Adventures with Gravity

My knees and hips are forward, my head and shoulders cantilevered backward, and I am falling. It’s New Year’s Eve at Tacoma’s “First Night” and we’ve just begun my three-person musical. I’m strapped into 40-inch-high stilts, sick as a dog, have slipped on a metal outlet, and need to think fast. But before I can process what’s happening, my shoulder bumps the ground and I flip onto all fours. I’m okay! Years of doing modern dance tumbles and Aikido rolls have come to the rescue. Falling well is as vital as developing strength and balance as a dancer, actress, and physical comedian.

We know it is important to maintain and increase our strength and balance as we age. These efforts minimize falls, but since adventures with gravity will find us, it’s also important to know how to fall to minimize injury. “Good” falls, though, take nurturing and rehearsal. It helps to study with good teachers and build your core muscles. But you don’t have to be a pro to pursue handy reflexes. Here are some tips from a professional faller (and, as usual, check with your doctor before starting):

Begin by standing on the floor, five inches from a raised bed landing pad.

How Low Can You Go?

  • The lower you go, the less far to fall. To practice quickly lowering your center of gravity, lower your pelvis as you reach your arms forward. Squeeze and lengthen your lower abdominals at the same time. Gently squeeze your buttocks to ease pressure on the knees.* You’ll be bending your knees into a 135-degree angle to a maximum 90-degree angle. Do not bend at your waist. Your knees and upper body are counterbalancing your bum. Now try this faster.

Release & Fold

  • Don’t fight the fall. Straight, rigid arms can break wrists and arms. Stand facing the bed. Drop pelvis as you reach out. Fold elbows and wrists, turning your head to the side to gently cushion fall. Now try against a wall to build strength in your arms—just keep knees slightly bent.

Go for the Cushion!

  • Aim for the meaty part of your hip and buttocks to avoid hurting vulnerable bones and joints. Practice standing in different directions, turning your derrière to sit on the bed. Don’t worry if you end on only one cheek.

Counter Balance

  • Spread your weight by pulling your body in opposite directions. Bend sideways, your hip toward the bed, arms stretched away. When your hip touches, slide your arms down the trajectory of your body to cushion the fall. Try it slower by lengthening your abdominal muscles. Less weight, less hurt.

Tuck & Roll

  • The rounder your body, the happier you’ll be in an accident. Tuck your limbs and head to save elbows, wrists, fingers, knees, and that vulnerable treasure, your head. Lie on bed on your back. Tuck everything in and rock forward and back, then side to side. From standing, the back of your legs against the bed, fall back into the bed as you tuck your limbs and head.

When my boomer fitness students trip, they automatically counterbalance by arcing or extending their arms forward and extending a leg backward. Many tell tales of slipping or tripping, but not falling. Others have lowered, rounded, and landed on their portable “cushion,” only sustaining a bruise.

I fell eight times in 30 years of stilt-dancing. Yet I never broke, strained, or badly hurt myself. Now if I can only stop running my head into doorknobs!

*Knees cranky? Check out instructional videos at RougeMusic.com/knee-too.

 Janet Rayor is a singer, dancer, Juicy Joints fitness instructor, gardener, and really bad accordionist.

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