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Role of the Core in Dance Techniques

This is an excerpt from Dance Anatomy-3rd Edition by Jacqui Haas.

Every dance technique requires intense control, which is provided by core strength. Consider the technique of Irish dance. These dancers must hold their spine firm throughout their sets. Their trunk placement must be intensely secure so that they can emphasize their legs and feet with incredible speed. In this and all other forms of dance, technique is demanding, and injury can keep you from training and competing. Fortunately, you can improve your body placement and reduce your risk of injury by including core conditioning in your dance training.

We know that ballroom, social, or partner dance is fluid and beautiful to watch, but it is also quick and powerful. To achieve this effect, each partner must be acutely tuned in to each other’s center and alignment to effectively lead and follow. Indeed, the swing, waltz, and salsa (to name a few) require extreme coordination; both dancers must hold their waists firm to provide stability for the pelvis and enable quick footwork. Strong core musculature also provides for safe and efficient support when the spine needs to be flexible and move in extension with rotation.

Ballroom encompasses all forms of social dancing: folk, Latin, and vintage dancing. This field is highly competitive. Contestants are judged not only on footwork and style but also on posture, body alignment, timing, and speed. Knowing what we know about deep core strength, wouldn’t a series of exercises designed to improve posture and body alignment help improve rehearsal and performance efficiency? Even noncompetitive recreational social dancers will benefit from core training to improve their skills. Being centered and maintaining postural control provide long-term benefits for anyone who enjoys social dancing.

Modern and contemporary choreography require tricky, creative jump combinations and movement patterns that pose challenges for the spine. In dancers who lack the ability to contract the local stabilizers to provide dynamic segmental stability, their movements will be sloppy and weak. Moreover, if the spine and pelvis are unprepared, then landing from nontraditional jumping steps will create injury risks. Graham, Horton, Cunningham, and Taylor techniques require dancers to move against gravity with emotional conviction. There are movement sequences on the floor; while seated, kneeling, moving through space, jumping, and traveling; while deep breathing; and variations of all the above. Many of the movements include falling to the floor, partnering, and traveling–turning combinations. Some of the movements are lyrical and some are grounded; much of the choreography calls for excessive movement through the spine and hip, including spinal flexion and contraction, layouts, tilts, side-bends with rotation, extensions with rotation, and spiraling. Regardless of the style of modern dance, appropriate training of your core muscles can enhance your performance.

Specific exercises presented in this chapter can help you engage your core musculature while putting your spine in more nontraditional lines. Consider, for example, the functional obliques in second position and functional trunk-twist exercises. Both focus on nontraditional movement with muscular support for the spine—specifically, abdominal bracing while working in various planes and patterns.

Even if you are not interested in a career in professional ballet, you might be required to take classes in ballet technique as part of your training. Indeed, even if you just enjoy watching ballet and take a couple of beginner ballet classes per week, you need control of your spine. Whereas other styles of dance are more grounded, classical ballet gives the illusion of a lifted, light, and airy quality.

Ballet can be based on various styles—for instance, Vaganova, Cecchetti, Balanchine, and Bournonville—but the foundation always rests on five basic positions of the feet with the legs turned out. This technique alone requires centering and spine control. In addition, for dancers of all ages who perform ballet, a strong center is extremely important for placement, turns, jumps, landing from jumps, and, of course, pointe work. (We have Marie Taglioni to thank for being one of the pioneers in creating ballet movement en pointe)! Moreover, ballet calls for extreme joint motion and torso control. Therefore, proper alignment is crucial for both spinal control and injury reduction (recall the plumb line discussed in chapter 4). Once you have developed good alignment, you can emphasize strengthening.

In all dance styles, movement can be divided into phases: preparatory, ascending, flight, descending, and landing. The ascending phase usually engages muscles in concentric contraction. The flight phase should have a “lift, hold, and hover” look, which requires extreme core strength and isometric contraction. The descending phase requires eccentric contraction; some of the muscles lengthen but still support the movement while landing. This eccentric contraction, which is associated with control of the descending phase, is important for reducing injuries on landing. Some studies show, for instance, that landing from jumps can create a force up to 12 times that of your body weight! Improvements in trunk control and balance plus emphasizing strength and alignment can help reduce the risk of injury on landings.

More Excerpts From Dance Anatomy 3rd Edition