Those of us who are well-versed in dance culture, and even many who have never danced, would probably agree that for dancers, movement quality trumps movement quantity. Unless you’re a competition dancer and then it’s all about how many turns and flips you can do. Kidding….

Although tricks are fun and can definitely improve your chances of getting hired and impressing people at parties, the number of turns you can do is relatively insignificant compared to the overall quality and expression behind your movement.

A good friend of mine, who is a singer/musician, once told me that singing was 80% expression (the other 20% being related to technique, tone, pitch etc.). I think this holds true for the art of dance as well.

What makes a dancer really stand out isn’t quantifiable: the number of turns, leg height, jump height. These technical proficiencies can be easily measured, but are not necessarily what makes a dancer great. They get you bonus points, but are in themselves empty qualities.

To become a better dancer, technically and artistically, wouldn’t it be nice to have an objective measure of movement quality to guide you?

Objective measure is paramount to improving just about anything. If you can measure it, you bet you can improve it more quickly. This poses a difficulty in dance because “objective art” is a contradiction. There does exist, however, a small objective aspect of dance that we can measurably improve.

This objective, measurable quality of dance is fundamental movement: Crawling, rolling, walking, squatting, lunging, twisting. Basic function clean of compensation.

This isn’t anything new, and is not something specific for dancers either.  Performing basic movement well is important for everyone, especially athletes, but it might be a new concept for dancers.

Very rarely in my dance training was I treated as a person first and a dancer second. My basic human movement was never held at the same standard as my ability to perform dance movement. Was that a mistake?

I will argue that the best dancers can’t always be quantified by technical skill but are superior for their quality of movement. This is easy to agree on, I think. Where we could potentially disagree is on which  level are we qualifying the movement? How do we measure movement quality in dancers? How should we do it? What will it accomplish?

When we judge movement quality in dancers, are we looking at the quality of dance specific movement-Their ability to express through movement and technique? I don’t see this as the best way to objectively measure because I don’t think  we can quantify artistry, and the movement we’re trying to measure is at a deeper level, not just their technique. It’s something even more fundamental and unique.

Fundamental movement is what the best in the rehab, athletic, and fitness world are already measuring in their clients and patients.

Gray Cook has already spoken so much about this in his book, Movement. His popular and effective inventions, the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), and the Specfic Functional Movement Assessments (SFMA) are systems that we in the dance world can learn from. Their goals are important ones: Evaluate fundamental movements, motor control within movement patterns, and competence of basic movements uncomplicated by specific skill.

When a dancer hits a plateau, the answer isn’t always to add more hours of training, but perhaps to see if there is a fundamental movement dysfunction preventing them from excelling in dance. Movement quality before quantity.

If a dancer moves well fundamentally, will they move better as a dancer? My guess is that yes, probably they will, not considering subjective qualities such as performance experience or artistic maturity of the dancer.

At the very least, maintaining a good quality of fundamental movement will ensure that the dancer, who maybe isn’t quite there yet artistically or technically, will survive the often physically, mentally and emotionally grueling  training, to eventually find their place in the industry. Because not all of us are so genetically blessed.

I believe that even if indirectly, learning to move well fundamentally without compensation can help the dancer excel. It is a mistake to only look at specific skill quality without ever looking at a dancer’s fundamental movement quality.

Movement patterns can atrophy if they aren’t used. Even the ones most basic to our human existence.

The point of all this is that I think we’re missing something huge if we don’t objectively screen dancers for fundamental movement quality. I’m not certified in the FMS or SFMA, but I agree with the philosophy on which they were created, and that it is unsafe and to train dancers in complex, extreme, technical skill without teaching them first what it feels like to move well fundamentally.

Do you do the FMS of SFMA with dancers? I’d love to hear about that. Tell me everything you know…