— Béatrice Curtis - Egyptian Dance –
VERY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER
Written instructions online are certainly *not* an adequate replacement for a good, knowledgeable teacher, who can correct you when you are not doing a move properly and could thereby risk hurting yourself, and who will make sure you warm up correctly and cool down afterwards.
Good Posture is the first of the “essentials” of Egyptian Dance. Good Posture gives you the starting point for all your movement. It's the foundation. It will help you keep your body in correct alignment, which in turn will help reduce your risk of injury, both while you are dancing and in the future, by making sure you use your muscles & joints they way they are designed to work. I, for one, still want to be dancing when I'm an old lady...
And it makes you look better.
The following is my own view of what constitutes Good Posture. It does not apply solely to Dance- it's the way I hold myself the whole time, the way I walk, the way I stand, the way I sit at the computer, as well as the way I dance. Obviously I can't stay rooted in this position the whole time I am dancing, but it's the “default” stance, the stance that I keep coming back to. I would also mention that I used to suffer terribly from backaches, but in all the time I have made myself use this posture, I have never had any of those backaches.
Starting at floor level:
The feet are flat & hip-width apart. This does *not* mean the feet are as far apart as the widest part of your hips. Instead, think of the hip bones that you can feel at the front of your pelvis, and imagine that your feet are dropping straight down from those bones. This means your feet are only a few inches apart. Personally, I feel this is more aesthetically pleasing. But perhaps more importantly, it allows you to move more easily, with less effort. Liza Wedgwood once used the phrase “small feet, big hips” to express this: with the feet closer together, the hips don't have to travel so far to achieve an effective move. You can test this for yourself using a simple move like a horizontal figure 8 or a hip slide side to side. Do it with your feet close together, then further apart, and feel the difference.
Moving up the legs to the knees:
The knees are soft, slightly bent. It is not a deep bend like a skier's pose. In fact the knees are almost straight, though they are certainly not locked straight (because as soon as your knees rick back, it knocks your pelvis out of whack and your bottom sticks up. You'll see in a minute that this is to be discouraged.) So the knees have to stay softly bent and flexible. It's like a tennis player on the base line, waiting for the other player to serve. (I'm writing this in Wimbledon fortnight, which may explain why this analogy came to mind!) He has to be ready for whatever ball is served, whether it's to the left or right, close to the net, or right at the back of the court, so there needs to be that flexibility and responsiveness. Having said that, the modern Egyptian style of dance incorporates a lot of strong percussive moves, and it is impossible to get these moves really razor-sharp when the knees are deeply bent; you need some tension in order to give those moves some punch.
On to the pelvis:
The pelvis needs to be held level- no tilting, either backward or forward. However, one of the main postural failings that I see in class is the duck's-bottom effect: tilting the bottom up at the back. The trouble with this is that it means the abdominal muscles are not being worked, and the muscles of the lower back around the sacrum are held rigidly to support the torso. Both of these effects will, in turn, affect the way you dance. For all the hip moves, you need full up-down/forward-backward/left-right 3-D flexibility. If a set of muscles is crunching part of the pelvic girdle into position, this will inevitably restrict your flexibility. Similarly, for abdominal work (and I'm not just talking Camels- a lot of the “hip” moves do involve some abdominal work) it is essential to use muscular tension. If your abdominals aren't used to working, these moves will be much harder to master. This includes the obvious torso undulations, but also includes moves that involve any kind of backward hip move, for example, such basics as horizontal figure 8s, and even hip rotations. So try to be conscious of relaxing the muscles in the lower back, letting the back of the pelvis drop down and pulling in the lower abdominal muscles below the waist (without letting the front of the pelvis tuck up).
And upwards to the torso:
The torso should be lifted. We need that lift in order to give ourselves room to do the hipwork and abdominal work more freely, and also in order that those moves may be seen more easily. However, to be fully effective in both purposes, the lift has to be 360°- not just a lift at the front, but all the way round. Concentrate on lifting the back of the ribcage. I think of it as having huge angel wings holding my ribcage up. This will permit your breathing to be more effective, allowing more of your lung capacity to be used. This may feel like you are pushing your ribcage forward, but again this may well be because you have been used to letting your torso drop backwards. This is the second big postural failing I see in a number of students. It looks terrible aesthetically. But worse than that, it means your weight is too far back to travel easily. In turn this means that if you are trying to do any travelling moves, you are working yourself much harder than you need. Also, a dropped back torso means you are contracting your back, so you are not able to breathe so efficiently. This is quite important! When we get to the more high energy work, and the dance exercise gets much more aerobic, you need to have as much oxygen pumping through your system as possible, to fuel that energy.
And the shoulders:
In an ideal world, the shoulders would be relaxed. However, if you can't relax them, then at least hold them down. Hunched shoulders make your neck look shorter and it is much more tiring to hold them up than to hold them down. They should also be held to the back so as to open up your throat area, and make it easier for you to breathe. So roll your shoulders up & back to settle into position.
Nearly there- the neck & head:
The neck is long, and the head is poised on top of it, so that your chin is neither lifted or dropping down. Try to think of a swan's neck, and the way it curves- there's more of a lift at the back of the head. If you imagine you have your hair in a ponytail at the back and your head is being lifted by someone grabbing the ponytail, you should have it about right.
And finally, SMILE!!!
Yeah yeah yeah, I know it's not technically Posture, but if you can learn to smile as your “default” position, it will make your life so much easier... You won't need to learn how to do it when you are performing.
I have many teachers to thank for helping me to appreciate how important Posture is- Josephine Wise and Shareen el-Safy being the two most influential. I can recommend both of them heartily.
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Updated 24th January 2010