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.

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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/Gymnastics

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?

The Organised Teacher

A while ago, I wrote a post on how to stay organised as a dance student, but it’s not just students that need to stay organised – teachers do too! Here are my top tips for keeping on top of things:

  • Stay up-to-date. I use a combination of a diary and the calendar on my iPhone to organise my schedule, which can be a bit crazy at times. It doesn’t matter what you use to do it, as long as you know what’s coming up and what’s on the horizon.
  • Use timesaving tools. I’m a big fan of apps that help me save time.
  • Get the to do list sorted! As dance teachers we always have things on the go and a million different things to keep track of – to do lists are essential! I keep my personal to do list organised through Trello and the school I work for uses DropTask, so I use that for my professional to do lists.
  • Organise your music. Whether it’s playlists on an iPod/MP3 or CDs. Keeping track of the music you need for classes is vital. I have over 4000 songs in my itunes library. I use playlists to organise these into music which might useful for classes and then I create specific playlists through Terpster, an app especially designed for dance teachers.
  • Maintain your social media presence. Admittedly this is something I am not great at, but I am learning to make time for it. Scheduling and dedicating time to maintaining a strong and postive online presence is important in a world where the vast majority of spend time online every day. It’s especially important if you work with young people as this is their world in many ways. Using apps like Hootsuite to schedule posts can help if (like me) you are extremely short on time.
  • Set aside time for yourself. In the busy, wonderful and often chaotic world of performing arts and teaching, this can be hard to do, but that makes it even more important! I use a couple of apps to help me remember to stop throughout the day. The first is Intention Reminder, which lets you set intentions that will pop up and remind you at pre-set times. The second is Buddify, a meditation app that has a huge range of focused meditations or visualisations for all sorts of situations. I also set myself non-work times in the evenings to spend with my family and often use the small window of time before bed to read of practice yoga.

What things do you do to stay organised and on top?

 

 

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.

A New Website and New Classes

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting lately, but I have a good reason for it! Several, in fact. The first is that my son T. was born a month and half ago. He’s super cute and doing extremely well. And we are absolutely loving life with him.

The second reason is that I’ve been hard at work on making another dream become reality – opening my own dance centre. Of course, like the sensible person I am, I’m starting small, with just two classes next year. The space is all booked and I finished and launched the website this morning. So without any further ado let me introduce The Dance Well Centre:

Dance Well Centre Logo

We’re starting off next year with a choreography workshop class and a dance wellness class which you can find out about here. I’m pretty stoked with the website and logo, having built both myself. Now I just need to finish the marketing flyer and we’ll be all set.

 

If you live in Wellington and are between the ages of 12 – 18 and are interested in one of the classes then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Also don’t forget you can follow us on Instagram @dancewellcentre and like us on Facebook too.

 

And just in case you are worried – don’t be! I’m still planning to keep this blog going with it’s original intended purpose – to provide interesting and useful articles for dancers and dance teachers.

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!

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.