Ask Amy

May 11, 2011

I’m going to my first summer intensive and am nervous about the placement class. It seems scary to have my entire three weeks there determined by one class. Any tips?

It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous, but try to relax. Your teachers are trying to place you in the level where you’ll be able to learn the most. Keep in mind that summer programs draw students from all over the country, so you’ll probably have more competition to deal with than at your local studio. At my first intensive, I was placed in the second-highest level even though I was in the top at my studio back home. Although I was disappointed at first, I eventually realized that’s where I belonged. I needed to refine the basics and strengthen my pointework; I would have been overwhelmed in a more challenging class.


Prepare for the placement class by arriving in shape. Load up on classes back home before you leave. Make sure your hair and makeup look flawless, wear your most flattering leotard and remember to smile—and breathe! But even if the class doesn’t go well, your summer isn’t doomed: Your teachers will move you up or down if it’s clear you’ve been placed in the wrong level.

I’ve had Achilles tendonitis for about six months, and it won’t get better no matter how much time I take off. Will I have to deal with this injury throughout my dance career?

Achilles tendonitis (characterized by a tight, swollen Achilles tendon) is a very common and treatable condition. However, New York–based physical therapist Laura Ossowski, MSPT, says it shouldn’t last more than six weeks without improvement. Since yours has gone on for months, you need to step back and identify the underlying cause.


“Don’t just symptom-chase,” says Ossowski, stressing that rest and ice will only take you so far. “You need to look at the bigger picture.” Sometimes Achilles tendonitis stems from structural problems, like an extra ankle bone or bone spur. Dead pointe shoes or too-tight ribbons can also aggravate the Achilles. But faulty technique is the most common culprit. “For example, if you force your turnout from your feet instead of your hips, you torque the ankle joint, which affects the Achilles,” says Ossowski. To alleviate the symptoms long-term, you’ll need to correct your technique.


You should seek help from both a doctor (who can evaluate the severity of your tendonitis and prescribe anti-inflammatories) and a physical therapist (who can identify weaknesses, massage tight muscle groups and teach you some strengthening exercises). If possible, schedule a private session or reserve some time after class to work one-on-one with your ballet teacher to help you pinpoint the problem. “Go back to basic technique,” says Ossowski. “How do you plié? How do you relevé?” Take lower-level classes so you can move at a slower pace and concentrate on your placement.


You may need to watch for tendonitis flare-ups throughout your dance career, especially during busy rehearsal periods. But understanding what causes your injury and knowing how to correct it will help you recover more efficiently.

It seems as though all professional ballet dancers have hyperextended knees. I don’t, and I feel like I just can’t create the same beautiful lines. Will anyone ever hire me?


I know quite a few dancers without hyperextended knees. Just look at Houston Ballet principal Amy Fote. She told me she creates nicer lines with a couple of imagery techniques. “If I envision my legs going three inches beyond their actual length, it makes a difference,” Fote says. She also uses this trick: “Act as if your leg ends at the knee and ‘point’ your knees. It activates certain muscles in your leg to create the straightest line possible.”


Katelyn Prominski, a corps member with Pennsylvania Ballet, recommends standing in first position and practicing pulling up your thighs until you feel your quadriceps start to burn. She also does the same exercise on pointe, and keeps it in mind while cross-training. “If I’m doing Pilates or Thera-Band exercises,” she says, “I pull up my thighs like crazy.”


Try not to get discouraged. For all its beauty, hyperextension comes with drawbacks: It forces weight back onto the heels and causes postural problems, making it harder for hyperextended dancers to get “on their leg.” In this way, you have an advantage!