Recent studies have show that up to 40% of children have poor posture – a lot of this is linked to too much slumping in front of screens and a general disposition to slouching. Heavy school bags also play a part.
Dance requires proper posture – not just to see the graceful lines, but also to move easier, and breathe better.
So on this Technique Tuesday – here are 5 ways that both we at class and you at home can help improve your dancer’s posture.
1. Demonstrate and show videos or pictures
Most classes see a move or combination demonstrated and the children aim to copy this, this is part of their learning. Posture is the same. Our teachers try to demonstrate good posture in classes – and especially when teaching moves.
“Most dancers learn visually, so they’ll try to mimic proper body position, but often they don’t understand the roots of where it’s coming from,” Chelsie Hightower, a performer on “Dancing with The Stars,” explained to Dance Spirit.
For this reason, it’s often helpful to show your children pictures or videos of proper posture when standing or sitting – see below.
Stretching is a great way to not only maintain good posture and ensure that the muscles front and back are working equally, but can be used to correct poor posture
- Chest and shoulder stretch: If they slump forward (that head dropped looking at the phone pose) this activity is often helpful for dancers who slump forward. Have them lie on their backs with their arms stretched outward and elbows bent into a bench-press position. They just need to squeeze their shoulder blades together without arching their backs and hold for 10 seconds, and repeat 4 times.
- Butt bridge: Another area that can cause bad posture is the hips being tight in one area and not strong enough in another. This is a great one to help. Get them to lie on their backs with their knees bent and feet on the floor. Have them squeeze their butts and push their hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat four times.
3. Core Exercises
I’m not suggesting 3 year olds start on the sit ups. Dance itself will help with this and we do incorporate these in class in fun ways. We have plank challenges, we do V sits – using pilates, yoga and even some boxing excerises along side the ballet, jazz and acro work. The core is the full surrounded mid section – not just the ‘abs’. If this is something older dancers want to work on drop me a message (firstname.lastname@example.org) or catch me in class.
4. Fun with props
We can do this from teeny tiny to teens and older. Props can be a great way to check on the posture – bean bags or books on the head while we move will show if they slouch or drop their chin, or walk with an emphasis on one side. It can even be a fun game to play at home.
5. Practice Makes Permanent
Posture needs to be in their minds the whole way through – class, through practice, at home. Its not about constantly walking around like you’re attached to a stick! But remembering to hold yourself upright and tall with all the elements described above.
I always say practice may not make perfect but it will make permanent – it means it will become easier to sit, stand or dance with good posture if you work on it regularly than it will to slouch!
Getting your turns or spins or pirouettes right can take lots of practice – you need to work on these basic turns a lot which will DEFINITELY help you improve the more complicated turns.
Here are our top tips for terrific turns
- Posture – keep lifted up. Engage your core or ‘use your tummy muscles’ so you are feeling tall and upright and strong
- Every turn is a balance – practice the balance until you can hold it strong without wobbles – be it in 2nd, 1st, one foot or two
- SPOT – focus on where you are going and make your head the last part of your body to turn. DON’T look at the floor – if you do that’s where you’ll end up!
- Push into the floor enough to move the turn but not too much that you move more than you should – this takes practice to get the right push
- Strong feet means its easier to turn – work on your feet – toes, rises, ankles, alignment so that when you turn your body is fully in line and avoid any wobbles or injuries
- Decide to finish your turn – don’t fall out of it, decide to end the single or the double with a clean movment
- Visualise yourself – imagine yourself doing the turn perfectly over and over again, and keep this in mind every time you do one!
Let us know what you find hardest about practicing your turns
Improvising or “dancing without practice or preparation” can be a scary experience for beginners, and even for those who have danced their whole lives.
It is about creating and doing movements without choreography – just spontaneously.
It is used for fun (just like dancing at a party – you don’t choreograph that!), skill development, creativity and also for developing choreography
It is a movement skill as well as a form of dance.
