Dance Wellness

Book: Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, Conditioning

Aloha! I would like to share with you a new book in the Dance Wellness field,  “Dance Science: Anatomy, Movement Analysis, Conditioning” by Gayanne Grossman, PT. Specific Information on the book is below.

Gayanne has a long background in dance medicine and science, working with injured dancers and teaching anatomy / kinesiology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, as well as heading up the Performing Arts Wellness Program for Lehigh Valley Health Network. The book is aimed at high school / college-level dancers, and is  a terrific resource for those looking to dig deep into the scientific arena, and to stretch their knowledge about the body and safe dance training / technique. It can also serve as an excellent scientific reference manual to keep on hand. Please pass it on!  Take care – Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor


For students of human movement, kinesiology, dance science, and dancers, Dance Science takes a positive approach to what a dancer can do to dance better through an understanding of anatomy and an analysis of movement which, in turn, will decrease injury rates. It presents anatomy and motion in a dance-specific way that teaches readers to appreciate and take ownership of their bodies through hands-on experiential activities.The book concludes with an approach to exercise design for enhanced performance integrating the principles of dance science. Accompanied by 90 anatomical illustrations, 30 photographs, and 3 graphs.

320 pages, 7″ x 10″, Paperbound, ISBN 978-087127-388-8  $49.95
Hardbound   ISBN 978–087127-387-1  $39.95

Order from:  Princeton Book Company, Publishers

Here is an excerpt from the text:

Training Efficiently and Safely for Needed Stability

Start strength training using isometrics. Use varied positions and joint angles. They will facilitate motor learning in many positions.

For example, your hip joint hyperextends; the femoral head abuts the Y ligament well past normal hip extension. You do not gain stability from it soon enough. Your pelvis may be in posterior tilt before your femoral head stops moving forward. Compare with a dancer whose femoral head stops at the Y ligament with minimal hip hyperextension: this dancer feels stable because the lumbopelvic and hip alignment are closer to neutral at end range hip extension. The hypermobile dancer needs extra training to know how to feel where that position is located. Begin with isometric holds, focusing on femoral head placement. (See Stork Stand and Weight Shift exercises later in this chapter.)

Strength train hypermobile dancers with isotonics, too. Use in the inner ranges (smaller movements) at first then increase the range of motion. Here is an example:

Begin standing at the barre and resist the first few inches of hip flex–ion, then repeat for hip abduction, adduction, and extension. When improvement is noted, increase the range of motion another inch or two. Tie one end of a light-weight exercise band to the barre and the other end to your ankle. Because hypermobile people may gain strength at a slower rate, increase the resistance when you are able to.

Include proprioception training in standing, sitting, or pushing up on stable, then unstable, surfaces to increase the awareness of joint position. Include slower combinations to facilitate correct postural control. Should hypermobile dancers stretch? Not too much. Dancers love to stretch so this behavioral change can be a challenge. Hypermobile people have a lot of stretch and they have decreased proprioception. They have to stretch quite far to feel end-range motion, sometimes into an extreme range of motion that may not be safe. These dancers are looking for feedback from the joint receptors and an enormous ROM may be necessary to stimulate these receptors in a hypermobile person.


Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer: Part I

We’re pleased to offer you “Flash Feldenkrais for Dancers” — by Nancy Wozny. Nancy is the Somatics expert on our Dance Wellness Panel — she wrote the article introducing Somatic work, and why it matters for dancers, “A Somatic Update for Dancers” in August of 2014. Nancy is a Feldenkrais practitioner herself, and is sharing her expertise with you in this series of “Flash Feldenkrais” postings — here is the first one.  Try it  –  I think you will like it.  Enjoy!       – Jan 

Jacob's Pillow

B: Brandon Collwes, Molly Griffin, and Brandin Steffensen of Liz Gerring Dance Company in glacier. Photo Christopher Duggan

Note: This is the first in a series of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement Lessons that have been streamlined for dancers.

