I received a great question this week from John Hayes:
“Hi Brandi! I love what you’re doing here. I’m wondering what you might have to say in this forum for people who have physical challenges, such as arthritis or other issues, that place some limits on movement. I wonder if there are dance-oriented exercises/drills that may be of particular value for maintaining as much movement/flexibility as one can under the circumstances. My question is inspired by my own body: my L vertebrae are pretty much locked up at this point, and I have very little mobility in the lower back as a result. I also now have arthritis in my neck (aging can be really irritating), and two years ago that led to a pinched nerve that I have been able to overcome through physical therapy. I’m always interested in learning about therapeutic physical activity, and I wonder if there are particular approaches to common physical challenges that dancers have found helpful. Thanks!”
As dancers, and as humans, we are all faced with a unique set of physical challenges. It pays to be thoughtful in our approach to them.
My first thought goes to posture. It is important to be mindful of our posture throughout life knowing that our daily habits will affect it over the long run. Watch my video The 4 Ps. It will show you not only proper posture but how you should be applying it to your dancing. Find the weaknesses in your posture and commit to changing them. I find that passive work tends to be most effective as you will shift back to your most comfortable body position as soon as you begin dancing. Spend some time throughout the day sitting on a yoga ball, perhaps instead of your desk chair. If you carry your head weight forward, tilt your rearview mirror in your car up a few degrees or elevate your computer monitor as much as you can. These actions will help you to slowly correct your head position.
A great resource when it comes to posture and range of motion issues is a book called Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin. I’ve used this for years to correct my own problems as well as a wide variety of issues in students. While the intent of the book is to use imagery to overcome physical challenges, I find that the diagrams are very effective in explaining the positions we are trying to achieve and can give concrete guidance for correction.
Stretching and strength training are, of course, invaluable when it comes to keeping our bodies in peak dancing condition. This doesn’t require fancy equipment or a trainer. I’m a huge fan of planks and bodyweight exercises to build core strength and stability. When it comes to stretching, look to gradually and gently expand your range of motion particularly in your problem areas. Beyond that, spend some time dancing your drills, slowly and thoughtfully. Build your range of motion in the context of what it is that you will be doing while dancing.
Perhaps the most important point I would like to make on this subject is this: respect and honor the body you have been given, perceived flaws and all. We have been given only one unique tool with which to dance, and that is our individual body. We have a tendency to spend a tremendous amount of time studying how a hypothetical body should move and then an equal amount of time beating ourselves up because that is not how our body moves. Study your own body, how it moves today, because that is your starting point. Begin making changes from there while respecting your own physical limits.
West Coast Swing is a dance that affords dancers longevity unlike many other dance genres. Because of the wide range of styles that are correct and accepted, we don’t have to form ourselves into a physical ideal. Thank goodness! Because of that, we are not only all valued, but we are all needed to create the diversity that we hold dear in this dance.
Post your comments down below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject.