Dancers are the essence of physical expression, and are constantly striving for greater mastery of their art.
There are many challenges and indeed, mythologies in dance. Here are just two that we have come across:
Ballet dancers who have been told to fix the front of their rib cage down at the front rather than being taught how to find a neutral position without such a degree of tension often have quite fragile spines. The use of the superficial abdominals to maintain this fixed position disrupts the coordination of the diaphragm, which in turn affects the function of the deep lower abdominal muscles which support the spine and pelvis. It can also cause difficulties in extended positions like arabesques, as the dancer is unable to maintain control as the abdominal wall lengthens – they are either switched “on”, with high tension in an upright position, or “switched off” to enable spinal extension. This leaves the spinal structures vulnerable to repetitive compression. In reality, they should have control and support from the abdominal wall throughout the entire motion.
Very few dancers of any discipline do any balance work with their eyes closed, even though this deepens the work of the sensory feedback systems associated with balance and control in the body. They are very vision dependent for their balance, yet these same dancers may suddenly find themselves in a costume that obscures their vision, or in difficult variable light conditions. The result can be injury or a compromise in performance.
To improve the quality of sensory feedback coming back from the lower body, do a little daily practice on single leg with your eyes closed. Keep your knee and hip soft and your foot relaxed, as if the outer edges of your foot are melting outwards. Challenge yourself by moving your arms and upper torso, maintaining a sense of connection through the leg to the foot. Further challenge yourself by extending your free leg away from your body in different directions, feeling the effect on your balance. It may not be easy at first, but with practice, your lower body feedback quality will improve.
Stay tuned for more information for dancers from JEMS. For further tips and inspiration on moving beautifully, check out our video page.
For more information on posture in performance, see “Stability, Sport and Performance Movement: Practical Biomechanics and Systematic Training for Movement Efficacy and Injury Prevention” by Joanne Elphinston.