Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Things About How Dance Movement Can Work

How do I hand?

I think it involves muscles
Do you know how your hands work?  Do you understand the complex interplay of muscles that happens when you lift your arm?

I certainly don't.  There are a few things I can say, though.

First, it's more complicated than you think. proprioception involves not only an intuitive understanding of how the muscles need to move, but also the momentum built up in moving them.
There's also a matter of leverage.  What does the moving is far away from the actual movement.
Your shoulders are involved in moving your hands to the right spot by first positioning your upper arm.  Your legs may move your torso to the right spot, and your torso can lean on your body to go to the right spot.
The muscles that move your hands in the most complicated, intricate movements are in your forearms.

That is all a preface to these important facts:
  1. Larger muscles act as guide muscles to move smaller muscles - imbuing momentum that can then be fine tuned to get to the right spot.  How this works is not even close to intuitively obvious. You can, for example, use the quadriceps in your legs to initiate shoulder movement.

    This is very different from actually doing all of the moving as a rigid body and then acting upon the moving separately.  I can, for example, run really fast and then stop my body while letting my arms swing.  That would *not* be an example of using my quadriceps in concert with my arms.
    A better example of that is what happens when you lift something from the ground to over your head.  Somewhere in the middle of that is a point where your shoulder muscles are depending upon your leg muscles to make sure that the thing keeps moves upward, and are only helping the movement along.

  2. The trick exploited by partner dancing is that it doesn't have to be your muscles that are the guide muscles.  That can be done by someone else's.
    Sometimes being rigid is a bit too easy.

    There are, however, some caveats to that.  First, muscles can typically only move other muscles when those other muscles are relaxed.  I cannot guide where my arm is going with my leg muscles if my leg muscles are rigid.  The movement needs to be able to translate up my legs and into my arms, and all the muscles in between need to be relaxed enough for that to translate.  The smaller the movement, the more relaxed.

  3. The same is true with my partner.  For a guide movement to transfer to my partner, all of the muscles that run between the muscle that I want my partner to move and the muscle that I'm moving must be relaxed.

    Secondly, the natural way of doing this is to move muscles that match.  E.g., my shoulder movement moves my arm, so my partner's shoulder movement can also move my arm.  The easiest way?  If I actually move my shoulder using my arm, my partner mirrors that.
    As said, it is not at all intuitively obvious how this works.  It is possible for my legs to help move my arms, so it is possible for my legs to help move my partner's arms.

  4. With all of the different potential joints involved, everyone has an intuitive grasp of more than one way to move any given body part from a fixed point in space to a different fixed point in space.  With a nearly infinite number of possible ways to get from place to place, you will naturally learn a much smaller number of ways that you'll do most of the time.

  5. You will not naturally learn the same way of moving from place to place that everyone does.  In other words, everyone will have their own ways of doing that.
    This is, I think, what actually makes this hard.  You don't move exactly the same way that everybody else does, so you need a common set of movements that you can do.  It also means that you'll find people who naturally move similarly to the way you do.  You'll have "dance chemistry."

    Alternatively, you can learn to move all your muscles any which way and stay completely relaxed so that any movement will translate from your partner's body into yours.  If you can do that (which you actually can't entirely, but you can get close enough for dancing), the kind of dance chemistry that you get from moving similarly is gone.  You'll have that particular variety of chemistry with everybody (yay!  Right?  I think that's one that we would all like to have).

    Flexibility helps with that, as does practicing lots of kinds of movement (which is why I dance as both a lead and a follow, dance with lots of people, and practice with a mirror).

    Sadly, it seems that adding extra muscle hurts that, as the more you have the easier it is for it to become rigid (as near as I can tell, anyway - this has been my experience having doubled my strength over the course of about a year).

Hey, Listen!

Yes.  I went there.
Now, having said all of that, I'm not a personal trainer, not a doctor, not a yoga guru or anyone that should have any kind of knowledge of how the body works (at least not as much as I do). I'm just a dancer that pays attention. I might be wrong about anything! Unfortunately, so might any of those other of those kinds people that I mentioned.  Institutional knowledge can be a blessing if you learn it, but a curse if you don't question it.

Have you learned something that I haven't?

Also, this is discussing one way for how movement works.  This is how "body leading" mostly works.  There's also rigid movement (e.g. "arm leading").  In reality, you probably need to do some of both.  But I am of the opinion that for the most part, this is the best way to do things.

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