Dance is an art form with an ocean of possibilities for what it can look like, be like or experienced as. It's basic elements of space, time and energy can be expressed in infinite ways. Yet a variety of aspects of a dance practice can be beneficial, even for "non-dancers".
Having a regular movement practice helps in so many ways to feel good in your body on a daily basis. But what are some of the individual components of a movement practice based in dance and how do they work? In this blog I'll share six aspects that have benefited me and my clients. There are many more of course.
Many people have obstacles or reasons why they don't have time to focus on their body. If you're a parent, it may be particularly challenging. The morning is a fruitful time to have a movement practice, but even a few minutes a day (whenever it works best for your schedule) will start a process where you may feel slightly better even after a few weeks. Of course if you have injuries, check with your doctor or physical therapist before engaging in physical activities.
It doesn't have to be a complicated process. Although each of these aspects can also offer infinite possibilities for growth, exploration and learning. Pay attention to your particular needs and what interests you at this moment. It's about listening to your body and finding what works for you, especially at this moment in time and making it your own. With that said, it's also essential to have teachers along the way.
Step 1 - Establish a foundation
It's important to establish a strong foundation for movement. One way to do that is by strength training in the legs and upper body. Having a basic amount of strength will support the joints and allow you to be more mobile in the rest of your life. It can also provide balance between opposing muscles, which helps to keep you injury free. Such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, or the chest muscles and back muscles. When these oppositional forces are balanced in your body, it gives you a better foundation for whatever else you want to do. You'll even feel better walking around.
In a dance based practice, there are usually basic leg and back exercises in the beginning of a class that help to train the body for full range of motion movement. Pliés are the most fundamental, but floor work can also be a powerful way to establish a foundation. Dance is especially great for improving your endurance.
A strong foundation, also means being knowledgeable about your body. Finding ways to gain knowledge of your body only empowers you to realize the potential of what your body has to offer. When you take classes, look for teachers that help you to understand your body better.
Step 2 - Core work
You'll probably find that everything feels better in your life, when you have a strong core. From walking around, to sitting at your desk for 8 hours a day, to whatever movement practice you enjoy. A strong core includes the muscles on the front of your torso as well as your back.
Core work can help with back pain and make you feel more supported in motion. It also helps to connect you to yourself if you feel discombobulated. The core connects the upper and lower halves of your body, so in a dance practice, a strong core will facilitate communication between different body parts so that you are able to move more sequentially and/or as a whole unit.
Core work can also be about going deeper in each movement you do, to release tension in the more superficial muscles, and instead integrate the core into the movement. The goal is to have a strong core, while utilizing its power in motion.
Step 3 - Breathe
It's very common for people to sometimes hold their breath in motion. When you breathe through movements, the deeper core muscles tend to engage naturally, as well as, the chest and shoulder muscles tend to relax. Paying attention to your breath in a dance based practice, helps your movement to be more fluid and full, while staying grounded and connected to your body. This is partly because it allows you to work with gravity and to take the support of the floor. It also helps to prevent injury.
Stretching goes much deeper and with less pain when you use your breath. Try going to your natural limit in a stretch and hold there, don't push past it any further. Then simply focus on your breath and you'll find that your body will open up into a deeper stretch without any additional effort.
Step 4 - Stretching
Stretching becomes so much easier and enjoyable when using your breath. Never push past your natural limit in a stretch, but rather allow it to open up while you stay in it and breathe. Both active and passive stretching can work wonders for how you feel in your body, but it's better to do deep stretching after your movement practice is completed.
Stretching almost always makes people feel better in their bodies. However, if you are a hyper mobile person, be careful of over stretching or staying too long in a stretch. For hyper mobile people, stretching has to be balanced with strengthening the muscles surrounding a joint to keep it stable.
In general though, stretching helps you feel better in your body in many ways. It keeps you mobile and agile and helps with lower back pain, hip pain or even neck/shoulder pain from sitting at a desk for hours and hours each day. It helps release muscle tension or even muscle imbalances. You can try stretching for about 10 minutes before and after a long day of sitting at your desk, and see if it makes a difference. I'd be shocked if it doesn't!
A practice based in dance also improves flexibility because you engage in full range of motion movement. Strength training isolates the muscles but in a dance practice, the muscular effort continually challenges your range of motion in multi-directional and coordinated ways.
Step 5 - Mind-body awareness
This aspect is a bit more elusive than the others, but it's no less important. Many professions these days require mental work that leaves you disconnected from your body. Taking time in your routine to practice movement that connects your mental state to an awareness of your body can be really great medicine.
Being knowledgeable about your body is actually different from mind-body awareness. This part of a movement practice, goes one step further in order to shift your perception from knowledge into experience.
One main benefit is a deeper awareness of your body, but you may even notice it helps you to think more clearly. For a dance practice, mind-body awareness helps to regulate the nervous system and allows the body to function more organically, which affects the quality of your movement.
Step 6 - Playful movement
Since dance is actually an art form, one of the main byproducts of having a dance practice, is self expression. Playing around with movement in a spontaneous way, can help you to learn how to listen to your body better. It doesn't have to be a full on performance of spectacular moves, but can be quite pedestrian. It can be like "talking" with your body. In a simple way, it's expressing what you feel, perceive, think or instinctually envision through the language of your body from one moment to the next.
Of course it requires a basic foundation of movement and awareness, but once you have that, playful movement helps you to listen to your instincts and trust your body knows what it needs at any given moment. Then you allow your movements to surprise you. For amateurs, it can simply mean playing around with the movements you've learned and exploring how your body wants to integrate those movements in its own unique way.
From big movements that expand to tiny movements that express. Sometimes you may find that movements come out of the breath spontaneously. It also allows you to shift into moving for pleasure, which doesn't necessarily achieve a specific goal, except that it feels good.
A dance practice is both simple in some respects and multi-faceted. There are many layers to explore which bring you more in touch with your body, improve your physical fitness and help you to feel better on a daily basis. You don't have to be a "dancer" to enjoy the benefits of having a movement practice.
These 6 aspects in particular have helped me and my clients, but the list could be a lot longer. Start with what interests you, reach out to me if you have questions and I'm available for private lessons.
I hope that something in particular in this blog inspired you today. Whatever type of movement you do, having a movement practice happens on a continuum. There's no real beginning and no end. What you're interested in today may change tomorrow. But my hope is that if you keep exploring, you may find that you experience joy in your body and in motion.
© 2022 Karen E Harvey
Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels