The Problem With Sucking in Your Stomach: A Quick Lecture to my Daughter
When Miss Anna tells you to suck in your stomach what she sees is a curved lower back and a tummy poking forward. If our torsos were drink cans (or cannellini bean tins) we’d want them to be fairly smooth up each side with no kinks in them so as to support any weight from above and below. Sometimes your can looks like it has a kink in the back - which happens when you are growing and because the bones in your pelvis haven’t finished fusing yet.
To get better alignment for your ballet class you might want to imagine a string
from your pubic bone pulling the bottom of your pelvis into line with the top. You might want to think of your sit bones pointing torch lights down to the floor and while we’re at it a camera on your chest taking photos of the wall in front of you and maybe a helium balloon pulling up your bun just a little as this LEGO woman demonstrates.
When moving it is easier to just imagine your whole body moving around a central axis - perhaps you could be a unicorn ride with a merry go round pole through you?
Or a flower with a strong stem blowing in the wind?
There are many reasons why I don’t want you to suck your tummy in:
Your body is perfect just as it is and you don’t need to hide any part of it. Women often have funny relationships with their bodies and when they look back to the source of those feelings they are often from careless comments made to them when they were girls. No-one has the right to make you feel less than fantastic. Your body is strong, flexible and you can run fast. These things have nothing to do with how you look. It is your right to love your whole body - even the bits that step out of line in ballet.
You need to breathe. This is kind of important. Your stomach is part of the cylinder that is your torso. Your diaphragm which is under the ribcage is the top, your back and pelvis make up the bottom and back. Imagine it is an empty balloon. If you hold your stomach in that’s like squeezing the balloon so when you blow air into it not all of it gets filled. Don’t you want all the oxygen that you can get? Especially in a ballet class when your muscles are working hard and would like oxygen to help them do their job.
Your organs need space. Imagine your torso is still an inflated balloon. When you squeeze the middle, your organs will either go up or down into a space that they aren’t supposed to be in. This causes tension through the rest of the body. Adults who either clench constantly or suck in are prone to upper rib and neck tension, to hernias, constipation, lower back hip and knee pain. You are too young for that kind of body stress.
Your stomach muscles will be stronger if you let them work in their lengthened and shortened positions. They become weaker if they are held in the same position all the time. Muscles are like a catapult they can contract with more power from a stretched position.
Lastly, you are about to hit preadolescence and your body will need to get rounder to lay down the fat to metabolise the hormones that you’re going to need to become a teenager. Your belly may get fat for a year or two or possibly until you stop growing. You are going to need to have a healthy relationship with your body before that happens. Girls that don’t - start dieting. There is a whole lot of research that says that when people who haven’t finished growing yet start dieting they stop listening to their bodies hungry and full signals. This sets them up for a life of disordered eating and also makes them fatter than the people who didn’t diet in the first place.
And that is it. I love you more than you love your ballet lessons. We can find a different dance form next term hey? That’ll stop me from needing to write a lecture on what pointe work does to precious growing feet..