Why do toddlers toddle?
Watching my teacher demonstrate what not to do in dance I could see exactly what happens. He moved down the floor, keeping his head weight in the middle, between his two legs. He rocked side to side a bit like someone might onboard ship before they get their sea legs. He was upright but there was something different and his movement was like a two year old; toddling.
It was his head and spine and they weren’t moving in coordination with his legs.
Then he switched gear and showed movement with the head and spine always on one foot or the other. Smooth as glass, across the floor.
Small little babies pull themselves upright. They cling to furniture and the hand of a nearby adult, or Mommy’s leg, or a chair, and move from place to place, interspersed with plopping down to sit on their padded diaper-seat, conveniently carried with them everywhere.
Their heads are very large for their body size. That’s one reason for the appeal of the Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Shultz. That large head on a small body is a subtle reminder of babies and it wakes up our protective, kinder instincts.
When babies start walking, their balance shifts sideways from foot to foot. Their big heads stay in the middle; feet are on either side, toddling. This is the constant swing of balance that will happen when there are sudden weight shifts and the head weight is between two feet.
Weight lifters who are muscle-bound do this as well. I’ve seen them at the gym; arms stiff by their sides and sticking out sideways because the bulk of their muscles doesn’t permit the arms to hang. They also have a side-to-side walk, but if toddlers toddle, the weightlifters waddle. They’re too stiff to release their hips and let the legs swing through like a dancer. Their legs are bulky and impede each other’s movement.
And then there are dancers, some of whom know how to find their head and spine and move them smoothly from foot to foot. The body weight moves but the head weight is always on one foot or the other. Dancers glide as if on invisible rails.
We find it adorable to watch wee little ones toddling around, pulling themselves up and sometimes, plopping right down.
There’s an expectation that a large weightlifter might lumber when he walks. It’s the price he pays and we’re not surprised by it, but maybe, dismayed. One weightlifter that I knew was lithe and moved like a panther. He was amazing, 70 years old and beating 50 year old men in bodybuilding competitions. He was a dear friend and passed much to young, and he was also the only weightlifter I know with that kind of agility as well as massive well-balanced musculature.
What’s not as pretty is seeing a dancer toddle like a little one, or lumber stiffly on the floor. Dancers who do not sense their head and spine relationship to their legs are less able to choose how they use their head weight over their foot.
The Alexander Technique is a premier method for elite dancers to control their movement. The lines of the body are more elegant, long and graceful on the floor. Alexander Technique is a control system for both freedom and to direct your own movement.