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.

How to Cross Train for Dance

As a teenager growing up dancing in the 90s and early 2000s in a small city in New Zealand, I don’t think the words ‘cross training’ ever passed my ears. Now, many years later, cross training has become an important of my regular training.

So what is cross training?

Cross training is training in other styles of movement that will assist and improve your dance. Things like yoga or pilates may spring to mind straight away, but cross training is about more than that.

Why should I cross train?

A regular dance class is a fantastic way to build your dance knowledge and prepare your body – for dance. But if we only train our bodies in one way, then we’re only working one set of muscles. Those of you who have done ballet will know that you almost never work in parallel. Ballet makes your turn out muscles strong but neglects the muscles that strengthen your turn in – and both are important.

Cross training can not only strengthen other groups of muscles, it is also a great way to build your cardiovascular fitness. Since regular dance classes do not sufficiently elevate your heart rate to increase cardiovascular stamina, cross training can help you increase your stamina so that you’ll last longer when you are dancing and have more power and energy to draw on in those big virtuoso movements. Research has shown that cross training can also reduce muscle fatigue, lowering your chance of injury. If you are on a break from dancing over the summer it can also be a great way to stay in shape while your classes are on holiday.

How do I cross train?

There are lots of different ways to cross train and you need to consider a couple of things. Firstly, what types of physical activity do you enjoy doing? And secondly, what weaknesses do you want to address?  Here are a few options that you might like to consider:


Pilates is a great way for dancers to cross train, and one of my favourites. With its focus on core strength it is a great way to strengthen the body and increase the stability and strength of your core – something that is super important for all dancers. Many dance studios provide mat based pilates classes that are customised for dancers, but don’t be afraid to visit a regular pilates studio. Many pilates instructors have experience working with dancers and working one on one with an instructor can be a great way to get targeted feedback – it can be expensive though. For those on a tighter budget, most libraries have a range of pilates books and DVDs which can provide a great introduction.


Yoga is another great way to condition your body. I particularly like the focus on breath, as this is such a core part of movement that is often neglected in dance teaching. Yoga not only lengthens and strengthens your muscles, but the focus on the intrinsic muscles in your feet is great for developing stability and balance when on pointe or demipointe.


Swimming is probably one of the most effective ways to cross train. Being in the water removes the effects of gravity on your joints, lessening the impact of movement, actually it’s zero-impact. This makes it an ideal form of movement for those recovering from injury.  Not only does it use your whole body, it is also a fantastic cardio workout and great for increasing stamina.


Running has long been a point of contention in the dance world. The main issue is that running turned out is extremely bad for the knees. The constant pounding on the joints can also be damaging for dancers. That said, running can still be beneficial for dancers. Dancers are typically sprinters – the types of movement they are used to are short bursts of intense anaerobic energy, so running can feel quite different. I still personally enjoy the sense of freedom I get from running, but I prefer to keep it to the warm up period of a work out – no more than 10 minutes and usually on a treadmill. If you’re keen on running, go ahead and give it a go it’s a great way to build cardiovascular fitness, just make sure those feet are pointing straight ahead!

Strength Training

Strength training is also known as weight lifting, but that doesn’t mean you should steer clear. Quite the opposite – it’s a great way to build strength. You can do this either using exercises that use your own body weight – think plank, push ups etc. or using free weights or gym machines. Lifting a heavier weight for a smaller number of repetitions will help build strength without adding muscle bulk. Plus it’s a great way to target specific muscle groups. I’ve found this particularly useful for building my upper body strength for contemporary.


Aerobics or gymnastics are also great supplements to dance training. Aerobics will help build core strength and cardiovascular stamina, while gymnastics helps to increase flexibility and upper body and core strength.

A few important things to remember:

Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, or you’re feeling more muscle fatigue than usual, stop and seek professional advice.

Wear the right gear – supportive shoes for running or going to the gym are really important as they protect your feet and reduce impact. If you are going to be doing these activities regularly it is worth shelling out the money for a good pair of running shoes.

