Dancing allows us to use all our body to move, but the positioning and use of the head is more important than most people think – and I’m not only talking about what goes on inside! – but the actual physical positioning of the head. The average human head weighs around 5-6 kilos and it’s delicately balanced at the top of our spinal column. Along with our muscles the spine helps us stay up right, and it’s important to remember, not only when dancing, that the spine starts within the skull (the atlas and axis vertebra) and finished with our tailbone (coccyx). The pure weight of the head alone has a big impact on our alignment.
When finding our dance posture we always start with our feet, and then work our way up, in order to get the foundations right. You can read my article on how to stay perfectly aligned when dancing here.
Once the weight is distributed correctly on the feet, our ankles, knees and hip joints are beautifully aligned and we’re lifting up and out of our hips, our head should lift up too, like on a marionette doll that has a string attached to the crown. This ‘lifting up’ is just as important as getting the feet right, but how do you do that without straining your neck? It’s a fine line between tucking your chin in and creating too much of a forced stretch at the back of your neck. Something I’ve personally experienced, following instructions from both an Osteopath and a Physiotherapist. I was overthinking it and thereby creating misalignment – something that can easily be done. Therefore it’s always important to seek feedback and corrections from people that you trust to do so correctly.
In Alexander Technique conscious projection is used to free the head – to nearly think about the neck being free and the head going forwards and up, allowing the back to lengthen and widen. These are not actions to be done, merely an intension, for the body to allow this to happen without any strain and effort.
Children are born to move instinctively and naturally and I love watching my 3 year old running around and getting physically stronger and more confident every single day. It’s once humans get forced into sitting in chairs and sofas – that really don’t do our bodies any good the troubles start. Not too mention electronic devices that require us to crank our neck and our pull our shoulders forwards.
Try having a look at people around you, notice their posture (but please avoid the temptation to try to correct them unless you know them!). The neck tends to be rounded forwards, and so are the shoulders, with a substantial curve in the lower back. No wonder people get back and head aches -because this is not how the human body is designed to function.
Your head is the primary control of your entire body, and your eyes are the primary control of your head. We are very visual creatures and the eyes are so much more than the gateway to the soul.
Our eyes move when we think, they give away emotions and they are also very important to how we move and therefore our posture and alignment. Where your eyes are directed can determine the position of your head which will govern the rest of your body. How many times have you heard not to look at the floor when you’re dancing – not only does it ruin your posture, but also it will create tension in your upper body which will influence not only how you move, but also very much how your dancing looks. Also, – you really can’t see what your hips are doing anyway when looking down.
There are times and places where tucking the chin a lot is right in your dancing, or when lowering your gaze is important, but try never to crack your neck down fully or all the way back. There are special techniques used for specific dance styles, and the very fashionable Iraqi head tossing is one of them, as is the more mellow khaleegy from the Gulf.
By always remembering to direct your eyes and allow your neck to be the long extension of your spine that it is – whilst keeping it free – the rest will follow almost naturally. We humans are designed to look at what’s ahead and not necessarily what’s below. We would never have made it out of the jungle and down from the frees, if we only looked at our feet. Try going for a walk and monitor where your eyes are looking. Are you looking down, at the sky, the horizon, or at your phone? Now try going for a walk and trust your brain and eyes to be able to scan the ground about 3 meters ahead of you. Your brain is very clever and capable at detecting unevenness, texture changes and any lumps and bumps in your way. but you will need to keep your gaze up. This way of ‘looking out’ will not only free up your neck and upper body, but also help your back move better – in fact all of your body will move better and the same rules apply in the dance studio.
If we always moved perfectly aligned, we would all carry less tension, which would also make dancing easier. But we’re only humans, so most of the time we need to remind ourselves of treating our body with some thought and kindness. So try thinking about how you use your eyes, how you align your body, and not least how you’re sitting when you’re sitting, because we can’t all be dancing all the time, nor should we necessarily be in dance posture the entire time.
We all know that dancers have better than average posture, but also that they appear to have more confidence – and I chose the word ‘appear’ because sometimes it is simply the way the body is used that gives that impression. Who wants to watch someone who can’t make eye contact and looks like they’d rather sink into a hole in the floor?
Whether you’re dancing, or walking into work, think eyes, teeth and collarbone (I say collarbone instead of chest for a reason!). If your default posture is lifted and open like this, you will come across self-confident as well as open and approachable. Just make sure that chin isn’t lifted – just naturally tucked.
You don’t even need to flash your teeth, but having a slightly smile will keep your face relaxed, and with your collarbones flared (meaning opening your chest and placing those shoulder on your back where they belong) you are likely to be noticed and respected.
Translating this to the stage; making sure your mouth is slightly open will give you a softer look whilst also help you breath and avoid you clenching your teeth! Yes, you will also look slightly more sexy, but just don’t try to overthink or over do this… By keeping your eyes open and letting the audience see the white in your eyes (achieved by looking slightly over people’s head if you’re too nervous to make eye contact), you’ll have more impact and become more trust worthy and watchable (human’s are hard wired to judge other people by looking at their eyes as well as overall body language). Finally, flaring those collarbones will help you maintain your posture and help give more stage presence.
So there you have it, ways to use your head (and the rest of your posture) as well as eyes to move better – no matter what you’re doing.
I hope you found this article useful, and please leave me a comment below if you did, so we can keep the knowledge sharing going for more beautiful and beautifully poised belly dance.
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: How to master your dance breathing