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The core, is a term often mistaken for another word for abdominals, where actually the core is made up of a combination of muscles that form the centre of the body, where all movements in dance are generated from.

In a lot of dance classes you here cues such as ‘engage your core’ or ‘use your core stability’ but unless you have been taught how to consciously engage your core and you know how this should feel, these cues are fairly useless. So, this post today is all about the core musculature, why its important and how to engage it.

Anatomy of the core

Many people like to think of the core musculature as a ‘tin can’, the abdominal wall and spine extensor muscles make up the sides of the tin can, then the pelvic floor the bottom and the diaphragm the top, this is a nice easy way to think of the core. Some people will also include the illiosoas muscles and the gluteus medius and minimius in the core musculature due to their aid in providing stability for the pelvis.


The abdominal wall is made up of:

Transversus abdominis- the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall, used for posture, compresses the abdominal contents and stabilises the spine.

Internal obliques- located along the side of the trunk, used for side bending of the torso or rotation of the torso.

External obliques- more superficial, run in the opposite direction to the internal obliques, help the feel of connection between the ribs and the pelvis

Rectus abdominis- run down the front of the torso, the ‘six pack’ (depending on body fat%), these work to perform a forward bend of the torso (flexion of the spine)

Then you have the spinal muscles:

Multifidus/ multifidi- A small but mighty muscle group of muscles attached to the spinal column supporting the spine, also has attachments to the pelvis and the sacrum.

Erector spinae- several attachments to the spine, pelvis, sacrum and ribs running along the back from the head to the pelvis, helps to support the spine.

The multifidus and the erector spinae help to stabilise the spine while performing smaller movements that require more coordination as well as bigger more forceful movements.


Why is core engagement important?

All dance movements are initiated from the core, the trunk must be stable before the arms or the legs can move, it is the strength of this stabilisation that can then determine the quality of the movement. The muscles that make up the core serve as a foundation to all your movement as a dancer, which makes it so important to look after these muscles and endeavour to strengthen them to help enhance your quality of movement and performance.

Studies have also supported the idea that having a stronger ‘core’ can help prevent (or reduce the risk of) lower back injuries (Gildea, Hides and Hodges, 2003) as the dancers without lower back pain had larger multifidus muscles which support the spine.

How do you engage the core?

The easiest way to feel engagement of the core is to pretend you are about to be punched in the stomach, sounds odd but it works. You can also feel your core engage before you laugh or cough. When you feel that engagement of the stomach you now need to try and maintain that engagement while breathing. Breathing plays an important role when working the core. As you breathe out the deeper abdominal muscles engage and help support the trunk and support the spine, so as you perform a movement that requires more stability in the torso- try breathing out.

Another way of feeling core engagement is to practice an exercise called abdominal bracing.

Lie on the floor in a neutral position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms comfortably by your sides. As you breathe out, try to engage the deeper core muscles as if tightening a corset maintaining the neutral position.

Once you have felt engagement of your core muscles you can then begin to apply this engagement while in your dance classes.

You can also apply this core engagement to your strengthening exercises, whether these are aimed at your core muscles, your upper body or your lower body, if you are using free weights or any kind of resistance where your back is not supported, engaging your core muscles will aid in strengthening them and help improve balance.

Gildea, J. E., van den Hoorn, W., Hides, J. A., & Hodges, P. W. (2015). Trunk Dynamics Are Impaired in Ballet Dancers with Back Pain but Improve with Imagery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(8), 1665–1671.

Haas, J. G. (2018). Dance anatomy (Second). Human Kinetics.

Kibler, W. B., Press, J., & Sciascia, A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability in Atheltic Function. Sports Med, 36(3), 189–198.

Davenport, K. L., Air, M., Grierson, M. J., & Krabak, B. J. (2016). Examination of Static and Dynamic Core Strength and Rates of Reported Dance Related Injury in Collegiate Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 20(4).

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