How Indians Acquire Poise
( Originally Published 1930 )
In their present world-wide interest in Indians and Indian ways, the youth of today instinctively reach back toward a simpler, more balanced rhythm of life. Already tiring of their own jazzed inharmonies and the brainless rush and noise of modern civilization these clever, air-minded people are trekking for the quiet places and the Big Outdoors. Nerve-weary, fagged and half sick, we are all turning to those wise "Children of the Sun," the Indians, to teach us how to live simply and naturally.
While physical balance and poise may be acquired, to a great extent, through corrective posture, weight placement, rhythmic breathing and exercises, real human poise comes through harmonizing the mind and soul with the various physical activities of daily life.
"The dance cadences the soul. The history of the dance, which has often been a mode of worship, a school of morals, and which is the root of the best that is in the drama, the best of all exercises and that could be again the heart of our whole educational system, should be exploited, and the dancing school rescued from its present degradation. It is one of the best expressions of pure play."
Indian religious ceremonies are always accompanied by rhythmic dancing. Their most joyous festivals abound in dances and songs. The Indian is like a child in self-expression; perfectly natural.
Residents of large cities who live shut up in small rooms, with only stale air to breathe, miss many of the natural joys of life. Children, in particular, should be given an opportunity to lead more normal lives and should be permitted to do the perfectly simple and natural things that make them happy. Children love outdoor life and are naturally fond of music, unless sub-normal. Lawns, gardens and parks are ideal places to gambol and frolic. Children should be allowed to interpret music in dancing, pretending in their own way, various stories to beautiful music. It is pure, sweet play and decidedly beneficial.
Why not practice a little interpretive dancing yourself ? Forget that you are grown up be free and childlike it will do you good and make you feel young again. Throw yourself into the game wholeheartedly. If you cannot gambol on your own or somebody else's lawn, use the radio or victrola indoors or hum a lovely melody and then endeavor to interpret in rhythmic motions what the music means to you. There is a harmony obtained thereby within the heart and soul, for it is thoroughly refreshing and vitalizing, particularly if the thoughts are kept constructively harmonious.
Indians dance for the most part on the balls of the feet, back a little toward the arch. This necessitates considerable spring at the knees and ankles to keep the balance. The ankle motion is particularly clever and is similar to the action of a thoroughbred horse very springy and light. The rise on the toes and the upward stretches are made by the muscles of the thighs, the back of the legs and the small muscles of the feet and ankles.
The spring or leap is accompanied to a great extent with the thighs and tendon Achilles and with a darting motion of the arms or body while carrying a mental or inner sense of "flying" through the air. An Indian always lands on the balls of his feet with flexed knees and ankles and a thoroughly relaxed spine Nature's shock absorbers.
The movements of arms, legs, feet and hands are made with graceful stretching, reaching and pulling motions in perfect rhythm with the swinging, swaying movements of the body and the breath. Every breath is timed, every move is studied and full of meaning. The weight of the body should always guide the movements by a gentle falling forward in the desired direction.
Barefoot dancing, especially in a light costume or bathing suit, out-of-doors, is very beneficial and healthful. Indians as well as many Orientals and Europeans appreciate the healing and rejuvenating qualities of the early morning dew on the grass and meadows, and eagerly absorb it through the soles of their feet while inhaling the fragrant morning air. An early morning prayer-dance in appreciation of the benefits of the rising sun is a religious rite with many tribes. In this busy twentieth-century life we do not sufficiently appreciate the tremendous benefits of Nature and the sun, furthermore we are filled with a false sense of modesty. The body should be glorified and purified and considered a temple of divinity as the Indian belief prescribes —rather than as a receptacle for the fulfillment of every manner of indiscretion and desire known to perverted man. The purification of thoughts and desires is the first step the Indian takes in the betterment of his body and his fortunes.
When practicing the dances and exercises that follow try to keep the breath rhythms synchronized with the movements of the body and the thoughts and aspirations high.
EXERCISE 94. Music, waltz or one-step. This exercise will limber the hips and strengthen the legs and at the same time promote balance and control. It is also a good exercise to reduce the hips.
Assume the correct standing position. (Brace yourself with the left hand on the back of a chair at first, if necessary.) Poise the weight on the left leg and foot; inhale.
Swing the right leg forward, to the right and around in a circle, reaching out with the toes as far as you can, stretching all the way.
Each time try lifting and swinging the leg a little higher up. Resume position and exhale.
Repeat four times.
