Why ankle strength matters for dancers

Whether you’re in pointe shoes, tap shoes, or hip-hop sneakers, ankle strength and agility are critical for dancers. Lateral ankle sprains (where you roll to the outside of your foot) are particularly common amongst dancers. And recovering from an ankle break or sprain (initial R.I.C.E., keeping weight off of the ankle, and physical therapy rehabilitation) can take a dancer out of performing for months! But don’t despair—here’s a list of five important ways to keep your ankles strong, healthy, and ready to dance!

  1. Theraband series: Sitting with your legs extended forward, place the ball of your right foot in the center of the theraband and hold on to either end. Slowly point and flex your foot, articulating the movement as smoothly as possible. Next, keeping your right foot in the theraband, place your left arch over both straps and articulate a winging-out motion with your ankle—trying to isolate the movement in the ankle rather than moving from your knee or hip. Now place your left arch on the left side of both straps (so that your shins are crossed). Wing your foot inwards—again with the goal of keeping the motion isolated at the ankle. Lastly, have a friend hold the straps of the theraband and loop the center of the band atop your foot, just below your toes. Point and flex your foot again—this time concentrating on strengthening the flexion and controlling the extension. (Complete each exercise for 3 sets of 10)
  2. Calf raises: Stand with your feet in a parallel, hips distance apart. Slowly rise to rélevé and come back down. Repeat this series with your toes slightly turned in and again with turnout. For an added challenge, complete these exercises with your toes on a small stair ledge—so that your heels drop down a bit lower. (Complete calf raises in each position for 2 sets of 10)
  3. Proprioception: Balance on your right foot and attach your left foot in a parallel coupé. Make sure that you’re pulled up on your leg, lifting out of your hips, and engaging your core. If you feel strong after balancing for 30 seconds, try closing your eyes, standing on a pillow, bringing your left foot up to passé, or eventually rising to rélevé. Make sure to even out by practicing your balance equally on both feet.
  4. Warm-up: To wake up all the tiny muscles around your ankle before class or rehearsal, practice tiny, two-footed hops in parallel. Do 3 sets of 10 hops straight up-and-down, front to back, and then side to side.
  5. Cool-down: Stretch your calves after class—especially if you’ve been dancing in high heels. Stand on a calf-board or lean forward against a wall, keeping your heels pressed to the ground. Hold this stretch for thirty seconds. Try the stretch again—this time with a slight bend in your knees—to stretch out your Achilles tendon, too.

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