Safe Stretching

This post is part two of a series on stretching. Check out the first part A Beginner’s Guide to Stretching here, if you missed it.

What is safe stretching?

  • Safe stretching is stretching in a way that is as safe as possible for you and your body.

Why is it so important?

  • It helps to reduce the chance of injury.
  • It can actually help improve your flexibility
  • It places limits to stop you from overdoing it.

How to stretch safely:

  1. Warm up properly first with 10 – 20mins of cardio. This could include briskly walking, running, skipping or other movement that get your heart beating faster. From an anatomical point of view, cardio increases your body temperature, thus warming up your muscles and making them more flexible. Cold muscles don’t like to stretch!
  2. Start gently. Don’t throw yourself into splits straight away, do some hip-opening stretches or hamstring stretches to engage the muscles first. Whatever your planning to work on in your stretching session, start slowly as your muscles are still warming up.
  3. Know your limits and don’t force it. If you are sore from a class earlier in the week, then keep that in mind and work to your limits. Similarly if you are recovering from an injury don’t push yourself too hard.
  4. Be realistic. Change (unfortunately) doesn’t happen overnight however much we want to! Progress happens day by day and I know from experience that you do yourself no favours by having unrealistic expectations.
  5. Don’t overstretch. Overstretching is when you stretch for longer or further than your body can realistically handle. This could be sitting in splits for 10+ minutes while watching TV or stretching for long periods of time more than once a day. Either way it’s not good and it dramatically increases your chance of injury. Did you know that 60% of dance injuries occur as a result of overuse (DANZ, 2006)?
  6. Monitor your energy level. If you are already exhausted your more likely to injure yourself. 90% of dance injuries occur when a dancer is fatigued (DANZ, 2006). If you’re shattered after a tough class or a long day, skip the stretching and relax. You’ll be doing your body a favour.
  7. Stretching shouldn’t be painful. A stretch? Yes. Not comfortable? Definitely. Sore Afterwards? Possibly. Actually painful? No! Pain means you’re pushing yourself too hard and increasing the risk of injury. If you do injure yourself apply the dancer’s first aid strategy PRICED immediately.
  8. Feed yourself. So important. Using your muscles takes energy from your body and muscles and you need to replace it help them stay strong, so make sure you eat something within 40 minutes of stretching. It doesn’t have to be much, but something with protein and carbohydrates is perfect.

Happy stretching!

A Beginner’s Guide to Stretching

Stretching.

We all know it’s important but there is so much mis-information out there about it, that’s can be really hard to know where to start.

The tips below are perfect for beginners new to stretching, and a great reminder for the rest of us too!

Stretching is an important part of any dancers' training, but it's important it's done carefully.

Stretching is an important part of any dancers’ training, but it’s important it’s done carefully.

So you want to become more flexible? Well there are few important things you need to know:

  • Improving your flexibility is a journey not a destination. While it’s easy to focus on the end result (for example middle splits), we can often end up overlooking how much progress we’ve made as we work towards our goal. One way to see how you are progressing is to take photos every week or two so you can see the change.
  • Choose one goal at a time. It’s tempting to list everything you want to improve, but it doesn’t make it any easier! Choose one thing to work on, focus on that, and when you feel like you’ve made progress on that move on to the next goal.
  • Usual visual cues to help you achieve your goal. This might be a picture of what you’d like to be able to to do, or a post it note on your mirror. Use it as a reminder of what you’re aiming for and also a reminder to stretch.
  • Celebrate your successes. When you achieve a goal, doing something small to celebrate it and be proud that you’ve managed to work hard to achieve it!
  • Be patient, change takes time. Forcing your self to do something your body isn’t ready to do puts you at risk for an injury. Injuries aren’t fun and they can set you back in progress to achieve your goal, so don’t risk it.
  • Practice safe stretching. This means warming up properly, and not overstretching. If you’re a beginner consider taking a stretch or conditioning class for dancers until you feel confident.

What are your top tips for stretching?

Watch out for part two of our stretching series coming soon – Safe Stretching.

The Organised Dancer

There’s no denying that dancers are busy people. Between classes, rehearsals, school and everything else in life, it’s easy to lose track of things. Here are some of my top tools and tricks for keeping yourself organised:

Messy dance gear? Time to get organised!

Messy dance gear? Time to get organised!

General Tips

  • Make a schedule. The great thing about being a dancer is that we work on a pretty routine schedule most of the time, so draw up a schedule of your classes and practices that occur on a regular basis and put it somewhere you’ll see it often.
  • Keep your calendar up-to-date. Whether you use a pen and paper diary,  or the calendar on your phone, make sure all important dates are recorded so you don’t miss a thing – especially when you have rehearsals or assignments that aren’t part of your regular schedule.
  • Sort out your dance bag. If you’re anything like me, you chuck everything in your dance bag. But make time each week to sort out your dance bag so you’re not carrying around unnecessary items.
Fabric packing cells are great for storing padding for pointe shoes or other bits and pieces that travel to and from class in your dance bag.

