Article: Body Myths? Part 1: Shoulder Blades

Reading Time: 15 Minutes

Dancing is a visual artwork. We seek for nice lines in the body and a certain feel to movement. But our body perception as a dancer and how our body is supposed to move naturally may create some conflict.

One of my long-term students I worked with in private lessons had severe connection issues at that time. It always felt like she would „lock“ her joints through muscle tension. Especially in turns she got so heavy in her arm and shoulder that it seemed as she would intentionally be pulling on me.

In our conversation I found out that a common anatomical misconception of the shoulder blades was the root of the problem.

The shoulder blades (i. e. scapula) are „swimming“ at the back of the body and there is quite a lot of movement going on. The scapula can move in elevation (upward), depression (downward), upward rotation, downward rotation, retraction (towards each other) protraction (away from each other) and in everyday life these actions may seemingly blend into each other. Together with the clavicle, the shoulder blades create the shoulder girdle, which connects to the arm on each side. Ideally when you move your arm – your shoulder blades would slide with them to enable movement.

In yoga and exercise I teach a shoulder girdle mantra to stabilize the shoulder blades. When the arm is moving to the side I would teach drawing the shoulder blades (And I am talking shoulder blades by the way. Not the shoulders.) slightly down and into the back to engage the back muscles that surround the shoulder blade. But when the upper arm (humerus) is moving over the shoulder I would only teach to draw the shoulder blades towards the spine (and by this I mean into the body. NOT towards each other i. e. retraction.) to allow them to move in upward rotation.

We often think in dancing we must pull the shoulders down when lifting the arm over the head to encourage space between shoulders and ears. I heard it from so many teachers in yoga and dance alike and it certainly serves as a quick solution for the visual problem. Especially girls (often habitually) follow this verbal cue and force the shoulders down. It might look „better“ or more „correct“ at one point – especially as we have so many hypermobil people in dancing that have the range of movement to actually do it, feel good with it and even create certain visual result by doing so.

Some people (dancers and fitness people alike) forget that when moving the arms up and over the shoulders the shoulder blades will anatomically move in upward rotation – They will move upward and slightly rotate to the side to enable the movement in the arm. Telling the students to push the shoulders down (i. e. depression) can put unnecessary pressure on the body that we feel as tension in the connection.

There is also a good amount of students, especially beginners, that find themselves in elevation of the shoulder blades, which lifts the shoulders up towards the ears. It most likely feels like a complete loss of gravity when lifting the arm up. But even in that case: Telling them to push the shoulders down won’t necessarily bring them into good alignment either and/or make it even worse as you most probably disable the shoulder blade to move with the arm.

What you could do: Concentrate more on your shoulder blades instead of your shoulder joint. Allow your shoulder blades to lift up and slightly to the side when you move your arms over the head – It feels a bit like you would want to wrap up and arround (Think of hugging somebody). That is what they are supposed to do (i. e. upward rotation) when you lift your humerus (upper arm bone) over the shoulder. Try to soften the trapezius (think: the area between neck and shoulders) and see how it feels.

Also try this: Lift the arms up over the head and towards the ceiling with the palms facing towards each other. Do it a couple of times and let your shoulder blades (and shoulders) move freely. What do you feel? What is happening in your body? Then circle your arms back down, push the shoulders down towards the ground and lift the arms again for a couple of times. How does that feel? Do you still feel movement in your shoulder blades?

Last but not least: I don’t say that your teacher is necessarily wrong if he or she tells you to drop the shoulders. There are many circumstances in which we would all agree on that. There is no „one fits for everybody“ here. My aim is to address that there might be cases in which a closer look on what is happening in the shoulder blades (instead the shoulder joint) may be helpful to understand why something does not feel quite right or to „heavy“ – Or why some people can’t do what other people can!

See all 6 movements of the scapula here: http://www.reachutmost.com/2017/03/17/protraction-retraction-and-other-movements-of-the-scapula/

Also read this Article on Yoga Journal to go even further: https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/lifting-the-arms-part-2-rotate-and-elevate-the-shoulder-blades-for-fuller-safer-movement

This article was originally published at verenaguschal.de and is now republished in it’s original form at blog.hepcatclub.com.

Verena ist professionelle Tänzerin und Yogalehrerin. Sie reist regelmäßig durch Europa und die Welt um zu Tanzen, zu Unterrichten und sich Fortzubilden. // ENGLISH // Verena is a full time dancer and yogi who travels the world to learn about bodywork, movement and body mechanics. She teaches at the Hep Cat Club in Augsburg, Germany and at international festivals and events.

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