One of the most common problems in dancers is a misalignment of the pelvis. The reduced pelvic movement control may lead to an increased risk of injury.

“Tighten your buttocks!”
This is a comment that probably sounds familiar to every dancer and that every dance teacher might have previously used in class. As a young child, my ballet teacher also regularly told me that the buttocks should be tightened during an exercise. If this didn’t happen, she called it “pudding” and checked the glute contraction with a well-placed soft tap. Since I really wanted to show the correct execution of the complex ballet movements, I consciously squeezed my buttocks very hard and pulled my stomach in as hard as possible. Later on, I was told my back should also be as straight as possible, and I tilted my pelvis and tailbone back and under so that the natural curve of the lower back was flattened as much as possible.

For years, I danced this way and often felt a type of blockage in my pelvis and my en dehors* (external hip rotation) didn’t quite work out. The frustration grew all the more when I couldn’t find the strength and flexibility to lift my legs up high. It also became more and more difficult to perform a correct rond de jambe** movement, especially as soon as the movement was performed with a hip flexion above 90°.

As a teenager, holding my pelvis tucked under caused my first injuries to emerge. One that I experienced a lot of pain and discomfort with is the so-called “snapping hip”. This is a type of tendon injury to the major hip flexors (m. iliopsoas and m. psoas major), where often a click is heard associated with sharp groin pain. This problem was accompanied by many low back complaints, to which I unjustly paid less attention at the time.

Decreased lumbo-pelvic control
About 63% of dancers have a history of low back pain. Altered or decreased lumbo-pelvic control and proprioception*** have been shown to be a major predictor of low back pain and lower extremity injuries in dancers, and not general joint hypermobility as commonly believed. Scientists have found a link between decreased stamina of the postural muscles, altered lumbar lordosis (low back curvature of the spine) and low back pain in dancers. (Roussel et al., 2009)

The position of the pelvis affects the functioning of the entire body. The movements of the pelvis are described from the top of the front edge. If you retract your tailbone and flatten your lower back, the pelvis is tilted backward. This is called a posterior pelvic tilt. A back-tilted pelvis decreases the flexibility of the entire spine and reduces the spine’s shock-absorbing capacity. This pose also increases the pressure in the front of the hips. With a remark to tighten the buttocks during a dance class, a dancer tends to increase that pressure at the front of the hips with an exaggerated backward pelvic tilt. The en dehors takes much more effort this way and it results in a reduced active hip flexibility.

Conversely, if you make your lower back more concave and lift your tailbone, you perform a forward or anterior pelvic tilt. The pelvis that is tilted forward, shows a misuse of the abdominal muscles. There is also a decrease in pressure at the front of the hips, giving the impression of having more hip flexibility achieved only by lower back hyper lordosis compensation.

Both positions are known technique errors in classical ballet dance. The incorrect pelvic position in dancers can lead to stress in the spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet due to compensatory movements and increased muscle tension. Correct pelvic posture can facilitate movement and generate efficient actions at the hips and lower back. Learning a neutral pelvic posture, recognizing it and being able to maintain it can help dancers in the highly competitive field. (Deckert et al., 2007)

Summary: Dancers often suffer from reduced movement control of the pelvis and lower back. This altered lumbo-pelvic movement control – by, among other things, tilting the pelvis excessively backwards – can force a dancer to compensate in the lower limbs and can lead to musculoskeletal injuries.

It is therefore very important to recognize these problems to prevent injuries, treat them and / or to improve the dance technique.

You can find a few exercises to stabilise the lower back and pelvis below.

posterior pelvic tilt
Posterior pelvic tilt
anterior pelvic tilt
Anterior pelvic tilt
neutral positioning of the pelvis
Neutral positioning of the pelvis

* En dehors: external hip rotation.
** Rond de jambe: Movement in the hip where the leg is moved in a circle from front to back or back to front.
*** Proprioception: This is another word for position sense and means the ability to perceive the position of your own body and body parts in space.

Roussel, N. A., Nijs, J., Mottram, S., Van Moorsel, A., Truijen, S., & Stassijns, G. (2009). Altered lumbopelvic movement control but not generalized joint hypermobility is associated with increased injury in dancers. A prospective study. Manual Therapy, 14(6), 630–635. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2008.12.004

Deckert, J.L., Barry, S.M., Welsh, T.M. (2007). Analysis of pelvic alignment in university ballet majors. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 11(4), 110-117.

Exercises

M. transversus abdominis activation, longitudinal

In this exercise, you lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep the neutral low back curvature or lumbar lordosis. So do not press it flat on the floor.

  1. Retract your stomach without moving any other part of the body. So don’t lift your ribs.
  2. Maintain this position and lift one knee. The back should not move any movement.
  3. Extend your leg without moving your back.
  4. Put the foot back and do the same on the other side.
  5. Repeat this in 3 sets of 20 reps.
Retract your stomach
Lift your knee without moving your back or pelvis
Extend your leg

M. transversus abdominis activation, rotation

In this second exercise, you also lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your neutral low back curvature or lumbar lordosis. So do not press it flat on the floor.

  1. Retract your stomach without moving any other part of the body. So don’t lift your ribs.
  2. Maintain this position and allow your knee to move sideways. The back should not show any movement.
  3. Slowly bring your knee back and do the same exercise on the other side.
  4. Repeat this in 3 sets of 20 repetitions.
Retract your stomach
Move your knee sideways

Back stabilisation

Support yourself on your hands and knees. Make sure that the hands and knees are right under your shoulders and hips. I often call this exercise the “superman” exercise.

  1. Extend your opposite arm and leg at the same time. Your back should not move, so don’t hollow it. Your pelvis should also remain parallel to the floor. So do not skew it.
  2. Put your hand and knee down gently and do exercise with the other arm and leg.
  3. Repeat this in 3 sets of 20 reps.
On hands and knees
Extend the opposite arm and leg

Back stabilisation, standing

Note: do not do this exercise if you have back problems during the performance.
Stand with a straight back and both legs spaced slightly apart.

  1. Retract your stomach, keep your back stable.
  2. Bend forward slightly to 45° flexion. The curvature of your back should not move.
  3. Come back gently to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this in 3 sets of 20 repetitions.
Stand with a neutral back and your stomach retracted
Bend forwards with a straight back

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