Q:I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?
I have a dancer who has a very tight back. She can't even touch her toes. She says it doesn't hurt, but she feels no stretch. I am able to push her back down further (with no pain for her), but she just can't do it on her own. How can I help her? —Anna
I have a tall student who complains of pain in her middle back—at the bra strap area. She feels pain when sitting at school and if we are doing any sort of jump with the leg in arabesque. She has seen a doctor who suggested taking heavy pain meds when she feels uncomfortable. Can you suggest anything?
Denise Wall demonstrates her T-neck alignment imagery. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Spinal alignment is like turnout, says Michael Kelly Bruce, associate professor of dance at The Ohio State University. "It's a mechanism, not an aesthetic." But as with turnout, dancers' visual goals often lead them to force their bodies into unnatural positions. "A healthier spine has to do with acknowledging the structural integrity of what's there, as opposed to changing it to meet that aesthetic," he explains. He compares a spine without its natural curves to winging the foot. "It's gorgeous in arabesque, but you don't want to stand on it. It's not very supportive," he says. Ballet dancers are particularly prone to extremes in erasing the curves from their backs. "People from New York City Ballet dance gorgeously, but in my opinion, their spines are weird," says Bruce.