The 'Ballet' Rise Exercise
Let’s dispense with a few misnomers right out of the gate. 1.) Balance is not the same thing as Stability. 2.) Balance is a component of Stability. 3.) Your stability is generated via 3 very different mechanisms that are all connect via your nervous system. And so that we’re clear on this one, one of them is not your ‘core‘, and anyone that tells you different is either lying through their eye-teeth, or doesn’t understand anatomy and physiology of the human body. Truth be told, your ‘core‘ muscles have absolutely nothing to do with stability. Nada. Zip. Zero.
A Ballet Rise is an exercise that every Tango dancer should be familiar with before they put on a pair of heels as either a lead or a follow, it does not matter. The exercise is designed specifically to strengthen your very, very, very weak muscles and more importantly the tendons around the first 5 metatarsals of your foot. For some people that walk in heels all day long, those tendons will be a bit stronger than some, but not always. The tendons that surround the 5 Metatarsals are the weakest for a variety of reasons, and for some people they never bother to strengthen them mostly because no one tells them that they need to do so, and as a direct result of the lack of work (read that as exercise) that they’re not doing, they’ll end up with weak tendons, and thereby unable to hold a walking or articulated foot position, or they’ll land improperly and not be able to recover from it, and or the more common of the affectations is clear and present lack of stability. This singular exercise is quite possibly the single most important exercise that they will ever need to do. And yes, believe or not, they do not know how to do this. But you’re a smart person, right ? You know how to do this, right ? Right ? Hmmmm, well just as a refresher you should watch the teaser video above to refresh your memory.
Truthfully when this topic comes up for students, they make a few very important and key errors. Not the least of which is going too fast. This exercise isn’t about speed. Speed teaches and strengthens nothing. This is about going slow. Very slow. The slower, the better!
What is a ‘Ballet Rise‘? It is where the feet are placed together in what Tango Topics calls ‘Social Collection’, with the first metatarsals touching, and the heels touching. With one’s feet firmly planted on the floor, and the weight distributed slightly forward from the arch towards the metatarsals, and just forward of them. The dancer would rise their body upwards just using the the metatarsals in what is called a ‘relevé‘. This is done SLOWLY, on an 8 count. Very slowly. The slower, the better. And then, slowly down on an 8 count. This is one ballet rise. Theoretically one would do 10 of these each morning. The video above shows you what an Ballet Rise is. Please go watch.
Difficulty Rating: (2.5 / 5) It should be noted that some people will have difficulty with this practice for a variety of reasons, most notably that the muscles and tendons that are used in this practice aren’t strong enough. Further one may still have issues with their equilibrium as well, which has nothing to do with the muscular or tendon strength that is required here. So it’s important to recognize that a few things have to happen here. One of which is a little time and a little patience, and two after about 3 weeks of doing this every morning right after you get up one of two things should start to happen. 1.) You’re able to do this with some difficulty. or 2.) You’re still not able to do this yet. If it’s the latter of the two, then there are equilibrium issues that need to be addressed before going any further. 😉
From a Following perspective, you have your work cut out for you. Your stability is directly related to 2 things. 1.) How you place your foot on the floor, and your proprioceptive abilities. Meaning how and what you sense around you without looking. What makes things challenging for you is your Lead. 9 times out of 10, they’re compressing the embrace (squeezing the living daylights out of you because no one has told them to stop doing it), and/or squeezing your right hand and then using your right arm as if it were a joystick, thereby compromising you and your stability. And when that’s not happening, they’re usually rushing from vocabulary choice to vocabulary choice not really completing one idea nor the next. 🙁 And then blaming you for not keeping up. Compounding the problem are you in your pretty 3 in. heels that you were forced into almost immediately when you weren’t really ready for them at all. And that seemingly were devised by a madman (actually they go back as far as the 8th or 9th centuries to the Persian horse riders as a way to stay in stirrups, and then there’s the rumor/history of a danish king that used them to stand above his court and subjects but that’s another topic that’s already been covered in Tango Truism 809 – Volume 2). Still another compound problem is that the surface area of the heel is 40% of a normal shoe and you’re supposed to instantly master your stability in these things while at the same time, turning, disassociating, applying that disassociation (erroneously thought of as a ‘pivot‘), and at the same time appearing elegant, and on/in time to what is being ‘led’, all while in the embrace of a Lead that can barely walk that’s blaming you for all of their screw ups. Yup. Tall task. Good luck with that!