by Nancy Wozny

Watching Liz Gerring’s dancers in glacier this summer at Jacob’s Pillow navigate their way through a glorious feast of highly nuanced movement reminded me of how somatically rich some contemporary dancers’ lives are these days. Because Gerring’s vocabulary is so mind bogglingly detailed, her dancers are neurally nourished with novelty on a daily basis. Gerring’s dancers also move as if each step is a question, embracing an exploratory process, so that each movement feels like an act of discovery. The sheer abundance of specificity not only makes for compelling choreography, but has an added benefit to the dancers, and possibly the viewers as well. Just watching these deft movers made me feel as if I was getting a month-long Feldenkrais retreat thanks to those handy mirror neurons at work.

Sometimes, we forget just how diverse a dancer’s life is when considering the role of Somatics for today’s dancer. Somatics, defined by philosopher Thomas Hanna, is the study of the body as a lived experience. In my first piece for 4dancers, A Somatics Update, I outlined the characteristics of the field, which include cultivating an accurate sense of awareness, the use of non-habitual movement, resting between actions and attention to our habits, to name a few. The Feldenkrais Method, one of many somatic practices, is particularly useful for performing artists, especially dancers because of their complicated movement lives, which includes both repetition and novelty.

Contemporary choreographers and educators regularly look to change the status quo in what they are asking dancers to do. The movement in today’s dance classes and choreography is considerably more varied than it was say 20 years ago. What does all this have to do with Somatics?

You are busy, and all of us dance health folk are always trying to make you busier. Do this! Do that! The list of what a dancer needs to do besides daily technique class to stay healthy seems to grow each year.

I understand the demands of today’s dancer enough to know that anything can be streamlined to fit an artist’s schedule, even the prolific work of Moshe Feldenkrais, who created over 3,000 brilliant Awareness Through Movement lessons. And trust me, each one is a gem. Although it’s always beneficial to do longer and more complicated lessons, especially when you are in recovery mode, it’s possible to receive a benefit from shorter lessons.

Feldenkrais could very well be the father of cross training as well as somatics, as he addressed expanding our habits head on by introducing the role of novelty in movement as a neural refresher.

We also need to keep in mind that Feldenkrais Method and dance share some of the same domain, which includes inventive movement. The average dancer has no shortage of novelty in their lives, as they regularly meet the demands of today’s choreographers who tirelessly look for new ways to put the human body into action.

Maintenance mode doesn’t quite need the same time commitment, especially when you are getting a good amount of somatic diversity in your daily classes and rehearsals. However, a dancer’s time and energy budget is tight, so perhaps a need-to-know approach may be more doable when it comes to maintaining your somatic health.

With all of this in mind, I offer Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer, streamlined lessons that address common conditions in a dancers’ working life, which sometimes involves an abundance of novelty. That can be discombobulating in its own right. Sometimes, we need to scale back, look to more central organizations, and simply calm the whole system down. And because it’s Feldenkrais, a tiny bit of novelty pops in at the end because we always need a little post Feldenkrais play time.

Flash Feldenkrais Lesson #1: Returning to Neutral

When to do this lesson: When you have been doing a lot of performing or traveling, or both at the same time. Anytime something has thrown you off from your center, this lesson will help reel you in. I find it to be a somatic palate cleanser, and a “returning to your baseline” lesson.

Why do this lesson: You will find a wonderful ease in your limbs afterward. It’s the Feldenkrais equivalent of straightening out your holiday lights when they get all in a jumble.

What do you need to do this lesson: A soft mat or blanket and 15-20 uninterrupted minutes in a quiet room.

Remember: Rest between each step and before you fatigue. Do each instruction just a few times. Make the movement as easy as possible.

Lie on your back with your legs long and your arms by your side. Sense your contact against the ground. Bring your right arm up so that your fingers point to the ceiling and your palm faces your midline. Notice the effort it takes to do this movement.

Bend up your knees and bring your feet to standing. Bring your right arm up again and move your right arm slightly toward and away from your midline. Notice the “sweet spot” when you pass through neutral.

Bring your right arm up again and move it slightly toward your head and then toward your feet. Notice when you pass through neutral.

Bring your right arm up again and move it toward the midline and away, then toward your head, then your feet, always returning to neutral between each movement.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the left arm.

Repeat steps 1-5 steps with both arms at once.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the right leg in the air.

Repeat steps 1-5 with the left leg in the air.

Bring all limbs into the air and spend some time improvising. Play with the limbs moving toward and away from each other in various configurations. This is where the imagination can slip in while you find some new and fun ways of moving your limbs in space.

Rest on your back again. Lift your right arm into the air and notice how easy it is now. Come to sitting, then standing. Walk around and notice your sense of ease and grace.

NEXT UP: Stay tuned for the second installation of Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer, which will focus on organizing oneself for a shift and cleansing the kinesthetic palate.

Nany Wozny

Nancy Wozny is editor in chief of Arts + Culture Texas, reviews editor at Dance Source Houston and a contributor to Pointe Magazine, Dance Teacher and Dance Magazine, where she is also an contributing editor. She has taught and written about Feldenkrais and somatics in dance for two decades.


Dance Medicine: IADMS 25th Annual Meeting

IMG_1212by Catherine L. Tully

The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science held their 25th annual meeting in October at the Marriott City Center in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. Starting off with a day for teachers, the gathering spanned a four-day period that offered networking opportunities, information-sharing, and an overall sense of purpose that was clear and heartfelt.

As a first-time attendee, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the meeting with those who may be interested, and those who might want to consider going in the future. After all, next year’s meeting is in Hong Kong, which would make a lovely trip!

I have to say that I really enjoyed my time with this unique group of professionals, and felt the experience was definitely worthwhile. As most of you are already aware, I’m very passionate about the topic of dance wellness, and I’d love nothing more than to see IADMS continue to grow and connect with dancers and dance teachers everywhere.

So…here are some thoughts on the experience from my perspective, along with a few photos that should give a little context to my narrative.


Without question the single largest benefit to attending this meeting is the networking. The IADMS gathering brings professionals together from all over the world, giving them a chance to compare notes, talk dance medicine, and, perhaps most importantly, get to know one another.

Even with the magic of connecting via the web, there is just no substitute for face-to-face interaction. To that end, I enjoyed having the chance to meet the members of our own Dance Wellness Panel in person for the first time, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the planning time we had to solidify topics we’ll share with readers throughout the year (stay tuned!).

Although IADMS is smaller gathering of professionals than conferences such as Dance USA and the Dance Teacher Summit, it actually works to the advantage of the organization in this case. It simply felt much easier to connect with people here. Faces became familiar after a day or two, and because of that, it made approaching people less intimidating–even for a somewhat introverted person, such as myself.

IMG_1166Several events were incorporated into the meeting’s overall framework that allowed participants the chance to just relax and mingle a bit. Among these were the welcome reception Friday evening, and the “dance party” on Saturday night.


The information presented at the IADMS meeting fell into three primary formats: lectures, movement sessions, and poster presentations. There were also a number of tables on-hand from various supporters and exhibitors. To try and summarize everything offered is quite an impossibility, so an overview of the main categories is offered here instead…each with a few examples…


Throughout the event there were numerous lectures available for attendees to take in — from Nutritional concerns in vegetarian and vegan dancers to “The science of motor learning: creating a model for dance training” to “Anterior hip pain in a dancer – an alternative diagnosis.”

Injury prevention/treatment, teaching strategies, metabolism, and dancer fitness were just some of the topics addressed by professionals from the podium. Lecture sessions were typically brief and specific, with accompanying slides. Following each lecture there was an opportunity for questions/comments.

