NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a contribution by Ann Rodiger, Founder and Director of Balance Arts Center. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
As a former loosey-goosey bendy dancer, who has since had two hip replacements, I want to spread the word about how to be alert to and work with dancers with hypermobility. While teaching in several major university dance programs, I recognized that flexibility is frequently praised and coveted, sometimes at the expense of the dancer’s health, wellbeing, and longevity. The Alexander Technique as applied to teaching dance can go a long way toward preventing and reducing injury.
What saved me from damaging my joints was the study of the Alexander Technique (AT) where I learned to limit my range of motion and find a positive sense of containment. I gained an embodied understanding of counterdirection and subtle recognition of when flow and direction were impeded by locking or bracing my joints. Basically I was overdoing everything and needed to dial back both the tension and pressure on the joints. My dancing improved dramatically when I did less and learned how to inhibit the desire to do more and more. I learned how much my thinking and intention affected my movement.
One of the concepts in the Alexander Technique that is directly applicable to dancers is the paradigm for the body’s structure that is a combination of the outward and inward push and pull oppositional forces. The biotensegrity paradigm for the body promotes spatial thinking that leads to direction, flow, and line rather than looking for shape, position, or specific muscular engagement. This is particularly helpful to those with hypermobility.
Biotensegrity inherently offers the ideas of suspension, full-body involvement in every motion, and uses “throughness” for stability. This model for the body’s structure adapts to every “position” the body can take through gravity, the ground reaction force and dimensional suspension.
The first step in identifying if you have any dancers with hypermobility is to recognize some of the clues of the hypermobile spectrum. It can be tricky to identify because the presentation of hypermobility is rarely the same in two people. At the same time it is important to notice and acknowledge that hypermobility can be a systemic connective tissue disorder that may involve the vital organs. For someone who has one of the Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS), a genetic condition where there is no cure, movement and pain management become paramount.
If you suspect one of your dancers is hypermobile, it is helpful to take them aside and gently ask them if they have considered that they might be hypermobile. You can refer them, without alarming them, to their doctor to get checked out in case it is something they should know. You can also do the Beighton Hypermobility Assessment to see where your students fall on that scale. Performing this test with everyone could also let you, as their teacher, know about their mobility. The following are some specifics to consider with your dancers.
Some of the hypermobile manifestations include:
- Hyperextended knees
- Hyperextended elbows
- Repeated sprains and strains
- Problems with balance and stability
- Subluxations or dislocations of joints, articularly shoulders and hips
- Too tight and too loose at the same time
How to coach a dancer who is hypermobile:
- Recognize that more range of motion is not always better.
- Encourage the dancer to balance with direction, flow, and “throughness” rather than bracing and leaning on the joints for stability.
- Consider the whole body in every movement.
- Use language as a teacher that encourages both inward and outward directions simultaneously. For example, if you say “reach your arm as far as you can” that may be promoting going too far and may even pull the shoulder out of the socket. You could say, “sense the length of your arm from your fingertips to your shoulder and from your shoulder to your fingertips while your elbow and wrist are easy.”
- Recognize that familiar language has different meanings for different dancers. For example, “straighten your legs” may cause the hypermobile dancer to press into the ligaments at the back of their knee causing pain and an even greater range of motion. You could say, “lengthen our legs” instead. This will help provide a sense of containment and spatial clarity.
Words/phrases to avoid:
- Make ____ shape
- Use more force
- Tighten your ______
- Hang or dangle
Words/phrases to utilize:
- Release into your direction
- Sense the oppositional flow
- Sense the motion in your body
- Sense gravity and the rebound moving through you
Now, as an Alexander Technique teacher for nearly 40 years, I continue to see on a daily basis that working with the AT principles and the inherent concepts of building awareness, paying attention to the how, inhibiting detrimental habits, thinking of useful directions, can affect dancers, and everyone, giving them more comfort, balance, ease, and longevity.
Visit www.balanceartscenter.com/hypermobility-eds for more information, free classes, and resources about hypermobility and the Alexander Technique.
Ann Rodiger is a former dancer turned Alexander Technique Teacher. She is the Founder and Director of the Balance Arts Center in New York City where she directs several training programs including the BAC AT Teacher Training Program, an AmSAT certified course. She has taught at several universities including the U. of Illinois-Urbana, U. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the U. of Hawaii Manoa, and City College of NY. She also has a private AT practice in NYC and also teaches, in Berlin, Antwerp, Athens, and Istanbul. Ann has also presented about the Alexander Technique at multiple domestic and international Ehlers Danlos Society Conferences. The Balance Arts Center also offers courses and workshops specifically for those with hypermobility including Strategies for Coordination and Stability for those with EDS/Hypermobility and Working with Mobility Aids. Her book Mind and Mend Your Hips is being published in January 2022.
Photos by Heather Gardner