For dancers, wanting to improve on their flexibility is one of the main goals we see in the clinic. Areas for improvement are usually front/middle splits and kicks.
This past week I had two lovely dancers who were wanting to improve on their flexibility for ballet and physical culture. When first addressing the issue of flexibility I like to assess the dancer’s posture. Are they able to find pelvic neutral? Or do they hold themselves with a banana back (hyperlordosis) which is usually very common with dancers? Interestingly both my dancers from last week were the opposite as they held themselves in posterior pelvic tilt, or in other terms they held their pelvis tucked under too much and they had lost the natural lumbar curve that should exist in the spine.
To show you how this affects flexibility – I want you to try squeezing your bottom and pushing your pelvis underneath you – now hold this and try to bend forward and touch your toes…. You can’t can you?! What about doing the same in straddle or a long sit position? I could prescribe hundreds of stretches to these dancers but if we didn’t address the pelvic position then we would have very limited success long term.
Teaching to find pelvic neutral can be tricky at times as cues that work may differ from person to person and it also depends on how much body awareness they have. In some cases the dancer does not even know they are stuck into a posterior pelvic tilt and so just making them aware of this can have a huge impact on gaining flexibility. Allowing your pelvis to find its neutral position will allow you to get much more out of a stretch and will mean the time spent in that stretch has not gone to waste.
Once you establish the difference between anterior (top right picture) and posterior pelvic tilt (bottom right picture) you need to learn to find NEUTRAL (marked as ‘correct’ on the left side of picture).
Once mastered, I would suggest the dancer learns to find pelvic neutral in a variety of different positions. For example; in physical culture try finding pelvic neutral in long sit, square kneel and straddle positions. If you commonly use the barre to help stretch out the hamstrings, learn to lift up through your torso, imagine you are stacking each vertebrae on top of each other but keep the small natural curve in the lower back like pictured below:
Keep in mind that as your flexibility progresses and the further along you progress with your stretches, your pelvis will move and its natural for this to happen. But at first, learn to master a neutral pelvic position and you will be amazed at how much more you will feel your stretches (and they will actually work too!).
If you need help with your flexibility we can tailor a program for you based around the type of dance you do and how you need to improve. Remember it takes time and commitment – so stay focused!