The key with the belly flutter is to get relaxed and practice. It is a contraction of the muscles that control breathing and not actually the abdominal muscles. Usually these muscles are referred to as the diaphragm. Strictly speaking the diaphragm is actually a set of involuntary muscles (meaning you can not control them) and the muscles you are using are called the intercostal muscles. These muscles, just like any other group of muscles, needs to be stretched and exercised to be effectively used.
This is a simple E how article on how to do the basic belly flutter. Below that are two videos. The first is a short explanation on flutters and the second goes in a bit more depth.
If you are practicing the belly flutter I suggest you start laying down or sitting. Doing this will help you relax you abdominal muscles since you do not need to focus on posture or layering. Also laying down forces your intercostal muscles to work more effectively which can help in isolating and practicing this move. The most important thing about this step is to practice, which I plan on doing as much as possible.
Note: How to stretch you breathing muscles
I learn this one in Drum Corps years back. Stand up straight with you hands clasped over your head. Take a deep breath in and hold it. Take two to three more little sips of air. At this point you should feel full to the brim with air. Now hold the air in and slowly do a side bend stretch. You can do this to each side and if you have enough air, you will be able to stretch the muscles that are used for breathing. I find this is good to do beforehand after practicing the belly flutter. (Warning some times taking in that much air can make you dizzy. Its normal. Just resume breathing regularly and it should pass.)
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.