Balance:The ever sought after skill requiring stability and strength.
This blog looks at the stability part of the equation.
Stability – Static or dynamic?
“Maintaining standing balance, be it waiting for the bus or performing a pirouette, involves body sway, where the body is in a continual state of flux, adjusting in relation to the foot on the ground” (1)
Stability in dance could be said to be the illusion that a movement is static – like holding an arabesque or lift. However, in reality are these movements really static? Or are they more dynamic in nature?
Consider standing on demi pointe (or pointe) in retiré for a few counts. To the viewer, you look like you are still, but underneath that façade, you are actually making minute muscular changes the whole time. Your intrinsic toe and foot muscles are adjusting to any slight balance change, likewise your ankle and calf muscles up the chain of the supporting leg. Your glute muscles are firing and adjusting to the resistance caused by the working leg, and your core and back muscles are working to keep the movement or position of the arms and torso from throwing you off balance. (And with all this going on, is it any wonder we find it hard to perform multiple pirouettes?!) With all these adjustments at work, stability could hardly be seen as static!
“Stable movement is achieved within the state of flux associated with the individual, task and environmental interactions.” (2)
So what does this mean? Well, at a cellular level, we are asking our nervous and muscular systems to constantly adjust to the task and environment (also known as a ‘movement strategy’) in order to perform a particular movement. Very rarely do dancers actually get to perform the same movement in exactly the same conditions. These conditions can vary from the change in the step before or after, the proximity to the dancers around us, the condition of our body (e.g. fatigue), the soreness of one’s feet, being ‘late’ in the music, the type of surface being danced on etc. (Nerve cell picture from http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201406/r1287418_17487241.jpg)
In other words, there are so many factors contributing to the effort of making one single move appear stable, that it is impossible to practice and perfect every different variable. This is what makes stability dynamic in nature as opposed to static.
“ In order to accommodate the dynamics of the [movement] performance, the ballet dancer must continually adapt the movement strategy…” (2)
Does that mean we are all doomed to instability? Well, luckily yes and luckily no!
Yes, because with so many variables, you need to train your body for this dynamic form of stability (or instability). Give up the notion that you must get yourself ‘stuck’ in the one position in order to feel ‘on’. Accept that you will always making little adjustments to your positioning both consciously and subconsciously.
Dance classes provide many of the variations that your nervous system needs to learn and adapt, but there is more that can be done. Strength and conditioning training can help by providing other forms of non-specific movement adaptation that is translatable to the dance classroom or stage. Some of the exercises offered in such environments include:
the use of unstable surfaces (such as a balance board or pods)
the use of resistance to increase strength in particular muscles for particular movements (such as Theraband resisted rises)
holding weights during dynamic movements that challenge the ‘core’ in different ways (such as lifting a weighted ball above your head, while maintaining proper posture)
So luckily no! You are equally not doomed to instability because by training for dynamic stability, you are training for the illusion of static stability. In other words, static stability is the illusion that dynamic stability provides :)
If you would like more information about any of the information or ideas presented here, I suggest looking at the articles below (use the doi numbers to search for the articles). Alternatively, what are your thoughts? Feel free to ask questions on my Facebook page within the blog post comments.
Happy Balancing! x Julie
(1) Winter, D. A. 1995. “Human Balance and Posture Control during Standing and Walking.” Gait & Posture 3 (4): 193–214. doi:10.1016/0966-6362(96)82849-9
(2 & 3) Hopper, L. S., Weidemann, A. L., Karin, J., 2018, p. 3., “ The inherent movement variability underlying classical ballet technique and the expertise of a dancer” Research in Dance Education, https://doi.org/10.1080/14647893.2017.1420156