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Whole-body Cascade
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Body Movement Exercise: Whole-body Cascade

This skill is one of the simplest to learn, and yet was the most instrumental in helping me appreciate what it means to be fluid in dance. The whole-body cascade provides the overarching context; the scaffolding upon which convergences with other body motions is mounted.

This exercise involves movement of the lower back. If you suffer from a serious back condition then you should not proceed. If you want to be sure, submit this exercise for evaluation by your physician. If you have determined that it is safe, you should still manage your expectations for suppleness but adopting a 'slowly but surely' approach.

Lesson concepts
Your body is divided up into seven horizontal bands (in order):

  • Head
  • Upper back and shoulders
  • Middle of your back
  • Lower back
  • Hips / buttocks
  • Knees
  • Ankles

Each band is displaced in sequence to give rise to a cascade: either from head to toe or vice versa. In dance mode, think if it as an extension of the lower body joint cascade found in the Lower Body Action tutorial.

And the best bit is that you get to do this lying down.


Exercise 1.1 head-to-toe cascade, lying down
For this, you'll need a firm-ish mattress; and two cushions (pillows or rolled-up towels will do).

Lie down on your back and place one pillow under the arch of your back, and another under your knees. You can place your arms by your side or lay your hands on your lower abdomen. I prefer the latter.

  1. Press the back of your head into the mattress and hold it there for two seconds before releasing.
  2. Press your upper back into the mattress and hold again for two seconds before releasing.
  3. Do the same for the middle of your back.
  4. Squash the pillow with your lower back for two seconds before re-establishing the arch.
  5. Press your buttocks into the mattress and hold for two seconds.
  6. Squash the pillow with the back of your knees for two seconds.
  7. Finally, press into the mattress with the backs of your heels for two seconds.

Repeat the practice until the transitions from band to band occur smoothly. Don't forget to release properly before moving on to the next band.

Shorten the pressure period from two seconds to one second, and then to under a second.

Exercise 1.2 toe-to-head cascade, lying down
The same as for Exercise 1.1 except you perform the cascade in reverse order i.e.: ankles, knees, buttocks, lower back, mid-back, upper back, then head.

Exercise 2.1 head-to-toe cascade, standing
Now I know some of my students prop up a mattress against a wall and practice it that way. I don't blame them for finding it preferable to doing the pressure bit against a bare-naked wall.

However in my case, after practising it lying down for a few days, I went straight to the standing unsupported version.

Exercise 2.2 toe-to-head cascade, standing
If you've been able to perform Exercise 2.1 unsupported, the only point you need to remember (apart from the standard safety issues) is to start with your knees slightly flexed to give them somewhere to go. Straight legs don't allow your knees the chance to get involved in the cascade process.

Exercise 3 cascade from pedalling, asymmetric
Execute the pedalling action, and continue taking the movement upward beyond the hips up to your head. The cascade is powered using only one leg, which is the most likely scenario in dancing.

From this exercise, you can glean that the most common application is to use the toe-to-head wave after foot placement, and the head-to-toe wave before foot placement.

Exercise 4 cascade detours
Insert a horizontal circle into the body wave. For example,

  1. pedal onto your right leg;
  2. let the cascade reach your right hip; then
  3. describe a full anti-clockwise circle as in Body Movement: Pelvis, Circular (east-north-west-south-east); then
  4. continue the cascade up to your head.

There are plenty of imaginative ways which this exercise can be varied:

  • you could use two horizontal circles, by inserting another at chest level;
  • or incorporate a lateral looped pelvic swing from east to west, carrying the cascade up the other side.



1999 Salsa & Merengue Society