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Alignment of the leg and its impact on the dancer's knee: Clips from the 2014 Annual Meeting

Posted By Liane Simmel, Tuesday, June 9, 2015

IADMS Simmel from Steven Karageanes on Vimeo.

This presentation gives an insight into the functional anatomy of the dancer’s knee, its biomechanical prerequisites and its economic use as base for a high resilience to dance injuries.

 

Over the last decade as more and more acrobatic movements invaded the various dance styles, the strain on the dancer’s knees has largely increased. Training on hard, inappropriate floors or dancing choreographies in high heels can add even more problems. Pirouettes on the knees, knee drops, and even a plié in fourth position require particular leg stability and optimal mobility in the knee. But dancers often pay little attention to their knees. They are seldom specifically warmed up, directly trained or used consciously in everyday life. Nonetheless, their functionality is a top priority if dancers’ knees are to be kept fit and healthy.

Being the largest joint of the body, the knee works as an important coordination centre to the leg. Located between the hip joint above and the foot below, it reacts to all movements and positions of these, its two functional partners. With its high number of daily repetitions, even seemingly small dance technical pitfalls like rolling onto the inner side of the foot in the turned out position or losing the alignment of the leg in demi plié  can lead to overuse problems and even acute injuries in the knee area.

As dancers are accustomed to work precisely on their coordination and alignment they do have a big supply of tools for improving leg alignment, be it in the dance class or in everyday life. They just have to be made aware of this potential...

When analyzing leg alignment and knee load in a dancer, there is more to consider than just screening the bony and functional anatomy of the lower extremity itself. When it comes to assessing the stress and load on the dancer’s knee, the form and mobility of the foot, the bony and muscular situation of the hip joint, the position and mobility of the pelvis as well as the torsion of the tibia play an important role. Thus, to get an impression about the dancer’s anatomical prerequisites, screening should start by analysing the anatomy of the whole functional chain: the foot, the torsion of the tibia, the antetorsion angle in the hip joint and the position and mobility of the pelvic girdle. To detect the keystones by which the dancer can influence, change and improve his or her individual biomechanics the next step in line is to assess the flexibility, function and muscular strength of all functional partners – foot, hip joint, pelvis and last but not least the knee itself.  

Being the most common challenges in many of the different dance styles, turnout, plié and hyperextended legs have been chosen to explain the approach of biomechanical awareness training in dance. Dancers spend a great deal of their days in the studio, but there is still a life outside the ballet room, and movements and biomechanics outside the studio seem to have potential for improvement in many dancers. Therefore the habits in the dancer’s everyday life movement should thoroughly be analysed and searched for negative influence on body functionality by imprinting unhealthy movement patterns in the dancer’s neurological motor program. If not detected and changed these often unconscious habits will be trained on a regular daily basis, imprinting into the dancers motion cortex. To break them up, specific exercises should be performed, with the focus on (1) mobilization (to allow new movement possibilities), (2) awareness (to make unhealthy movement patterns conscious and consider possible changes), (3) strengthening (to enable the muscles and the neurological system to perform unfamiliar movements) and (4) relaxation (to reduce unnecessary muscles tension and soft tissue restrictions). With “one second exercises” performed numerous times per day, the reset of the neurological motor program gets started.

Finally, what seems for the majority of the dancers the most challenging step, the new movement potential have to be transferred back from everyday life to the studio, to the individual dance technique. Easily understandable anatomical and biomechanical images and movement cues can support this tricky step. And last but not least: patience.

Liane Simmel, MD, DO, tamed, Tanzmedizin Deutschland e.V., Fit for Dance, Munich, Germany

Tags:  alignment  anatomy  presentation 

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Maintaining Correct Alignment When Training Positions Retiré or Passé - (to withdraw or to pass)

Posted By Maggie Lorraine on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Wednesday, May 13, 2015

 

In the last post from the IADMS Education Committee “Dancing with the pelvis” the authors focused on pelvic alignment and its relevance to movement execution in the studio. When reading this post on the retiré position, it would be useful to refer back to information posted on previous IADMS posts, as each new post now reinforces the anatomical truths that guide us as teachers. To quote Clara Fischer and Elsa Urmston,“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.”

Dancers and teachers cannot underestimate the importance of achieving correct pelvic alignment when practising or performing the retiré position, as it is a key position for the successful performance of many dance movements. Pirouettes and developpé are clearly affected by the placement of this position and the retiré influences the execution of many steps of virtuosity.


Pictured: Rebecca Blenkinsop
Photo by: Maggie Lorraine 

In this photograph (above) Rebecca is demonstrating a well aligned retire position en pointe. Note that her head is centred over her foot en pointe.

Points to remember when practising retiré:

Commencing in 5th position

The Supporting Leg.

  • Full transference of weight over the center of the supporting foot as the gesture leg leaves the floor. The dancer should be ready to rise to demi pointe without further adjustment of weight by ensuring the foot is controlled against the floor. Check that there is no pronation of the supporting foot.
  • Lengthen through the supporting hip maintaining pelvic alignment and the control of turnout of the supporting leg.

The Gesture Leg

  • The foot and ankle of the gesture leg retain alignment, no sickling or winging of the foot.
  • The thighbone or femur inserts into the hip socket or acetabulum from the front of the pelvis and the rotation of the thigh should occur from the turnout in the acetabulum, which is initiated by the deep rotator muscles.
  • The continued control of the deep rotator muscles and core muscles as the gesture leg passes through petit retiré to full retiré.
  • Maintain control of the femur extending from the acetabulum and maintain the knee, ankle and foot alignment. The appearance of the position will vary from student to student depending on their personal pelvic structure, however students should be encouraged to work with their respective physiques rather than meeting a “prescribed” position.
  • Remember “turnout is a verb” and the turnout muscles should continue to be active throughout.

          Thus the retiré position should demonstrate pelvic, shoulder, and head alignment.

Points to consider:

  • On the point of transference of weight from two feet to one foot it must be emphasized not to sink into the supporting hip as this action will result in loss of rotation and control in the supporting side.
  • The hip of the gesture leg must not be raised by lifting the thigh higher than can be controlled by the dancer. This will result in the weight moving off the supporting leg and pelvic alignment will be lost. The deep rotators cannot recruit efficiently when pelvic alignment has been sacrificed
  • Placing the foot too high at the side of the supporting knee can be problematic for some, as not all dancers possess the range of movement in the hip to accommodate this position of the foot and retain pelvic alignment. Many will anteriorly tilt their pelvis, which will result in loss of turnout, and the gluteal muscles will overwork to accommodate the position of the thigh.

When viewing this photograph (below, left) of Rebecca practising retiré it would appear that her retiré is turned out. Observing the same retiré from the side (below, right) we can see that Rebecca is far from turned out, her thigh is in reality inwardly rotating. 

   

 

Please follow this link to see how perfect alignment can work in steps of virtuosity - enjoy!
In this video Isabela Rodriques has an unfortunate slip when performing the coda of the Diana & Acteon pas de deux but later goes on to repeat the whole coda.  You will see that in both of these dancers the gesture leg in retiré is placed in front of the bodyline.

 

 

Maggie Lorraine

IADMS Dance Education Network Subcommittee

Leading Teacher in Ballet

The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School 

 

Tags:  alignment  dancers  passe  pelvis  retire  teachers 

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