Repeat standing on the right foot, and swing the left in a circle to the left.
Repeat, swinging each foot backward and around in a circle.
Assume correct standing posture and inhale.
Poise the weight on the left foot and swing with the right foot, pointing the toes to the extreme right at the side, as far as you can reach.
Now swing the right leg forward in an arc, crossing over and touching the floor on the left side, as far as you can reach. Exhale slowly, swinging back to the right.
Repeat four times.
Swing to position.
When you have become expert in balancing yourself, make the' four swings rapidly while holding the breath.
Repeat, standing on the right foot, swinging the left.
EXERCISE 96. Music, one-step. This exercise will limber the knees, strengthen the muscles of the legs and back and stimulate the circulation of the blood. It is also a good test for balance and rhythm.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands on hips.
Inhale and hold.
Balancing the weight on the left, kick with the right leg from the knee joint. This will necessitate lifting the right leg (using the thigh muscles) a foot or more from the ground. Kick four times, exhale slowly and resume position.
Repeat, balancing the weight on the right foot and kick with the left.
(b) Assume correct standing posture and inhale.
Balance the weight on the left foot and rise on the toes.
Lift the right foot and touch the ground about twelve inches in front.
Now kick from the knee joint and at the same time hop on the left foot, in time to the music. This will make two hops to each kick.
Repeat four times.
Resume position, exhaling slowly. Learn to control the timing of the breath and keep a regular rhythm.
Repeat with the left foot, hopping on the right.
Alternate, first kicking with the right foot and then with the left, in a rhythmic swinging motion.
(c) Repeat the above exercises, but kick from the hip joint and kick much higher. Kick four times with each foot.
Alternate, swinging the body in rhythmic motion, gracefully and lightly, with the action of the legs and feet.
EXERCISE 97.—Music, two-step or march. This exercise will strengthen and limber the knees and develop the muscles of the legs, back, and feet. It will also develop poise and balance.
Assume the correct standing posture, hands on hips.
Balance the weight on the left foot; inhale.
Lift the right knee to a level with the waist line and twirl the foot in a circle, from the knee joint. Whirl to the right four times.
Resume position and exhale slowly.
Repeat with the left leg, balancing on the right, four times.
EXERCISE 98.—Music, waltz or one-step. This exercise will employ nearly all the muscles of the body and will develop grace and poise at the same time.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands at sides. Balance the weight on the left leg and foot.
Inhale slowly while lifting the right arm forward in an arc, swinging it high above the head and backward, stretching vigorously all the way, with the fingers.
At the same time point the right foot forward, obliquely to the right, and stretch. This double movement will stretch all the muscles of the right side, promote the circulation of the blood and relieve obstructions of the nerves. Take it slowly and count six or nine.
Swing slowly to position, exhaling and counting three.
Repeat with the left arm, swinging the weight on to the right foot, stretching forward with the left.
(b) Repeat (a), but twist both the arm and the leg while extended. Twist first to the right and then to the left, vigorously and as far as you can, while stretching outward at the same time.
(c) Repeat (a) and (b) while stretching, but with the palm of the hand at the wrist instead of the fingers, thus bringing a different set of muscles under control.
(d) Repeat the motions as directed in (a), but stretch with the right hand and the left foot, keeping the balance of weight on the right.
Repeat, using the left hand and right foot.
Repeat (b) and (c) and alternate from one to the other to gain control and balance.
(e) Repeat all the exercises, stretching forward with the hands and backward with the feet.
Alternate forward and backward for control.
EXERCISE 99.--Music, any rhythmic tuneful melody in 3/4 time.
(a) Assume correct standing posture; left hand on hip.
Poise the weight on the left foot and leg.
Inhale slowly and ---
Swing the right arm forward, up and above the head and stretch all the way with the wrist leading and carry the hand back as far as you can and stretch up and back with the fingers, counting six or nine.
At the same time stretch forward with the right foot, obliquely to the right.
Now, turning the hand so that the palm of the wrist leads, swing the arm down toward the right foot, pulling all the way. A sweeping swing of the body and a graceful bending at the hip joints, and a slight spring at the knees (at first) will bring many muscles into play and assist wonderfully in establishing poise and balance. As the right hand nears the toes, reach forward gracefully and stretch with the fingers.
All of the movements should be done slowly and in perfect rhythm, counting nine and exhaling slowly on the downward bend.
Swing up again with a quicker motion, counting three, and stretching upward all the way.
Resume position. Count three.
Repeat four times with each hand, poising on the left foot when swinging the left arm, and placing the right hand on the hip.
(b) Alternate and accelerate the speed of all the motions to obtain rhythm and balance.
EXERCISE Ioo.—This exercise is excellent for limbering the hip and shoulder joints and for developing the muscles in the arms, legs, and back.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, arms at sides.
Balance the weight on the left foot and leg.
Inhale slowly while placing the left hand on the left hip and, at the same time--
Lift the right arm forward in front on a level with the chest, counting three and, at the same time
Place the right foot forward, obliquely to the right, pointing the toes.
Swing the right arm in a complete circle down and backward, up and around and with a sweeping bend at the hips (not the waist) bring the body forward and swing the hand around and down until you touch the toes. Count six. Exhale while bending.
Swing back to position, reversing the movement, swinging a circle with the arm and counting three. Inhale slowly and Resume position.
Repeat four times.
Repeat, with the left hand and left foot.
(b) Repeat, with the right hand and left foot.
Repeat, with the left hand and right foot.
(c) Repeat, standing with the feet apart and use both hands and swing the hands to the toes, being careful to bend at the hip joints rather than the waist.
(d) Repeat one exercise after the other in rapid succession to attain balance and quick control. This can be done only after much practice.
EXERCISE 1OI.-MUSic, one-step or march.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands at sides, palms back.
Inhale and balance the weight on the left foot and leg. Count four.
Lift the right leg straight out in front, knee straight, as high as you can and keep your balance, stretching the heel for-ward and out.
Bend the left knee and sink the weight of the body slowly and steadily toward the floor until you touch the floor with your hands. (Touch the floor with the palms of the hands if able to without strain.) Count eight.
Assume standing posture, doing all the work possible with the left thigh and tendon Achilles. Be careful to keep the spine flexible. Count four.
(It may be necessary to steady yourself with the left hand on a chair, at first.) With proficiency it will soon be possible to perform the exercise without the use of any support and without touching the hands to the floor at all. At all times guard against flabby abdominal muscles, keep them well in and up.
Repeat with the other foot.
(b) Repeat exercise (a) with the arms folded. This will not be so difficult after you have mastered (a).
(e) Repeat exercise (b), alternating from one foot to the other with a slight spring as the change is made. This will develop great strength in the legs and back and splendid control.
This exercise may be done to dance music, and fast, as the Russian dancers dp. Many variations may be added, such as turning, circling, twisting, and using the arms in a multitude of graceful ways.
EXERCISE 102.—Music, waltz time.
Assume correct standing posture, hands at sides.
Inhale, place hands on hips, balance the weight on the left foot and leg, counting three.
Bend the left knee and lower the body, keeping the right foot out in front, counting six.
Swing the right foot to the right and around back in an arc. Count six.
Bring foot to position, exhaling and
Shift the weight to the right foot while placing the left foot out front, inhaling at the same time and counting six.
Repeat with the left foot, etc.
If necessary steady yourself by placing one hand on the seat of a chair until you gain sufficient strength to perform the exercise with the hands on the hips and, harder still, with the hands folded. Fine for poise.
EXERCISE 103: MUSIC, one-step or two-step.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands on hips. Inhale rhythmically throughout the exercise.
Balance the weight on the ball of the left foot, rising forward on to the toes when dancing. Keep both knees and ankles limber.
Kick with the right foot in time to the music and hop on the left with each kick of the right.
With the toes pointed, kick forward, up, and outward about on a level with the waist. Increase the height of the kick with practice.
Each time the foot should be brought back to the floor, toes pointed and close to the left foot.
Repeat four times.
Repeat with the left foot kicking, hopping on the right.
(b) Repeat the movements of (a), but kick obliquely to the right,
using the left foot to hop and the right foot to kick.
Repeat with the left foot kicking, hopping on the right.
(c) Now alternate, kicking first with the right and then with the left foot.
Repeat, kicking higher each time. Keep a rhythmic swing and a perfect balance.
EXERCISE 104.—Music, one-step or two-step.
(a) Assume correct standing posture, hands on hips.
Balance weight on left foot and leg. Inhale, counting three. Lift right knee on a level with the waist, toes pointed down. Kick from the knee joint, straight out in front. Count six. Repeat three times without bringing the right foot to the floor.
Keep poised on the ball of the left foot, springing with each kick.
Assume position, exhaling.
Repeat with the left foot, standing on the right.
(b)Repeat the movements of (a), but hop on the left foot with each kick of the right, and kick keeping the knee straight but not stiff.
