The Dance

Four Steps to Put Your Body Mechanics in Motion

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

Without effective body mechanics, an otherwise promising career is destined to be cut short in spite of a desire to continue. While there are many principles to performing a massage with excellent body mechanics, a component often inconsistently applied is continuous, full-body motion—especially in local, focused work.
Every stroke requires a transfer of energy and momentum originating from the floor, regardless of whether the stroke is long and broad or short and narrow. If your stroke is moving, you must be moving as well. When energy and momentum originate from any location other than the floor, they are coming from somewhere in your body that is working too hard. Guaranteed, your client will feel the difference (even if they don’t know what the difference is), and you will feel tension and/or pain in your body.
Following are actual dance steps that can be applied to performing massage strokes with the goal of keeping your work in healthy motion. But first, you must start from a balanced and stable position.

The Foundation

Observe someone dancing. Their motion begins with knees bent and weight balanced over the feet. Their weight shifts from foot to foot while their knees flex and extend. The core and torso balance over one foot, then the other, moving back and forth in a range that doesn’t get too forward or behind the foot that is carrying most of the weight at any given time. If a dancer can’t easily propel forward or change direction by pushing off the floor, it means the torso isn’t balanced over one or both feet, and there will be loss of coordination, fluidity, and control. It’s no different in massage.

Try this exercise:
1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees bent, toes at a slight angle outward, and torso upright. In ballet, this is known as a plié (meaning “to bend”). In massage, it is horse stance.
2. Push into the floor with your right foot to create the force that transfers the weight of your torso over your left foot.
3. Once your weight is balanced over your left foot, push into the floor with the left foot to transfer your weight back to the right. Knees will naturally flex and extend with each push and landing.
4. Continue this back-and-forth movement until it feels smooth, fluid, and buoyant.
5. Next, change your foot position so that one foot is in front of the other. Your feet will still be hip-width apart, but offset from each other instead of side by side. Your torso is upright and balanced between the feet, and your knees are bent.
6. Push off the back foot to shift the weight of your body over the front foot.
7. When your weight has landed over your front foot, push into the floor once more to return your body weight to the back foot.
8. Continue to shift your weight forward and back, using the feet as the originating force that moves your body in either direction. Practice until the movement becomes smooth, fluid, and buoyant.
Now, you are ready to add the steps that move you up and down the length of the massage table.

The Steps

These four steps will add full-body motion to your strokes, reduce the strain on your body, and provide a consistently strong and fluid experience for your client.

The Step Touch

This step is useful when strokes are applied directly in front of you in a side-to-side manner, such as with alternating kneading strokes.
Begin in horse stance. As the right foot pushes your body to the left, the right hand will be in motion performing the stroke. As the left foot pushes your body to the right, the left hand will be in motion performing the stroke. You won’t step your feet together as in a traditional step touch, but you might lightly tap the ground with the unweighted foot between strokes.

The Travel Step Touch

This step will allow you to use the previous step to travel up and down the table. For example, if you are kneading the anterior thigh from knee to hip, you can cover the full length of these muscles from joint to joint without reaching beyond an appropriate range of balance or twisting your body. The work stays in front of you.
Begin in horse stance. Repeat the previous step touch. To travel to the left, push from your right foot to shift your weight to the left foot. As soon as the weight is balanced over the left foot, step your right foot close to your left, and then let the weight shift back over your right foot. Next, step your left foot away from your right as you push off the floor and shift the weight back to the left. The result will be seamless side-to-side movement while traveling with your whole body at the same time—no more reaching and twisting!

The Chassé

This step is useful when strokes are pushing and pulling up and down the length of a body region, such as applying effleurage to the back, arms, or legs.
Begin in bow stance (also known as lunge or warrior stance). Imagine you are working on the client’s right leg in supine position. Your hips and torso face the head of the table as you work from ankle to thigh. In order to keep your body open to the table and the stroke, place your left foot forward and right foot back.
Push the stroke forward by pressing your right foot into the ground and shifting your weight onto your left foot. Once the weight is over your left foot, step your right foot close to your left. As you pull back, press into your left foot to shift the weight back over the right foot. The right foot is now prepared to push the weight back onto the left as it steps forward. You have now traveled far enough to apply the stroke from ankle to thigh without reaching from the end of the table (which would be a surefire way to strain your low back, shoulders, and neck).
To travel back, simply repeat in the opposite direction.

The Rock Step

This step works great for short, narrow strokes that require a unidirectional force, such as local cross-fiber and linear friction.
Begin in a shorter bow stance with feet closer together, since the movement is smaller. The same principle of alternating weight back and forth between your feet still applies, but more force comes from your back foot as the pressure forward is more prominent.
Imagine you are applying cross-fiber friction to the spinalis muscle. Face the client’s back from the side of the table, one foot in front of the other. If your right foot is in front, your left foot will push into the floor as you stroke forward across the muscle fibers. Return and prepare for the next stroke by using the right foot to spring you back onto the left. Again, the left (or back) foot will do the pushing, and the right (or front) foot will rock you back.

Let the Rhythm Move You

As you perform a full-body massage, transition between these stances and steps just like you transition between strokes. Practice these movements outside the massage session so they become embodied and natural. Turn on some music and move! As you begin to enjoy uninterrupted energy flowing from your feet through your body, you will notice when you become static during a massage session. Your work will become fluid, rhythmic, and soothing to both you and your clients.

Since 2000, Cindy Williams, LMT, has been actively involved in the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. She maintains a private practice as a massage and yoga instructor. Contact her at