This weeks theme was all about bones. As dancers, bones give us a visual to proper placement and alignment. I carry this skeleton picture along with others in my binder as a teaching tool. When I'm teaching an exercise that uses a description of where the bone should be placed I have them point out what and where that bone is on the skeleton before pointing it out on their own bodies.
Before their lesson I gave them a little art project. Stringing pony beads onto a pipe cleaner. Their teachers used this project while learning about the vertebrae. The spine is the pipe cleaner and the pony beads are the vertebrae protecting the spine. When I saw their project I knew I had to steal this idea because of the perfect visual it would give during our floor exercises.
For the first 10 minutes of lesson we began with floor time were we warm up and work on exercises that teach how to use and identify the muscles as well as teach correct placement in the back and torso. The way in which a dancer holds her back is of great importance in ballet because it gives the stability needed in order to fully use the torso. It's where artistic expression flows.
I want to make clear that these exercises are only repeated 4-6x and held for a maximum of 4 slow counts. The exercises are designed to give a child an understanding of the correct placement through games and imagery. The holding of these positions won't be required of them until the age when their bodies are mature enough to deal with the stress.
When sitting tall like a dancer our vertebrae should be stacked in a straight line. We have been working on this exercise for awhile, so I let the girls try fixing each other. Then I would step in to finish the correcting and let the child who had been fixing see up close what I did and the difference those corrections made. They did pretty good helping each other (they always move faster then my ability to get to the camera).
Here is were I used the pipe cleaner strung with pony beads to illustrate the next step in this exercise. I slowly bent the pipe cleaner one pony bead at a time to the floor, because this is also how we slowly lower our backs onto the floor. Our feet stay together and our heels stay anchored to floor this allows us to work those muscles that are so important for our aplomb.
Once we have reached the floor, we should feel every vertebrae on the floor. In order to achieve this we also need to tilt our pelvis slightly up and hold in our abdominal muscles. I always describe this as making your belly button touch your spine.
This placement of the spine and pelvis is the correct way in which we must hold it while standing up. This position gives us the stability and balance we will need in order to use correct turn-out later on.
On the flip side
We did another exercise I call the mouse trap. This exercises takes the placement described in the first exercise and rotates it onto our front. Anchoring our pelvic bone to the floor tilts the pelvis to its correct place. From here, once again, we touch our belly button to our spine. This movement gives us a little window between the floor and the tummy, enough for a little mouse to run through. We hold this placement for 4 counts and then relax, dropping the belly and trapping the mouse.
Turtle shell is an exercises that teaches how and where to place our shoulders.
|hands should be on baton|
We hold our baton behind our back near the base of our shoulder blades. This causes our shoulders to hunch forward and up, making us look like a scared turtle in his shell. Tense or raised shoulders will prevent holding our back in the correct way.
We then press the baton down to the floor, pushing our necks tall out of our shell. This pulls our shoulders back (out of the hunch) and down where they should remain. Once we reach this position we say "TURTLE".
A defining element of a dancer is their turn-out.
Turn-out is the rotation of the leg that comes from the hip. The joint that makes this possible is made up of both the femur and hip bone. The neck of the femur fits like a ball into the socket of the hip bone allowing the mobility for rotation. In classical ballet our balance and movement flows from our center. The position of a 180 degree turn-out forces us to find that.
Turn-out must be taught correctly and when we are developmentally ready.
This is one reason why I won't let my children study dance with an outside instructor unless they have had training in teaching method.
The hip joint is the largest joint in the body. It is responsible for holding a large amount of our weight and allows for a wide range of motion. Many injuries can occur throughout our body because of the lack of strength and stability within this joint, as well as the muscles and ligaments that support it. Teaching turn-out too young and incorrectly causes stress and strain upon this area which can lead to devastating long term effects.
Sadly, many teachers and studios either don't have this knowledge or choose to ignore it.
At this age all instruction is taught in a parallel position. As both a dance teacher and mother the safety of my little girls and all other students is a top priority! The race and competition of pushing children to have an advantage at such a young age, whether it be dance or another form of athletics, is very heart wrenching. By neglecting to consider developmental consequences we are really damaging their true potential.
"It is insufficient instruction that produces injuries.” -Vera Kostrovitskaya
Here is a look at our human body project this week as we added the bones. A giant rain and lightning storm prevented us from making it to the craft store so we had to be resourceful. We dug through the craft boxes looking for something that might work. This is a reason I never throw craft supplies away.
We ended up finding a bag full of clothes pins, popsicle sticks and wooden shapes. I even let them use hot glue for the very first time.