Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Old Dog, New Tricks - hyperextension

I love learning about bodies!

Our bodies hold our stories and provide clues to who we are - even if we are not conscious of our own embodiment!

And... bodies are also a source of contemplation, competition, and manipulation.

As a dancer, I inadvertently advocate for physical manipulation (albeit with positive intent!).

In a recent rehearsal, ballet teacher and beautiful dancer Amy Novinski provided me with some tips on how to increase the line of my arabasque.

Amy has a beautiful arabasque line! (She's also a beautiful all-around dancer and teacher!)
Read more about Amy: Amy's bio
She suggested that I begin with engaging my deepest penche with the use of the barre, and pulse my gesture leg (I pulse about 10 times). Then, keeping my leg at that level, I use the barre and my back muscles to lift my torso (only a few inches) and pulse my leg again. I repeat this several times until my torso is upright and my leg is ideally at the same level it was originally.  Repeat on the other leg, daily. I've been working on this.

I've also heard that arabasque is as much about the torso moving forward to counterbalance the leg, as it is about the extension of the leg behind the body.

I'm interested in extensive research, so I also asked for the advice of Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo. She suggested that the hyperextension in my legs, and the fact that I give into that hyperextension, was primarily to blame for my struggle with technique - not just with my arabasque.

As a dancer, I've learned that I need to understand my body in order to be able to properly use her, and manipulate her. For me, this means that I understand the kinesological mechanics of the joints, muscles, and boney structure. I'm also interested in the way that food digests (or not) into the physical form and the way that physical properties (food, activity, hormones) effect/ affect the emotional, intellectual, and biological properties of the brain.

A prominent dance scientist told me in a Kinesology class about the screw-home mechanism in the knee. Loosely, it's the ability of the tibia and fibula to "lock" into the boney structure of the femur, supporting and effectively stacking the bones of the leg. Because this is a biological and physiological mechanism, it should provide the dancer with a natural support (even in hyperextension).

But, aesthetics and nature don't always agree.

I asked Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo the same question I asked Amy. How do I increase the degree of my arabasque? I also asked her why my body wanted my arabasque to veer outside of my alignment, into a "seca-basque", a line that twists the leg and the pelvis.

Dr. Laura immediately noted that I was standing, and sinking into, the hyperextension of my knees. She suggested that proper ballet technique wasn't designed for anomalies like hyperextension, and to execute the technique properly, I needed to adjust my habitual alignment.

I had heard from a Graham dancer that I needed to keep my knees slightly bent in order to properly execute Graham technique, but I also thought that was a "fault" of the technique and aesthetic. Now, hearing it again from a ballet scholar, I realize my need to re-evaluate my thinking and practices.

I've embodied this research in my practice - in classes, in teaching, and in rehearsals.

Here are my findings:

When I don't "lock" into my knees, the joints hurt less, but the muscles and "stuff" surrounding my knee joint are more sore.

"Sinking" into my hyperexteion transfers my weight into my heels. In order to counterbalance and maintain a sort of "natural" alignment, my tail tips back and the top of my pelvis tips forward. I can engage my abdominals, but not enough to prevent most of my torso weight from being supported by my lumbar spine, creating low back pain. My ribs and my thoracic spine jut forward and my shoulder girdle drifts back to create a counterbalance. My head and cervical spine have figured out their own negotiation, but it's all based upon the support I have from my lower body. In practice, when I slightly bend my knees instead of fully straightening them, I find a different sense of alignment and balance, physically, but also emotionally. (Please refer to my post on Vulnerability).

I'm finding that if I can drop my tail and fully engage my abdominal cavity, I am able to release some of the tension in my heart center/ thoracic cavity in order to maintain a sense of support and stability. Emotionally, this releases some of the stress of my heart-center and allows me to be more vulnerable, artistically.

Check out this article that explores how our bodies hold stress: Releasing the Stress by Releasing our Body

The aforementioned article and my own, personal research makes me question how much of our social interactions are based upon on physical well-being. How much of our socio-policial-economic environment could be changed if we only paid attention to our bodies and their needs?

There are so many current examples in our country and our world that could benefit from this type of investigation. (I won't get into the economic, biologic, and ecological drama of Flint, Michigan at this time... but I encourage you to think for yourself...)

What are your own thoughts and findings?  

No comments:

Post a Comment