We all know that there is an “ideal” posture that we all strive to achieve while we are in dance class, but what is it and why is it so important?
Well balance alignment is essential for dancers to develop good dance technique and prevent injury. Dancers need to learn to control this placement not only whilst standing in class, but also as they move through space. Controlling alignment is an ongoing challenge and something dancers strive to achieve throughout their career.
So what is correct posture or alignment?
The best place to start is looking at the way our body was designed. There are 3 natural curves present in a healthy spine: a cervical lordosis, a thoracic kyphosis and a lumbar lordosis. Traditionally dancers work to flatten out these curves in an attempt to lengthen their spine and avoid postures such as the sway back or lordotic posture, however this can place the spine at greater risk. Neutral alignment of the spine, especially the low back is important for stability of the lumbar spine and allowing optimum movement in all directions.
It is important to remember that there is more to the spine than just the bones. Between each of the vertebrae (bones of the spine) there are discs. These discs act as the shock absorber between each of the vertebra in the spinal column by keeping the vertebrae separated when there is impact from activity. They also protect the nerves that run down the middle of the spine. Through the centre of the vertebrae runs the spinal cord – this is the thick bundle of nerve fibres that connects the brain to almost all parts of the body. The nerves that talk to your muscles and organs come from this spinal cord and travel out between each of the vertebrae to their destination. Surrounding the vertebrae are connective tissues, blood supplies and ligaments. So as you can see there are many vital things going on and if any of these structures are damaged it can have devastating consequences. Think about all these things next time you are doing contortion tricks! (But that’s a whole other post).
But back to alignment…
Correct posture is the correct alignment of the body so that the bones and muscles can hold you upright, against gravity, with the least amount of energy. You should be able to hold this position by working the deep postural muscles, however it shouldn’t take all your muscle energy to stand ready for an exercise – You would be exhausted before you even started dancing.
Looking from the side, if you drew a straight line down the side of the body, “ideal” alignment places the earlobe over the centre of the shoulder, over the centre of the waist, over the centre of the hip joint (just in front of the bony bit on the side of your thigh), over the centre of the knee joint and finally through the centre of the ankle. Of course – this is just for when you are standing, once you start moving everything changes again!
When we walk into class we automatically start thinking about our posture (or our teachers remind us to!). The problem is that dance class is usually only a few hours per night… what about all the rest of the time? Do you think about your posture then? What about in between exercises? This is the time when our postural habits affect muscles and cause some to become tight and some to lengthen and become weak.
Banana Back Posture
Standing with a “banana back” or anterior tilt through the pelvis results in shortened hip flexors and spine extensor muscles in the low back. The majority of the load is taken through the lumbar spine and this is usually the first spot that dancers will complain of pain. The abdominal muscles and glutes are constantly being lengthened and will become weak. I find these dancers struggle with holding their leg in devant and also find flexing through their lumbar spine difficult.
Sway Back Posture
Dancers that stand with a “sway back” tend to be those that are hypermobile. They stand with their hips shifted forward, their upper back behind their centre and their knees hyperextended. In these dancers their upper abdominal muscles and diaphragm are often overactive which makes breathing correctly very difficult! The front of the hips are placed on constant stretch, in particular the hip capsule. These dancers often feel like their hips are tight and are constantly stretching them. This sensation of tightness is because the muscles at the front of the hip are over active to prevent any further stress on the hip capsule. It is important for these dancers to focus on releasing their glutes and hamstrings and not stretching the front of their hips as this is only going to aggravate their hips further.
Hip Sitter Posture
The final posture is the “hip sitter”. These dancers tend to sit into one hip, hyperextending the knee of that side and bending the knee on the other. The effect on the body is therefore asymmetrical. Dancers who stand like this will have one hip that is tight, one that is over stretched, one hip that seems to turnout more easily than the other and one side of their lower back that is tighter. This posture can be due to asymmetries in muscular development or scoliosis or can develop following injury when then dancer wants to reduce the load on one side of their body.
So my challenge to you
Take a photo of yourself in your “normal” standing position. The one you stand in when no one is looking! Draw a line down the side of your body and see if you can analyse what may be tight, weak or over active. Can you point to the areas that you tend to experience pain? Do they match up with the way you stand? If you need help – True Potential Physiotherapy is happy to help you through.