Dance - Balance & Extension

Good balance is necessary in order to make smooth, complete moves. Balance to the dancer is far more important than it is to the average person who just wishes not to fall over in the street! The dancer needs their balance to be secure in good posture and movement. Good balance can make a dance look effortless and allow the rest of the body to pay attention to the job of carrying out the routine rather than trying not to wobble. When we have good balance, good posture and a strong core, we are able to complete moves more successfully and in dance every move you make must be completed or finished. To achieve this, we need good extension. Each move, from your head to your feet to your fingertips needs to be stretched through and fully extended. This gives a routine a greater fluidity, shape and line. The result will be that the overall performance will have the appearance of greater ease, polish and better technical elements. Without balance and extension a routine will look awkward, wobbly and sloppy!

Action

To be successful

Advice or tips to help you

1

· Improve your balance

· Hold your position without wobbling

· Stand barefoot and slowly rise on to the balls of the feet, pressing the toes in to the floor. Concentrate on centring the weight of your body somewhere between the heel and big toe. Try to pull up through the body but keep the knees relaxed. Lower the heels and repeat.

· Ensure that transitions between moves are wobble-free

· Stand on one foot on a hard surface without locking the knees. Divide the weight of the body between the heel and the ball of the foot. Stand for 1 minute, then switch to the other foot.

· Practise balancing on one foot so that you avoid wobbling

· Stand on one foot with the weight of the body divided between the heel and the ball. Pick the heel up slowly and turn 90 degrees on the ball of the foot, stop then lower the heel. Repeat three times then switch feet. Progress on to full turns.

2

· Use your breathing to help you balance

· Keep your breath under control

· Keep a low released breath in and make sure you are not contracting (sucking inwards) the tummy when inhaling. Remember the balloon effect we talked about in posture!

· Engage your core muscles when you exhale

· As you breath out, really engage and squeeze your core muscles enabling you to support or hold your move.

· Keep breathing when trying to balance

· Holding your breath when trying to balance will only result in a greater wobble when you finally do breathe!

3

· Use your feet to help you balance

· Distribute your weight evenly through your feet

· Your feet are at the heart of your foundation of balance. Try to ensure you feel the floor through the foot and work the feet into the floor.

· Strengthen your feet

· If you have weak feet, they are not going to hold you very well and be able to make all the tiny adjustments involved in balancing. To strengthen your feet, see the section on your foundation.

4

· Practise spotting

· Keep balanced after a turn

· A turn in dance can make some people feel very giddy. To try and counteract (stop) this: focus on a spot in front of you just above eye level, turn and whip your head back around to the same spot. Practise this; it does get easier and you will get better!

· Try to get used to the sensation of spinning

· Some feel very disorientated (dizzy) after spinning, so make sure you give yourself chance to get used to the feeling. Using the spotting technique, try step turning on two feet across the room.

· Remember that balance isn't just affected by the muscles.

· Balance is also affected by the eyes and ears that have to adjust very quickly to your rapid movement. This is why spotting helps. If you also think of using your core for support with strong legs and feet, you should see good improvement.

5

· Improve your extension

· Try to be aware of your alignment

· If you lie straight on your back you can really feel your body alignment and if anything is out of place. Similarly if you lie on your stomach and do for example, an arabesque, you can feel the square form of the hips and shoulders that you should have.

· Try to improve one half of your body at a time before putting it together

· If you sit on the floor Indian style, you can concentrate on holding your back properly and doing intricate (detailed) arm movements without having to worry about what your legs are doing.

· Complete every move

· Try to think of extension as finishing or completing a move before moving on to the next. A move needs to be as beautiful as possible before you move on.

6

· Use shaping

· Extend the shape to your hands and fingers

· Ensure that you use a mirror to check that your hands and fingers are shaped at all times in every move, in a way that suits the style of your dance.

· Extend the shape to your feet

· Go through every move of your routine and check what your feet are doing throughout. Again, ensure that at each stage they are shaped to suit and complete the move and style of the dance. The majority of feet will point or flex.

· Extend the shape to your head

· Makes sure your neck and head glide through a dance and lead the spine effortlessly around the space and through the routine. Keep your neck long, head lifted, focused and accurate.

7

· Practise getting better leg extensions

· If you have weak leg muscles try these sitting position leg extensions

· Sit on the chair with your back straight. Place both feet together on the floor in front of you. Grab and hold both sides of the chair seat with your hands. Tighten your abdominal muscles to protect your lower back. Inhale. Slowly straighten your right leg and extend it until it is parallel to the floor, exhaling as you go. Meanwhile, keep your left foot firmly planted on the floor. Hold your leg in the extended position for two seconds and then slowly lower it back to the starting position, inhaling at the same time. Perform this as many times as you feel comfortable. Repeat with your left leg.

· Perform a standing leg extension (you'll need to work in a group of three for this)

· Stand up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Instruct one partner to stand behind you and the other in front. Both are facing you. Grasp and interlock forearms with the partner in front of you, keeping elbows bent and relaxed. Each of your and your partner's hands should be firmly grasping the other's arm just below the elbow for support. Instruct the partner behind you to place both their hands on or near your hips for support. Raise your right knee to the side until your leg is bent at a 90° angle. Move your knee toward your right ear while allowing your body to naturally bend to the left. Straighten your right leg while extending your foot slowly toward the ceiling, bending as far to the left as necessary with both partners supporting you. Instruct the partner behind you to grab and hold your right ankle. Hold this position for a few seconds and then release; slowly bending and lowering your leg back to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg.

8

· Learn to do the splits to help achieve greater leg extensions

· Stretch out your legs before attempting the splits

· Stretch through the legs before you work on your splits.

· Ensure that you don't overstretch

· Only go as far as is comfortable, don't force yourself down.

· Make sure you practise every day to achieve the flexibility and strength needed.

· The flexibility and strength involved in doing the splits will enable you to have better leg extensions as these also require flexibility and strength.

9

· Visualise to help maintain balance and extension

· Keep your eyes up without looking down

· Sometimes dancers have the tendency to look down, even when they balance. This will lead to wobbles and a fall! If you are a beginner, it may help to remember to keep your eyes lifted and focus outward. Imagine that you have x-ray vision and can look beyond the walls of your classroom.

· Try to think in opposites

· Your ability to balance can be greatly affected by how and what you think or imagine. When balancing, you might be thinking really hard about holding yourself UP but actually DOWN is a pretty useful direction. As you rise or move into the position of your intended balance, think of pushing the floor away from you.

· Try to visualize digging deep into the ground

· When in your balance, imagine roots embedding themselves deep into the ground, while your branches (head, neck, and limbs) grow up or outward.

10

· Think about the head/neck and back relationship for maintaining good balance

· Make sure you lead with your head

· Our body has two points of direction, the way our spine points: up, and the way our head points: forward. Try to think about keeping your neck free, so that your head can face forward and go up.

· Keep your legs relaxed

· When your back lengthens and widens, you will notice a new relationship with your legs and feet. The legs should feel more released through the hip, knee and ankle so that movement is smooth.