The One Thing I Wish I Knew

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I attended ballet class on a regular basis from the age of 6 through 18 and no one ever really explained it to me. If someone had, I’m pretty sure my dance career would have been very different. I struggled at the barre with basic moves because something just wasn’t right. How could it be that after 12 years of dancing, I still wasn’t completely comfortable with the most basic steps, such as battement téndu a la seconde from 1st position?

What I didn’t realize was that I had genu recurvatum, also known as knee hyperextension. Literally, the only exposure I had had with this condition was that it was a “curse”, it was bad, and that dancers who have it really need to watch out. I thought to myself, “Phew, glad I don’t have that problem!”

Others view it as a blessing. The knees could not be completely pulled up, but the untrained observer may not know it since the leg appears straight. It also makes for a lovely arabesque since the leg makes a nice curve and finishes with the pointed foot. Some would even say that, while a dancer with hyperextended knees has to take much more care of how he/she uses the external rotators, it can be used to their advantage.

Well, a couple of years ago, I realized that I, myself, was hyperextended. I couldn’t believe it! What freedom I found in knowing that my body wasn’t made so that if my knees touched, then my heels had to as well. I could stand in a nice, lifted, properly aligned 1st position and my heels would actually be slightly apart. For the first time, I could stand in First and actually feel strong and pulled up.

Genu Recurvatum or Hyperextension of the Knees

Genu Recurvatum or Hyperextension of the Knees

I began to teach this way, and I felt so much better! Now, in the photo above (Source: Dance Magazine, Article: “The Seven Deadly Sins”, Kina Poon, November 2013), the dancer is actually overdoing it. If I wanted to, I could push my knees together as shown on the left and make my feet open that much. However, this is not correct alignment, despite being hyperextended. As ballet dancers, we need to lift our thighs enough to achieve “soft knees”, which is about how straight we want our legs to be without locking the knees.

Hyperextended knees can be a blessing and a curse. Loose muscles means loose ligaments, and loose ligaments can mean we are more prone to injury. As teachers of young children, we need to acknowledge the fact that some of our students may be hyperextended. Don’t champion the fact; just explain the proper alignment of the knee joint (as age appropriate), and work with them from there. Definitely don’t ignore it until they get older, or they may end up as frustrated as I was when I found out no one explained it to me!

How do you deal with hyperextension in your students? Comment below!

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