Working in a small space can be an optimal time to break down large goals and achieve not only them, but the ability to dance longer and dance stronger.
What is (are) your short and long term goal(s)? Write them down.
Break that down.
Break that down further. And yet, again.
I often hear from my students, "I want to increase strength." or "I want to increase flexibility."
These are valid, but arbitrary goals. What does "strength" mean? What does "flexibility" mean?
I suggest that both are needed to help each other. More on that forthcoming - read on!
What if the goal is specific? "I want to do a triple pirouette." Again, break it down.
For example, I'll break down the goal of a triple pirouette, in parallel. The mechanics of a pirouette include physics, and from the ground up, foot strength, calf strength, alignment of the ankle/lower leg, knee, femur, and pelvis, flexion of the femur in the hip socket of the working leg, core strength, back strength, arm placement, application of spotting techniques, and balance on one leg for the time it takes to execute a triple pirouette. There are a lot of elements on which one could work to enhance the mechanics of a triple pirouette without actually just repeating the pirouette. In truth, without proper execution of these mechanics, repeating a task improperly will not be effective in the long term for achieving the goal with consistency.
Some exercises might include: calf raises with a focus on alignment and strength or use of a resistance band; Pilates exercises to increase the strength of the iliopsoas for hip flexion, core stability and rotation, and back strength; planks to increase core and arm strength and alignment; and/or balancing in parallel pase. Can you think of others? This might be incorporated into class, as a pre-class warm up, or as part of cross-training for dance in your small space.
As I mentioned previously, flexibility and strength are equally important. For more reading and research, check out this article from Dance Informa: Why the Australian Ballet dancers quit stretching.
Flexibility is defined as the range of motion around a joint. Many dancers are able to manipulate multiple joints to achieve a look for a moment. (I refer you back to the tilt challenge on social media a few years ago and the many dance scientists who argued against it because of the extreme displacement of the body in an effort to achieve a momentary image.) Strength is necessary in order to stabilize the area around a joint for the most efficient and safe movement pathways to be achieved.
But that's not all! Laura Baehr, DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) reminds me that this type of training is not only beneficial for our bodies, but also for our brains! Repetition of physical movement creates neurological pathways that can change our brains over time. This ability of the nervous system and the brain to change and adapt is called neuroplasticy. (Neuro - having to do with nerves or the nervous system. Plasticy - ability to adapt or change.) Neuroplasticy happens through and supports repetition. In practice, if you want to remember proper ankle/knee/ pelvis alignment so you can achieve triple pirouettes every time you execute the skill, you need to repeat the "broken down" exercises on a regular basis. Your body and brain will remember these new pathways and you'll be well on your way to successful multiple turns. Neuroplasticity doesn't just apply to pirouettes... the concept is referenced in medicine and rehabilitative practices. Click here to dig into neuroplasticity.
Everyone's body is different and each of us has different strengths and imbalances. I encourage you to take the time in small spaces to break down your goals and explore your own strengths and imbalances. You might be surprised that you're dancing longer and dancing stronger when you get to move in big spaces, again.
Happy and safe exploring!
Thank you to Dr. Laura Baehr for your insight and expertise. Check out this dancing scientist at Laura Baehr Moves (or on instagram @labmoves).
|Strength and flexibility are necessary for dance technique and performance. |
Pic by Brian Mengini Photography from a pre-2020 performance