I am about to start a two month adventure through Asia before moving back to America. I know I usually post about Belly Dance and all things tribal, but for the next few weeks I will be making short post about my travels (hopeful as dance related as possible). I will be traveling through 5 countries and finally end in the States at the end of March.
First stop is Bangkok and then down to a Yoga retreat in Koh Pangnan, Thailand. Its time to start the adventure.
Is there anywhere you would love to travel in Asia?
So talking about arms …
A dancer has choices when it comes to moving her arms and where the initiation starts for that movement.
1. Arm Muscles: The biceps and the triceps are often the first muscles that beginning dancers use to lift their arms. They also tend to use many of the muscles in the shoulders (deltoids). The problem is these muscles are weak compared to other muscles of the body (especially on most women). Using these muscles to hold the arms up leads to quickly becoming tired and have the arms sink into those ugly dead bird arms (we see too often). For more experienced dancers these muscles are use often used for the more subtle movements completed by the arms.
2. The upper back muscles: This is one of the best ways to lift the arms, because the back tends to be much stronger then the shoulder or arm muscles. The arms can be held by a combination of the large trapezius and the smaller infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major(also called rotator cuff). The three smaller muscles work as a group to control the movement of the arm, shoulder and shoulder blade. Using these muscles also gives a stronger base to the hold of the arms.
How do you use your back to hold your arms? Things to try:
1. You can start by holding both arms out to the side (for a while) and seeing which muscles become sore first. If it is your arms and shoulders, than you need to work on engaging your back.
2. Bring your arms slightly forward. To properly engage your back muscles the arms can not be straight out to the side. The arms should be forward enough the if you wiggle your fingers they are visible in your peripheral vision, but not so far front that they can be seen straight on. It takes a bit of practice to find the right angle. Once you are here you can start using your back muscles.
3. If you have the flexibility then put your hand on your opposite shoulder blade and feel it move. Lift the other arm and see if you can feel the back muscles engaging. You want to feel your shoulder blade moving down and in towards the body. At the same time the arm should lift up and out.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice! Once you find how to engage from the back practice it until you develop the muscle memory and don’t need top think about it any more. Keep working and you will get there.
After last month and working on the drum solo, I have decide to focus on more fluid motions. One of the weakest points in fluidity is that dancers (me included) lack the arm strength to carry off the movements. So … this months I am going to strengthen my arms. Below are some ways to strength your arm movements.
1. Do your drills with high arms. Our arms have their own weight so you do not always need to add extra weight to work them out. The more you practice your arm movements (especially those above your head) the stronger your arms get. Don’t be lazy when doing drills. Keep your arms out to the side or above your head. After a minute or two you will fill it.
2. Use weights when practicing dances. When you practice a combination try using a small set of wrist weights. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. They are easily made! Practice with weights will strengthen your arms and (as an added bonus) make you more conscious of what your arms are doing. This will reduce the “tired crab arms” that dancers so often get when they are not thinking about them.
3. Speed drills with arm movements. Speed drills are some of the best ways to perfect a movement. The concept is to start the movement at a very comfortable speed (like 4 count snake arms) and then double the counts (8 count snake arms). Double the counts again and again until it is ridiculously slow, then speed it back up. Keep speeding the movement up until it is crazy fast. Its best to do the movement at least eight times at each speed. If you do this with arm movements (snake arms, veil movements) you will have a workout for your arms.
Example Counts for a move in a speed drill: 4, 8,16,32,16,8,4,2,1(crazy fast)
4. Cross-training. I like to do some yoga or push-ups to increase my arm strength. Also other styles of dance like ballet or pole dancing are wonderful for helping to strengthening your arms. Do not limit yourself to belly dancing. Lifting weights always helps as well.
Good luck and have fun.
Do you have any favorite exercises for strengthening your arms? Any suggestions? Please comment!