Fabric packing cells are great for storing padding for pointe shoes or other bits and pieces that travel to and from class in your dance bag.

  • Find a place for everything. Dancers tend to accumulate dance stuff. Organise your dance gear so that everything has a place, and you know where to find it.
  • Plan some down time. It’s great to busy and active, but it can easily become a habit. Planning for some relaxing time each week gives your brain and body a chance to rest.

Dance Gear Storage Tips

Dance gear sorted!

Dance gear sorted! It’s that easy.

  • Choose a basket/drawer or other container that will be your one place all your dance gear is stored. I use woven baskets that are open on top because it lets clothing and shoes breathe better, plus I can see what’s in each basket.
  • Separate your dance clothes based on when you use them. Because I wear the same clothes to teach dance as I do for running or jazz I keep these all together. My leotards and tights, which I only wear for ballet are separate, as are warm ups. It makes it easy to find what you need when you’re in a hurry.
  • Sort other dance related things into containers so they’re easy to find. I have a few different braces for various body parts that sometimes need a bit of extra support, along with therabands, spare ribbons, pointe shoe thread etc. that end up in a jumble if I’m not careful. Making a place for these helps me find them when I need them.
All my ballet shoes in one neat and tidy place - easy to grab when I'm in a hurry.

Store all your ballet shoes in one neat and tidy place – easy to grab when you’re in a hurry.

  • Store your shoes/extra bits and pieces for each class together. I keep all my ballet shoes (2 pairs of pointes, 1 pair of flats) together in a mesh bag along with my ouch pouches and toe tape for pointe. This means I just need to grab one bag every time I have ballet. I don’t every use the shoes separately so there’s no reason they can’t be together.

 

What are your top organisational tips? Share your top tips in the comments below.

The Photo Shoot

I’m pleased to (finally) be able to give you a sneak peak of the photo shoot I had with gorgeous dancer L. about a month ago. While I’m saving most of the images for their accompanying blog posts here are a few of my favourites.

For those wondering, L. is an intermediate level dancer just beginning on pointe. She turns 13 this year. The teacher/older dancer in the photos is me.

Rotating through the whole leg and ensuring the knee is tracking over the second toe is important when working in turn out.

Rotating through the whole leg and ensuring the knee is tracking over the second toe is important when working in turn out.

There's a sort of grotesque beauty to a dancer's feet.

There’s a sort of grotesque beauty to a dancer’s feet.

Helping students to rotate the foot to avoid sickling helps to develop a sense of correct alignment.

Helping students to rotate the foot to avoid sickling develops a sense of correct alignment.

Stretching through the feet is as important in contemporary as in ballet.

Stretching through the feet is as important in contemporary as in ballet.

Brie Jessen-Vaughan

Brie Jessen-Vaughan

Creating a sense of distance through epaulement and eyeline.

Creating a sense of length and longing through epaulement and eyeline.

Supporting dancers to feel correct alignment helps to develop their proprioception of a movement.

Supporting dancers to feel correct alignment helps to develop their proprioception of a movement.

The teacher/mentor relationship is such an important one for dancers of all ages.

The teacher/mentor relationship is such an important one for dancers of all ages.

All photos are taken by Marilyn Jessen and Copyright to dancewell.wordpress.org. Please do not use without DanceWell’s permission.

 

A Quick Update

It’s been a while since I posted anything. Sorry about that! But I do have a very good reason, several in fact! I’ve been busy dancing, learning about dance, trying new movement techniques and getting lots of awesome new content sorted for DanceWell. On top of that we also had a fabulous photoshoot with a gorgeous young dancer L. Sneak peeks coming soon!

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Pretty much my life these holidays!

Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to over the school holidays dancewise:

  • Photoshoot: Knowing that I needed some great photos for the blog I enlisted the help of two awesome people – my amazing mother Marilyn Jessen to take photos and my friend and gorgeous young dancer L. to model for me. Naturally I got roped in to do more than just direct the photoshoot, so some of the pics are mine and if you’re lucky you may even see a few pictures of me too! Mum and I also had a great time taking spontaneous dance shots on the beach too! (Not as easy as it looks…)
  • British Ballet Organisation Concourse: This definitely deserves it’s own post, but in short I spent 3 days taking and observing classes at the BBO course at the New Zealand School of Dance. This included a stretch class, a teachers’ class for ballet focusing on posture and alignment, learning about how neurodynamics can help you be a happy and healthy dancer with less aches and pains (more coming soon on this), watching senior dancers demonstrate the new Coppelia Theatre in Dance Award and finally an awesome mime and gesture workshop with legendary dancer Sir John Trimmer.
  • Swan Lake: Although I was away for most of the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s 60th Anniversary celebrations, I did make it back in time to see Gillian Murphy in Swan Lake. Those 32 fouettés are even more amazing live!
  • First Aid: While this isn’t really dance – dance is the reason it’s so important to me to have a current first aid certificate, which I now do thanks to my school!
  • MELT Method: Finally, I did an awesome workshop with former dancer and now pilates instructor Cat Eddy of The Mat Class on the MELT Method, which is a self-massage technique to manage pain and discomfort caused by dehydrated connective tissue. It was just an introduction class but I’m hooked. (More coming on this too!)

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So all in all it’s been a busy holidays. I did manage some down time too and catch up with friends and family. I’m looking forward to getting back to school, back into my own dance classes and getting really stuck in to our school production which is on in 4 weeks!

Now it’s your turn! Did you manage to fit any dancing into your school holidays?

Competition Prep

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At school at the moment I teach/coach our Aerobics Gymnastics teams. This is my second year coaching the team and it’s been one of the highlights of my year. I pretty much get to work with the most awesome/lovely/talented/hardworking girls in the school, so what’s’ not to enjoy!

Training has been pretty intense this term with lots of early mornings and lunch times, but the girls have put in so much time and effort and their dedication has been truly awesome!

Tomorrow is their first of two big competitions – they will be competing against other middle school/intermediate teams in the Intermediate Aerobics Comp before heading to regionals next term. Hard though they’ve worked, there still a bit nervous. Today we talked about things they can do to help them get ready for their competition tomorrow, and I thought I’d share them with you. They work well for any stressful event, competition or otherwise, and have been amassed over the years from my gym competitions as a teenager, to ballet exams, to directing dance performances at school.

 

Preparing for Competitions (and other stressful events)

Sleep Well – Get a good night’s sleep the night before and go to bed on the earlier side of your usual time.

Sort Out Your Dance Bag (the night before) – it’s so much easier to stay relaxed if you are not rushing around trying to find bits and pieces at the last minute.

Pack Spares – bobby pins, tights, bun nets… they always break and it’s so easy to have a couple of spares stashed away

Pack Plenty of Food – You’re going to be active, therefore you need to eat. Planning to bring you own food is a. cheaper and b. probably a lot better for you than buying something there (if that’s even an option!)

Drink Water – drinking water is one of the best things you can do for your body especially when dancing

Stop Practicing – this is a big one, don’t spend the 24 hours before a competition practising madly, it just adds to the stress level, use this time to relax. If you still want to practice then mentally walk yourself through your dance/routine.

Don’t Overstretch – the last thing you want is to be sore on competition day. A warm up and a gentle dynamic (moving) stretch is much better then overstretching muscles risking injury.

Relax – do something you enjoy, read a book, play with a pet, anything that takes your mind of the competition and helps your brain to wind down.

Do any of you have competitions/performances/etc. coming up soon? What are your rituals pre-performance?

Dancewear

I’m the first to admit it – I love dancewear. I spend a fair bit of time in it each week, so this is probably a bonus.

 

What to wear when dancing is pretty straightforward once you know what you’re doing, but it can be quite daunting for the beginner. What to wear depends on what exactly you are going to be doing. For example, sneakers and loose-fitting clothing allows you to move more freely, which is useful if you are doing hip hop, while a leotard, tights and ballet shoes enable a teacher to see correct technique in a ballet class. These styles have specific rules about what is appropriate, however there are a few general guidelines that are helpful to bear in mind, whether it’s your first class or your 500th class.

  • Expectations Find out what the expectations are for your dance style and then choose clothing you feel comfortable in within these expectations. Your teacher doesn’t want to have to remind you about your dancewear.
  • Differentiate Make sure your dancewear is different to your outwear/everyday clothes. Outdoor clothes are uncomfortable to dance and at best and restrictive to the point of being dangerous (either for your clothes or your person) at worst. Not to mention the fact that you’re going to sweat!
  • Moveability Wear clothes that let you move – whether it’s something loose or tight-fitting lyrca it has to let you move comfortably or easily. You don’t want to be stressing about your clothes instead of focusing on the dance.

Chances are that if you are a student taking classes at a studio, you have a set uniform, but if you taking community classes or dancing at school, it’s important to think about what you’re dancing in as it can have a big impact on how you can dance!

We’ve all got our favourite clothes to dance in – what are yours?