Poster Presentations

IMG_1161Poster presentations offered another approach in terms of information sharing and engagement. Posters were displayed in a room where attendees could peruse them and discuss ideas with one another at a leisurely pace. These sessions were lively, and many people took advantage of the opportunity to join in the conversation.

There were two poster presentation slots during the span of the meeting, and a wide range of topics were covered, such as, “Differences in sway area observed in ballerinas en demi pointe and en pointe,” “Can textured insoles improve ankle proprioception and performance in dancers?” and “Building a safe environment for private dance sectors: a business model to provide healthcare for dancers.”


Movement sessions

IMG_1139In addition to the posters and lectures, the IADMS meeting also provides numerous “movement sessions” where participants have the chance to explore thoughts and ideas in a more “hands-on,” active environment.

Some of the movement sessions included: “Using technology for movement analysis in the dance studio,” “Incorporating conditioning into a modern dance technique class,” and “Gaga, Ohad Naharin’s movement language,” among many others.

Unlike the lecture sessions which are generally rather short in length, the movement sessions typically run about 50 minutes, giving attendees the chance to dig in a bit and try some things out for themselves.



IMG_1221In my time at the meeting I met a wide range of educators, students and dance medicine professionals — from seasoned, founding members of the field — to brand new faces just joining the ranks after graduation.

It was wonderful to see such a large span of ages and experience levels in attendance, and exciting to think about the possibilities that bringing this group of people together offers to the dance community throughout the world.

For more information on IADMS, please visit their website, and be sure to keep an eye on their blog. Those hoping to attend the 26th annual meeting in Hong Kong can keep an eye out for details on the site, and membership information is there as well.

Disclosure: 4dancers attended the 25th annual meeting on a press pass granted by IADMS, but no monetary compensation was received for coverage of the event. All transportation, lodging, and meals were paid for by 4dancers.


On The Marley Floor…


Maria Chapman of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Photo by Angela Sterling Photography.

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

 Her deafening scream reverberated through the studio.

Remembering it and my stomach still curdles. One moment she was doing petit allegro, the next writhing on the Marley floor in animalistic agony.

There are just some moments you never forget.

Moments you wish you could.

And yet these terrifying incidents are ones rarely thought of, let alone mentioned. It must be human nature to sweep the scary under the rug. Like those cheesy ceramic monkeys I often see in vintage shops, we choose to “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” superstitiously (and aren’t we dancers the worst?) believing that if we don’t speak it, acknowledge it, then it doesn’t exist. Injury won’t happen to us. We keep the lights on and those monsters “safely” under the bed.

But sometimes, no matter our diligence – how often we ice, how much we stretch or see the P.T., no matter how many “Zzz’s” we get, the monsters rear their frightening faces. And sometimes we end up on the Marley floor.

My “Marley moment” came May 15th, 2015. And I actually was on the floor.

Read more


Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part III

by Jan Dunn, MS

Welcome to part three of our “core control series”! If you’ve missed the others, you’ll find part one here, and part two here. Enjoy!

Core Exercises

Now we are ready to actually do some “core” exercises! This one actively involves the TA (transverse abdominal) that we discussed in Part 1 – but remember that “core” really means back stabilization, and these kinds of exercises utilize all of the muscles we discussed in Part 1, even if we’re consciously focusing on only one of them, as in this next exercise.

Lying on your back, in NP, place your hands on your lower belly, as in the photo here:

Core NP

As you inhale (remembering all your cues above for a nice full breath), feel your belly rise slightly. Now, as you exhale, let your belly fall inwards, away from your hands. Don’t lose your NP as you do this–the whole point of the exercise is to use the TA in a NP position, where it is working to best help stabilize your back. Many dancers (and non-dancers) want to flatten their back / lose NP when they first try this – so watch out for that!

Core NP2

It’s also important not to “suck your belly to your spine”. The TA doesn’t need to work on 100% contraction (which that cue tends to do) to be effective (in a healthy back, it’s working at only about 30% of it’s full capacity).

