An Old Idea
Is New Again -- Posture
by Sandi &
You never know where you might find a good idea. Inspiration struck
this week in a pile of 40 year old dance magazines. That was the era
when Joe and Nancy Jenkins were our undisputed United States
professional dance champions, when Al Franz (Memory) was competing but
not yet placing in the top 5, and Jeanette Ball was competing as an
amateur. You may not recognize those names but they are among today’s
competition judges and respected, sought-after coaches.
The inspiration came in an article called “The Secret of International
Dancing,” in the July 1973 issue of the United States Amateur Ballroom
Dance Association newsletter. The author wrote about his search for the
secret after being told by an eminent English teacher on tour in Los
Angeles that none of the local dancers had been taught correctly. Yet
another English coach—then number two in the world —also on a coaching
tour in Los Angeles, made a similar comment, complaining that Americans
danced with “agonized bodies.”
That coach’s solution: pick yourself up by the ears. A great visual,
and he actually meant it. The article quoted him as saying to reach up
and take hold of the top of your ears, pinch them and twist them until
they hurt a little, even turn red. When you let go, you are aware of
them. Then, without hands, stretch your ears (think neck) straight up
just as high as you can get them using muscles in the body. “This is
what happens,” quoting the coach Michael Needham, “the head will go up
and back, the shoulders will relax and come down, the chest will be
high and ladies this will give you a beautiful bust line, the shoulder
blades will flatten and you will have a beautiful back, the tummy pulls
in, the pelvis will turn forward, you will be standing in lightly
flexed knees, on the balls of the feet with heels lightly on the floor
and most important your weight is forward in the direction you want to
go.” Ladies will not fall backwards causing their partners to clutch
them to maintain contact, and partners will have contact at the base of
the ribs. The higher the ears, the lighter and more flexible the body
The author claimed he asked three more world champions coming through
Los Angeles that year for their secret—and got a similar answer. Bill
Irvine, many times world champion, told him he visualized picking up
the body by the mastoid area, which is just behind the ears.
You don’t have to be on the dance floor to practice this idea. Sit,
walk, stand, thinking of pulling up your ears anytime during the day.
Keep your chin down, head level, eyes looking slightly above the
horizon, not at the ceiling. You will have great posture, and it just
might make your dancing better.
Slouch At Your Peril
Experts say correct alignment of the spine and body affects how we feel
as well as how we function. Slouching is actually bad for your health
and your mood. We do it all the time, spending so much time sitting at
computers, looking down while texting on our phones (causes the
shoulders to hunch), sitting in bucket seats while we drive (where our
derrieres sit below the knees). Looks like mom was right when she
harped on standing up straight.
Whatever the cause, fixing our posture is not a quick fix. One of my
(many) therapists over the past three years lectured me on how to sit
at the computer, where to put the mouse, how far the monitor should be
and at what level. You don’t want to strain forward to see the monitor
and you don’t want to look down at it. The mouse should be at the level
of your arm when it is parallel to the floor. Your ears, shoulders and
hips should still be in alignment while sitting. Sounds easy, but doing
it requires constant vigilance.
Poor posture resulting from too much computer work actually has a name:
kyphosis (from Greek for “hump”). You know it by shoulders hunched
forward, chest (pectoral) muscles tightening, neck and head extended
toward the screen and the spine no longer in vertical alignment.
The Wall Street Journal valued this issue highly enough to feature it
on a section front page this summer. Strangely enough, the description
of good posture in the WSJ is much the same as we espouse for dancing:
Ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees and ankles.
Amazing, we work so hard to dance that way, then we walk off the dance
floor and slouch into a chair and look down to use the cell phone.
How we sit, stand and or walk is training our muscles to respond in
that way. It is also affecting our mood. The WSJ reported a German
study of 30 patients in treatment for depression. They were told they
could sit up or slouch as they were shown words on a computer. Half of
the words were positive— like ”beauty”, “enjoyable”, and half were
negative—like ”exhaustion”, “dejected.” They were asked to imagine
themselves in a scene reflective of each word. Then they were
distracted with other tasks for five minutes, and then asked to recall
as many of the words they had seen on the computer as they could. Those
in the slouched position recalled more negative words, while those who
sat upright had a more balanced response. In a 2012 study, 110
university students in California and Taiwan were asked to rate their
energy levels, then walk in either a slouched position or like
skipping, then rate their energy levels again. The research, reported
in the journal Bio-feedback, concluded that those who slouched reported
a decrease in energy levels, while those who skipped felt an increase
in energy. Maybe if we imagine a waltz or sexy west coast swing as we
go through our daily lives, we can help our bodies and minds pull it
all together when we aren’t on the dance floor.
Go Ahead, Stick Your Neck Out
Much of what is beautiful about dancing is an upright carriage of the
head and shoulders finishing off the picture of elegance and grace.
When the head is in the wrong position while dancing, it interferes
with your partner and pulls the rest of your body out of balance. A
pretty head position comes naturally to some, but it’s possible for
anyone with a little exercise.
We know we want our head balanced on top of the spine, not tilted back
in a wrong attempt to get “that look” or chin pointing down while
looking at the floor. Either shifts your head weight to be out of
balance. You should feel as though your neck is being stretched upwards
by someone picking you straight up by the ears, and you want to imagine
that the back of your head is lined up with your heels. This will
stretch your neck up over the spine and keep you from looking down.
To get an awareness of what your head is doing, try a few exercises.
Stand comfortably, feet parallel, and bend the head forward looking
down, stretching the muscles on the back of the neck. Raise the head
and look straight ahead. Now flex the head backwards, looking up and
stretching the muscles on the front of the neck Repeat these eight
times each, being careful not to move any other part of the body,
particularly the shoulders. Now twist the head strongly to the right
and return to starting (neutral) position, then twist to the left and
return to neutral. This will help you make head changes from closed
position to semi and back more smoothly.
You need relaxed shoulders to carry the head well. This means toned,
not slack or rigid. Some isolation exercises of one shoulder at a time
will help you feel how to control shoulder movement and give you an
awareness of what your shoulders are doing. Start by pulling the right
shoulder forward, then return it to normal position. Then, push the
shoulder backward and return to normal position. Raise the shoulder and
drop it back to normal position. Rotate the shoulder in a circle,
starting forward then down and back and to normal position. Reverse the
circle, starting back an down. Repeat all the exercises with the left
shoulder, then try them with both shoulders at the same time.
Watch in a mirror as you raise your arms out to the side, almost to
shoulder level. The shoulders should remain relaxed, not raise up or
feel cramped. Bend your arms as though taking dance position and there
should be no change in shoulder elevation. Repeat several times until
it becomes natural to take position without shoulder strain or
tenseness. [When you extend your arms up and to the side, feel like you
rotate your shoulders back and down and then roll your elbows forward
and up. This will engage opposing muscle groups so that your arm is
light when on your partner’s arm and you will have the tone to maintain
club newsletters, March, October, & December, 2014,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, March 2017.