Where Am I (in space and time)
& Dan Finch
dancers don’t think too much about getting out of bed in the middle of
the night or walking across a grass lawn. You can do it without
thinking, yes? Yet those seemingly simple occurrences require a complex
system within the body to work together to keep you upright. It’s
called “balance,” and we all take balance for granted…..until something
Merriam-Webster online dictionary has 183 synonyms and antonyms for
“balance.” By whatever name, balance is an essential part of every day
life, and unquestionably necessary for dancing.
And, even here, Covid strikes again. Dancers who have not been dancing
much during the pandemic may find they have some lightheadedness or
concentration issues upon returning to their old dance schedule. That’s
because lack of use may have disrupted part of their natural balance
system. The good news is, you can get it back in most cases.
Balance depends on information received by the brain from your eyes,
ears, and muscles. When any part of that system is disrupted -- either
by illness, injury, aging, or even non-use -- you may experience
dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, or concentration difficulties.
doctors understand this and don’t dismiss complaints about dizziness
among our age group as “just aging.” In Southern California and many
other areas, you might be able to be referred to a physical therapist
who has a machine that uses “computerized posturography,” like the one
at right, to diagnose the source of balance problems. It is called the
EquiTest System. You stand on a pad inside its telephone booth-like
equipment. As the pad moves slightly, the machine tests your reaction,
reading impulses from your heel and the ball of your foot.
If this sounds space age, it is. NASA needed this kind of machine to
measure astronauts’ equilibrium on return from space, according to NASA
Spinoff. The inside of the International Space Station is designed to
give astronauts the illusion of being upright, with uncluttered
“floors,” lights in the “ceiling” and equipment packed onto the
“walls.” NASA said astronauts experiencing weightlessness learn to use
their eyes more than their other senses to establish orientation, and
it takes as much as a week to re-adjust when back on earth.
How do the feet figure into this? It goes back to an astronaut who
ignored warnings to avoid sports on his return from the space station.
He joined a game of basketball with his son. All was well until he went
for a jump shot and didn’t know “how I was going to get down.” He had
become disoriented as soon as he lacked information from the bottom of
his feet, according to NASA.
One of our Southern California dancers recently experienced the
EquiTest machine. He had been told his dizziness was occurring because
he was just getting older. Some physical therapists offer gait and
balance training to minimize the problem, and a few can do more than
just provide exercises. Those with access to “the machine” can spot the
source of problems to pinpoint treatment. Asking not to be named for
privacy reasons, our dancer was referred to a physical therapist in
Irvine who had one of the machines. The machine showed he had a
“disconnect” between his brain and his inner ear. It may have been
there before the pandemic, but lack of use made it worse. The test also
showed enough of the connection existed to be corrected through
Interestingly, this is the same machine that Peggy Roller, a Southern
California dancer, physical therapist, and Cal State Northridge
professor, teaches physical therapists around the country to use.
Balance relies on impulses coming to the brain from your eyes, inner
ear, and joints, muscles, and even skin (called “proprioceptive”
information). Cues from the foot indicate sway relative to the standing
surface and even whether that surface is hard, slippery, or uneven. The
inner ear tells the brain about motion and equilibrium. Light striking
receptors in the eyes tells the brain how you are oriented relative to
The brain measures all that information against “learned” information
about your world. A person becomes disoriented if the sensory input
received from one of the sources conflicts with what is received from
the others. Higher level thinking and memory though can override the
sensory input, according to the Journal of Vestibular Research, 2006,
and based on all that, the impulses from the brain back to the organs
and muscles can allow a person to maintain balance.
Lack of sleep, some medications, viral infections, and illness (stroke,
low blood pressure) can cause balance issues. Eating less salt,
drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising go a long way in preventing
Babies learn to walk through practice, as impulses from the senses to
the brain and back to the muscles create learned pathways. It is also
the reason dancers should practice -- to build neural pathways so that
more difficult ways of moving become automatic. If a problem develops
with one of the senses, the balance system can reset and relearn.
Don’t undertake any exercise program without medical guidance, but for
those interested in how our dancer began correcting his disconnect
problem: Try walking a few steps in a straight line but look to one
side and then the other, or stand on a foam pad and close your eyes
(being sure to have something to hang onto close by). Sounds easy,
until it isn’t.
From a club
newsletter, May 2022,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2022. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.