holding brain copyI recently returned from TCU where I had all the freshman dance majors in a course called “The Working Body”.  And work they did… meeting every day for multiple hours a day, exploring how to bring anatomical knowledge into their technique and dancing.  They were wonderful – and I will miss this very special group!

I asked them on the last day to take 5 minutes and write down a takeaway from the week.  I was curious after such a whirlwind of a week what stuck and seemed most important.  Below are their brief statements and a few responses and explanations from me. (They gave me permission to post) I hope you find it interesting reading!

[quote style=”boxed”]I dealt with a compression fracture in my upper back for a long time, and I have had pain in that area for a long time. When we talked about the spine in the course, I learned a way to feel as though I’m decompressing my spine and putting air in between each vertebra. It definitely helps with the pain I face now, and will prevent me from future spinal injuries! AA[/quote]

I remember seeing this dancer’s spine change after focusing on increasing and balancing the rotation of the spine.  It was so cool to see that some of the lateral curves improved – it just goes to show that with every lateral curve of the spine – there is also rotation.  I’ve seen good improvement with focusing on improving spinal rotation first then focusing on stretching.

[quote style=”boxed”]One thing I will take away from my time with Ms. Vogel is learning about my leg length difference. After putting a heel lift into my left shoe, my pelvic and lower back pain has decreased tremendously. It amazes me that something so small can fix a problem that I’ve seen countless PT’s for. BB[/quote]

Leg lengths don’t always have such an immediate gratification factor as what happened to this student – but it is so cool with it does!  Not only should her legs work better in all the crossed positions, the weight should fall more evenly through the legs and her spinal asymmetries will be improved.  Frankly – leg length often create more challenges in a ballet class when you spend a lot of time standing at the barre than when in a modern class and you are continually moving through positions and from one foot to the other. (Which is not to say that modern classes don’t do exercises in first position – but I’m talking in more general terms) 

 [quote style=”boxed”]The thing I got out of this course is that my tight iliopsoas is negatively affecting my turnout and also the connection to a lot of other tight places. I’ve learned some great ways to release the psoas and hopefully that will help a lot! BC[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]I’ve always had a hard time keeping my pelvis aligned and when my teachers place me it feels like they want me to tuck. After this class I have learned that my iliopsoas is tight causing my back to be swayed. By using the dynamic stretches I’ll be able to release the muscle and correctly align myself! SA[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]Something huge that I will take away from this week is how important the releasing of the iliopsoas is. The exercise we did where we pressure-pointed the iliacus really drastically changed the flexibility and range of motion of my right leg, and right side of my body in general. BH [/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]One of the many things I took away from attending this class is what I could do to release the tension in my psoas and how if the psoas is tight, it can affect everything else in the body. Strengthening and stretching the psoas brings my whole body into alignment, which makes it easier, especially in my ballet classes, to lift and hold my leg. KW[/quote]

Yea for the iliopsoas connections! I know my students think I’m iliopsoas obsessed… and perhaps they are right.  I see its influence not only in dancers, but in vocalists (tightness in iliopsoas influences their ribcage movement) and athletes… okay… in everyone!  I vow to maintain good alignment throughout my years – and so iliopsoas stretching is a daily activity for me. 

[quote style=”boxed”]While all of the muscles and bone work we did is amazing and super helpful, what stuck out to me most I the mind work we did. For me, making sure both my mind and body are working has always been very beneficial to my dancing, however, I often forget this. I really enjoyed learning different ways to remember to use my brain to help my dancing such as mental rehearsing or even focusing on breathing. (For example, the counting to 10 exercise) This is probably what I will remember most about this quite wonderful experience! CS[/quote]  
[quote style=”boxed”]If you get frustrated because your body is not doing what you want it to do – close your eyes and visualize the change, then try it again… magic! BB[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]One piece of information I am taking away from this learning experience would be the idea that the mind controlling your body. The mindset you allow yourself to be in – is the way in which your day will abide by. When you say something aloud, your brain believes it to be true whether or not it is true. Positive self-talk can change the way your brain is wired. AL[/quote]

This was a wonderful unit where we talked about what made for a successful dance class and even more succinctly – what would an ideal day as a dance student look like? It’s so important to take the time to reflect on how you mentally and emotionally set yourself up for any important situations.  I think we all have the intelligence to make conscious choices that will enhance our results.  The trick is to take the time to reflect on your current patterns of thinking and feeling so you know what works and what doesn’t! 

