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Life Through Dance

Stretching Myself

By Elizabeth Dickinson

In my open waltz choreography, I use my body in ways it has rarely been used. In the pas de deux work, there’s a move where I extend my left foot forward while my teacher carries it around in a circle. (It’s nicer than I make it sound.) The leg extends at an uncomfortable side angle, in a place that has never been particularly flexible for me. I haven’t been able to extend it high enough to where it looks aesthetically pleasing.

To increase my extension, my teacher suggested some simple hurdle stretches where you sit on the floor, curve one leg under, stretch the other leg forward, and extend the back towards it. (These exercises are best done gently. Some experts believe hurdling stretches can be risky because they can force the knee into an unnatural position.)

Frankly, it took a little mental flexibility to take on the physical stretches. My grumpy internal response was, “Well, that’s unlikely to work.” Even when I was a hurdler, I never liked those stretches. But for the past six weeks, I have (most days) added these stretches to my sun salutations. Lo and behold, by the end of the first week, I could hold the extended foot with a more or less straight back. This was much more than I anticipated.

It has yet to be seen how this influences the waltz, since I’ve been traveling the past month, but it reinforces the idea that flexibility can be restored and extended. Living a flexible life may show up in the body, but sometimes it starts in the mind and emotions.

As Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

May we all strive for the intelligence that allows for change and flexibility in the mind, body, and emotions.