Good control of balance and stability of the foot and ankle are essential in any dancer. However many dancers are unaware of the many things that combine to give you good balance, and how to train the components individually. Poor balance reactions may make your supporting foot wobble and you might find it hard to stabilize en demi-pointe, or be constantly corrected for rolling arches! Poor stability in your supporting ankle is a huge barrier in increasing how high you can lift your leg en l’air, as you will be working off an unstable base.
There are so many things that can influence your balance, including; your vision; your sensation of where your foot and ankle ligaments are (proprioception), and the balance sensors that actually sit inside your inner ear. It is important to train the stability of the ankle while removing one or two of the feedback systems that we use to develop all parts of the complete system. Many dancers rely far too much on their vision to maintain their balance, and this becomes a problem when turning or performing in low light situations.
Test yourself and the strength of each system by trying each of the following exercises. Try standing on a single leg in parallel or turnout, with each of the following variations:
Closing your eyes.
Standing on a pillow, or soft foam mat.
Try turning your head from side to side.
Tilting the head from side to side.
Try a fondu/small knee bend on each leg.
If you are already in pointe shoes, try all of the above in bare feet and then in your pointe shoes and feel the difference!
All of these are great tests and training ideas for improving your control of your ankles. Remember to always switch on your deep turnout muscles and core stabilizing muscles when balancing in turnout, so that your hips don’t twist too much!
Developing control of the small ‘intrinsic muscles of the feet are essential to developing good balance. Many ideal exercises for this are explained in The Perfect Pointe Book, a resource developed especially for dancers to gain optimum control of their feet and ankles. It is an essential component of any dance training whether or not the dancer is en pointe.