Here are our top tips to help you improve your improvisation:
- Be in the moment – with the music – explore, react, and don’t overthink
- Listen and be aware of what else is going on, but also just move as you feel
- Be yourself – embrace your skills and style – don’t be too hard on yourself
- It’s okay to “copy” – be inspired by others and put your own twist on it – make it YOU
- Don’t compare yourself – everyone has different styles, interpretations, skills, favourite moves – so embrace yours and celebrate others but don’t compare
- Be free – don’t be shy!
Top 5 tips to improve your kicks – in all dance subjects
You need flexibility in your legs and hips to get a high kick. Regular stretching of all your leg and hip muscles will assist in improving the height of your kick, and how straight your legs are. Lunges and squats are great, toe touches, leg swings, splits training are all good ways of developing flexibility. They need to be done after a full warm up and done regularly to have any impact.
You need to have strong legs. To lift them high, to hold them straight, to develop your flexibility, to keep your weight balanced on one foot as your other legs swings about. The stronger they are the higher they can be lifted – so a higher kick.
Once correct technique is learned and once your instructor has approved – strengthening exercises such as weighted kicks and squat/lunges can help.
A curved back will ruin even the highest kick, at best you look bad, at worst you will end up injured. A good posture is essential. Focus on a strong core (so tummy and back muscles) that help keep you upright. Keep shoulders back and head up so you look and feel strong. Don’t sink into your hips, feel lifted to give your legs more ability to move in your hip joint.
Point your toes or flex properly (depending on the style) but don’t go half hearted. Practice with the right toe position, if you forget to point in all your practice, no matter how high your kick, an out of place foot will ruin all your hard work.
This is also part of being strong, but also using the music, you should never hear a THUD when your foot lands, nor should it be a massive swing about with no real attempt to control the up AND down element.
Work on all 5 elements EVERY TIME you practice your kicks and you will see a great improvement, don’t forget about important parts, don’t neglect pointing your toes for flexibility, nor posture for height.
Dancers are strong. Performers on stage are true athletes – demonstrating endurance, strength, poise, posture, grace and so much more.
It doesn’t come easy – but it does come with dance. Even for young children. Many dance technique exercises – ie ballet barre work, corner work in freestyle, tap practice – are designed to strengthen and build endurance.
Why be strong?
Being strong gives the dancer the ability to perform. It is not about big muscles or looking muscley, it is about the strength and how efficient that muscle is. It lets them control their own body better, manage moving their body weight both slowly and fast. It prevents injuries – especially to joints – such as knees and ankles which can dislocate easily.
How – is it the same for all dance?
Not really. All types of dance require a basic level of strength – usually in their core and legs. Some styles develop more specific strength – street for example is a lot of lower body work – so they have strong legs, breakdancing incorporates more upper body strength for arm holds and balances. Contemporary has a great deal of core strength, ballet, a lot in the legs and ankles.
How to be a strong dancer?
Practicing in class – the steps and techniques at the start are designed to prepare the children for their class, their muscles for the work that they have to do, and their minds for what movement patterns to make.
To develop strength their needs to be an element of overload – meaning pushing to work harder to the point of being tired. 2 kicks will not work, 8 kicks is getting their.
There MUST BE BALANCE for children – it is still meant to be fun. But the stronger they are the healthier they will be and the better dancer they will be come.
Every class sees so many children trying hard to do their best, sometimes as well as praising them for their hard work and effort, we as teachers will need to correct them and their positioning.
This is not “telling off”, it is not a bad thing!
It is a way to help your child improve, and reach their full dancing potential.
Active instruction is our main way of helping your child. Negative comments such as “don’t do” aren’t helpful as while they point out the mistake, they don’t offer a solution. We always try to include what to do, and sometimes ignore the don’t part all together.
For example instead of saying “don’t slouch” we’d suggest “reaching the top of the head up towards the ceiling”, or instead of “don’t roll your feet”, to “keep all 5 toes on the floor.”
These are to be avoided as they highlight the what but not the how. Our aim is always to offer the solution, just like in active instruction, but as they get older, making references to the body parts and positioning, as with experience a dancer will get to know a lot more about the anatomy.
