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Postural Control

One of the first things we need to look at when beginning to assess a student for pointe is their postural control. We will look at the dancer's posture in various positions including standing in parallel, in 1st and 5th position and what happens when they start to transfer weight onto one leg. Effective postural control is essential to provide a stable base to work off when progressing onto pointe to help prevent both back and foot injuries.

Make sure to note down any observations on the individual's assessment sheet, giving a double tick for excellent control, a single tick for good control, and a line if it needs significant work.

Standing in Parallel

The Postural Assessment begins by reviewing the dancer's posture in parallel. It is important to correct any spinal  and pelvic placement issues before adding on the demands of turnout and pointe. Keep in mind that the dancer should be able to maintain good posture with the least amount of effort in order to be able to maintain it consistently when dancing. During the this position we will look at the following areas:

  • Head and neck position
  • Shoulder position/Upper back
  • 6 D breathing/Abdominal control
  • Low back/Pelvic tilt
  • Hyperextension
  • Knee caps
  • Foot position/Tendon activity

Standing Forward Bend

Observing a Standing Forward Bend is a great way to observe the student's general level of flexibility and the segmental control of their spine. Observe how the spine moves through the entire movement, not just the level of mobility at end of range. Watch from the side to check spinal mobility and from the back to make sure that both sides are even. Ask the dancer to indicate what they feel as they move slowly through the movement. A line of pull may indicate neural tension. A spread area may be fascial tension. We will also assess: 

  • How they articulate their spine
  • Fluidity of the movement
  • The end range and how they return to standing
  •  If they have signs of scoliosis
  • The exercise with the heels lifted and if how this makes the dancer feel

 Standing Transfers

Many students struggle to transfer their weight onto one leg, and this definitely needs to be checked before clearing a student for pointe. If the dancer cannot stabilise on one leg in bare feet, they will really struggle in pointe shoes.

During this exercise watch for any significant hitching or dropping of the hip of the lifted leg or twisting of the pelvis and keep an eye on the placement of the ribcage over the pelvis. Some dancers shear the ribs to one side in an attempt to balance. Some students will be able to correct their pelvic position when instructed; however, if they are unable to correct this when prompted, then referral to a health professional that frequently deals with the SIJ (Sacroiliac Joint) is recommended.

 

Standing in First and Fifth Position

Often, in their attempt to impress the assessor in a testing situation, dance students will overturn their feet in first position and begin to roll the feet in. Alternatively, they may not use the turnout that they use in class, as they know that it's not optimal. Make sure to assess the dancer in bare feet, as many subtle issues may be hidden under socks or ballet slippers. When assessing your students in this position we will look at their:

  • Standing posture
  • Upper gluteal activation
  • Knee cap stability
  • Tendons and if they are relaxed

Hyperextension

Teachers often ask what my stance is in regards to Hyperextension of the knees when standing in 1st position. This is an extremely frustrating area for both teachers and their hypermobile students, as it can be very difficult to control, especially in young students. During this exercise we will talk about the following factors: 

  • Heels together
  • Internal rotation
  • Heels apart
  • Ideal alignment

Relaxed Standing Posture

Dancers are often fabulous at faking things and showing the assessor (either their dance teacher or therapist) what they think you want to see. One of the best times to accurately assess their posture is when they are not aware of being watched. Take note of how the dancer stands in the waiting area, in between exercises, and when waiting to be picked up after class. This often gives a much better indication of their true postural and core control. Whilst you are taking notes pay particular attention to the:

  • Head position
  • Ribcage placement
  • Hip position
  • Foot placement
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