the foot between the second and third toes, avoiding pronation or supination.