Posture is the most important thing when dancing, yet many struggle to maintain it, not least when performing and the nerves or the pure joy of dancing starts kicking in! So how do you stay ‘zipped up’ as one dancer so appropriately called it. Well, it all starts with finding out and not least feeling what it means for you to be perfectly aligned, and then it’s unfortunately as boring as ‘practise, practise, practice.’ Muscle strength is also important, but in my experience a lot can be said for pure ‘muscle memory’ too. See below for how you can start working on this straight away.
Feedback and corrections are also essential, and I realise that can be difficult for some who may not be able to attend a regular class or have a qualified teacher nearby that they feel they can use for this. But no matter what dance style you’re practising, corrections are essential to help you move your best. Practise makes permanent – not necessarily perfect! Even professional dancers can develop habits that aren’t serving them or their dancing well – for example due to injuries, so getting help either through a series of 1-2-1s or a Technique Review is an essential tool in any dancers development.
Alignment includes the entire body, but it generally starts with your feet and ends with our head – or actually slightly above it! You can read more on this in next week’s blog.
I’ve previous written about how to improve your foot foundation which you can read here.
I always ask my students to start their alignment at the feet, and then move up their body applying corrections as they are needed. Are your knees over your ankles? Are your hips over your knees? And finally, are you lifted – as if you have a string at the top of your head, which helps lift straight up – like a marionette doll. The foundation for the ‘lifting up’ is just as important as the feet, but they work alongside one another to ensure correct alignment can also be maintained.
We all go in and out of alignment all the time, but as long as we know, or rather can feel, where the right alignment is, then we can always correct ourselves along the way. You can’t rely on a mirror, so you need to knowing how it feels when you move in alignment, so you can find your way back again, because when we dance we move in and out of alignment all the time to create the various moves and poses.
Why is this so important? Because, when correctly aligned the right muscles can get to work, creating the movements that we want, and not only will that help us dance better, but even more importantly – it will help you protect and strengthen our body in the long run.
The best alignment test to do on your own is to find a bit of blank wall and stand with your back up against it. Make sure to wear light clothes and ideally no shoes (or suitable dance shoes). Make sure to have your heels 5cm or so away from the wall to make room for your derriere (after all, everyones’s bum is a different shape and volume…). Your bum and both shoulder blades should touch the wall standing like this, these are your three points of reference. Your head will be ever so slightly forwards and not touching the wall, although sometimes it’s nice to let that touch too, to counter-act a sticking chin or slouching upper body.
Softening the knees and tucking under approximately 30% will help you make the majority of your back/spinal column touch the wall. You may find that your have to bend your knees quite a lot to make this happen to start with, but keep trying and then eventually straighten your legs, so they still have a bit of give in them but without being locked. Voila – you’ve found your perfect posture – for dancing and life in general!
Try stepping away form the wall and then go back again but just 1 cm or so before touching the wall. Now relax and let yourself lean gently back. If your buttocks and both shoulder blades touch at the same time you’ve maintained your perfect alignment. If only one shoulder touches – then you’re twisting slightly. If too much of the back isn’t touching, then you aren’t tucking under quite enough, but for most people there will always be a bit that doesn’t touch due to the individual curve of the spine.
Try the previously mentioned exercise first thing in the morning when you get out of bed, and then again several times during the day and also before going to bed. Normally, gravity will start taking it’s toll on your posture during the day, but little postural reminders can help counteract this, as can lying down on your back for 10-15 minutes. I know that’s a luxury only few will have, but even if you can just lie down for a few minutes you will make gravity work in your favour by lengthening and widening your torso and letting your shoulders melt down. Maybe you could find a few minutes during the afternoon for this?
If you lie down, make sure to have your knees bent and your feet on the floor, with enough space between your knees to they don’t roll in our outwards. This will help you keep your pelvis in neutral – in other words – touch the floor. In order for this to work you will need to have a few books or a yoga block to support your head. You may need someone to help you find the right heigh or you can use your phone to take a few photos of your neck position. Your spine should still be aligned in this position; too low and your chin will stick up and crank your neck, too high and your chin will be too tucked pulling your head forwards. This exercise will hopefully also make you want think about what pillow you’re using and the position of your head and in fact your entire body when sleeping…
Correcting your posture and staying aligned is something that will take time, but as already mentioned it’s time well invested as it can help you move more efficiently, hold less tension in your body, avoid injuries by moving better and stronger, and not least, help you dance and carry yourself better every single day.
You will need to do several posture reminders every single day and you will also need to have some feedback from either a qualified dance teacher or an Alexander Technique, Yoga, Osteopath or Physiotherapist. I have used all of these options in the past, and although their vocabulary may be slightly different, they are all professionally trained to view and identify issues with movement and posture.
In next week’s blog I will talk more about exercises and tips for improving your posture and not least how to also let this help you dance and perform better too! I will also be sharing some exercises and drills that can help you work on strength and creating more balance in your posture and the way you move.
Until then – happy dancing and not least maintaining and moving in that newly found perfect posture.
Don’t forget to let me know if you found this article useful by leaving a comment below. Even if you’ve already nailed your own perfect alignment – maybe some of this could be helpful to your students?
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: How to master your dance breathing