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A sports scientist who is an expert on walking says that everyone walks wrong.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that, but WalkActive founder Joanna Hall, who coaches people on walking, says that she sees lots of problems in the way people walk, and that they should focus more on technique.

She points out that while people will accept that there are skills and techniques you have to work at in other activities, walking is something nobody really bothers paying attention to. “When we walk, we don’t really think about it.”

Hall, who has worked alongside London South Bank University’s Sport and Exercise Science Research Center to test her walking methodology, points out four common walking mistakes most people make. These tips are super meaningful for dancers, as they will dramatically improve your dance technique.

1. Walk out of your space rather than into it

The first tip she gives is that we need to think more on walking out of the space we are in rather than the space we are moving toward. She says that most people “walk into their space,” becoming overly reliant on their hip flexors. These are the muscles you employ when bringing your knee forward. As a result, they don’t properly engage their glutes and hamstrings.

“If we are too dependent on the hip flexors, it stops us using our glutes properly,” Hall explains. “Combine that with our lifestyles and the amount we sit down, and the hip flexors get very short.”

As she explains it, when we step forward into the space in front of us, we negate the posterior chain, the muscles that run down the back of the body, including the glutes and hamstrings.

Instead, she recommends walking out of your space. Asked to explain what that looks like, she said it’s like having a post-it note on the bottom of your shoes and leaving it visible for a fraction longer for the person behind you to read. She explains that this engages your glutes and your hamstrings, and switches off your hip flexors. This safeguards your back and improves your posture.

This same technique will improve your movement in dance, especially for swing dances such as the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Quickstep. Focus on pushing away from the standing foot so that you are moving out of the previous space rather than stepping into the new space.

2. Use your feet to flex your hips

The second tip stems from how you’re using your feet. As Hall explains, “People tend to walk with a flat foot, which is called a passive foot. But the foot has 26 bones in it. Where we have a bone, it’s there because it’s actually a joint, and we’re meant to have movement in it. But as a consequence of walking with a flat foot, we don’t use the foot like that.”

Hall describes an easy way to fix it by imagining you have pieces of velcro on the bottom of your feet and on the path you’re walking on. As you’re showing teh post-it note to the person behind you, you’re peeling your back foot off the floor bit by bit. She says this is “great for your posture, and it’s great for your alignment.”

Again, this is a technique we use all the time in ballroom dancing, in both the traditional Ballroom genre and the Latin dances. In Tango especially, focus on first putting down the heel or ball of the foot, then rolling onto the rest of the foot. In other dances we also use this technique. Slow Foxtrot, for example, is entirely dependent on rolling through the entire foot, changing from heel to ball or vice versa only as the other foot passes the standing foot.

3. Pay attention to your head and shoulders

In today’s world, the prevalence of mobile technology causes lots of people to walk with a forward head position, given how much they look down at their phones. Unfortunately, walking with your head leaning forward puts considerable pressure on the back, making it stiff.

It’s said that for every inch your head comes forward, your back has to carry an extra 5Kg (10lbs) of weight. That adds up over time! I’m constantly worried about the back problems our younger generations are going to face when they get older, due to the amount of time they spend every day with this forward head position. I spend hours per day at the computer and have become aware that I often bring my head slightly forward toward the screen to make it easier to see text on the screen. That’s really bad for posture and for the spine.

Hall explains that “When the spine is stiff, the shoulder girdle actually starts to fall forward… This means you don’t get the opening of the shoulder when you walk, and that has implications on how the diaphragm works. It should move about 10cm with every breath, but it can only move about 4cm.”

Ballroom dancers are taught to keep their head up, properly aligned with the spine at all times. When you dance, pay attention to where your head is in relation to your spine. Make sure you aren’t looking down while dancing!

4. Use of the arms

The use of Contra Body Movement, or CBM, is something we already do in everyday life. As I regularly joke in our group classes, you don’t see people moving the same arm forward as the leg that’s going forward, except for caricatures of gunslingers in Western movies. You automatically swing the arm opposite of the moving leg.

Dancers learn to use this technique to improve the look of their movement, especially in dances such Slow Foxtrot. Hall says we need to pay attention to this same action in normal everyday walking, by letting the arms swing freely.

So while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everyone walks wrong, there are lots of things we can do to walk in ways that are more focused and intentional, improving our backs, our posture and of course, our dancing.

George Pytlik

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the Senior (30+) Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in Senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in 30+ Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy are professional teachers with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

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