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Emerging Concepts of Posture and Alignment

Donna Krasnow, Rita Monasterio, Steven J. Chatfield
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 16 Number 1: Page 8 (March 2001)

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Abstract: Dance educators have been posing questions and theories about the alignment of the body for centuries. In The Life and Works of John Weaver, Ralph50 includes lectures by Weaver, written in 1721, in which he describes good posture for the dancer. Blasis5 first published An Elementary Treatise Upon the Theory and Practice of the Art of Dancing in 1820, in which he expounds in detail about the correct placement of the segments of the dancer's body. By the 1900s these concepts of alignment were becoming extended, and detailed discussions of the importance of teaching proper alignment began to appear in the literature.32,34
The simplest and perhaps most common approach to this issue is one familiar to all dance educators, viewing the body in erect quiet stance. The dancer is observed from the side, and an imaginary "plumb line" is dropped from the top of the head down to the feet to assess how closely the centers of the various body segments and joints (head, shoulders, rib cage, hips, knees, ankles) approximate this line. The dancer is also observed from the front and back to check the bilateral symmetry of the body. What information or insight does this process of assessing alignment in stance yield? And how does this relate to what occurs once the body is in motion? Does the vertical placement of the body in quiet stance prepare it for the dynamic moment-by-moment adjustments needed to maintain equilibrium as the body moves in space, continually challenged by disturbances to balance? And how much of a dancer's balance and alignment is volitional effort, versus unconscious neural activation of muscles? If it is the latter, can these postural neuromuscular responses be enhanced through training?
It is easy to assume that static or quiet stance is a posture that is motionless and therefore does not require moment by moment muscular adjustments. However, Hellebrandt and colleagues25 demonstrated that vertical, standing posture is not static, but rather it is movement occurring on a stationary base, referred to as postural sway. All postures of the human body, whether in quiet stance or moving through space, require ongoing muscular effort and adaptation. The somatic practices1,2,19,24,56,57 explore the idea that alignment is dynamic and controlled at a neural level. The studies in the field of motor learning and motor control examine posture as an ongoing process of neuromuscular responses to disturbances, or perturbations, to balance.3,6,7,10,13,14,17,26,45,54,63
For the purposes of this writing, static vertical alignment is defined as a view of skeletal placement along a plumb line, viewed from the side, with the body segments stacked on the line of gravity in a non-locomotion stance, and with the weight evenly distributed between the feet. This can be considered a neutral "home base" for the body. Although it is not truly "static," this terminology is used to differentiate this idea of alignment from that of dynamic alignment. Dynamic alignment is defined as an ongoing process of neuromuscular postural responses occurring at an unconscious level, and can refer to the body in stance or in motion, in a variety of conditions. The purpose of this article is twofold: (1) to review, examine, and combine these various perspectives on posture and alignment; and (2) to propose training and research approaches suggested by emerging concepts.

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