Tag Archives: flexibility

What I’ve learned about flexibility

7 Nov

I was running around doing…something…yesterday and didn’t have time to write and today I was running around again to several different stores looking for a stand for my laptop (which I didn’t find one that I liked…going to have to order one online).  Now that the northern hemisphere is in its colder months, I like to use my computer in the warmth and comfort of my bed, and set it on top of a mini-table.  But that alone is not enough, and so I stack it on a makeshift laptop stand that is currently comprised of a large book on Personology and a 3-ring binder, to angle it upwards.  The reason why this is so important, and especially for dancers is because you need to have the monitor up by your face at eye level in order to maintain good posture.  One should try to avoid sitting for too long because creasing your hip flexors for extended periods of time is going to make them tight, but when sitting, one should sit upright, which is impossible to do when the computer is far below eye level.  Good posture is not only a part of the ballet aesthetic; through personal research I have found that good posture is the key to good flexibility.  And I’ve done a LOT of research, because nobody has tighter muscles than me (hips like rusted iron hinges as I like to say).

All dancers want to be more flexible, but sometimes there’s a lack of attention paid to the relationship between alignment and flexibility.  For example, many people have an anterior tilt to their pelvises (pelvii?), which actually pulls on the hamstrings and weakens the lower abdominals.  The end result is constantly aggravated hamstrings and weakened hip flexors, neither of which can lengthen properly (and you stick your butt out like a baboon).  Furthermore, when you’re staring downward at a computer, your shoulders are hunching forward and it tightens your chest muscles.  Like the tilted pelvis/leg relationship, the upper back is equally affected by tight chest muscles, leading to less mobility in the shoulders, thus affecting your port de bras.  If your chest muscles are really tight, you’re going to have problems taking your arms up to a nice an open fifth, and keeping your shoulders away from your ears.  Cuban Marden would always tell me to relax my shoulders, and I would try but I literally could not lower my shoulders because I had so much tension in my upper torso.

So what to do…stretch a lot?  Not quite.  A lot of people improve flexibility with what they believe to be proper stretching, but for some of us, it hasn’t worked so well.  I know for me, I’m so behind in mobility that no amount of stretching ever seemed to help.  However, what I realized is that flexibility is not muscular, but mental.  Jigga-what?!?  I completely changed my mind on what flexibility is after talking with a friend who is a med student, and told me that they can play with cadavers and manipulate their joints into contortionistic positions and full splits like it’s no big deal.  First of all, that’s kind of morbid, gross (sorry to paint a graphic picture) and slightly disturbing that these are the people we trust to take care of our health…but it’s also really interesting.  That means when our brains don’t meddle and tell our muscles via neuromuscular functions that they can’t go any further, that the muscles themselves are actually free to do whatever they want.  So stretching isn’t about physically lengthening muscles, but rather, instructing the muscles that it is okay to lengthen.  Translation…every body has the potential and the key is learning to access it.  Ta-da!  Step number one in improving your flexibility is trusting that your body CAN and WILL get there someday.

But, you still have to put in some work.  You can’t just tell your body to be more flexible, because it knows better.  So how to improve flexibility?  I would honestly encourage anyone to do a lot of research and figure out what they need for themselves.  For me, I actually did yoga for a few years and didn’t have much improvement at all.  I hated it…it was boring and didn’t really sufficiently connect the dots for my brain.  Pilates on the other hand, I got a lot out of (even if I haven’t been able to get myself back into a regular routine of doing it).  I got more out of two months of pilates than I did doing two years of yoga.  Every body and brain works differently, and because I have a lot of instability in my core, pilates was doing more to correct my body than yoga was.  However, the idea that stretching is about accessing potential is universal, in my opinion.  As is massage!  Massages are freebies to better flexibility.  The more tension you release in your body, the more flexibility you will have.  Not just muscles, but the all important fascia (which is what yoga actually stretches.  Yoga works for a lot of people…I just hate it).  That’s why I got Horatio (who is excruciating on my quads…that tells you how tight mine are) and a couple of inflatable balls as used in the “Franklin method.”  Eric Franklin’s book Conditioning for Dance has a lot of great theraband exercises for strengthening as well as myofascial release techniques using those inflatable balls for self massage.

