Precision is a quality that distinguishes the good from the great dancers. The dancer who moves with preciseness not only demonstrates clean lines, he is also less likely to injure himself than the dancer who moves in a haphazard manner. Although the ability to perform precise movements is often an innate gift, every dancer can benefit from movement precision training.
A professional dancer needs to sense her foot arm and body position, even with her eyes closed. The true professionals sense the position of other dancers and scene props and boast an uncanny ability to avoid them, even when not looking directly at them. This spatial body awareness is called “proprioception.” Without it, dancers would be constantly looking down at their feet and nervously gazing around the room to determine whether they could safely execute every movement. Basic proprioception exercises begin on the floor, in bare feet. Start by balancing on one leg. Then, try the same movement with your eyes closed.
Progress the proprioception sequences by performing the movements on balance devices. At the advanced level, experts at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science suggest adding complexity and dynamic movements patterns to the mix. Practice jumps on a mini-trampoline, or stand on a balance board and toss a ball back and forth while carrying on a conversation. For true dance-specific proprioception, perform segments of your choreography without looking in the mirror.
Preciseness in dance demands a strong core musculature, dance instructor Annemari Autere told the Nureyev Foundation. Autere argues that dance instructors place too much emphasis on external factors, such as 180-degree turnout and placing the pelvis in a tucked position. Since your deep core muscles stabilize your spine, they hold the key to movement precision. To paraphrase poet William Butler Yeats, things fall apart if your center cannot hold.
Core muscle exercise starts with activation of the deeper muscle groups. Start by taking a breath in. Then exhale, draw your belly in, and hold the contraction for 10 seconds. Do 10 reps a day. Breathe normally while performing this exercise, but keep your abdominal muscles contracted. Once you have established an ability to engage your core and maintain activation, kick it up a notch with deep core exercises such as the plank.
The stability ball provides instant feedback for dancers wishing to improve precision. If it rolls away from the intended path of the movement, you immediately realize that something is either off in your alignment or that your core has taken a siesta. In the stability ball hamstring bridge, for example, you lie supine with your feet on the ball, extend your spine to a bridge position, and bend and straighten your legs. If the ball refuses to stay within the lines, something might be off in your knee, hip or ankle alignment. Better to learn about it on the ball than onstage.
The Pilates method of body conditioning teaches you to maintain core engagement while performing movement specific breathing patterns. This explains why Joseph Pilates was the exercise guru of professional dancers. He taught dancers how to use lateral breathing, which prevented them from inflating their bellies during inhalation, as pushing out your belly disengages your core. A disengaged core impedes stability, and instability is precision's biggest enemy. Constant engagement of the deeper core muscles combined with basic principles that include precision, control and concentration makes Pilates an ideal venue for developing preciseness in dance.
Joseph Pilates first named his method Contrology, because of its focus on perfecting every movement. Certified Pilates instructors learn to access their client's postural alignment and muscle imbalances and to design programs that address any imperfections. Since posture is the place where movements begin, precise movements must initiate in perfect postural alignment. Pilates teaches dancers to begin in the correct alignment and to maintain posture throughout the entire exercise. Many exercises require simultaneous use of the upper and lower body, which enhances a dancer's coordination.
- International Association for Dance Medicine and Science: Proprioception
- IDEA Fitness: How to Improve Proprioception
- The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website: Neuromuscular and Neurophysiological connections to Red Muscle Fibers and the Connective Tissue. Source of Dance Technique and Artistic Expression.
- Pilates-Pro: Pilates Breathing: Why and How