Alignment is not achieved by hips alone. Two thoughts for today, both having to do with the ankle.
1) On my left side, I feel as though I’m having to relearn a lot of the movements and re-establish the sense of balance that comes so easily to the right side. For instance, I am working on left side twizzles (just one turn, from a forward inside edge) with my hands on my left hip, to make sure I transfer all my weight properly to that side.
I’ve been finding it helpful to think about my talus bone (or ankle bone), which I’m calling the “mighty talus.” Actually, the talus bone is not that big. But it is is significant, insofar that it transfers the entire weight of the body to the foot.
Several interesting facts about the talus: it articulates with the calcaneus (heel bone), with the tibia and fibula (leg bones), and with the navicular (top bone of the foot). It doesn’t attach to any muscles. It has the highest percentage of cartilage of any bone in the body. And it lacks a good blood supply, meaning that if you injure it, it will take a long time to heal.
Annemarie Autere’s book The Feeling Balletbody calls the talus “the perfect mediator between the feet and the rest of the body” and says that “The talus bones hold the mystery to our upright position!” Eric Franklin’s dynamic imagery book (yay!) also tells us to imagine the talus as “the mediator between the tibia, calcaneus, and the navicular.” He has a really good image that I’ve been using as I practice my “creepers.”
It efficiently manages all incoming and outgoing forces. Like a springy rubber ball with cushioning springs attached to it, the talus receives and distributes forces. To maintain elasticity, no one side of the ball may be subject to constant extremes of pressure.
2) I have been reading another good book: Liane Simmel’s Dance Medicine in Practice; at first I was mainly focusing on the sections on the hips, pelvis, and legs. But as I got a little farther in, there was a very helpful section on “Pitfalls in Dance” that focused on the problems inherent in doing deep pliés the wrong way.
If you do the plié correctly, your “ankle mortise” (formed by the tibia and fibula) slides forward on your talus. The rear part of the heel bone is pulled upwards, and the sole of the feet is stretched. This should happen in a nice relaxed way.
But if you do it incorrectly, using a lot of muscle tension in the anterior tibial muscle, you actually inhibit the motion of the plié. Kimmel writes that achieving a deep plié is for many dancers “a goal that is often pursued with great determination.”
This is unfortunate, because high muscle tension prohibits just what is essential for a deep plié: a relaxed ankle joint in which the talus can slide unimpeded in the mortise of the tibia and fibular. Typically, many dancers try to force themselves into the plié using muscle strength, or struggle frantically to prevent their feet from “rolling in.” This involves the anterior tibial muscle in particular. Its efforts can be clearly seen in the tension of its tendon in the front of the ankle joint.
So I noticed that I’ve been engaging this muscle a lot, especially when I’m not balanced correctly on my foot. I can tell because my anterior tibial tendons pop out when I don’t consciously think of relaxing my ankles as I bend.
While my skating knee bend isn’t anywhere near a deep plié, I am certain this piece of information will make it better. For one, it’s easy to check whether my AT tendons tense up as I bend my knee. If I relax my ankles, the ATTs don’t pop out and I can get down quite bit farther. Without all that muscular effort, I can save my incredible strength for other things (like getting up!)
Hopefully these two tips will take some of the stress off my left foot, which has been pretty sore this past week. It was doing so much better for a while! Bummer! So I am taking it easy for a while (no more jumping up and down on shovels!) and just hanging out admiring my springy talus and my relaxed ankles on those deep knee bends.