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How to Get in Shape with Dance Training, The Lester Horton Technique
© 2012 Katina Davenport
Dancers are some of the most physically fit athletes in the world. Having good muscle tone, flexibility, and a good cardiovascular system are all elements that help dancers to perform their best. As a dancer that was once extremely physically fit, I can attest to the perfect physique of most dancers. I am still on a weight loss journey after having my son 8 months ago. I have found certain exercises to be more beneficial in helping me to get back into shape. I began focusing on dancing training again, particularly the Lester Horton Technique to help me regain my shape.
Who is Lester Horton?
Lester Horton was a choreographer and dancer from Indiana. His dance studies included ballet and American Indian tribal dances from the Iroquois, Red River, Penobscot, and Ojibway tribes. In 1932, Lester founded the Lester Horton Dancers that later became the Lester Horton California Ballets two years later. His resume includes a long list of B-movie musicals some of which includes Moonlight in Havana in 1942 and Phantom of the Opera in 1934.
His particular style of dance training is without the standard form of ballet or modern, although some of the movements were derived from such styles. His training focuses on flexibility, strength, and coordination. He was deliberate about creating a series of exercises based on his knowledge of human anatomy. These exercises were designed to correct misalignments in the body so that the dancer can be able to do whatever dances they wish.
Dancers are still using these techniques to build strong, flexible bodies. Here are just some of the exercises used in modern dance classes all over the world.
Lester Horton Exercises to Get You in Shape, Basic Techniques
The flat back is a basic stretch of the back that consists of a bow. Begin with your feet parallel slightly apart. Bring your arms to your side with the palms facing in, then bow the body halfway with your head parallel to the floor. While you are in this position (flat back) if you were to look in the mirror you should resemble a table. Next, bring your arms forward with the palms facing inward, and sit back on your legs. You should feel a stretch in the back of your legs and in your back. Lastly, use your core muscles to lift up. Now your arms should be in the air with the palms facing in, and press your hands down and repeat.
More advance techniques would be to add a relevé, or stand on the tips of the toes while in flat back (bowing position). Also, you can add a short bend backward after lifting up.
This exercise is great for lengthening and strengthening the torso. It also uses the core muscles for strength.
Lateral stretches begin with the feet turned out second position so that your legs look like a Y. Begin the stretch by extending your hip to one side, stretching your arm over, and bend to the side then repeat.
More advance technique, use your torso and bend to the side with both hands above the head with your palms facing in, and bend from side to side. Also, after you bend you can add a flat back, swing to the other side into a lateral then bring yourself up. This exercise builds greater flexibility in the waistline as well as build stronger abs.
With your feet in parallel position squat with your arms out in front of your torso with your palms facing in. Keep your feet flat on the floor, and squat as low as you can, eventually your tailbone will be pointing towards the floor as you become better at the exercise. This exercise builds strong legs.
Other Exercises for Strength and Balance
Coccyx balance- floor exercise where you use your core muscles to balance on your coccyx bone (or tailbone)
Lateral T- standing exercise where you plié twice and balance on one foot leaning over until your body resembles the shape of a T. It builds great balance and core muscle strength.
Twists- standing exercise that resembles Egyptian movements. To do this exercise twist at your waist with your hand near head bent at the elbow. Keep your palms facing in and walk and twist only use your upper body.
Each movement presents a challenge just as any other exercise. In time you will begin to see longer lines and flatter abs each week. It is important to take these exercises slowly and build up to a more advanced level.
All of these movements can be done in different variations and combinations to create beautiful, modern dance pieces.