Improving Alignment – tips and ideas to try with your dancers

Sharing good practice has been one of the most important, and interesting, elements of the Shift project.  One of the most frustrating aspects is that we haven’t been able to include everything that we’ve learnt in the website resource we are creating.  Due to time (and money) we’ve had to pick the “best bits” so in this blog we hope to share with you some useful practical ideas you can try with your dancer’s to help them improve their alignment.

Key points:

  • Present the big picture to the whole group, then tailor things specifically for individual needs.
  • Pelvis alignment is key.
  • Address at all levels – lying, sitting and standing
  • Use a combination of visual, verbal and tactile delivery approaches.

VOCABULARY – Lengthening through the body is the key to improving alignment.  Using words such as lengthening, expanding, growing and reaching encourages and reinforces this.

OBJECTS and IMAGERY that demonstrate the concept of the whole body lengthening and expanding  

Bubble – the idea of being inside a bubble and expanding in all directions to touch edges.  Find visual images of bubbles (ideally with people inside), use real bubbles and discuss the qualities of expanding, floating, finding buoyancy and softness.

Geo/collapsing/expanding ball

Cellophane – scrunch up and watch expand

Coloured Yenga blocks – build upwards to demonstrate the principle of stacking and tracking

Resistance band – hold vertically and stretch in two directions for a visual demonstration of lengthening through the body.  Tie knots in it to suggest the vertebrae of the spine.

Broom handle – hold next to the dancer so they can see a plumb line and compare to their own.  Using a mirror is useful for this.

Make a grid on a mirror (with electric tape) or on a photo to see how level your body is

Imagery for feet – imagining feet are on a catamaran or skis, focusing on the imprint the feet are making on a soft surface (e.g. sand, mud)

Visual reminders for lower leg alignment – use electric tape or eyeliner to draw a line on leg/ankle/foot.  Put stickers on feet/ankles/knees/hips as a reminder re alignment.

PHYSICAL AND TACTILE PROMPTS to try before or during an activity:

Place hands on head and push into them – this can be done during standing and sitting exercises.

Rocket arms/hands – pointing up to ceiling during plies, in floor exercises etc

Wrap a resistance band around the leg to feel outward spiralling.  Start at the foot and ensure the band opens outward from the instep, around the ankle and continues wrapping outward along the leg.

 

Ankle tilts:

  1. For dancers who need more lift in their instep (or tend to roll inwards)

Start in parallel.  Place one foot slightly forward, maintaining parallel position.  Lift the instep of foot and allow the weight to roll onto the outside edge of the foot.  Replace and repeat several times. Replace foot to parallel and compare sensation between feet, noticing any changes, before repeating with the other foot.

  1. For dancers with very high insteps (or tend to roll outwards)

Start in parallel. Step the left foot to the side in a lunge.  Lift the outside edge of the right foot, rolling the weight onto the inside edge.  Replace and repeat the lifting/rolling several times before returning to parallel. Compare sensation between feet, noticing any changes, before repeating with the other foot.

We hope you enjoy trying out these ideas!  This is a small taster of what’s to come when we launch the website resource in summer 2020!

Sophie

Travel

Forward, backward, to the side, up and down. This blog is about the last block in this research: locomotion. Time to move through the space in different levels and directions. We divide locomotion in travel and elevation. First of all it is good to know how we define these terms. Travel is the ability to move the body across space on different levels and in different directions.  

Elevation is the ability to move the centre of gravity efficiently between levels with control. In elevation we look at the total vertical plane. Not only jumping bit the whole range between the floor and up in the air. What you can read in our definitions is that control and efficiency are key. This was the main focus is the classes. Researching an efficient way to travel and expanding possibilities of moving 

It was nice to see that all the themes we have been working on, came together in this last block. The dancers spent a lot of time finding a safe alignment and strengthening the body. In this block we work on maintaining this while traveling. 

