In 30 Seconds or Less!
by Alay’nya (Alianna J. Maren, Ph.D.)
posted January 18, 2013
Martial Arts Principles and Relevance to Oriental Dance
Like many of you, I’ve been studying Oriental dance for many years. Before I learned about Oriental dance, I was a dedicated martial arts student. I started with the “hard styles”: Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate, and Judo combined with Ju-jitsu; whatever and wherever I could find a teacher. Over time, I migrated to the “soft styles”; these included T’ai Chi Ch’uan, together with some less-well-known (but very effective) allied arts such as Ba Gua, Hsing I, and others.
One of the differences between hard and soft styles in martial arts is that in those considered the soft styles, the practitioner learns how to create the movements from the “inside-out.” A major way in which practitioners do this is to learn a set of underlying body-awareness principles that guide how they hold and move their bodies.
Dancers and martial artists both use principles in mastering their art. For example, Martha Graham, one of the most important American modern dancers and choreographers of the last century, built a number of movements based on what she called principles of “expansion and contraction”.
A principle is a single unifying and guiding idea that when we apply it to our alignment or movement, helps us move more effectively. An advantage of using a principles-based approach to dance or martial arts mastery is that it lets us use a single visualization or body sense to achieve a desired result, instead of having to remember lots of little details.
For example, by using the principles of “anchoring”, we align our body and get powerful results, but we don’t have to remember detailed rules such as “knees over toes” or “hold the pelvis level.” These all come about as a result of using a triggering image (which in this case, is the notion of having a ship’s anchor suspended from ones center).
There are several important principles that can be applied to dance. For the purpose of this dance discussion, the single principle that can transform your hip drops, and in fact all of your dance, is that of anchoring.
I consider anchoring to be the first principle to use for integrating body and mind into dance. First, stand with your knees slightly bent. (This is crucially important!) To the best of your ability, lengthen and align your posture.
Now imagine that in the center of your body, you have a hook, and suspended from that hook is an anchor. This will become your visual or kinesthetic trigger. Use this imagery and combined feeling to generate the alignment change in your body instantly, without having to remember lots of little pointers.
Make your anchor very heavy – fifty pounds or even more. This internal anchor will cause your lower back to become lengthened. As your lower back lengthens out, you may notice three things:
- Your abdominal muscles become much more engaged. Especially, your lower and more internal abdominal muscles (internal and external obliques) are working harder now. They are now structuring your lower torso, much like a girdle of muscles. Take notice, ladies: We don’t need Spanx, or control-top pantyhose; what we need is to anchor because it will result in immediate torso toning!
- Your upper thighs begin to feel the burn when you are well anchored. This is good. It means that they’re doing the workload that your lower back had been doing previously. The more that your thighs are burning, the deeper you are doing this technique.
- Your weight is shifted just a little bit forward. When your lower back was not completely lengthened, the weight vector of your body was directed slightly backwards. Now, your weight is going straight downward. You will feel that the center of your weight is now located more towards the center of your feet, and less towards your heels.
Each of these three things that you may notice is an indication that you are executing this anchoring principle correctly.
Now, while staying anchored, shift your weight so that one hip is free to move. Experiment with a hip drop. Just try a few pelvic techniques such as drops and thrusts, fast and slow, forward and back.
Do you notice how much looser your freely moving hip is? Try some “power drops and thrusts.” That’s right, do something strong, emphatic, and percussive. There’s a big difference, isn’t there?
Shift back and forth between your new state of being anchored and your previous unanchored state in which your lower back became just a little tight and pulled you out of perfect alignment. Notice the difference in your pelvic work. When you use the anchoring principle, your hips are loose, and your techniques are powerful. It is even easier to do faster dance techniques, like those some call “Little Cascades.”
Practice this over the next few days and continue using the anchor visualization to access immediately your new, much more powerful, anchored state. Especially, at home or at work when you find yourself in a stressful situation, remember to anchor. This imagine technique will help you feel more grounded and present, and more able to cope.
You can improve your anchoring ability by doing some yoga. The Downward Dog pose is an excellent move to release your lower spine, and every day if you can, do several sets of the Sun Salutation, which includes the Downward Dog and other poses.
The more that you practice anchoring, the more you’ll notice that your other movements are becoming both more connected and more expressive. You’re taking the first step toward the internal art of Oriental dance; you’re applying T’ai Chi principles to your dance training.
* Alay’nya, Unveiling: The Inner Journey (McLean, VA: Mourning Dove Press, 2011).
Chapter 22: “Looking Like a Dancer (Even if You’re Not)” describes two Principles; Anchoring and the Lotus Flower. These two Principles work well together.
** Peter Ralston, Cheng Hsin: Principles of Effortless Power (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999). (A good description of martial arts Principles that are applicable to dance as well as martial arts.)
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