Learning Body Isolations

Body isolations are movements of body parts independently from the rest of the body. Dancers can use body isolations to bring emphasis to their movement: popping the rib cage on a hit, dropping the shoulder on an accent, or settling into the hip to complete a sinking motion. The goal of this drill is to become familiar with the process of isolating parts of the body to move.

The Drill: Without a partner, stand in front of a mirror. Pick a part of the body to isolate and work on moving that body part without moving anything else. Every part will have a natural range of motion, beyond which it becomes impossible to move the part further without moving another part of the body as well. Try to find the boundaries of your natural range of motion and to push up against that edge without going over.

Common body isolations to practice include:

  • Head: try to move your head side to side without twisting your shoulders.
  • Shoulders: move each shoulder joint up or down without tipping the rest of the shoulders/collarbone. You can also roll each shoulder either forwards or backwards.
  • Upper torso: rotate the shoulders and upper body to the side, without shifting the direction of the head or the hips.
  • Ribcage: work towards being able to move the ribcage from neutral to any direction in the forward half of a circle (i.e., left, left-forward, forward, right-forward, right). You should be able to move the ribcage without taking either the shoulders or torso with you.
  • Hips: for side to side movement, try to push the hip to either side without moving your shoulders or rib cage. Practice up and down movement by thinking about lifting or dropping the hip without moving the opposite leg and without letting the motion ripple up to your ribcage. Move each hip forward or backward by thinking about taking the pocket on your jeans and lifting it onto a hook (like on a coat rack).

As you start practicing, it can be helpful to physically touch the body part you want to move (e.g., put your hand on the center of your ribcage) in order to feel the movement you are creating. Some movements may feel natural; others will require lots of practice before you can consistently isolate the body part.

Slow Down Your Isolations

You’ve been practicing your body isolations, but it’s not quite as fluid as you want yet. How do you develop smoothness through your movement?

The key to smoothness is control, and control of your movement comes from moving slowly. When you move quickly, you can get away with having uncontrolled moments in your movement. Forcing yourself to go slowly demands that you develop the muscle control in order to keep the movement fluid through the entire process. As you practice, you’ll discover

The Drill: Pick one of your body isolations. Do that isolation while slowly counting to 4, and force yourself to keep moving through the entire count. You’ll find moments when your body seems to jump from one position to another. That’s okay: those are the sections you need to make fluid, so try again and really focus on keeping the movement continuous through those sections.

Once you are comfortable with a four count, try extending the isolation to fill a full eight counts. For larger movements (such as a hip circle or a body roll), try extending the count even further. If you can take sixteen slow beats to complete a body roll, that’s great control!

Improve your spins with this drill!

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