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Tag: stretching for dance

Safe Stretching With Alixa Flexibity Programme| Effectively gain flexibility without compromising safety

Safe Stretching With Alixa Flexibity Programme| Effectively gain flexibility without compromising safety

Flexibility and contortion seem to have a marmite effect on people. They either love it and want to achieve more or wince away and find it grotesquely unessessary. After attending the first 2 modules in Alixa Sutton’s stretching and mobility programme – Alixa Flexibility – I have certainly changed my attitude and knowledge towards stretching. Read on to find out just what I discovered and what is involved.

There’s no doubt about it, flexibility and acro are 2 elements that are currently highly sought after in the dance world. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny their current presence and you be a fool to deny your children/students of these elements completely, since these skills are so highly revered and placed by judges and adjudicators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of too many displays of flexibility and acro in dance routines, otherwise we loose the essence of the true purpose of dance, (a whole other topic, which will be published soon) however I can appreciate how beautiful some well placed skills can be and how they can most certainly add overall to a routine. With this in mind, parents and children want to excel, some to the exstent that they will attempt to learn and master skills at home, self taught with no proper technique being applied, or concerns for the untold damage being done.

We’ve all seen the videos of poor children seemly being torn in two, legs being forcibly pushed and pulled in attempt to ‘stretch’. Coaches applying their body weight onto supple joints of youngsters, with no care to their grimaces or tears, or the fact that said child will probably need a hip replacement by the time they are 30, because that is the reality they face. When joints and ligaments are are continually asked to go beyond their current range of motion, it puts stress on the entire body, which will only become evident with time and as the body ages. Is this what we really want for children’s future?! For them to win medals and titles now, but to be crippled with arthritis by their 30’s or worse?! That is a reality Alixa Sutton-Slobodyan faced after a career in dance and contortion, through improper and now out dated techniques. You can read more in-depth about Alixa’s story here Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks That is why Alixa has spent 20 years developing her own stretching and mobility programme – Alixa Flexibility – and she invited me along to the first 2 modules of the instructor certification programme (there are 6 in total) so I could see just was was involved for myself.

People’s lifestyles have changed dramatically, with increased periods of sitting and the introduction of technology, and consequently, Alixa’s programme has been modified to combat these negative impacts. Her main thesis is injury prevention. Did you know that 70% of athletes and performers never recover 100% from their injury?! A startling fact. Key areas such as lower back and knees, are the most common injury area for performers, and where Alixa highlights as being most important during safe stretching. Alignment is key to safety and progression. Without correct alignment, you will not be targeting the muscles in need of stretching, thus halting any progression being made. Mobility and range of motion are also highlighted as important. Its all very well having the flexibility to achieve something, but if you don’t have the strength to move through the movement and hold it, the degree of flexibility almost becomes irrelevent.

We start after a brief introduction into her history and the reasons behind founding her own flexibility programme. She then moves on to the theory side of the module. Alixa’s main focus is that flexibility and contortion can be achieved in a safe manor, are well within reach, but will take hard work and commitment. She has unique take on body structure, one which takes the pressure off the lower back, our weakest area. Over 90% of people suffer with some sort of back complaint in their lives, and is an area we are all guilty of neglecting.
In order to protect the lower back, we have to stay strong in our core
muscles, and this was something that was reiterataed throughout the
modules. The lower back is an area that is increasingly being over
used by dancers to achieve elements such as the needle, bridge,
arabesque or any sort of back bend extension. They will often lack adequate flexibility in the upper back, shoulders and hips, and instead overcompensate and fold in the lower back. Alixa had an extensive portfolio of photographs of students demonstrating various elements side by side, with varying degrees of flexibility. She asked us in each set, which we thought was the better student. Naturally, at this point, most of the teachers choose the photo that displayed the most flexibility. In most cases, it was those photos that were demonstrating improper technique, by folding into their lower back, putting it under undue stress. Alixa taught everyone how to correctly identify any danger signs in elements, and how to assess which areas then needed to be worked on further to improve upon the skill that was trying to be achieved.

After a good cardio session to raise core body temperatures and warm joints, it was time for the teachers to try some of the stretches. Alixa maintains that its important for teachers and instructors to experience the stretches and what they will be asking for the students, so that they are aware of how it feels and how to adjust each stretch for the individual. Some of the stretches target specific areas, others are multi-layered, and stretch multiple areas at the same time. All of them are insightful. They highlight just how easy it is for you to slip into improper technique. Demo students are then brought in so instructors get hands on experience of how to correctly assist students getting into the stretches and how they can be modified for the individual. All of the stretches have levels of adaptation, so that as the students flexibility improves, progress can still be maintained. Alixa spoke about communication between instructor and student. During a stretch, the student can tense muscles and grip them. To progress in a stretch, your body must learn to relax into it, otherwise it will not be able to go beyond it’s current capabilities. Alixa helped to show the instructors how-to support, soothe and even massage the student, to help get their bodies to relax into the required stretch, and so, able to make progress.

Towards the end, instructors were then shown another series of photos, and asked to identify which were the ‘better’ students. This time, almost all of the instructors were able to correctly identify which student was demonstrating the element the safest. A testament itself to the effectiveness of the module. At the end of each module, a short exam is necessary, to confirm teaching points and criteria have been met, and allowing everyone to move forward with confidence, knowing the new knowledge acquired had been cemented. Teachers are then awarded with a certificate for their efforts. Alixa then rounds up the module by giving advice own how to best implement these stretches and routines into classes, either by gradually introducing stretches to current classes on a timetable, to curating a specific stretching and mobility class, which undoubtibly assists in seeing improvements and progression more quickly.

Alixa is wonderfully personal. She has a way of conveying her knowledge and expertise whilst keeping everyone engaged yet focused on the information. Her stretches are innovative, fun and progressional, which enable students to enjoy stretching and feel a sense of achievement, all the while conducting them in a safe and correct manner. The Alixa Flexibility Programme would be a hugely beneficial class to add to any timetable, and with current trends seen in the dance world, would be undoubtably popular with students. Teachers have a responsibility towards the health of their students and to keep them safe. I cannot think of a better way of doing that than introducing these stretches to students, and educating them on the art of safe flexibility. This programme is also beneficial for anyone running the Acrobatic Arts syllabus in their schools, as the elements also require adequate flexibility and range of motion in the joints for the students to be able to successfully master the skill at hand. Both programmes compliment each other perfectly.

You can find out more about Alixa’s programme and worldwide tour dates for 2019 on her website http://www.alixaflexibility.com She has kindly offered a 10% discount off modules for Dance Niche readers! Enter code ‘Danceniche’ into the comments section of application.

Happy safe stretching!

Dance Niche

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