Posture and Ballroom: The Interviews

Hopefully you've already seen and enjoyed my vlog special on ballroom and posture earlier in the week (if you haven't, check it out here). The three experts I interviewed had a LOT of useful information to share, and a lot of it didn't make it into the video.

So today, I'm including ALL THREE interviews, complete with footage that didn't make the original cut. Take these pro's advice, and take your posture to the next level!

Vlog Special: Posture and Ballroom Dancing

Don't get me wrong - I love technology. Maybe not ALL of it, but... The fact that I can sit at my computer and simply communicate with thousands of people I never could have reached otherwise - it's an introvert's heaven, I tell ya!

It DOES however, cause an awful lot of us to neglect our bodies. Due in large to  hours spent slumped in various chairs and couches in front of screens, lower back pain is now the single leading cause of disability worldwide (according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010).

Countering the effects of work with an activity that reinforces good poise is now more important than ever. Let's look at how ballroom dancing measures up:

Transcript:

Announcer: Technology. With every advancement, mankind becomes ever more adapt at navigating the challenges of today and the future. But these steps forward come with a cost. As a result of less physical activity, combined with increasing amounts of time slumped in front of computers or handheld devices, bad posture is on the rise, along with it's crippling cousin, lower back pain.

But despite back pain's debilitating effects, there is hope. Increasingly, average Jills and Joes are turning to ballroom dancing, lauded by many for it's positive effects on poise and posture. This education video explores how you too can harness the power of ballroom dancing to live your life upright and pain free.

Me: Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Centre in Toronto Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance, where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

Today, we're talking to a number of experts about posture in ballroom dancing, how to do it correctly, and how you can use it to improve both your dancing and your daily life. But first up, WHY is good posture important?

Noel Miller: Good posture is important because it allows you to use your joints properly. So the more your posture is off the change in your bony structure causes continuous wearing. Now, instead of doing a movement that was positive to the body becomes negative.

And this is why posture is so important, because it's an indicator that these things are off and has been off for some time because now it's visual - I can SEE it that the posture is off. It's a sign that changes have been underway.

Emily Tench: Posture number one I would say is a method of injury prevention. So as a dancer there is so much risk involved even if you are doing something simple. A repetitive movement, doing the same thing over and over with poor posture will slowly develop into chronic issues in your body, say pain in your lower back, or pain in your knees, or pain in your ankles or maybe in your neck.

And it won't necessarily come across as an injury. And it's maybe not an injury, but more of an overuse that causes pain. And really good posture is primarily a way to avoid developing pain in your body and avoid developing injury.

Olé Burlay: Posture is important for everyday life, and I do believe that many of our students come to learn so they can improve on their posture. So, that's why we have the students, and that's why we're trying to do the first thing, and the first thing, and the very first thing in the first couple of lessons is to put two people together in a comfortable position. To be able to do the things that we teach.

Me: Right. So they need to have that posture before all the movements of ballroom dancing become possible.

Olé Burlay: That's right. Because the centres of two partners, because ballroom is a couple dancing. So when those centres are related properly, it can go around connected, it can go linear, sideways. So we need that posture to do the moves that we teach. That's the importance of good posture.

Announcer: Clearly, good posture is vital to overall health, yet many might ask: "What do I have to worry about? How can bad posture affect ME?"

Noel: Generally, these normally happen with arthritis of any joint. This is because of bad posture, either by bad habit or by overuse. So the most important thing is maintaining your body, so that you don't fall into this overuse situation.

So other than arthritis these kind of things, then you get joint aches and pains generally, or cramping in the leg or lower foot or back, or muscles fatiguing quickly. So at the point of after pain, there comes a point where it becomes weak again. So you try to pick up a cup and it drops out of your hand, because you don't have the strength - the muscles are too overdone to even hold something.

So those are some other kinds of issues you might see as well.

Announcer: Now you're no doubt convinced of the importance of good posture. But, how does ballroom dancing help to improve that posture? One of our correspondents decided to try a short class to find out.

Me: Alright so, if I was a total beginner coming into your ballet class, what are some initial tips you would give me, to get me started thinking about correct posture?

Emily: Right. So, let's place you just in front of our camera here, and I'll just get you to place your feet side by side parallel... No, that way.

Me: Oh okay. I'm the trouble kid in the class.

Emily: And you would just look at yourself in the mirror, and assess what's going on in your body. But the first thing I will say is just look straight forward and... Drop your chin, relax it.

