Isolation Exercise: Chest, Front-to-Back
Setting Up the Neutral Position
Sit at a table, preferably a round one.
Place your feet flat on the floor, wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. The angle between your thigh and shin should be about 90 degrees.
Place your hands palm down on the table, inside shoulder-width apart, fingers pointed toward the centre of the table.
Adjust the position of your hands from the edge of the table, such that the table supports most of the weight of your forearms without causing your torso to lean forwards. You may need to bring your chair a little closer to the table.
Adjust the distance between your hands, and the direction in which your fingers point, such that your elbows are relaxed but away from the sides of your body.
Relax your shoulders, letting them drop towards the floor under their own weight.
string" teaching point
Imagine the dome of your diaphragm being pulled upward toward the ceiling by the elastic string. As you do so, you'll find your spine coming into alignment and better supporting your ribcage.
Close your eyes, and listen to and feel your breathing. Feel how the "elastic string" teaching point seems to lighten your chest and release pressure in the abdomen. Feels good, doesn't it?
This is the neutral position and it is both a starting and reference point. Keep practicing getting into and maintaining the neutral position until it becomes second nature.
The neutral position provides such a mechanism as it isolates and focuses on a specific part of the body, and puts other parts into comfortable supported positions which provide you with feedback on the progress of the exercise.
If you have determined that it is safe, you next need to manage your expectations for suppleness. It's likely that you've not done this sort of exercise before, so aim to make progress in small increments. Patience is a safeguard as well as a virtue.
The ideal axis of movement is front to back, parallel to the floor, passing through your spine and lower breastbone or sternum. In practice, the track of travel curves upwards at the ends to minimise stresses on the lower back.
To develop the proper muscle tone, this tutorial is based on the concept of virtual forces. This is achieved through imagining the presence of a palm on your sternum, exerting a firm and constant pressure in-line with the axis of movement against your chest. Your response to this pressure; how much and how hard you press back, determines the direction and rate of travel of your ribcage.
The idea of opposing
forces and their relationships in dance is also studied in the tutorials
of the Merengue section, for example in HALO
Turns for Followers.
We'll make use of a few teaching points to ease the learning process: it will help if you think of your shoulder-blades as gates; your shoulders as the hinges; and your ribcage as a tall drum on wheels.
Maintain the effect of the elastic string teaching point throughout. Pay particular attention to it at the ends of the movement when your diaphragm is most likely to sink.
Let's start the
exercise from where we left off.
Forces - Equilibrium Pressure
Imagine a palm on your lower sternum trying to push your ribcage backward, and that you're resisting this pressure by pressing forward against that palm through your breastbone.
both pressures until they are firm.
Notice that your sternum moves as you breathe: flexing outward as you inhale and retreating as you exhale. This means that the process of breathing affects equilibrium pressure due to the movement of your sternum, causing it to press more against the palm as you inhale, and press less against the palm as you exhale.
Fine-tune your resisting pressure against the palm to compensate for this movement. That is, account for your breathing by
Master this process
as it will inform the initial stages of this exercise.
This time, rather than topping up the resisting pressure, let the pressure from the palm push your ribcage backwards.
Feel your back stretching in width as your ribcage travels backwards, parting your shoulder-blades.
Learning metaphor: Feel the palm push the drum though the gates, the hinges remaining in place.
Remember to keep the elastic string attached and your diaphragm high.
As you become more proficient, you can push the barrel farther and farther backward without moving the hinges nor snapping the elastic string.
Don't be tempted
to exaggerate the action by pulling with your shoulders. Your hands
are placed on the table to help keep your shoulders still in space.
If you find yourself leaning into the table on completion of the push,
you've overcooked it. Let your ribcage do the work.
Imagine the palm pressure remaining constant. The force of your sternum overcomes the palm pressure as you inhale, leading your ribcage to move forwards.
Learning metaphor: Imagine your sternum is attached to the front of the drum, and the drum being led forwards by it. Feel the gates closing behind the drum as it moves forward.
The elastic string
should act steadily to keep your diaphragm high, especially at the end.
Beginners commonly lean forward from the hips in order to get more travel, which does not serve to isolate the action. You can tell when you're doing this if you find yourself leaning down into the table edge, and if you find your elbows flaring outwards.
has mass, so you will have to compensate with a counterbalancing shift
of the shoulders and tilt of the pelvis. Expect it, but try to keep
extraneous movements small.
The breathing cycle alternates between inhalation and exhalation interspersed with short pauses:
pause exhale pause ...
which, interpreted into virtual forces becomes:
... sternum dominant equilibrium palm dominant equilibrium ...
and translates into movement as:
... forward pause backward pause ...
The role of the pauses should never be underestimated as they play an important part in promoting muscle and timing control, thereby smoothing out the entire action. Clearly this role is diminished at higher tempi, but they are of tremendous value at lower speeds.
Do stop in the middle of the forward or backward phase occasionally to verify that your neutral position is still correct.
The next stage is to invert the action relative to the breathing; that is your ribcage moves backwards as you inhale, and forwards as you exhale. This is an extreme variant of the exercise with respect to virtual forces, but serves as a useful intermediate step to independence.
I find that alternating the inverse variation with the conventional one, then focussing on the action aspect (thereby de-emphasising the breathing aspect) is sufficient to stimulate timing independence.
The most common
application for this action is to maintain the pulse in a small
understated movement like a 'tic' to interpret high energy passages
in a song. For more information on the pulse, see The
Percussionist Dancer: Core. It's worthwhile practicing to a slow
rhythm and gradually build up speed - developing muscle co-ordination
Once you can do all of that, you've got a very handy little item to add to your dancing. As an application example, see the Dancing a Percussive Counterpoint tutorial.
©1999 Salsa & Merengue Society