The other day I was stopped at a traffic light and noticed a woman on the crosswalk who, possibly due to injury, held her head several inches in front of her torso. Her back was straight, but she was leaning a huge distance forward as she walked.
I was reminded of something my chiropractor once told me. She said that for every inch your head extends in front of your spine, you are putting 10lbs of additional pressure on your spinal column. This woman’s spine must have been enduring some 60lbs of additional weight. I pondered how someone with a condition like this might benefit from dance to correct postural problems.
I often talk about how dancing relates very closely to walking. We don’t think about how we walk, because we’ve done it our entire lives. But almost everything we do in dance (especially Ballroom and Smooth dances) relates completely to natural actions that we apply in everyday movement.
Talk CBM for example. This dance term refers to “Contra Body Movement.” This means moving the side of the body opposite the moving leg toward the moving leg. You actually do this every time you get out of bed and take your first steps of the day to brush your teeth. As you move your right leg forward, the left side of your body moves forward and vice versa. This causes your arms to swing on the opposite side of your feet. Give it a try. Take a few steps and you’ll notice that the opposite arm swings with the leg. Try swinging the same arm as the moving leg to see the difference. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
You do exactly the same thing when you walk backwards. Normally people don’t actually walk backwards. They typically turn around and walk forward in the other direction. However, those rare times you do walk backwards the same CBM action takes place.
Dances like Slow Foxtrot apply CBM with a slightly exaggerated styling to create a beautiful swing action, but overall the movement is surprisingly similar to normal everyday walking.
When you walk, you place one foot in front, using the heel, and pushing off from the ball of the back foot. As your body moves toward the front foot, the back heel comes up. As your feet pass each other, the standing foot is now flat and the moving foot switches to a heel for the next step. Most walking takes place in between your two feet, not over one foot or the other. You already do this every day, so it should be pretty easy to master the “rolling foot” action of Slow Foxtrot.
Most walking takes place in between your two feet, not over one foot or the other.
Latin, of course, is a different thing when it comes to walking. Rumba Walks are not exactly a natural movement. But consider arm movements in Latin or Smooth. When you throw something away, like a Frisbee, you start with a bent elbow, then you straighten the elbow and finally, as the last thing, you straighten the hand. This is completely natural, and we apply the same basic idea in dance.
Another area that we often fail to think about is how we generate power through movement.
When I was a kid, I had a habit of doing some pretty reckless things. The culmination of this was when, at the age of 11, I slipped off a wet trail and plummeted 80 feet off Bridal Veil Falls, breaking my arm in seven places. I was lucky to survive. With bones sticking out of my upper arm, I was placed on a makeshift stretcher and carried back to the parking lot to be driven to hospital.
One of the reckless things I loved to do as a kid was to leapfrog across whitewater rivers by jumping from one stone to another. Creating power for a jump uses a very natural action in which you apply energy from the gluteus maximus (the largest muscle in the body), and by engaging the hips through a counterbalancing action. You bend the knees, allow the hips to rotate slightly back, and then apply power through the legs for the desired amount of movement.
When you think about Smooth dances and International Style Tango, this precise combination of movements is applied throughout the dance to create very natural power.
The Feather Finish in Slow Foxtrot uses a swing action on step two. As the lady creates power for that side step, she needs to swing her hip with the leg to create sufficient power. It’s not a lot different from the way you might swing your leg over a motorcycle, bicycle, or even when getting on a horse.
The point is that a great many movements in dance are surprisingly natural. We often get so caught up in thinking about dance technique that we lose sight of how we already move our bodies in everyday activities. By taking time to relate dance movements to things you already do, you can improve the flow of your movement as well as the power you generate.