Donate Now
top of page


Biomechanical Perspective


David W. Kruse, M.D.

Classical ballet training is demanding of the whole body.  Certainly it requires a lot from the lower extremity, but in order to maintain appropriate technique for proper ballet performance, both correctly and safely, the position and strength of the whole body is required, including the “core” and upper extremities.  In viewing the biomechanics of movement in sport, we consider the utilization of various muscle groups, moving in concert together, pushing and pulling, to stabilize the joints and move the body to achieve simple and complex motions.  This coordinated movement is referred to as the kinetic chain.  In sport, ballet included, the body must be trained to learn and sustain movements specific to that sport.  As athletes train for these movement, they isolate muscle groups to more effectively and precisely strengthen the body.  There are traditional methods for strengthening in sport.  In ballet, the traditional approach utilizes a “barre” for stability as the dancer stands on a solid and stable floor.  The kinetic chain can be trained in this method but if an unstable surface can be introduced, it creates a new demand of the muscle control and stability.  If this additional demand can be integrated into traditional strengthening, a new and more efficient method of strengthening the full kinetic chain can be created.  If this is then applied in a ballet-specific manner, the dancer can achieve a new level of strength and stability specific to the needs and demands that the complex movement of dance requires.  By adding a foam roller and ball, an unstable surface can be introduced into traditional ballet barre training creating a unique functional demand.  In this document, each exercise of the program will be discussed and the unique demands will be detailed.


Exercise #1 – Demi and Grande Plies in First Position

Demands additional spine erector activation, pelvic stability, and thoracic postural control to maintain appropriate alignment and balance in sagittal plane.  Requires more proprioceptive control during eccentric quad activation with plié movement.  Demands additional hip external rotation and well-aligned turnout to provide a balanced base prior to movement into plié.  The dancer is not able to perform this movement on a foam roller correctly if turnout is achieved with inappropriate lordosis.  The use of the foam roller demands that turnout is achieved through correct hip range of motion, otherwise proper alignment is not created and the dancer is not able to maintain proper balance.


Exercise #2 – Cambre Devant in First Position

Similar demands as Exercise #1 of additional hip external rotation and well-aligned turnout to provide a balanced base.  Creates a “subfloor” for greater stretch into cambre devant position.


Exercise #3 – Demi and Grande Plié in Second Position

Demands additional postural alignment via maximal hip external rotation activation, spinal erector and core muscle stabilization, posterior pelvic tilt, and thoracic postural control, in sagittal plane.  Also requires hip abduction and external control in sequence with foot stability to ensure appropriate knee and ankle alignment.  The dancer is unable to perform this maneuver on a foam roller with excessive lordosis, foot winging, or thoracic malpositioning.


Exercise #4 – Demi/Grande Plié, Fourth Position, Cambre Devant & Temps Lie to Tendu Derriere

Weight transfer front to back, while maintaining side to side stability, demands additional hip stability from opposing adduction/abduction activation.  Proprioceptive awareness is increased via the unstable base.  Weight transfer into tendu derriere on the foam roller requires activation of coronal plane spine stability while the spine is in an extended position, a very unique spine stability exercise.  In fourth position on foam roller, more is demanded of ankle stability via activation of peroneal, tibialis, and mid-foot musculature.


Exercise #5 – Demi/Grande Plié, Fifth Position, with Sous-sus to 5th Position Releve'

Demands additional thoracic and upper kinetic chain alignment to maintain alignment in coronal plane to avoid rolling off the foam roller.  Additionally, this postural control is essential during sous-sus transition.  Coronal plane stability in plié achieved via additional hip abduction and external rotation activation.


SINGLE LEG EXERCISES – During single leg exercises, there is a separation between the working leg and the base leg.  This program is unique compared to traditional ballet training in how the base leg is utilized.  In traditional ballet training, the base leg is static on a stable surface, which places the focus mostly on the working leg.  In this program, the base leg is dynamic on an unstable surface, requiring additional stabilization throughout the whole kinetic chain.  The dynamic nature of the base leg requires additional hip and foot stability.


Exercise #6 – Passé from 5th Position to Developpe Devant

Demands additional base leg stability in coronal plane via opposing hip abduction/adduction activation, while working leg transitions from hip abduction/knee flexion to hip flexion/knee extension.  The unstable surface for the base leg demands that external rotation via gluteus activation is paired with additional hip abduction stabilization.


Exercise #7 – Developpe Passé a la Seconde from Fifth Position

Similar demands as Exercise #6, but with movement a la seconde there is an even greater demand on coronal plane stabilization.


