Finding Flexibility

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.)

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The stretch in question. (Done cold, so don’t judge.)

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?)

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Never have I ever been as metal as from January to September 2010. And I’ve been pretty metal. Happy New Year indeed.

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.

6 thoughts on “Finding Flexibility

  1. I have natural turnout and hypermobility, which was great, when I was young. Now, I am middle-aged and I do have a problem with wobbly joints. But, thanks to all the dance training I have had, my muscles are quite strong und keep the joints in place, it seems.

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  2. I hope it doesn’t bother you too much or keep you from dancing! I’m a bit scared of not being able to dance one day, but reason tells me I should be fine if I train right. How long have tou been dancing?

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  3. No, it is just my left ankle, that gives me a little trouble. I started with ballet when I was nine, tried modern, different kinds of folk dance as a teenager, took my first flamenco class in my early twenties and have been dancing flamenco for many years now. Flamenco does not do much for my flexibility, so I try to remember my exercises from ballet class. However, flamenco does help with my strength and that’s something.

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  4. By this point, I’ve come to believe that I may be hypermobile (I’m certainly hyperextended in the knees and elbows, and my fingers do some crazy things), though as a child this gift/curse was somehow … dormant (my knees were still hyperextended, but my hip and leg flexibility was close to nonexistent), possibly through lack of use?
    Anyway, could you please point me in the direction your info. regarding the correlation between hypermobility and loose skin, because I certainly have plenty of the latter from when I was overweight and now I’m wondering could this be the reason. (i realize that I keep leaving quasi-medical questions as comments, and I may be being a little annoying…)
    And yes, the unfairness between people who never train and are somehow stronger or more flexible without it than someone who busts their butt trying is something that I try not to think about – it’s just too depressing!

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  5. No problem! My MD friend told me that, along with the directions to never smoke or gain weight. I suppose when the connective tissue is weak, it is weak everywhere. When I search for it online, a lot of results mentioning the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome pop up. That is a much, much more severe form of connective tissue weakness which also causes chronic joint pain. I think hypermobility is a spectrum, with EDS at the top and better-than-average flexibility at the bottom.

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  6. Thanks for the reply; that makes a lot of sense – that if connective tissue is weak, it’s weak everywhere. And I’m an ex-cigarette smoker on top of that, so that explains it even more.
    I definitely need to research the hypermobility spectrum much more…

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