Improving Posture

Today we are talking about a fantastic topic – posture.  It gives off a presence on stage for a dancer as well as great benefits in injury prevention and technique.  If something is going wrong, the first thing you should always assess is your posture.

So, without further ado, let’s go in-depth about this important subject.

Pelvic Tilts

Your pelvis is an interesting structure that involves many bones and ligaments.  The muscles that surround it function to support it and create movement in the joints and bones around the pelvis.  Not often do we assess the movement of the pelvis itself.  It plays a very important role in the development of our posture and placement in ballet.

Our pelvis can move side to side and in circles, but that’s not necessarily what’s important to a dancer’s posture.  What’s important is its movement forwards and backwards.  A forward pelvic tilt is called an anterior pelvic tilt (you should already know this if we’re anatomy buddies on Quizlet.)  This forward tilt is often called tipping in ballet-world terms.  The opposite of this would be tucking, which is known physiologically as a posterior pelvic tilt.

A neutral pelvis, without either an anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, is the goal for dancers when it comes to posture.  Perfectly straight up and down, as always.  In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to fix incorrect tilts and how to achieve our goal of a neutral pelvis.

Correcting an Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The first problem we will discuss are my tippers.  This is the most common difficulty when it comes to posture among ballet dancers.  Here is a list of things that could be contributing to this problem before we discuss the major ones more in-depth:

  • A tight iliopsoas and hip flexor muscles
  • Weak lower back muscles
  • Weak quadratus femoris and other rotator muscles
  • Forcing turnout

All of these topics are excellent for discussion.  We’ll start at the top.

Your iliopsoas starts in your lower back, runs between your legs, across the front of your hip bone, and attaches on the inside of your femur bone, or upper leg bone.  Because of its crossing the front of the hip, it is considered a hip flexor.  With this muscle tight, your pelvis will be pulled forwards because of its connecting to the pelvic bones.

Muscles always pull, never push.  So, to correct an anterior pelvic tilt, it’s important we strengthen our lower back muscles.  It’s a common misconception that the problem with any pelvic tilt or posture problem is to strengthen your abdominals – but that’s not necessarily the case.  Abdominal strength can help with the “belly out” syndrome and a posterior pelvic tilt, both of which we’ll talk about later.

Anyways, the muscles that need to do the pulling with an anterior pelvic tilt are the lower back muscles.  I have a great back workout for you to do, and so does Kathryn Morgan (you know I love her…haha.)  Any back exercise can help strengthen these muscles to pull your pelvis upright.

Another pulling muscle in this scenario is your lower, outer hip muscles, also known as your rotators or turnout muscles.  The major one for me is the quadratus femoris.  These muscles, if you think about it, will not only distantly pull the top of the hip bone backwards, but the bottom of the hip bone forwards.  It’s an interesting concept, and it can be quite difficult to grasp – but once you get it you will see a drastic difference.

Finally, forcing your turnout can severely effect your pelvic tilting syndrome.  Especially for my anterior tilting buddies.  If your turnout is coming too much from your feet and knees and barely from your hips, the muscles are going to be under-engaged and therefore released backwards, creating an anterior pelvic tilt.

Notice that this situation is different from the forced turnout in the hips, which creates a posterior pelvic tilt.  This happens when you grip your external rotators and gluteus maximus, which in turn pulls the pelvis under.  Both give the same result of forced turnout, but come from different areas.  It’s quite interesting.

Correcting a Posterior Pelvic Tilt

A posterior pelvic tilt is also known as “tucking.”  Some common causes of this problem are listed below:

  • Forced turnout
  • Gripping of gluteus maximus
  • Weak abdominals

As you can see, because there are less causes, this problem isn’t as common as tipping. Especially among dancers, it’s not too common to see a tucker.

The first problem is forced turnout.  As we talked about with anterior pelvic tilts, forced turnout from the hips causes tucking and from the knees/ankles causes tipping.  This subject kind of goes along with the gripping of the gluteus maximus – because this muscle is often precieved as an external rotator, when really it just pulls your pelvis backwards. So, this problem is really a combination of gripping of the external rotators and un-needed engaging of the gluteus maximus.

Another problem is weak abdomainals.  It’s very uncommon to find a dancer with the combinatoin fo this problem and this cause – but it does help.  Engaging your lower abdominals especially will help pull your pelvis forward and stop that crunching motion.

Finally, for the tuckers, thinking of lengthening upwards and being slightly forwards will help with this.  Often tucking comes from an obsession with a perfectly upright pelvis – and then they overcorrect and start gripping their muscles.  Just relax and lengthen, and your problem should be fixed to an extent.

The Belly Out Syndrome

Think about how many times your teacher has yelled, “belly in!” or “abs engaged!” Probably many, many times.  And this has a purpose, but it is often misinterpreted.

The “belly in” part of posture has nothing to do with the alginment of your pelvis whatsoever.  It’s not often that a teacher will correct you on pelvic alignment, and when they do, it’s almost always to use your abdominals.  This can be helpful to an extent, but not greatly.

Using your abdominals is the only way to keep your belly in.  The reason behind this correction is to achieve a beautiful line – you want straight lines down the back and front, as much as possible.  It’s not meant to make you look skinner, contrary to popular belief.

Another benefit of this correction is its allowing for more support.  Keeping your core engaged can be helpful when balancing, turning, jumping, and especially during partnering.  So, belly in!

The Lift

Ballerinas are famous for their long lines, long legs, and famous extensions.  The ideal body type is long and lean.  But, it’s not uncommon to find many famous principal ballerinas and dancers with companies that are only…5 foot.

Then you say, “Well…I’ve seen them on stage and they look like they’re 7 feet tall!”

Well, it’s all in the posture.  Again, every part of stage presence and technical faults comes back to your posture.  It is the basics of ballet, but at the same time, it’s what adds on the finishing touch.

Every dancer should have opposition in their body at all times.  You can’t “sink” into your hips and just go through the steps, this will prohibit your turnout and cause crunching and, eventually, hip injuries and other problems.  So, feel the opposition.

There are many analogies for the lengthening of a ballerina.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fill the negative space above your head.
  • Zip up a pair of really tight jeans.
  • Be like a tree – stay rooted through your feet but grow tall through your head.
  • Inhale and lfit everything up, and then exhale and just drop your shoulders.
  • Imagine somebody pulling you up by a little hair on the top of your head.
  • Imagine your back getting longer and your front getting smaller.

Again, it’s all about finding what works for you.  One analogy isn’t going to be the best for everybody.

Thanks for reading today’s blog post!  I’ll see you on Friday.

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