In this article, we cover the concepts of muscle movement using flexion extension dance techniques. Two major actions of the muscles are flexion and extension. Additionally, the muscles that flex during a movement are referred to as flexors, e.g. hip flexors. And the muscles for extension are called extensors. Moreover, these muscle actions are involved in every movement in dancing.
Flexion Extension Dance Techniques
Dancing works the left and right hemispheres of our brains to create a synergy of art and science of movement. The Mirriam Webster dictionary describes the word “movement” as meaning: the act or process of moving or a particular instance or manner of moving. For our purposes, we will be focusing on the second definition as it pertains to dance movement in partner dancing.
In sports, objective data is used to measure excellence like distance, time or speed while dance is measured subjectively with variables like aesthetics and expression. Still, knowledge and implementation of various dance techniques helps the dancer achieve excellence in movement, connection and aesthetics.
Dancers communicate emotions, sensations, experiences and thoughts through non-verbal communication while dancing. Social dancing is a communication between partners, although anyone watching is also organically connected to the dance. Social dancing communicates through the connection between partners, which is attained through good technique, movement, timing and form. Here are a video example of techniqes involving flexion and extension of the hip flexors during the triples in West Coast Swing.
In dancesport, the communication is designed to be shared with an audience, so more attention is given to the aesthetics of the dance. Becoming an accomplished dancer whether the emphasis is aesthetics or connection for social dancing involves a good grasp of the physics of movement, sometimes called dance kinesiology. All human movement is affected by gravity and force vectors, (click picture or here for knee and ankle action for West Coast Swing short video.
How well we understand and use these concepts aids us in things like soft landings in leaps or jumps and in dance movement that involves pulse, bounce and projection. Our dance movement is improved with a better understanding and implementing techniques to absorb shock from the dance floor by compression of various muscle groups including those around the hips, knees and ankles.
Flexion is the action of bending a knee or arm, while extension is the action of straightening a limb, e.g. leg, arm or pointing a toe. Every time we flex or extend a limb, there are a set of muscles contracting and an opposing set stretching. A good example of this is in a sway where one side of the mid-torso is contracting while the other side is stretching; a common motion in the Waltz.
The way the human foot moves is complex. If we consider the act of walking, the action is rolling action starting at the heel then moving to the instep, ball of the foot and finally toes when moving forward. Walking backward is the opposite; the toes touch first then roll to the ball of the foot, instep and heel, (click picture or here to see short video on the Foxtrot Basic Step.
In dancing, the break down is even more exacting using phrases like the front of the heel, mid-heel and end of the heel depending on the dance. Flexion and extension of the feet through the ankles is used in all forms of partner dancing with slight differences depending on the dance genre.
Generally, the American style smooth dances use a rolling action with heel leads for forward movements after a lowering action onto the whole foot, as is done in waltz and foxtrot. Foot extension and flexion is also used in all the dances that use projection or flight and/or rise and fall like waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz.
American style rhythm dances including cha cha, rumba, bolero, mambo, samba and East Coast swing use a ball-flat footwork where the ball of the foot hits first followed by a lowering into the heel. Pressing into the floor with a rolling action is important in all the rhythm dances to stay grounded rather than sliding around the floor.
In West Coast swing proper ankle action is important for connection and good form. Using proper flexion and extension in the hips, knees and ankles is crucial for achieving the beauty and great feel necessary to excel in the West Coast swing. My preferred hip and knee action involves keeping the knee of the weighted leg straight causing extension while the other knee is flexed to greatly improve the look of the West Coast swing, (watch a short video on hip, knee and ankle action in the West Coast Swing starter step here).
The best dancers use flexion and extension of the ankles to achieve a more fluid movement in all dance genres including social ballroom, swing dance, Argentine tango, Latin dance, nightclub 2-step, hustle dance, country western, salsa dance, merengue, bachata, Lindy hop, Balboa, jitterbug and West Coast swing.
In conclusion, remember to use your hips, knees and ankles to absorb the shock of the dance floor and your dancing will be more fluid. Fluidity contributes to both the feel and aesthetics of dancing!