Me: Ha ha ha! I'm a terrible student.

Emily: I know this about Ian. Oh... There we go. Then... Ohhh! Wow that was nice! So we got a little more height there. Then the other side is, if we had a tail, it's a tiger's tail. And your tiger tail has to go straight down. Right? It's not a happy puppy, it's not a sad puppy, it's a tiger. So you want to think that - he's tight again.

Me: Ha ha ha!

Emily: So, you're floating up with your helium balloon, and then at the bottom - yeah, you have a tiger tail releasing. Then we'll do a parallel plie, so bend your knees... Good, and then come straight back up again. Very nice. Now to make it a little bit more vibrant, we want a sense of lifting up through the back, and at the same time, lifting up through the front, but breathing. So, lungs... Turn your whole body.

Me: Oh, okay. And I've got to breathe through all this, huh?

Emily: So, you want wide breath... Yeah. So you see how my hands are going in and out... Ooh, that's quite good. Yeah. So, there's your breath with lift and ease. Good, and like, the feeling of an hourglass, right to the side please? Your arms out, back to here, floating. So this hourglass feeling is coming up that way, so you're really rising together. Now can you, without doing anything, push the floor away... Not with your bum.

Me: Hehehehe.

Emily: Relax your tail.

Me: Well I was thinking I had to push down with my legs.

Emily: Yes, but your legs are straight.

Me: Ah.

Emily: Ah. So, energetically push, as if you were about to rise.

Me: Okay, so the balls of my feet.

Emily: You're about to rise, but you're not rising. So you're pushing down, while you are floating upwards.

(Switch to Olé)

Me: So, if you have a complete beginner coming into your classes, what's some of the first things you would tell them about having correct ballroom posture?

Olé: Well first we need to align the head, the shoulders, hips, and feet.

Me: Right, right, just making sure the blocks of weight are centred over each other.

Olé: So there's no such thing as "good" and a "bad" posture - there is so much in between. And I think we should start from the point where the student's posture doesn't overwhelm learning the steps. So, it has to be introduced - it doesn't mean the students will be able to practically do it at the time of the lesson. But, you plant it, and you reinforce it over the period of time. And as I said, many people can relate to parts of the body that kind of align like a pyramid - one on top of the other. And when we move, that pyramid sometimes sometimes gets crooked. So one part falls off the other part, and this is when it's impossible to dance. So even telling that much - introduction of the body parts is a great way to start introducing posture.

Announcer: You now know that ballroom dancing can play an important role in keeping our back healthy and happy. But, can ballroom dancing contribute to the problem?

Olé: There are some, in international standard, that can hurt follows if they do many hours a week and if they do it professionally, because of misalignment of the neck and the side of the body. They are reclining over to the left...

Me: Always keeping that chest open and that corkscrew off.

Olé: Yes. So that's something you would not need to do as a person walking off the street. But is will introduce the muscle tone, that will cause the muscle to help you keep your posture in everyday life. But that is the only one that actually might give you some problem. There is a Latin, international Latin that has very balletic intensity in the lower back, and if we don't move the hips in the right place, in the right direction, that can give you lower back ache as well, but again, if not done correctly.

Me: I'm occasionally guilty of this as well.

Olé: That's the two things I can think of.

(Switch to Emily)

Emily: Anything that brings your body into an extreme position, if you are not strong enough to do that movement, or if your are not flexible enough, or if you don't have the understanding of how to maintain good skeletal alignment - so have good posture - any movement could potentially injure you.

So in ballroom dancing for example, you've got many degrees of your frame, and so you are going slowly up and backwards, but if you don't understand how to use your core, or how to extend upwards through the upper back, your thoracic spine, you'll end up putting a lot of stress on your lower vertebrae, and they're pretty susceptible to injury.

(Switch to Noel)

Noel: Mostly I've heard from other teachers that, in ballroom dancing, there's not a huge emphasis on stretching.

Me: Right.

Noel: Right, and this leads to postural issues, because when you have someone coming in who wants to enjoy dance, they are pre-exposed already to life. Life has happened before they met you, therefore there are already imbalances. So if they continue to express this imbalances, either by the shoulder being up, moving the shoulder blades out of the centre position more to the side - we call this winging of the scapula, or movement away from the centre of the spine - and then we have some different issues with the shoulders and traps starting to take over, pecs tightening, this kind of thing.

Another thing that I find is tightness of the calves. Everyday life we have tight calfs, most likely, by the age of... heh, sixteen, now just keeping more understanding that you have to maintain, keep it stretching. And sometimes, there's a point where the muscles won't stretch through traditional... you know, point your toes, put your foot against the wall, get that nice stretch against the wall.

Me: Right.

Noel: Sometimes that won't be effective. So at this point generally you have more cramps, you've got to stretch it out and they stop, before they finish their routine. And this is an indicator to the teacher, hey, you know what? Maybe we should do a little more stretching, and if stretching doesn't work, maybe we should seek someone who has a little more input on this issue.

Announcer: Despite these obstacles, it seems correct technique is the best way to protect ourselves. Still, many might remain skeptical: How does what you learn on a ballroom dance floor help you with your posture in your everyday life?

Emily: I like to sometimes talk about your head, like it's a hot air balloon, and if your spine is a chain of little mini balloons dangling underneath your hot air balloon. And your pelvis is the basket underneath the hot air balloon. So there's energy from the fire, from the core drawing you upwards, but it almost has a better sensation, you get a better result if you just feel this whole area is floating upward in opposition to the pelvis, which is weighted downwards with sandbags or something. You know, something's holding you down. And instead of trying to force yourself into certain positions, that is a more natural, relieving way to allow the body to hang in a really nice neutral alignment.

Me: Okay, and we can use this when we are walking around, sitting in our desk, or pretty much anywhere.

Emily: Yeah, yeah.

Announcer: There you have it - the experts agree that with proper training and application, ballroom dancing can help transform how you hold yourself, and so counter the effects of back pain. So remember: An investment in ballroom dancing, is an investment in a high-quality life.

Dancing for Life, Part Five: Recovering from Injury

Sprained ankles, twisted hips, accidental elbow to the face (seriously, it happens)... When you learn to move your body in a new way, the occasional injury is inevitable. What's far more important however, is how you treat the injuries that occur.

In university, I had many friends who loved sports - soccer, hockey, running, etc. - but had been told by their doctor they could never play again. We're talking 20-year olds here. And why? Because they'd ignored the injuries they sustained while playing, until it became too serious for them to continue.

On the other hand, we've all seen those videos on Youtube - incredible dancers that know how to move it well into their nineties... or later. How do they do it?

We've covered most of those reasons already, but the one, may the MOST important thing, is that they know how to take care of their bodies when they get injured.

Like I said, injuries are going to happen - but taking control of the recovery process helps ensure our body stays healthy and strong, well into our senior years. And what better way to test your knowledge... Than with a little game?

Missed the previous articles? I've included links at the bottom!

Transcript

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance, where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

Regardless of whether or not you're dancing, playing sports, or doing some other kind of physical activity (wink), the occasional injury is virtually inevitable. But what can we do to speed up our recovery time, and what can we do to prevent those injuries from reoccurring in the future?

It's time to play a game of TRUE or FALSE.

Question number one: When you injure yourself, if you can still move the injured part around, you can get right back to dancing - true or false?

FALSE. If you don't spend the time to understand how serious that injury is, you run the risk of making it more serious and turning it into something that will make you have to stop dancing for longer. So always take some time and get to know what's going on.

Question number two: If you get injured, it's a good idea to gingerly move the injured area around to get a sense of what movements are painful, and how serious the injury is - true or false?

TRUE! You want to get a sense of how bad the injury is, whether this is something you can just slap a bandaid on, walk off, or need to consult a professional, as well as an idea of what types of movements to avoid while you're waiting for the injury to heal.

Question number three: Swelling around the injured area is always a bad thing - true or false?

FALSE. Swelling is actually a positive sign. It's a sign from the immune system that is trying to heal the injured part of the body. A lot of swelling CAN cause more harm than good, and that's why we usually try and keep the swelling down through things like Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE).

Question number four: If you don't feel pain after a day or two, there's no need to consult a professional true or false?

FALSE. While not all injuries become chronic injuries, there's a lot of things that we've sustained when we were younger that gradually accumulate, and start affecting things like our balance, our posture, and our flexibility.

So when in doubt, it's always a good idea to consult a professional - just to make sure that we haven't created some imbalance that needs to be corrected.

Question number five: You may need to take a week or two off or even longer from dancing in order to completely recover - true or false?

TRUE. Much as I hate to say it (or hear it), taking some time for complete rest is the safest and best way to make sure that injury won't reoccur later on.

Question number six: Stretching an injured area is a good way to relieve some of the pain of that injury - true or false?

FALSE. While it might help the injury, it might also tear it and cause it to get worse - so again, it's a better idea to wait and talk to a professional to make sure that you're following the best practice to help this part of your body heal.

Question number seven: If a doctor tells you that you can never dance again, it's time to hang up those dance shoes for good - true or false?

FALSE. While not everyone will agree with me on this, I believe it's better to get a second opinion. Even the experts mess up sometimes and it's best not to shut a door that you might not have to.

Question number eight: Physical therapy, when recommended by your doctor, is a good way to help recover from an injury - true or false?

TRUE. Physical or movement therapy allows your body to get stronger so it can be prepared to dance again, and that increased strength helps to make sure that same injury does not reoccur in the future.

Finally, question number nine: When you fully recover, it's a good idea to go over the pattern or the technique that caused the injury in the first place, but more slowly to understand what went wrong - true or false?

TRUE! As we talked about last week, good technique is an important part of making sure that you don't get injured, so take the injury as a lesson - a way of changing how you're dancing so you're less likely to get injured in the future.

And that concludes our game of TRUE or FALSE!

I hope you found that helpful. If you have any questions or comments you can message me on my Facebook fan page "Ballroom Dancers Anonymous or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, and next week we're beginning a new theme.

We're going to be looking at dance and motivation - specifically, how to stay motivated through both the good times and the bad, and how to build some positive dance habits so that we can make the most of our dancing experience.

I look forward to seeing you then. Until next week - happy dancing!

Previous Articles on 'Dancing for Life'
Part One: Body Awareness
Part Two: Getting to Know our Bodies
Part Three: Stretchin' Away the Pain
Part Four: Sustainable Dancing

 

Dancing for Life, Part Four: Sustainable Dancing

One of my favourite things about ballroom dancing is that the better you understand it, the easier and more effortless it gets. And since effort - or at least uncontrolled, forced effort - can be damaging to our bodies, there's some serious health pluses as well.

I've talked a lot about keeping ourselves healthy, but not yet about how dancing BETTER means dancing LONGER into life. Let's explore how to improve our dancing and our body health - at the same time.

Transcript:

Hi guys my name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor the Joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance at your place on your schedule.

What allows us to move effectively, in a way that's low-impact for our body, while still following correct dance technique? A lot of it comes down to moving efficiently: Getting the best results with the least amount of effort.

When you think about your favourite dancers, what are some words that you'd use to describe them? Likely you'll come up with things like "effortless", "elegant" and "powerful" - in other words, they make what they do look easy.

By comparison, beginner dancers are going to look more forced and stiff in their movements. If you're one of these dancers yourself, you might notice that the bigger, more obvious movements are easier, but the movements that require more fine muscle control; not so much.

These little muscles are very important in preventing you from overextending and perhaps hurting yourself, so strengthen these muscles by dancing through your patterns more slowly, while keeping an eye on any places where you're tempted to rush through or lose your balance.

It's very easy to get impatient with this process, so I encourage you to dance a practice with an instructor or another dancer nearby.

Know your technique: Most good ballroom dance technique is just healthy dancing - it's following the natural movements of your body. Here's four examples of good technique or good things to be aware of when you're dancing.

First of all you want to always move from your core. Your core, if you don't know, is generally defined as like a fist-sized area that's nestled just under your solar plexus, around your navel area.

When we move from here, it keeps us balanced and in control so that our muscles are not straining to hold us up. Our bones and joints keep us where we need to be, and our muscles are free to make the rest of our dancing look that much better.

Focus on rolling through your movements: I like to say "if we stop moving we stop dancing." So even if it's a staccato style dance like say a tango, (CORRECTION: Tango does sometimes stop) we're really just slowing down and then we speed up.

We never want to move and stop; move and stop. It's going to take you more energy to have to constantly stop and start yourself, so we want to have that fluidity.

Focus on good partner connection. Yes, the leader goes first and yes, the follower goes just afterwards, but through that pressure, through our contact points, we are constantly letting each other know what we're doing.

And this allows us to move more as one: We have less "bumper cars" on the dance floor, and again it's much less strain on your muscles.

Finally, be aware that certain movements are always going to be a little easier for you, and certain movements are going to be a little bit harder, compared to somebody else with a different body type.

For example, I am going to have more difficulty dancing salsa because of how tall I am; how long my legs are, than somebody who's a little bit shorter, because I just have more to move - it's harder for me to keep up with the speed of some of the more advanced movements.

If I try to be like somebody else with shorter legs and shorter arms, I'm more likely to just end up frustrating myself, and I might even run the risk of hurting myself.

On the other hand, I can make tango look better because I have longer limbs that can create nice lines, so I can I can make nicer shapes while I'm dancing something like tango.

So just make peace of this awareness that - you know, this doesn't mean that you can only dance the styles that show off these things the best, but just be aware that there are going to be certain dance styles or certain moves that will give you a little bit more of a challenge, and that is okay.

Be aware that when you're dancing on floors that are harder and don't "give" as much, like concrete, you're going to want to dance lower impact moves, especially if you're doing something like East Coast Swing or jive.

By comparison, when you're dancing on a proper ballroom floor - which is usually a sprung hardwood floor - you can get away with your full complement of dance moves.

But if you try and push it on a harder floor you run the risk of injuring your ankles, your knees, your hips - it can be very bad for your body in the long run, so just take it easy there.

These are the main things that you need to be able to dance efficiently, and to and be able to enjoy dancing for your whole life. 

I hope you found this helpful - if you have any questions or comments, as always you can message me on my Facebook fan page: Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again that's ian@socialballroom.dance.

I know that I said last week that this would be our final topic on this theme, but I've decided  to add one more. It's one I feel is very important, about how we can take good care of ourselves and maximize our recovery if we do end up injuring ourselves.

Because injuries are at least somewhat inevitable if you're going to dance for any period of time, but as long as you take care of yourself, you can keep that injury just a short-term blip, and you can be back on the dance floor in a way that has you healthy - maybe even healthier than you were before you got injured.

So I look forward to talking with you about that next week, and until then, happy dancing!

 

Dancing for Life, Part Three: Stretchin’ Away the Pain

Injuries are a super-bummer for anyone - and for a dancer, it could limit how long they can enjoy dancing. Since most dance-related injuries occur from a tight area being over-extended, we need to stretch these areas to improve our 'range of motion'.

From our conversation with Noel Miller, we learned that stretching is the best thing we can do as individuals to protect ourselves, and developing our body awareness helps us identify where we need it the most. But the journey doesn't end there.

In today's video, we cover the various kinds of stretches out there, so you can choose the best ones for you. We also look at some general tips you may not have thought of, which help improve your stretching enormously.

CAVEAT: I'm talking about stretching areas which are tight and at risk of injury. I'm NOT talking about areas that are already injured - stretching these areas could aggravate the problem. Consult a health professional for any chronic or acute pain.

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance, where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

If we accept that range of motion is referring to how far we can move different parts of our body without hurting ourselves, then it becomes a little easier to understand why taking up a more physical activity like dancing can make us more prone to injury.

We are moving our body in a way that we're not used to, and we may be overextending or rolling beyond that range of motion for certain muscle groups.

Fortunately using what we've learned from body awareness or the last two videos we can begin to spot these tight or painful areas and stretch them out before they become a bigger problem.

There's a lot of great material online about different kinds of stretches you can use, but a very good idea is to sort out all the information there, so we can get a sense of what kinds of stretches we want to use and which ones we'd rather avoid.

Breaking it down into about six basic types of stretches the first one that I want to talk about is ballistic stretching.

This is one where we're using momentum to send parts of our body beyond their normal range of motion. You might see certain athletes do this kind of action with their arms for their stretching (swings arms in front of body, then out to side).

This is NOT a recommended form of stretching, because we don't really get an opportunity to relax into the stretch, so it's not as effective, and there's quite a bit of risk for injury with all that motion beyond your body's normal range.

Next you have what's called dynamic movement. This is using more slow controlled movements that gradually increase the speed and flexibility of different movements.

This is better because it's more low-impact, though it's still not recommended for anyone who is coming out of a very tired day and when they're they've been overworked.

Then you have your active or static active. These kinds of stretches involve using the muscles of one part of your body, to hold that part in a position that will stretch an opposing group of muscles.

Let me explain that a little better. If I was to lift up my leg (in front of me) here, I'm basically using the muscles on the tops of my legs like the quads and my hip flexors to lift the leg.

I'm using this to stretch the muscles along the backs of my leg - in this case the calves and the hamstrings. Because they are on the opposing side of that limb, this would be an example of an active stretch.

Then you have your passive or static stretches. This is a similar idea, except we're using muscles to stretch a non-opposing group of muscles.

Going back to that leg analogy, if I then held this leg up with my arms, I'm now using my arm muscles to stretch my leg, not my leg muscles to stretch my leg. Because I'm using different muscles it becomes more of a static or passive stretch.

The active stretches can be a little more difficult, so it's not recommended that you try and hold those for longer than about 10 to 15 seconds per set.

The static or passive stretches because of their lower impact, are great for people who are a little bit more prone to injury, if you're a little bit older, or if you're just coming down from a particularly intense bit of dancing. Those are all good options for that latter type of stretch.

Next there's isometric stretches. These are when we hold our body in a passive stretch and we have a controlled tightening of the muscle.  So this isn't like we use our muscles to move our body - we're toning or tightening up our muscles in place.

This will help to increase your strength and flexibility. However it's not recommended for children or for adolescents whose bones are still forming; there's a risk that there can be damage to the tendons if you do that at that age.

And finally we have, and I'm going to try and say this correctly: proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (applause), also called PNF stretching for short.

This is a more advanced form of stretching by which we hold our body in a passive stretch, and we resist the gentle pressure of someone else who's pushing on that area.

Because this is a more advanced form of stretch, it's recommended that you have a fitness coach or somebody help you with this, somebody who has that experience. But it is considered one of the best stretches to help you increase your range of motion.

Now that we have an idea of some of the different kinds of stretches that are out there, what are some general tips that we can apply, no matter what kind of stretching we're using?

First of all it's always a good idea to warm up your body with some light exercise before you begin any stretching. Your muscles are able to stretch further and they're less likely to get damaged throughout a stretch. 

Make sure that you're holding a neutral position. A good example would be if I was stretching my back, I would want to check in the mirror to make sure that I'm not subconsciously slouching or arching my back. I'm keeping what's called a "neutral spine", and that way I can get more out of this stretch and again, I'm less prone to injury.

When you're stretching, make sure that you're breathing slowly and that you're relaxing into the stretch. Imagine your muscles are softening or melting into the stretch.

Finally, be aware that sometimes our bodies NEED to have tight muscles in certain places, in order to stabilize the bones and joints in the surrounding areas.

So if you are new to stretching, you probably want to err on the side of stretching less rather than more, and if you get any pain - especially if you feel like it's joint pain after stretching - you should consult a professional.

So these are the main things you need to know about stretching in a safe way, so that you can enjoy dancing for longer.

I hope you found this helpful and if you have any questions, as always please message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance.

Next week, we're going to wrap up this series with a look at how we can move in a way that's a little bit lower impact, still follows correct dance technique, but just adjusting it so that we're not forcing anything, so we can enjoy dancing and look good for that much longer.

look forward to seeing you then, and happy dancing!

Dancing for Life, Part Two: Getting to Know Our Bodies

Our interview with Noel Miller shed some light on the importance of paying attention to our bodies. But it got me thinking: How exactly can we develop this awareness inside of ourselves and apply it to dancing?

It's a question I attempt to answer in this video:

Video Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of socialballroom.dance -Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

Last week we interviewed Noel Miller, a fitness expert who offered up some useful insights on how we can use the idea of body awareness - you know, being in touch of what's happening inside of ourselves - to dance for life, and to prevent ourselves from from getting injured along the way.

I'd like to get deeper into how we can train ourselves to become more aware of what's happening inside our bodies, but first I want to address a bit of an issue that some people find a little controversial.

I know that many ballroom dancers see "correct ballroom dancing" as adhering to a very specific precise standard of movement and posture and so on, and if it hurts your body to do that, then so be it - that's the cost of correct technique.

I personally tend to lean more towards a more flexible approach. The way I see it is that we all have different - like everybody's body is a little bit different from everybody else's, and we need to take that into account when we're learning to dance.

If you have more tight hips for example, you may not do as much Latin Hip action as somebody else might, or if your back is stiffer you may not have as open a chest when you're going into a Viennese Waltz or another Smooth/Standard dance. And I personally feel that's generally okay.

If this is a body imbalance or there's like an injury, or something that needs to be addressed through stretching, or through consulting a professional, that's one thing. But once you've ruled that out and you determine that this is a structural thing in your body, I always say that it's better to try and just dance within what your body is comfortably able to do. Because odds are that's what's going to look the most natural for you.

There are a number of exercises that can help us get more in touch with these sensations in our body, so that we can take preventative measures to prevent an injury from happening. These are generally called somatic exercises.

There's a number of different kinds of exercises out there from Feldenkrais, to the Alexander Technique, to Mindbody Centering and Continuum. All the spiritual sounding names, aside these are essentially different movements that you can use to build your coordination, your balance, and to reduce the muscle pain that you get throughout life, whether you're dancing or not.

They're potentially very helpful. I'm no expert on them, which is why I encourage you to check them out. But they all follow certain principles which we as ballroom dancers use as well.

For example, you don't want to force any of the movement. You want to flow naturally. You don't want to use a lot of unnecessary muscles in the movement, so it's better if you you turn them off. Some muscles might be tensing more as a result of overthinking it. You want to try and relax and just do it with a smallest amount of energy possible.

It's also good to make sure that your joints and your bones are what supports you.  We don't want to have shakiness in the muscles, which can be a sign that we're we're not quite balanced, or we're moving in a way that's causing our muscles to extend themselves.

But maybe you feel like you just don't have the time or energy to do research on these different methods, and figure out what works for you. I don't blame you - a lot of us are very busy. One way that I use is I simply spend 10-15 minutes a day meditating.

Because meditation is a excellent way of temporarily shutting out the world, and getting one in touch with our bodies. And when we're there it's a lot easier for us to to - sector-by-sector if you like - become aware of any discomfort, or any sensations in our body that stands out from the baseline.

Because in our society we tend to have very short attention spans. We're very outward focused. We're thinking about work, and kids, and family, and how we're going to pay the bills and so on, and we can very easily just ignore our bodies all the time. So we don't even notice if the body is screaming at us that "hey, you know you're not using me in a way that's that's respectful, and if you keep doing this, I'm going to break down in some way".

So to give you an idea of how easy it is to to do this and how quickly you can do it, we're going to do a fast version of a body scan now.

So what I'd like you to do is find a place where you know there's relatively little distractions. If you're if you're at work right now, save this part of the video until you get home, find a place where it's nice and comfortable for you to sit or lie down. And you're going to want to make yourself as comfortable as you can, and just relax and maybe even close your eyes.

The point of this initially is to try and relax your body, but even more important to relax your mind. Because we get so easily pulled away from our body with the struggles of daily life, and as a result we get into this habit of just ignoring our body, so we're going to do the opposite.

We're shutting out the outside world temporarily, and we want to just focus on breathing, and listen to my voice. And just take a few minutes or a few moments to gradually let your mind slow down, and just get prepared to to start focusing inwards rather than outwards. And once you feel like you're in a good place for that, take your attention and put it on your head and your neck.

And just spend maybe 30 seconds just sensing if there's anything that feels different from the rest of your body. It could be a tightness or a sensation of warmth, any aching pain or soreness. Just make note of that, notice it, and you can move your attention on down to the tops of your shoulders, and the muscles around your shoulder joints.

And then further onwards to your upper arms, your lower arms, your hands, just taking a bit of time to be aware of the muscles and the joints, tendons that are connecting the muscles to the bone. And as you get more comfortable this will get easier for you. And bring your attention over to your chest. Thinking of the intercostal muscles - that's the little guys that are in between your ribs - and the larger pectoral muscles across the chest.

And as you're you know thinking of if there's anything that seems strange or uncomfortable, you may find that there's some sensations which you can't so easily describe. And if that happens I encourage you to spend a little more time on those sensations, and just see if you can find a way of describing them that that makes sense. To just throw some descriptors at the feeling and see what sticks. Because if you can find a word that feels right, it'll be easier to get back in touch with that feeling if it arises while you're dancing.

So you can say, "oh when I do this kind of movement it seems to be causing, this feeling of 'stiffness' or 'hardness' or or 'inflammation'". Or whatever word you end up deciding on.

So moving on to your upper back and your lower back, feeling the little muscles that crisscross around the spine, and a larger muscles that stretch across the back.