This simple exercise is just initial awareness / training for how to activate the TA in a neutral position. If it’s easy for you, great. If not, and you find yourself wanting to “tuck” / flatten your back, then this would be a good one to practice daily, until that habit of “tucking” is no longer there.

Now we’re going to do some back stabilization exercises that may be more challenging (or maybe not!):

But before we do, a few words on the breathing pattern that will best help you with these:

Generally speaking, we stabilize our back best when we exhale with exertion –in other words, the hard part of the exercise. So for example, on the first exercise below, you exhale as you lift your leg.

Another thing to realize about breath use is that a forced exhale actually overuses the oblique abdominals, and does not allow the TA to fully engage. I’ve actually seen this on diagnostic ultrasound, and it was fascinating–when the dancer forcibly exhaled, you could actually see, on the screen, how the TA was not working, but the oblique abdominals were working way too hard (“hypertrophying” in scientific language). So just taking a normal inhale / exhale will serve you best.

Leg Lift Core Exercise

Read more


Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part II

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha everyone!

A couple weeks ago we posted Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part 1, and I promised you a second part with some specific suggestions on exercises, to help you work on this important aspect of your dancing and everyday lives. Most of what I want to share in this (and the next) segment are exercises you would do outside of class (although if you’re a teacher, you can work them into the class you teach, as I’ve always done), along with the alignment tips and cues I’ve already given you – plus a few more here!

FYI, much of what I’m sharing in this segment I learned over the years working in physical therapy clinics, as well as in the Pilates world – plus a few that I came up with myself!

Special thanks to my “two Sarahs” – Sarah Carrasco, my Pilates colleague and former Broadway gypsy, who did the modeling, and Sarah Graham, PT, from Denver Dance Medicine Associates, who provided input on the medical / research pieces.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Sitting / Standing

I gave you the image / cue of the pelvis / rib cage / head balanced one on top of another, and the “sternum (breastbone) to pubic bone” cue. An easy way to make sure these ideas make sense before you stand up is to sit on a firm seat (not a cushy couch), feet flat on the floor. Sit firmly on your two “sit-bones” (ischial tuberosities in anatomical language). If you are firmly grounded on those two bony points, you are in a neutral pelvis.

Sarah sitting

Another way to find sitting NP, is to sit tall and slowly rock in between arching your back (lumbar spine hyperextension) and slouching forward (flexion in the lumbar spine) — and stop somewhere in the middle, where there is a moderate natural curve in the low back.

Suggested images to think of here could be:

  • Your pelvis is a full bowl of water that doesn’t tilt / splash either forward (meaning you would be arching your back – “swayback”) or backward (meaning you would be slouching).
  • Put a finger on your two hip bones in front (your ASIS – anterior superior iliac spine) and your pubic bone. Those 3 bony points should form a triangle that is perpendicular to the floor, with the public bone pointing straight down.

Once you feel firmly anchored on those sit-bones, use some images that lengthen your spine upwards. Some of my favorites are:

A spiral of energy going upward


A water fountain from the base of the pelvis, going up and out the top of the head.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

The Eric Franklin drawing of the “bobble boy”, that I used in Part 1

Bobble body

Drawing courtesy of Eric Franklin

A magnet on the top of the head reaching up to a magnet on the ceiling (that particular one seems to appeal more to men – more mechanical, I guess!).

