Engage your core?!?

You need to engage your core… the movement comes from your centre… pull up…. keep your abdominal muscles toned… Yes, yes, yes, it sounds so simple, but how? I am so guilty of this:

“…a common physical response to ‘Use your centre!’ is to suck in the abdomen and restrict the flow of breath.”

At a Balboa class early in the week the follows were asked to engage their core muscles whilst doing Lollies so I engaged everything from my ribs down to my legs to such an extent that not only could I not breathe I could barely move. Probably not the desired response!

Contrast this with a Dancehall taster class I took at the weekend where we were constantly being reminded to relax and that we would not be able to get the Dancehall look unless we were ‘pathetically relaxed and let everything go’ around the middle which seems counter intuitive when you’re watching someone do core isolations like those in the following clip:

I have pretty poor muscle awareness but I have done enough core exercise classes in the gym to know there are quite a lot of lot of muscles that make up the mysterious core area so when someone says engage which ones do they mean? There are odds and ends on the web about which arm/shoulder muscles followers should/should not engage when following but I haven’t found so much written for Lindy Hoppers about what to do with your core.

In an old post Amber comes up with a feather analogy:

“As the feather floats down, it’s pretty to watch. And, if you notice, it keeps its same shape (unlike spaghetti). It has a solid core, and the pieces moving out from it move when they need to, but otherwise hold their frame.”

This analogy reminds me very much of Jewel McGowan’s style dancing:

I’m pretty flexible around the middle (when I remember to let things go) and trying to keep things this stiff and controlled feels unnatural to me. I much prefer Nina Gilkenson’s style and love the way she uses her body in this clip especially 0.57.

(I adore the second half of this clip – if only every dance I had could be so much fun!)

So what to do? When someone asks me to engage my core I tend to go for the 6 pack and pull my stomach in but reading Lisa Howell’s article I think I’ll experiment and try engaging the pelvic floor muscles instead and see how that feels. If you have any pointers please let me know.


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3 responses to “Engage your core?!?”

  1. Lauren says :

    One tip I’ve found useful for finding the ‘core’ muscles (at least as the term is used in Pilates) is to put your fingers just inside your hip bones, push in slightly, and cough. You should feel some muscles engage as you cough: those are apparently (some of) the transversus abdominus (as mentioned in the article you link to). You can then keep your fingers there and try to engage those muscles without coughing, and while still breathing/keeping the rest of your torso and body mobile (using whatever visualisation or metaphor works for you: I heard once in a Pilates class to imagine you have a sponge inside your lower abdominal area, and you’re trying to squeeze water out of it – sounds odd but it worked!).

    Hope this helps! (I’ve only recently found your blog, and am loving seeing follower-centric writing about dance. I have been slowly working my way through all the great video links you’ve posted!)


  2. sleepingglitter says :

    Hi Lauren, Thanks for the tip! Not sure what’s going on in my body but engaging my core seems to make me tense up my right arm?!?

    Annie shows some pretty awesome core engagement in this clip from 2010 ILHC at 1.09!

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