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Making the Most of the Situation

by Sandi & Dan Finch

We hope you are finding ways to keep dancing—or thinking about dancing—while we endure the “safer at home” dictates mandated to offset the coronavirus pandemic here in California and throughout the country. There is literally no place to go to dance around here right now.

That doesn’t mean no dancing. We have sent our beginner class assignments to practice. Our other classes are familiar with online dance videos. Look them up, slow them down on the computer and study those tricky parts of recently taught material to keep them in mind.

If clinics are to your liking, DanceVision, producer of all forms of ballroom dance instructional materials, including the syllabus recognized for competitions in the United States, is offering free lessons online by some well-qualified instructors. Headed by former Californian, Wayne Eng (now living in Las Vegas), Dance-Vision announced this week that it would stream all of its video instruction at no cost. “We understand the power of dance and its ability to provide a sense of joy, hope and relief in stressful moments,” Eng posted. “As daily routines continue to change, we’re opening up our complete video library to keep you dancing during difficult times.”

Each day starting this week, DanceVision has hosted a one-hour clinic on its YouTube channel: the first on achieving better Cuban motion, the second on meditation and today’s on good posture for better movement.

Maria Hansen, former North American showcase champion, now a ballroom judge and instructor in Aliso Viejo, CA, led the Wednesday class on posture. “Your body already knows how to move,” she said, but when we start trying to do what we hear we need to do to become better dances, the body forgets how to move naturally.

At all levels of dance, you hear that dancing begins with a good frame, and a good frame begins with good posture. From there, it goes wrong. “Perfect posture is not a position,” she says, “but a balancing act.” When you try to hold or force a position, you cause tension in the muscles and tension kills movement.

Her focus was on those parts of the body you hear about so often—the base (hips and knees), the upper body and the core, which includes the only muscle group she says she activates on purpose.

The core muscles connect the upper and lower body, she said. The erectus abdominis muscles that run the front of the body from rib cage to hips allow us to stretch up and back. The obliques, those muscles that wrap diagonally around our sides, allow the body to shape and sway and are important in going to Semi-Closed Position, she said.

The transverse abdominis is the deep set of muscles shaped like a belt around the body. You feel it when you suck in your stomach to try to zip up a pair of tight pants. Hansen says to use it only enough for support and allow the other muscles to cause movement around it. If you use all three at the same time, she said, the result is stiff movement and an unattractive look.

She teaches with what she calls “biomechanics,” defined as the science of internal and external forces affecting human movement. She suggests a “standing meditation” to feel how the body works to align itself. Stand tall, allow shoulders to hang loosely, close your eyes and, she says, you will feel the muscles and bones shifting to stay naturally upright. “If you hold yourself in place, you interfere.”

Now begin to move, starting with weight between feet, then shift to the right foot. If you maintain level hips, your right leg bones will be sent outside of a line from your foot up to your body. The leg muscles then have to work to maintain balance. But if you allow your hips to shift, so that the opposite hip rises slightly, you create a natural straight alignment up through the leg. The spine stays perpendicular to the hips, not to the floor.

In much the same way, a reach in Latins has one look if you just extend the arm up, and another, more dramatic look, if you allow the opposite hip to rise and you have more extension through that arm.

One aspect of posture is fighting today’s forces that cause an unnatural forward head position. Texting, looking down at a computer, driving—things that cause your head to move closer to the object it is looking at—throw your body out of balance, she said. Most people try to correct that by lifting their chins, she says, but that’s not the solution. Try imagining two strings attached to your collarbone, and the strings are gently pulled up. This, she said, changes where your head sits to be in a natural position with your neck.

As she wound up, another link appeared on my computer—that of Dr. David Oliver, a chiropractor, with exercises to offset the forward head position. Heads weigh about the same as a bowling ball, he said, and for each inch the head moves forward, it creates 10 more pounds of pressure in the shoulders and lower back.

His easiest exercise—which he suggests doing while you are waiting at a traffic light or in line at the grocery store—is the chin tuck. Put two fingers on your chin and push in. Your head should move back into a natural alignment with your neck. Do it 10 to 15 times. If you are in line to get into a Costco these days, you can probably get several week’s worth of that exercise done while you wait.

From a club newsletter, April 2020, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2020.


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