Exercise #8 – Fondue Arabesque

Performing a fondue maneuver on an unstable surface requires a greater demand for hip stability during eccentric quadriceps contraction.  With the knee in flexed position, knee & foot alignment becomes more of a challenge, requiring appropriate biomechanical balance of hip abduction and external rotation.


Exercise #9 – Barre Stretch in Seconde Position

Unstable base leg creates a demand for base leg hip stability, in particular hip adduction, while allowing for passive working leg stretch.  This translates well to dance participation, which is a dynamic balance of passive and active joint range of motion.  The foam roller provides a unique opportunity to develop this delicate balance.


ADDITIONAL NOTES – First and second position are considered the most stable positions in the coronal plane, while fourth and fifth positions establish stability in the sagittal plane.  Conversely, first and second positions are inherently unstable in the sagittal plane, while fourth and fifth positions are inherently unstable in the coronal plane.  The use of the foam roller highlights these inherent instabilities and forces the dancer to develop maximal muscle activation to appropriately compensate.  This translates to greater performance on the traditional dance floor.



Exercise #1 – Standing in First Position

Appropriate turnout in first position should be achieved by an adequate amount of hip external rotation.  Dancers with inadequate hip external rotation, “cheat” by turning through the knees, collapsing into the foot, or arching in the back.  When using a plastic ball, the dancer is able to maintain balance in first position only if the turnout is achieved in a hip-dominate way.  If the dancer “cheats”, they will not be able to maintain proper alignment and therefore will not be able to maintain balance.  Thus, the plastic ball demands proper alignment and hip turnout.  The compliant nature of the plastic ball will also accentuate a lack of foot stability and therefore expose this flaw and direct future intervention.


Exercise #2 – Grande Plié in First Position

Performance on a plastic ball demands precise hip/ankle/foot alignment to maintain balance.  This precise alignment is maintained by recruitment of core, hip, and foot stability.  Additionally, a plié is achieved on a traditional flat surface through isolated quadriceps eccentric control.  Achievement of a plié on a plastic ball requires stability in all planes while performing a quadriceps eccentric contraction.  Multiplane stabilization demands maximal hip/core/foot muscle activation.


Exercise #3 – Cambre Forward in First Position

Demands a baseline of stability achieved in exercise #1 with additional sagittal plane balance control compared to a traditional stable floor surface.  In order to achieve additional sagittal plane balance on a plastic ball, while performing cambre forward, additional foot and ankle proprioceptive control is required.


Exercise #4 – Demi Plié in Neutral Moving to First Position Plank

Provides a classic bridge/plank gluteus activation, while allowing the dancer to move through dance-specific positions.  The use of a plastic ball allows this three step progression, promoting progressive movements of hip external rotation and abduction to core and gluteus muscle activation to hip and knee extension.


Exercise #5 – Passé Position from Sous-sus

By changing the ballet “floor” to a mobile plastic ball, you introduce an unstable surface.  This exercise facilitates the increased amount of stability training noted in exercise 4, but has additional demands unique to using a single limb on an unstable surface.  The activation of hip extension and external rotation against the unstable plastic ball demands the recruitment of rotational spine stability.  In traditional ballet training, it is difficult to isolate rotational spine stability.  This exercise is unique in it’s ability to integrate spine stability training in a rotational plane with dance-specific movements.


Exercise #6 – Grande Battement Devant from Sous-sus

In traditional ballet training, done on a stable floor, the grande battement movement requires concentric hip flexion of the working leg pared with base leg hip stability in mostly a sagittal plane.  Performing the grande battement movement from sous-sus inverted and with the base leg on an unstable surface creates multiple unique demands.  As mentioned for exercise #5, the plastic ball single limb positioning requires activation of spine stability in a rotational plane.  Additionally, in order to move the working leg into a battement devant position, the dancer needs to apply a counterforce to the ball on the wall.  This activates a level of hip extension and kinetic chain lengthening not seen in other traditional methods and translates into greater lift during dance-specific movements.  Also of note is the unique effect inversion has on the dancers’ performance of a battement devant.  During traditional training the lifting of the leg requires a concentric movement of the anterior chain (hip flexion, core activation) and an opposing force of eccentric stability in the posterior chain.  By inverting the dancer, the muscle activation is reversed.  This provides a unique opportunity to work opposing muscle groups for greater overall training, hip stability, and balanced mechanics.

bottom of page