Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don’t end up with back problems?
A: It can be challenging to support flexibility in general. When you’re bending backward, the strength of your abdominals should determine how much you can bend while keeping stable. That’s easy to do if you are bending back only a little, but when asked to go farther, dancers often let go of their abdominal support, shift their pelvis forward and sink into their lower backs. Compression occurs at this point, and causes pain.
There are many good abdominal exercises that can help this, particularly activating the abs when doing backward movement. Stand in first position and imagine lacing your abdominals together and keep an invisible string drawing your belly button on a diagonal back and up toward your spine. Begin slowly bending backward and maintain a neutral pelvis. You won’t need to bend back very far to feel those abdominal muscles working. Notice if you release the abdominal engagement how your weight drops into your lower back. Try the same slow movement doing a cambré back with your arms. Don’t worry if you can’t use your full flexibility. That will come in time—habits don’t change overnight.