Welcome criticism, tell your children that it is not a bad thing to receive a correction. Firstly, it shows the care the teacher has for the child, that they are paying attention to them and their dancing. Secondly, it will help them progress if they act on it and take on board what they say. It will allow them to improve and get better. And give them something to work on because practicing something incorrectly is the worst thing you can do as practice makes permanent!
To improve as a dancer you will need to work on your flexibility – ideally some work at least 4 times a week – these could be in class, at home or a dedicated flexibility class.
Aside from just being more flexible the benefits to dancers of improved flexibility are many.
Firstly, you can do more moves, if you are more flexible you can advance basic moves and try new ones, giving you a bigger dance vocabulary.
Secondly, reduced risk of injury. If you have the ability to move more you are less likely to pull or strain a muscle. You will recover better from tougher sessions too.
Style – you can use your flexibility to add your own style to a piece or work or be more inventive in the improvisation times. You can make more use of the floor or the space, you can create new shapes and move in different ways.
You can also move more freely, steps will seem less of a chore if you don’t have to put a much effort into the movement to reach a high kick or to move the body.
Improving your flexibility
We recommend working on your flexibility 4 times a week. Ideally with some gentle stretches each day. This will result in great gains in your ability in a short time.
Daily stretches could include:
- lunges with back leg extended straight
- pike or seated forward fold
- straddle (seated wide V with a reach forward)
- the butterfly (soles of the feet together and knees towards the floor)
- floor to back bend – lifting from flat on your front to stretch the back
You will work out your own routine as you develop as a dancer – just remember to work both sides and don’t over stretch – work within safe limits.
I’d also like to bring your attention to this great piece by The Ballet Blog – “Is Overstretching Bad?” Please do have a read
Improvisation is key to being a good dancer. It comes from being able to listen to music, and interpret the emotions and story through movement.
It is also done with very little preparation – there are no hours of choreography to do, no weeks of research – it’s about reaction and feeling.
You will know – sometimes a song comes on and you get a certain urge to move. This is especially true for dancers – though it is not simply a wiggle or step and tap. You hear accents that require leaps, or crescendos that require expansive moves.
Your body reacts to show whether the song portrays hurt or joy.
Talking through what a song makes you feel – is a great way to introduce even the littlest ones to improvisation. Does it make them happy? Do they think they should run or jump? Should they float like a fairy? Does it sound angry and stampy?
This is just one way dance is amazing for a child’s development – especially their emotional well being. Being able to understand and recognise feelings that come from events and sounds.
Pick some of your favourite songs and ask them what they think. Things like the music from “Frozen” or “Aladdin” by Disney are great as they are designed to evoke feelings.
Being able to do the front or box splits is one of the key things for dance – it allows more scope in movement and steps and also helps with kicks and other flexibility based steps too.
But improving them takes dedication and can’t be done over night – and definitely not just once a week at class!
Tips to improve your splits
- Always warm up – warmer muscles work better and prevent injury
- Never just go straight into splits – work through exercises first to loosen the muscles
- Start with a stretch with legs straight in front of you and flexed feet. Reach forward bending from the hips not your back and aim for your tummy to reach your legs. Hold the stretch as long as you can breathing in and then when you breath out, stretch a little further – getting closer to your legs each time
- Open legs to straddle (like a big v) with your knees pointing to the ceiling. Reach to the ceiling and take it to a side stretch on your left – hold for 10, repeat on the left, then take it forward – aiming to keep your knees facing the ceiling but your tummy towards the floor
- Sit on the floor – as if your legs would be crossed, leave on on the floor and stretch one out in front of you then pull it up towards your chest and hold. Repeat on the other side and then repeat our first stretch exercise
- Sit on the floor and put the soles of your feet together – aim to get your knees open and down to the floor – hold the stretch as long as you can.
These are key to improving your front splits. Step out with one foot as far as you can without pain – your foot should be flat and your knee straight above your ankle. This doesn’t have to be very far. Now, put the toe of your back foot on the ground as far back as you can with your leg straight and get into a lunge. Stretch and feel it in your groin and back of the leg. Then straighten the front leg keeping your feet where they are and aim to get your tummy on your thigh – hold this stretch. Repeat on other foot.