“Where a new invention promises to be useful, it ought to be tried.” – Thomas Jefferson
A pointed foot, a high relevé, a fully stretched foot in a jump – these are all sought after in dance. Whether dancers study ballet and are constantly on their toes, study tap and dance on the balls of their feet, study Irish dance and are always in a relevé, or study modern and jazz and are stretching their feet in jumps, they demand a lot from their calf muscles.
Since these muscles are constantly worked, they tend to grow very tight in dancers. The calf muscles are connected to the calcaneous, or heel bone, by the Achilles tendon, and when the muscles are tight, the pull on the Achilles tendon increases. As a result of this increased pull, the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, and dancers often develop Achilles tendonitis. The Achilles tendon can be irritated further when a dancer partakes in a barre stretch. In a barre stretch, the ankle of the leg is placed upon the barre, putting additional pressure upon the Achilles tendon and possibly irritating it further.
Often dancers drape towels or folded sweaters or legwarmers over the barre to act as a cushion for the Achilles tendon and to decrease any friction that might be caused as the dancer slides his or her leg along the barre.
After watching dancers do this during her 25 years of teaching, Kathryn Sullivan designed a dance accessory for dancers called the Ballet Glider. The Ballet Glider is made of plush fleece, fits around the barre, and is held in place by velcro. Although Kathryn’s original goals were to reduce friction and pressure on the Achilles tendon during barre stretches, dancers have developed other uses for the Ballet Glider as well. In Kathryn’s classes at Steps on Broadway, Peridance Capezio Center, and Barnard College at the Columbia University, dancers have begun using them to hold their places at the barre, to help remind them to hold the barre lightly without gripping it, to cue placement of the hand on the barre after a turn, and to help eliminate germ transfer on barres that are used by many dancers in the same day.
The Ballet Glider can be purchased through Kathryn’s website and will also be available soon through Discount Dance Supply. The Healthy Dancer is also giving away 2 Ballet Gliders this week. To enter the giveaway, simply comment on this post by 11:59 PM on Thursday, April 10, 2014. I will be in touch with the winners on Friday, April 11, to find out where to send your Ballet Gliders!