Traveling can be a lot of fun and can make you feel free. To be able to feel free it is important to feel safe. Therefore many things are important. For example to have a clear build up in class for the body and mind. We made our class from a few topics: 

  • Preparation
  • Moving between levels
  • Floorpattern
  • Travel turning 
  • Game element
  • Cooling down

Preparing the body and creating an awareness of the body and space during the whole class is important. Traveling can be intense for the body. Be aware of to much overload. It is important for the practitioners to observe the dancers individually. Besides that, it is also important to guide the dancers to be aware of how their bodies feel and being able to communicate this to the teacher. This will develop the dancers autonomy in their learning process. They will need this skill in their development to professionalism. An important focus this block was a safe cool down. We used active stretching, massaging and a spikey ball for this. Important was to listen to what your body needs 

A challenge this block was jumping, especially for dancers with hyper mobilityAlso moving out of the floor efficiently. Therefore it was helpful to take time for this skills and find different ways of training via technic, imagery, improvisation and partnering. A new thing we found was the use of the wall to travel either horizontal and vertical. This task gave the dancers many new possibilities to travel and gave them the possibility to challenge themselves and feel safe at the same time. They had the wall to guide them in their movement in many different ways. It helped building strength and moving with controle.  

During this block we could see that the courage and power in the body to go up and down has increased. When the dancers move towards the ground, there is a far deeper level of security and efficient in the body. This results in the fact that moving up and down became easier, safer and with more variety as it did before. Also some of the dancers made their first jumps 

Traveling is a skill we can develop via training. It is physical but also social and emotional. The biopsychosocial model, were we wrote about before, also applies here. The dancers train how to travel with their bodies, sharing the space with others and it takes trust and courage to travel with full dedication. Time, trust and training will pay off! 

By Manouk Schrauwen

SAVE the DATE 25-26-27 June 2020 – Mixable festival

Dear readers,

Misiconi Foundation will organize a 3-day festival in Rotterdam on 25-26 and 27th of June. The Mixable Festival is the performance festival for every performance artist.
The first edition of the festival is all about talent development. The program consist of performances, masterclasses and talks with national and international guests such as Stopgap Dance Company, Introdans and many others.

Misiconi also presents its results from the SHIFT! project, a Erasmus + research project that Misiconi does in collaboration with Northern Ballet (UK) and Psico Ballet Maite Leon (ES). www.shiftdance.eu

The Mixable festival will take place at two locations in Rotterdam; Codarts and Spot op Zuid, our new studio.

Keep an eye on our website because the full program will be announced in March. www.mixablefestival.nl

Save those dates! We will see you at the Mixable festival in Rotterdam!

Joop

Locomotion and Elevation.

By Ramón Marcos

Hello again! We hope that you are enjoying all the content that we are offering in our blog, as much as we are learning and enjoying within our block aimed at Locomotion and Elevation.
We would like to introduce this blog, starting by quoting the first definition that the project member jointly elaborated of this block:

Locomotion: “Ability to move the body across the space in different levels and directions.”
Elevation: “Ability to move the center of gravity between levels.”

Once we began to understand the work that each partner had done and the points in common, we began to develop the idea that in both blocks what moves is the center of gravity of the dancer in two planes:

• Vertical (locomotion)
• Horizontal (elevation)

Which led us to reflect on the idea that the center of the dancer’s body moves through space in different planes (vertical and horizontal) through stimulations proposed by internal agents (e.g. in improvisation) or external (the musical rhythm when making exercise) and to that consequence we are uniting the two concepts into one and identifying what aspects we should work in a concrete way in it. The new term is travelling, and to this we will refer in this block.

When we travel we have to be aware of:

• Preparation exercises. For both planes (horizontal and vertical), highlighting body alignment, practice efficiency, resistance and stress control.

• Body awareness must pay attention both to companions and space. It is intended to develop in the dancers the spatial awareness through interaction with the rest of dancers, as well as develop capabilities linked to this aspect such as group listening, interpersonal connections…

• Draw imaginary patterns on the ground, intended to improve and optimize the work on the ground through orientation and to have a clear direction. This will be worked through breathing exercises, boosting, endurance and body expansion through vocabulary.

