I love to teach. I get inspired by my student’s enthusiasm and by watching dancers improve and blossom. I also love to learn anything I can to help my dancers (and myself!) dance better. This past month I have had two remarkable learning experiences that were totally different and yet weirdly similar. The first was a ballet teacher training and the second was a gym I joined. Hard to believe these two would have anything in common!
The ballet teacher training was taught by Lisa Howell, author of The Ballet Blog, a wonderful online resource. Lisa is a Physiotherapist who works with dancers in Australia. I found Lisa’s blog last year when googling symptoms of a foot injury. Her online explanation of what was going on with my ankle was eye-opening. Not only was the diagnosis correct and confirmed by a visit to a surgeon specializing in dancers’ injuries such as mine, I was also lucky to avoid surgery partly through learning about feet and ankles through Lisa’s books as well as from physical therapy. Lisa’s goal is to teach teachers how to train dancers so that common injuries can be avoided. She helps dancers overcome specific physical limitations and challenges. She also helps dancers avoid injury altogether through special training and techniques. I urge you to check out her blog and website and videos and books. She’s a wonderful resource.
One of the techniques she advocates is Fascial mobilization. A lot of us sit all day and then expect to be able to get up and move meanwhile all our muscles have gotten all stuck and stiff. Fascial mobilization involves mobilizing the connective tissue between muscle groups. Lisa explains it far better than I can in this video (plus she has a really great accent!). Check out her YouTube video. I’ve been incorporating some of these exercises into the beginning of ballet classes and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in everyone’s arabesques!
- Try this: Pretend you are in a glass box and the walls are just out of reach. Try to touch every surface one at a time–top, bottom, sides, front and back, and every corner of the box by stretching your arms, twisting, bending, and when you think you’ve stretched to your limit, go three more millimeters.
Another thing Lisa advocates is crawling. (Yes, on the floor!) Apparently a lot of research has been done in the last few years showing the importance of crawling for babies’ development, but also how crawling can be helpful for adults–it can retrain muscles, improve strength and coordination and make use of the body’s natural ‘cross-body slings’ that are part of the fascia. Lisa just wrote this blog about it. Check it out here.
- Try this: Get on your hands and knees. Lift your right hand and left knee and move them forward and place them down at the same time. Now switch and use the left hand and right knee. You may find that developing grace in the seemingly simple act of crawling can be challenging. Keep your head up and slide your feet along the floor as you crawl. You can make it harder for yourself by going backwards or sideways, varying your speed, or lifting your knees one inch off the ground and crawling on the balls of your feet.
I was very much surprised then when I joined a gym called Mark Fisher Fitness and the first thing they had us do was crawling! I was also thrilled. It was exactly what Lisa Howell had taught! While Lisa told us to look up Mike Fitch and his animal crawling sequence, Mark Fisher Fitness is strongly based on the Original Strength principles taught by Tim Anderson. Both trainers seem to be teaching similar principles all designed to help body builders gain strength, and body control. Seems like dancers can probably learn from these techniques as well. Here is one of Tim’s articles about crawling. I’ve also noticed that doing the weight lifting and training this month has definitely improved my dancing. It’s helped my core in particular. Cross training is great–I’ve found canoe paddling/kayaking, biking, and particularly yoga very helpful. Really anything else you do with your body can help you gain better awareness and control and can improve your body for ballet. Cross training has helped me overcome stumbling blocks – things I’m struggling with in ballet. After strengthening another area of my body through another discipline, I come back to dance and find my front developé is easier or I can get my arabesque higher. Both of these techniques–the fascial mobilization and crawling–are both aimed at restoring the body to its natural movement patterns that can be lost due to injury, stress, and sitting for long periods of time.
Lisa told us about one of the teenage girls she worked with who had overcome some specific physical limitations. She said to Lisa “I can find the right people and ask the right questions, nothing is impossible!” I hope I can inspire dancers to think the same way–that nothing is impossible. Anyway, if you’ve been wondering why we’ve been crawling or stretching at the start of class, now you know what is behind it. I hope learning these techniques will make you a stronger, more capable dancer, able to dance with less pain, fewer injuries and a freedom that is truly liberated movement.
Come dance with me–at Liberated Movement–every Tuesday night 7-8pm. And Saturdays 12-1:30. http://www.liberatedmovement.com. Suggested donation is just $10, half what other classes cost in the city. 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. See you there!