Video transcript
Contemporary dance training – Pilates

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[music playing]

CHARLOTTE TWITCHELL: Hi, dancers. My name is Charlotte Twitchell, and I'm a tutor with a primary dance ensemble, but today, I'll be teaching you some Pilates. This Pilates workout is going to be based around functional movement training for dancers, specifically. So we'll be focusing on some fundamentals that are going to increase our stability, our mobility, and our body awareness.

Make sure that you have with you a mat or something to lay on that's cushion-y; a hand towel, it can be a kitchen towel or a face washer; and plenty of space around you. And then lastly, we're going to need you to have your parent's permission in order to do this work out today, so make sure that they know and are aware that you are doing this with me.

OK, so we're going to start with our fundamentals. These are some basic principles in our Pilates class that we use throughout the class. Part one is going to be the breathing. So in Pilates, we have a specific type of breathing, and that's the inhale through the nose, exhale through pursed lips. And this breath is how we utilise our abdominals in a functional way, and also keep ourselves really oxygenated while we're doing a big, heavy work out.

So you start on your back, laying down all the way. Nice and flat, comfortable. If you need a little pillow underneath your head, feel free to use that. And you want to make sure that you're as normal through your spine and body as possible so that you can relax.

When you start your breathing, we're going to just kind of notice where the back goes inhaling and exhaling. And then you're going to try to lower your breath down into your belly, so that we can use what's called the diaphragm muscle in order to use most functional muscle for our breath. So inhale, and you should see your belly rise.

[inhales forcefully]

And exhale, push through the pursed lips.

[exhales forcefully]

Belly should sink into the centre. And again, inhale--

[inhales forcefully]

--and exhale.

[exhales forcefully]

Now, when I go to do my next inhale, I want to make sure that my tummy's held in. So I'm going to inhale. I'm still expanding, but I'm holding the muscles in my belly, and then I exhale.

[exhales forcefully]

Re-engage everything. Next, we're going to be working on our pelvic placement. So there's two places your pelvis can be in a Pilates class-- neutral is the normal curves of your spine, when you have a little space underneath your lumbar. should have a little gap there. And you can take your hand underneath, you can feel for it. And then we have our imprint.

Now, to get to our imprint we aren't going to squeeze the leg muscles or the bum muscles. We are going to try to use just the oblique muscles, and those connect from the ribs to the hip. So on my inhale breath, I'm going to just hold everything.

[inhales forcefully]

On the exhale breath, I'm going to cinch up this space between the ribs and the hip in the front--

[exhales forcefully]

--scoop out my tummy, and then my low back should lay down because my pelvis is tilting. My hip bone's pointing backwards, my pubic bone's shooting up towards my knees. I'm going to go back to my neutral on the next inhale.

[inhales forcefully]

And exhale again, squeezing the space.

[exhales forcefully]

I should be relaxing in my lumbar spine here, so there shouldn't be tension in our back. So if there is, give it another try. Try to release and relax, and use just these oblique muscles.

[inhales and exhales forcefully]

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And then we're just doing this. Then, we have our shoulder blades. They should be flat on the back, so they should be kind of parallel to one another in line with the spine right down the middle here and laying flat down. So if there's a little bit of separation from your rib cage and your shoulder blade, try to lift and roll those shoulders back to flatten it down and then try to pin the bottom of that shoulder blade down against the rib cage.

If that doesn't happen right away, we just keep trying for that action. The other way you can kind of figure out whether or not your shoulder blades are engaging properly is to feel them flapping on to the floor. It's a good surface to really feel whether or not they're poking or laying. So you're going to take your hands in front of your chest. We're going to do protraction retraction.

So the body's nice and neutral. I have my neutral pelvis. I'm going to inhale, and then I'm going to exhale. And as I'm doing that, you'll notice I'm taking my shoulders away from the floor, I'm separating my shoulder blades apart. and then I'm taking them back into the floor, squeezing them towards one another. And then I just want to find a nice little middle ground. I'm getting smaller and smaller.

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And then I'm going to place my hands on the ground. Should be nice and neutral here. The last thing we're going to work on is our cervical spine, which is right behind the neck here. So you want to have a little arch away from the floor, but a lot of times, with dancers, it's quite flat. So we're going to make sure that we can find that little arch, support it.

