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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Splayed ribcage


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For years I've had a bad habit of letting my ribcage pop out. I think it's because of my upper torso leanig back too far. Sometimes teachers correct me about it, but I struggle to fix it on my own because the new position my body is in feels really different. And my ribcage seems larger and more prominant than other people's which doesn't help matters! I've always found it really helpful to use mental imagery in dance corrections. Does anyone know of a good way to imagine your ribcage fusing together and moving inside?


Thanks :blushing:

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That's one of the many things that can be covered in "think of making your spine as long as possible!"

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I dont know if I'm allowed to reply to this as I'm not 17-22, so please move it to another board if necessary. I also had problems for ages achieving the "pull in and widen the lower ribs" aspect of ballet posture (ie not splaying the lower ribs out and up). How on earth could I do that? I worked every muscle I could think of but it didnt have the slightest effect.


But thanks to a comment from an insightful yoga teacher, its now easy (if you know the anatomy). The answer is to use the quadratus lumborum. The "making your spine as long as you can" is only part of the answer. That uses the deep spinal muscles and indeed will tend to lengthen and straighten the spine without tending to make the lower ribs stick out (much). However, this is only part of the answer. The quadratus lumborum is a big sheath of muscle around the sides and back of the abdomen. It pulls the sides of the ribs back and down towards the pelvis. It also gives the feeling of "stacking the spine" which was mentioned somewhere on this board and which is a very accurate description of the feeling you get when you activate the muscle.


With all three sets of stablisers used (transversus abdominis, deep spinal muscles, quadratus lumborum) the upper body is powerfully stablised in all directions. I guess practiced dancers do this all the time. However, I've never seen activation of the quadatus lumborum explicitly discussed in the exercise literature, nor have I come across specific exercises for activating/strengthening it. In comparison with the transversus abdominis and deep spinal muscles it seems to have been ignored. But to me, it seems to be the answer to many of the things that are missing in the discussion of spinal stablilty.


If anyone knows what I am talking about, agrees/disagrees, and/or knows exercises for strengthening or activating this muscle explicitly, I'd be glad to hear.





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I'll take that as a "knock-knock" and that kind of crossover is OK in the big old clubhouse.


Another part of ribcage control is learning how to "breathe through the back", a technique which is well-known to singers and wind instrument players. In this practice, the expansion of the chest is spread all across the thorax and does not rely solely on the heaving chest to expand the lungs. It involves not only the diaphragm, although it's known as "diaphragmatic breathing", but also engages the quadratus.

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Ribcage placement has also been something I've been concentrating on and something that my teacher constantly needs to remind me about. I can place the ribs where they should be and 'breathe through the back' but how can one keep this placement without feeling slightly suffocated-- just doesn't seem like I can breathe deeply enough. :rolleyes:

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When you are able to breate in the way Mr. Johnson described, the chest expands rather than lifts and falls, and the ribs can remain relaxed. Most of the time though, when a dancer is corrected on rib placement, it's because they are arching their upper backs and thrusting the ribs out.

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Thanks for all the interesting comments; they were very helpful. I'm going to read up on the quadratus lumborum. I think Conditioning for Dance, by Eric Franklin (I love that book!) has some exercises for strengthening that muscle. And, I think I do arch my upper back, Ms. Leigh, so I'll really pay attention to that too in the future.

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