Safe and Effective Dance Practice
This entry explains what is meant by ‘correct alignment’ and why it is important to ensure young learners are aware of their own alignment.
Alignment is optimal placement of the spine and body’s eight load-bearing joints (ankles/knees/hips/shoulders), to form an interdependent kinetic chain through a centre of gravity. When the head-spine sits above the base of support and gravity is successfully resisted by core and skeletal muscles, resulting equilibrium of opposing forces creates balance and is least stressful to the body’s structures. Mis-alignment causes compensatory changes through the body and uncorrected becomes habitual resulting in poor performance or injury. When joints align correctly, muscles become less fatigued because the body works in a biomechanically efficient way.
Correct alignment enhances performance skills in dance. Understanding and execution of alignment is important in young dancers as muscle strengthening and correcting positioning can be established before poor postural arrangement becomes inherent. Children undergo rapid/unbalanced growth changes which require compensatory changes to maintain alignment. To re-establish natural alignment I facilitate existing movement and direct long-term practice.
Prior to teaching alignment, warm-ups involve dynamic movements of antagonistic muscle groups and increase blood flow. Cool downs gradually decrease impact then involve static stretches to return oxygen to and release tension from muscles.
I describe alignment to children as the postural line from ear to ankle with level shoulders/hips/knees. Learners are introduced to alignment through progressive exercises where support to control appropriate joints/muscle groups in head/spine/shoulders/pelvis/knees/ankles decreases from floor, barrѐ, to standing. My regular corrections make alignment instinctive by strengthening muscle groups needed to maintain postural alignment and facilitating learners to remember placement. Imagery during physical practice improves neuromuscular re-patterning by allowing learners to understand the essence of the position/movement.
Alignment biomechanics are explained in first/second position with parallel/turnout. Young learners maintain alignment more readily in parallel as turnout muscles are not engaged. In first positions, the narrow base makes alignment difficult for children as muscles lack support to overcome gravitational forces. I maximise stability by uncurling toes and placing weight over the metatarsal arch with inner-medial arches lifted. I correct mal-alignment by shifting learners’ weight foot-to-foot until they find centre and counter balance pronation and supination.
Slight elasticity in ligaments connecting bones maintains joint stability, controls loading and hinge activity. Lax ligaments cause joint hyperextension which is common in growing children. Knee/ankle hyperextension can be overcome by strengthening surrounding muscles. Poor alignment causes a chain of pressure, tilting the pelvis, preventing lower leg-foot alignment and increasing cartilage erosion, eventually risking dislocation and osteoarthritis. To straighten knees without a locked position, I ask learners standing in parallel with corrected weight placement to imagine lengthening the hamstring on the back of legs. If a balanced tension between antagonistic leg muscles is found, resulting symmetry maintains supporting leg alignment in arabesque or relevѐ. With a strong supporting leg dancers develop flexibility/strength/balance.
For pliѐs in first/second position, I align knees directly over middle toes to bend knees and ankle joints in one plane. For alignment, tension must be equal in antagonistic muscle sets. I ensure demi-pliѐs only lowered to where spine/pelvis retains alignment. Inward rotation or mis-alignments places additional forces into knees due to incorrect stress angles. Children are at increased risk of ligaments/tendons strain or dislocation due to misalignment caused by unbalanced muscle tone. I teach pliѐs at the barrѐ for support then in centre and grande pliѐs when technique/muscle strength maintains alignment. Aligned pliѐs improve centring/strengthen legs/increase turn-out developing movement quality safely.
Aligned from the feet in pliѐ or straight legged, I use imagery of a pendulum to find a neutral pelvis position on the femur by moving hips forward-back or side-side with decreasing intensity until centred. This is particularly important in young learners as pelvic alignment is required to develop the core muscles which control body alignment and turnout.
Weakness in muscles supporting the pelvic ball-and-socket joint can cause 3-planes of pelvic tilt. Abdominal strengthening counteracts backward pelvis tilt, lumbar spin lordosis and pronation. Pliѐs and kicks develop gluteals preventing forward pelvis tilt, flat lumbar spine and supination. Corrected armlines release tight chest muscles preventing kyphosis rounding the thoracic spine.
Correct turnout is achieved by rotating the femur in the neutral pelvis socket. Turn-out is optimised by stretching ilio-femoral ligaments before 7-9 years. In turn-out with ankles touching, feet should align in the same plane as the kneecap, thigh and foot. I reduce the angle of turnout to prevent arches rolling in and pelvis tilting back.
To align the spine I use imagery of vertebrae stacked on a pole. This minimises neck tension, discourages lifted ribs and coordinates aligned spinal curvature. I centre the chest by requiring ribcage contraction-release to a position without protruding shoulder blades. I relax learners and level shoulders from ears. I maintain rectangular shoulders-pelvis alignment in the 5-armline positions and upper body/ribcage alignment during left-right torso shifts using analogue clock imagery. Armlines lead with the elbow and are in front of shoulders to sustain upperbody alignment. I ensure the shoulder complex is held back/down by balanced contraction of pectoral and latissimus muscles. Turning depends on armlines to maintain balance and rotation.
I emphasise correct alignment from a relaxed level head. I direct learners to correct their/partners’ alignment to ensure understanding. Realignment requires concentration and controlled breathing. Excessive workload without alignment damages joints causing torn muscles/tendons, ligament/cartilage damage. Correction develops dance technique and performance.
Huddart, T. (2010) The use of imagery for posture and alignment control in dance, Dance New Zealand (DANZ), page 1-5.
Krasnow, D., Wilmerding, V., Stecyk, S., Wyon, M. and Koutedakis, Y ., (2011) Biomechanical Research in Dance: A Literature Review, page 3-23
Schafer, R. C., (1986) Clinical Biomechanics: Musculoskeletal Actions and Reactions. Chapter 4, Wiliams & Wilkins
Franklin E. N., (2012) Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery, Franklin method, Sheridan Books USA
Watkins A and Clarkson P. M., (1994) Dancing Longer, Dancing Stronger: A Dancer’s Guide to Improving Technique and Preventing Injury. A Dance Horizons Book, Hightstown, USA