And last but not least, that image we used in Part 1, of the sternum directly vertical with the pubic bone. That applies to sitting as well as standing!

sternum to pubic boneOnce you have gone through those various cues sitting, you can apply the same images / thoughts to standing. All of those are going to help kick in the back stabilization muscles that we’ve been discussing

One last important thing to remember when sitting – most couches / chairs / car seats almost force you to “slouch”, to rock the pelvis under. Can you see where that compresses the discs and vertebrae in your lumbar spine (low back)? Always try to sit so that you can really be upright, in a NS.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Supine (on your back)

OK, so we’ve got NP / NS sitting and standing. Let’s now talk about lying down (supine – meaning on your back, in medical /anatomical terms)….because most of the exercises I’m discussing here are done in a lying down position. That’s because when you’re upright, gravity is pulling on you and you are more likely to go into your old / maybe-not-so-healthy-alignment patterns. When we lie down to do this kind of “neuromuscular repatterning” (because that’s what it is), to introduce new concepts into our body, it takes us out of our normal relationship with gravity and makes it easier for these new patterns to get started. Make sense?

Many times people say, when they are lying down, “how do I know for sure if I’m in NP or not?”. You would be surprised at how even dancers don’t quite get this when first lying down / trying to find a NP! They are almost always flattening their back unconsciously.

I use a physical therapy trick that I was taught long ago, working in Pilates rehab programs in PT environments. It’ called “the Plop”. Seriously! That’s what the PT’s I worked with called it, and I still use the term. It works like this:

Lying down, with your legs bent / feet on the floor, lift your hips just slightly off the floor – like this:

Plop 1

Drop your hips down. Don’t carefully place them down, literally let them “plop” (but never do that if it causes pain in the lumbar spine).

Plop 2

The plop gets you into your own neutral pelvis–it allows muscular holding patterns (like unconsciously wanting to flatten your back) to release for just a few seconds, before those patterns might want to take over again. Think of the plop as your “set point” or “home base” – i.e, “Am I in neutral? I’ll plop and see”.

Another way to get into NP lying down is to slowly rock your pelvis back and forth, from an arched back to a flat back, and then find the place in the middle where you have a natural lumbar curve.

As soon as you do find a neutral pelvis, whether you use the Plop or the rocking method–notice immediately how much pressure is on your sacrum (the broad flat part of your lower back). If you stay in NP, that pressure should stay the same – i.e., if you either arch or flatten your back, it will change.

Your “pelvic triangle” that we talked about earlier, in sitting / standing, is now parallel with the floor / ceiling, with the pubic bone neither pointed up or down.

You can use the water bowl image as well, only this time the water bowl is resting on your belly, and completely level / not spilling either way.

An image I learned recently that I had never heard, and I love, is to imagine a plate on your belly with a marble in the center–and the marble can’t move. That image really refines working in neutral, at least for me. That comes courtesy of my Pilates / dancer colleague here on Kauai, Sarah Carrasco, the model for our photos!


We haven’t really talked about breath, and as with many of these topics, it’s one that could have an article all to itself–but for now, let’s just go over a few important points:

When we take a breath, we want a full expansion of our rib cage, not only to the front, but also to the sides and back. Many of us are “frontal breathers”, not really expanding the rib cage in all directions. That’s not healthy, because:

  • Where each rib meets the spinal vertebrae, in back, is a joint, and joints are designed to move – to remain healthy and avoid arthritis as we get older. A breathing pattern that only expands to the front, not to the sides and back as well, does not involve much movement at that joint – so we want to fully expand our rib cage each time we take a breath.
  • In-between each rib are small muscles called the intercostals, and like all muscles, they are designed to move – but with a rib cage that is more “held”, not moving much except to the front, they don’t move a lot. Again, not a good thing.
  • And last but not least, if the rib cage is expanding in all directions, as it is designed to, we can more easily access that important abdominal muscle, the TA (transverse abdominus).

So for all those reasons, learning to fully expand the ribs is really good for you. I’ve met many dancers who do great with that, but others who don’t. Here are a couple imagery cues to think of:

imagine that your ribs on the sides and back are beautiful sails on a sailboat, and with each breath they are billowing outward.

  • Imagine that your lungs are balloons that are expanding in all directions with each breath. (Make the balloons colored or with beautiful patterns if that works better for you.)
  • Use a theraband to help get the idea of a full ribcage breath. Tie it around your chest, and with every breath, feel the ribs expanding side and back.

