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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

September 1997

Better Posture...Better Health...Better Dancing

By Rick Allen, DC

Better health leads to better dancing.

I've seen the perfect answer to every dance teachers request to stand up tall. It's the metal frame on the back of Shohei, the Japanese businessman in the marvelous movie, Shall We Dance? playing at the KOIN cinema in downtown Portland and reviewed in the September issue of Instep. It was an external metal frame, hooking on the low back and neck, with outriggers to hold the arms in proper, although very rigid, dance frame. There are better, more natural ways to create the change wanted by dance teachers and students alike. It creates the graceful illusion of floating across the dance floor, as I described in my first column for the June 1996 issue of Instep. When I spoke with a number of teachers and students about topics for this issue, the basic topics of posture, dance frame and the resultant proper balance were suggested by two thirds of those surveyed. So, let's get back to fundamental, unchanging basics.

The Goal

Viewed from the side, your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle should be in alignment for proper, basic posture. Your head is up and your eyes gaze across the room. You feel light. Your balance is slightly over the balls of your feet as you prepare to move forward. Your drive or propulsion is through the leg and hip. In more advanced dancing, such as silver level fox trot, the man will arch slightly to the left when in closed dance position, as if his right lung only was filled with air. The woman will complement this by tilting her axis to the left, like the axis of Mother Earth, when in closed dance position. (Thanks to local dance instructor Linda Springstead for these last two visual cues.)

The Reality

Take stock of your current posture. Take a good look at yourself in a mirror, both from the front and from the side. Because the very act of observing yourself from the side will alter your posture, I suggest having a friend hang a plumb line from the ceiling and taking a photograph as you stand with your hip bisected by the line. All too often, your head is tilted forward, shoulders are rolled in and chest appears sunken. You may even appear to be looking down at the floor. Leaning forward and looking down puts a lot of stress on the neck and upper back, leading to distorted posture, tight muscles, and, many times, headaches. Done long enough, the body changes, creating a hump in the upper back, rope-like bands of muscle that is really like gristle, contributes to anterior compression fractures of the spine and even promotes hammer toes and bunions. Serious stuff!

Ask yourself, how do little old men and women end up bent forward with a large hump in their backs? It develops slowly, insidiously over years of sitting, working, watching TV or computer screens, etc. in a stressful, modern society. It takes active change to counter these forces and to achieve proper functional posture.

Another reality check is to have your instructor video tape your dancing for a few minutes and review the tape immediately. Ask your instructor what could be done better. That sure helped my partner and me last week at our lesson.

When you are next at the beach, walk barefoot in the sand. Note the impression made by your feet. Is there a well-formed arch, rather than being flat? Does your foot have an even, symmetrical outward angle of only about five to ten degrees from straight forward? Do the toes point straight from the foot, rather than at an outward angle, technically called halux valgus? Do you have hammer toes? If your feet are not providing the proper foundation, your legs may appear different in length, your back may ache and you won't be standing properly or dancing your best. Professionally produced orthotics may be necessary.

Lastly, if your neck appears stiff and straight, if you have frequent headaches, or if you have been in an accident that injured your neck (even a mild fender bender of a motor vehicle accident), you may need to have your chiropractic, osteopathic, naturopathic or medical doctor take radiographs of your spine. As a chiropractor, I see a lot of cases where the patient has lost the natural, lordotic curve of the neck. This may not be apparent from just looking at your neck from the side. A simple, but imperfect check is to notice if the ear is located above the shoulders when the shoulders are properly back. But a straight neck can be hidden by hair, a thick neck, or shoulders being rolled forward. The long-term consequences of a straight neck are also serious: headaches, bone spurs on the vertebrae, degenerative disc disease, and even numbness and tingling from pressure on the nerves running from the neck out the arms to the hands. If you have any concerns, it is definitely worth getting checked out by a knowledgeable professional, one who specializes in spinal biomechanics.

Even if you are not experiencing such serious problems, you simply won't dance your best if your posture is not also the best.

Solutions

Step one is just to ask your dance instructor for help. Perhaps it is as simple as seeing yourself in the mirror or on video and then making a change. Step two may be to get necessary professional help. I described myofascial release therapy in the June 1996 Instep article. Take a look at the article. Based on your response questions, I plan on expanding on postural correction, orthotics, spinal curves and dance next month.

Don't get discouraged, you will probably need to be reminded of these basics. The great performers and athletes always repeat their grounding in the basics with their coaches.

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