What Kind of Dancer are You? Are You Dancing, or Surviving Dance?

As promised, in continuation from yesterday’s blog post (which you should read first if you haven’t already. Just sayin’…), I want to share the 3 most common “types” of dancers I tend to work with.

Please bear in mind that I work primarily with studio, competitive, collegiate level, and emerging professional dancers, though I also see some professional dancers and adult beginners. A nice variety, but collegiate contemporary being the group I work with, and draw correlations from the most often.

There are definitely more than 3 types of dancers. You might be type 2.5, or type 3X. And I am eager to hear what your experiences are, too.

Reaaadyyyy?

Type 1:  Surviving dancers

These guys aren’t dancing, they’re surviving dance. This is an analogy I most recently saw used by Gray Cook in his book Movement, in which he asks us to question whether we are moving, or are we simply surviving movement. Breath holding is just one of many means of survival we dancers can relate to…

Surviving dancers and are probably in an over-trained state, or will be soon. Whether this is beacuse of mental, emotional or physical stress and/or acute trauma, will be highly individual, but all will contribute to varying degrees. The thing about these guys is that when placed in a generic conditioning routine, progress is often unpredicatble, non-linear or non-existent, because these dancers don’t feel safe.  They don’t trust you and they don’t trust themselves. It’s hard to change the way you move if you’re in constant fight or flight mode. Getting out of survival mode is a huge win.

Common characteristics:

  • Sympathetic nervous system dominant (I would check HRV for these guys but don’t have anything to track that yet)
  • Painful movement that often seems random because the it may not even be dysfunctional-looking
  • Always sore and low energy (probably over-trained)
  • Have current injuries, or nagging chronic ones that haven’t been completely rehabbed.
  • Uncontrolled hypermobility.
  • Poor breathing and core stabilization patterns  (getting this is the KEY to levelling up from survivor status)
  • Slow progress in non-individualized training situations

Suggestions for training focus:

  • Stress management/meditation in some form as they might have issues with sympathetic and parasympathetic balance that need to be overcome before anything else can change.
  •  Correct breathing patterns with neutral everything that hates being neutral (neck, ribcage, spine, pelvis, shoulders, etc)
  • Careful progression through fundamental movement patterns while avoiding painful movement
  •  Talk about the implications of working through pain 
  • Use corrective exercise to restore fundamental movement, breathing and developing basic levels of body awareness.
  • REST, RECOVERY and REHABILITATION

 

Type 2: Ready to MOVE

These dancers actually feel safe in their bodies. YAY. They can more easily be taught how to move efficiently and  develop strength to support that smooth movement. This is because they actually feel safe enough to get vulnerable in a session with you and embrace the new way of moving you are trying to present them.

They may appear physically weak and shaky and maybe a little shy, but these guys will blow you away with how quickly they’ll progress if you give them the right exercises and concepts to focus on.

Common characteristics:

  • Free of insidious pain (may be injured, but pain is clearly defined and not random).
  • Movement screen is free of pain, but with probable asymmetries and poor stability in most movements
  • Good understanding of breath and stabilization in neutral alignment after one or two exposures to it (mastering this is the key to levelling up!)
  • Quiet, shy,but  eager to work hard and good at following instruction.
  • Show progression in movement competency and strength in a predictable, linear way.

Suggestions for training focus:

  • Breathing must be constantly reinforced. Add full breath cycles to each exercise.
  • Work on constantly improving movement pattern quality and symmetry when needed.
  •  Strengthen fundamental movement patterns like squatting, lunging, single leg balance,  upper body pushing and pulling and core stability with regressions and progressions as needed.
  •  Improve ability to use full functional ranges of motion coordinated with breath (some sensible stability based yoga is good for this)
  •  Explore strategies to boost confidence, mental clarity, sense of purpose and self-esteem (strength development helps so much with this, as does simple conversation and goal setting- help them to understand whether they have healthy social and family relationships that are supporting their goals ).

Type 3:  Athletic dancers

These dancers are the ones that probably didn’t specialize in ballet at 3 years old, but were exposed to a lot of other opportunities to move and do athletic things before the rhythm and expression of dance called to the artist within them. They will generally have a good base of strength, and be self-sufficient with exercises/breathing technique. You can ask them to do some training on their own and feel confident they won’t screw anything up ;).

Common characteristics:

  • No present injuries or painful movements.
  • High energy, abundant positive energy, enthusiasm for life.
  • Probable asymmetries in movement screening, but are competent movers and quick learners with few red flags.
  • Typically higher muscle tone but possibly less mobility (not always…)
  • Decent base of strength (can probably even do a push-up upon screening)
  • Progress can be seen from the start to end of a session as gains in strength and motor control are quick (likely because they aren’t over-trained)
  • May have more dance-technique specific goals to work on than basic movement, strength and mobilty goals.

Suggestions for training focus:

  • ALL THE SAME THINGS AS TYPE 2 DANCERS
  • Get deeper into the mind-body experience, using the breath to guide the dancer into the limits of their functional range of motion (which they will using in dance classes). Having a regular yoga practice with emphasis on long duration holds and meditation is one good way I have found so far.
  • Develop dance-technique-specific strength and improve functional ranges of motion (for turn out, leg height, spine extension, etc)
  • Counselling on life-direction (where do you want dance to take you?)

 

Like I mentioned above, I’m sure this is an incomplete list, and I’m sure there are things that you might disagree on (and that I’ll disagree with myself on tomorrow…). This is not based on any research I’ve done, but on my own experience, so it is by no means to be taken too much to heart.

Understanding these types has helped me recently to choose the structure of our sessions and to not stress out and get frustrated when the plan for that session goes off course. My hopes is that it will help you out a bit too. Would love to hear what you think.

P.S. The Dance Stronger program works best if you’re not a survivor ;).