[quote style=”boxed”]I’ve always had difficulty feeling the natural alignment of the lumbar spine without forcing it under and essentially tucking my pelvis. I have learned the curves in my spine are normal and I just need to learn how to effectively use the natural curves to reach the most useful alignment that will facilitate movement in the rest of my body! CD[/quote]

Yippee!  It’s wonderful she understood what was pulling her into a swayback posture, and corrected that  – and as important – she understood that standing in anatomical alignment is a neutral posture.  If you have to engage muscles to simply stand up – then you are adding on a layer of muscular resistance into your movement.  For example, in first position the deep lateral rotators need to be turned on to maintain the turnout that has been set up by where the feet are placed, but if you are also engaging the gluts to correct the pelvic alignment it’s possible you might be limiting the range of motion at the hip because of creating excessive tension in the muscles around the joint.  During my assessment of these dancers that there were some that tested with a greater range of motion at the hip joint than they were functionally using.  Their rotators didn’t have good tone – which would be strong and flexible – instead they were tight and a little weak. 

[quote style=”boxed”]We tend to take breathing for granted or completely forget about it, however, it is an extremely powerful tool for dancing. I will carry what I learned about breathing patterns into every area of my dancing. Breathing makes balances easier, helps you to fulfill each movement, and creates a less tense body to facilitate movements. This engaging workshop with Ms. Vogel gave me power over my breathing! JKKL[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]I learned so many great things about my body this week, but perhaps my favorite or biggest take away is breathing. I learned so much from analyzing what muscles take what action during inhaling and exhaling. One correction that I always get from teachers is that I’m not breaking enough. I knew I wasn’t breathing, but I didn’t know how to. I know that sounds weird but its true. So working in class on using breath in movement was very helpful. I never realized how much influence breath has on movement. ALG[/quote]

This was a fun exploration!  After doing some isolated breath exercises we practiced breathing and moving.  Sounds a bit weird – right? In a nutshell, we did a few simple exercises and played around with different breath patterns – using the breath to endow the movement with ease and energy and noticed what worked and what didn’t.  We did some practicing of holding the breath during movement and then deliberately focusing on maintain the flow of breath during movement.  The focus was on noticing how breath physically influences movement results. 

[quote style=”boxed”]I have found that the diaphragm attaches fascially and through tendons to the iliopsoas muscle, meaning if I’m tight in my iliopsoas (which I am) I can deepen my breath and keep from hyperextending in my lumbar area. I also learned that tightness in the latissimus dorsi muscle can cause poor anterior rib connections and hyperextend the lower back when I raise my arms into 5th en haut. AH[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]I found it helpful to learn how the shoulders could be aligned without moving the ribcage and without struggling to find center. KT[/quote]

The alignment of the upper body has so much to do with how others perceive us.  We know that dancing can be hard work – but a common goal is to make it look easy and graceful – and the carriage of the upper body helps to create that.  Finding the connection between tight lats and lifting the ribs when taking the arms into 5th en haut was an aha moment for me some years ago.  Using the abdominals to ‘pull the ribs down in front’ just doesn’t work when the reason for the rib lift is tight lats.  You’ve got to stretch the lats (I use a C curve stretch in a doorway) and then watch the smiles appear as they raise their arms up!

 [quote style=”boxed”]The intense focus upon dynamic stretching was extremely beneficial. I previously had a tendency to revert to static stretches that provided only limited value, I now understand how better to stretch and how to release my muscles. KR[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]My body has a much greater range of turnout and potential for strength and flexibility that I thought. I had been limiting myself physically and mentally before this course. PH[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]The most beneficial thing I learned about my body was why I have been getting what I thought were random pains in various parts of my body. Now that I have learned how to dynamically stretch and strengthen my muscles I feel that I will be able to have a much longer career in dance! ES[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed”]I think the biggest thing I learned was that just because I’m tight doesn’t mean I’m necessarily strong in that area. I found many places I thought were strong but really – I needed to strengthen and stretch those areas. I loved having you here! I learned so much about my body and the power that my brain has on it. Thank you! KH[/quote]

Some of you who have been following me for a while know that my stretching technique has changed over time.  I still love to do slow, passive, breathing deep stretches at the end of a workout.  There is a time and place for more passive stretching – plus it just feels so good!  But the type of stretching that I do more of these days is dynamic stretching – which helps to remold and release tightness in the fascia. 

Overall my take away from the week of teaching is sticking with my belief that education is a path to empowerment.  It is why I am a teacher – there is nothing better than watching someone integrate new information and own it – because they understand the concept or their body in a new way.  I’m clear who is doing the transformation.  It’s them. They are doing the work.  As teachers we can only offer information in multiple ways hoping that one of those ways will connect with our students and they can integrate and use the information for the betterment of their dancing. How cool is it to be a teacher?  Pretty darn awesome in my opinion – and so I dedicate this post to the amazing students at TCU – thanks for such a rewarding teaching opportunity!

To your success!



0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *