Observations in Movement Assessments for Dancers

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sponsor a table at a dance event (colloquially termed “jams”) Rhythm Spotlight XI that was held by Penn State. During the event, I had the opportunity to perform assessments on a good handful of dancers, and with this being one of the first big jams of the year regionally, I knew I would get hands on a wide variety of dancers.

First of all, I want to say thank you for those who have displayed interest in learning how your own bodies move. I literally could not have done this if no one had volunteered their time to getting assessed. With that being said, after discussing these results with other coaches, trainers, and therapists whose opinions I respect, I feel like I have a better grasp on the information that I gathered now.

Returning to the post…

My goals for assessing these bgirls and bboys were to simply obtain data on a battery of movement assessments and screens. After looking at the information, and coupled with discussions with several colleagues, coaches, and therapists, I feel as if I can make an informed decision, and finally write about the dancers and how they presented.

Explaining to Bboy Domkey the role of the ribcage and how it affects his dance.

Interestingly and maybe not so obvious to the average high school and collegiate athlete, and laypersons, is the fact that there are trends to many of the movements involved with breaking, despite bboys having their own individual “styles” and moves that they “created” in their dance.

State of the Nervous System

For those that are unfamiliar, more and more evidence is shifting towards looking at the role that the nervous system plays on movement dysfunction (weakness), lack of joint centration, and even impingement syndrome. (1, 2) This post is driven home after this past weekend’s seminar on the tenets of the nervous system vs posture and the subsequent chain reaction of increased sympathetic tone.

2014-02-09 15.57.11
PRI’s Cervical-Cranio-Mandibular-Restoration Course @ Endeavor Sports Performance

With this in mind, it is imperative to distinguish that with the movement assessments used, I’m not only checking for a joint’s range of motion, but also determining how sympathetically (think “Fight or Flight”) or parasympathetically (think rest, digestion of food) driven an individual presents.

The athletes I’ve worked with and observed in the past two years have generally presented with an extension based pattern, which leads me to believe that many athletes cannot own their movement in the sagittal plane (which controls initial position). This pattern was no different with the breakers I saw over that particular weekend. With this extension based pattern, I saw a predisposition for lat dominance based movement, which in turn can cause these items:

  1. Rib flare/lack of diaphragmatic control
  2. Lack of glenohumeral internal rotation
  3. Inability to display appropriate shoulder flexion (raising arms overhead)
  4. Cervical neck movement limitations

I can go on with the issues that are possible, but I’d rather discuss the things I saw!

Injuries & Trends

In addition to performing a number of movement assessments, it became evident that many bboys competed in a number of sports growing up – from high school sports to collegiate level. At face value, the varied athleticism certainly pervades the dance itself – and on top of that you can tell those who are “strictly bboys” versus those who have branched out and incorporated their other hobbies and physical sporting interests into the mix as well. This is interesting to me because I believe in a long term athletic development (LTAD) model for youth athletes, and one of the tenants involves being exposed to as many sports and movements as possible, along with having fun with games. I’d be interested to see the development of bboys and bgirls if all they do as a young child is train powermoves. (Perhaps saved for another discussion and time!)

Other sports have their fair share of “trademark injuries” brought about by  – medial elbow pain for baseball pitchers (3), anterior hip pain for hockey players (4), and concussion safety for both football and soccer (5, 6). In this same vein, one of my goals was to have the dancer record any injuries they received as a cause of dancing. Recording past injuries that are a possible cause of dancing is one method of determining a cause of injury.

Windmills are known to cause both hip bruising on the “stabbed” or “catch” side in beginners learning to windmill – this is one example.

Documenting the following, along with identifying chronic soft tissue and nervous system degradation that the movement assessment can identify, will allow me to further identify a cause(s) of possible movement dysfunction and patterned restriction within an individual dancer.

My Observations

To outline a general list of compensations and items that I viewed:

  • 4 out of 11 presented with hypermobility (Thoughts on Hypermobility)
  • 3 out of 11 self-reported with wrist and hand issues (described by the dancers as “tight” wrists)


  • 8 out of 11 presented limited cervical neck rotation

Interestingly, the direction that presented with limited cervical neck rotation also had footwork and powermoves used predominantly in that direction (if a bboy has moves that go primarily in a clockwise direction, they also presented with a limitation in cervical neck rotation to the right – or clockwise).

Cervical Neck Tests
L: Cervical Neck Flexion ; R: Demonstrating Cervical Neck Rotation to the Left

Also, to go on a slight tangent, if the athlete has issues with rotating to one direction with their neck (a frontal plane movement), they will likely have issues flexing at the neck (bringing the chin to the chest – which requires sagittal plane movement).

  • 5 out of 11 presented with < or = 20° of glenohumeral internal rotation
  • On the opposite end of this is the fact that 5/11 bboys also scored 3/3 on the Functional Movement Screen Shoulder Mobility test. (The last bboy out of the 11 assessed had a dislocated AC joint, so his right shoulder was automatically lower in score compared to his left due to injury.)


What Can You Learn From This?

Essentially, I went in with a clean slate for all the dancers, did my best to record data as objectively as I could, and generally had a good time with everyone in the downtime between assessing. With my goals satisfied for the day, I wanted to get across the point to many dancers the importance of proper movement protocols, and that stretching most likely won’t help return their range of motion in shoulder internal range of motion, neck rotation, and/or hamstring length.

Neck and shoulder motion are highly interrelated. (7) If you presented with a limited motion in neck rotation or flexion, it is likely that shoulder function will be limited as well with regards to high performing activities. If you present with a limited glenohumeral internal rotation range of motion, you are more likely to hit end range within the joint’s capsule sooner, which means you could predispose yourself to injury if rotation and capsular tightness are left unchecked. (8)

Further, bboys need to respect the postural demands of the dance, and understand that a large vocabulary of movement outside of the specific realms of breaking are necessary before improving dance-specific qualities. I make this point more evident in Strength Training and Analyzing Performance for Dancers about developing a large foundation for movement capacity.

This is imperative as breakers are creating a lifestyle and career out of this dance, and if anything I’d like to make a point that longevity in dance will necessitate a more intellectual approach than following older, more traditional models of practice.

Bboys – similar to every other elite athlete – are amazing at owning their compensation patterns.

And, to reiterate an action plan I’ve emphasized in past articles:

  1. Assess the specific individual for movement dysfunction.
  2. Provide movement pattern intervention.
  3. Reinforce the “good” movement pattern with sound training.
  4. Increase movement vocabulary and increase strength levels for increased dance performance.

(If you’d like for me to perform these same movement assessments for your organization or crew, I can be reached at ma[at]miguelaragoncillo.com or direct e-mail from my “Coaching” tab.)

Further Reading

For more reading on how you can identify and improve your postural and movement assessments, check these articles out:

In the meantime…

Keep it funky.



1 -Page, Phil. “Shoulder muscle imbalance and subacromial impingement syndrome in overhead athletes.” International journal of sports physical therapy 6.1 (2011): 51. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105366/)

2 -Moulson, Andrea, and Tim Watson. “A preliminary investigation into the relationship between cervical snags and sympathetic nervous system activity in the upper limbs of an asymptomatic population.” Manual therapy 11.3 (2006): 214-224. (http://tinyurl.com/mu2nuzf)

3 – Timmerman, Laura A., and James R. Andrews. “Undersurface Tear of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in Baseball Players A Newly Recognized Lesion.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine 22.1 (1994): 33-36.

4 – Anderson, Kyle, Sabrina M. Strickland, and Russell Warren. “Hip and groin injuries in athletes.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine 29.4 (2001): 521-533. (http://scottsevinsky.com/pt/reference/hip/ajsm_athletes_hip_groin_injuries.pdf)

5 – Delaney, J. Scott, and Renata Frankovich. “Head injuries and concussions in soccer.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 15.4 (2005): 216-219.

6 – Delaney, J. Scott, Vishal Puni, and Fabrice Rouah. “Mechanisms of injury for concussions in university football, ice hockey, and soccer: a pilot study.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 16.2 (2006): 162-165.

7 – Woodward, THOMAS W., and THOMAS M. Best. “The painful shoulder: Part I. Clinical evaluation.” American Family Physician 61.10 (2000): 3079-3089.

8 – Myers, Joseph B., et al. “Glenohumeral range of motion deficits and posterior shoulder tightness in throwers with pathologic internal impingement.” The American journal of sports medicine 34.3 (2006): 385-391.