Dance Teacher Tips
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Q: How can I improve my middle splits?

A: Middle splits can be quite challenging depending on your hip structure. Sitting in a straddle and leaning forward, as well as having your legs in a straddle against the wall, are both stretches that dancers can do to lengthen the inner thigh muscles.

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Dancer Health
Ashley Wegman, Atlanta Ballet; courtesy of the author

Working as the physical therapist for the Atlanta Ballet, Amanda Blackmon often sees dancers who report hip pain, high hamstring strain or sacroiliac sensitivity and soreness. And while there are a host of reasons for such pains, including the often discussed gripped glute and hip flexor muscles, there is one overlooked culprit: dysfunction in the pelvic floor muscles. Though pelvic floor health has become a hot topic for women postpartum who often need to strengthen weakened and compromised muscles, there is a different set of concerns when it comes to athletes and dancers. "I often see a hypertonic pelvic floor," says Blackmon, "meaning the muscles are overactive or gripped and tight. Also, the obturator internus muscle is an external rotator that is also part of the pelvic floor. When that is gripped (particularly in turnout), it can refer pain to several places around the hip and high hamstring."

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Dance Teachers Trending
Jennings and her students on set for "We Are the Future." Photo courtesy of Jennings

The harrowing school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this past February evoked an inspiring amount of youth activism as students across the country protested gun violence. Knowing the power dance can have on social issues, and wanting her students to use their talents to spread a positive message, Club Dance Studio teacher Chelsea Jennings choreographed and produced "We Are the Future," a dance video that has gone viral on YouTube. The dancers dressed in orange to honor 14-year-old dancer and Parkland shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg (whose favorite color was orange), and held signs with messages like: "Over 150 children have died in school shootings since 1999" and "I don't want to be another statistic."

"It's important for teachers to educate their dancers on more than just dance, but life skills as well," Jennings says. "I want my dancers to see they are capable of bringing positivity into the lives of others. A simple conversation, a compliment or even just being there for someone can make a difference. This video was to remind people to be kind."

GO-TO ENERGY BOOSTER

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"I'm a major coffee addict. I have a double shot of espresso from Starbucks in the afternoon during my typical 10- to 12-hour teaching days. I also have a bag of almonds, a protein bar and fruit in my bag to snack on, while I teach."

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Dancer Health
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I have a dancer who has a very tight back. She can't even touch her toes. She says it doesn't hurt, but she feels no stretch. I am able to push her back down further (with no pain for her), but she just can't do it on her own. How can I help her? —Anna

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Dancer Health
Deborah Vogel is a neuromuscular educator and director of The Body Series. Here, she works with Mariah Aivazis. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Turnout—the outward rotation of the hips that dancers are constantly striving to improve. Yet few actually have the 180-degree outward rotation that is so idealized. In her 40-plus years of working as a movement analyst, Deborah Vogel has only come across a handful of dancers who have it. "That's structural," she says. "They have a shallow hip socket, so the head of the thighbone can move in a greater range. The rotation at the hip for the general population, though, is 90 degrees—about 45 degrees in each direction."

Although a dancer's range of motion depends on her structure, Vogel says she can still improve her turnout. "They're not going to get to 180. But if they have good muscle balance, they can improve their ability to stand in greater than 90-degree turnout."

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Dancer Health
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When I am lying down on my back with my feet together and knees apart and press down on my knees, my hips pop. It feels really good. However, now when my hips don't pop, they hurt, and my lower back starts to hurt as well. What do I do to get them to pop, and is it even healthy?

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Dancer Health
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I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

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Just for fun
The multitalented Merritt Moore (photo by James Glader, courtesy Moore)

For the past decade, Merritt Moore has been living a double life as both a professional ballerina and a quantum physicist. While dancing with Zurich Ballet and Boston Ballet, she received her undergrad degree from Harvard in physics, and she's currently pursuing a PhD in quantum physics at Oxford while performing with English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet.

Now, Moore is hoping to add another ball to her juggling act: becoming an astronaut. She's one of 12 contestants competing on the BBC reality show " Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?" For six weeks, Moore and her competitors face a series of demanding physical and psychological challenges to see if they're astronaut material. (Show mentor Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station, will recommend the winner to space agencies recruiting for astronauts.) Even in a cast of extremely accomplished people—the contestants include a military pilot, a surgeon, and a dentist who has summited Mount EverestMoore's unusual combination of skills stands out.

We leveled with the renaissance woman about how she's managed to pursue all her different passions.

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