There were so many great articles in the August 2011 issue of Dance Magazine that I might have to do more posts! I chose this one to be the first review so that I can introduce a new topic - tension in dancers and how it can affect dancing. I can't find this specific article on Dance Magazine's website yet, but this article titled "Your Body: Tools of the Trade" describes similar short-term fixes. Find my first article review here. Update: here's the article from Dance Magazine's website.
"It's a two-stage process involving activation and strengthening, then releasing and stretching," says Tom Welch (professor of dance kinesiology at Florida State Univ). This is how Welch described releasing tension, specifically, but the quote can also be used to describe dance as a whole - dance is all about knowing when and where to hold tension, how much tension to hold, and how to release even through the tension. When dancers have too much tension in their muscles, resulting from either improper use, injury, or mental blocks, it shows up in their dancing as stiffness and an overall lack of fluidity.
The first thing the article describes, however, is not how to diffuse tension, but rather explaining the word "tension" itself. "Tension" and "stress" are commonly used interchangeably, but to the dancer, they are separate concepts. In the words of Peggy Gould (associate professor of dance kinesiology at Sarah Lawrence College), "Tension is muscle work that does not produce motion, but rather helps to maintain a stable or static situation. There is no change in muscle length, no change in relationship between the bones the muscle attaches to, no joint motion, no movement." Tension is something essential to the dancer because "We would be a puddle on the floor" (Welch) without a certain amount of it. However, excess tension in the muscles is when problems begin to arise.
To release excess tension, the various professors and dancers consulted in this article suggest different methods, such as tennis balls, foam rollers, massages, Pilates, and other short-term quick fixes. Jennifer Williams (Chaddick Dance Company in TX) even states that she gets massages from a trained therapist every two weeks. And while these things are great for the short term, I believe that working from the outside in for the long-term is never a good option. Nancy Wozny (author of the article) left the long-term fix to the end of the article and gave it less than three paragraphs, while the short term fixes took up the rest of the page. This I don't quite agree with, but at least she included it!
The long-term fix for tension is somatic work. She doesn't really tell you what somatic work is, however. Somatic means "of the body", so somatic work (or therapy) is working on body awareness. It trains your mind to think about your body in various ways and trains your body to respond to mental commands. It's an integration of mind, body, and spirit (energy), if you will. If you think about it, this kind of thing is exactly what dancers need - body awareness. If you're trained to listen to your body, you'll be able to become aware of tension and you can do something about it at the root cause. Learn more about somatic therapy here.
In short, if you master somatics, you will probably never have to see any kind of doctor again. Intense, huh? Knowing your body is essential to not only dancers, but to everyone. Wozny only touched on what her interviewees said about somatic work and different somatic "systems" (different people's techniques) and not really what somatic work can do for you, which is disappointing. I don't know what it can do for me, really! All I know is that it sounds like such a great idea.
But I know what you're thinking - "Daisy, you just criticized the author of this article for leaving somatic work to the end and you just did the same thing in your review of the article!" - but hear me out. You really do need to know what tension is before you can start to work on it or release it. All I want to criticize about this article is its focus on short-term relief rather than fixing the cause of the problem. Even the picture that accompanies the article is of a dancer balanced on a foam roller instead of doing somatic therapy. I honestly have never done somatic therapy, although Pilates comes close sometimes, but it's one of those things that I look forward to doing in the years to come because I know it will make me that much stronger and more aware as both a dancer and a person.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is if you have a problem, any kind of problem, work from the inside out, not the outside in. That goes for anything, whether it's grief (wiping away your tears does nothing), acne (change your diet, topical face washes do nothing), or an illness or injury - start at the source, don't treat the symptoms. Taking Advil or crying won't do anything but make you feel better for a few hours - do the things that will make your mind and body healthier in the long run.
If you do have a copy of Dance Magazine (they haven't posted the August issue online yet, I'll post a link to the article when I do), find this article on page 22.