Years ago, a coach told me, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… then it must be a duck!”
Then he leaned back and crossed his arms as if his point were completely and plainly made.
I stared, baffled.
His point was that you can identify someone by observing their habitual characteristics. In other words, if you come in to the studio and pretend to be a duck for 45 minutes a week, and then you walk out of the studio and stand/move/behave nothing like a duck… you’re probably not a duck.
A friend of mine who is a highly respected ballet teacher told me about an afternoon when she was in Barnes & Noble looking at books when a stranger came up and asked if she was a ballerina. The man could tell just by the way she was standing. It was a brief, chance encounter, but it made an impression on her and she was proud that a stranger could recognize she was a duck even though she was just hanging out at Barnes and Noble.
Think about the habitual characteristics of dancers. They stand straight and tall, shoulders down, head and sternum high. They continually work to build their endurance, strengthen their muscles and increase their flexibility. They eat and drink things that will help to give them energy and build lean muscle without adding bulk or excess fat. They give their bodies the sleep they need, to perform when called upon. Their eyes, ears and minds are alive, soaking up information and images like sponges. They are proud of their bodies and treat them gently and lovingly.
The number one way to be more duck-like once you step out of the studio is to focus on your POSTURE! If someone can look at you doing nothing more than standing and can tell you’re a duck – you’re definitely a duck! There are so many exercises you can do to improve your posture! Every morning before I get out of bed, I flip over and hang my head backward over the foot of the bed, letting the back of my head rest against the vertical edge of the bed. My neck muscles are still relaxed from being at rest for several hours, and this gentle stretch reminds them of their full range of motion. All day long, gravity pulls my head forward. Before I start the day, I let gravity pull it backward for a few minutes! I also have students who practice pushing their head back against the headrest while they’re driving – a great idea (as long as you are still driving responsibly!) since we spend so much time in the car!
I wear this Posture Corrector for 15-30 minutes each day. At first I worried that I’d become dependent upon it holding my shoulders back for me, but that’s not the way it works. It goes on like a backpack, and if I hunch my shoulders forward, I feel a slight discomfort from the harness. This just serves as a gentle reminder not to hunch my shoulders. It’s amazing how many times in just 15-30 minutes I feel that reminder, “Hey! Pull your shoulders back!” Small doses of this each day are better than a marathon session all in one day. Try wearing it as you do a different activity each day – you’ll be surprised to discover how often you hunch over doing basic tasks. Remember, a duck doesn’t hunch over, no matter what (s)he’s doing.
I also really like this Balance Pod. I don’t actually use it to practice my balance (though that wouldn’t be a terrible idea either!). I put it in between my shoulder blades (rounded side towards me) and lean back against a wall. I practice trying to squeeze the ball by pulling my shoulder blades together, holding for 10 seconds, and then releasing. 15 of these a day will really build your “lats” (latissimus dorsi muscles) and make it a lot easier to hold your shoulders down and your head up! You can also lie down on the floor with the balance pod under your back – the “quills” will sure wake up your nerve endings, and the curve will help stretch out your back, one section at a time!
At the end of the day, I look forward to some quality time with my Foam Roller. I lie on it, on my back with it running along my spine from my head to my tailbone, and I can feel each vertebrae relaxing back into alignment! Then I gently roll side-to-side with my hands behind my head – it’s a nice massage on each side of my back and it’s good for practicing balance and coordination, too! Then I turn the roller so that it’s perpendicular to my spine, put my feet flat on the floor and gently roll it up and down from my mid- to upper-back. It’s another plane of massage and it’s also good for stretching out my back!
In addition to posture – a quick word about diet and exercise. I firmly believe that there is NO one-size-fits-all answer. Before you put something into your mouth, ask yourself if eating it will be kind to your body and provide good fuel for the activities you are going to demand of it later. 3-5 times per week, try to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity (elevated heart rate!); and a little bit of weight training – lower weight, more repetitions is better than higher weight, fewer repetitions for building lean muscle and building endurance for long nights of dancing!!! Love your body. Treat it like your friend. You are an artist, and your body is your instrument! Take care of you.
Have a trick for improving your posture? Have a favorite recipe or exercise routine? I’d love to hear about it!