The Iliopsoas and Ballet

This is an extremely under-looked muscle that should be over-discussed.  This muscle can do endless amounts for you in dance – increase extensions, placement, and icelation.  Today I’m going to teach you all about this muscle and what it can do for your dancing.

An anatomy lesson

The iliacus originates at the lumbar spine and meets up with the psoas muscle, forming the iliopsoas.  It inserts into the lesser trochanter of the femur bone.

Here is a good photo for you to see:

Here we have the ilioposas, made of the iliacus muscle along with the posas major. As one of the hip flexors, this is used to maintain support in the lower back and prevent opposition to the front especially. This muscle allows proper pull up or lift of the torso in extension and also aids in the holding of the working leg at an extreme height.

As you can see from the diagram above, the muscle runs over the front of your hip and inserts into the lesser trochanter.  So, it basically weaves its way around your pelvis couterclockwise if you’re looking straight down into your pelvis.

Because of its positioning in the hip joint, it can often cause a snapping when the femur bone moves along the transverse plane.  This is called snapping hip syndrome.  We’ll discuss snapping hip syndrome’s relation to the iliopsoas in a bit more detail later.

Why do I care?

The iliopsoas can help exponentially in the height of your extensions notably to the front, the stabilization of the hips during battements, especially on the quicker side, and on general support and placement of the pelvis.

Most importantly, your iliopsoas acts as the primary mover when your leg is being lifted above 90 degrees.  So…those développés you’ve been complaining about?  You may have just had an a-ha moment.

When the iliopsoas is weak, it can cause disengagement of the abdominals and adductors (the inner thighs) – which inhibits your pelvis placement and turnout EVEN MORE than it was already inhibited.  This can also cause tightness in the lower back.

How can I utilize this awesomeness?

Strengthen and stretch!  There are some great exercises you can do for your iliopsoas which are included in the video below:

You can also use visualization as the iliopsoas contracts.  I like to think of the center of the muscle pulling both the femur and the trunk towards eachother.

Snapping hip syndrome

Also related to the iliopsoas, snapping hip syndrome occurs when a tight iliopsoas hugs the hip joint, creating a snapping noise when it passes over the head of the femur or the lesser trochanter in movements such as grand rond de jambe.

In the The Ballet Companion, Eliza Gaynor Minden said, “Ballet movements, from turnout to grand rond de jambe, often create imbalances among various hip muscles.  These differences in muscular elasticity and strength may lead to the most common hip conditions among dancers: impingement, hip flexor tendinitis, and snapping hip syndrome” (page 241).

It may also be a sign if you feel tenderness across the front of the hip or a pinching pain in the knees-to-chest flexed position.

You can reduce the risk of this injury by stretching and strengthening your iliopsoas (see my video above).  Work on strengthening the abdominals and maintaining trunk and pelvis control.  Avoid sinking into the hip on your supporting side, hiking up the hip of the working leg in extension (especially alisicon), twisting the pelvis, and forcing positions.  Work on strength in your abductors (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae).  Finally, maintain turnout in all ranges of motion.

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3 thoughts on “The Iliopsoas and Ballet

  1. Hi Ella! Love your blog posts and the newsletter/emails…it seems like you’re building a great community of aspiring professional dancers, including me 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed is that you refer to the position “alisicon” in several of your posts/emails…I can’t help but wonder if you mean “à la seconde,” referring to tendus, dèveloppés, etc., done to the side with the body facing en face? Just thought I’d throw that out there in case. Keep up the great content! 😀

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