By PHOENIX LINSONG
As someone who started dancing in her 20s, I had no prior ballroom dancing experience other than a burning desire to dance and compete. With such intense desire, it came with many injuries. While visits to the chiropractor and physical therapy helped, the pain and dsyfunctional patterns persisted. As a result, I went on a self-healing journey and dive deep into the human mind and the body.
During my quest for answers, I had been blessed to learn from many masterminds from the world of physical therapy, yoga and meditation, as well as The GYROTONIC® Method. I’d like to share a few things I have learned in hopes that current dancers and the next generation of competitors have more tools to take care of their body and mind. Such that we can continue this wonderful Latin, Ballroom world for decades and hundreds of years to come.
The Psoas Principles
The need to understand the body is more important than ever before. WDC-World Dance Council President Donnie Burns MBE pointed out in his heartfelt writing about partnering in Latin dancing, “the biggest negative, however, is the partnering- leading- whatever one wishes to call it. Or rather…OVER-leading.” He warned that “shoving partners in and out of over-deep hip “actions” is an ill-advised route. He emphasised that the man should use his weight distribution more, and arms less.
In the human body, there is one muscle group that attaches the upper body to the lower body and it’s the only muscle that connects our spine to our legs, this is the psoas muscle. It’s a muscle group that is comprised of the psoas major, the iliacus, and the psoas minor. This group plays an important role in the coordination between the legs-pelvis-spine. It also plays a crucial role in how the body is coping with the forces of gravity. In addition to being a significant influence on one’s posture and balance. (Bamberger, 3).
Other than the physical aspect, the psoas is also a place of stored trauma, tension and emotion. As a main actor of our “fight or flight/freeze response”, the psoas can be a source of deep distress, muscular imbalance, and fascial torsion. The good news is, when released and nourished, it can be a well of abundant vitality, creativity and unobstructed movement. (Bamberger, 7).
When dancers not only become aware of this deep-seated psoas muscle group, but can also sense it in their own bodies through correct training, it can improve their body mechanics and prevent injuries. This also increases the harmony between dance partners because each partner would become so invested in his or her own inner-body sensations that their attention would be inwardly focused with an outward awareness.
3 Diaphragms and Breathwork Exercise
It is no surprise that breathwork has been beneficial to many athletes and dancers as a way to improve immunity, reduce excessive stress, and boost performance.
Rita Renha, Physical Therapist, and Gyrotonic Master trainer who developed the Trunk Stabilization Course work said, “it is extremely important to have a regular and effective breathing mechanism for good psychomotor and emotional balance. In addition to being a vital physiological function, breathing can be related to several emotional and behavioral factors.” One of the key principles in Gyrotonic is that breath creates movement and movement creates breath. It emphasizes that the right amount of intensity and quality of breath is used with the different movement patterns.
According to the doctor of physical therapy and yoga therapist, Dr. Ginger Garner, the body has not one, but three diaphragms, and all interact to create whole body systemic effects and benefits. The 3 diaphragms include our respiratory, pelvic, and laryngeal (cervical-thoracic) diaphragms.
One of the simplest exercises I love is the 3-part breathing. In this breathing exercise, we bring our attention into each of the diaphragms, breathing deeply in-and-out of each of them. What I recommend is to count your breathing, as in inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts and suspend the breath at the bottom for 4 counts. You can repeat this pattern for 3 to 5 times for each diaphragm and notice how your body feels after that!
Dr. Garner explained “when all these 3 diaphragms are in balance, the movement of the diaphragms exerts a tremendous effect on human health and movement. If out of balance or not functioning, the body’s self-regulatory powers are disturbed and our health and wellbeing suffer.”
Incorporating regular breathing practices can not only improve our dancing, but also the overall physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of each individual dancer.
“Growth requires you to be open to unlearning ideas that previously served you.” I love this quote and urge all dancers, regardless of age, gender, skill levels, to “know thyself,” explore deep within the body and the mind as there is much treasure to be found for those willing to dig deep.
It is empowering to educate and equip ourselves with training strategies guided by scientific research and sound principles. The hope is to create more efficient and healthier body mechanics to reduce physical injuries and prevent psychological turmoil. So that we can improve the dancing experiences now and for generations to come with more harmonious, healthy, and long-term dance partnerships.
Dancing should not just stop at 45 years old when one retires from a professional career. It should be a life-long pleasure!
Bamberger, Juergen. “GYROTONICⓇ PSOAS PRINCIPLES”. New Yor, NY October 2018
Renha, Rita. “GYROTONICⓇ Principles Applied to Dynamic Trunk Stabilization”. New York, NY July 2018
*Please note in accordance with the Gyrotonic headquarter’s trademark regulation, the first time the name GYROTONICⓇ is used in the article, it needs to be in Times New Roman font with all CAPS and Boldface, with the® symbol.
Phoenix LinSong is a Certified Level 2 GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® instructor, and a certified Latin dance instructor through ISTD – The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. To further her education, she has taken therapeutic workshops in the Pelvic Girdle, Scoliosis, Psoas Principal, and Dynamic Trunk Stabilization developed by Gyrotonic Master Trainers who are also physical therapists.
Whilst getting her Master’s degree at NYU, Phoenix discovered Latin and Ballroom dancing, (it was love at first Cucarachas!) After competing in the collegiate competitions, she decided to turn professional and had been a finalist in the Professional Rising Star Latin categories in the United States.
Born in Daqing, China, she moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of 13. After growing up in Canada during her teenage years, she moved to New York City in her early 20’s. Phoenix has directed musical productions with over 200 cast members for NYC public schools, and worked for Microsoft and HP.
Currently, Phoenix continues to dance and shares her experiences and knowledge with fellow dancers through KOROS, the world’s first live and interactive instructional dance app, as well as through her own private practices. She is beyond grateful for this opportunity to share her knowledge through the WDC – World Dance Council and would like to express her gratitude towards Donnie Burns MBE, Riccardo Cocchi, and Yulia Zagoruychenko.