I’ve seen it more than once – the dancer on stage has beautiful, strong, fluid arms, a lifted upper body, graceful neck and open chest. From the diaphragm up she is magnificent. And yet, something is wrong. Her hip movements are imprecise and unsupported. Her abdominal work is weak. Her footwork isn’t clean, and her balance isn’t strong. “What went wrong there?” I wonder.

Later I see her offstage, walking across the room to talk to friends in the audience. Her head and shoulders slump forward, her chest is collapsed, her upper spine curves over. Aha.

To realize your full potential as a dancer, good posture cannot begin and end at the studio door. Many students automatically straighten up in class and when their feet hit the stage, and think this is good enough. But it’s not just a matter of “remembering” to hold your body in alignment while dancing. Habitually allowing your upper body to slump creates muscle imbalances – short, tight muscles in the front, and weak, stretched-out muscles in the back. Those muscle imbalances don’t magically disappear when you straighten up to dance – the pressures they create go elsewhere in the body (the kinetic chain is a fascinating thing). The dancer I describe above overcame her habitual upper body posture for the stage, yes, but she spent her whole performance fighting against that tightness, compensating for that weakness, and her poor hip and footwork were the result.

Many students dance for fun and recreation, and prefer not to carry responsibilities from the studio into their daily lives, and that’s fine. But if you’re feeling frustrated with your dancing, and not sure what is holding you back, some analysis of your daily posture might be in order. It may be something you can work out yourself, or with your dance teacher. Or you might want to book a session with a practitioner of a bodywork discipline such as Feldenkrais or Alexander technique.

One of the best, most classic stretches for anyone with a desk job is the doorway stretch – back when I wrote software for a living, my physical therapist prescribed this stretch for me to do three times a day. It needs to be done often to work, but it’s easy and effective, and can be done anywhere there is a doorway. Enjoy!