I often use a toy to demonstrate full use of the breath / rib cage – it starts out compact and small, and then it expands wide in all directions (just as your rib cage should).


ball 2

OK! In the interest of keeping things to a reasonable length, we’re going to stop here for today and pick things up tomorrow with specific core exercises. Don’t miss our Part III then!

Jan Dunn

Jan Dunn

Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance.  Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs

Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.  She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.

Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.


Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control”

Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha! — Happy August! The posting below is one I’ve wanted to bring you for a long time–discussing “core control” (alias “center” in dance).  It’s something that’s very important, yet not that many people – dancers included – really understand what it’s all about.  (And thanks to Denver Dance Medicine
Associate Sarah Graham, PT, provider for Colorado Ballet and many Broadway touring companies, for her help in clarifying the information from a medical perspective).

I hope that after reading it (along with Part Two, coming in a few weeks!), you’ll have a better idea of what all this “core” talk is, and how to best incorporate it into your dance life.  My best to all –

For some time I’ve been wanting to bring you an article on “core control”. I put it in quotation marks because it’s a term that conveys different things to different people, and not everyone really understands what it means. In the dance world, we often refer to “center”, as in “find your center”–but many dancers do not really understand what that means, either.

The term “core control” is everywhere in the media / fitness world, and many people think it means “abs”. And abdominal muscles (one in particular) are very much involved in “core”– but there’s much more to it than that. From reading this post, I hope you come away with a better understanding of exactly what it means, and hopefully get some hints and cues on how better to incorporate it into your life–both in dance and in everyday movement, because it is important in everything our body does!

So much has been written / so much could be said–it could be the topic of several different posts. But over the years, teaching dance / Pilates / Franklin, I’ve evolved a specific way of teaching it to people, using a fairly short version that makes sense to everyone.

In the medical field, it is the same as back stabilization–in other words, when your back and torso are strong and able to provide support for your entire spine and limbs—because your arms and legs are going to be more fully able to move and be supported by your torso, to do all of those gorgeous extensions and powerful movements we love to do and see in dance, when your “core” musculature is strong.

So with that said, from here on out, I’m going to use the term “back stabilization”, which you now know means “core”.

This post is going to be in two-parts: In this first segment, I’ll do a lot of explaining. For the second one, I want to show to you some specific exercises and things you can do at home or in the studio to help increase the strength of all the muscles we’re talking about here–i.e, ways to help improve your back stabilization / “Core Control” / “center”.

The Four-Legged Stool

There are a good number of muscles / muscle groups involved in back stabilization, but we’re going to simplify it and talk about the 4 primary ones. When teaching, I like to use the analogy of a 4-legged stool.

Think of it this way:

You have a 4-legged stool made up of 4 main parts, all of which are necessary to keep the stool (your torso) upright and strong, and in balance.

1One leg of the stool is the Transverse Abdominal muscle, or TA for short.

This is the deepest of the 4 abdominal muscles–on top of it is the Rectus Abdominus (RA), or the “6-pack” muscle (whose main function is to flex – bend forward – the torso, not to provide back stabilization). Under the RA are the obliques, running in two different directions. They help stabilize the torso, but they are often over-used, and then the really important one, the TA, is not working in the most beneficial way.

By modified by Uwe Gille (Gray397.png) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By modified by Uwe Gille (Gray397.png) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The TA is right next to the abdominal cavity (and one of its jobs is to help keep the abdominal organs in place). Its fibers run horizontally, across the torso, all the way from the lower ribs down to the pubic area. It wraps around the body and integrates into a large fascia (connective tissue) in the back (see illustration above). So it’s literally almost like a corset around the torso. Researchers have identified the lower portions of the TA, the ones in the low belly / just above the pubic area, as the crucial ones active in back stabilization.

2 – the 2nd leg of the stool is the Pelvic Floor.

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