Lift and Lengthen
Social dancing is a lot of fun but is different than learning to dance as a “dancer.” Learning the “art of dance” takes training of the proper muscles. This requires the aspiring young dancer to be attentive in class and to focus on the core dance exercises that build the proper foundation that will achieve the desired development of muscles. This helps achieve proper positions in stationary and movement patterns.
This year I decided each month I will focus on a phrase that will help the students focus on an area of development that connects the exercises that we do in class with the value it has on achieving the desired results. September’s phrase was “lift and lengthen.” Dancers, especially ballet and lyrical dancers have a certain “airy look” about them when they perform. Even modern and contemporary dancers understand proper body alignment as a central and neutral point for more off centered movement. Many dancers appear tall on stage but when you meet them close up this may not be the case. Their ability to project their performance into the audience starts with standing correctly.
It is important for the student of dance to understand proper body alignment in dance. Standing straight and tall in dance will feel different than standing in a mirror to check out the new outfit you are wearing. A student’s “natural” stance is different than a “dancer’s” stance. Naturally we all stand differently as humans. Some people have a spine that is more curved than others. Some people tend to tip their pelvis forward or slouch their shoulders, and others have more of a mobile spine in which the pelvis tips backward. In dance we ask the dancer to “lift and length” the spine. This ensures the best alignment and helps with injury prevention. Through imagery I ask the students to think about “lifting and lengthening” their spine in various ways. We talk about each vertebra that makes up their spine. Lifting through the spine includes imagining that each vertebra has “space” in between. Using the core abdominal muscles will help align the spine. This stance also removes a sway back or forward tilt of the pelvis. Often this is referred to as a “neutral spine.” Correct posture also helps other muscles in the arms and legs to develop correctly. So here is how the body lines itself up properly in a well-trained dancer:
The head is supported by engaging the neck muscles, lifting the chin slightly and ensuring the ears are in line with the shoulders.
The shoulders are aligned with the hips.
The ribs are aligned with the pelvis/hips. The shoulders not be sticking out too far forward or concaved. The oblique muscles help with alignment. Students should image “space” between the bottom of the ribs and the top pelvis bones.
The pelvis should not be tipped forward or back.
The knees align over the ankle and the foot.
The arches of the feet should be lifted with all five toes lying comfortably flat on the floor.
The weight of foot should be equally distributed “in a triangle” (between the heels, between the first and the second toe and between the fourth toe and pinky.)
So “lifting and lengthening” the muscles sounds easy but takes both the mind and body working together to achieve the correct alignment.
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