I don’t often talk about the difficulties of melding ballet/dance with cycling, but I thought I would take an evening to mull over the advantages and disadvantages of such an association. As the weather gets warmer and I have more opportunities to get out on my bike, I am finding the importance of a good stretching program. Prior to my experience with ballet, I stretched just to keep myself from being so stiff – but the activity that affects my flexibility the most at the moment is cycling.
One of the advantages, at least in the style of dance I do, is the strength of my leg muscles. Across the board both dance and cycling have only served to make my legs into very strong powerhouses of energy. I can’t say I could crack a nut with my leg muscles alone, but the muscles I have are far bigger and better at this stage of my life than any other series of activities I have tried. This is both advantageous and disastrous, however. They are the ones that are affected by overtraining and require more attention that other parts of my body. Lately, as I build my miles on my bike, I actually have had moments in ballet where I have pushed myself to failure. I have had times where I willed my legs to move in a manner I know they can, only to have them literally throw up their hands in disgust and shut down, much to my dismay. It is at once frustrating and enlightening. I am encouraged that I am pushing my body to a point where there is failure involved, for I know that means I am only getting stronger. On the other hand, there is nothing so tragic as having your Ballet Teacher call out your name as an example of what NOT to do.
We can go on to discuss the ying-yang of having your bodies posture in constant flux. With cycling it is better to have a bit of a rounded back, giving you more power and movement on the bike. In ballet it is a must to have a straight posture, that is both graceful and fluid. I have to admit my back takes a beating between these two differences. I herniated two discs in my back through a series of bad throws during my martial arts days and they like to remind me of their presence when I try to cycle one day and then find myself in a Cambré the next. I have not had the best luck with back flexibility in my life, but I do have every intention of working on it for the rest of my days. I do think, however, that the differences in the flexibility will ultimately benefit my entire body. I am stressing my back in different ways, so in my mind I am only making myself stronger. More research may be needed, but at this point the contradicting forces between cycling and ballet on my back will hopefully work out any kinks (pun intended) I continue to have in that area.
There are a host of other parts of the body we could discuss, but I think I will end this particular discussion with arms. Yes, they are lacking on both instances. Arm strength is not something that is a focus in either discipline. Some strength is needed, that is true, but this is one area of the body that could use some additional attention that neither cycling, nor ballet, can give me. In ballet it is important not to hold the hands in a manner that looks contrived. On the cycle it is the small nuances of the hand that can help with direction. I have had a continued problem with some wrist fatigue and hand numbness on my bike that I understand is a correctable given proper equipment. I need to add more of a stand alone arm program that can aid me with my strength. It would not do to be the flabby armed ballerina, or for that matter the flabby armed cyclist!
I love the differences between the two. I strongly believe that the added strength I get from cycling has aided my height in my leaps. I believe that the grace I am learning in ballet is teaching me to be a relaxed cyclist who can get more out of her bike then sheer force. I probably have to stretch more than a cyclist who doesn’t dance, and I most likely have some heel and foot problems from the fact that my feet and knees want to turn out – but these are all doable propositions. It is all in the training, after all. Adaptability is the key here.
I will most likely revisit this topic again in the coming months as I prepare for performances, summer, and cycling. I hope this serves to encourage everyone to follow your dream, or dreams as the case may be, and see that sometimes an unlikely pair can be a huge benefit in the end.
Feel free to give me your opinions on this topic – good or bad. I am, after all, still considering my options.