• Turn. Work this section through direction, focus, alignment, spatial awareness and different levels always adapting the exercises to the body of the dancers ensuring safe practice.

• Move between levels. Expand or extend the center of gravity between the low, medium, and high level while dancing.

• Back to calm. In this section in addition, we will seek to develop the autonomy of our dancers through the reflection of identifying how their body is located

To finish this blog, we would like to add our special awareness in this block due to the great physical demand that it has and say that we must remember one of our principles, the adaptability of the teacher to be able to adapt the exercises to each student and see that, if an exercise is not appropriate, it´s better not to carry it out in the group; We must always consider that safe practice should be the fundamental pattern of our work in the development of the artistic potential of our dancers.

Thank you for your attention, we look forward to seeing you again soon to tell you about our progress and progress!

Save the Date – Tuesday 7 July 2020

Ability @ Expressions 2019

Hello and welcome back to our blog. We hope you continue to enjoy finding out about our Erasmus+ funded SHIFT project where we have been developing new approaches to teaching technique.  As we are creating such a wealth of material that can be used and adapted to your own settings and dancers, we are now in the process of creating a website where we will share the best of our findings, along with key information to assist in the development of your own practice. The website will be free to access and host teaching guides and videos for you to use. We’ll also share information on our partnership backgrounds and values and recommendations for further reading.

To launch the website, we will be holding an innovative conference at Northern Ballet in Leeds, UK on Tuesday 7 July which will be led by Northern Ballet, Psico Ballet Maite Leon Foundation and Misiconi Dance Company. This free event is part of ‘Expressions” a celebration of inclusive dance. The day will include lots of opportunities to learn and network and it’s all free of charge – including lunch and refreshments!

Ability @ Expression 2019

The day will begin with a Keynote speech. Then hear from the practitioners involved in the research as we launch the website and show you how to make best use of it. You’ll then have a choice of workshops where you can take part in a practical session with one of the partners around a specific area of the research, or hear from academics from the University of Edinburgh about their research around hypermobility. Next will be a panel discussion, hosted by Fiona Banon (PHD) where we’ll discuss the importance of developing creativity alongside technical dance skills, with representatives from across Europe including the Royal Ballet, Candoco, ISTD, CodArts and international choreographer Antonio Ruz. The session promises to spark conversations to take into the networking drinks.

If that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, in the evening, you’re invited to a performance of the 3 companies, each sharing a piece of work, performed by the dancers involved in the research. So why not save the date to make sure you don’t miss out on an event that promises to enrich your practice, ignite conversation and contribute to the development of high-quality inclusive dance training.

 

Coordination

Throughout the summer term one of the areas we were focusing on was coordination.    Like most dance skills it’s a thread that will run through every exercise.  All movement involves coordination.  However, until working on this part of the project, I hadn’t ever really thought about developing a specific coordination exercise as part of a class.  Focusing on it in isolation rather than as part of a bigger whole.

Coordination can be defined as the ability to efficiently control and direct movements in relation to internal or external factors.  We decided to split coordination into two types of activity; one where the individual has an internal focus, and the other with an external focus (e.g. partner or object).  Through these activities we would explore rhythm and tempo, speed, repetition, isolation and articulation of body parts, the midline and crossing it, the body’s extremities and opposition.

As with the previous block on strength and alignment, each partner developed their own (very different) activities.  Our internal activity took the form of a set exercise and we explored the effect of performing it to music with different dynamics, speeds and qualities.  The sequence also grew into larger, full bodied movement to include turning and travelling through the space.

Our activity with an external focus was a game responding to the physical cues given by a partner.  Again this started in a basic form on the spot with 6 commands that could be viewed as 2 dimensional.  But the developments were numerous and the basic structure could be taken in different directions to suit the groups needs and interests.

