Elements of Dance: The Body, Core
“Definite stability is achieved only when the dancer realizes and feels the colossal part the back plays in aplomb. The stem of aplomb is the spine. The dancer should learn to feel and control her spine through observation of muscular sensations in the region of the back during various movements. When you manage to get the feeling of it, and to connect it with the muscles in the regions of the waist, you will be able to perceive this stem of stability.”
– Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: Russian Ballet Technique of Agrippina Vaganova
Integration in Yoga and Ballet
I have noticed in my work as a dancer and as a yoga practitioner that there are certain universal physical, anatomic, and kinesiological principles that help us to perform successfully, and there are therefore similar ways that we use the supportive musculature of the body to support our aims.
Of course the body works how it works and obeys physical laws, no matter what discipline we practice. I enjoy how the approaches, language, and visualization from different philosophies (including of course yoga and dance, which also take from other traditions and take diverse forms) can help create transformation and growth in our chosen areas of focus.
Core Support and Breathing
A key example is breath and core support, or integration of the systems of the body. In class a teacher might cue to “lift the belly button up,” “use your core,” “draw your belly button in towards the spine,” close the ribcage, engage through the center, feel length or elongate your posture through the spine from the support of feet or pelvis through the crown of the head,” etc.
There are certain shapes that we are trying to make, but also dynamic actions that are supporting those shapes.
In yoga we use pranayama or breath techniques as well as asana or postures to develop stability and ease. In the Yoga Sutra Patanjali speaks of the necessity for both steadiness and ease, in our practice.
In her manual of ballet technique, Agrippina Vaganova includes “Stability & Aplomb” in her basic elements of classical technique.
Yoga Bandhas: Physical and Energetic Integration
In fact, in yogic philosophy there isn’t just one “body’” but three, Physical, Energetic, & Causal, and the “yoking” of yoga is bringing these Physical and “Subtle” bodies into integrity or alignment with one another.
One technique to support yoga practice and physical integration for dance and athletic endeavor is engagement of the Bandhas. Three of the most commonly applied bandhas are the Mula, Uddiyana, & Jalandhara, which together form the “master bandha,” the Maha Bandha.
Bandhas fall under the larger classification of Mudras, which can be gestures or positions of the hands or other parts of the body, with bandhas specifically involving, engagement or “locks” of specific muscle groups.
Kapalabhati: Skull Shining Breath
Energetic activity through these three bandhas promotes dynamic alignment and balances the body(ies). One practice to engage the Uddiyana Bandha is Kapalabhati Pranayama, also known as Skull Shining Breath or Breath of Fire.
“Kapalabhati consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and the navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.” – Dwayne’s “Eight-Limbed Path & Pranayama” handout notes
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga explains that “Kapalabhati is one of the six classic cleansing exercises in hatha yoga, and it is especially effective in lowering alveolar carbon dioxide in the lower segments of the lungs. Like the bellows, kapalabhati is not only energizing, it develops strength and stamina, and it teaches you to coordinate the abdominal muscles for skillful use in other exercises such as agni sara, uddiyana bandha, and nauli.” (p.116)
In my yoga teacher training Kapalabhati was taught as “alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and the navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.” (Dwayne Holliday)
Further Resources for Developing Core Support
Interested in more exercises for practicing Core Support? Check out my YouTube playlist: “Concentrated Core Conditioning” for my favorite ways to train center connectivity, integration, and strength.
Ballet Petit Battement Exercise
Massive core support is required for the smallest and quickest movements as well as the largest and most grandiose. An example is petit battement, this week’s ballet tutorial video, which are tiny beats of the legs that require stability through the standing side and stationary body parts while below the knee quickly flutters to the side.
Total Body Integration
This physical core strength is deeply connected to internal, metaphorical core strength as well. I like how Peggy Hackney puts it in Making Connections: Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals:
“When I perceive ‘Core Support’ in someone, I experience in that person an alive, central core which actively engages to both uphold the body and energize interaction within the individual and with his/her environment. The word ‘support,’ according to Webster, means ‘to carry the weight of.’ The weight of the body is carried or borne up effectively, so that there is an ease in being in his/her body in either movement or stillness. The word ‘support’ also means ‘to encourage, help, advocate.’ When I think of ‘Core Support’ in this sense, I think of being able to do what I want to do effectively, with faith that I can function and express myself as a mover…Both of these types of support seem to be facilitated on the Body level by establishing a lively connection in the inner core of the body.”
“024: Stability & Aplomb, or Integrity in Action” is the second in my podcast series on the Elements of Dance, where I’ll be explaining each Element, including The Body, Action, Shape/Shaping/Space, Time, and Quality/Energy and how I use them in choreography, criticism, teaching, and reflective practice. I have a couple previous videos on related topics as well:
011: Creating Good Space: yogic sukha & sthira / steadiness & ease &
002: Finding a Centered State of Being
Integrity and Integration in Coaching
As an ontological coach, taking care of the physical body, and well-being in general is a top priority, as is integrity between thought, word, and deed. Several of my Accomplishment Coaching Tools speak of Integrity and Integration:
“Integration is to make into a whole by bringing all parts together. In coaching, we use it to describe bringing all the parts of a person into harmony. It means being complete, and including all parts of oneself – the shadow side, the humanity, as well as the greatness. It can also refer to including that which we do not like, or judge about ourselves, or even those parts of us that we are neglecting, ignoring or taking for granted. It is a context question: What part(s) of myself am I not integrated with now?” (Accomplishment Coaching tools)
How will you care for your body and foster integrity this week?
Speaking of the element of the Body…
The more diverse and inclusive ballet and dance is, in my opinion, the better! So I was excited to see that major ballet brands are moving in that direction as well, such as Gaynor Minden, who create pointe shoes and whose brand ambassadors are called “Gaynor Girls,” but who now have a body-positivity activist and and “Gaynor Guy” now on the list. Pointe Magazine wrote an article about it here.
Ballet Performance of the Week
Their satirizing of the femininity of ballet, while simultaneously performing it with virtuosity, has always made me appreciate Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. If you haven’t seen them simultaneously poke fun at and celebrate a love of ballet, I definitely recommend them. So glad I had the chance to see a live performance while living in Honolulu!
Core strength gives a feeling of empowerment, and along those lines, I’ve been working on a playlist (always in-progress) called “Hard-Core Butt-Kicking Rockstar Songs,” give it a listen to boost your mood and get ready to take on the world, whatever may come 🙂 What music do you play when you need to get pumped up to face the day?
Thanks for reading, I hope you’re enjoying my weekly synthesis of themes related to dance, yoga, and life!