St.PatrickDanceTop o’ the morning to ye, and it’s a bonny day for dancin’!

In spring or anytime, I find that dance is a lovely way to increase my vigor and celebrate my day. It’s difficult to dance and not feel happy and light-hearted, plus dancing a complex pattern is great for your memory. Dance may have evolved from people’s seeking a social way to make merry after a day’s work, or to mark the end of a season. Perhaps you enjoy, as I do, such fervent dances as the Irish or Highland jig, or more choreographed forms like contra dance, English Country Dance (perhaps driven by the lilting sound of a tin whistle!), or the festive grapevine or even modern Western square dance. Central to all such Western and European folk dances is a rhythmic and alternating left-right shifting of weight, similar to the Cross Crawl(1) activity from the Brain Gym program.

The Hopscotch

The Hopscotch

Once you’re familiar with the Cross Crawl, you can vary it to do many dance steps, including a version of your own Irish Jig. You just need the right music, or perhaps you’ll sing or whistle along. Let the children join in, and have a dance party!

How to: You can build your Cross Crawl jig from a common jig dance step—the rising step or rise and grind. Dancers use the phrase hop, hop back for the first three movements (#1). The complete step is called the hop hop back, hop 1234 (#1 – 3). Do this first with the right foot leading, then with the left foot leading.
For the right side version:
1. Put your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot (toe pointed) off the ground. Hop once on your left foot, then hop again, bringing     your right foot back behind your left foot. (hop hop back)
2. Then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. Pause slightly.
3. Now alternate with small hops, in place, from foot to foot in the pattern of left-right-left-right, ending with the weight on your right foot.
Now repeat the pattern for the left side.  (To make this a Cross-Crawl step, slightly lift the arm opposite to the lifted foot.)

For a fun variation, you can do this same pattern while lifting the foot to the back, as in the Hopscotch (pictured above).

You might know that the real jig is done with the feet turned out, one in front of the other. However, I suggest keeping both feet pointed forward, hips-width apart, and parallel, as most of us who have been sedentary folks at some point in our lives don’t have the length and strength of posterior muscles (calves, hamstrings, hips . . .) to dance with toes turned out, which would then put a strain on our hips and back.

In all cases, according to biomechanist Katy Bowman(2), the feet need to be pointed straight during walking in order for the ankle to actually work like an ankle (in its correct plane of motion), for the knee to work like the hinge-jointed knee that it is, and for the lateral hip to be engaged. And especially without posterior strength, walking, dancing (or even running) with feet pointed forward helps to protect us from significant stresses throughout the posterior kinetic chain, which could otherwise over time result in frustrating conditions, such as flat feet, bunions, misaligned knee and hip, and the potential injuries these can cause.

May Saint Paddy’s Day (and everyday!) find you dancing and celebrating the wonder and joy of human mobility! 

Author’s Notes:
*Paul and I have been teaching people to do the Cross Crawl for more than 40 years. Click here to discover more about the many benefits of the contralateral Cross Crawl on movement and learning.

(1)The Cross Crawl and other Brain Gym activities are from Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition, (C) 2010, by Dennison and Dennison. If you have difficulty doing this movement (it does require some coordination), you can easily learn it through a brief repatterning, available from Brain Gym Instructors  (see below). Further, many Brain Gym Instructors teach the Cross Crawl in a dance-like form, or you can enjoy a whole day with more than thirty variations of the Cross Crawl offered in the Movement Dynamics course that I developed in 1990 (see course listings at the same link).

Here are more tips on how to do a jig.

For more research on the benefits of moving together (interpersonal synchrony) and its effects on social bonds, see:
1. Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds  “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”
2. Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820
3. Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI

For the English country dancers among us, enjoy this lively Newcastle version of ECD (popular in Europe and the American colonies from the mid-1600s to the late 1800s, and becoming popular here again today). Paul and I are always a bit tickled by doing the “figure of 8” sequence, in which one partner follows the other in a large Lazy 8 pattern around other dancers—you can see it at :40 sec. Also this: A lovely Scottish Country Dance, eight-some Reel. And this: Galician (Spanish) traditional folk dance: Muiñeira de Fraga

See the video review “All About Your Knees” on the work of biomechanist Katy Bowman to learn more about the mechanics of foot position and how this can affect knees. See also Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says, by Katy Bowman, M.S., 2013.

© 2013 and 2016 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym  is a trademark of Brain Gym®  International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

photo credit: istockphoto.com

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