During the summer, many of my non-dancer friends watched So You Think You Can Dance, and came to me with the same question: “Why do all the dancers have huge thighs?” I couldn’t help but take it rather personally. I think dancers can relate with one another because we are all involved in a brutal business that is hard on body type, and on top of that we work really hard every day to achieve this unattainable perfection. If it’s not the actual size of our body that bothers us, we can usually rely on an injury or perhaps some part of our body that is not working to its “potential,” to let us down. So of course, I lousily attempted to defend the sytycd dancers in any way I could. At first I stressed that they didn’t have big thighs, they just had legs that were extremely toned and developed. Hello! “Dancer legs!” However, my friend’s immediate response was that ballet dancers don’t have big legs, and on top of that, their legs are also toned! Really irked, I found myself feeling a little helpless because I didn’t know what it was that these contemporary dancers did differently from ballet dancers to develop the so called “thunder thighs,” they had developed. Thus, the inspiration for this blog. Good news! Not only did I find the causes of big thighs in dancers, but I also found ways that we can avoid these issues and in turn, develop our legs into lean mean dancing machines!
First of all, any dancer can develop big thighs with poor training and incorrect muscle usage. The two most common things causing overdevelopment is gripping and tucking. In attempt to turnout, dancers tend to over rotate their ankles and in turn, end up gripping with their thighs. Instead, it is important to rotate from the top of the hips, not the gluteus, but the deep rotator muscles, and use the hamstrings to straighten the legs. If you use the hamstrings and push into the floor, than your quadriceps aren’t doing the bulk of the work and won’t overdevelop. Tucking is also a big contributor. A big misconception is that your lower pelvis and spine need to be long in order to achieve a long vertical line, aka. Good posture. Unfortunately, many dancers go against the natural curve of their spine and tuck their pelvis. This means that all their body weight is going straight to their quads, not allowing them to elongate into lean muscles. Also, the tucking it makes it impossible for the rotator muscles to hold the turnout, which unfortunately make your gluteus muscles take over for stabilization. Instead, it is important to keep the pelvis in the natural line of the spine and instead use the lower abdominal muscles to create elongation as well as the feeling of pushing away from the floor. I felt that I needed to say these two things first because contemporary dancers are not the only victims of the dreaded thunder thigh, ballerinas can get them too!
The reason why contemporary dancers develop larger legs then ballerinas is, because of what the technique demands of them. There is not one step in ballet technique that requires a dancer to throw themselves to the floor or hinge themselves into oblivion. Ballet focuses on lightness, elongation, and creating the movement so that it appears to be effortless. Power, strength, assertiveness, and athleticism is required of contemporary dancers. It’s no wonder their legs look the way they do after all that is demanded of them! Contemporary dancers want to move the human soul and make a statement; they are replacing delicacy with power. The attack and physicality of contemporary movement not only requires a lot of strength, but also a different kind of strength than ballet dancers because they are coming from two very different places.
Dancers, there is a solution to achieving leaner thighs! In correspondence with daily classes and proper usage of technique, we need to be stretching our iliotibial band! We tend to forget how hard our supporting leg has to work to maintain all that it does. We assume that the working leg is the one that is doing all the movement, but the real working leg is the leg that does all the supporting. The muscles that prevent you from “sitting in your hip,” or, your abductors, have to work really hard to maintain the support we need. On the outer side of the leg is the iliotibial band, this is the abductor muscle I am referring to. We need to stretch this just as much as we need to stretch our adductors, or I guess you could say, your middle splits. This is a great article that I found that has a lot of valuable information and insight into this idea.
It stresses the importance of using the foam roller to get out all the knots that have been built up from all the over usage. When we overwork muscles they begin to tighten up and inevitably become larger, hence the reason for large thighs. Finally a solution!I think it’s all time for us to go out, and buy ourselves the foam rollers. Not only will your legs become slimmer, but you’ll also feel and dance better. :]