I have discovered there are several terms used to talk about this mysterious ‘centre’. Amongst them are: ‘the core’, ‘centre of gravity’ and ‘centre of weight’. When teachers talk about ‘the core’ or ‘the centre’ it has been my finding that they are after an engagement of the abdominal muscles in their students; a muscular engagement that is evidenced both visually and aesthetically in their students’ dancing. ~ Dancing from the Centre
When your teacher wants you to use your core or center, he/she often means for you to engage your abdominal muscles.
But what exactly does it mean to engage your abdominals? I’ve used the phrase many times with my own students only to be met with blank stares, so let’s talk about it.
How the abdominals engage
Deborah Vogel from The Body Series explains that when you engage the core (or “pull up” another way you might be asked to engage your abdominals in class), your abdominals contract isometrically. This means that rather than a shortening or lengthening contraction of the muscles, the muscles contract but stay the same length.
Like Deb, I use the idea of “lacing up” the abdominals with my own students because it is an image that clicked for me the first time I heard it. Go ahead, try this image now… Really imagine it, use your minds eye to feel the laces crossed over your torso and slowly cinch them inward (not too tight, you should be able to breathe), bringing the abdomen and organs closer to your spine which runs down the center of your body. It may take some practice but eventually this activation of the muscles can become second nature.
By the way, Deborah has some other great resources at her site – check out the Core Stability DVD, and Deborah’s Dancing Smart ebook for more exercises, technique and tips.
How to strengthen the core
A brief description of the muscle groups (left) that, from an anatomical perspective, form the core can be found here. All of these muscles must be strengthened to enhance your dance technique. Special equipment is not necessarily required, but an understanding of how the body works is key to working more intelligently while you’re in class. The regular use of these muscles during your dance practice should strengthen and train these muscles.
But it doesn’t hurt to work outside of class on this very important muscle group.
- Practice engaging your abdominals as you do daily activities to strengthen and form a habit of supporting movement using your core. Then you can focus on other things as you dance.
- Try these suggestions from Dianne at Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes for core exercise. Make sure your retiré position is properly turned-out and aligned as you do this work (have a teacher check it out if you’re not sure).
- Condition with Pilates. The focus of this method is very much on the core which is why you’ll find dancers of all levels in Pilates classes.
Why is engaging my center or core so important?
What’s the big deal about this magical part of the body? Why is it so important to my dancing? The answer is freedom. Freedom in the arms and legs, the spine, and torso is created when a dancer has control of the space where all of these extremities attach – the center of the body. Freedom comes from strengthening, engaging, and stabilizing the core.
What do you do to strengthen your core?
What are some other images that helped you find your centre?