And then, from there, any time we do an action with our spine, whether it's side folding, forward folding, or back extension, we're just letting that cervical spine follow the lead of the thoracic spine, which is your rib cage area. So I'm going to do a little ab prep. I'm going to inhale. As I inhale, I'm just going to slightly nod my chin down, and that's all I'm going to do. On my exhale, I'm going to lift up. The whole upper body's one piece. I'm not dropping the chin any further. And then I'm going to return. Do about four or five of those just to really practise this action.

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And then when you've sort of gotten a good handle on where your neutral is, then we can start the second part of our workout. OK, so the next area we're going to focus on is our scapula. When you have the scapula in the proper place, they're laying flat on the rib cage parallel to one another in line with the other vertebrae. Which means there's no separation right in the inside edge, and there's no lift off of the back edge.

So when you are going onto the floor, you'll be able to really feel whether or not something's occurring. We're going to take our hands in front of my chest reaching towards the ceiling. And you're going to lift up on the inhale breath, and press down on the exhale breath. And as you're lifting up, you're separating the scapula, and as you're pressing down you're squeezing them together. And you're trying to find your personal neutral here.

So we're going to go up and down and then try to land them nice and flat. And once you find that, after a few tries, you'll be able to know, right, and be able to feel if they're nice and flat and somewhat even. They're probably not going to be perfect, because no one's scapula are perfect.

Last thing we're going to do is our cervical spine, with the top of our neck here. So you want to have a nice, neutral arch. It wants to be a little bit archy. So you want to make sure that it's not flapping too much. Protect the chin. We're not overarching with the chin pulled back.

So when we go into any of our extensions, backwards, folds forward, well, side to side bends, you want to make sure that the cervical spine's going with the thoracic spine. So in my practise here, I'm going to do my ab prep, which is going to be like my parallel, or my crunch.

I'm going to slightly tilt my chin on the inhale breath, and then exhale. My whole body folds up as one piece. So I've just lengthened out this curve, but I'm not crunching my chin down. Do about four or five reps of those until you really feel where your personal neutral is. Everyone's is different, of course, so it's going to be individual.

Right, those are our fundamentals. With the next part of our work out, we are going to start warming up the proximal joints of our limbs. So when we go into any sort of foundational workout, and especially when we're prepping for a show or any sort of dance class, you want to start from the inside going out because that's the way the blood flows.

So we start that core. We've gotten our kind of internal organs all warmed up with our abdominal muscles and everything, so now we want to get into these auxiliary joints, but at the very base of them. So starting with the top of the hips, we're going to be laying down on our backs.

I have my neutral pelvis, which you should be familiar with now, and I'm going to keep everything the same by holding my tummy muscles in. And I'm going to let one knee just fall outward. Taking my leg all the way to the edge of my mat. I'm just going to extend, slide my leg straight. Then, I'm going to point my toes inward, and hold them all the way back in.

This is a little bit easier if you have socks on versus bare feet, just because it slides in better. But if you are barefoot, you just have a gentle touch of the floor. And as I go out, I'm going to use my exhale breath to engage my abs.

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And then the inhale breath to reset. And exhale, making sure that nothing moves except for this one leg. And inhale. When you've done about five on that side, we're going to go internal rotation. So you start with the internal rotation of knocking my right knee into my left, sliding out, and then rotating outward and pulling inward.

This rotation, at the top of the hip, is a really good way to keep your hips stabilisers, the joint stabilisers, around the hip muscle, turn on. These little muscles don't like a lot of pressure or effort. So the slower and lighter you go, the better they like it, the more likely they are to turn on. If you want to do fast and hard, they shut off because the big muscles take over.

And we'll do the other leg. Same thing. So five external rotations, five internal rotations, and then you swap sides. Continuing on from there, we want to also warm up front and back muscles of the legs. Still thinking about slower movements, so that the smaller muscles can engage as well. But this time, we're going forward backwards. So we have our quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes turning on and kind of turning off.

