Thursday, September 22, 2011


My last blog touched on the use of “stretching” when there was no actual muscle elongation happening. This is just one of a number of misused terms that grate for Madame Pedant.

There is also the misuse of “warm up” to just mean the start of a class. No. A warm up is meant to prepare your body (and mind) for dancing. Stretching is not a warm up. In fact, for real stretching you need about 15 minutes of warm up first.

A physiological warm up is understood to be something that includes continuous action of large muscle groups of sufficient intensity to elevate the internal muscle temperature by a couple of degrees; to allow more efficient energy production in muscles; increase flexibility of tissue; increase joint lubrication; allow for faster muscle contraction and increase speed of messages along the nerves. It prepares the body to work and decreases the chance of some types of injury.

How you do it is another issue. A drill with lots of big muscle movements and lifting arm movements can work fine (I think this is why barre work may work - assuming you are not having to stretch to do it - ie you are working well below you own limits). Basically, just avoid small muscle work early on or anything that uses extreme ROM or force.

Then there is the term “belly dance”. A misunderstanding of this phrase’s history has led to pulsating bellies and coin rolling. It is not the belly that dances but the torso – especially the hips. And yes, in modern belly dance there is also footwork.

People have a range of ideas on alternatives. I’ve explored them in the past and I have also looked at what the various terms can mean - No point in rehashing that all here.

One that grates but does little harm is the misuse of “stomach” as in “use you stomach muscles to do this move”. Pretty hard. The stomach is an organ of digestion and its only real action is squeezing the food along. In most cases the word wanted is abdominal. Although often it is not all (or any) abdominal muscles and may be a group like the lateral flexors – obliques (one set of abs) and the quadratus lumborum (a back muscle).

Now we wander into “style X generates movements using muscles (good), style Y uses the skeleton (bad)”. Wrong. You cannot move using just the skeleton. Movement is generated by muscles contracting. These are connected to bones via tendons and with the help of joints and ligaments and a nervous system generate movement.

What can vary between styles is whether the pelvis is moved by the abdominal muscles or pushed around by the legs. Beginners often initially have to use their legs to generate hip rocks, circles and eights. This is not desirable long term for reasons of safety (watch what happens with your knees if you do a horizontal eight this way), texture (leg driven is pretty much on or off – there isn’t much subtlety), or balance (leg driven often hangs off the ITBs at the extremes). Experienced dancers tend to migrate to abdominal generation in most styles – look at some of the old Egyptian footage. Decades before Tribal was invented and all core driven.

Another difficult term is “hips”. It can mean a number of different things. For most English speaking general public it is the part of the body from the waist to the legs. And in class I will use this – knowing it isn’t quite right. Basically we are moving our pelvis around – which is a complex bony bit – covered in muscle and fat. The top of this is the ilium.

The “hip joint” is where the leg bone meets the pelvis – and it is in your groin! The socket is the acetabulum and its exact configuration long with the length and angle of the neck of the femur will determine whether someone can ever achieve 90 degree turn out or the lotus position.

Lastly there is “efficient”. I frequently hear people say they are thin because their bodies are so efficient. Actually it is exactly the opposite. Their bodies are inefficient and are wasting food. In today’s obese society, thin is good and because “efficient” is good the two must be equivalent.
But efficiency is the ratio of useful work to energy input. Thin people use all their input energy. Rounder people store some of the input as fat – so they need less energy input to survive – which means they are more efficient.

Words are our tools to communicate. If we use them in a sloppy manner our communication is less efficient; there is more misunderstandings; people go off on tangents. So let’s try and use clear and unambiguous communication.

1 comment:

  1. You are so cute! Using language accurately and/or consciously is something I am pretty passionate about too. In fact I once got to correct someone who complained about my pedanticness - the word is pedantry. SCORE!!!!! I'm not above using words in a technically erroneous context - such as triaging ideas or a GUI being sexy, but this is a conscious choice!