Mark Ballas’s Keen Charleston: A Somatic Observation of Dancing with the Stars

By Marianne Salza

Dynamic alignment and interconnectedness make Mark Ballas fluid and powerful. The Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) performer exudes freedom in my favorite DWTS Charleston routine. His arms flail; he flippantly swings and casually gestures. Mark channels the fun spirit and energy of the roaring 20s dance.

Mark interplays between primary and secondary positions easily. He is mostly in an upright, vertical position throughout the routine, but when he exaggerates his excitement or disappointment, his spine moves from hyperextension to a bowing, softening internal position.

The dancer’s well-developed rotary muscles allow for joint mobilization, bringing strength to his body, and helping him gain full access to the three-dimensional space. I noticed a sequencing of triangular kinetic chains: scapulae to heels, scapula to coccyx, occipital bone to scapulae and coccyx to heels. Mark exhibits a great deal of flexion/extension/hyperextension when abducting and adducting his shoulders, elbows, and hips for emphasis. There is also internal and external rotation of the shoulders, hips and hands when swinging his arms and legs, or when engaging into fast, sinking steps.

Mark has a lively connection with the inner core of his body. Mark’s breath and movement are integrated and support each other. This is particularly noticeable during his rapid, spasmodic gestures. From the first step of the routine, you can see how his breath initiates movement. When swaying his arms forward, he exhales; and he inhales when swaying backward. He breathes out thrusting left, and in when thrusting right. Whenever Mark moves away from the midline of his body (abduction), he takes in a gulp of air, expelling it as he moves toward his midline (adduction). As he sits, he exhales, and as he lifts his body, he inhales. While pretending to sip on some bubbly, the dancer breathes in as he “swallows” and breathes out when he places the glass down. He exhales into his turns as well. Mark also breathes out when going into a plié, and as he jumps he breathes in, like the action propels him into the sky.

His head/neck/back relationship influences and dynamically organizes his coordination. There is no tensing in his neck, which allows the muscles and his whole body to be released (1st Law of Human Movement). Mark’s movement is free. When running up and down the stairs, his head leads and his spine follows (2nd Law of Human Movement). He initiates movement from his feet, head, hands, finger tips and posterior.

Mark’s space effort is direct; his movements are focused. His time effort is sudden, with quick movements and erratic gestures. His movements are reminiscent of the jerky-quality of a silent film. The dancer has a strong weight effort and seems grounded with his heavy stepping. He illustrates a downward pull, letting gravity take him. Ballas has a bound flow effort. His movements are controlled and precise, especially in his legs.

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