Explaining spinal flexion to your dancers can be tricky. But we've got you covered. Watch this video for the full script.
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.
In his classes, Bruce coaches students to understand their torsos in three dimensions. When cueing dancers' spinal flexion, he focuses on lengthening the back rather than contracting the front. "The images I work with are on the opposite side," he says. "It's about lengthening the vertebra away from one another, and as a result, the front works."
Having dancers work on movement while lying on the floor is particularly helpful, he says, because it lets them use gravity in a different way to make familiar movements easier or more challenging. Here, he shares a floor series for finding mobility, stability and length in the spine.
In this series, Bruce asks students to focus on the expanding side of the body more than the contracting side to stay aware of the torso's three-dimensionality.