& Dan Finch
We learned to walk as infants, struggling to maintain balance in an
upright position. After the first couple of years, we didn’t think too
much about it. But, as dancers, re-thinking what balance is and how to
achieve it can make you a better dancer, or at a minimum save you from
The American Physical Therapy Association maintains that the most
common injuries of the physically active—pain in the knees, IT band and
ankle sprains—come from deviations in movement that affect balance.
When you walk or run or dance—your legs go through two phases, swinging
and standing. A tiny amount of imbalance when the leg is standing
straight or pushing off into the swing makes you vulnerable to injury.
As we age, the body’s systems that detect gravity, identify body
positioning at any moment and promote stability become less effective.
Hip and ankle weakness often leads to balance problems, as well as the
accumulative effect of years of poor posture. Add an injury or joint
replacement or even some illnesses (such as diabetes) and the
communication between what is below a joint and the brain is
interrupted. The body needs to reestablish that dialogue for balance to
be maintained. For this reason, doctors often recommend a form of
physical therapy called “gait training,” a bit more than just muscle
strengthening. It can include standing on one leg, walking heel to toe,
doing leg lifts while seated, knee marching or tracking the movement of
your thumb with your eyes as you move it around.
At a minimum, you need to understand where you are in space and
time—locating your center of gravity (CG), which is the point at which
you are in balance at each moment. You have a different CG for the
various rhythms. For quickstep your CG is higher in the torso to allow
your legs more freedom to move; for rumba and tango, your CG is lower
to help you feel more grounded. Your partner is working on his CG too,
and the partnership itself has to be in balance. How can you match your
partner’s CG if you can’t control your own?
Some simple balance exercises can help (but always consult your medical
authorities first). Try to balance on one leg for 30 seconds. Change
legs. Do it with your eyes closed. Do it several times a day until you
can hold for 30 seconds.
Swinging your leg can develop control when it is not on the ground, as
in the part of a step while in flight. Stand in a doorway one hand
against the frame for balance. Stand on one leg and wing the other leg
forward and back. Check your knees to avoid inward or outward rotation.
Move away from the support of the door frame and try it. For challenge,
swing the opposite arm to meet the swinging leg as it comes forward.
Stand tall and fix your posture. Our latest tip is to focus on your
“manubrium” and think about projecting it upward. Your manubrium is
that “y” shaped bone above your sternum where a man’s tie sits. Then,
walk forward four or five steps, looking behind you over one shoulder.
Look over the other shoulder. This may seem like an odd exercise for a
dancer, but remember, in closed position, you are moving forward and
backward, and not looking straight forward. Try it to get a prettier
neck line, if the benefits of good balance aren’t enough.
a club newsletter, February, 2019,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, April 2019.