Dear Katie

January 31, 2015

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Dear Katie,

I have really hyper-extended legs—so hyper-extended that they make simple steps difficult. How can I gain more control of my knees? —Katherine

Ugh, I struggled with this same problem. Vanessa Campos, a friend of mine who’s a former dancer and sought-after NYC trainer, is a pro on hyper-extended legs. Most dancers, she says, are very quad-dependent, because their hamstrings are flexible but weak. Add in hyper-extended legs and you’ve got a recipe for injury, since you need equal strength and flexibility in both the quads and hamstrings to support your hypermobility.

Hyper-extension can also lead to a slight bowing of the legs below the knee, so balancing the strength of the inner and outer thighs is essential, too.I’d recommend taking Pilates, which really helped me, because it strengthens all of your leg muscle groups evenly. Here are some additional exercises Vanessa recommends. Do two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side.

Lie on your back with your legs extended. Wrap a resistance band around your right foot, holding one end of the band in each hand. Lift your right leg a few inches off the floor, keeping it in parallel. Press your leg outward with resistance and bring it back with resistance, being careful not to lock into your hyper-extension. Repeat the whole sequence with the leg turned out. Then repeat it on the other side.

Lie on your left side. Wrap a resistance band around your right foot, holding one end of the band in each hand. Lift your leg a few inches with resistance, and slowly lower it back down, being careful not to lock into your knee. Repeat on the other side.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips so your body forms a straight line. Slowly extend one leg straight out, then return it to the floor without dropping or twisting your hips. Make sure your knees stay over your toes. Repeat with the other leg.

Dear Katie,

I’ve been feeling stuck lately. I work as hard as I can in class, but it doesn’t seem like I’m improving at all. What can I do to get out of this rut? —Ruby

You’re not alone! Many dancers feel stuck at some point. I’d suggest going back to square one and focusing your attention on placement and alignment. Think about younger students—they have to learn how to stand at the barre and plié properly before they can move on to turns and jumps. Take a cue from them and concentrate on where your weight is, what your core is doing and if you’re using your turnout correctly.

It’s also helpful to focus on one aspect of class at a time. Say, “Today I’m going to work on my turnout,” or, “I’m going to think about my balance today.” Narrowing your focus will keep you from getting overwhelmed and discouraged. Take things one step at a time—pun intended—and you’ll be improving before you know it.

For Katie’s (life-changing) secret for dealing with sore toes, click here.

Need help writing your dance resumé? Click here to watch Katie break down resumé basics.