Swing Your Arms
It takes the work of over 200 muscles for the human body to take a single step forward. That’s 200 actions and details that are necessary for us to swing our leg, to pull up our foot, to balance ourselves with contra body movement in our torso, and to do so much more for us to do something as seemingly simple as walking. How tedious would it be if every step you took, you had to give your body 200 individual commands, to tell each muscle to do its job? How much harder would life be? Thankfully, we don’t have to do this. We can give just one command instead: walk.
The human ability to tie very simple commands to long and complicated processes is not only the reason we can walk but the reason we can dance. Let’s say you’re dancing a Cha Cha; if you were going to do a crossover break, it would be absurd to tell your body to rotate your core, maintain tension in your moving leg, adjust your shoulder, engage your bicep and tricep, and so on. Instead, you just tell your body ‘do a crossover break,’ and if you’ve practiced that movement enough, it does. You barely have to think about it.
That said, breaking down your technique and thinking consciously about the details is very important for practice. When you’re performing or social dancing, however, you don’t want to think about those extra commands. Your job gets much easier if you can say ‘do a crossover break’ and your body knows where to go without step-by-step guidance. This skill of guiding your body without your direct intervention is then very important to dancing, and something we can practice in everyday life.
There are a number of ways to practice this, the first of which (and my personal favorite) can be done walking down the street. Most of us swing our arms when we walk, but it’s an unconscious action to help balance our body. Next time you’re walking, tell your arms to stop. Keep walking, but prevent them from swinging. After holding this stride for a few moments, tell your body ‘swing your arms.’ What usually results is an inhuman flailing of limbs that barely resembles our everyday walking. This happens because we’re too attached to the control we have over our arms and too uncomfortable with the idea of letting our body do its thing without our direction. As you repeat this, you should slowly realize the swinging of your arms gets more natural and much easier to command.
Another way to practice this is when you’re drinking your morning coffee. As you reach for your cup to take another sip, surprise yourself and stop your arm. Hold it for a moment, then tell your body, ‘grab the cup of coffee.’ Try not to spill. Continue by telling your body, ‘take a sip’ and ‘put the cup down.’ Practice this and it too will start to be more natural and you’ll feel less effort going into those tasks. This is you getting acclimated to the idea of directing your body, not controlling it.
If we want to master difficult techniques in dance, we have to be the captain of our body, not the controller. There is so much to think about and so many commands to give that walking, let alone dancing, would be impossible if you didn’t allow your body to do what it knows how to do. If you practice this, you’ll find that telling your body to ‘do a crossover break,’ or any movement in dance for that matter, will become both cleaner and more comfortable.
(Published in Sheer Dance magazine September 2018)