Health & Body

Ask Deb: What Exercises Are Useful to Strengthen Ankles?

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Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?


A: Your student needs to begin her recovery process by retraining her nervous system to find center at the ankle joint. The human body immediately compensates after an injury, which, in turn, inhibits balance. Therefore, balance is essential to the rehab process. If we don't take the time to retrain the musculature around the joint through balancing, the body will continue to act in a compensatory pattern.

First, have her start by balancing on one foot while making sure she's not sinking into her hip. Try this first with her standing leg in parallel, and then later have her move into a slightly turned-out position. Direct her to toss a ball between her hands while balancing for one to three minutes. (When I was training gymnasts, I would make them do this on the balance beam, so our dancers have it easy!)

When she gets good at balancing for three minutes on one leg, challenge her nervous system by having her stand on a moveable surface, such as a sofa cushion or her bed.

The leg muscles that fatigue first indicate weakness and/or tightness. By continuing to do the balancing exercises, you will strengthen and retrain the muscles that were injured. This exercise is just as important as strengthening through relevés or working with a TheraBand.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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