Hey ABE readers, guess what? Guest post. I think this book is really relevant to ballet dancers both professional and training. Sometimes we get lost in our work and sometimes we don’t know where to turn, or you just want a good read… So here is my friend Andrews new book.
“Hey! My name’s Andrew Kendall, a friend of David’s, and 2017 was a life changing year in which a sixteen year old dream was realized—I published my first book. I know that ballet can be a very demanding field. And with demand can often come darkness. In The Dark Dictionary I offer advice to not only combat your inner darkness, but to alter your mindset in such a way that you bring to light the kind of awareness that has the ability to change your life. And when we think about it long enough we’re able to realize that there’s always light in the dark—always a silver lining to discover in the midst of both your creative process and dedication to the art. In a way our minds are a mirror, reflecting back to us our deepest desires or worst nightmares, but when it’s the latter it’s never too late to discover that we no longer have to be a slave it to anymore. With a new year almost upon us, most us of will be looking to start the year of right—with a mindset strong enough to conquer anything thrown our way. If this is you I hope you’ll check out my book. If you ever feel lost, which most of us do, I believe that we are always much stronger than we believe—a message I truly hope to convey within every page.” – Andrew Kendall, author of The Dark Dictionary
There is so much pressure in ballet when it comes to weight. But the stereotype isn’t just for women/girls. There is a ton of pressure for men/boys to also have the right body proportions. From obsessive workouts to the right muscle tone, weight is constantly being evaluated. I think the first time I really became paranoid about weight was when I was measured for my first custom ballet costume. This paranoia was reinforced when I had to fit into another person’s ballet costume. And the third time was when a teacher made a remark that was something along the line of, “Aren’t Asians supposed to be super skinny?” Yup. This was only supported by teachers making general comments like, “Someone ate dessert last night.” While walking around the room. Or, “You probably had too much for dinner since you can’t close your fifth.” And for some reason that became normal.
Naturally, I am not built super thin, I am barrel chested and have broad shoulders. My body also puts weight on really fast. I can literally gain weight just by looking at cake, Just kidding. But, seriously, what I eat the day before drastically effects my body. So, unfortunately, like most dancers who feel the pressure of weight control, I did the most stupid thing anyone can do. I started skipping meals and when need be, purging. When a ballet that required white tights came around… the eating habits would get worse and worse. Still, to this day we don’t really talk about weight or nutrition, though it has gotten better, the pressure to be the right body still exists. Whether schools verbally enforce this or not, it is seen by who they accept and who is employed by a company. And for me, it became an obsession. When my Aunt who was a nurse asked me about my weight, I just said that I was working out really hard. A friend commented on my clavicles and ribs showing through my chest and I just said it was because I did a high amount of cardio. So, I started wearing oversized clothes and multiple layers, avoided photos, and then just said it was “genetics”. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t like withering away, I was still strong enough to lift girls and dance through ballet. I was just managing my weight the wrong way.
Back in the day, which wasn’t that long ago, they didn’t give you the resources needed to get it under control. Or at least propose healthy eating. At best we had the Dancer’s Body Book by Allegra Kent, which is horrible… Published in the 80’s, this book really was the only “dancer diet” resource available. The diet is restricting and really only geared towards petite naturally thin women.
What they didn’t tell you, is that by starving yourself, you mess up your metabolism, your kidneys, your skin and your overall health.
Even after my ballet career ended, weight was a big paranoia for me. At first, I would eat everything in sight. Literally. But, the minute I saw myself gaining weight the paranoia set in again. Additionally, I joined the world of fashion, and at the time it was trendy for men to be underweight and the trend manorexic was in. So, I made sure to stay underweight at all costs; smoking, cutting meals, and cardio. It wasn’t until CJ pulled me aside at the club and said, “I can see your ribs and spine through the back of your shirt.” My response was an unhealthy, “Oh that’s good, that’s normal. I thought you were going to say I had a hole in my shirt or you hated my outfit.” Around the same time, I noticed I was getting major headaches, having body issues, and was constantly tired. This led to a slew of health problems, some permanent.
So, I started putting on weight and being healthy.