So this movement is for the articulation of the spine as well. So the little bit the abdominals are engaging, and especially at the beginning they're going to be turning on. So I want my hands to be pressing into the floor. Again, my shoulders and scaps, nice and flat. My head needs to be un-lifted up. So if you have a little prop underneath your head for comfort, this would be the time to take it away. Have your head flat on the ground.

We're going to start with our imprint pelvis. So I'm holding my hip bones back. So my pubic bone and my hip bones are going up to the ceiling. Then, from there, as I engage through my quad muscles, I'm going to start to turn on my glutes, and then my hamstrings. I'm stretching out these quadriceps.

Dancers tend to be very quad dominant, so we need to lengthen them as we do exercises a little bit more often, especially when we're doing cross training. And then peel them down, all the way to the floor. And the breath pattern for this exercise is going to be exhaling on the movements, inhaling on the holds. So as I go into this movement, rolling up through my spine, I'm exhaling. I'm going--

[exhales forcefully]

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--at the top of the hold. And inhale--

[inhales forcefully]

--and then, I'm exhaling.

[exhales forcefully]

Tummy down. The breath is really just to help the movement happen, and we really want to get deep in this articulation of the spine. So I'm trying to get each, individual vertebrae to lift up by itself without any other action. So it's very isolating. And in this motion, you have a lot of opportunity to kind of focus on what inconsistencies you have in your glute engagement, which is some very big things. You want to make sure that both glutes are carrying on. And exhale.

Glutes turn on, hamstrings turn on all the way to the top. I'm going to scoop up, make sure my ribs aren't popping out, and then I'm coming back down. We'll do about 10 of those, because they do take some time to really get turning on all those problem muscles. And it's a really nice stretch and to lengthen up the front body. So 10 of those, and then you can move on.

Our final exercise lying on the floor is going to be our ab preps. So it's going to be similar to that ab crawl that we did earlier, but we want to extend the legs, always straight. This is in order to keep our pelvis as neutral as possible. Because part of this is to really turn on the obliques rather than the rectus abdominis. So when we have our tilt of our pelvis, the rectus abdominis tends to turn on. When we don't, its more oblique oriented.

So hands can be either behind the ears, thumbs at the jaw so we're not pulling on our head or you can have your arms long, which is the extra challenge version. So I suggest if you are less used to Pilates, have your hands a little bit closer to your body, and if you are a little bit more practised, arms can be long. But we're going to start here.

I'm going to inhale prepare, tilt my chin, exhale pressing. And I'm trying to look towards my toes by lifting up my thoracic spine. I'm not crunching my chin here. And then I'm going to control to come back down. I'm going to inhale and exhale.

[inhales forcefully]

Inhale and exhale to return back down, similar to the hip roll. And exhaling up. And inhale. Then, exhale down. When you feel comfortable with that and you're ready to challenge yourself further, the long arms look like this. We go inhale, exhale.

Sweep the hands, reach towards the toes. Inhale, exhale arms, and then body control going down. Do about five or six of those. When you start to feel very long and articulated through the upper body, then you can start to do the full roll up. Peeling up all the way, trying to keep the legs long on the ground and stacking at the top.

OK, for the next exercise, we're going to be sitting upright. We're going to have to have bare feet so that our toes can articulate properly because we're going to be going to do a little extension and bend with the knee joint, ankle joint. And then we're trying to pick up the cloth with our toes here, so you'll need a slick surface to push that cloth on. Carpet's probably not going to be the best area for this. And you can find, probably in your bathroom or your kitchen, a proper surface for this.

We're going to take one foot onto the cloth, hands are going to be behind you supporting sitting nice, upright position. I'm going to be pushing outward with my legs, and as I do that, I'm going to hold onto this little dish cloth here and try to pick it up with my toes. And then as I come back, I'm placing and spreading it back down.

So we're doing a dual action here, I'm extending my leg and pulling it in by getting the quadricep warmed up. I'm getting my calves warmed up because I'm pointing my toes, articulating my ankle, and then the bottom of my feet, my arches, are warming up because I'm doing the grip with the toes.

We'll do about six or seven on one leg, and then the same thing, six or seven times, on the other leg. I'm picking up that cloth and placing it down, making sure it's nice and flat, so you can do a couple spreading motions with those toes. OK, pressing out, picking up, and then coming back in. Really good if you have a nice, loose ankles. Yeah, if you're very flexible, this is a great strengthening action.

