Spinal roll downs are one of the first movements performed in contemporary dance class to get the body warmed up. Not only is this a popular warm up for dancers, but is a favorite for actors and vocalists too.
Why? The spinal roll down helps to release tension in the entire body and increase blood flow. Check out some pointers below to ensure you are warming up your spine safely.
How to do a Spinal Roll Down
Start in a parallel, neutral stance. Be sure the spine is aligned and your weight is balanced. The head will initiate the roll down by dropping forward with your chin toward the chest. Imagine the top of your head is leading each vertebrae to curve over one at a time. The shoulders, upper and middle back will follow the curve over. As your head is lowering toward the ground, soften the knees and plié – being sure to hollow out the abdominal muscles and elongate the tailbone toward the floor. You can stay there and stretch or recover immediately. As the plié recovers, roll back up the spine reversing the roll down and pressing the abdominal muscles in. The head will be the last thing that lands back up right.
Tension- Dancers new to this movement will most likely carry tension in their neck, arms, and bottom half. To help get the tension out, have them bounce like a rag doll to get the body to relax before starting roll downs. Imagine there is sand that is pouring from your body starting at your hands, fingertips, the top of your head- creating tiny little piles of sand in front of your feet and between your toes. as you recover, imagine the sand is being sucked back up the exact way it went down. Again, the end finishes the movement.
Relaxed Core- It is super important that a roll down has support from the core. If you are not using your core to anchor the movement it can contribute to the tension in other body parts. Engaging the core takes a lot of practice and is the meat of many movements in all styles of dance. Imagine you are scooping out the abdominal muscles and hollowing out the curve, dropping the tailbone toward the floor to release lower back tension to complete the curve.
Weight Shifting- Often times dancers have their weight too far over the heels. This is due to the pelvis shifting backward. If this is the situation it can help to imagine there is a wall close behind you (not directly behind) to help you to counterbalance your weight into the right place. In class you may hear your teacher say “weight over the balls of your feet dancers.” But, if you push your weight too far over the balls of your feet it can cause you to grip your toes that can cause tension and injury to the sole or arch of the foot.
Releasing Hips too Soon- The pelvis should stay where it started for as long as possible during a roll down. A common mistake is dancers will activate the hip flexor muscles as the upper body bends forward. This creates a flat lower back with little to no curve in the lower spine. Think of elongating the tailbone through the floor and scooping out the tension to create a smooth connected roll.
The spinal roll down is an important part of dance technique, but sometimes it is seen as beginner step and is not approached or practiced with care or technique. This step is often done BEFORE plies if that tells you how important it is. Incorporating roll downs into dance technique classes will help students to warm up properly, engage numerous muscles and enhance their body mechanics to improve their dancing.