Repeat with the right foot.
This is a good test for balance, especially if you kick first with the toes pointed and then with the heel, bringing a different set of muscles into play with each kick.
EXERCISE 105.—Music, 3/4 time. This exercise brings the muscles of the back into play as well as the legs and develops control and balance.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands on hips.
Balance the weight on the left foot and leg, being very careful not to allow the least tenseness in the hips, back, or legs during the movements, except those of stretching.
Inhale slowly and—
Lift the right leg up and out at the side as far as you can, stretching with the toes vigorously. Keep the knee straight but not rigid.
Repeat three times, holding the breath.
Resume position and exhale.
Repeat with the left foot.
Alternate, breathing rhythmically. Do not attempt to work too fast.
(b) Repeat (a) and stretch with the heels, vigorously, first with one foot and then with the other.
(c) Alternate, stretching first with the heels and then with the toes.
(d) Repeat exercises (a), (b), and (c), moving the legs straight back and out as far as you can. There is a greater tendency to stiffen the legs or buttocks with the backward stretch than with any other and bring undue pressure upon the spine with a constant jarring of the delicate nerves, thus affecting the entire nervous system.
(e) Repeat exercises (a), (b), and (c) with a swift and easy kick instead of the stretching. Then, leaning forward, repeat (d), kicking.
(f) Repeat (e) and alternate the forward kick with the back kick. Kick forward with the right foot and then with the left; then back with the right foot and then with the left; then forward with the right foot and then with the left, and so on.
(g) Kick to the right side and then to the left, alternating swiftly.
The Slave Walk
EXERCISE 106.—Music, an impressive march. This exercise is excellent for developing the muscles of the legs, back, and arms and for gaining control of the entire body. It is a splendid exercise and a test for balance and poise as well as rhythmic action. Unless done correctly, it is of little value.
(a) Assume the correct standing posture, hands at sides.
Inhale and clasp hands behind you, at the base of the spine. Count four.
At the same time place the weight on the left foot and leg and prepare to walk. All of the rules of posture and walking must be obeyed in this exercise. The breath should be rhythmmic, always holding it for the pull. Be very sure to hold the abdominal muscles well in and up.
Taking a very long step with the right foot, swing the weight of the body forward on to the right foot and thigh, with the right knee deeply bent. Balance with the toes of the left foot. Count four.
Now pull with the forward swing with the shoulders, as though dragging a heavy weight. Count four.
When properly done the body will be swung well forward, the trunk form a straight line with the left leg and the shoulders be about on a line above the right knee. Be careful to keep the feet straight ahead, the spine perfectly limber and the hips, knees, and ankles flexible during all carrying and balancing movements.
You will naturally exhale at the finish of the pull and the lift of the left foot forward for the next step. Count four.
Swing the left foot as far forward as you can for the next step, lifting the body up and forward as you swing and allowing the weight of the body to propel the forward motion. Repeat the pull with the shoulders.
(b) Repeat (a), except that the right hand should stretch forward as though reaching for some object when the weight is swung forward on to the right foot. The left hand should be poised on a line with the body to maintain balance. Vice versa with the left hand.
(c) The leg movements and weight placement are practically the same in this exercise as for (b). With each step forward with the right foot reach forward with the right hand for an imaginary object—out of reach, on the floor.
Repeat with the left hand, weight on the left foot, forward. This is a good exercise for all the muscles of the body and develops great body control and balance.
(d) Employ the same leg movements and weight placements in this exercise as in (a).
Reach forward straight ahead of you with both hands as for an imaginary object. Grasp firmly with the fists and pull back with all your strength until your hands' are as far back of you as you can pull. At the same time you will push hard with the left leg, straightened, and intensely pushing to brace yourself, the weight poised on the right.
Repeat several times. This exercise is best practiced out-of-doors ; the beach, a garden or playground is ideal. The exercise may be intensified on an up or down grade.
EXERCISE 107.-The "slave walk" may be varied in a number of interesting ways, such as reaching up and forward and dragging the imaginary object back toward the left or right, to the ground: turning to pull from the rear on the forward step with both hands, first on one side and then on the other. An interesting movement is to swing the right arm back, up and around in a circle and throw an imaginary ball forward, as you swing forward on to the right foot. Repeat with the left, and so on. The double swing with both arms is more difficult. It is interesting to try out experiments for yourself and develop new exercises. But remember always to keep within the laws of correct posture, carriage, and balance, with flexible spine and joints.