Small Space Strength and A Floor Barre
By Amber Tacy
You’re a dedicated dancer and understand that your technique never takes a break. However, when training and working out at home thanks to virtual classes, you’ve likely kicked, bumped into, or knocked over something on every surface of your home you might be feeling a touch of frustration. Additionally, your roommates might have expressed their displeasure at your venture to dance in shared spaces… particularly when they see your feet atop the kitchen counter.
Not to worry!
Here are a few simple solutions for getting stronger and improving your technique within a small or limited space.
First, let’s focus on small space strength exercises. Even though you can’t get in a studio or to the gym there are still plenty of opportunities to get stronger that don’t require equipment, space, or impact.
Bulgarian Split Squats: I love this exercise for a few reasons. By putting one leg in front of the other and elevating the back foot (like on a sofa or coffee table), the split squat works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings of the front leg while stretching the quad and hip flexors of the back leg. This means the front leg is working through extension and flexion; an important aspect of power and stability when prepping for a pirouette or jump. The back leg, hip flexors, and quads is getting a healthy dose of active mobility and your core is firing to keep you from wobbling or falling.
Try 3 sets of 10-12/leg with 60 seconds rest after doing both sides.
- Incline Push-up: An incline pushup is an elevated form of a traditional pushup. Your upper body is elevated perhaps on the edge of a sofa or side of your bed. Push-ups help strengthen your chest, arms, back and will help you with an improved posture. It will also strengthen your core and help you balance better in and out of dance classes. This means better port de bras, sharper arm movement, and reduced risk of injury.
Try 4 sets of 8-10 with 30-60 seconds rest in between.
- Glute Bridge: The Glute Bridges exercise is an effective way to strengthen the hips and glutes. Squeeze your bum and abdominal muscles then lift your hips off the ground until knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Strong glutes are essential for stability, higher jumps, and softer landings.
Try 3 sets of 10-15 with 30-40 seconds of rest after each set.
Clam Shell: Lie on your side, with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to steady your frame. Be sure that your hip bones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to rock backward. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground. The focus here is on your turn out muscles. If you want improved turnout, sharper fouettes, and improved balance the clamshell is your bff.
Try 3 sets of 20 per leg with 30 seconds rest after both sides.
I recommend incorporating these moves into your routine two to three times a week. If something starts to feel easy you can get creative with adding weights or resistance. Some options include slowing down and going at half speed or adding pauses, this is called “time under tension” and it’s great for stronger muscles, enhanced muscular control, and even improved bone mineral density.
Now that the strength portion of your at-home, small space routine is covered, what can you do to maximize your actual dance technique?
A floor barre is a perfect tool!
Floor barre is a low-impact and safe way to utilize your limited space and improve your dance technique without the risk of injuring yourself or breaking that precariously placed antique vase.
Just like any dance class, it is important to warm up effectively before starting a floor barre. Make sure your warmup includes spinal mobility, hips, and a foot warmup. It is also important to include some activation exercises for core, turnout, inner thighs and intrinsic foot muscles.
Some mobility exercises you may want to include in your warm-up are:
-Cat-cows on your hands and knees
-Thread the needle
-Kneeling hip flexor stretch
-Figure four stretch
Additionally, I’d recommend some gentle leg circles, side-lying clams, glute-bridge, dead bugs and, of course, pointing and flexing your feet.
All of this should be performed before even beginning your floor barre in order to set yourself up for success.
Once warm, start by lying flat on your back, place your legs extended in front of you, energy shooting out the heels. This should allow for the alignment of your legs to replicate a normal standing posture.
- Your spine should be in neutral, meaning you maintain a small curve in your lower back, but maintain a closed ribcage. Hello, abs!
- Using your deep turnout muscles slowly turn your feet into 1st position. Since you’re lying down, there will be no cheating your turnout from the knees and you should be able to feel your external rotators in your hips firing.
- Hold for 5 seconds in 1st position focusing on maintaining your maximum turnout range. Return slowly to parallel. Repeat 10 times.
- When your hips feel some heat, begin to bend your knees to draw your heels towards your backside as if you’re performing a demi plie.
- Then stretch back out to your fully extended position. Repeat your plies through each position, just like you would if you were standing.
The benefit here comes from working your turnout with gravity and avoiding the habit of “cheating” turnout from your knees.
Next, just like at a regular barre, work your way through tendus. Working against gravity here will increase the heat with your quads and help establish and maintain stability within your core and glutes.
As former Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet Darcey Bussell acknowledges in her book, Dance Body Workout, the floor provides perfect support and helps protect one’s back from injury, allowing you to perform the exercises correctly and to find a better range of movement than standing up (Bussel, 2007).
Floor barre starts off with slower moves and gradually advances to faster and more complicated ones. The repetition of the exercises helps to warm up every joint and muscle. Floor barre is perfect for conditioning because it targets the abdominals, the glutes, thighs, calves, and arms.
Once you’ve made your way through your tendu combinations, you’ll work on ron de jambes and battements.
It’s here that you’ll be able to work with the forces of gravity as you bring your leg upward and then resist as you lower your leg back down to the floor. This means you’ll likely experience higher, more explosive movement while being able to focus on that slow, controlled lowering that your dance teacher suggests each class.
In this way, you’ll also be able to move without the further worry of space as everything is self-contained within the confines of your mat. Feel free to practice battements while lying flat on your back or challenge yourself and try them lying on your side or stomach. You’ll be amazed at how easily you're able to finally access and engage your supporting and stabilizing muscles.
Don’t feel like your floor work needs to end there; frappes, developes, and port de bras can all be incorporated to your floor barre.
Fouette-type movement, beats, even practicing changing direction while in a pirouette-position are all doable and safe when performing a floor barre.
So if your home isn’t built for your dance needs and those you live with demand that precious heirlooms remain intact, it is still completely possible to gain strength and remain structured in your training.
You have the power to use spatial limitations, as a means to expand your mind. Your roommates, downstairs neighbors, and technique will all give a standing ovation for adding these strengthening exercises into your quarantine routine.
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