A while ago, we did a new stretching exercise in jazz. It was fairly close to a half-lotus, except with your shins parallel to your pelvis, basically putting the foot of one leg to the knee of the other and vice versa. Then the teacher had us bend slowly forward at the hips, with a straight back, and finally, relax forward.
I thought it was a cool stretch, so I looked around to see how the others were doing. The teacher made the impression of having no bones at all, as she always does. Most students I could see were doing fine. The one person that wasn’t was a girl from the advanced class. She couldn’t get the legs into position at all, let alone bend down over them. It looked quite painful. (Note: This is not a criticism of inflexible people, girls in advanced class or this particular person. Read on.)
Last Sunday, I was lying around lazily (as one does) with my SO, when he casually twisted one of his legs into a position just like that stretch. That took me by surprise, since he’s not into sports and certainly doesn’t stretch regularly. I made him do the whole stretch, followed by the butterfly and then the lotus for good measure. Lo and behold, he repeated those on par with most people in my class and better than many! He also turned out (ha!) to have an acceptable un-forced turn-out!
This made me somewhat huffy at how completely unfair the world is. Some people almost kill themselves trying to get even a little bit of hip mobility to further their dancing, while others can casually scratch their nose with their big toe without any regular exercises. You can work as hard as you like only to have some beginner off the street easily surpass your flexibility after three weeks of class. Scandalous!
To be fair, I have to disclose that I belong to the casually-nose-scratching camp myself. I have always been stretchy and fortunate to (re)gain flexibility quickly. Which probably explains why less flexible people who’ve been dancing for longer tend to give me disapproving glances during stretching, come to think of it.
There are many different causes for the natural differences in flexibility. With me, it definitely runs in the family. My grandmother started yoga at the age of fifty and is still more flexible than me at 69. My mom (whom I’ve dragged into both jazz and ballet a couple of months ago) has very little trouble with flexibility, even though she always complains about it.
When I was twenty, I found out that this was, in fact, officially hypermobility in a simultaneously casual and hilarious way. I had broken my ankle
trying to impress a guy snowboarding and had to have surgery to put it back together with cool-looking metal things. After the procedure, I was given a copy of the operation report to take back to my regular physician. So of course I read it, coz long words lol. (Alright. Polysyllabic terminology has never intimidated me. Better?)
After putting in the screws and before sewing the skin back together, they decided to check for accidental screw-ups (I’m on fire today!). So one of the guys grabbed the foot and twisted it inward – what the nerds will know as inversion. Apparently, it turned way too far without offering any significant resistance. A collective «Damn, something else must be broken, too» went through the crowd. X-rays were taken. Nothing was found. It was only then that someone thought to check the other foot and discovered this was how I rolled (my ankles, hehe). «Due to hyperlaxity of the joints», they said, and that was it.
With the help of the internet, books and an MD friend, I have since found out that hypermobility is not a particularly great thing to have, since it can lead to joint instability, osteoarthritis and loose skin. But damn, it can be useful for dancing!*
*When combined with strength training and proper technique, at your own risk, I am not a doctor, may contain peanuts, etc.