Alignment in Early Movement Education Remembering What We Know: Awareness of Proper Alignment Can Improve Students' Movement Skills and Lessen the Risk of Injury
Oliver, Suzanne, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
By the time I was 10 years old, I had excelled at acrobatics, crab soccer, hula-hoop, pogo stick, tetherball, tap dancing, and ice-skating. Beginning at age seven, my dance teacher accompanied me to Manhattan to demonstrate for a nationally recognized acrobatics instructor and to audition for commercials and television specials. Exploiting the hyper-mobility of my spine, my acrobatics teacher used to stretch me by pulling my shoulders towards my legs while in a back bend. In a gymnastics clinic in fifth grade, spotters released my weight a bit early during a forward aerial somersault and my right knee collapsed inward as I fell. Several years later, a cheerleading maneuver that involved a back bend to touch the ground resulted in an injury to the left knee. Accurate diagnosis methods were never employed, but the injuries resulted in long-term intermittent swelling, pain, and cartilage movement that interfered with knee mechanics--especially with full flexion and extension.
I lived to move and express ideas and emotions through movement, so the decision to study dance in college seemed natural. I arrived for my first ballet class with an extremely flexible, poorly aligned body that lacked core control. My knees were weak, my thighs were overdeveloped to protect the knee, and I was supinated, bow-legged, and hyperlordotic. In the early 70s, few dance teachers were alignment experts; they were practicing or former professional dancers, and many still believed that alignment changes were ill-advised once physical maturity was complete. I was taught well and often brilliantly, but 1 did not get the support I needed to re-educate my postural organization.
After college, while living and studying in New York, I was surprised to be eliminated in an audition after performing a grande plie in second position. The fact that there was something clearly wrong with my alignment became undeniable when a teacher I admired pointed me out in class saying, "If you continue to use your lower back in that manner, I will not permit you to take this class." Despite deep discouragement, the journey to understanding postural issues began that day.
Although fundamental to all physical skill--from playing a musical instrument to pole vaulting--postural awareness and organization is often assumed or overlooked. The purpose of this article is to encourage an enhanced pedagogical emphasis on alignment in early dance and movement education and to suggest activities that will direct students' attention to basic principles of postural integrity and efficiency.
Framing the Discussion
My experience as an athlete and dancer, a movement educator, and a practitioner of the Alexander Technique make me acutely aware of alignment. Observing human movement--from children jumping rope on the playground to students in my classes who have danced or competed at elite levels throughout their life--has driven home the clear message that efficient and aware postural organization is often inadequately emphasized in movement education. Having unraveled difficult patterns in my own body, I am sensitized to the challenge involved in change, as well as the potential for injury that exists if alignment is not addressed.
Whether pedagogically ideal or not, movement learning is often skill-focused and heavily reliant on demonstration and imitation. This can become problematic when the student brings inefficient postural habits to the lesson. Conceived as a "fundamentals refresher," this article intends to remind HPERD professionals that alignment is central to their teaching and that it requires only a willingness to be observant, anatomically informed, and creative in inventing novel approaches to muscular balance (flexibility and strength) and kinesthetic awareness. I begin with a brief overview of some relevant commentary on the anatomical "cost" of poor organization. The bulk of the discussion will be devoted to an explanation of activities that can be implemented in any movement-education setting to support early awareness of alignment as fundamental to all subsequent skill acquisition. …