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.

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!

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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

Amalgamations/Combinations/Isolations:

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

Stretching:

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?

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?

 

 

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?

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.

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.

 

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?

Students who have Injuries – the Role of the Teacher

Lately I’ve come across a fair bit of discussion in the online dance world – mostly via twitter, about the role of a dance teacher in dealing with students who have injuries, and it’s got me thinking.

As Lauren Warnecke writes in her Dance Advantage article on the topic, the diagnosis of injuries and treatment is definitely not up to me as a teacher. Grier Cooper adds that there are many places to go to when looking at treatment options. All of this is of course completely true, but it leaves us asking the question, well, what is our role as teachers when dealing with injured students?

As a dance teacher in a middle school I see my dance students often – usually several times a week, more if those students are in my class or syndicate, and I’m often present when the are taking part in other physical activity and education during the course of the day, so I have a pretty good idea of the physical demands my dancers face and in a busy middle school like ours, they’re not small. I also teach an age where students face the some of the biggest physical changes as they encounter adolescence. They’re also desperate to try new things and test out their limits (particularly their flexibility). Put all these things together and you’ve definitely upped the risk of injury.

 

So what can I do? Well, for me it’s twofold – prevention and awareness.

 

Prevention

In the dance classroom, I aim to do all that I can to prevent injuries by taking time to warm up with 5 -10 minutes of aerobic activity and 5 minutes of dynamic moving stretches – usually focused on waking up the muscles in the legs, hips and shoulders. We also talk a lot about why we warm up and the effect this on the body, so that my students understand the benefits. I try to keep the warm ups fairly easy and straight forward, starting with large gross movements and then moving to more intricate movements as they get warmer. I usually follow a fairly systematic pattern, and repeat this with the occasional change for a month or two. The benefit of this is that my students have learnt the pattern, and are now running the warm ups themselves, building not only their leadership skills but also their ownership of the warm up process. They can also take this warm up and easily warm themselves up when at performance venues when I’m not able to take them through it as a group.

The second thing that comes under prevention is reminding my students, and discussing with them why it is important to eat after physical activity to replace energy used and help maintain a healthy body – especially important when they all seem to being going through growth spurts.

 

Awareness

Awareness for me is really important and it goes both ways. I need to be aware of safe dance practice as a teacher, but also away of the physical changes my students are experiencing and the temporary limitations this can have on their bodies – there’s not much I can do about it, but I need to be aware.

Likewise I encourage my students to let me know if they have injuries, but my response is usually the same – do what you can even if it’s only watching or doing the arms ( I actually had a student audition for a hip hop crew sitting in a chair as she was on crutches – successfully too I might add). I encourage my students to take responsibility for managing their own injuries as this helps to build their self-awareness.

The second part of awareness is encouraging a dialogue where my students can talk about how their bodies are feeling. Often it is just the usual feeling a bit stiff  or tired that comes up, but sometimes my students will talk about feeling a sore muscle or ache or pain for a several days or even a couple of weeks. At this point I usually ask the question – ‘have you talked to your parent about this?’. To give them the credit they deserve, my students are great at doing this, but sometimes they haven’t and it’s then that I will gently suggest that they might like to talk to their parent about seeing a doctor or physio about it.

It’s not my place to tell them what’s wrong, or tell them what to do. But as a teacher it is my job to guide them to the necessary resources they need to solve problems, and sometimes they just need to have their awareness raised – to realise that there are easy things they can do – like seeing a qualified professional –  to help them feel better.

 

Are there specific things that you do to support students with injuries or help them build awareness?

 

Developing Leadership through Dance

Just last week I took a couple of my students – 2 year sevens and 1 year eight mentor to see Stage Challenge. (If you don’t know what Stage Challenge is check out their website here – it’s an awesome student-led design, dance and drama performance for teens). Although it was an awesome opportunity to see some fantastic dancing, the bit I loved the most was seeing young people develop their leadership through dance. Those on stage certainly, but also my own students who were watching.

At my school we have students for two years before they head off to college (high school), so our time is pretty limited. As part of our developing performing arts programme we offer Stage Challenge and a Production in alternating years. Last year we did Stage Challenge for the first time (mine, as well as the school’s). This year it’s production’s turn.

We did extremely well in Stage Challenge, especially considering we were competing against colleges and scored high marks in several distinguished categories. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that we did well, but I was much more interested in what the students took away from Stage Challenge than any awards we had won. So what was it the kids took away? Well, the biggest thing I noticed was confidence. Confidence in themselves for the participating students, and confidence in their leadership skills for the student leaders, which is what I want to focus on today. It’s also the very reason I took students to see Stage Challenge this year.

Those of us who have grown up in the traditional model of dance classes outside school hours, working towards and passing exams in a set syllabus, might find the idea of developing leadership through dance a little odd. Many of us have never really had the opportunity or occasion to do so. But I have found that the reality is dance is the perfect place to develop leadership skills, if only we broaden our understanding of what teaching dance is about. Fortunately for me, New Zealand has a fantastic dance curriculum that does just that!

Opportunities for students to develop, share and teach their own choreography enable dance students to take ownership of their dancing. This is so important and moves dance beyond the traditional transmission model of teaching. Creating a dialogue between teacher and students has let me help my dancers develop the confidence in their own ideas. I love it when my students suggest better ways of doing things, easier footwork or more creative choreography. It’s awesome that they feel they can say actually this step doesn’t flow into the next as well as if you put it the other way around or went left instead of right. This dialogue and confidence my students have that their own ideas are both valid and valued is building their leadership skills, not to mention their self-confidence.

Whether they realise it or not, I sure have. I already knew my year 8s were great choreographers and most of them pretty good leaders (I’ve got two stand-outs though who I’ve asked to co-choreograph the production dances with me) since I’ve already taught them for a year and a half. What I didn’t expect was how quickly my year 7s would be ready for a leadership challenge. Having taken the two girls to see Stage Challenge, and discussing with them and their year 8 mentor what worked and was/wasn’t effective in the performances we saw, I could see they were rapidly growing in the capacity and desire to step into those choreographic leadership roles. What I didn’t expect was that they would just totally embody that the following day at rehearsal for production, jumping on every suggestion and building on it from there. And it was contagious, once one started they all got going and half a dance built itself just like that!

These year sevens will go on to be our Stage Challenge choreographers and student leaders next year. This will see them standing alongside year 12 and 13 students at the big competition and I small though they are I know they’ll hold their own. Because being a leader in dance is not about how much dance you know, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work, how creative and critical-thinking you are, how patient you are, being willing to continue learning (all the time!) and most of all how much you believe in yourself.

By valuing my students’ contributions right from the get-go, I can see their peers start to follow my lead and value them too, and I know that this helps students see that their own ideas have value, in turn building confidence.