So as I was growing up I was always told to stand up straight. My dance teachers, school teachers and
parents would always say the same thing, “Stand up straight.” Well I have grown up and I have learned that my teachers and parents were wrong. You cannot stand straight, because the spine is not straight.
The spine is split into five sections: (from top to bottom)
Cervical spine – The first seven vertebrae in the spine. This is the part of the spine that is the neck.
Thoracic spine – The next twelve vertebrae in the spine. This is the part of the spine that is the upper back.
Lumbar spine-The last five movable vertebrae in the spine. This is the lower back and the part of the spine that causes people the most problems.
Sacrum- The sacrum is made of fused vertebrae and is where the spine connects with the pelvis. This can get out of alignment and cause a lot of pain.
Coccyx- The coccyx is also composed of fused vertebrae and has no structural purpose. This is also called the tail bone. Though it does not support weight like the rest of the spine it does work as an anchor for many ligaments in the pelvis.
So, what does this have to do with standing straight. Good posture is about all parts of the spine being in correct alignment so that the body weight is evenly distributed. This means that if someone is not in correct posture it can put strain on certain parts of the spine (usually the lumbar or lower back). The problem is that the spine is not straight. It was never meant to be straight. Each part of the spine has a soft curve to it. The cervical spine curves to the front, the thoracic to the back, the lumbar to the front, the sacrum to the back and the coccyx to the front. The curve directions alternate down the spine. This forms a kind of spring (like the metal kind) that can let the spine absorb shock. It would actually be very bad for the spine to be straight.
What do we take away from this as dancers? We need to think of the spine in a different way. Not as a stiff ladder of bone but as a spring of support. We also need to be careful of over correction. One of the biggest problems I see with dance teachers is the over correction for natural curves in the spine. I have had students with a stronger curve to their spine then others and it is unhealthy to make them over tuck to compensate. Be happy with the curves you have. So I want people to be careful. Overall we don’t want to get injured and over correction can lead to injury.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
So one of the most difficult things about belly dance is layering. You need to do the grapevine, while doing snake arms and shimmy (don’t forget to smile). The key to good layering is the dreaded word “practice” and its true. You need to practice, practice, practice. You need to build up muscle memory.
What is muscle memory? When you learning to dance you are teaching your muscles what to do and where to go. Think about the snake arm. The snake arm is a basic belly dance move which is taught in all forms of belly dance. It is a wonderful example for me because it uses so much muscle memory. The basic snake arm is broken down into many parts and when a beginner dancer learns the move, they learn them all. Slowly they speed them up and put them together. The body learns where to move and put the muscles. Over time the student no longer needs to tell the muscles where to go. The muscles have practiced enough that without thinking the body can just put the arm in the right place. Instead of thinking of all the different places to put the arm instead the dancer thinks snake arm. The dancer has acquired the muscle memory for this step.
All dancers use muscle memory when learning steps. It helps to simplify the basic steps so the dancer can focus on learning more difficult techniques. Belly dancers use this ability in a special way when they layer. To layer well a dancer needs to acquire the muscle memory for all the steps separately before they are performed together. It is important that dancer has the full understanding of each step (snake arm, grapevine, shimmy …etc) and can perform them with out much thought. This way the dancer will have the mental space in their head to focus and putting all the steps together.
What should take home from this?
1. Practicing the individual steps (drills) is useful for layering.
2. Do not try to do too much at once or your brain can’t able to handle it and it will show on your body.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice.