I left you in the previous post (click here for part 1) with some understanding of body awareness and what it means to your dancing. And now I am going to run over some simple techniques and exercises to help you improve your body awareness to make you a better dancer and athlete.
Body Isolation Exercises
You will probably have some experience of doing body isolation exercises already from your class warm up; your instructor has probably asked you to rotate and circle your hips, your rib cage, your shoulders and wrists, to get your body prepared for the lesson ahead. But the difference between doing these as a warm up, and doing them to improve body awareness is the intent and the technique with which they are practiced.
So, when you circle your rib cage during your class warm up, do you keep every single other part of your body still? Or do you allow your legs and arms to move too? Maybe your whole torso is moving, not just your ribs? To improve your body awareness you need to concentrate on each isolated movement being just that, isolated. When you circle your wrist, JUST circle your wrists. When you make figure-8s with your hips, move nothing else. Practice with intent and focus, and you will notice improvement in your ability to engage with your different body parts.
Here are some very simple body isolation exercises to practice regularly;
I have already mentioned hip circles and figure-8s, do these as exaggerated as possible, ensuring you are moving just the hips. Do not allow your torso to sway or follow the movement of the hips, and keep your knees slightly bent and soft.
Another isolation you can do with the hips is isolating the pelvis. With knees soft, start by tilting the pelvis under, imagining you are pulling your groin towards your belly button, and then tilting it back under so your lower back curves (this is also the basic isolation move you want to train if you want to improve your twerking).
Extend your arms to each side away from your body, and start by pushing your ribcage to each side, imagining you are pushing it towards your fingertips along a shelf. This movement comes from the bottom of the rib cage, not from the shoulders, you ribs should move straight across, rather than in a tilting motion, and your arms should stay completely parallel with the floor.
With your arms still extended, move your ribcage in a circle. Again, you want to imagine this movement coming from the base of your rib cage, rather than from your shoulders.
For both of these movements it is important to engage your core muscles by sucking your belly button towards your spine to support your lower back, and ensure your weight is evenly distributed between both feet to stop you from ‘swaying’.
Upper Limb Isolations
Roll your shoulders, imaging you are drawing a circle in the air. Do them concurrently, and then in opposite directions.
Now move on to your arms, extend these away from you, bend and extend through the elbows, move your arms through the space around you and focus on how they feel in relation to your body. Focus on how the arm feels rotating within the shoulder joint.
Now move your wrist in circles. Make shapes with your hands and see how they look, then focus on how the shape FEELS. Create a shape with your hand, then try and recreate this shape with your eyes closed using only your senses.
Lower Limb Isolations
Lie with your back on the floor. Lift your legs in the air, flex and point your feet. Draw circles in the air by rotating your foot at the ankle, do this in both directions.
Now, draw circles in the air with your toes by moving your legs in a circular motion at the hips. Keep your legs, knees and ankles rigid and locked. Move in small and large circles, change the direction, draw figure-8s and see how this motion feels. Make sure you are moving your leg in the hip joint, and you are not moving the hips themselves.
Isolate your leg at the knee, bend your knees, move your lower leg and feet from side-to-side and in different directions. Now, bicycle your legs all the way from the hip, through the knee and to the foot. Move your legs in all directions, bending your knees and making shapes. Do this with your eyes closed and see how your legs feel in the space around you.
Watch this video if you require some visual examples to help you along (sorry for the poor quality):
I have already touched upon this in my instructions above when I told you to close your eyes and focus on your movements. Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and it would be easy to dismiss it as a fad, but I think for dancers it is an essential tool. Mindfulness simply means being present in the moment, not worrying about the future or the past, and allowing yourself to connect internally and focus yourself inwards during the present moment in time.
When it comes to moving our bodies we often let out subconscious mind takes over, after all if you had to think about each movement you made you wouldn’t get much else done. But this is why your body may find it difficult to learn new movement patterns because it is so used to referring to your subconsciously stored ones, which may be basic and undeveloped.
Try doing these isolation moves whilst blind-folded. This forces you to really focus on ‘feeling’ the movement, rather than just doing the movement. You want the movement to consume your remaining senses, rather than worrying how it looks, how you look, if you are doing it right and so on. Simply feel how your body is moving in the space when you isolate these different moves. You want to ‘be’ your body’s movements, not just ‘do’ them.
Now, on to the actual dancing. When you are dancing you are probably thinking ‘what’s coming next?’, ‘I did that last move all wrong!’, ‘OMG I don’t know what trick to do now!’, ‘WHY IS THE POLE SO SLIPPY?!’. This is your brain NOT being mindful, you are allowing your busy conscious thoughts to take over and cause you stress and anxiety, which makes you a worse dancer! Now, I’m not saying forget all your choreography or don’t consider what you are doing during your freestyle, but try and extend some of these isolation exercises and mindful practice into some of your freestyle and dance practice. Just feel what your body is doing, allow your limbs to isolate, to flow into each other, and see what your natural rhythm wants you to do. Don’t be confined by the idea of ‘doing’ dance moves, as I said above, you want to connect and ‘be’ in your body instead. So take time to just move your body and see what it creates organically.
It may seem silly at first, but because mindfulness is a form of meditation, and meditation is a skill, it requires patience and yes…. practice. This is still something I am working on a LOT because it is so important. I still overthink during dance and freestyle, and as a result my dancing isn’t nearly as fluid or smooth as I would like it. But, with practice it will come.
If you incorporate these exercises for a 5-10 minutes a few times a week you WILL improve your body awareness, and get in touch with how your body moves, and how it feels in certain movements. The great thing is that you can do these exercises anywhere, whilst the kettle is boiling, waiting for your pole class to start, or lying in bed before you sleep (if you share a bed though may be best to do these before your partner is nodding off).
Then the next time your teacher tells you specific instructions you will have already created a new ‘map’ for how your body isolates and relates to the space around you, making following those instructions just a little bit easier. And when you next try out some choreography, or decide to practice your free styling, you may find your body flowing a little smoother, your limbs looking a little more graceful, and your shapes looking even more pleasing.