Part 3 of 3 with LISA HOWELL
If you haven’t yet read Parts 1 & 2 of this three-part interview, we recommend you do so first as there’s much in those that lead into Part 3.
Building on Parts 1 and 2, Lisa covers the role that fascia plays in becoming good at turns, jumps or at adage and offers her thoughts on what teachers and dancers can do to improve the areas they may not see themselves as so “naturally” good at.
“If you find the right person and ask the right question, nothing is impossible.”
As stated in Part 2, Lisa identifies fascial integrity as the single most important factor effecting the overall ability of someone to jump well or not.
As stated earlier, well trained fascia can be thought of as a spring which has connections through the entire kinetic chain i.e. all through the body. Teach and/or allow students to load this spring well and they’re more likely to find jumping easier. Devoid of a good spring they’ll need to compensate by building bulkier muscles, most likely through their calves, quads and gluts.
At the very base of this spring are our feet and it is here that our arches play a crucial first role. Our arches are our bodies natural shock absorber. Yet more than that, they also store kinetic energy as we land and use that stored energy to help us take off. Restrict the arches from working properly can stifle a dancer’s natural take off potential. This can happen due to:
Muscular tension in the foot, which doesn’t allow for a natural degree of pronation on landing
Footwear that is too tight. This is virtually inevitable if your shoe has been fitted to look aesthetically pleasing in the pointed position, yet the shoe has no natural give or stretch
MDM’S INTRINSIC REFLEX
Lisa explains that an understanding that different kinds of allegro require a slightly different technique is also important. As stated earlier, young dancers are often implored to get their heels down in jumps. And yet, while this is important for Grand Allegro it likely diminishes their natural spring in Petite Allegro. Therefore, Lisa is more inclined for young students to be taught how to spring quickly in a relaxed way in parallel, to harness their natural pattern. This, more than working to develop big, heavy muscles, will develop the necessary fascial firing patterns for good jumping over the long term.
The Dreamers : Adage
We tend to associate a looser dancer with being better at adage, but is that true? What makes someone gravitate to adage and come to identify with that movement quality?
Having a good available range in the hip is a massive plus when it comes to effortless adage. The easier it is for them to place their gesture leg in the final position, the less effort is required. This range may be a consequence of their genetics i.e. depth of the hip socket and the angle of the neck of the femur etc.
Yet it’s not the whole story!
KIRSTY MARTIN AND STEVEN HEATHCOTE IN “AFTER THE RAIN” BY CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON
IMAGE – DAVID KELLY
Lisa counsels such dancers not to over-emphasise their flexibility when they’re young, yet instead to work on deep core stabilisation firing and training fascial integrity which over the longer term will lead to them having a more balanced technique, skill set and a longer, less injury prone dance trajectory.
While we tend to laud dancers particularly when they’re young for being super flexible, on the whole dancers with a more resilient fascial system or fascial integrity, are more likely to be better at jumps, turns and even adage over the longer term. Indeed, Lisa points out that this is exactly what the research backs up, as while there are lots of dancers with hyper-mobility in pre-professional and corps de ballet levels there’s a much lower percentage of hyper-mobile dancers that make it to become Principal dancers.
Toward the end of our chat I started to wonder how early we should be assessing young dancers, not merely to ascertain their range etc. and assist them to become better dancers, but simply to become better-balanced humans.
To this question Lisa responds, “as early as possible”. And this is why Lisa has teamed with Beverley Spell from the Leap n Learn dance program to develop, Training Turnout in Tiny Dancers. This new program takes Beverley’s pretend play and visualisation strategies for working with young dancers and combines them with Lisa’s anatomical understanding of what needs to be laid down through the various stages of development. The program actually takes the need for individual assessment out of the process to some degree, as by simply following the program it naturally works to balance out each individual. Over time the teacher will more easily be able to see if a child is being left behind in a particular area and then, along with their parents, get them the extra guidance and exercises they require.
“The body is in a constant state of reformation. Give it different instructions and you’ll get a different result.”
What’s obvious is that there are many reasons someone comes to soon define themselves as either a turner, jumper or good at adage. We could potentially add to this list (though I didn’t have the space for it here) categories such as; partnering, narrative versus abstract, entertainer versus technician.
Yet while someone may have a potential genetic susceptibility to be more adept at one particular part of the dancer’s journey (to which we could add life skills such as: discipline, dedication, patience, resilience etc.), which is likely compounded by a positive feedback loop of subtle and not-so-subtle reinforcement from colleagues, teachers, coaches, competitions, exams etc. we need not fear being categorised and there is much we can do, with the right guidance, to strengthen those aspects of our craft that perhaps don’t flow so naturally. And in the process of doing so, we’re more likely to enjoy a longer, more injury free dance journey and one more emotionally and artistically fulfilling.
If this article has been interesting and you’d like to better understand more on this subject, please contact Lisa Howell at The Ballet Blog: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to learn more about fascia and how it helps us move more freely enabling us to reach our highest level of performance, you may also find this article interesting.