So after a lot of research, and looking into the different ways to achieve better flexibility, not just in the realm of dance but from martial arts people to physical therapists (some of which are crazy…and very wrong), I found a flexibility program that is very much in line with my beliefs on how flexibility works.  Although I heard of the various techniques in the program here and there from my research, the program organizes it in such a way that makes it easy for me to make it a part of my daily routine.  I will in fact, embark on this new journey to better flexibility tonight!  I begin as the tightest human being on Earth, and hope to achieve a good split, because Yen Fang told me if I did, I would turn into a prince.  When that day comes, I shall post a complete review of the program…mum’s the word for now because I don’t want to necessarily endorse something I haven’t really tried and had results from yet.  Wish me luck!

Bodies bodies bodies…

29 May

So I figure a good introductory post, before talking too much about dance would be to address the body.  I define dance as a movement of the body with an artistic intent, which is probably just vague enough to not really mean anything.  If you can take one thing away from that statement, it’s that dance obviously has its foundation in the human body (those who argue, are WAY modern…so take it outside).  Now there’s this popular stereotype that a lot of dancers, especially ballerinas have body image issues, and are starving themselves, yadda yadda yadda.  That might be true in some cases, but you can’t dance without fuel, and do you have ANY idea how embarrassing it is to have your stomach growl ridiculously loudly during an adage?  I’ve seen it heard it.  Not cute.

Dancers can give you a laundry list of bodily flaws that most people would never imagine.  I find the ballet dancers in particular to be the most entertaining.  The most common, which even the average Joe can understand would be “not enough turnout” and “not flexible enough,” but dig a little deeper and you get into all kinds of crazy.  Disappearing heels, compressible feet,  protracted shoulder girdle, anterior/posterior tilt, hyper extended joints (both a gift and curse), Greek feet, Egyptian feet, lucky rabbit’s feet, and many more genetic and muscular ailments.  The body is a science and we are all massively screwed up.

Take my feet for example, which I am pretty sure are the worst feet possible for dance.  I have Greek feet (which means my second toe is longer than my first), tapered toes (which means toes 2-5 are at a sharp angle), wide metatarsals, skinny toes with massive spaces in between them, low arches, low insteps, poor ankle flexibility (thank you, anterior tibialis), even tailor’s bunions (I’m a guy and don’t even have to do point).  They. Are. Hideous.  And my lower legs are also bowed outwards and my right foot has some tibial torque although my left is the opposite and sickles inward.  I was not built to dance at all, but I enjoy the irony.

Anywhodle, moving upward…whatever the opposite of hyper extended knees is, I have, in addition to poor turnout, a slight anterior tilt and some rounding to the shoulders.  And ridiculously tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and my joints move like rusty door hinges.  I’m quite gifted at cracking them actually…I can crack my hips in several places, my spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, my thumbs and fingers (knuckles and whatever the smaller ones are), knees, ankles, all 10 toes, some joint in the middle of my foot which I haven’t figured out what it is yet, and first thing in the morning I can pop my sternum and usually one of my collarbones (I think that’s what’s crackin…I can’t tell for sure).  I’m a walking xylophone, but I don’t crack my neck though…THAT is weird. 

Where was I…oh yes, my body is not built for ballet.  And flexibility tends to be harder to achieve for guys, so the splits?  Forget it.  Although I did have a teacher who once told me if I could get down into the splits I would turn into a prince.  She was also a teacher who swore a lot in class and beat me on occasion.  I miss Yen-Fang.

It turns out that 90% of dancers will tell you they suck, and identify things about their body that limit their abilities.  The other 10% is comprised of people who are really good and don’t worry, the people who don’t care if they’re good or not, and the whackadoodles that think they’re awesome even if they’re…well, not so hot.  So, my little ducklings, the truth is, there are two things that can help you get through the challenges your body presents.  Numero one, somebody always has it worse, and you can smile contently knowing that I for sure do, and keep chipping away at class happy as a hummingbird, and numero second, find one little thing that you ARE pretty damn good at, and linger in it for just a wee bit.  For a guy, I have a fairly mobile spine and thus, cambré derrière is practically my favorite thing in the world.  I always spend an extra second or two in it, just for me and to say “hell, I can do this!”

Meanwhile, I totally bought tickets to see the Bolshoi in Washington DC, SPECIFICALLY to see Natalia “jumps-like-a-man (in a good way)” Osipova, and sometime in between my purchase and today they changed the principal casting (jigga-what?!?).  Ekaterina Shipulina is lovely, according to the visions in the crystal ball (youtube), but will my heart flutter when she saut de chat?  Will she put the “olé!” in brisé volé?  Ask me after June 19th.