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Standing On Your Own Feet

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Posture and Balance

One of a dancer’s greatest challenges is being in balance. When you aren’t in balance, you likely are leaning on your partner or not doing a step properly. Posture is to blame for most balance problems, along with not using your feet well and having a weak “core.” A body with well-aligned posture requires less energy to move than a droopy one, and it looks better.

Being in balance, according to the dictionary definition, means equilibrium of all parts. As individuals, we learned long ago how to balance ourselves over our feet and along the spine. As we move forward, one leg swings forward and the opposite arm swings forward to match it, a form of counter-balancing.

When dancing, we call that contra walks. Adding a partner means we have two bodies in motion. Each needs to maintain its own central balance point, and the partnership also needs its own central axis—between the two.

Good posture is like stacking blocks of wood. Stand with head lined up over spine, shoulders over hips. Shoulders relaxed. Head up—think being pulled up by your ears. From there, it is a matter of a few exercises to build up the core and reaffirm the brain’s connections to the muscles that give you stability.

Practice walking by yourself, consciously recentering your weight over your supporting foot with each step. Take one step, with weight fully over that one foot. Shift your weight toward the toes and then the heels to feel the body making balance happen with each shift. Move forward one step with a heel lead and transfer weight onto that foot, then bring the free foot under the body without weight. Regain balance and repeat with the other foot. This exercise will remind you to transfer full weight from foot to foot and collect your balance.

You can do this any time: Stand on one foot, then the other while in line anywhere. Stand up and sit down without using your hands (to strengthen your core). With a partner, take closed position and try walking a few steps forward and back, one step at a time, rebalancing over the new supporting foot each time. Are you holding her too tight, too close? Is she leaning in or clutching for balance? Make sure your blocks of weight are balanced. Chin up to help keep your head aligned with your spine. Try standing eight or so feet from your partner; stand on one foot and toss a ball back and forth to each other; then switch to stand on the other leg. You will be challenged to keep in balance.

Back to contra walks—besides needing them to do our new Charmed Life, in an exaggerated form, they will improve your balance. Bring your hands to your chest so your arm swing comes from your torso as you step. Walk purposely one foot forward with opposite shoulder at the same time, then the other. Try it; you’ll like the result (eventually).

Oh, My Aching Feet

It’s 10 a.m. and I’ve already walked 1,312 steps. I know that because—like so many others—I have a watch that also tracks how far my feet travel each day. “They” say that 10,000 steps a day is optimal for good health. Lately I’ve read that even if you can’t get in that many steps, doing as many as you can, with more gusto, has the same effect. Dancing should skyrocket your numbers!

We have 52 bones in our two feet, about 25% of all the bones in our body, and 7,000 nerve endings. The feet are an evolutionary marvel, bearing hundreds of tons of force—our weight in motion—every day.

According to healthinaging.org, one in three people over age 65 has foot pain, stiffness, or aching feet. If we give those tooties a little attention, maybe they’ll keep us on the dance floor longer.

Did you know that a foot cramp can mean you are dehydrated? Most of us have heard about plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a fibrous band of tissue along the sole of the foot. The job of the fascia is to absorb some of the daily abuse our feet take, but too much strain can cause microtears, giving us pain and stiffness. The largest tendon in the body is the Achilles tendon, connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone. It is called into action whenever you run, walk, or jump. Shoes that fit badly and give you an “ouch” feeling are probably compressing the extensor tendons that run along the top of the foot and allow you to lift your toes off the ground.

Be happy if you have ticklish feet. Those 7,000 nerve endings in the feet help you stay in balance by alerting your brain to changes underfoot—like walking on ice, jogging across uneven terrain, or dancing on a floor with slick spots. Those nerves become less sensitive as we age. The magazine, The Good Life, suggests walking barefoot to help keep them sharp.

An article in that magazine recently claimed that most people will walk 75,000 miles by age 50—roughly three times around the equator. Imagine what dancing adds to that! Try these exercises to give your feet an occasional “aah” moment.

With feet flat on the floor, lift toes and curl them under for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Or, slowly roll a golf ball or tennis ball under the length of each foot for 60 seconds. Or, cross a foot over the opposite thigh and lightly grasp the toes, pulling them gently until you feel a stretch along the arch. Hold for 10 seconds. Try picking up marbles with your toes. Massage the calf down to the heel (for that Achilles tendon). Rotate the foot at the ankle in a circular motion. Apply an ice pack to help eliminate waste from muscle tissue.

Take Care of Your Fascii

If you’ve ever had plantar fasciitis, you know it can be painful and can take a long time to heal. Did you know the body is full of fascii that can also become inflamed and cause imbalance, poor posture, and a host of other discomforts?

