“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!
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