DANCE AND BALANCE A CONSTANT CHALLENGE

by Friday, December 2, 2016

I have been reading and thinking about balance and I believe daily balance itself is a miracle. We experiment this everyday: going up and down the stairs with hands full, closing the door with one foot while returning with the shopping, standing on one leg talking to someone, climbing a ladder and stretching to reach a high shelf…balance is independence and agility. Balance can be defined as the ability to stay stable and not fall as we move our body . In dance, support changes constantly  from two feet to one foot, and even to no feet when jumping. The dancer’s body constantly shifts its attention, the pelvis when rolling, the arms  or shoulders during floorwork. Balance is a lifetime focus, a process of learning to navigate in space and adapting our sense of balance until old age.

We are skeletons made up of joints and muscles, in a small base of support. Balance is also a mechanical phenomenon. It is interesting to discover that in our brain there is no single balance “center”  (in the perspective of neuroscience). Balance emerges from the interconnection of many bodily systems while the brain stays busy, constantly updating the status of our body and addressing our need for balance: 1) “Where am I now?” 2) “Where am I going?” and 3) “What am I going to do next?” The brain processes information moment-by-moment from the body, the senses and the external world, seeking stability as environmental and conditions change. The dancer’s brain is busy processing multiple inputs. The brain integrates multiple mechanical forces coming from our moving body, the ground, and any other objects we are carrying or touching, as well as our perceptions, thoughts, intentions, and emotions.

To handle the complexity of balance, our nervous systems must react fast. For this, postural responses need to be evolved, involved muscle groups . Balance reactions often are anticipatory, coming mainly from the dancer’s own body. When dancers “prepare” for a relevè while standing center floor in first position, the anticipated movement uses berthing or core. The brain “senses” this intent to move and activates the muscles of the core and legs shortly before  going up. Similarly, when preparing to tendu, the reflex muscle synergies in the trunk and standing leg activate to maintain balance just before the gesture leg moves. These body re-organizations are necessary to support limb movements. Without these anticipatory control signals to the muscles to stabilize the trunk, we may sway or fall while shifting weight onto the leg. The dancer’s brain must be able to changing multitasking demands.

Poorly coordinated or under-developed postural development can compromise any aspect of motor skill. Balance is important for  dancers to learn their “right” postural control strategy, since dance requires different strategies to handle changing space, time, and dynamics. Any dance style challenges balance. Dancers can and do routinely face different types of balance challenges that test sustained static balance, quick weight shifts and changes of direction at center floor. Examples : one-legged stance with eyes moving or closed at the ballet barre; leaping with quick directional or level changes with arms opposing legs in modern; and falling or rolling in contact improvisation or other dance forms. Again, the key is to explore a variety of unexpected and unfamiliar balance challenges within the style. Finding balance is an ongoing, exploratory process. We need to challenge ourselves to become faster at solving problems when we perform balance: step-cross-step-jump is already a balance challenge if we add an arch bend in the jump – we are asking our body and our brain to re-organize the whole sequence of steps … It is very important to make mistakes, connect with our ‘felt sense’ and allow our bodies to understand how to become autonomous in the dance pattern and in the coordination.

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