With each of these activities even though the focus was singular, through layering the task with complexity other skills such as composition and performance, could be developed.  For me it has become clear that this approach to teaching ensures an activity is accessible and challenging to all.  It allows each dancer to access the exercise at their level of ability for that specific dance skill.  They can stick with one stage or increase the challenge with another layer.  Through the evaluation methods we have developed and used in the project we have become much more aware of the different and varying needs of our dancers.  The wheel we use in particular has really highlighted the dancers strengths and areas for improvement, which has sometimes surprised us.  It has been invaluable in giving us the opportunity to really observe our dancers and get a more accurate picture of their skill set, each being very different.  This has emphasized the need for a wide range of differentiation in activities, not just in terms of physical movement but through introducing additional complexity through playing with eye focus, speed, direction and other instructions.

Just as important is that this approach also permits creative responses, developing creativity and self-expression as part of technical skill.  This has been a significant concern for all partners involved in the project.  At the very beginning we defined what technique was for us.  What aspects it involved and what skills we thought it was important for our dancers to develop through technical training.  We have kept returning to this question as while we agreed it also encompasses psychological and social skills such as motivation, emotional mastery and social interaction, we have been concerned our activities also develop the ability to respond creatively to tasks and will prepare our dancers for performance.  This approach seems to be working towards that end well!

Interview: Adriaan Luteijn

In this blog we highlight one of our guest partners, Adriaan Luteijn. He works at Introdans and has been working with a wide variety of dancers and groups for over 10 years. Within the company he has a key and connecting role as a choreographer. Within his creative process, for example, he connects a guest dancer to a professional dancer.

The interview was recorded at Introdans at the Arnhem office. Together with Joop he spoke about topics such as talent development and practicing safe practice. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy!

More about introdans:

Introdans takes a contemporary approach to ballet: one that’s creative and surprising. Dynamic, dazzling, gravity-defying, we captivate one and all in a total dance experience. And we do this with passionate commitment and to international standards.

Introdans believes that the language of dance is so universal that it can bring together and move entire generations. We achieve this by appealing to a broad public and actively connecting with them. We perform for young & old(er) and we organise activities and projects for a wide spectrum of target groups. Because Introdans moves you.

www.introdans.nl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EfT22NKIHg

Starting new block and residency in Madrid!

Hello again, firstly thank you for reading this new blog and for your interest in our project!

On this occasion, this blog is dedicated to the exchange in Madrid where we will investigate the third block of our project dedicated to locomotion and elevation.

We want to share how excited we are and also, the group of dancers from PBMLF that are part of this research and the entire team of Psico Ballet Maite León Foundation to receive the rest of the team members to our house to develop a new phase of this project.

As we have said before, we think that one of the most interesting points of this project is the joint creation through reflection and experience of team members who work cooperatively but that previously didn´t known each other work. This enriches the project, diversifies it, and allows us to have a more plural vision of dance with diversity.

That is why in this residence, we will investigate through the body of our dancers, locomotion and elevation, trying, as we have done in the previous residences, a set of guidelines that will allow us to develop the exercises and the skills to later, be able to monitor and study looking at changes in their motor and artistic development. Some of these points will be the following:

  • Studying the concepts of locomotion and elevation through bibliographical research and expert advice.
  • Find the key elements that constitute learning these concepts for diverse dance participants.
  • Reflect on what key teaching points must be within the exercises.
  • Identify the common elements found in the work of the teams and why.
  • Design a series of exercises through reflection where we can establish the key points of this work.

In our particular case, the exercises corresponding to elevation creates some expectation. Our group of dancers present some difficulty in the balance exercises and we are especially interested in reaching valid conclusions so that they can develop jumps safely. In jumping exercises we have always been concerned on the one hand, making safe jumps (jumps that do not harm the back or that do not generate ankle and / or knee injuries) and on the other, that acquire the necessary skills to sustain and keep a battery of jumps without running out. Therefore, the week of residence in Madrid will undoubtedly be a week of great concentration to achieve these goals for us.

