In the same way you service your car by getting an engine tune up, every so often it’s necessary for dancers to fine-tune our technique. No matter what level you’re at, from newbie to professional take a little time every few months to make sure you’re not getting too complacent with your dancing. Going over the basic tenets of posture, weight placement and different types of technique will not only help you to become reacquainted with what you are doing, it will give you power that will make you a better dancer.
Posture And Center Of Gravity
No matter what kind of dancing you practice, there are certain guidelines for posture. The spine is elongated, the ribcage lifted, the shoulders are held back and down making a beautiful, long neckline. The pelvis is in neutral position achieved by pulling the tailbone slightly down towards the floor.
For belly dancing, we stand with equal weight placement from the balls to the heels. Our knees are soft and pliable, with our feet and legs aligned just under our hips, without using ballet turnout, because this will inhibit the movements of the hips. For other types of dancing, a turnout may or may not be employed- this depends on your training and what sort of effect you’d like to achieve.
But no matter what genre of dance you’re performing, make sure you know where your center of gravity is. In ballet or jazz, the center of gravity is much higher than in belly dance, African dance, Hula or even burlesque dancing.
Be hyper-aware of your center of gravity, as it will dramatically change the quality of your movements.
Define Your Weight Placement
Make sure you plant each foot firmly every time you set it down, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Any hesitation with your weight placement could potentially throw your movement off…or just make it look not quite as awesome. Defined weight placement is absolutely necessary in quick footwork, especially for turns. Check your weight placement frequently, and you’ll start noticing a difference in the quality of your dancing really quickly.
Once you’re conscious of your weight placement, use the floor as a “launching pad” every time you take a step. For belly dance especially, this is important because there are so many one-sided hip accents and flourishes happening all the time. These movements initiate from the knees or the feet; you can get much more power and definition from twists, circles, and upwards/downwards motions by grounding, or quickly pushing off the floor with your foot.
Check For Overcompensation
We all have a dominant or stronger side, and usually we need to drill more on that side to make things “even”- this is natural; it’s like being right or left handed. However, many of us favor our dominant sides…and let the stronger side do all the work! This leads to our bodies falling out of balance.
Once in a while, give your body the once-over and make sure that you are using both sides of your body fully. If you aren’t, sometimes this might be due to careless technique, but it's more likely that its a sign of weakness in a specific area. Especially if you have an old injury, you’ll notice that certain parts of your body- such as your spine, hips or leg muscles- are overcompensating in order to protect the injured area.
This is what usually leads to your body falling out of balance: some areas are really strong, while others remain much weaker.
If you notice that you have spots that are fragile or not as strong as others, bite the bullet and get some professional training for strengthening and joint stabilization.
Pilates has worked wonders for many dancers - including me! This form of exercise was designed for injury rehab as well as strengthening. But any sort of cross training can help you regain balance, just by using muscles that you don’t use quite as often in your dancing. Try swimming, walking, running or Yoga-whatever-just take some time to cross train, you’ll be happy you did!
Finish Each Movement Fully
Unfinished movements are common in baby dancers, who aren’t fully aware of their bodies in motion…but those of us with more experience are guilty of slightly sloppy too. Sometimes we can tend to become too comfortable with ourselves and neglect to monitor our movements.
Check yourself for movement completion during drills in class or while you’re practicing at home. Make sure you know exactly where each movement initiates and where it ends- even in fluid motions.
Check that your hip circles are actually circles, and not ovals, kidney bean shapes or open-ended- unless you are making it that way on purpose.
Employ Muscular Resistance
Give your movements more definition and power by using muscular resistance. This requires strength and concentration at first, but will become second nature with practice.
Play with your muscular resistance when making full-body or limb-only movements, such as a languid sideways body wave or a utilizing a slow motion “dragging” effect with your arm pathways.
For the legs, experiment with suspensions. A suspension is a long, slow lift, often made while rising up on the ball of the weighted foot. This looks great as a short pause at the beginning of a turn. Your weighted leg needs to be very strong and hyper-stable to achieve this effect.
You can also “punctuate” your hip technique by quickly tightening the muscles of your quads and glutes, or using the abdominal muscles for contractions and locks.
Open Your Chest For Beautiful Arm Work
Standing with an uplifted, open chest with the shoulders held slightly back and down is an integral part of posture for almost any genre of dance. It elongates the spine and makes the torso look long and lean, but it also really affects what your arms are doing.
Keeping your ribcage elevated, imagine that all of your arm movements initiate from the sternum as opposed to your shoulders. This technique will make your arm paths gorgeous and defined. It adds an elegant quality to every movement your arms make, from floaty to angular.
Use Your Head
The angle of your head can really change the appearance of your movements. Inclining your head towards or away from the audience will magnify the emotional intent of your dancing; using your head to spot while turning drastically changes your technique for the better, and following the paths of your arms with your entire head gives these movements a beautiful, finished quality. Though it sounds crazy, don’t “forget” about your head while your body is in motion…and this goes double for your facial expressions!