My Thoracic Dilemma

Last semester in my class, Biomechanics for the Dancer, we were asked to develop a program/regimen that would help us correct one of our disabilities, and as dancers, there’s always a discouraging number from which to choose.  Some worked on their ankles after one too many sprains, some attempted to defeat tibial torsion exacerbated by forced turnout, and others set out to develop the musculature around their lumbar spine.  As a bellydancer, perhaps it would have made sense for me to join the latter group, but instead I ventured up a ways into the land of the thoracic spine to fix a sadly mundane issue that dancers aren’t supposed to have in the first place–kyphosis a.k.a. I’m a hunchback.

Despite my many years of ballet training and all my mother’s jibes, I have never been one of those dancers with perfect posture.  The issue isn’t structural, it’s purely habitual.  Between 4th and 5th grade, I grew about a foot putting me at a towering 5’4″ (a mere inch shorter than I currently am now).  This is not the best way to enter middle school, and aside from my gangly and exceedingly awkward appearance, I’ve always been extremely shy.  I could go through a whole school day without speaking to a soul and avoiding all contact with boys (who looked like ants next to me), but only by slouching around in a please-don’t-look-at-me-posture.  And so, here I am, 21 years of age, and I am a hunchback.  Fabulous.

This has some obvious repercussions for bellydance.  Isolations that use my upper-back and shoulder blades are extremely difficult.  My pectoral muscles and shoulders are so tight that Tribal-stylized arms (which like to hover next to or behind your ears) are next to impossible, and just generally, my lines are a little wonky once they reach that area.  Is it the end of the world?  Of course not!  I’ve been dancing successfully for years regardless of my kyphosis.  But would it be nice to have a normal spine like everyone else?  Oh, yes please!

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a NYC 8 Elements workshop with the phenomenal Rachel Brice.  I knew that if there was any bellydancer who would know what to do with my spine, it would be her.  After class, I eagerly waited in line with my carefully chosen question, and here is what she recommended:

  1. I try the DVD Viniyoga Theraphy for the Upper Back, Neck, and Shoulders with Gary Kraftsow (one of her teachers).  So I’ve purchased it, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival in the mail.
  2. I try rolfing.  Rolfing is basically a deep, deep tissue massage that can rework muscle memory.  Since it’s a bit pricey, I’m going to work with Kraftsow’s DVD for a while before I go crazy on the massage-front, but it sounds so awesome.
  3. I blog about my experience.  She said that someday when I’m teaching, students will ask me how to improve their personal practice.  If I have a record of all the silly things I’ve tried during my dance career, I’ll be better able to help them and refer them to resources that work.  And so, this blog is dedicated to her.

I can’t wait to get started on her advice, and I really hope it works.  It will be so exciting to have a happy, healthy spine with which to work, and I can’t wait to see where it will take my dancing.

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