by Sandi &
Standing On Your Own Feet
One of a dancer’s greatest
challenges is being in balance. When you aren’t in balance, you likely
are leaning on your partner or not doing a step properly. Poor posture
is to blame for most balance problems, along with not using your feet
well and having a weak “core.” A body with well-aligned posture
requires less energy to move than a droopy one, and it looks better.
in balance, according to the dictionary definition, means equilibrium
of all parts. As individuals, we learned long ago how to balance
ourselves over our feet and along the spine. As we move forward, one
leg swings forward and the opposite arm swings forward to match it, a
form of counter-balancing. When dancing, we call that contra walks.
Adding a partner means we have two bodies in motion. Each needs to
maintain its own central balance point, and the partnership also needs
its own central axis—between the two.
Good posture is like
stacking blocks of wood. Stand with head lined up over spine, shoulders
over hips. Shoulders relaxed. Head up—think being pulled up by your
ears. From there, it is a matter of a few exercises to build up the
core and reaffirm the brain’s connections to the muscles that give you
Practice walking by yourself, consciously
re-centering your weight over your supporting foot with each step. Take
one step, with weight fully over that one foot. Shift your weight
toward the toes and then the heels to feel the body making balance
happen with each shift. Move forward one step with a heel lead and
transfer weight onto that foot, then bring the free foot under the body
without weight. Regain balance and repeat with the other foot. This
exercise will remind you to transfer full weight from foot to foot and
collect your balance. You can do this any time: Stand on one foot, then
the other while in line anywhere. Stand up and sit down without using
your hands (to strengthen your core).
With a partner, take
closed position and try walking a few steps forward and back, one step
at a time, rebalancing over the new supporting foot each time. Are you
holding her too tight, too close? Is she leaning in or clutching for
balance? Make sure your blocks of weight are balanced. Chin up to help
keep your head aligned with your spine. Try standing eight or so feet
from your partner; stand on one foot and toss a ball back and forth to
each other; then switch to stand on the other leg. You will be
challenged to keep in balance.
Back to contra walks—they are
found in many dances, and practicing them will improve your balance.
Bring your hands to your chest so your arm swing comes from your torso
as you step. Walk purposely one foot forward with opposite shoulder at
the same time, then the other. Try it; you’ll like the result
Oh, My Aching Feet
a.m. and I’ve already walked 1,312 steps. I know that because—like so
many others—I have a watch that also tracks how far my feet travel each
day. “They” say that 10,000 steps a day is optimal for good health.
Lately I’ve read that even if you can’t get in that many steps, doing
as many as you can, with more gusto, has the same effect. Dancing
should skyrocket your numbers!
We have 52 bones in our two feet,
about 25% of all the bones in our body, and 7,000 nerve endings. The
feet are an evolutionary marvel, bearing hundreds of tons of force—our
weight in motion—every day. According to healthinaging.org, one in
three people over age 65 has foot pain, stiffness or aching feet. If we
give those tootsies a little attention, maybe they’ll keep us on the
dance floor longer.
Did you know that a foot cramp can mean you
are dehydrated? Most of us have heard about plantar fasciitis, an
inflammation of the plantar fascia, a fibrous band of tissue along the
sole of the foot. The job of the fascia is to absorb some of the daily
abuse our feet take, but too much strain can cause micro-tears, giving
us pain and stiffness. The largest tendon in the body is the Achilles
tendon, connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone. It is called into
action whenever you run, walk, or jump. Shoes that fit badly and give
you an “ouch” feeling are probably compressing the extensor tendons
that run along the top of the foot and allow you to lift your toes off
Be happy if you have ticklish feet. Those 7,000
nerve endings in the feet help you stay in balance by alerting your
brain to changes underfoot—like walking on ice, jogging across uneven
terrain, or dancing on a floor with slick spots. Those nerves become
less sensitive as we age. The magazine, The Good Life, suggests walking
barefoot to help keep them sharp.
An article in that magazine
recently claimed that most people will walk 75,000 miles by age
50—roughly three times around the equator. Imagine what dancing adds to
that! Try these exercises to give your feet an occasional “aah” moment.
feet flat on the floor, lift toes and curl them under for 5 seconds.
Repeat 10 times. Or, slowly roll a tennis ball under the length of each
foot for 60 seconds. Or, cross a foot over the opposite thigh and
lightly grasp the toes, pulling them gently until you feel a stretch
along the arch. Hold for 10 seconds. Try picking up marbles with your
toes. Massage the calf down to the heel (for that Achilles tendon).
Rotate the foot at the ankle in a circular motion. Apply an ice pack to
help eliminate waste from muscle tissue.
The summer dance season is underway. Time to put your best foot forward.
More Care for Your Fascii
dancers have heard of plantar fasciitis, an ailment of the foot. If
you’ve had it, you know it can be painful and can take a long time to
heal. Did you know the body is full of fascii that can also become
inflamed and cause imbalance, poor posture, and a host of other
“Fascia” in Latin means bands, and the fascii
throughout the body are elastic bands that encase muscles, organs,
nerves, and blood vessels. This connective tissue is not like
ligaments, which join one bone to another bone, or tendons, which join
muscle to bone. In some places, they hold organs in place, in others,
they form sliders for muscles to move across. In the foot, where the
fascii runs from the toes, over the heel and up the back of the leg,
they support the arch.
Scientists have discovered 12 sets of
these fascii connecting seemingly unrelated parts of the body, from the
toes to the top of the head. When they function properly, they look
like wavy folds, that stretch and retract. Stress, trauma, poor
posture, and inflammation cause them to lose pliability, and that
restricts muscle movement. It has been said this is the source of most
chronic pain problems that have no apparent cause.
A new book
called Anatomy Trains maps the fascii of the body and shows their
interplay with movement and stability. It has evolved into a course for
massage therapists, yoga instructors, chiropractors, and personal
trainers, on the basis that fascii respond to massage and exercise.
before you get on the floor is good, to get the kinks out, as some
would say. An Oberlin College dance instructor has introduced stretches
aimed precisely at the fascii, as reported in a recent Dance Teacher
Here are some warm-ups being touted on the internet to
improve balance and fascii: 1) Prop your toes up against a wall,
keeping your arch and heel flat so the toes stretch. Hold for a count
of 10 and repeat. 2) Roll a frozen water bottle slowly under your arch.
3) To relax your shoulders so they don’t scrunch up around your neck,
stand with hands over head, grasping left wrist with right hand. Gently
pull the elbows away from each other, activating the muscles in the
shoulders and arms. Bend at the waist to the right, feeling a stretch
along the left side of the body. Rotate the elbows so you are looking
at the floor. You should feel a ripple through the fascii to the lower
Once that water bottle thaws, be sure to drink up. Fascii
can become dehydrated if you don’t drink enough, and then are subject
to micro tears and lose their stretch, and you’ve got that creaky, achy
A Last Word
recently said that she carries a golf ball to stretch the fascia in her
feet. To prove how it helps, her therapist had her bend over to touch
her toes. “I did alright,” she said, “then he had me roll each foot
over a golf ball, standing and putting pressure into the ball.” When he
asked her to bend and touch her toes again, she was amazed at the
difference it made. “Now I take a golf ball whenever we travel. It
really helped last year at ICBDA.”
a club newsletter, February & March, 2014, Feburary 2016, and
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June/July 2017.