Dancer Profile: Ashlee

This week we’re featuring talented young dancer Ashlee Gen.


Ashlee is 14 years old and a year 10 student in college this year. She has been dancing since she was four years old and currently takes ballet, jazz and contemporary dance at Hayley Johnson Academy of Dance. In her spare time she enjoys baking and playing netball.

What do you love about dance?

I love the feeling of being able to move freely. Also I like how I can express myself without using words. I love the feeling of excitement when performing for people. I love being on a stage, with a beautiful costume on doing what I love.

What challenges you about dance? And how to you move past that?

I find it challenging to learn new dance moves, especially ballet moves as I haven’t been doing ballet for long. I guess practice is the best thing to do. But I don’t practice too much. Otherwise I find that I won’t be able to get it.

Who are your role models, inspirations in dance?

I definitely look up to Sophia Lucia. She holds the world record for the most consecutive pirouettes. I also look up to Kalani Hiliker, Jenna Valezuela and Christina Guieb. Christina dances at Hayley Johnson Academy of Dance and she got accepted into the NZSD Contemporary Programme for 2015. Another dancer I find inspirational is Heather Morris – I just enjoy watching her dance.

What is your favourite style?

I have two. I love lyrical and jazz.

What is your current favourite dance track (music)?

At the moment I like Chandelier by Sia.

Must have item of dance clothing?

Leotard and tights.

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

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 @ (just take the spaces out).

The Year Ahead

I love this time of year. There is a freshness about it as we get ready to go back to school and work and our lives return to their usual business. (Note for the Northern Hemisphere readers: I live in the Southern Hemisphere, so we’ve just had our summer holidays). I’m a middle school teacher by day, so I’m back to work today with some planning this week before the students arrive next week. I’m lucky that in my job I get to be both a classroom teacher (something I love) and a dance teacher (something else I love). So professionally this year will hold a lot of dance for me.


This year is a production year at school, which means a gentler less intense start to the year than a stage challenge year. I’ll start term one off by auditioning my dance performance group early in the term. I’ll work with them on a performance – probably a contemporary dance (though I haven’t officially decided yet) – for the end of the term (just before Easter). In term 2 these same girls will be busy learning a multitude of dances for production, and I’ll also be choreographing for the whole cast and leads a little as well – moving while singing rather than full out dancing. Term 3 will be a lovely break, we’ll probably try and fit in a workshop or maybe a trip to the ballet while working on a couple of dances for the end of year with the dance performance group. Term 4 will see the dance performance group continue their work for the end of year performances and will also see the whole school take part in a social dance unit that I have developed – good fun!


Outside of school, my teaching at The Dance Well Centre will continue, currently just with a Jazz 3 class, a Senior Stretch/Technique class and Senior Contemporary. In term 2 or 3 I’ll look at adding a new beginner teen class, and possibly a junior class. As we don’t teach an exam syllabus, I have a lot more freedom in what I do, but I am starting to build up a syllabus/curriculum of sorts to provide some continuity, so I’ll also be hard at work choreographing that.


I’m hoping later in the year to look at the possibility of establishing a teen/young adult contemporary performance group, along the same lines at Crow’s Feet, which is a contemporary dance collective for women age 35+ operating in Wellington. I’m still 9 years off being able to join that, so I’d like something to dance with in the mean time!


I’m also enjoying planning what this blog will look like in the year ahead. I want to separate it from The Dance Well Centre, because it’s not the same. Though it is of course related and there will also be digital (and non-digital) links between the two. This year I want to focus more on telling stories of what it means to be a dancer. Not just my story, but lots of stories, from all kinds of dancers. If you are interested you can check out this post for more information. I’ve already got four young dancers lined up and two dancers who started ballet as adults too. There are also playlists, student guides, posts for teachers and of course a little bit of my story planned too.

Choreography Workshop Playlist

This playlist is the playlist I use with my Choreography Workshop class this term – it’s a bit of a mixture and constantly evolving, but this is what it currently looks like.


The Pasture – Elephant Revival

Down to the Sea – Elephant Revival

Intro – The XX

Tear Drop – Massive Attack

Dreams and Disasters – Owl City

Armies of Your Heart – Elizaveta

Viva La Vida – Coldplay

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Where Do I Even Start? =- Morgan Taylor Reid

Run Daddy Run – Miranda Lambert

Free – Rudimental

Abraham’s Daughter – Arcade Five

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Be Okay – Oh Honey

Heavy Cross – The Gossip

Breathe Me – Sia


I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

Contemporary Playlist March 2014

Full confession, I love music! And I spend a lot of time finding new music and making playlists, so I thought hey, why not share them with you.

Today’s playlist is a lot of new stuff that I have just recently discovered or that has been recently released. Most of these songs are a little bit different or quirky, and many would be great for performances or just to change up classes.

Contemporary* Playlist March 2014

Intro – XX

On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Holy Moses – Washington

Where do I even start? – Morgan Taylor Reid

Counting Stars – One Republic

Working for the Company – Willy Moon

In Colour – Shapeshifter

Breath and Life – Audiomachine

Torn – Nathan Lanier

300 Violin Orchestra – Jorge Quintero

Roselily – Drehz

Free – Rudimental feat. Emeli Sandé

Bloom – The Paper Kites

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Human – Christina Perri

* What we call Contemporary dance is usually referred to as Modern in North America.

I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

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 Please do not use without DanceWell’s permission.


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:

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 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.

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.

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.

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?