Correct Activation And Use of The Gluteal Muscles in a Dancer.

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Your ‘Gluteal Muscles’ are actually extremely important when you are dancing, and the correct use of them will help you in everything from jumps, to your work en fondu, your arabesque line, your back, and even your flexibility into the splits. It is important to work out the correct way to use these muscles, and to avoid the downside of over-using them such as tight turnout muscles, poor hip mobility, and a ‘too perky’ bum under your tutu!
The first thing you have to understand is the difference between your turnout muscles and your gluteals. In ‘The Perfect Pointe Book’ (A book designed for the education of dancers. Page 54) there are great pictures to demonstrate the difference. The turnout muscles are a group of 6 deep muscles that connect from the bumpy bone on the outside of your hip (greater trochanter) towards your tail bone (sacrum) and other parts of your pelvis. They turn the top bone (femur) of your leg out, and there are six of them so that they can work to turn the hip out, no matter what range the leg is in (helps in a Grande rond de jambe).
Your Gluteal muscles on the other hand, work to extend the hip (in other words, take the leg behind you). There are some other muscles that can also do this job, so often people will have no idea that their bottom is not working properly. The hamstrings and some of the low back muscles will be overused if the gluteals are not switching on properly, especially in an arabesque. The Gluteals should also contract strongly during push off in allegro, and work to control your landing.
If you often feel tight in your low back, and struggle to keep your knee straight in an arabesque derrière, the chances are that you are using the hamstrings to lift the leg, rather than the gluteals. If you do this repeatedly, and especially if you use your hamstrings too much when walking, all the extra contracting will tighten them up, no matter how often you stretch your hamstrings.
Try this simple test to see how well the gluteals are working.
·    Lie on your tummy with your legs out straight, in parallel.
·    Turn your head to one side and place your fingertips into the middle of each of your bottom muscles.
·    Keeping it straight at the knee, lift one leg just off the floor.
·    Notice whether anything happens under your fingertips, and even better, note where in the movement it comes on.
·    Some people will find it hard to bring the muscle on at all; others will find that it comes on at the end of the range only.
·    For some people, it will come on beautifully, automatically!
·    To take the maximum load off your hamstrings, the gluteals should start the movement, and then continue to work throughout the movement.
·    Test the difference side to side, and test your friends. If you are testing other people, place one hand on the back of their hamstrings and one on their bottom.
·    Remember, it is okay for the hamstrings to work a little, we just want the bottom to be doing its fair share!
Once you are sure that the bottom is working, you must know when to use it. I hate hearing girls being told to grip with their bottom throughout class. This is not necessary and will build too much tension in the area. All muscles work best when they are allowed to relax and then contract to perform their specific movement.
Another tip is to see if your bottom muscles come on when you are walking. Especially up stairs or up any incline, the gluteal muscles of the supporting leg should squeeze on a little to take the strain off your hamstrings. If you can master this, you will be amazed at how quickly your flexibility will improve.
The one major time when the gluteal muscles should not be doing too much is when you are just standing in first, second or fifth positions of the feet. The turnout muscles will be gently working to maintain the position; however your gluteal muscles should be reasonably relaxed, and ready for action.
·    Stand in parallel, with your finger tips on your bottom.
·    Rock your weight back onto your heels and turn the legs out, focusing on starting the movement from your hips.
·    Place your toes back down on the floor (you will be in a small first position) and focus on what you are feeling through the hips. Can you keep the thighs turned out with your deep turnout muscles, and still have your outer bottom muscle relaxed? This may take time, and patience, to achieve, but will really improve your dancing.
Using the gluteals and turnout muscles in this way is the secret to improving the mobility of your hips and height of the leg en l’air. You must learn to use the muscles the way they were designed to be used for optimum effectiveness. Further exercises for turnout and gluteal strengthening are available in The Perfect Pointe Book.

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