Teaching Tips

Ask Deb: How Can Dancers Stop Their Shoulder Blades From Winging?

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Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?


A: "Winged" shoulder blades happen when the inside border of the bone moves away from the ribs. This is generally caused by an imbalance in the muscles of the shoulder girdle. It's important to correct this so dancers can stabilize their shoulders for port de bras.

Winging commonly occurs when someone's shoulders are rounded or slumped. Many people try to correct this by simply pulling the shoulder blades together and standing straighter—this is only a temporary fix that often creates muscle strain. It's much better to stretch the pec minor and latissimus muscles while also strengthening the serratus anterior.

Stretch the pec minor by lying on a foam roller and placing your arms on a high diagonal. Breathe and allow your arms to drop toward the floor. Move your arms slightly to find where your tight spots are.

Stretch the lats by doing a doorway C-curve stretch. You may feel the stretch more in the armpit area, or even toward the waist and lower back. Round your back and bend your knees to find the "sweet spot."

To strengthen the serratus anterior you must first identify where the muscles are on your body. Do this by standing in good alignment and drawing your hands down toward the floor. Do you feel the muscle engagement under your armpit? That's your serratus anterior. Keep that muscle engaged through the next exercise.

Start by lying on your back with your elbows at a 90-degree angle, and the backs of your hands lying on the ground by your head. Keeping your back lengthened and ribs dropped, slowly slide your forearms and hands upward. Use the serratus anterior to keep your shoulder blades drawing toward your pelvis the whole time. This is not easy, but in time will give you the proper support for your port de bras.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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