NEUROMUSCULAR AND NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL CONNECTIONS TO CORE MUSCLES SOURCE OF DANCE TECHNIQUE AND ARTISTIC EXPRESSION

 

Abstract

Dance performances focus on the mastery of the art form and dance, ballet in particular, is mainly taught from an aesthetic point of view. The results of the traditional ways of teaching ballet are admired all over the world and it might seem inappropriate to demand its reassessment. Nevertheless, with today's quest for strength, looseness and technical bravura, new training methods seem crucial. We need to renew several concept about ballet training in order to build the dancer's body -his or her instrument- within the body's own logic and to increase the dancers fitness and well-being. Unreasonable demands on articulations and muscular chains like 180° turnout, erect spine, tucking under… creating misalignments, followed by strains and injuries, must cease. They only create neuromuscular memory along useless paths because, there is a big difference between what we ask the body to do and the way it finally carries out the movements. The confusion thus registered in our nervous system forms the ground for unsuccessful movement patterns instead of precise bodymemory. Specific research, innovating new educational tools, teaching and training methods are necessary. They fill the need caused by particular demands ballet technique and its aesthetics today exercise upon the body.

Building the dancers instrument, his body, by stretching and strengthening the core muscles, is essential. Only they are in charge of effortless dance technique. Close to the bone and innervated by a far superior number of motor neurons than the bigger superficial muscle groups, they handle precise movements, i.e. technique. Also known as static- and anti-gravity muscles they are guardians of the verticality ballet technique is famous for, i.e. balance.

Balancing is pushing off from gravity and this aspect of the body's automatic movement pattern can be exploited to create space between the bones (something the bigger muscle groups by their force of contraction tend to diminish). During specific exercises we can increase our movement potential and free the superficial muscles for their main task, dancing.

The fact that the core muscles are also innervated with sensory receptors linked to our emotions creates an interesting double task; they are the source of mastery of dance technique (its mechanical side) and artistic expression (emotional impact) all at once. Research in this field is difficult because core muscles are hidden underneath the royal façade of ballet technique and its erect spine. It is also difficult to do scientific research, at least as far as EMG (electromyographic) measurements go. Unable to place needles deep down close to the bone while moving we have to trust evidence that is observable only by the senses. We have the opportunity to feel and express what we feel happening in our body, trust our experience and arrive at the results by empirical means. The muscular sense we daily trust is beautifully explained by Jean Pierre et Régine Roll (Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Humaine, Marseille), our sixth sense:

"… assurent une véritable vie intérieure, source même de la connaissance du corps "

We can give wings to our feelings, not to be confused with emotions according to Antonio Damasio, who gives us the following advise:

"I see feelings as having a truly privileged status. They are represented at many neural levels, including the neocortical, where they are the neuroanatomical and neurophysiological equals of whatever is appreciated by other sensory channels. But because of their inextricable ties to the body, they come first in development and retain a primacy that subtly pervades our mental life. Because the brain is the body's captive audience, feelings are winners among equals. And since what comes first constitutes a frame of reference for what comes after, feelings have a say on how the rest of the brain and cognition go about their business. Their influence is immense."

And to finish, and give me additional reason to emphasize the necessity to feel the body and not take the mirror as a witness, nor copy the masters (all our efforts to copy Peter Schafuss' pirouettes or Sylvie Guillem's leg à la seconde will at best be a bad copy at worst a bad habit), to be sure the body suffers of no misalignments and to arrest pains before they become serious… let us consider Stanley Keleman words:

"Since muscle is connected to every layer of the brain and the spinal cord, conceptually, the brain and muscle could be viewed as one."