From a Leading perspective, your ability to control your next steps and ultimately your next vocabulary choice is quite literally based on just how stable you are. The more stable you are, the easier it is to pull off whatever it is you want. That stability can be impacted by any number of things, foot placement, foot position, lateral foot orientation, the floor itself, knee position, an embrace that is compressive (yours and your follower’s), and a follower that is hanging on you, just to name a few. In the end you must learn how to compensate for all of these things (and one of those compensations is a slight bit of knee compression – a micro bend). Your forward steps while appearing ‘elegant‘ must also be very stable, you must learn to balance these things against each other. What makes this stuff even more challenging is that you have another human being in front of you that has their own issues going on that you must learn to ‘hear‘/’feel‘, and then learn to negate those issues (one by one) while at the same time maintaining forward momentum, good posture, while in time to the music, and all without pushing, pulling, or using resistance in any way, shape, or form so that the Follower can ‘float‘ within the construct of the embrace. 🙂 Tall order ? Yup. You didn’t think this was going to be easy did you ? And in case you’re wondering, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what makes a ‘good’ dancer good!
The Dancing Fact is that most of these things are related to one thing and one thing only…how the dancer places their foot in contact with the floor. Note the nomenclature: ‘dancer‘. Not ‘Lead‘ (the person), Not, ‘Follower‘. No. ‘Dancer‘. Got it ? This is a gender, and really role agnostic reality that a good portion of you lot need to get your heads around. There are certain motions that are very common to both roles, and this is one of them, stability is a problem for both roles. So consequently what works for one role in terms of exercises, works for the other as well!
Quite honestly your stability can be controlled through a series of confined exercises that, if done daily, will greatly improve control of your weight transfers regardless of role, age, height, or weight! Although shedding more than a few pounds will probably do wonders for you in the long run as well.
The Ballet Rise Exercise ? One exercise that comes to mind that can help you control and contain your stability is The ‘Ballet‘ Rise Exercise. It is so named because it comes from 1st position of Ballet. However, it borrows heavily from a guiding Tango idea: Collection! The exercise is seemingly easy at first but quickly you realize that you’re going to be very unstable the first few times you try it. Truthfully you’re going to wobble, you’re going to waiver, you’re going to ‘shaky’ and uncontrolled in the beginning (read that as a few days if not weeks). However in the long run it really does a wonder on your achilles tendon, as well as the 5 metatarsals (the bones of the foot) and their related tendons, as well as the phalanges (the bones of the toes) and their tendons. Talk about a humdinger of an exercise that will blow your mind ? This is the bomb! And the best part is that you can do this by yourself, as much or as little as you want, whenever you want. Standing in line, talking to someone, anywhere. You don’t need to go to the studio, you don’t need to go anywhere. You can do this in the comfort of your own home.
Reality. The exercise does not come without some warnings like if you’ve had surgery on an Achilles Tendon, or you have chronic Plantar Fasciitis, check with your Doctor or Physical therapist before you do this kind of work. It would be a real bummer if you had to stop dancing altogether because you have ruptured or injured your tendons! So don’t just jump right in and think that you’re good to go. If you have these issues, then check before you jump, ok ? Otherwise, read on. Still another reality is that when starting out with the ‘rise‘, it’s important that we not overdo it. So a good practice is to perform the exercise on an 8 count very slowly, 10 times. One 8 count up, and one 8 Count down…is one repetition. Doing it more than once in a day is counter productive. So it’s best to do this first thing in the morning and then to let it go. There’s no reason to do it more than that. Unless you’re feeling like you didn’t get your reps in for the day, in which case…go do. Still another reality is that more in this case is not better, the effect is cumulative, not iterative. Meaning the more that you do is not going to improve you. This work is done over time, typically a 30 day period of time at minimum.
