Have you ever heard a dance instructor tell one of her students to get lower or get your knee over your toes? Sounds easy, but it may not always be the case. These types of dancers may not physically be able to get lower due to either strength deficits or lack of mobility or flexibility.
The end result is a tall dancer who bends more at the waist or hips instead of getting low enough by bending the knees and the ankles to get a strong, powerful stride.
Dancers spend most of their dancing time with our feet pointed, known as plantar flexion. Because of the amount of time they spend with feet pointed, the result may be an imbalance in our ankle mobility and limited range of motion when a dancer’s foot is in dorsiflexion, or flexed. The ankle joint and a lack of mobility can severely affect dancing. In the last year, I have run into numerous professional and amateur dancers who have injured their ankle and never regained the mobility which is affecting their stride and dance mechanics. The ankle does not have to be injured to lose mobility.
Mobility in the ankle is the range of motion in the joint both weighted and unweighted and with the knee straight and bent. In healthy dancers, this mobility can be restricted by tight muscles in the calves. This can be due to recent growth spurts, an increase in intensity in office training such as running or jumping or just body type.
So how do you know if your ankle mobility is restricted? A simple test is to place your foot flat on the ground and pointing forward with your toes approximately three inches from the wall. You should be able to squat down a bit, bending your ankle forward (dorsiflexion) and touch your knee to the wall without lifting your heel or your ankle rolling inward. In this position, the front leg which is being tested, should have some weight on it and you should be able to bend down and forward getting the knee over the toes. Check both sides and look for symmetry. If you are unable to perform this easily, you may have limited ankle mobility.
Why is it important for a dancer to have improved range of motion in their ankles?
Decreased risk of injury
Peak mobility – better movement in your ankles for footwork patterns
Optimal stability – more stability = improved power
If you have failed the test mentioned above, there are a few simple things you can do to improve your ankle stability.
- First, use a foam roll or lacrosse ball and roll out your calves from your Achilles all the way up to your knee to loosen the soft tissue. Then repeat the testing procedure, also known as ankle rocks ten times pausing each time you have rocked forward.
2. Add a calf stretch as well by placing your foot flat on the ground behind you with a straight leg, feeling the stretch up higher this time. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds.
3. Repeat these steps three times daily on the road to increased ankle mobility and better, more graceful dance moves.
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