Ballet dancers have to demonstrate incredible amounts of flexibility during their performances. They must look as if they're moving effortlessly to the audience. When you're just starting out in ballet ease slowly into the stretches, but don't skip them -- it's one of the most important aspects of your training.
Ballet Specific Stretches
The movements that you do during ballet require a lot of flexibility in the hips, leg muscles, ankles, spine and shoulders. Dancers tend to have turned out postures with their lower body since so much of ballet is performed with the toes pointed out.
For a beginner, most of the stretching you need to do revolves around getting your hips and leg muscles ready for ballet. Specifically, you need to practice stretches for your hamstrings, which tend to be particularly tight, and stretches that let you turn your hips out.
While you need to work on your flexibility constantly, you should never push it too far. Stretches put a lot of tension on your muscles and tendons, which connect muscles to bone. Push your stretches too far and you can damage these tissues.
When you stretch, go until you feel uncomfortable but stop if it's painful. Stretching should decrease your risk of injuries, not cause them.
Pigeon Stretch with Turn Out
This pigeon stretch variation helps you turn your toes out.
How to: Start at the top of a push-up position. Bend one leg and bring your knee towards your chest. Lower that leg down to the floor on the outside of your bent knee. Put all of your weight on that leg and sit tall with the other leg out straight behind you.
Turn the toes of your back leg out to the side, practicing a toe out.
Practice extending your legs out straight to the side with this difficult stretch.
How to: Sit on the floor with your leg straight and spread out to the side as far as possible. Try to make your legs face in opposite directions. Then, lean forward into the stretch as far as possible. Take it slow with this stretch and only go as far as you feel comfortable.
Practice getting into a split position with one leg in front and the other behind you.
How to: Start kneeling on one knee with your other foot planted in front of you. Both of your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Extend your lead leg straight forward until your knee is straight and plant your heel on the ground. Lean forward and stretch that front leg.
Then, extend your back leg straight back so that you're in the beginning of a split position with one leg straight forward and the other straight back. This might be enough of a stretch for you, but if not, slowly inch your way down as far as you comfortably can.
Keep your upper body loose with this basic shoulder stretch.
How to: Grab the ends of a towel or resistance band. Your hands should be around three feet apart or more. Hold it in front of your with your arms straight. Keeping your arms straight, reach your arms overhead and behind your head, going behind your back as far as possible.
Barre Hamstring Stretch
Use the ballet barre to stretch your legs one at a time.
How to: Stand in front of a ballet barre, arm's length away. Pick one leg up and reach it out to the side with your knee straight. Put your heel over the bar and stand up straight. You can increase the stretch by bending to the side and reaching your opposite arm over your head to the leg on the barre.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
This is a simple stretch that lets you stretch both hamstrings at the same time.
How to: Sit on the ground with your legs out straight in front of you. Lean forward with your upper body and reach towards your feet, keeping your knees straight. Reach as far as you can until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs.
Knee Hug w/Twist
Stretch your glute and practice twisting with your upper body in this stretch.
How to: Sit on the ground in a butterfly position with your feet touching each other and knees out to the side. Pick one leg up by the outside of your knee and pull it towards your stomach. Lay the other leg flat on the ground.
Try to put the foot of the leg that you're holding on the outside of the other leg as you pull it in. Now, twist your shoulders in the direction of the leg that you're holding. Twist as far as possible with your entire spine, including your head, while holding the leg in close. Then, come back to center and switch sides.
Practice turning your legs out with this basic stretch.
How to: Sit on the ground with your knees bent. Touch the bottoms of your feet together. Let your knees drop to the side as far as they can. You should feel a slight stretch in your hips at this point. Increase the stretch by leaning forward and using your elbows to press your knees down towards the ground.