Jim Lafferty

Could A Tight Back Be Limiting Your Flexibility?

Dancers looking to increase their flexibility rarely think about their upper backs. But this common place of tension could limit your neural mobility.

"The mobility of your back, especially your upper back, is very important when thinking about the mobility of the nervous system, fascial system and flexibility in general," says leading dance physiotherapist Lisa Howell in her Front Splits Fast Program. "If your upper back is very tight, then the nerves and fascia that lie along the spine can get restricted."


It may seem strange to mobilize your upper back in order to improve your splits or extension. Yet this may be the missing link that you've been looking for.

Try incorporating these exercises into your cross-training to improve your range of motion.

MOBILIZE

A healthy torso should be able to move forward, backward and side-to-side, and rotate without pain or the feeling that your muscles are being pulled.

Flexion & Extension

1) Starting on your hands and knees, articulate from tail to head into full spinal flexion, or "cat" position.

2) Take a few breaths through the back and sides of your ribs. Breath is a great way to break up any tissue that might be restricting your range.

3) Unwind the spine into spinal extension, or "cow" position. Being careful to support your spine with your abdominals. If you tend to be hypermobile in your lumbar spine (low back) focus on the thoracic spine (mid back) extension by reaching your heart forward and feel a gentle opening of the ribcage.

Return to starting and repeat four to five times

Lateral Flexion

1) Sitting in a comfortable position, rest your hand on a fitness circle, stability ball, or the floor on your right side.

2) Press down on your prop, or the floor, and bend to the right.

3) Gently breathe into the left side of the ribcage. Inhale and exhale three times, using the image of creating space between each rib on every inhale.

Return to starting position, do it on the left side and repeat the series three times

Rotation

1) Start on your knees with one hand on the floor and the back of your other hand on a stability ball or the floor.

2) Rotate your ribcage by rolling the ball or sliding your hand to the opposite side of your body. Breathe out as you rotate to let go of any tension you might be holding.

Return to starting position and repeat four to five times, then do the same on the opposite side.

PRACTICE

Training proper ribcage placement can prevent back tightness in the future.

Quadraped Thera-band

1) Place a light Thera-band around the bottom of your ribcage and hold it with some tension in quadruped position.

2) Let your ribcage relax and let the Thera-band open up the ribcage.

3) Press into the Thera-band using your abdominals. The Thera-band will give you great feedback as to where your ribs should be.

Return to starting position and repeat five times

STRENGTHEN

Strengthening the ab muscles will help keep your ribcage in place. But, if you have a tight back, you may not have enough range of motion to perform a full crunch. Give your back some support by performing ab preps/crunches on a mini stability ball until strength and mobility is gained.

Ab Prep

1) Start in a neutral spine resting your upper back on the ball. Both feet can be on the floor or one leg can be in tabletop.

2) Gently flex the thoracic spine, taking weight off of the stability ball but maintaining contact.

Repeat eight to 10 times.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021