So often young dancers want to be able to accomplish the moves and steps that they see older, trained dancers perform on stage or in videos they’ve seen. But feel frustrated when they don’t accomplish it first time, or that when they do they find it doesn’t feel right for their body. I think so often young dancer under-appreciate the amount of strength it can take to perform certain ‘tricks’ or movements, brushing them off as being simply based within flexibility. Which is why this post will address a few steps that I’ve come across where strength really plays a role within the dancers ability to perform it.
Traditionally dancers appreciate that in order to lifts, you need the strength to be able to lift up the other person. But as contemporary lifts are being taught within GCSE and ALevel, dancers are finding that sometimes strength isn’t everything when it comes to lifting. This is because within many lifts momentum and leverage work just as well as pure strength, when it comes to lifting up another person. This allows dancers to find inventive ways to lift that don’t start in a stationary position allowing the lifter to have an aid to begin the lift. While strength does play a role within lifting the movements and positioning of the lifted also determine how well the end lift will be. Accepting that strength isn’t everything within a lift should make it easier to accept that strength can have minor roles in other components of dance, but I think dancers still struggle with the acceptance that strength will help them, and as a result are reluctant to train strength, instead preferring to just train flexibility.
The first movement I want to talk about where strength does play a role is kicks. Here strength does play a minor role, when trying to accomplish a nice straight lined kick. A big requirement of kicks is the flexibility of the hips and how the dancer rotates the leg within the hip socket to allow for the biggest movement. Strength comes into this when you take kicks to the next level, this may come in the form of a developé or a leg hold, each of these will require significantly more strength than a plain straight kick. But increasingly I find dancers stating ‘I’m not flexible enough to be able to do that’, despite being able to kick really high. For a developé kick they are often much slower than a straight kick and having to hold the leg out in a position that isn’t near the centre of gravity is a lot harder when you have to do it for a longer period of time. Even once the leg is out it can take a lot more strength get the leg as high as it can go, without the additional momentum provided from a kick, where often a dancer may use their arms and back to help (despite being told not to). The strength needed for this is not just within the legs, but also within the core muscles as the dancer will need to stabilise balance throughout the developé which can be aided through the use of core muscles. A leg hold on the other hand, can often start with a straight kick, which means the dancer doesn’t necessarily struggle with getting the leg to it’s full extension, instead the struggle often comes at the moment of suspension at the end of the kick, before the hands are brought up to the leg in order to hold it. Another struggle comes after this, where the dancer can under-estimate the weight of their leg and thus find they don’t have the arm strength to hold the leg at it’s full height.
The next movement whereby strength is perhaps the most important aspect of the move is the toe rise. While momentum and body position also come into the ability to perform this move, like lifts earlier, it also requires strength. Strength in both the legs and the core muscles. When teaching this move it’s so hard to explain what to do, as for me lots of things need to happen in a sequence, but they happen so fast that they tend to overlap and to explain that just provides dancers with an overwhelming amount of information. Even when explaining this move, I neglect to inform the dancers of the amount of core muscle recruitment they will need and instead refer to the momentum of the hips, but the hips need something that will enable them to suspend in the air in order for the dancer’s body to rise from the floor. While doing the movement it often feels like the strength for this is coming from the legs, for the whole duration of the movement, but when I’ve performed lots in a row the next day I feel it within my core. Again, I think within this move the core muscles can aid with balance allowing the centre to be over the toes instead of behind. But the core also allows the hips to create the c shape and allow the body to suspend and lift upwards.
The last movement I’ll talk about in this post is jumps. Having a high jump can be the be all or end all for lots of variations of a plain jump. Dancers can often think that jump height is down to technique and by practicing jumps they’ll get better. This is true to a degree. Practice will make jumps better, and they probably will as a result get higher as you find the most efficient way to jump for your body. But that isn’t the whole story, as yet again, strength will enable the dancer to perform a higher jump. Pushing off from the floor, we teach dancers to bend their knees and point their toes, while engaging the upper legs and behind. As dancers get older they find they can jump without engaging their legs are pointing their toes, and as such, not only does poor technique start creeping in, but also the dancer beings to use a lot less strength and power that is stored within the legs. Creating a tenseness within these areas can remind the body to use those areas of power, thus allowing the jump to be stronger and higher. For jumping, leg strength is a vital component that is often overlooked in favour of showing off flexibility or style.
Here I’ve outlined three movements where I feel that strength can really help improve the ease and ability of the movement. While there are other movements that will need strength these are three common movements that I come across when I teach where strength can be overlooked. Next time I will document a few ways in which to build up the strength in areas of the body that aren’t simply practicing the movement over and over.
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