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Back Flexibility & Cambre


swanprincess
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In class tonight we did a lot of work on cambre en arriere- my new teacher said that the cambre should come from the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine. I seem to be struggling with this, as previously I had been doing it from the lumbar spine- similarly to how they do it at the Vaganova etc. As soon as i start the cambre, it is my mid/lower back that bends, I can't seem to feel the movement in my upper spine, nor can I isolate it to just use the neck, shoulders & thoracic spine... Any tips?! It's proving very hard to unlearn bad habits!!!

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Try sitting on the floor with your legs bent a bit and your feet flat on the floor (a bit like you were doing a sit up) and your hands on the floor to help support you. Sit up straight so you feel your sitting bones on the floor then elongate your spine as much as you can. Then imagine you are watching something (spider, mouse etc) crawl up the wall in front of you and then across the ceiling towards you, past you and behind you and then down the wall behind you. At no point should you let your neck 'drop' , relax or shorten at the back - this is important. Not easy though. You can also try the same idea from lying on your front pushing up onto your hands. Again, you must keep the back of your neck long as well as the front the whole time, no tilting your chin up & head back.

 

This exercise, done correctly, will help you to get your head and upper back moving in the right way and the sitting exercise helps with strength too but for ballet you need to do the movement with your head turned - so you have to imagine you're watching the mouse with your ear!

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I had to 'like' that DrDance - not because I understood it; but because I had a cat that did just that, once "watched a mouse with his ear" - it was a bird and he studiously ignored it off to the side all whilst stalking it & getting ready to pounce.  He missed :D

 

Sorry SwanPrincess - good luck sorting it

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Love Dr Dance's instructions, I was taught for this type of cambre (done full on back bends like you're used to too) to think of where your bra strap across your back is, think of putting it against a shelf & stretching back to put the top of your back on the shelf. It might help or might not but it helps me visualise using the top of the back.

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Not sure if you have access to a foam roller. There is an exercise where you lie down on floor with knees bent like you were going to do a regular sit up but you place the foam roller horizontally under your back approx just below shoulder blades. Experiment with where is the best place to position this according to spinal mobility but you place hands at base of skull to support your neck and then lie back over the foam roller. You should feel a gradual stretch out of the upper back. The aim if you can is to rest your head on the floor while bending back over the foam roller. You can rest there to stretch and then you perform a regular sit up. You can repeat a few times and if you are tight in thoracic spine should notice a gradual improvement in mobility and strength. You may have to start with foam roller lower down your back if thoracic spine is tight but personally I have found it a brilliant exercise.

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An often neglected - but very important - part of a back bend - either forward or backward - is the arm position.

 

Stand sideways to the barre in fifth position and hold the barre lightly with your inward hand.  Lift your outward arm over your head - en haut - and turn your head to the side so you can see yourself in the mirror.  Your head should be just in front of your arm and you should be able to see both eyes in the mirror. It looks as though your head is lying on a pillow (your arm).  As you bend forward the head faces front and the hand on the barre will need to more forward on the barre.  You go "up and out" before going down.

 

Be sure to lengthen your back (it should always be lengthened), now begin to go forward, keep the lengthening of the back, the neck lengthened - head is facing forward.  You are bending from the hips, as you stretch dynamically forward keep going down toward your feet, arm is still over the crown of your head.  When you reach your maximum, your head is close to your feet - allow the head to fully relax and that will fully stretch out your spine right into the tail bone.  That relaxation at the bottom of the bend is very important.

 

Before coming up, stretch down and out a bit more and come up until fully erect.  Turn your head - look in the mirror.  Your head should be in the same place - in front of the arm.  Keep the dynamic stretch in the back, keep the head turned to the side - and begin to stretch back.  Watch it in the mirror - your head should look like it is lying on a pillow - your lifted arm is the pillow.  Do not allow the head to go behind the arm.

 

As your go back feel the articulation of your neck stretching, then through the thorax, until the major bend occurs just about at the place of your spine where your heart is.  Keep watching it in the mirror - your head looks like it is lying on a pillow (your arm).  Watch in the mirror that you have not pulled yourself back on your heels.  As you do the backbend the hand holding the barre will have had to more back slightly.  

 

In both the bend to the front and the bend to the back, you should be able to let go of the barre, just enough to check that you are still well placed over your feet.   Make sure that at no time are your shoulders raised.

 

As you come up from the bend to the back, go through the articulation of the back - the head (still turned to the side and still watching in the mirror) and lifted arm come up as one piece - but the back comes up in sections.  Each section is lengthened into a flexible whole.

 

I hope something I've said here helps. :)

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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Swanprincess, the Vaganova system of training does not teach going from the lumbar spine for cambré.  As described above it also starts with an elongation upwards and outwards.  As upper body training is very important in all Russian training, the end result is a very pliable and flexible spine. 

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I am looking at a very beautiful picture of Prima Ballerina Natalia Makarova.  She is in Odette's swan costume - on pointe - one foot up in attitude derriére.  She is in a backbend in which her back is parrallel to the floor.  Her face is looking up to the ceiling, but the head is above the arms which are stretched behind her (also parrallel to the floor) like swan's wings.

 

It's a famous picture - perhaps you've seen it.  If you go to Google and enter "Natalia Makarova Images" the picture comes up twice in the third row.

 

Interesting things to note:

 

Though her face is looking at the ceiling, the head is still above the arms - like a head on a pillow- if she turned her face sideways she would see her eyes in the mirror above the arms.

 

If you took your hand and covered up her body from the waist up so the backbend is not visible, she is in perfect balance on pointe in attitude derriére - her hips are exactly balanced over her foot. You would never know that above the waist she is in a backbend.

 

But she is in full backbend - her back parallel to the floor..  So where on the spine does her bend occur?  Right where her heart is - not at the lumbar spine.  

 

She was certainly Vaganova trained and known as a very flexible dancer.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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Thankyou for the suggestions, i'll try those exercises :)

Sorry if I was slightly unclear with the Vaganova reference; I havent been trained in the Vaganova style, but when looking at photos of their students, I thought that their cambre looked similar to mine- althiugh im not that flexible!

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Another thing to remember is that you really must keep your legs very pulled up, and pelvis/hips very stable during backwards ports de bras. A common mistake is to start the movement correctly but once the student 'runs out' of strength or movement, they tend to shorten in their lower back, release their knees and let their hips/pelvis move forward to try to increase their back bend. 

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