Importance of Posture in Dance and in Life
Strong Posture in Dance
We have all seen the beautiful, graceful ballet dancers. They have perfect posture and we sometimes look and feel like Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”
Poor posture contributes to lack of balance. Therefore, more accidents and falls occur which can result in strained or torn muscles, ligaments or tendons, or worse…broken bones. Poor posture contributes to dancers falling out of turns, losing balance in releve, and more. Poor posture also affects one’s self-esteem, and a decrease in overall health. Remember our parents saying, “sit up straight”, “stop slouching” or “hold your shoulders back”? Well… they were right (mostly). We just need to make sure to use the proper muscles to do those things.
What is “strong posture?”
Strong posture is the correct alignment of the body so that the bones and muscles can hold you upright, against gravity, with the least amount of energy. All too often we are over taxing our bodies with poor posture (slumped at a computer, hunched over a smart phone, slouching while standing, etc.) which results in tight, achy or sore muscles at the end of the day or even after completing simple activities. Worst of all poor posture can result in injuries that could have been avoided. Not to worry, because we CAN improve our posture.
Importance of Posture in Dance and Life
Strong posture starts with self-awareness of your body. Start by looking at yourself in a full length mirror. From the feet up, your feet should be shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, pelvis over your legs. Torso, which includes the shoulders, should be over your pelvis. Head level and over your torso, with eyes forward. Think of a string attached to the top of your head and it is being pulled up to the ceiling. Feel your spine elongate. Stand tall and strong.
Now, we are going to start with the basics and build from there. We will not make major changes but rather fine tuning what you already have. Even small fine tuning adjustments can affect major postural improvements resulting in better balance and posture.
To be great dancer, we must have balance and proper functional motion in addition to strength and flexibility to perform the powerful, yet graceful movements demanded of us in dance.
What do I need to do to have Strong Posture?
We will look at three basic but important aspects that dancers need to focus on to develop strong posture: 1) proper breathing, 2) balance, and 3) core stability.
1) Breathing Exercise: Breathing seems simple enough. We do it all the time. But are we breathing correctly? Try this. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest and breathe normally. Which hand is moving and which hand is still? Proper breathing comes from the diaphragm moving downward and the ribcage expanding as we breathe in. As we exhale, the diaphragm moves upward, the ribcage returns and the abdomen moves towards your spine. If the hand on your chest is moving with each breath, then you are considered a “chest breather” and will need to focus on a relaxed breathing through the diaphragm and allowing the ribcage to move freely while the chest remains stationary. Now, try practicing 5 slow correct breaths.
2) Balance and the one leg stance (Stork) Exercise: Practice standing on one leg every day as a balance exercise. Standing on one leg forces you to focus on your equilibrium and actively teaches you to improve your balance. This is called proprioception and is defined in layman’s terms as: how your brain knows where your body is in space. As you stand on one foot there are thousands of small adjustments that your foot and body as a whole is making every millisecond to ensure you remain upright. Think of your brain as the computer of your body, constantly sending and receiving sensory information to and from every part of your body. Over time, we can strengthen and train our brain and body to communicate better which improves our posture and therefore our balance, strength and grace.
3) Core stability: “Strong and stable core muscles contribute to strong posture and results in a body that is centered, tall, straight, easily balanced and graceful with motion,” as stated by Steven P. Weiniger, DC. The core muscles of your body are more than a corset that wraps around your mid section, they also include a top and bottom component as well, which makes it more like a large soup can than a corset.
The components of your core are as follows: the main part of the soup can is the transverse abdominus, the spine of the soup can is the multifidus, the top of the can is the diaphragm and the bottom of the can are the pelvic floor muscles. All four groups of muscles must be strong and work together to facilitate strong posture, resulting in the balance and grace you desire.
Dancers (and us regular folk) should strive for a strong posture.
To be a great dancer we must have balance and proper functional motion in addition to strength and flexibility to perform the graceful movements. With strong posture you can obtain optimal performance, reduce your risk for injury and maximize function. Remember practice makes perfect. It takes time to develop a strong posture…but, the benefits of strong posture will last a lifetime.
Where can I learn more?
Ms Laura Crittendon, MA, DMT, LMT (HM Dance Co's resident Dance Movement Therapist and Master Teacher) offers group classes and private lessons at HM Dance Co & Performing Arts (in downtown Corona) and at her private studio Kona Pilates & Gyrotonic of Chino Hills.
Classes offered at HM Dance include: Strength Training and Injury Prevention for Dancers and Athletes, Pilates & Yoga for Dancers, and Bootie Barre. All three classes are open to the public for students age 10 to adult.
Additional times/days for these classes added upon request.