WEST COAST SWINGPosturings On Posture

by Trish Connery

One of the first things I notice about a dancer, or almost anyone for that matter, is posture. I am often amazed at the poor habits we all exhibit in this regard, but I’m most amazed when I see it in dancers (myself included). Constant adjustment to my posture is one of the reasons I frequently critique myself through the use of mirrors, videos, and privates. As a result I am much more aware of the way I stand, walk, and dance than I’ve ever been before. I am also much more prone to notice posture in others.

Many dancers don’t realize that good posture, or lack thereof, can be an instrumental element in their dancing. Putting aside the visual and aesthetic reasons for good posture, let’s just look at the technical aspects and how they relate to dancing, specifically to connection.

Think of connection with a partner as an electrical current. I believe my connection begins with my center; therefore I like to think of my center as the starting point for my electrical current. The current travels up from the center through the chest, into the shoulders, down into the arms, elbows and hands, and thereby to my partner. At the same time, the current also travels down from the center through the thighs, knees, and continuing down through the power points in the feet to the floor, giving me connection with the floor as well.

By maintaining good posture I am allowing my body to be the best conduit possible for the current to flow. Likewise, poor posture, slouching, rounded shoulders, forward head, all detract from connection. Am I saying all those with bad posture are bad dancers? No, of course not! What I am saying is proper posture will contribute to a better connection, thereby making us all better dancers, both visually and in how we feel to our partners.

To achieve good posture, good current flow, and good connection, I try to do the following:

1) Stand Up Straight! Yes, our mothers were right! Here’s a visualization I’ve learned which helps me achieve this: I imagine I have a table-top of about 12" wide surrounding my body (yes, that’s right, a table-top) just at the level where my center is (right below the breastbone). Round or square is your preference. This table-top not only goes all the way around my body but it also has dishes on it. For some reason my particular table-top always has a fine china tea service on it, go figure; yours of course would be different. Either way, my goal is to keep the table-top level and dishes from sliding off whether I’m moving or standing still. Granted you may feel a little stiff when first trying this exercise, and it may be hard in the beginning to assimilate it as a dance technique, but with practice it does works.

2) Heads UP! Standing up straight is a big step in the right direction, but that’s not all there is to it. Good body posture can be defeated by a dropped chin or forward neck and/or head. This is a technique some of you may remember from childhood ballet or theater classes: The body-on-a-string technique. Imagine there is a string running from the base of your spine up through your body and out the top of your head, specifically, out the top of the crown of your head. Now pull the string and picture by pulling the string you are pulling the body up into alignment, straightening the lumbar and cervical spine, lifting up through the neck and out the top of the crown. Your neck should feel nicely lifted with a slight, comfortable stretch; the head should rest easily atop the neck. The chin should be in (but not "braced" in) and parallel to the floor.

3) Shoulders Back And Down! We all see dancers who roll or collapse their shoulders forward. This in turn can collapse their upper body (and their center) as well, effectively blocking the flow of connection. Try this exercise to determine proper shoulder placement: Stand up straight (we all know how to do that now), and put your arms straight out to the side at shoulder level, palms down. Now rotate the entire arm, including the cap of the shoulder, to the back and down, until your thumbs are pointing straight up. Your palms should now be facing forward. You should feel the rotation from the hand all the way up to the shoulder cap (just turning the hand alone will not do it). Now relax the arms down at the your sides, leaving your shoulders in the position you’ve just placed them.

By now you are probably thinking, "Great, I’ve got my table-top on, the string through my body is pulled up, and my shoulders are back and down. And now you want me to dance this way?" Of course you will feel strange and awkward at first. And you probably won’t be able to do all three at once, at least not in the beginning. I suggest trying one technique at a time, either in a practice or social dance setting. Pick one of the three techniques and tell yourself, "Tonight I’m going to work on Technique # __ for 3 songs." Then just forget about it, relax and have fun for the rest of the evening. The next time you practice or go out, try another technique. You are training your mind to recognize how your body feels when it has good posture; you are instilling these techniques into muscle memory. And, if you continue to practice it, these three individual techniques will eventually merge into one technique, and will be like second nature to you.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most people aren’t even aware of their posture, good or bad. And yet it is one of the easiest things to change about ourselves, requiring no partner, and the benefits are many. Good posture is an asset in virtually all social and business situations. If we have to meet new people, go on an interview, throw a party, dance in a contest, teach a class; good posture is an essential element in imparting a sense of confidence, pride, ability and self-worth. If we sometimes feel less than 100% confident; well, good posture gives us the appearance of confidence, which is half the battle. And more often than not, the simple fact of knowing we look confident inspires confidence on it’s own.

Trish Connery has competed successfully on the local, state, and national level with extensive training through the Golden State Dance Teachers Association and currently teaches out of the Skippy Blair Dance Center in Bellflower, CA.