Kizomba is...

"An embrace means I don't feel threatened by you, I'm not afraid to be this close, I can relax, feel at home, feel protected and in the presence of someone who understands me. It is said that each time we embrace someone warmly, we gain an extra day of life."

A quote from Paul Coelho (one of my favorite authors) that describes for me what dancing kizomba is like.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Body Aware are You? Balance [Your Own]

I started a series on body awareness and how important it is for Kizomba (and any dance really). I started with good posture as one of the keys to body awareness. Balance is another.

There are many aspects to balance: balance in stillness, balance in motion, your own balance and the balance of the person you are dancing with. I'll address balance in stillness and motion on your own in this post and talk about balance while dancing with another in the next installment.

Balance in Stillness
Posture has a direct impact on any aspect of balance but its most apparent in stillness. What is interesting to note is that you do not need to have good posture to have good balance. Our bodies have this wonderful ability to adapt and so sometimes, we've adapted our balance to non-optimal posture. Because of this, it can be challenging to readjust to having better alignment when you have become accustomed to bad posture. What I have observed is that as you exercise different types of movement, you then start to uncover what needs to be corrected in your posture and what is needed to maintain balance.

To correct, improve or maintain posture, I highly recommend movements that are slow and deliberate, that allow you to focus on balance in stillness. Movements from Tai Chi and yoga where you have to hold poses for long period are examples of disciplines that will help you to focus on your awareness of balance while keeping good posture and alignment. You might find some movement to be painful and difficult at first - that's likely caused by your body having grown accustomed to one configuration and having to re-adapt to another.

For example: I have an old injury on my right shoulder that I am still recovering from. It has made my right shoulder rotate forward so exercises where I have to roll my shoulder back cause some strain because I have to retrain the muscles around my shoulder to hold it in the right place.

For Kizomba it is important for you to know how you can control and affect your balance. Slow movements allow you to strengthen your control of balance which will allow you more control as you start to move.

Here are some questions that might help you discover how good your balance is: Can you balance when there is a twist in your frame? Can you balance on one foot with your weight on the front half of the foot? while one foot is lifted off the ground? Is it easier to balance with your leg straight? relaxed? bent knee?

An exercise that I recommend to my students is borrowed from Tango:
1) Stand with feet hip width apart head up, shoulders rolled back, head over hips over feet. Start rocking back and forth on your feet, shifting weight from toe to heel until you settle on the front half of you foot. This should be base position.
2) Shift weight to one foot and balance. Test your balance by lifting the other foot.
3) Take a step forward with the free foot and gradually balance onto that foot. Take your time and collect feet before taking the next step.
Keep going for a full song if you can or for however long you wish.
Don't forget to do the same going backwards.

Balance in Motion
As I mentioned above, movement can test how good your balance is.

A simple example of this is the person that has learned to balance with their weight on their heels. When this person starts to move backwards while dancing with another he/she will likely find themselves having difficulty. For the lead, it may manifest itself as feeling like they are not as connected with their follows or that they have to support their follow's weight because the follow is leaning on them. Another common occurrence will be that they loose their timing as they walk backwards because it is difficult to maintain your balance with the heel as you walk. There will likely be a tendency to speed up and difficulty stepping in a smooth and even cadence. For the follow it might feel like forward steps make you lurch and wobble.

Walking with the balance over the mid to front half of the foot gives you more control over your balance in motion and more mobility in general.

I've also observed that there are small things that are telling about how well you can control your balance in various movements and poses. You have to develop awareness of balance when you are in motion and when your body is in different positions. Until you exercise a full range of motion, its hard to know what your balance is like and that's another reason I recommend cross-training: it builds awareness for what your body can do as far as range of motion and what it takes to be balanced with every step you take.

Here are things that affect your balance in motion:

1) Are you stepping big steps, small steps or just the right sized steps? The size of your steps will affect how smooth you dance and how much balance and control you maintain while you move. If you take too big a step for example, the movement of standing on to the foot to balance after stepping can cause you to wobble because there is simply too much momentum to control with your legs and core as you step. If you steps are too small, you may end up stumbling and tripping over yourself. There is a range in the size of steps you can take and still maintain your balance and keep your movements smooth. Evenly spaced steps will ensure a smoother more controlled walk.

You will also find that if you walk sideways or in a grape vine, your balance changes too.

Its hard to see yourself walking so it is helpful to video tape and check you stride as you walk in different directions.

2) Are your toes and hips facing in the same direction the direction of your intended movement?
Some of this will not apply when you do tricks or change the orientation between you and your partner in base position (like when you end up perpendicular to each other). For the most part tho, making sure that as you step, your hips and torso are aligned with your feet will make it much easier to lead and follow. It prevents you from getting twisted in a way that will prevent and restrict your movement.

3) What helps you maintain your balance?
Certainly there are obvious things like a strong core, strong leg muscles that help you maintain your balance. What I'm referring to with this question tho is more about the things you can actively use to help you while you're moving.

Case in point: locking your knees will immediately make you feel like you're about to topple unless you engage your core. If you bend your knees slightly and really use your feet to feel the floor underneath, you become less wobbly.

Having you toes "grip the floor" is another mechanism to help maintain balance if you feel as if you're about to loose your balance.

Using your arms and body in counter motion is another way to help with balance while you move. Obviously in a closed embrace you can't really control this as a follow but small things for the lead like where along the back the right arm is placed and where the left arm is relative to you and your dance partner will have small effects on balance.

In general you don't want your limbs too far away from you center as you move. If you do, then there is additional tension and work you need to apply to continue movements in balance.

Building an awareness of your balance while you move and when you're standing still will help you become a better dancer. This is true in any dance and in Kizomba it becomes important because you will be moving in close connection with your dance partner so maintaining responsibility for your own balance while moving together is essential.

Next I talk about ways you become aware of your partner's balance as you dance. Leads need to be able to know what their movements translate to when communicating with their follow so that the follow stays balanced and comfortable. Follows need to be able to read signals that tell them where to step, how big a step and when.

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