“How do you move like that?”
This is a question I hear on a regular basis.
My students want to know if there is a shortcut to moving more “like a dancer” without actually taking dance classes. I get it, not everyone wants to become a dancer. But there is something to be said for expanding your movement vocabulary–for generating more grace, elegance, and fluidity–and I fully support that.
I have spent decades in deep study learning contemporary and ballet dance at the professional level. In my younger days of competitive jazz, tap, and ballet my teachers would express movement and timing through sound effects and clapping rhythms. My swing dancing and social dance days were all about visual cues, connecting with another’s energy and finding a common language of non-verbal cues. My diploma program in Modern dance had visiting choreographers from across the globe.
The thing many people don’t want to hear is that “moving like a dancer” is not just a prescribed set of exercises or measurable reps. It has more to do with your imagination and openness to creativity than strict training techniques.
Expanding your imagination will expand your movement vocabulary. Fostering your creativity can make for poetry in motion. Every single movement in your day contains the possibility of having different qualities if you’re open to explore and imagine.
The Difference Between Exercise and Creative Movement
First, we need to look at the difference between exercise and creative movement.
Often it’s the intention–and the attention.
Paying attention to HOW you move requires that you tune IN, rather than tune out (with headphones, TV, or other distractions).
It has to do with the inner quality of a movement–and I don’t mean alignment.
Quality of movement can be explored with these questions:
Where am I initiating the movement from?
Am I describing linear movement or fluid movement?
Am I even aware that a movement can feel vastly different in my body based on my intention?
As I said, it all starts in your imagination!
Practice Moving Like a Dancer With Spinal Undulations
Try the below practice of Spinal Undulations to experiment with your movement intentions.
You can try these spinal undulations by focusing on the segments of the spine–attempting to articulate each vertebra in a wave-like form–thinking of the back of your body like a track for a rollercoaster.
You can also focus on the front of your body, adding an imaginary resistance (say… you have super stretchy suspenders on!). Now you “feel” the sense of resistance and the consequent contraction of segments of the front of your body. Hello, rectus abdominus!
Next, let’s get more subtle. With a loose shirt on, sense the skin of your back, front and even the sides of your body as you ripple and wave, brushing against the collar, sleeves and draping fabric.
What about your head? Can you initiate the movement from your head, like a purring cat welcoming its favorite human home with full-body head-butts?
Or your organs? Can you forget about bones and muscles and think only of the movement coming from the inflation and deflation of your lungs (enjoying the inner movement massage your organs receive)?
Try these spinal undulations seated, in quadruped, standing, in diagonal lines, in reverse direction…
Unleash your imagination and there are endless ways to play!
Facing Your Fears of Moving Creatively
To free your movement, you may need to face and overcome the fearful voices in your head.
In Yoga Tune Up® trainings we work with creating a personal Sankalpa: a statement you repeat to yourself to positively shape the direction of your life.
The goal of a Sankalpa is that you find the wording that speaks most profoundly to your own circumstances. It challenges your beliefs about your limits so that you may grow.
A few examples to help you move like a dancer could be:
“I explore new movements with joy and curiosity.”
“Movement is freedom!”
“Creativity is fun!”
Humming and Singing to Free Your Creativity
Finally, for a person to feel comfortable in exploration, improvisation, and imagination, they need to feel safe. Not safe as in free from injury or harm. Safe as in able to access the state of play.
Our autonomic nervous system needs to be in a state of calm while still able to recruit the sympathetic system to mobilize–but without fear or aggression. This is where the Social Engagement System comes in.
“Functionally, the Social Engagement System emerges from a heart-face connection that coordinates the heart with the muscles of the face and head,” states Stephen Porges.
Ever notice a child deep in free play? They are often humming or singing: essentially vocalizing and extending the exhales which promotes a vagal calm state.
As the vagus nerve mediates the heart rate, the middle ear muscles become attuned to the human voice. The muscles of the throat and face engage to vocalize and the entire Social Engagement System is integrated.
So go ahead and sing or hum while you explore new movements (a la Winnie the Pooh), smile and make eye contact if anyone else is around, allow yourself to laugh when something new feels silly!
Follow the rhythm of your breath and listen for its changes. Or if you’re playing music, let the melody and sound quality infuse your movements with nuance.
Maybe best of all, play with other people who are willing to laugh with you and create connections through play.
