Dancer Profile: Emily

This week we’re featuring talented young dancer Emily Hollis.

Emily 2

Emily is 14 years old and has been dancing for nine years. Beginning with ballet as a 5 year old Emily later picked up Tap, and then Jazz after taking a break from ballet for a few years. Last year she returned to ballet, and is now studying towards her intermediate ballet exam and elementary jazz exam. She currently takes classes at Hayley Johnson Academy of Dancing and Angela Goodall Dance Academy, both in Wellington. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing short stories/poetry, drawing, learning, researching, maths and shopping. Not only is she a amazing dancer, she is also a fantastic violinist and a talented writer. Her future plans include getting involved in contemporary dance and doing well in her approaching major academic and dancing exams.

I’ve been lucky to know Emily for several years now, and I recently caught up with her about dance and what it means to her.

Why do you love dance?

I must admit, beginning dance as a shy five year old did not spark some intense fondness of the art; dance was not love at first sight for me. For those initial years I completed my routines like a perpetual, ongoing process that was neither enjoyable nor undesirable, a chugging train making slow but sure progress. It wasn’t until I discovered the full definition of dance as me, myself that I found myself as a dancer in our large but restrictive world. I can never explain sufficiently how the joy of movement, the contraction and extension of our muscles, can change someone. And those are the best kinds of things. I love dance because it is the only thing in this world that can extend memories into infinity, but also retract the negative until it’s zilch. The feeling when, halfway through a dance, you let go enough to understand you could do this into the early dawn of tomorrow, that a myriad of seconds exist in peace, waiting for you to fill them with movement. I love dance because I cannot describe the feeling of losing yourself in a piece of music and sketching the infinite lines of colour into each note. I love dance because when I move I can be anything I dare or wish to be. Dance can be infinite.

Tell me about something that’s challenged you in dance, but ultimately made you a better dancer.

Because I began more emotional, unrestricted kinds of dance later in my life, i.e jazz, it took me a long time to fully embrace the new sides of myself through this new form of movement. Especially contemporary, it was unusual for me to feel so connected with this art form. I was initially challenged with the transition, but afterwards I felt as though I could connect more often and, although I haven’t done any official contemporary dance I think it has helped me develop my other styles and my choreography skills as I had to observe other dances to widen my dance vocabulary.

What or who inspires you in your dancing?

My favourite ballerinas of late are Lucy Green of RNZB, Carrie Imler from PNB and Miko Fogarty who competes in the America Grand Prix. Others include Maddie Ziegler who performs in Sia’s music videos and of course the dancers around me. They are usually the ones who actually inspire me the most, because many of them are so humble and knowing them personally with all their passion brings me such joy and motivation to aim high and work with them to create something wondrous for the audience, whomever that may be, as well as ourselves.

Describe yourself as a dancer in 3 words.

Connected. Emotional. Imaginative.

So, the hardest question, what is your favourite dance style?

Ooh, that’s a toughie. I’d say contemporary over ballet (just) because it’s the only style I feel completely and utterly alive with.

What is your current favourite dance track?

Elastic Heart by Sia. This is absolutely the most emotionally connective song I have ever danced to.

Must have item of dance clothing?

Leotards, because you can wear it for anything! But tights are up there on the list too!

What are your goals for the future?

My goals for this year and beyond are to generally stay conscious of what I am doing to/putting into my body, for food can be a poison or an efficient resource, depending on how you decide to use it. As dancers I think it’s important to think this way and not think of food as only something to keep you alive. It can be exciting too! Apart from this time management has been, and will continue to be a essential part of life as a dancer, as major school AND dance exams near it can be difficult to stay on track to do well in both (a goal I am determined to succeed in). Hopefully, with a schedule and strong mind I can overcome these plights and transfer and apply time management into later life, where it is very valuable.

If you’d like to be featured on The Dance Well Project, please leave a comment below indicating this, or email briejessenvaughan @ icloud.com (just take the spaces out).

Breaking in Pointe Shoes: Advice and Link Round Up

I love getting emails from my former students, and recently I got one from a girl who was in my class (at school) last year. She was super-excited about going back to ballet and getting her first pair of pointe shoes and wanted some advice on how to break them in. There is so much information on the web, but it can be hard to know which advice to trust here is some of the advice I gave her plus a few good links.

