In everyday life and in dancing we consistently search for balance, not only physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. We know when we are present, aware, centered, grounded and when our energy is fluid. We can then act and dance to the maximum, with a priceless sense of freedom. And we also know the feeling of losing all that.
Dance studies require a very precise insight into the world of biomechanics and human perceptive capacity, so that we can consistently reconnect our nature with the one that surrounds us.
We will look at various directions which can help you be less blocked or over-toned, too high, or out of centre or balance. With the right attitude towards your own body and by recognizing the law of nature, you can drop some of the old habits and beliefs and add new layers of senses and awareness in order to feel and look more natural, organic, fluid and free.
Nature and its forces
Nature creates, maintains and protects life, it is showing us its cycles and always presents oppositions (four seasons, breathing cycle, life and death, day and night, light and darkness, tension and release...).
In a way nature teaches us about the processes and phenomena which also happen in dancing. We can imagine all dynamic contrasts that we apply to movement by first noticing them in nature, like lightness and heaviness, big and small, direct and indirect, kept tension and liberation of it, fast and slow, sustained and sudden...
We feel the storm coming up, the light changes, the pressure drops, there is tension and expectation in the air. Then the storm comes, bringing lightning and unexpected sounds, fear and unknown power. And when it is over, the light changes again, the air is clean and fresh, the conclusion brings the sense of release and peace.
This is all very similar to what happens in movement processing. You can be more aware of the preparation, delivery and recovery in the movement, having control over holding and releasing the energy. Movement cycles follow one another, pass from one to another and maintain life. In spite of chosen dynamic contrasts, there is a consistent underlying sense of flow. Too much stopping and restarting of the movement can make you tired, over-toned and stiff. You lose the connection with the ground, especially when the sensing is overpowered by doing.
You know when your movement does not feel or look right in spite of doing it 'correctly' and following the technical instructions. For example, you keep landing on a bent leg and you know that the leg should be straight. There is always an explanation for what is happening to you. It could be the lack of twisting action in your upper body and so your body mass is not distributed economically. It could be that you just did the step without the required movement preparation, therefore you've surprised your body and your knee just flexed as the joint is under the control of the autonomous nerve system. The knee bends on its own terms in order to protect the fall.
In any case, better understanding of biomechanics will improve your technical quality and efficiency. The science of biomechanics teaches us how our body interacts with the environment and its physical forces. There is a consistent interplay of internal (biological) and external (physical law) forces. In other words, under the biomechanics of movement we understand the laws of physics applied to the dancer’s body.
Your biological space is much more than your bones, joints and muscles. In the first place, you need to accept your physical body in its uniqueness regarding dimension, proportions, weight, shape and age. It is not about how your body looks, but what you can do with it, being respectful and caring towards it and grateful for its health and abilities. Besides your anatomy and healthy functioning of all body organs, what is most important for you to recognize is your body's motor space. Your motor space consists of two types of mechanisms:
- mechanisms for energy regulation – strength and endurance;
- mechanisms for movement regulation – coordination, balance, flexibility, agility, power, reaction time and speed.
Any physical ability can be improved by a variety of Latin and ballroom technical exercises as well as other dance techniques like classical, jazz or modern ballet or authentic dance forms. Top dancers, additionally to technical training, master their physical abilities with various strength and endurance exercises, practicing Gyrotonic, pre- and post-training stretching, proprioception exercises, Pilates, yoga, martial arts, Tai chi, and other sports in order to master the mechanisms for movement regulation.
The outside forces, acting on you as a dancer or on a couple, create a push-pull relationship between you and the surrounding space. The laws of physics explain how gravity, momentum and energy affect dancing bodies. Newton's laws of motion form the bases of all physical analyses of dance. Learn to use these physical principles of motion to your advantage, rather than fight against them.
There are two concepts you should be more aware of. The first one is the concept of inertia. In simple words, if your body is moving in a certain way, unless you make the decision to change how your body is moving, it is going to keep moving in the same way. And the same happens if you are not moving at all. The second are opposite forces. Every force that acts on the body has a counter force of equal magnitude, but working in the opposite direction.
By being aware of having your will, the power of making decisions, you can change the moment of inertia, or the position of the centre of mass in your body and control the entire movement process, including your balance. How much easier the Open Telemark would be, if only both partners would turn towards their own left.
Your perceptive potential
You are born with an innate feeling for movement – how to move, when to move, where to move and why to move. Movements are directed and regulated by your senses. Your capacity to sense, to perceive, is enormous. There are three ways of perceiving which allow the regulation of the entire movement – exteroception, interoception and proprioception.
