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The Balancing Act: Part 2

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Claire Plummer is a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, and T.C.R.G. through An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha. She is dedicated to optimal health, wellness, and injury prevention in Irish Dancers of all levels and ages. Claire can be contacted here, and she loves to hear your questions and comments!

Last time, we discussed how your body develops stability and maintains balance while you are performing your steps in class and on stage. (Read it here: The Balancing Act: Part 1) Now that we’ve gone through the basics, we can apply this information to help you improve your balance, and remain safe and light on your feet throughout every round!

We discussed how balance is controlled by three body systems: the Somatosensory System (skin and nerves in skin), the Visual System (eyes), and the Vestibular System (inner ear). The exercises below challenge one or more of these systems, and are progressively harder than the last, so make sure you’ve mastered one safely prior to moving on to a new challenge! Practicing balance in this manner will allow your three balance systems to become finely tuned to small changes that your body experiences on stage, and in normal life.

Balance Exercise Variations

Stand on one leg with eyes open (hard floor)

  • This is easiest – you are able to use all three systems to maintain your balance.

 

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Stand on one leg on a folded up towel or blanket (any squishy surface). Be careful! Do not do this on tile or hard wood floors for safety reasons.

    • This takes out the Somatosensory System, as you are on a surface that gives less consistent feedback than the floor. Your Visual and Vestibular Systems have to work harder to keep you upright.

    

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Stand on one leg with eyes closed (hard floor)

    • This removes the Visual system, and forces you to rely on your Vestibular and Somatosensory systems for single leg stability.

    
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Stand on one leg with eyes closed on a squishy surface

  • By removing the Visual and Somatosensory Systems, your inner ear, or Vestibular System becomes more finely tuned.

Stand on one leg with eyes open and turn your head side to side

  • By turning your head in a “yes” or “no” direction, you are challenging the Vestibular System (inner ear) to adapt and allow you to stay balanced when your head is moving.

Stand on one leg with eyes closed and turn your head side to side

  • The Visual System is removed, and the Vestibular System is challenged, allowing for fine tuning of the Somatosensory System (nerves in your skin, and joints).

Stand on one leg on a squishy surface with eyes closed, and turn your head from side to side.

  • This removes the Visual and Somatosensory Systems, and challenges the Vestibular System, allowing for maximum challenge of all three systems. Be careful! This is very difficult.

    
Remember! Research has shown that if a dancer is unable to hold single leg balance with eyes closed for 60 seconds or greater, their risk of injury, especially to the legs can skyrocket. Additionally, you will wobble, but try to work through it and catch yourself! This wobbling is a very normal response to balance exercises, and only means that different muscle groups are firing to keep you upright. Keep practicing your balance every day, and continue to challenge yourself, but make sure to check your single leg balance with eyes closed every so often to ensure you’re staying on track!
    
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As always, these exercises may be uncomfortable, but should never cause outright pain, and are not meant to diagnose or treat current injuries. If they do hurt, adjust your form first, and if it does not resolve, please consult a physical therapist/physiotherapist, athletic trainer, or physician (http://www.diddlyi.com/2014/05/translating-irish-dancing-medical-lingo/). Also, keep in mind that all dancers are put together differently! Everyone will be challenged in different ways with their balance. Work with your teachers to dance to your strengths so you can become the best dancer you can be!
    
Photo credits: Image 1: Wikipedia; Image 2: Skimble Workouts; Image 3: Airex Balance Pad Blue via Amazon.com; Image 4: Try This: Blind Balance. netplaces: Science Experiments for Kids. Tom Robinson; Image 5: Flickr user OZinOH. All images retrieved 9/1/2014.


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