Fuel up – increasing your physical activity will mean you burn more energy – meaning you need to give your body more fuel. Eating a good balance of food and including protein in your diet is really important as is drinking water.

What are your favourite ways to cross train?

Sharing Stories

Hey guys,

I’m looking for stories. Your stories to be specific. See, one of the things I love about dance is that it’s different for everyone but there’s no right or wrong way to be a dancer. So I’m interested in your stories of being a dancer.

I’m looking for people who might like to be interviewed, but also people who might like to write about their experiences, or write articles themselves. I’d also love to feature bloggers too, so f you’re interested leave a comment on the bottom of the page, or email me – briejessenvaughan @ (just take out the spaces).

A Dance Update

It’s that time of year. I’ve been busy over the last few weeks preparing syllabus, making class rolls, and playlists and generally just planning a new year of dance. After an awesome first 6 months of running dance classes, I’m pretty excited about the coming year. I’ve got an awesome group of 12 and 13 year olds continuing into Jazz 3, the senior stretch/technique class is a great group too, and I’m very hopefully that the senior contemporary class (the one I’m most excited about teaching) will get off the ground too – just need one more student! It’s hard work building a business while working full time, but it’s also really rewarding too. Cliched it may be, but it such a privilege to be able to work with such an enthusiastic group of students who just get so much enjoyment out of dancing.

I’m hoping this year that I might manage to squeeze in a very classes of my own. I’m really keen to get back to classes at Raising the Barre, as it’s been a while since I took class – no mean feat when you work full time, teach dance in the evenings and have a small toddler. Speaking of small toddler, he’s almost 15 months now! And guess what he loves doing? That’s right, dancing. Proud mama right here. Actually, it’s fascinating watching him learn to dance – he’s just started adding in arms and wiggling his torso – so cute!

This year I’ve moved all my dance classes to one evening instead of two, which I think will make a big difference. Yes, it’ll be one long night of teaching 4+ hours in a row, but much easier than being out 2 evenings, and it’ll give me more time to squeeze in some classes of my own. Of course I haven’t been doing nothing while I’ve been busy teaching, I’ve been going to the gym – cardio and weights – for cross training, as well as doing some yoga, and of course when school is in session (I’m a middle school teacher in my day job) I teach dance there too. Actually when I teach at school, I’m quite an active participant – this is my school’s general approach to teaching and learning – so I get some good stretching in there too.

So this year’s goals? Get to some Raising the Barre classes. Keep building the dance centre.

What are your goals?

Intermediate Jazz Playlist Term 3

This playlist is the one I’m currently using for my intermediate jazz class. A bit of a mix of old stuff and some new stuff.




Warm Up 1 – Move by Little Mix

Warm Up 2 – It’s Like That by Run DMC

Tendu – Jumpin’ by Liberty X

Sauté – Go Deep by Janet Jackson

Spotting – Next to You by Chris Brown

Pirouettes – Oops! I Did it Again by Britney Spears

Chainés – No Scrubs by TLC

Combination 1 (Jazz/Funk) – Maneater by Nelly Furtado

Combination 2 (Latin) – Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez

Combination 3 (Classical) – I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Women by Britney Spears

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?

Jazz Playlist June 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 real mix of new stuff I’ve recently discovered and a lot of older songs that are still going strong on my playlist!


Jazz Playlist March 2014

Warm Ups:

Exotic – Priyanka Chopra (Feat. Pitbull)

On The Floor – Jennifer Lopez

Karma – Alicia Keys

Call me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepson

Go Deep – Janet Jackson

It’s Like That – Run DMC


Honey – Moby

Yeah! – Usher

I’m Good – Blaque

The Climb – Stan Walker

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Maneater – Nelly Furtado

Free – Rudimental (feat. Emeli Sande)

Great Performance Songs:

Americano/Dance Again – Glee

Proud – Heather Small

I Love It – IconaPop

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Man with a Hex – Atomic Fireballs

Candyman – Christina Aguilera


Halo – Beyonce

Viva Forever- Spice Girls

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Better in Time – Leona Lewis

Never be the Same Again – Mel C


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?