“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.

Lisa Hebert’s movement practice is deeply informed by her years of dance training

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

Moving creatively takes courage! Author Lisa Hebert in past days as a Modern dancer

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!

 

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PATRICIA DUANE

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.

benedikte handal

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 .

Melanie Hale

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!

Maggie

“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.

Julie

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.

Melanie Blanchette

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.

Randy Williams

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

diana

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.

Stacey Cabrera

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.

Karen McGovern

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.

Mélanie Ouellet

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

Abi Rose

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.

Maria del Carmen Restrepo Escobar

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.