And downwards to the pelvis, feeling the muscles that come across the front and the back, which allow it to tilt forwards and backwards. And the hip flexors; the bands of muscle that run down the sides of the hips and the the glutes, and the IT band that runs down the outside of the sides of our legs, from our hips down to our knees

From there you might shift your attention over to your quadriceps, which are the big muscles at the front of your legs above the knee, and then the hamstrings, which are on the backs of your legs, then downwards to the knee joint. Being aware of any pain or discomfort where the tendons connect to the knee - it's a common place where we can feel discomfort. This is an easy place to injure as a ballroom dancer.

Continuing down to the calves, and the ankles, feeling any crunchiness or soreness or tenderness. And moving on to the tops of the seats, and the insteps the arch that separates the heel the foot from the balls, and then finally running out to the balls of the feet, and muscles that allow the toes to move around.

And a little reminder that as you complete the scan, just to make a little mental note of what you're feeling and where. Because these are all indicators of places we need to pay more attention to.

So we're going to come out of this now. Hopefully you haven't fallen asleep yet. So once we've developed this familiarity -

Actually before we go on I want to just say whether you're doing somatic exercises or meditation, it's a very good idea to practice this regularly - on a daily basis is ideal - because that allows you to build this familiarity, this connection between your mind and your body. And the stronger that gets the more quickly you'll be able to sense if something is amiss inside, so that you can kind of catch it right in the moment, or right in the MOVEMENT as it were.

So when you're practicing dance you might go into it by dancing your movements very slowly. And then maybe a little faster, maybe at half speed, and then three-quarters speed, and then FULL speed, and each time you're checking in with how the feelings in your body are changing moving around. And that gives you more information about whether there's something that you've done that's caused something unpleasant to be felt, and usually when that happens it means one of two things.

One is that your technique might need to be adjusted a little bit, so you can talk to your instructor about this. You can say, "hey, what's a way that I can do this differently because I'm noticing that this doesn't feel right when I do it this way". And they'll suggest different things for you and hopefully they'll be understanding if this is something that maybe is harder for you than it is for other people.

The other option that may have to do with a muscle tightness, or an imbalance in the body, or an old injury that you have. Something that that could cause more problems later on. In which case you want to either stretch that out, or if the sensation returns, or if it doesn't leave after stretching, seriously consider consulting a professional.

Because there's nothing worse than someone who loves dancing suddenly being able to not dance at all for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years in some cases. It's really hard - so spend that extra time spend that extra money if you need to. It is well worth it.

Next week we're going to get deeper into stretches, higher impact versus lower impact stretches and stretches that are safer for you and what experts today recommend. Because there's a lot of different kinds of stretches out there in the internet and better to go in knowing some basics, at least about what kinds of stretches are good for you and which ones you want to avoid because they'd run the risk of straining or causing things to tear.

I hope you found this article today helpful, and if you have any comments or questions you can as always message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancer's Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again it's ian@socialballroom.dance.

I hope you have yourself a lovely week and until next time, happy dancing!

Dancing for Life, Part One: Body Awareness

Most people, especially dancers, tend to treat their bodies like they can just trade them in for a newer model when they get older. We never learned, or simply forget to pay attention to what's happening in our bodies, and so miss warning signs that could prevent a serious injury.

Today I invited Noel Miller, a fitness expert who takes a more holistic approach to body health, to talk about how developing our body awareness can keep us dancing pain free - whether we're 18 or 80.

Noel has been very helpful in my own training regime, and in spotting tell-tale signs of pain or tightness and correcting them before they become a larger problem. Here's the main points we covered:

  1. When we don't pay attention to little injuries we got when we were younger, they can effect elements like our posture and movement later in life.
  2. Tightness in one area of the body affects flexibility overall.
  3. If your body doesn't naturally settle into good ballroom posture (excepting the follower upper body stretch), it could be a sign of muscle tightness.
  4. Body awareness allows us to become more aware of what correct ballroom technique FEELS like.
  5. Pain is the body's LAST warning sign before injury - we can learn to spot earlier warnings, like tightness, or discomfort.
  6. Stretching areas that are tight is the single best thing we can do to protect our bodies as we grow older.
  7. Be prepared to consult a professional if what you find online doesn't correct the problem.
  8. You don't need to be in pain as you grow older, but maintaining your body becomes increasingly important.

You can find Noel on his website, www.designfitness.ca, or see him for a consultation at the Joy of Dance Centre. Next week, we'll delve deeper into body awareness, and how we can train ourselves to become more aware of what's happening inside. See you then!