This is a question that we were asked recently and I thought it might be an interesting blog post because I'm sure that many of us struggle with balance and it is something I am currently making an effort to improve and understand in my own body.
What is balance?
From the dictionary (one of my favourite books!) balance is the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling.
Or put another way 'Balance is a harmonious relationship between two polar opposites.' - Gary Ward : What the Foot?
Why is having balance important?
Leaving aside dance for a moment, without a sense of balance we wouldn't be able to do many of the normal everyday movements that we take for granted; sitting, standing, walking and running, picking things up (kids for example).
As dancers we want to push those limits even further, we need to be able to stand on one leg, move through different levels, move quickly or very slowly, turn through multiple directions the list goes on. Without balance it would be impossible.
How does balance function in our bodies?
The central nervous system regulates our balance through feedback from 3 different systems, your eyes (the visual system), balance organs located in the inner ear (the vestibular system) and feedback from your muscles, tendons and joints (the proprioceptive system).
The combination of these 3 systems working together provides many different signals to our brain about how we are moving and where we are in space at any time.
To have good balance we need to be receiving good information and be able to interpret the information correctly so our brain can then send out the correct response to our body.
This all happens as we move with out us having to think about it.
Where is your centre?
Do you know where your centre is?
In the human body the centre (which in this case refers to the centre of mass) is a combination of all the mass that you carry in your body expressed through a resultant point. If we didn't move at all, this point would be easy to locate but because our bodies are controlled by our central nervous system which is reacting to the external world our centre is constantly moving.
How can balance be improved?
As we go through life we all have different movement experiences and those patterns of movement developed over the years stay with you .
In my case I have a history of injuries to my left foot that 20 years later still affects how my body is organised and how it moves.
I have tried many different treatments over the years but recently I have been experimenting with a different idea.
Rather than trying to find a way to 'fix' my body from the outside I have shifted my focus to allowing my body to find a way to reorganise itself.
I am doing that by exploring the edges of my movement possibilities which will then allow my brain to find a more natural centre.
Every movement experience you have can either reinforce the same patterns that you have in your body or you can 'show' your brain a different way to move.
In many cases your body may have developed a compensation pattern for what ever has happened in the past, broken left foot in my case, and it continues with this protection response even though the injury has long been repaired.
For example I notice that I have a tendency to carry my weight over my right leg, that means that my perceived centre is likely shifted to the right instead of being in the centre of my base of support (my feet).
When I dance I notice that I have trouble balancing on my left leg, turning on my left side, shifting my pelvis to the left. Can see where I'm going here?
Rather than thinking you have to 'train' for core stability and strength why not try expanding your experience of moving your body.
Your body will then naturally shift and adjust to these new movement patterns.
Although in class and through flamenco movement we explore the edges of our movement possibilities we do everything in hard soled shoes with a high heel. I think it is important to take our shoes off and remind our feet (and our bodies) what the ground feels like.
If you are interested in exploring this idea (because I have only just touched the surface) here are some places you can go to do more research.
My own exploration was inspired by Monika Volkmar at the Dance Training Project.
From Monika I discovered Gary Ward and Anatomy in Motion. If you sign up to Gary's email list you will be sent some videos that will help you get started down the path of self exploration.
I would also recommend reading about inter-body connectivity and Bartenieff Fundamentals. Making Connections by Peggy Hackney is an excellent text if you would like to find out more about it.