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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Improving cambré back


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I would really like to improve movement in my spine and be more expressive with my upper body. I find cambré back is particularly difficult. I have a small amount of movement when doing it standing and almost none if I have to cambré back when I'm in a lunge.

I used to have more movement when I was younger but, since carrying two toddlers around, my shoulders and neck and upper back are so much tighter. I would love any advice in how to regain movement. :)

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I use a foamroller to roll out my upper back, my neck and to stretch. I usually place my legs on top of something that allows me to have a 90° angle in knees and my hip, I place the foamroller under my upper back and carefully stretch over it. You can even use a rolled towel or something similar. This opens my chest and I feel much more flexible in my upper body.

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Thoughts from an old man who is generally inflexible and whose spine is a complete mess.


On the physical side, I really like doing two "furniture" stretches I got from doing Iyengar yoga. For props I use an Ottoman and a pillow. Put the pillow on the edge of the Ottoman and your back on the Ottoman/pillow and then lean back and hold that stretch for a good long while. One stretch has the edge on the upper back just below the shoulder blades. The other stretch has the edge on the lower back. I've done these stretches for many years and really like them. No I haven't suddenly become more flexible, but I feel really good after doing them.


On the technical side (which I think is more important), I don't think much about bending backwards. Rather I think more of projecting the sternum out and up and keeping the head aligned with the arm as it goes backwards. I want the feel of that up and out. In my little mind, dance is all about feeling and projecting that feeling.

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I second the foam roller! I just got it last week, after reading about it in Pointe magazine. LOVE it. My husband thinks it's pretty amusing too because I do this in my walkin closet since that is the only part of the house that's NOT covered with my lovely doggies' hair.... (one dog sheds year round.. california weather does NOT help with this situation).


Anyways, yes definitely worth it. I love massages but rarely have the time to go get one. This thing is like the next best alternative. I love it on my back, especially upper and mid sections, and my thighs/IT band after class.

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OK...putting on my teacher hat. The expressiveness has little to do with the amount of back flexibility. It is how you use what you have. This reminds me of a student in Madame Darvash's class when I was in my 20's. He had the most flexible back I ever saw on a man. He was also in his 20's, crazy flexible. He could cambre to the point of literally folding himself in half backwards. He lost his balance and fell over backwards...could have really hurt himself. Not pretty. Nor was his cambre.


It's about lifting up and arching back and over. Not about how far but how well placed the arm is, the head, the line, the arch, the musicality, the resistance against the space...not about the amount of back flexibility (which is hard to increase in an adult).


Keep working. Think up and back. Fill the phrase. Push against the space. Dance.

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Lots of great comments here! :yes: I agree!


Cambre back can be tricky (again for possibly more mature dancers) in that injuring your neck can be very easily done by overdoing any crunching your neck backwards or trying to "bend" it too far backwards. That really can be dangerous..... it is not a part of your body you can easily see (either in the mirror, or while you are doing a cambre back) as you are working it perhaps....... And as Willimus said, it is not really necessary to be a pretzel to achieve a nice line, and good expression.....


It can be about elegance, regal-ness, and a clean, lovely line. Also with your eyes looking out/up and just nice tilt of the head or other such subtlety you can achieve an illusion of bending back farther than you actually are......

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At a Pilates class with a new teacher a couple of weeks ago, we did an exercise lying on our stomachs, in which -- for the very first time in my life!!! -- I felt and activated a group of muscles in the small of my back (around my waist line) which gave me a very freeing sensation of moving my back in the way that one needs to upright at the barre. All this time, and only now do I know how to activate those muscles :nixweiss:


I wish I could describe the exercise to you, but it wasn't the standard yoga-style cobra stretch. All I can remember is the feeling of free movement that I experienced. So now I know, I keep working to find those muscles again. I really got the sense of both strength and flexibility in my back that I'd never had to that degree before.

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Oh, I forgot to mention this thingy here http://www.amazon.de/Mobilisationskeil-gro%C3%9F-LxBxH-23x10x8-schwarz/dp/B001AX69H4 I hope it is okay to link it like this. My physio suggested it to me and if you kind of do crunches with it under your back you can increase the flexiblity between the segments of your spine. It is very painful if you have tight spots in your back.

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I would second all of the above, and also add that restrictio in the front of the chest and the front of the shoulders and into the upper arms can also restrict. A tight psoas can be an inhibitor too. Sometimes i feel like we stretch our legs so much, and forget we need to stretch out our upper bodies front and backk too!

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Thanks for these really helpful replies.


Keep working. Think up and back. Fill the phrase. Push against the space. Dance.

Thanks for this Willemus! I will definitely be thinking this in class tomorrow. You are so right.


I'm definitely not aiming for anything gymnastic! And definitely agree that musicality and placement are much more important than being able to see behind you. But I do want to get rid of the stiff uncomfortable feeling I have now, from several years of lifting kiddies, and try to regain a bit of comfortable movement that I used to have.


Claude_C and Pink_Chiffon, thanks for the foam roller tip. i have one which I use for my legs bu I'd never thought of using it for my back. I think I need to be careful to work on my upper back and getting some movement from the shoulder blades and up and not to increase the curve in my lower back which is already inclined to arch. The slope thing you link to also looks interesting Claude.


Garyecht - I will try your stretch too. Thank you. I like the idea of using body weight to make space.


Ludmilla - yes, definitely. I need to use my eyes and head and I do always think 'up' first, but just a small amount of 'back' would be lovely :) I will really try and project.


Redbookish - it is always such a great feeling when you discover a new, efficient way to use your muscles. :) i know just what you mean about suddenly feeling free. You let go of tension in other places. I wish you could describe the magic exercise, but these things don't always translate into words. But you have reminded me to think of strength in my core as well while I reach away.


Yes, Miss Persistent, I definitely have tight psoas. Masseurs have commented on it and I try to release it myself which is tricky. I am very tight across the front of my shoulders and chest. I do try and stretch there too, but I hadn't thought of the psoas being involved in this restriction. makes sense though. Basically, five years of motherhood and my body is trying to curl up into foetal position it seems! ;)

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Had a really good class tonight with lots of thought about what my upper back is doing and not doing. I realised that I need that back flexibility and strength also to improve things like attitude and arabesque turns. To get my weight in the right place I need to be able to take my weight further forward in the posé but still keep my back up. I think my stiff upper back means that I have either been pitching forward because I'm not keeping my back up, and therefore nose diving when I try to turn, or I try to keep upright and therefore fall off the turn backwards because my weight is too far back. If that makes any sense. ...anyway, it's nice how trying to improve in one area gives you new insight into all sorts of other areas that need improving.

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K123, glad I could help. Worked on this tonight with a new student. We had a nice class this evening too.

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Claude, is that device available in the states? I cannot read the German.

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Mmmh, I did a little research but I could not find it on the american amazon.... I found out that they are called positioning wedges in english (at least I think so) but I found a whole lot of other softer wedges without the crease in the middle (which is important that you don't massage on your spine).


Edit: Oh look, I found some site that might sell it in the USA http://www.optp.com/NOI-Mobilization-Wedge#.Ubg_9ZzheEA Maybe there are other places where it costs less (paid about half of that)

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