The key to this work is really the speed at which this is done: Slower is better. This isn’t about powering through this, but rather slow and patient, mindful work! The goal of this work is to build up strength, endurance, and control. And you will learn nothing through speed! Control is not gained through powering through something but rather slow and patient understanding of this process. One more key, it is important that you not lock out your knees during this exercise. You actually want a ‘micro’ bend to them!
The Benefits ? The benefits of this exercise will take time to show up. It’s not going to magically happen over night. Get used to that fact. This exercise requires patience, practice, and persistence to see the benefits. And quite honestly just because you do this a few times, nothing is going to magically change in your dance. Nothing. The exercise must performed religiously every. single. day. before you start your day! The benefits will be felt gradually, and in specific how your foot comes in contact with the floor. You’ll feel a bit more control, a bit more stability and a bit more as if you can do what you want with very little effort. That’s because you’re building up the strength in the tendons around the bones in question. Something you quite honestly don’t use all that often in quite this way. This exercise forces you to use those tendons in new and expansive ways that you will end up using in tango whether or not you realize it or not. One benefit is that you will finally be able to control that super enrosque that you want, or an over-rotation because the muscles of the foot have been strengthened for you to effectively hold your weight. Whereas prior to this work, you would fall out of the rotation or enrosque! Still another benefit is that you’ll be able to hold a backstep for a few seconds longer without wobbling, or a forward step without needing to hold onto your Follower for stability! See there’s that word again, stability! In short, control the foot, and you control the application of your stability! Oh and before we forget, so the 3 things above that control your stability ? 1.) Your feet. 2.) Your inner ear. 3.) Your cerebellum! Your ‘balance’ is an affectation of your inner ear, not (for the love of christ) your ‘core’, please stop repeating that lie.
Watch It On Youtube ? Why should you pay for this video, or subscribe to this website when stuff like this is available on Youtube ? Because what you’ll find on Youtube doesn’t explain and walk you through the how this stuff works! That’s why!
So, please, go right ahead, go watch all the presentation videos on youtube all you want. Because that’s what they are ‘Presentation’ videos. The couple’s that you’re used to seeing are performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’. So please, go spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out. Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher! (ahem) ME! The goal of youtube videos is to entice you to go study with those teachers in person. The goal of these videos is allow you to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space, so that you can play them over and over again to improve your understanding of the vocabulary or technique being described to therefore better your dancing experience. The goal of classes and workshops is to get you to come back over and over and over again, thereby spending more money with that teacher. This website and the videos under it are here to act as a resource for you to help you to improve your dance. Pay once and be done with it.
Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique.
In an hour long class, with the blind leading the blind through rotation of partners (uuuggggh!), you may glean a piece of the information you need and not get the whole thing, and you’ll miss important pieces that you’ll end up having to take a private lesson for to get the finer points. This way, you can watch over and over again, and get all the supplementary materials, and if you want you can still go take the class, only you’ll be better prepared to do so!
The Last Word. Tango Topics is little reminders and snippets of information that your teachers would have told you about but didn’t have time to or didn’t care to remind you for the umpteenth millionth time. Do you need videos like these ? Yes. Why ? Simple…you need as many reminders as possible in as many forms as you can get. In today’s Tango world it does take a village to raise a dancer. And that means having as many voices, reminders, ideas, concepts, perspectives as possible. This video and the rest of the ones that are sitting behind the Tango Topics paywall are that. While what you’re seeing above is only the smallest hint of what’s contained in the actual video. It should be enough for you to make a reasoned and intelligent choice that perhaps there’s something of value in this site and the videos that are here. Considering becoming a subscriber today.