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The next series, which will still be on this slick surface, is going to be for the shoulders. Now, we can do a little warm up for the shoulders here, and that's going to require you to have a little bit of comfort on the wrists because when you go into your four point kneeling, you're putting quite a bit of pressure on the wrist joints, so just make sure we're softening the elbows, you're gripping the fingers into the floor, and then we're not pronging out and folding too hard into this joint here.

And then I'm going to squeeze my scaps together, just like we did on the floor. And press them apart a few times, getting nice and engaged at the shoulders. As you get a bit more advanced, you can take your knees behind you, flat at the hips. And you can do this more weighted, and then eventually into your plank. But for now, just staying nice and gentle. Rolling those shoulders.

All right. Then, once you warmed up, you can take one hand on to the cloth, other hand on to the floor for stabilisation. You're going to try to stay nice and even between the two hands. As you go forward with this hand, you're going to reach, reach, reach as far as you can without twisting, dropping, or turning. So it's an extension, and you're reaching, reaching, reaching all the way, and then coming back in.

And then you're going to go out to the side. Just let it go. But you're not letting this sink, so everything staying very stable. And it's a stretch and strengthen at the same time, so you should be feeling the elongation one those shoulder muscles while also feeling a little bit of a warmth happening as those muscles warm up. And, of course, the breath will always go movement is the exhale. Inhale hold, exhale and come back in. Good. Exhaling out, inhaling at the hold. Exhaling to draw back in.

[exhales forcefully]

Inhaling through your set. Again, six or seven sets on one side, six or seven sets on the other side. Our last exercise we'll practise in this series is going to be articulation though the spine without resistance from the floor. So when you're practicing your dance practise, you should be very bodily aware, especially of the backspace, which is what we're going to be working on today. However, when you're doing backspace movement, most of that movement's actually going to come from the front core muscles.

So we're going to be thinking about our abdominals a lot. You're going to come to your hands and knees. And, of course, protecting those wrists, making sure that those fingertips are gripping into the floor, softening through the elbows. This is our cat spine. In Pilates, we don't go into the extension of the spine. So we actually just remain neutral. So the head and tail are going to be nice and long, and you're going to really try to check out and understand where your personal neutral is.

So the lining up of your body's going to go ears over shoulders. Shoulders in line with the middle of the ribs. Middle of the ribs stacking right through the middle of the hips, and then the sit line should be pointing in line with the top of the head. OK, so finding that awareness is really important, especially to know your stack, your spine. And we're going to start to go into our cat back by pulling up through the bottom of the core.

So I'm thinking about from my pubic bone to my navel, zipped up into my hips. And that's going to cause my low back to start to arch up towards the ceiling. I'll start from the bottom and let the hip go last exhaling. And then I inhale to return back to my neutral, but I'm not extending into that cat spine. Remember, it's just a neutral stack. Really aware where that spine is going. Exhale.

[exhales forcefully]

Smooth your tummy. Inhale. And then this way, we're going to really find our core muscles and really understand the back articulation.

[music playing]

[inhales forcefully]

Then, once you've really got awareness through the core, that position, you can take it into the hover with the knees off the ground. This is a really challenging position to do, so keep in mind this is the level up from that knee down position. You want to perfect the knee down position first.

So I'm going to hover my knees just a couple of centimetres off the floor, I'm going to try for the same thing. Now, I'm already engaging in my abs just to hold this, so it's going to be hard to get that articulation. I'm going to inhale prepare. Exhale.

[exhales forcefully]

Bottom to the top. Inhale and exhale, slightly out of breath pattern for this one because there's so much effort in this one. Inhale, exhale, move.

[exhales forcefully]

Inhale, exhale, move.

[exhales forcefully]

Do about five steps with each or as many as you need in the first series in order to feel prepared for the second series, and then five in the second series. Very good.

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That concludes our first series of fundamental Pilates for dancers. We'll continue on with another video, getting a little bit more in depth in the articulation, little bit more complex with our movement so that we are really focusing on body awareness, understanding, and strength and mobility. Thank you, guys. Have a good day.

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