“Fascia” in Latin means bands, and the fascii throughout the body are elastic bands that encase muscles, organs, nerves, and blood vessels. This connective tissue is not like ligaments, which join one bone to another bone, or tendons, which join muscle to bone. In some places, they hold organs in place; in others, they form sliders for muscles to move across. In the foot, where the fascii runs from the toes, over the heel and up the back of the leg, they support the arch.

Scientists have discovered 12 sets of these fascii connecting seemingly unrelated parts of the body, from the toes to the top of the head. When they function properly, they look like wavy folds that stretch and retract. Stress, trauma, poor posture, and inflammation cause them to lose pliability, and that restricts muscle movement. It has been said this is the source of most chronic pain problems that have no apparent cause.

A new book called Anatomy Trains maps the fascii of the body and shows their interplay with movement and stability. It has evolved into a course for massage therapists, yoga instructors, chiropractors, and personal trainers, on the basis that fascii respond to massage and exercise.

Stretching before you get on the floor is good, to get the kinks out, as some would say. An Oberlin College dance instructor has introduced stretches aimed precisely at the fascii, as reported in the recent Dance Teacher magazine.

Here are some warm-ups being touted on the internet to improve balance and fascii: 1) Prop your toes up against a wall, keeping your arch and heel flat so the toes stretch. Hold for a count of 10 and repeat. 2) Roll a frozen water bottle slowly under your arch. 3) To relax your shoulders so they don’t scrunch up around your neck, stand with hands over head, grasping left wrist with right hand. Gently pull the elbows away from each other, activating the muscles in the shoulders and arms. Bend at the waist to the right, feeling a stretch along the left side of the body. Rotate the elbows so you are looking at the floor. You should feel a ripple through the fascii to the lower back.

Once that water bottle thaws, be sure to drink up. Fascii can become dehydrated if you don’t drink enough and then are subject to micro tears and lose their stretch, and you’ve got that creaky, achy feeling.

Bobbie Childers carries a golf ball to stretch the fascia in her feet. To prove how it helps, her therapist had her bend over to touch her toes. “I did alright,” she said, “then he had me roll each foot over a golf ball, standing and putting pressure into the ball.” When he asked her to bend and touch her toes again, she was amazed at the difference it made. “Now I take a golf ball whenever we travel. It really helped last year at ICBDA.”

    The Neglected Joint
We ask a lot of our ankles, without knowing it. They are one of the most important joints in the body, for dancers, but the most neglected. The unfortunate result of that neglect is sloppy feet (not pretty for a dancer), stunted movement, or even injury.

The ankles’ main job is flexing and pointing. Unlike the knee or elbow, which can bend safely only one way, the ankle can move in many ways. Just when you circle your foot, you are asking your ankle to do many functions—pointing, flexion, inversion, and eversion (rolling the foot in and out).

The ankle is the joint that works hardest in rise and fall. In all the smooth dances, that basic technique requires articulation of the ankle and balance. In tango, many steps are taken onto the inside edge of the foot, which requires strength in the ankle to evert (roll outward). For ladies in high heels, the ankle has to work even harder to get the heel off the ground when dancing a step onto the ball of the foot.

Because of all that rising and falling and walking on the ball of the foot (as in latin), dancers generally have better ankles than the average person. Beginning dancers haven’t yet developed that strength from using the ankles as more experienced dancers do routinely. Many people claim to have poor balance but according to authorities, they probably have weak ankles that are incapable of balancing them.

Even experienced dancers get sloppy and forget the importance of their ankles.

So how do you get and keep those beautiful, well articulated ankles? At a seminar we attended once with British champion Joanna Bolton, she suggested standing on a step as thought walking up the step, with the ankles hanging over the edge, then repeatedly rise and lower, letting the ankle go below the edge of the step.

Another simple exercise is standing on one foot, the other elevated off the floor. Draw a circle in the air with the toes of the elevated foot. Don’t let the leg move. Do it one way, then circle in the opposite direction, and then change feet. This will strengthen the muscles and tendons around the ankle to help avoid future injury.

It is also a good warm up for anyone before dancing.

Try standing and holding onto a chair or table for balance, legs straight, then shift your weight forward onto the balls of the feet, allowing heels to come up. Stand as long as you can, then slowly lower back to a flat foot. A balance exercise recommended for seniors is standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or waiting in the grocery line, or standing on your tiptoes while washing dishes.

If you have wobbly ankles, you won’t have good balance, and bad balance can lead to falls. Now you have another reason for getting your rise and fall in order.



From club newsletters, Feb. & March, 2014, and Dec. 2018, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, January 2019.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.

Aditional articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
Richard Lamberty
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid (see Notebook)



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