In life, balance is always a fleeting state that is chased by many. Balance in personal vs. professional. Balance in acquisition. Balance in relations. Balance in spirit. Balance is always sought and rarely achieved. In the physical body, this is another chased state. In dance symmetry can be hard to achieve, but is important for so many reasons.
Symmetry of training inputs help build symmetry of our physicality – muscle, nerves, blood vessels, brain activity, flexibility vs. strength of tissue. It is important to make sure we do things symmetrically so that we keep our body in balance. Many a career ending injury has been due to asymmetry. A friend last year tore his achilles tendon right off as his strength and flexibility were not in balance. Another friend ended his professional competitive career due to a severely asymmetrical sport.
When we are learning patterns of movement – whether a solo choreography, partnered patterns, or technique – it is easy to practice our stronger coordination also known as dominant side more than our weaker side. It is pleasing to our ego to do things well with less effort. However, this is where asymmetry in our physically stems. Often when choreography is built, it is built to the strength of the choreographer. I remember having a choreographer with a sore knee who inadvertently created everything involving leg strength on her healthy side. This ended up creating injuries in the company members of various types (back, knee, ankle) because of such heavy reliance on that side without adding inputs to our training that balanced it out.
In partnered dancing, especially ballroom and social dances, there is heavy reliance on unilateral forces to delivery leads and respond as a follow. As such, we end up with asymmetry in arm, shoulder, back, and leg musculature (whole body asymmetry really) if other inputs are not made to our system. I competed last year at Canadian Championships with my partner having had to correct many leads to my “wrong side” in dancesport because my “correct side” was injured and unable to take the stress of my lead’s physical input. It was an eye-opening experience for my partner, myself, and my coach as we were determined to make it to the championship regardless of my physical condition. Normal lead and follow partnering was something we hadn’t realized we too so easily for granted. There are dancers in my field with career ending injuries of soft tissue and spinal nature because one side was so strong from leader’s physical demands on their receiving side, that it altered the rotation of the spinal column and musculature and created a chronically painful injury that was no longer worth trying to overcome.
How do we combat this in our training? Try mirror your choreography – this is a great physical and mental challenge especially when certain moves are classically unilateral. If you are training in a solo style class, you can ask your instructor to make you go through the mirrored version or take the sequences home and work on doing this yourself. It is good for the body and an interesting challenge for your brain that will clearly point out where physical and neural weakness exist from one side to the other. With a little know how and discipline, we can make sure we are giving ourselves symmetrical inputs to sustain our bodies and careers maximally.