Contractions and Expressive Feet
By Patrick Corbin
The word contract is often used as a blanket term whenever we want the back to curve, but there is more than one way to curve a spine. There are differences, for example, between a Graham contraction, a rounded back, and a Taylor contraction.
The classic Graham contraction originates at the deepest place in the pelvis and can be an ecstatic experience. (A frequent misconception is that it incorporates the upper back. It shouldn’t.) The rounded back incorporates not only the pelvis and lumbar spine, but also the middle of the back, or thoracic spine. The Taylor contraction combines the Graham contraction and the rounded back, and also tilts the spine forward to include the upper back, creating an even longer curve.
These three spinal modalities create different experiences for both the dancer and the audience.
Feet are like hands in their expressive capability, but young dancers often don’t use feet to their full potential. This can be due to thinking about line in an absolute way. These students have in mind an unattainable, ideal image of “perfect lines” that has little to do with their actual bodies. This creates a disconnect between the mind and body. The idea of line becomes a struggle and makes these students feel inadequate—which in turn makes it even harder to create “nice” lines.
When talking about line in class, remember that it’s a concept, not an absolute, and that we are dealing with exit points of energy from the body and its articulation. Whether the foot is flexed or pointed, its flexibility is far less important than the energy coming out of the heel and/or toe.
Patrick Corbin, an assistant professor at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, danced with The Joffrey Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and CorbinDances. He has an MFA in dance, performance, and choreography from NYU.