There are many dancers with hypermobility. This is when joints, like the elbows, knees, thumb, etc., can move beyond the normal range of motion. There are different tests to assess where a hypermobile person might fall on the spectrum – but for our purposes let’s just consider the dancer who clearly has hyperextended knees and can easily fold over and place their palms on the ground in standing as having some hypermobility.
I was curious when these very flexible students would complain about feeling tight. Tight? I would think to myself? That doesn’t make sense. I wish I had your flexibility.
Of course, I would never say that to them. If someone is feeling tight – that is what they are feeling and no one should try and persuade them otherwise. Our job as teachers is to help them become familiar with their body and its sensations.
But what if that sensation of tightness is actually tiredness or fatigue? Think about how a hypermobile dancer often stands as they are conversing with friends outside of the studio. They sink into their knees, often shift over into one hip, and drop into chest and lower back. They’ve got an S shape to the spine. Their postural muscles are out to lunch and they aren’t in a stable standing alignment.
Do they need strengthening? Perhaps… but there are hypermobile dancers who test very well on individual strength tests. It’s more the alignment and postural muscles aren’t working appropriately, typically because of sloppy standing habits. What’s happening outside of class is a powerful influence both on the body and what’s happening in the studio!
I would like to offer a different tactic. The goal is to shift feeling ‘tight’ into feeling ‘better’. If you have some hypermobile students, or even better, if you are a teacher with hypermobility, try some balance exercises. If you have a low balance beam or a 2X4 piece of wood, or an 18″ half foam roll walk easily on it (forwards, backwards and sideways). Don’t be too precious with the way you walk. Meaning, be in good alignment, but don’t ‘hold’ yourself and try to balance. It’s not unusual to put a lot of tension into your arms and shoulders, for example, as you are trying to stay balanced over your feet. Breathe easily as you are walking and balancing.
When I coached gymnastics a million years ago, we would have the kids step forward on the balance beam, and then demi plie and sweep their other leg forward to repeat on the other side. They would work their way down the whole beam, doing some port de bras movement to keep them from stiffening their upper bodies. It was an easy and fun warmup exercise.
Try placing a weight in each hand and do some slow motion walking around the room. (You can have your hands by your thighs or even bend your elbows and have the weights up by your shoulders) The weights are to create awareness of any asymmetries in your movement. The goal is not to do ‘strengthening’ but to ask your body to appropriately align itself for easy yet stable movement.
Then check, or have your student check-in with how they feel after doing a balance/postural/stability exercise. Do they feel any less tight? It’s surprising that many will say they feel better in their muscles even without stretching. Yay! This demonstrates that more stability and motor control is the way to go!
This doesn’t mean that stretching and soft tissue work are bad – but potentially doing stability/postural work might progress and support the hypermobile dancer – and help them feel less ‘tight’!
Try this out for yourself and/or for your students and please share your feedback in the comment section below.
To your success,