By Alexandra Papazian
I am a mover. That is to say, I am passionate about movement. As a dancer and movement instructor, I am constantly amazed by the body’s ever-growing capacity for development. However, this development, though sought after in the positive form, can also manifest itself in the body as negative habits/patterns that can cause pain and degeneration. In normal, every day activities, the degenerative process may take effect more slowly, inducing pain marginally over time. In the case of specialized, more unnatural activities—dance, for example— the risk of experiencing traumatic injury due to poor alignment and patterning is much higher. Thus, the need for alignment and body awareness is substantially more pressing.
I began ballet at a young age, and, since then, no activity has ever been as special to me. Ballet—but really dance in general—has the ability to let you experience your own humanity at its greatest potential. In my opinion, it is a gratifyingly complex art form, and one of the few that utilizes one’s entire being mentally, physically, and spiritually. That being said, it is easy to get caught up in the art form so much so that the technique and the body suffer. One of the biggest mistakes that many dancers make is assuming that technique class is the end all and be all. Yes, technique class prepares the body specifically for dance and, yes, it allows you to practice and develop the skills necessary to progress, but, just like any other sport or physical activity, it builds body imbalances that will eventually become detrimental if not properly addressed. As part of my own movement journey, I have found that natural movement forms like Restorative Exercise™ and GYROTONIC® exercise are entirely complementary to dance training and help strengthen areas of bodily weakness in ways that traditional cross-training just doesn’t accomplish. With a focus on the proper natural alignment of the skeletal and muscular systems, these two movement forms have helped me clarify some of the “physics” so-to-speak of how my body can be used to create shapes in space. For example, the lengthening spirals and emphasis on centered spinal motions in the GYROTONIC® repertoire have a direct relationship to the energy oppositions of the body that are inherent in ballet. In the classical style, port de bras (carriage of the arms, shoulders, and head placement) is created by arranging the upper body around the plumb line of the torso. From there, balance in any of the positions or movements can be achieved by maintaining the sense of spiraling opposition in the opposite direction of movement [ex. If you are stepping into first arabesque, there needs to be a sense of opposition in keeping the body and weight back as you move forward in space to the final position.]
For myself, studying natural movement outside of the confines of dance technique allows me a greater freedom to explore and expand my physical limits while developing a greater understanding of my body and its tendencies. By identifying and correcting improper movement habits in this way, I feel that I can better apply the knowledge to my dance technique and continue improving. This enhanced understanding of natural movement and natural alignment allows me to explore the depth of my artistry without having to worry so much about the mechanics of the how and why of dance technique. That said, this journey is nowhere near its end. There are always more concepts to learn and deeper levels to understand. However, for those like myself who are continually seeking clarity, I firmly believe that studying natural movement and alignment is the best place to begin.