This morning I had the opportunity to work with a championship dancer who is strong, graceful, and has excellent core strength. We have been working together to tackle one of her biggest weaknesses: clear, conscience, and powerful trebles. This is a challenge for dancers from Beginner to Championship levels and every dancer knows their trebles should be loud and clear, so let’s take a look at how to actually make that happen!
There are two parts to a basic treble:
Ankle Flexion (where the toe comes up at the end of the brush)
Ankle Extension (where the foot comes back at the end of treble)
If we look at this pattern, we can identify the muscle groups associated with performing these two actions, then do exercises to improve upon them. The go-to response for increasing clarity and control of rhythm is to do “more calf raises.” Yes, calf raises are GREAT…but only work on one half of the movement.
During the “brush” phase of a treble, the muscles in the shin to pull the toes up towards nose (dorsiflexion) and when a dancer does the downward phase of a treble, the muscles of the calf push the foot into the floor (plantarflexion). To support both the downward and upward motion of this movement, the ankle and lower leg must be both mobile and strong to achieve clear trebles.
The ankle joint allows up and down movement of the foot, aka ankle mobility. So if the flexing of the ankle during a brush feels difficult or “blocked,” there is a good chance that ankle’s range of motion must be improved to get the most power and precision. The same applies to the downward motion of a treble except only slight pointing of the foot (plantarflexion) is needed when brushing back, unlike soft-shoe where a full-on point is necessary. Slight but forceful downward movement, makes a STRONG beat!
If your ankle mobility is solid, the next area to look at is the strength of each sound. This is where your muscles come into play! Since we are focusing on the clarity of beats vs. overall general power in the movement, this directly relates to the muscles located in the shins and calves. If these muscles are strong, the foot will be able to quickly flex upwards with control and hit the ground with a lot of force. Remember: Strength X Speed= Power. So if your lower leg muscles are strong enough to hit the ground and you can move through the full range of motion quickly, more power in the movement will be generated.
After mobility is improved and strength is built, the final step for getting clearer rhythm is to apply these to basic dance drills with 100% focus on fully flexing the foot with every brush and pushing through the floor with every brush back. Overemphasizing these actions in basic drills will help build the neuromuscular coordination to apply these to more advanced movements when working on steps. It’s the same as any other learned pattern: walking, driving, riding a bike, etc. The movement must be overemphasized with total awareness in basic drills in order for it to be applied to advanced skills..