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The Core Plays A Key Role In Dance Technique

By Jacqui Haas

Every dance technique requires intense control, which is provided by core strength. Consider the incredible technique of Irish dance. These dancers must hold the spine firm throughout all of their combinations. Their trunk placement must be intensely secure so they can move their legs and feet with incredible speed. In Irish or any other form of dance, the technique is demanding and injury can keep you from training and competing. Include core conditioning into your dance training to improve body placement and reduce risk of injury.

We know that ballroom, social, or partner dance is fluid and beautiful to watch, but it is also quick and powerful. The male partner needs to know where the female dancer’s center is at all times. The swing, waltz, and salsa, to name a few, require extreme coordination. Both dancers need to hold their waists firm to provide stability for the pelvis for the quick footwork and challenging partnering movement. Strong core musculature provides for a safe and efficient lift in the upper spine. Once the upper back begins to move safely into extension, a more effective spiral in the spine can be executed. Ballroom encompasses all forms of social dancing: folk, Latin, and vintage dancing. This field is also highly competitive. The contestants are judged not only on footwork and style but on posture, body alignment, and speed.

Knowing what we know about deep core strength, wouldn’t a series of exercises designed to improve posture and body alignment help to improve the efficiency of the rehearsals? Even the noncompetitive social dancers will benefit from core training to improve their skills. Being centered and maintaining postural control will have long-term positive effects for anyone who enjoys social dancing.

Modern choreography requires more tricky and creative jump combinations as well as challenging movement patterns for the spine. Without the ability to compact the core against the spine, the movement will be sloppy and weak. Landing from these nontraditional jumping steps will create injury risks if the spine and pelvis are unprepared. With extreme choreography, dancers must now take their bodies to the extreme and their conditioning to the next level. While some dancers can execute modern contract-and-release styles with ease, other dancers need to practice more with spinal and pelvic stability in mind.

Even if you are not interested in a career in professional ballet, you are probably required to take ballet technique classes as part of your training. If you enjoy watching ballet and take a couple of beginner ballet classes each week, you still need control for your spine. While other styles of dance are more grounded, classical ballet gives the illusion of a lifted, light, and airy quality. Ballet is based on various styles—Vaganova, Cechetti, Balanchine, and Bournonville—but the foundation stems from five basic positions with the legs turned out. This alone requires centering and abdominal control. 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! Ballet calls for extreme joint motion and torso control. Alignment is crucial for spinal control and injury prevention. Once the alignment is learned, then strengthening can be emphasized.

As with all dance styles, the movement can be divided into phases: preparatory, ascending, flight, descending, and landing. The ascending phase usually engages muscles in a concentric-type contraction; the flight phase should have a “lift, hold, and hover” look, requiring extreme core strength and isometric contraction. The descending phase requires an eccentric contraction; some of the muscles lengthen but still support the movement while landing. This eccentric contraction and control on the descending phase are important for reducing injuries. Some studies show that landing from a grande jeté can create a force up to 12 times your body weight. This is why control is the key, and control comes from the core.

This is an excerpt from Dance Anatomy.


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