Generations of teachers have successfully taught dance with no anatomical knowledge at all. However in the last 10 to 15 years or so advances in dance medicine and science has resulted in significant approaches to traditional dance training.
We now know that a good warm up helps prepare a student for action. It increases heart rate bringing oxygen and nutrition to working muscles, that nerve impulses travel faster in a warm muscle thus making the body respond more readily. That the movements of a warm up will keep pro-priosception (the body’s natural sense of balance).
We also know how important it is to stretch muscles slowly with sufficient time for the muscles to relax (no more bounces!)
There are many contra-indicated movements for the spine. We know that allowing an arabesque en l’air to sink in the centre of the spine by not supporting the movement with the abdominal muscles, will load too much weight on the discs of the spine: Also that good use of the abdominal muscles will secure a strong torso.
We realize the importance of maintaining good cardiovascular exercises for stamina and fitness. We know muscles work in pairs that overworking one set
often leads to weakness in the opposite set, for example overworking the calf muscle by allowing it to contract only (repeated glissés and jumps) the well-informed teacher will stretch out the calves frequently with lots of foot flexing to work the muscles at the front of the shin. Teachers today know what is happening to the body and how delicate the vulnerable growth plates in long bones are during times of increased activity during the teenage years.
It is fundamental good practice to avoid stressing the knees by decreasing the amount of full plies in closed positions. Today “turn-out” is anatomically understood to be largely a pre-determined fact and that no amount of hard work and pushing or forcing will significantly alter the dance student’s natural degree of “turn-out”. We know why some bodies will have a greater degree of “turn-out” than others and some will always be more flexible than others. Similarly we understand it is important to be able to identify the source of potential injuries.
How much anatomy should be brought into class time?
All ages of children usually enjoy learning and understanding how things work. Incorporating the use of anatomy into dance teaching gives another way of making dance practice efficient and effective both for pupil and teacher. Each teacher will need to find his/her own method of bringing their knowledge into their classes that feels comfortable without allowing the class to become an anatomy lesson.
It is not necessary to blind the class with science and names of obscure muscles which will soon be forgotten, however students should know the following:
- Where the hamstrings are and how to stretch them safely
- About the quads and how important correct use of them is to the health of the knee
- About the adductor muscles and the use of them when closing the leg from the second position to strengthen them
- The use of “turn-out” muscles should be understood and how to use them effectively
- That muscles strengthen when working against resistance and this is provided by gravity or good use of the floor
- That good use of the arms will be improved if the student is encouraged to lightly engage the broad Latissimus Dorsi muscle from the spine that leads to the upper arm. Due to the origin of this muscle, correct use will enhance good action of the Transverses Abdominal muscle, which is a stabiliser
- Know the bones of the spine and the main joints, their normal ranges of movement and what structures bind and help them
- How vital it is to keep alignment of the knee joint in demi plies and fondus and why
Each teacher will build and add to this basic list, as well as constantly update their own knowledge in order to give their students the very best information both anatomically and technically.