Kick poor posture habits.
Think of your body’s structure like a car: If the wheels are out of alignment, the vehicle still works, but the tires and brakes function differently and the fuel efficiency is lower. “We can still get it done with poor posture, but the compensations we make can lead to an injury,” says Tom Burton, physical therapist and director of the Center for Rehabilitation Medicine at Southern California Orthopedic Institute (SCOI).
Alignment is fundamental to dance training. If it’s off track, it creates imbalances in technique, as well as in the development of your overall health. Assessing your posture can remedy aches and pains while setting a positive example for your students.
The majority of misalignment issues stem from repetitive movement in a single direction, says Dr. George Shirley, physical therapist and owner of Fast Track Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine in Utah. “You can work on fixing these problems by performing movements on both sides of each plane,” he says. Alternate with left and right when demonstrating combinations to prevent muscles from developing unevenly. And for your dancers, resist the urge to end class with only one side of the last combination, even when you’re crunched for time. Cross-training is the best way to correct imbalances that may have already formed. For dancers, Shirley recommends cycling, weight lifting, swimming and running.
Postural problems can also stem from sedentary positions. For instance, if you tend to stand with all your weight on one hip, you are not actively using your core muscles and legs, putting uneven pressure on your feet. This can cause compression on the fibers in your lower spine, resulting in chronic lower back pain. Try to stand with your weight evenly spread and wear supportive shoes to combat long hours on your feet at the studio. “Dance teachers may be in ballet slippers all day long, but they need to maintain alignment in the ankles, knees and hips,” says Dr. Elizabeth Blozé, a sports medicine doctor at SCOI. “They should be wearing a shoe with adequate arch support.” Invest in a pair of dance sneakers or place arch supports in your dance shoes.
Don’t just fix bad habits for your own health, but also for your students’. If they catch you slumping, they may subconsciously do the same. It will hinder not only their technique but also their attendance in the studio. A choreographer will focus on dancers who look confident and committed, and chances are, students will think the same of you if you’re standing tall as well. DT
Hannah Maria Hayes is an NYC freelance writer with an MA in dance education, American Ballet Theatre pedagogy emphasis, from New York University.
Dr. George Shirley offers these techniques to help visualize your best alignment:
When standing, level the hips and shoulders. Envision the earlobes aligning with the tips of the shoulders, the greater trochanters and the outside of each anklebone. From the side, there should be a natural curve of the spine, without rounded shoulders or swayback.
When sitting, the earlobes should be over the hips with feet flat on the floor. Keep shoulder blades together to prevent slumping.
Five Ways to Keep Posture in Check
1. Get a free physical therapy consult.
“Many health professionals are happy to give seminars or offer special times to allow for multiple students to come in to the clinic to be appropriately assessed,” says physical therapist George Shirley.
2. Set an alarm.
Physical therapist Tom Burton has patients set reminders to correct their sitting position. “Have your phone chime every 15 or 30 minutes,” he says. “You can maintain your posture as long as you are focused and adjusting on a regular basis.”
3. Give yourself a task.
When your students take a water break, get up and do the same. Giving yourself a task can force you to get out of a position you’ve been holding.
4. Look in the mirror.
Don’t be afraid to take a peek at yourself while you teach. “I truly believe narcissism is important in this case,” says Burton. “Visual cuing is very important.”
5. Ask for feedback.
Keep tabs with another teacher or make a deal with your students: If they stand properly during class (even when they’re not dancing), you’ll do the same.
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