THE NERVE TO JUMP WITH THE SPINE

Abstract

To theoretically know what happens in the body is very useful when we train to master a specific technique. Yet, without the real experience, it only remains theory. This workshop proposes to explore specific core muscle exercises, which teach how to jump with the spine. It happens in correlation to the presentation "Neuromuscular and Neurophysiological Connections to Core Muscles, Source of Dance Technique and Artistic Expression" which is presented later.

Inherent in the spine's neuromuscular function is what the French call "auto grandissement". This reaction to gravity is taken care of by the core muscles. It is such a natural part of our automatic movement patterns that we need specific exercises to become aware of it and thereafter use it consciously. To increase the spine's movement potential and create neuromuscular memory, i.e. automatic movement patterns along its curves, we have to augment our perception with increased visualization we learn how the bones, the muscles and even the inner organs participate in the movement. This radically changes the movement's quality and speeds up the learning process.

What I call the "accordion exercise" is a key to the understanding of the spine's elasticity and "breathing" quality. Above all is the understanding of the principle of pushing-off from gravity. Unlike Baron Münchausen we cannot lift ourselves up by the hair! Increasing strength and function in the core muscles creates mini movements along the centerline of the body, improves alignment and increases the space between the vertebrae. Flexibility and balance are improved, and consequently the superficial muscles can relax. The neuromuscular, and psychological memory thus developed can then be used for jumping with the spine. Neurophysiological, because the muscular sense of the core muscles cannot be separated from the emotional. The emotional state of letting the spine sink and rise and how this information can be used from a dance technical, artistic, as well as physiological point of view will be explored: Are we sad because we let our spine sink, or do we let our spine sink because we are sad? Can we let our spine sink and not be sad? Just relaxed, lazy or tired? Does mastering the movements with the core muscles mean we can master our emotions?

The "accordion exercise" (inspired by Danis Bois, founder of the "Fasciathérapie" and "Gymnastique Sensorielle") can be done sitting on a chair or standing, but in order to "wake up" as many core muscle fibers as possible I prefer to use a moving surface and in particular an Overball™. Awareness of the spine, the different diaphragms and organs, their relation to gravity and each other all come together in this simple exercise. Danis Bois proposes that we become aware of the inherent movements of the connective tissue (fascia) and wait for it to initialise each movement. To do so we have to stop and wait. He calls this "Point d'appui" - "Support point". If you cannot feel it, start the movement whenever you feel like it.

When you integrate the concept of the accordion-neuromuscular-pattern throughout the barre, jumping in unison with the spine becomes obvious. Taking the weight off the legs, their effort becomes secondary and, if not effortless, jumping becomes less of an effort and elevation improves.

 

Preparation:

Sit on the Overball™, legs turned out, knees bent, heels together, hands on the knees and the eyes closed if possible. Become aware of the downward force your body exerts on the Overball™, and the upward force the Overball™ exerts on the pelvis and the spine.
The mechanical side of the exercise is the following: Let your spine sink, shrink, feel tired, feel old, feel sad… The head has to sit upright and the eyes, even closed, have to remain horizontal during the whole exercise. This is important no matter how strange the position might feel to well-trained dancers! Stop and wait, straighten the spine, be sure not to bend back, only search for "autograndissement". Visualisation and imaginary are the keys to the understanding of this exercise. I propose the following to encouraging individual images:

1st accordion:
Feel the weight of the coccyx sinking into the Overball™. Imagine each of its four parts becoming heavier and heavier, in the windmill of your mind let them compress together. Do the same with the sacral bone and its five components. Travel up the spine this way visualising each and every vertebra (I imagine sad, squeezed vertebral discs). Then imagine the head weighing a ton. Pause, take time to listen to your body, tune into your proprioceptive sense, when you feel the desire to straighten the spine, place your thoughts on the coccyx and push-off the Overball™. Imagine each and every vertebra until the occiput (head) pushes off the atlas (I enjoy smiling happy vertebral discs).

2nd accordion:
This time feel the weight of the head and imagine it weights a ton. Its weight pushes each and every vertebra down as they too, each one in its turn, become heavy. Pause. Now imagine your head filled with helium and let it float up like a balloon, the spine following. Identify the difference for yourself. Take a moment to decide which version you prefer, the pushing-off, or the lifting-up?

3rd accordion:
Simultaneously visualize the coccyx pushing-off from the Overball™ and the head filled with helium floating up in the air. To become aware of the interconnectivity place your thoughts on the coccyx, the pelvis or the lumbar area and notice how it and the neck move in unison. Pause and imagine both the head and the coccyx sinking into the Overball™ simultaneously. Play with different versions and take time to enjoy the curves of your spine.

4th accordion:
Place your thoughts on the different diaphragms, feel the pelvic diaphragm push-off the Overball™, feel their opposing forces. Do not forget the arch of the mouth and the cranial layering. Now inhale and exhale several times and with every exhale imagine the spine becoming thinner and longer.

5th & 6th &… accordion:
Try moving the inner organs up and down, let your mind settle on one or several of them. Try from sad to happy to proud, from sleepy to awake… With whatever image or images that please you, make this accordion move fluidly, in the windmills of your mind make your spine breath.