I’ve always been a pretty flexible dancer. I was always the one doing splits on chairs and practicing over stretching techniques in order to get the most out of my extensions in class. Unfortunately, I wasn’t working the muscles and all of the stretching was only lengthening, not strengthening my legs in order to get the higher extensions during adage.
But, the stretching did serve me when I started partnered adage training. My teacher taught me how to whack my legs to unbelievable heights and finally use all that flexibility I had trained for.
Let’s talk about the preparation.
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt more flexible than usual and your kicks or extensions felt easier than usual? My guess is that you have experienced this and you are not sure how to replicate the process. It really is a matter of figuring out the process and then repeating. The repetition causes your muscles to remember what to do when they are properly prepared. It’s called muscle memory.
This photo was taken on a hot day in September in an outdoor theater in Las Vegas. We did company class onstage and then rehearsed. I was so warmed up that my muscles were able to hit their max in every movement.
That is part of the prep. Making sure your muscles are warmed up enough to reach their limits without getting hurt.
My adage teacher used to make me wrap myself in plastic wrap and then run on the treadmill for half an hour. I am not going to suggest any of that—although the running will help. What he was doing was preparing my body to do hard core stretching and strengthening for the partnered adage.
I recommend doing something that gets your muscles warm like jogging in place for a few minutes, or strengthening exercises like traveling lunges or squats. Core exercises like crunches, leg ups and planks will also help since you need core strength to kick. Get those muscles pumped full of blood and then you can start the stretching process
Now comes the stretching. Start with your hips and then work your way to your quads, hamstrings and calves.
That is my stretching regime. If you do it daily, you will see improvement in your flexibility. We all have the ability to be “flexible,” it just takes practice and dedication.
Once your body is warmed up and stretched out, you are ready to practice your kicks!
Kicking in a chorus line is very different from kicking as a soloist. I learned that the hard way.
In Jubilee, we had one number called Tiller. The entire female cast, Bluebells and Nudes all performed a tribute to the Tiller Girls. The Tiller Girls are a world-famous troupe that was created in the early 1900s by a man named John Tiller. His expectations and training of the girls made them the most incredible precision dancer troupe in the world. The Rockettes are an offshoot of the Tiller Girls and they still use his techniques and body requirements for training to this day.
Those girls became famous, not because they could kick hundreds of times in a show, but because of their precision. They move as one entity that spans the stage. You will never see a pinky or a leg out of place. Each individual understands the power of the chorus and their job to maintain that and move in harmony with the girls next to them. It’s about being exact and part of the whole, not standing out.
This is something that I am only recently appreciating. Even though I was part of countless late night Tiller rehearsals after two full shows to “clean,” I never appreciated the value of a chorus and my part in it. I would get notes weekly to kick “eye level.” Which was hard because I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be in the spotlight. In hindsight, it would have made my life easier to just kick eye-level. Kick line kicks are hard enough at eye-level without trying to whack your head in the process.
And yes, I have kicked my head and my hats before. I would get reprimanded by my principal dresser because I would snag my fishnets and get holes in them from kicking my hat. She was able to find the prongs that were causing the damage (and more tight mending work for her,) and add a bit of a glaze to allow me to be free to kick my hat if I could.
It’s important to recognize that kicks should be treated differently based on their purpose. My whacks in my solos are meant to stand out and amaze. While a kick line of girls can amaze in their unity. The prep is still the same. Take care of your body as you begin a stretching and kicking regimen. Pay attention to your personal limitations and ease into all of these suggestions.
Do you have a funny kick story you want to share? Comment below!
Hope to see you in my class!
Athena, aka Gazella