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back flexability


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I was told that back flexability is predominantly genetic and limited by joint structure in the spine and lower back. I've noticed that with the girls in my class (which is everyone else) the upper torso is basically perpendicular to their pelvis in arabesque or combouree-back (sp?).


Anyone have any more insight on this? What are some exercises that I could do to improve back flexability in a safe manner?



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Flexibility in any joint is limited in part by bone structure, but also by muscle, fascia, connective tissue and skin for that matter. Genetic differences are associated with all individual differences, including obviously flexibility. The major genetic influence is sex—females tend to be more flexible than males. Active people tend to be more flexible than inactive people; younger people tend to be more flexible than older people; and everyone tends to be more flexible when his or her joints are warmed.


And just when you thought it was getting complicated enough, there are two types of flexibility. One is static (essentially, the range of motion in a joint) and the other is dynamic (essentially the resistance present in a joint as it moves through its range of motion).


Having said all of that, flexibility is much more influenced by practice than by genetics. Everyone can become more flexible, though the amount of improvement will obviously be influenced by all the factors above.


Back muscles are stretched by rounding the back (i.e., contracting all the muscles of the front torso), which is something that ballet dancers don’t do very often, but which modern dancers do frequently.


In arabesque, your torso should be lifted. The muscles that really get stretched in arabesque are the psoas muscles, which though they attach to the spine, are not usually considered back muscles.

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Danny, the arabesque line demands that the torso reach diagonally forward and up during the position. If you look carefully at the people in your class, you'll note that they are lifted out of the supporting leg, and slightly opened from the hip, which provides them more freedom of movement in the arabesque, and also to get the working leg higher. Further, in a cambré to the back, the first bending happens over the lumbar vertebrae, about right below the shoulder-blades. Additional vertebrae come into play as you get more and more advanced. A cambré isn't exactly the same thing as a backbend. There's an art to it. That's why there's ballet.

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Thanks Mel, Gary,


I watched some of the other dancers last night actually and everything you guys said was apparent, especially about opening the hip. This whole concept about lifting is still a little new to me. Although you guys and my teachers say it often I'm not sure how to get my body to do it correctly. But now I know to concentrate on it.


As a sidebar, it looks to me that a nice arabesque line and eventually a penche is like a straddle splits but tipped up. Is that a correct analogy or they completely different. If they are the same then I should be more worried about improving my splits.

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Actually, a straddle split is a side split. A regular split is sometimes called a front split. Splits are useful in building the flexibility needed for arabesque, and other poses and steps. At the same time, the student has to gain the strength to put the legs there when working against gravity, as opposed to with gravity, which is how splits work.

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