IMG_0915a

Choosing Shoes

It’s impossible to know what shoes will fit until you try them on, but it is a good idea to do your research and find out about different shoes. Some will be suitable for a beginner and some (especially those with 3/4 shank) are only suitable for a more experienced dancer. There’s some really great information about different brands of shoes here.

Understanding your Shoes

You may think you know dance shoes, but trust me, pointe shoes a whole different kettle of fish, and there’s a lot of technical vocab that goes with them. Here’s a great breakdown of what the different part of a pointe shoe are.

Understand the Cost

Pointe shoes are expensive no doubt about it! This video shoes you how pointe shoes are made and makes you realise why the cost so much.

Break your Shoes in Slowly

A lot of my students want to hurry to break their shoes in, or they’ve seen videos of dancers hammer their shoes or sticking them in a door. The reality is that as a beginner on pointe, you don’t yet know what your feet need. Take it slow, walk around the house in your pointe shoes, do some slow releves and rises (after your teacher has shown you how to do them properly), let the work you do in class break them in. You may also like to gently squeeze the box of your shoe and soften it a little with your hands, but don’t take to your shoe with anything hard. As you get used to pointe shoes you’ll start to develop your own way of breaking them in, but it’s also interesting to see what professional dancers do; here are some of the tips from dancers in the Australian Ballet Company.

Connect with Other Dancers

One of the best places to get information about pointe shoes is online. There is a great forum (mainly for ballet dancers) called Ballet Talk for Dancers – check it out for lots of great advice. It’s well moderated so you can trust all the information there.

Concourse Review and and an Update

This post started out as a review of Concourse, the British Ballet Organisation’s annual course for students and teachers, but somehow has turned into more of a general update of where I’m at with my dance (teaching) career.

Concourse was impressive and there were some really amazing bits, no doubt about it. But it also gave me pause to reflect on my own journey towards teaching dance and where my passion lies. I love the British Ballet Organisation’s methods and their syllabus, they’re seriously good at it and they are super-lucky to have such an awesome group of dedicated and passionate teachers teaching their syllabus, but at the end of the day, that’s what they’re about – high quality ballet syllabus. Which means it’d totally be the right place for me – if I wanted to teach top-level ballet dancers.

One problem.

I don’t.

Which isn’t to say I don’t love ballet. I do. But as a teacher, teaching the best to be better doesn’t drive and inspire me. Finding the potential does, and ballet syllabus in a studio setting isn’t the way I want to do right for me right now.

So where does this leave me?

Well, not doing my BBO Teacher’s Exam this year, for one. Going ahead with the idea of teaching a choreo class and a stretch/wellness class for dancers next year is main focus at the moment. I’m keeping my options open but thinking about some other dance teacher/education qualifications for next year or the year after. But most of all I’m choosing opportunities that I can get excited about now and that are realistic knowing that there are some big life changes coming in the next few months (new baby and possibly more responsibility at work).

But back to Concourse…

I took 3 classes a day over three days, a stretch class, a teacher’s exam syllabus class and a teacher’s development class. I’m not really going to go into the teacher’s exam syllabus class – suffice to say it helped me come to the realisation above, but I still got a lot out of it.

The stretch class was interesting. It was a huge class – easily 80+ intermediate-senior dancers with only one teacher! To give the teacher credit, she did well given the numbers, and I learned a couple of new stretches, but mostly it was things that were familiar to me. That said though as an adult student/teacher I wasn’t really the target audience and she did have some great advice for the younger students in there. I took the class mainly as a bit of market research, and one thing that definitely stood out was the teacher’s attitude – she was all about conformity rather than working at your own pace/level. She was however very good at spotting and correcting those (often younger) students who like to show off their flexibility but are doing it with bad technique, so that was really good to see. I also enjoyed that her movements were based on pilates, which is a type of movement I’m pretty familiar with. All in all? Interesting to watch/take part in – probably wouldn’t do it again.

The highlight of the course though, was definitely the teacher’s development class, the first two days were taken by a physio and the final day was a mime and gesture workshop with the legendary Sir Jon Trimmer. The first couple of days were great – I learnt a lot about how the body processes pain as well as some strapping techniques for students’ aches and pains that come with growing and dancing. The final day was the highlight though. Aside from being an amazing dancer and actor, Sir Jon is also wickedly good fun and had all of us teachers up moving and acting. I came away with so many great ideas for breaking down those barriers in adding drama to dance.