Finally, we would like to highlight how important is for us that our dancers are excited and eager to meet the rest of the project members, their methodology and way of working. This reflects the adaptation and desire that our dancers show when they meet and explore new ways of working and methodologies. To be able to build a space of connection with people in the dance space where they can share experiences through dance.

Thank you for your support when facing each change in our investigation,

we will continue to inform you!

Gabriela y Ramón.

Mia Misura

During the Erasmus gathering in Rotterdam Mia Misura was invited as an extra guest to share practice with. Mia Misura was born in 2011 as a dance theatre lab. The idea was created by Vittoria La Costa and Roberta Bassani with the wish to open a space for people to challenge their abilities, express themselves and give value to their resources. Main activities of the company include the lab, live performances, projects, exchanges and collaborations.

During the Rotterdam week the performers of Mia Misura was invited with the aim to bring more companies together and gain a wider impact, exchange knowledge and feed each others practice.  Here are their reflections:

The experience in Rotterdam within the Erasmus project was full of stimuli and reflections. The communitarian and inclusive sense we felt in a welcoming and familiar place and the non-judgmental atmosphere during the lessons allowed me and my group to freely experiment the movement proposals.

Balance and coordination are two complex issues: I consider them the result of the maturation of a series of underlying connections to which you work throughout your life. Thus, I really appreciated the sequence proposals you offered in the experiential program. Strength and grounding have built the adequate support for the experimentation of the recurring topic on the terra-cielo relationship, which it was for me a precious suggestion.

I found medium-high the level of classes and I’m glad that the dancers of my company with and without disabilities have always put themselves on the line. There have been very dynamic and physically demanding moments, but this has never changed the strong sense of respect of the limits and difficulties that each of us could present.

In all the experiences we have had, the importance of the gaze has never been lacking as a fundamental support of the relationship with oneself and with the other. An attentive request that is difficult for some of our dancers and therefore needs a continuous reminder.

The journey is always an important moment of sharing for the Company, it renews some relational aspects and makes us discover different difficulties. We come back tired, but the atmosphere of novelty and shared responsibility leaves us with a feeling of “light fullness”.

Thank you for this rich exchange.

Roberta

The Aspects of Balance

Balance is a difficult topic and theme to explain. For most people it is taken for granted, however not for everyone balance is granted. For some dancers with ADS, hyper mobility, hearing and vision problems this can be a difficult task. It even could cause symptoms that accompany the unsteadiness like; dizziness, vertigo and difficulty with concentration and memory.

Before we start explaining what balance is we need to state what we understand by balance: ‘Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s center of mass over its base of support’.

For example within the dancer’s body we often refer back to the centre of gravity. It is not that simple like ball, where the centre of gravity is in the middle. For the body this lies around the navel. Did you know the top half of the body is heaver then the bottom half? Around the navel is your own, personal center of gravity. When you stand more or less above the feet your body will be balanced. You won’t tip over. However, if you start leaning to the side, the whole body is changing in order to keep your balance. Your centre of gravity is no longer above the centre line of the feet. The more you lean the more you will fall. It is a fact that it is easier to keep your balance with a lower center of gravity. For example it is easier sitting on a chair, leaning forward then doing the same standing up.

And as we all know, within the dance profession we are constantly working on balance and this centre of gravity. We love to throw ourselves into the space and challenge ourselves. Without a doubt balance is not just one body part, or the part around the navel. It is not even a state of being, but much more than that.

It is almost a total body, holistic state of being, or even an experience. The balance is regulated and maintained by a set of sensorimotor control systems that include sensory input from vision (sight), proprioception, and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation). All these work together to integrate the input to the brain and get it back to the muscles for a perfect output. Even psychological factors could impair our sense of balance.

Therefore we have experienced as partners within this project that the improvements within balance can only be achieved if we work on exercises that include sight, touch and body awareness that focus on internal and external elements. Also strength of certain muscles groups can not be excluded. For example the ankle focus from block 1 is a key element that needs to be trained.

We hope you have enjoyed the blog can use this information to get your dancers to the next level.

Best, Joop