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Let’s Talk About It: Hyperextension

Hyperextension. A word that garners a lot of mixed emotions and reactions in the dance industry. Do we love it? Do we hate it? Is it good for you? Is it a huge mistake? These are all of the questions that are usually tossed up in the air when the subject of dancers with hyperextended legs are discussed. Here at From The Top, we looovve a good discussion topic and that’s why today we would like to dive into this widely known, and often controversial, practice in dance. 

As you all know, hyperextension is when a dancer’s straightened knees are pushed backwards, resulting in a bit of curved line in the legs. This is especially noticeable when in first position and usually creates an extremely tight fifth position. Often coveted in the world of ballet, hyperextension creates a certain look to a dancer’s legs that is generally praised. Take a look at an examples of hyperextended legs in the photos down below.

Credit: Dance Workshop AUS

Back in the peak of my teenage years, hyperextension was all the rage. Every stretching session, whether at home or in the studio, dancers everywhere were stacking up acro mats, books, chairs and more to prop their front legs up on while in a split. All of this was done in hopes to acquire the coveted hyperextended legs that we had all seen and became obsessed with. Fast forward to 2022, and dancers have made hyperextension a topic of debate and everyone has seemed to collectively ask the golden question: Is this even good for you?? Well for our take, let’s have an unbiased look at the pros and cons, shall we?

The Pros

It goes without saying and we must readily admit, hypertension creates body lines that are out of this world! Arabesques are phenomenal and even have the oh-so slightly winged foot that ballet dancers everywhere drool over. The turnout of a dancer with hyperextended legs is usually very nice as well. Hyperextension also comes with a great amount of flexibility, especially when the legs are very hyperextended. As a result, battements are skigh high and leaps span on for days. However, once we take away the aesthetic frills of the pros, we then have to face the possibilities that come with the cons.

The Cons

Hyperextension causes you to push your knees too far back which in return can overstretch and even weaken your knees and your ligaments. As a result, the lines of your legs may look gorgeous, but the wrong areas of your body are at work. With that being said, one of the main cons of hyperextension is the possibility of injury, such as shin splints, patella displacement and tibial stress fractures. However, there is a solution to hyperextension, which is to be sure that you do not sit in your knees, but rather pull up from your quads. As a dancer who is slightly hyperextended, I have had to be rather careful. In first position, if I just simply sit in my knees without thinking about it, I can feel the pull of my knees almost forcing themselves together (the element of hyperextension pushing the knees too far back). This causes great tension in this area and in return is highly uncomfortable. However, when I engage my quadriceps while in first position, it creates the action of lifting my body weight out of my knees and into my thighs, where my body weight is better distributed. In return, my knees are no longer overworked, but at ease and free of tension. I also teach my students this method as well to help them better distribute their body weight and not fall into the bodily stress that hyperextension can cause.

So is hyperextension worth it or not? Is it a goal that you should aim for with caution or should you remove it from the table all together? Well that is a question that each dancer is most suited to answer individually. However, we here at From The Top believe that no matter which side your opinion may lie, to always make sure you keep yourself safe. We want to see you have a long and healthy career and encourage your choices on subjects such as this to be built on your own best interest and your personal ability to maintain control of your own body as you dance. See. Told you we’d be unbiased. 😉

As always, we thank you so much for stopping by and reading our two cents on this topic! We hope that something written here was able to give insight and knowledge on this subject. As you go along your journey, we wish you nothing but health and prosperity with many accomplishments along the way! We hope you have a wonderful weekend and remember…

Keep dancing!

Lexi

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