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Dancing with the pelvis: Alignment, deviations, and mobility

Posted By Clara Fischer Gam and Elsa Urmston on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Thursday, April 30, 2015

In the latest post from the IADMS Education Committee we started a two-post discussion on pelvic structure and alignment. We looked at pelvic anatomy, motion and came up with ideas for putting these concepts into practice in class. This second post will focus on pelvic alignment and its relevance to movement execution in the studio.


Source: Getty Images

We have all learned from experience: proper alignment is one of the basic building blocks for achieving the aesthetic line and form required for dance technique. We know that many are the contributors for good skeletal alignment, but one area that plays a special role is the pelvis.

Practitioners and researchers comment on the importance of pelvic alignment. As mentioned in the previous post, when in a natural position in relation to the rest of the body, the pelvis assumes neutral alignment because the surrounding joints and muscles are balanced. Neutral pelvic alignment can help us to achieve efficient execution of dynamic movements and static positions and therefore more effective muscle recruitment. Not only might neutral pelvis facilitate body movements in general but it also seems to improve specific action at hip and lumbar spine.

How to find your neutral pelvis?

As well as the image below, have a look at this handy youtube film which helps you find neutral pelvis.  Place the tip of your index fingers on the symphysis pubis, resting each of your wrists on the tips of your front hip bones (right on those bony projections, called anterior superior iliac spines) and let your thumbs extend, nearly touching in the middle. Can you notice that your hands are now forming a triangle shape on the centre of your pelvis?  For a neutral pelvis, the triangle lines should be on the same plane, aligning these three bony landmarks.

When working with students, it’s good to keep in mind though that anatomical differences may occur from dancer to dancer, therefore the triangle alignment should be a reference for finding an individual neutral pelvis.

Pelvic deviations generally imply any alteration in posture from neutral but when it comes to dancers, anterior pelvic tilt (that is allowing the tailbone to flare backwards) appears to be more common.

Why is that?

Misalignment of the pelvis could be related to imbalanced use of muscles that control the pelvis, the lower portion of the trunk and hip, or to structural conditions.  Particularly, anterior pelvic tilt could be linked to lack of action of the deep rotators of the hip for turning out (we’ve mentioned before the key role that these muscles play, recap here. The misuse of the inner thigh muscles or poor core control to stabilize the turnout may increase this deviation still more (for more about the core check this post).

Dancers with anterior pelvic tilt might get tight hip flexors and possibly lower back pain, as it increases the angle of lumbar lordosis. Posterior pelvic tilt (tucking the tail under) is typified by a flat back-like deviation and commonly associated with tight hamstrings and gluteal muscles and weak quadriceps, hip flexors and spinal erectors. Generally, dancers with a misaligned pelvis either anteriorly or posteriorly can more easily develop vertebral stresses and knee, foot, and ankle injuries due to compensatory movements and excess of muscle tension during training.

Despite all the information available on pelvic alignment, there is still a question to be answered: Is there an ideal degree of pelvic tilt that should be maintained through our dance movements?  Pelvic mobility in dance seems to be a hot topic of discussion among dance practitioners, teachers and scientists. Undoubtedly, there are many steps that intentionally involve the pelvis (either as initiator of the action as observed in Graham Technique for example, or as a consequence of another movement). However, we know that some techniques  require  that some specific movements should be performed with neutral (or even immobile) pelvis. I wonder though to what extent the pelvis really is immobile in such movements?

In relation to this, Wilson and colleagues looked at a grande rond de jambe en l’air. In our training, most of us learned that the pelvis should be still for the whole time during grande rond de jambe en l’air both at and past 90°. Yet these researchers observed that amongst experienced dancers the pelvis itself is deeply involved in gesture leg range of motion, especially when the leg is raised past 90°. In order to move the leg fully at highly vertical angles, the pelvis seems to follow the leg - even though we aim for creating an illusion of an immobile pelvis.  In a follow-up study the role of the pelvis was examined in facilitating gesture leg motion, and the related “cost” of the muscles involved. For skilled dancers the effort in the gesture leg is smaller than in the standing leg. This was reversed in less skilled dancers. So we might conclude that the skilled dancers worked more efficiently in their standing leg to support the pelvis and gesture leg, whereas the less skilled dancers are mostly using the muscles in the gesturing leg.  A recommendation to the teacher might be to appreciate that when working on movements where one leg is moving fully, a strategy to focus on the standing leg will help balance the necessary movement in the pelvis and spine. Not allowing the pelvis to move commensurately with the gesturing leg will decrease the potential range of motion and place unnecessary stress on the hip joint and lumbar spine.


Source: Getty Images

But what about other movements where the pelvis should be neutral? Deckert suggests that the answer is multifaceted and individualized to each dancer. Introducing exercises for dancers which focus on increasing awareness through individualized anatomical education, motor control and promoting alignment habits may help dancers locate the neutral pelvis.

Integrating the following exercises into a dancer’s daily routine may also help:

• Increase abdominal strength; strong abdominals provide support for finding and maintaining a neutral pelvis.

• Stretch hip flexors, if they have become excessively tight from years of anterior pelvic tilt. Stretching them on a daily basis will allow the pelvis to settle into a more neutral position.

• “Pelvic clock” provides a first step toward improvement by increasing awareness of pelvic alignment: Lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, tip the pelvis through full range of motion, starting at 12 o’clock with the navel and lower back pressed to the floor and moving through to 6 o’clock as the waist rises off the floor and the tailbone is the only part of the spine contacting the floor. Make certain not to miss any point of the clock, and repeat in a counterclockwise circle. This exercise forces you to explore the full range of motion available in the pelvis and find a neutral pelvic alignment.

What I enjoy the most about the quest for finding movement efficiency in dance, is that it always awakens further inquiry; which movements involve pelvic motion? Which should hold a neutral pelvis? Which body part is leading, following or supporting movement?

 

Keep Exploring:

IADMS Resources here and here.

 

Clara Fischer Gam, MSc.

Dance Science

Dance Education

Pilates Method

Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Email: clara.figa@gmail.com

 

Elsa Urmston MSc PGCAP AFHEA is the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training Manager, Ipswich, UK and a member of the IADMS Education Committee.

Email: elsa.urmston@danceeast.co.uk

Tags:  anatomy  dancers  pelvis  teachers 

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