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.