Pair these creative movement practices with a well crafted Sankalpa and you’re gold!
Related Article: What Does Rock n’ Roll Have to do With Mental Health? Try These Self-Soothing Exercises to Find Out (Video)
Learn more about our Therapy Ball Products and Programs
Interested in video and blog content targeted to your interests?
Wow, se laisser aller comme on le sens! Vraiment pas facile pour moi. Laisser place à la créativité supporter par un sankalpa pour ajouter de la souplesse dans mon corps…je vais essayer! Cela va me permettre de mettre mon cerveau en mode lâcher prise au lieu de tout analyser.
I love the connection of the Sankulpa with creative movement expression. I think I will try some of the prompts you have included for myself, especially the the changing of body “bases”. or “orientations” and the diagonal lines in the undulations I can’t help but think of the “spinal undulation” from our yoga tuneup template and working segment by segment, exploring the connectivity and sequential movement from end point to end point. Thank you for this connection!
It seems to me that dancing would constantly be this balance between focussing outwards to the group or instruction and focussing inwards to listen to the body, a muscle to develop. The bravery though is clear. Thanks for this article. I will be humming much more in my day to day!
Watching your spinal undulations I can totally understand why your students would hope to move like you! Thank you for impressing creativity as paramount to movement. Finding that sense of freedom and sheer abandon has been key for me, and I so appreciate the reminder to give students the space to discover it in themselves.
I grew up dancing and choose that path for a long time. What I loved to read in this article was not only about movement being creative, but adding sound to movement. Anytime I’m in class or learning choreography I unconsciously pair sounds to the actions i’m doing. It’s freeing and helps my body remember.
Ça fait longtemps que je veux danser intuitivement, c’est les petits trucs qui me manquait pour me mettre à l’action.
This article makes me want to dance! I love dancing it makes me freer in my body. It is a good idea to integrate a Sankalpa to better incarnate in your body and give yourself the right to be simple. Thank you for your article!
This is so interesting. I will try to put more joy and creativity in my pratice. I undestand sky is the limit! I like what you’re saying… movement is freedom!
Creating personal Sankalpa, speaking to myself gently to challenge my beliefs and grow. One of the great thing YTU brought me .
Dancing, for me is kind of energy flow that the body follows. Sometimes, just close the eyes, and let the body move itself along with music, or the sounds of the nature, follow the energy inside of our body. It is really an amazing and healing experience. Thanks!
l’intention oriente toute démarche créative ou vitale.
Laisser le coprs prendre le dessus sur la tête dans toute démarche créative!
I appreciate the use of fun and play in an overall healthy movement diet
What a fun post ! The video was great. Looking forward to incorporating some of the moves w my clients whose day to day movements are very stagnant.
I agree that the experience you receive through dance training, especially creative dance/ modern provides you with an unique lens to look at all movement. I often pull a lot of creative movement concepts when teaching somatic or exercise.
Using the grid to plot and play toward a peak pose is a fun way to integrate the practice and find movement in the body in different ways. Flowing without boundaries and breathing with intention.
I love this! I would love to introduce some of this style of movement into some classes. Do you have recommendations on how to introduce this to students in a way that creates a safe place for them to play?
I love moving in creative ways, to keep the body and mind guessing and to keep it all fresh. This helps me bring sustainability into my yoga practice and my life in general. Nice article.
I think that free movement is a very important practice that we all should experiment once in a while. Often we are feeling “watched” and we are afraid to let out body move in a more free way, but we need to let go that fear and let our body move from inside , to feel each movement and to really connect! Thanks 🙂
Great suggestions. Thank you for a wealth of tools that will help create a fun and beneficial movement practice.
I love creativity in movement and I think it helps aid the introspective aspect of yoga. The idea of sankalpa is wonderful and important for those looking to explore with their body. I want to be able to translate this to my beginners who are taking a vinyasa flow. The movements and transitions paired with the poses can be quite daunting, but I think it reassuring to remind ourselves to create the safety for “play”. I believe everyone is a “dancer” at heart, even if it doesn’t translate to the image of what we might think they are supposed to be like and move like.
My primary teacher often uses non-classical-yoga movement and body positioning in her classes. At first I was, admittedly, suspicious of anything that wasn’t categorized in Light on Yoga – even as a dancer of 10 years myself. But after a while, I began to understand how I could deepen my exploration and understanding of classical yoga by seeing it from a different point of view.