When my dad passed away I put on a ton of weight, over time almost 50 pounds pushing me over, much over, the 200-pound mark. It really hit me when my doctor marked me as obese on my 2015 physical. At the same time, I started this blog and the Instagram and created the character fat panda. One, to avoid writing using photos of myself, and Two turning overweight into something funny.
I got my weight under control but still wasn’t happy with how much weight I actually still had on me… don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be my ballet weight skinny (125), but I wanted to be in a good weight category. (Mind you I stand at 5’10 and a half”)
It’s been a process, starting back in March on my 30th birthday… I mean you all know. I started going back to ballet classes and the gym. It has been a process, but I can finally say I am back to a normal healthy weight. It has taken 7 months, and the process has been slow.
I went from being a 27″ to a 34″, and now to a 30″. I went from being an extra small shirt to a large, and now I am back to a small, but prefer a medium. But finally, in a place where I am comfortable… I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy, and I messed my body type up completely while dancing and constantly feeling the pressure of weight. I am not writing this for an applause, but simply to remind everyone that weight, body dysmorphia, and ballet pressures are real issues, even for boys and men. And, that there are major long-term consequences for taking shortcuts and giving into the pressures of the ideals.
The obvious answer is yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ridiculous and silly. Everyone goes on and on about if you should hyperextend your knees or if you shouldn’t hyperextend and blah blah blah. The answer is pretty obvious at looking at any ballet photo or video. Now, to be a little more precise, there is a right way, and there is DEFINITELY a wrong way to hyperextend.
The Pros of Hyperextension:
Hyperextension makes for prettier lines
Makes the leg look higher in extensions
More precise shapes.
The Cons of Hyperextension:
Prone to injury in weaker dancers
A smaller center of gravity
So, for a quick look at hyperextension: usually in ballet, when talking about hyperextension it is usually talking about the knees. Hypermobility usually refers to the back. Hyperextension occurs when the knees are pushed too far back, usually from over-stretching of the ligaments. Because of this, the Posterior cruciate ligament is prone to injury. The PCL is the strongest ligament in the knee and is pretty crucial for a ballet dancer. Hyperextension also causes weak external rotator muscles, which can cause rolling and if your are rolling in your foot out of a jump, you can sprain your ankle or hurt your knee. With that being said, anything in ballet can cause an injury.
But, hyperextension is sought after in post preprofessional dancers. Companies and school directors look for potential body types, and hyperextension is one of those things.
If you are gifted with hyperextension, don’t look at it as a curse (trust me, girls would kill to be hyperextended). There are plenty of ways to maintain and control hyperextension. When over stretching, don’t overstretch by putting pressure on your knee. Like putting your leg on a chair. Lay on gymnastic mats or anything lifted 8-12 inches off the floor and stretch on your back. Yes, your arms have to do some of the work, but let gravity take you backward instead of gravity pulling your body weight onto your knees.
Get into pilates twice a week. Whether you are doing it on your own for 45 minutes or getting into mat or reformer classes, pilates will be your maintenance.
At the barre, avoid locking back and shifting into the back of your knee. Keep your weight pressed forward in the balls of your feet and maintain that throughout barre exercises.
Lengthen don’t grip. Hyperextension usually causes dancers to lock back in their legs, causing the quads to grip. If you the weight is shifted properly and the energy is spiraling down through the leg, it maintains the support the knee needs.
There is a point of too much hyperextension, and until you are Misty Copeland or Lia Cirio and have mastered the control of your legs, avoid working in an over extended first position. In fact, avoid it. When you have the hyperextension like these two ladies, you have to become extremely aware of your legs and your rotation.
I’ve also noticed girls with hyperextended legs wear their legs out quicker throughout a class. Work smartly. Be conscious of when you are working, as you must constantly be working on maintaining the tension in your legs and they aren’t just flopping around, and you use your quads to compensate.
Finally, girls with hyperextension usually have a harder time trying to turn. In these situations, don’t hyperextend, even if you feel like your knee is bent. When you hyperextend your standing leg, the bend causes your center of gravity to shift. So, you have to move your pelvis and center of gravity over the arch of your foot. By strengthening this idea, and putting it onto your body will allow for a stronger, more heightened sense of where your center of gravity.
Hope this helps & here are some videos of gorgeous hyperextension of ballet…