Exteroception is your sensitivity to stimuli originating outside of the body. You are sensing the outside by seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting – but do you really? Dancers are often so overpowered by thinking that they don't open their senses to the fullest. To take vision as an example: do you really see, notice, observe in order to be space-orientated and capable to react to your partner's movement? It is impossible to drive the car or play ping-pong with closed eyes. Yet, during dance competitions I see many dancers losing their focus, looking down or staring at the audience rather than seeing their own dance partner. Vision takes 80% of all external perception – recognize and value that potential.
Interoception is sensing the inside, it is your perception of pain, hunger, movement of internal organs, breathing... You can feel that inhaling creates a tension and exhaling feels like a release, liberation from that tension.
Proprioception, simply called the sixth sense, is your individual subconscious and conscious sense of your body’s position in space. This sense tells you where you are in space, how far you are from others and objects, how much strength/effort is being employed in movement, you feel the muscle tone, you have a sense of balance and also a sense for speed regulation (acceleration and deceleration). Simply, proprioception is the physical feeling of your moving body. Because it is partly subconscious, you don’t need to be constantly alert/over-tensed. It helps you to achieve appropriate neuromuscular coordination. It shifts your tendency to depend on vision for motor control (for example constant looking into the mirror), to a more internally based system of reference.
There are many exercises available to master your proprioceptive skills. For example, standing on one foot for at least one minute without moving the standing foot and leg, but moving the other leg and arms and simultaneously changing body alignment by leaning forward or backward or inclining the body in all directions. You are moving the upper body consistently, but not the one leg on which you stand. After one minute you change the standing leg. Then you repeat the exercise with your eyes closed. You will start to understand the balancing process and the distribution of body weight by changing the body alignment. Also very beneficial is dancing with closed eyes. That kind of exercises will help you with reacting to the actual situation, rather than expecting the outcome.
You may find some inspiration watching the following video.
Being a centred and grounded dancer
If you want to be well balanced and free in your dancing, you also need to improve your awareness of being centered and grounded.
In June 2011, I received a present, a little book with the title "The song sings the bird" from my Finish colleagues, Harri and Niina Antikainen. The book was written by Roger Tully, a classical ballet master. I loved the book, learned a lot from it and yet, it left me with many open questions. A couple of years ago, just a few months before Mr. Tully's 90th birthday, I got to meet him in person at his home in London. My first question was: "Where is my gravity center?". He answered: "My dear, it is as much below the floor as it is above the floor." For the first time in my life I felt truly rooted.
The sensing of the gravity center in relation to the standing foot/leg regulates the economic and coordinated manner of body weight transportation in the desirable direction. In order to produce movement continuation and fluidity, your seat bone is consistently chasing the heel of the standing foot. Partly, the process can happen automatically, if your pelvic pot is swinging freely in the intended direction of movement.
The conscious feeling of “pulling the floor” and “pressing against it” and the awareness of all possible oppositions in the body (vertical, horizontal and sagittal) are the bases of the balancing process. Forces in nature always work in pairs. If you press against the floor, the floor is pushing back against your foot. The ground reaction force equalizes your body weight and helps you to use the floor/ground in relation to physical law (compressing, settling, jumping, rising, etc.). Once your feet are grounded, so is the rest of you.
Why is it that during competition you are not so well balanced and free as you are when practicing? Public performance or competition can be quite stressful, especially if you focus on competing with others instead of focusing on yourself. We all have expectations, aspirations and ambitions, which stimulate anxiety and restlessness. All that displaces us, we are normally too high, we breath high, we are feeling over-tensed... When we perform we have to accept all that we feel, but then put it backstage in order to focus only on inner feeling and movement tasks. For a good performance you simply need to be in the right place, present in your body.
Like the poetry of earth, dancing is a happening
Dancing is not a doing, it is a happening. Nothing happens without preparation. After you prepare the action/motion, you need to allow the action/motion to happen. Preparation is everything. Then, you need to witness and sense the happening, you need to stay present all the way through the process in order to recover the happening and create the transition into the next preparation. Here is the order: preparation, happening, recovery, transition. Everything you do needs to be in sync with nature.
Dancing is, by nature of its sources, related to motion. As long as motions are rooted in earth and prepared to create illusions, dancing can qualify as a kind of poetry. The wisdom and poetry of nature live within us and are waiting to be pulled out and shared with others.
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Laws, Kenneth. Physics and the Art of Dance: Understanding movement. Oxford University Press, 2008
Tulley, Roger. Song Sings the Bird: A Manual on the Teaching of Classical Dance. Gremese Editore, 2009
Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994