As I’ve brought this approach into my own teaching, I’ve discovered the same initial reticence in my own students, but they’ve come to trust me and I can only hope that their own understandings have deepened because of it.
I love bringing play movements into my classes, i can see and feel how the tension in the class goes away and then we can come back to the mats and the class takes a whole new energy. I have been exploring with free movement myself and i really enjoy so much to move in any way my body feels like while i also make sounds, any sound that wants to emerge with the movement, and also love spinal waves, it just feel so free my spine!. Thanks for the recommendations and exercises, i will definitely try them.
wow, i have never thought there are so much freedom and imagination in dancing or any type of movement, it has always been very direct cues and instructions of do this and do that, there is so much imagination, body, muscle, brain, what is around you, what is outside of you, and how they can affect your movement, how to use these imagines and sensations to help your body and brain move more freely without fear or self conscious! i love this article!
creative movement can be creative, flowy yet with healthy movement boundary so we are protecting our body from injury and overuse.
I love the idea of a movement focused Sankalpa. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I usually pic 3 works or phrases. One year, I chose “Movement is life.” Physical movement keeps me sane. I like your thoughts on playing with movement. This gets lost somewhere along the way to adult. Time for a dance party in my kitchen 🙂
I like the approach of taking the practice as a deep play moment, sometimes we take it our movement practice way too seriously and we don’t allow ourselves to explore and create new fun and dynamics movements. This is a great reminder of channelling our creative energy into all of our movement practices.
Hmmmm humming ?
Thats a new technique for me to try out ! Thanks for sharing Lisa, your playful creative energy is what I love most about taking your trainings !!
Thank you for sharing this article and your sankalpa, Lisa! Doing spinal undulations in class today definitely helped me tap into a more creative, while controlled, movement!
I personally find that Freeedom in movement is essential so as not to become bored over time. I find inspiration in watching how cats and dogs stretch and move to wake up.
i went from dance to iyengar yoga, and by reading this blogg it brings back the need and playfullness to move the bonces and muscles in a free non aligned way, like the waves of the breath. i very much like the beauty of your spine moving video, thank you for sharing .
Ahhh. Just the reminder I needed. I love to dance. I love the freedom of expression, the exploration and the creativity. I now need to play with dance once again. Standing spinal Undulations~here I come!
“I am a creative and playful being.” I love this! Thank you for your insight. I’ve been trying to incorporate more creative and fluid movements to my practice. I didn’t know what a Social Engagement System was until I read your blog. Now, I can’t wait to try humming or singing while I move.
I never thought of using a sankalpa for creative movement such as dance, and started me thinking about how we use affirmative statements in emotional clearing work. Very interested in the Polyvagal Theory alongside this. The link in this post is very informative.
According to my perspective, moving like a dancer means a keen awareness of one’s moving body. Understand and feel the movements, from their departure until their termination. Control the movements by activating the muscles in a proper and well-informed way. It is the combination of all this that gives the perspective of grace and gentleness in the execution of movements.
Had a full weekend of football and in need of creative play this week. Love sport but often feel rigid after participating. Going to use the sankalpa “I am a creative and playful being” for the rest of the week to Tune in to my creative side. I’m sure it will only help with my ability to perform specific sports in the future. Thank you for the share
Thank you for this post! I skated & danced as a kid. 50 years later, when I tap into that “muscle memory,” I find my movements become joyful.
I really like what Lisa said about how the movements mostly come from how your body moves if you pay attention. Even if 4 of the same people are given the same move, its very possible the the movement will look different in each person.
Loved the part of the article that talked about feeling safe in your creative movement. So often we are afraid to explore out of comfort area in fear of looking silly to our peers. Dancers are not afraid to explore and feel the movement in the body. Everyone should feel comfortable on that journey of exploration.
I love this post that gives wings.
Let yourself go, live what the body wants to express, free yourself from your daily stress. Your body and mind will feel it grow. Amen
Having just begun my Yoga Tune Up studies, it is both refreshing and inspiring to read about the relationship between different movement modalities such as dance and yoga, as well as hearing a call to free ourselves from rote teachings in order to rediscover the element of play that is at the heart of all movement and its inherent joy.
It’s a good and spontaneous way to move the body even though doesn’t look as gracious and fluid as you do. It’s an amazing idea for a class.