 

So the final word on Concourse? If you’re into ballet it’s totally awesome and definitely worthwhile. I’d recommend it to any ballet student who is seriously studying for exams. Even if you’re not doing exams there are some great open classes too. For me though? I would have liked a bit more on teaching dance technique and structuring classes, there was an assumption that all teachers already knowing this stuff, so I found that a bit frustrating. Would I go again? Possibly, depending on what teacher’s classes were on offer.

 

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!

IMG_2474

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!)

IMG_2465

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?

Dancer First Aid

Disclaimer: I’m a dancer not a doctor. These are remedies that I have used during my years dancing and have learnt via the dance teacher training I’m currently completing. If something is persistent, painful or acute then these remedies are not going to be enough and you need to see a health care professional. The content in this post is curated from a previous blog entry I have written for another blog.

Here’s the thing. I’m a dancer, which means that I am used to aches and pains. Very used to them in fact. Mostly it’s just been the usual overworked muscles, tired feet from pointe shoes and slightly overenthusiastic stretching the day before, but sometimes it’s more serious. I was brought up using natural remedies and they are still always my first port of call for aches, pains, strains or sprains. I know that when I have children these will be the first things I go to when they get injured. Here are some of my top remedies:

PRICED
You may have heard of RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) for muscular injuries but PRICED is that dancer version and I like that it’s just that bit more specific. This is my starting point for all injuries and muscle strains.
Protection – remove additional danger/risk from the injured area – i.e. stop whatever caused the injury/move away from anything that might make it worse
Rest – stop moving the injured area – common sense really!
Ice – apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes. You can repeat this every two hours for the first 24 – 48 hours after the injury. Don’t leave it for longer the 20 minutes as this is bad for the skin – I really can’t recommend this one enough! The cold narrows the blood vessels which helps to manage the blood flow to the injured area thus reducing swelling.
Compression – apply an elastic bandage to the area  – this again helps manage the swelling while providing support to the injured area.
Elevation – elevate the injured area – if possible to above heart level. This helps to manage the blood flow and swelling and should provide some relief from pain.
Diagnosis – have the injury evaluate by a health care professional – this isn’t always necessary, I only tend to do this if the pain is severe or continues for more than a couple of days but each person and each case is different.
Arnica
Arnica is great for sore, overworked or overuse muscles. It’s also very good at promoting healing of bruised or damaged tissue. Arnica is a homeopathic medicine which can be taken in a number of ways. I use it both externally as a cream and internally in tablet or liquid form to assist healing.
You can buy cream that is specifically just Arnica from most Chemists, or you can buy it in a combination sports rub cream. I prefer straight Arnica because I don’t like the peppermint that it’s usually combined with in sports rubs. I usually massage this into the sore area and then (depending on where on my body or how sore the injured area is) strap it up with an elastic bandage. This gives the injured area some much need support and also prevents the cream from making a mess on my clothes or the floor. I generally support this with homeopathic liquid Arnica to assist healing and repair of strained muscles from the inside out.

Comfrey
This is a new one I’ve recently discovered. I had a more serious injury last year that landed me on crutches for a while and I found that Arnica on its own wasn’t enough, so I tried comfrey cream. Not only is it an anti-inflamatory it’s also great for pain relief and is all natural.

Heat
As an injury or strain starts to heal I stop using cold packs and start using heated wheat/rice packs on the injured area. The heat helps the muscles to relax and soothes the pain naturally. This is also a great idea for when you’ve got tired muscles from a long day or an enthusiastic exercise session. Not recommended for acute injuries though as heat promotes blood flow.

Massage
You have to be a bit careful with this one. If an injury is acute, painful or recent don’t go there – I repeat don’t go there! Massage promotes blood flow and if you have swelling – that’s the last thing you want to do. However if you just have sore or achy muscles then massage can be a really good way to soothe them. As a dancer this is a common occurrence, particularly in my achilles tendons and plantar fascia after a tough pointe class. I like to use a wooden massage ball, a tennis ball or a foam roller to roll on my muscles to help them relax but hands work just as well too.
Of course this list is by no means exhaustive – it’s just what works well for me.
Now it’s your turn.
What remedies work well for you?