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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

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

November 1997

Ups and Downs

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

How are your spinal curves doing? Remember how important they are for the health of your nervous system and, consequently, your whole body? Each day as a chiropractor I realize more and more how true this is. Why? Because I see a stream of patients who fall into two broad categories as they age -- those that take care of their health (physical, mental and spiritual) and those that don't. Taking care of your spine and, hence, your nervous system make a very, very visible difference as we mature into our 40's, 50's, 60's and beyond. That visible difference is translated into a passion for life, a zest that brings enjoyment every day to each one of us and to those with whom we interact.

This month, let's take dancing to a higher plane. Let's (carefully) add some theatrical moves. Maybe it's as simple as creating a dramatic line with the lady leaning up against the guy like sultry Katherine King at the September USABDA dance. Or perhaps it is more daring, like Carolyn Vivian flying through the air with her instructor Jeff Robinson. In any case, you can bet these moves didn't happen over night.

Before launching into this aspect of dance, consider three points:

  1. Just as proper lifting techniques must be taught in the work place, proper instruction is necessary to safely learn such moves and incorporate them into your dance routines.

  2. If proper posture, balance and timing are important in everyday ballroom dance, imagine how vital they are when doing lifts and drops.

  3. Be prepared to practice and practice and practice.

A good example of what you may be in for is shown in the movie On the Edge. In a nutshell, the boy-meets-girl story goes like this: Young male ice hockey skater is injured. He turns to figure skating to rebuild his career. He connects with a young female figure skater who is looking for a new partner. Aside from all the personal challenges of blending two very different and strong personalities, there is the very real challenge of learning to skate together, to blend their movements as one, including lifts and drops. You can only imagine how many times they fell, how many sore backsides they endured. At least on the dance floor you have a stable surface on which to work. Nevertheless, do you get the picture? If not, I suggest you rent the video.

OK, after considering these caveats and watching the video, you still have a passion for the lifts and drops, right? Rather, RIGHT!!! Where do you start? Find an instructor who has first hand knowledge of both instructing and doing these moves. It is not advisable to learn these moves from a book or video. I first spoke with Michelle Uttke, who is such an instructor. She recently opened her own studio, Fancy Feet, in Oregon City. Here are some beginning tips from Michelle:

  • Get in shape prior to attempting more strenuous moves. Weight training is a great way to improve your strength, especially in the upper body, where you are probably the most deficient.

  • Consider first creating a few moves which involve making dramatic lines. Having the lady leaning up against the guy is one of these. Such moves require practice and timing lines rather than requiring brute strength.

  • Both guys and gals must learn to actively contract their muscles during a lift. A good example and practice exercise is to do dips or to raise yourself up on the edge of a swimming pool.

  • Gals, your goal is to feel like "live" weight. No guy will want to lift you if you are limp, "dead" weight. Active muscle contraction and focus on how the guy is supporting you are key points.

  • Guys, be sensitive to the gals. Realize they may be in a vulnerable and potentially dangerous position. Keep your focus on their position relative to you.

  • Start with trust-building practice exercises such as having the gal lean over until she falls into the guy's arms. Very romantic! But remember to keep that active muscle tone.

  • Try circle or "around the world" moves to further build trust. This involves the gal leaning back while the guy supports her back. Remember that the gal really will often be off balance during lifts and drops - she must get used to trusting that feeling as well as the abilities or the guy.

  • Have the gal raise up on the shoulder, like a cheerleader, or push up off the guy's hands to start developing the timing of going up for a full lift.

That's all for now. Have fun practicing. Oh, in light of this article, I've amended my plagiarism from Little Abner -- "them bones, them bones, gonna rise high again, gonna dance and exercise again."

Lastly, I'm glad to report that most dancers appear to be in the first category of fitness.

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