Archive | June 2012

A Dancers Dedication

ballet class 2I am a dance teacher, a wife, mother and a grandmother I am not that old, but I am old enough to see a difference in the several generations of dance of my days. The current generation is the most talented I have seen in my many years of teaching experience, but unfortunately, some seem to be the most distracted by all the extra activities offered to them today.

They seem to be missing the dedication of past generations of dancers as well as those that came in years before me. I remember a time when the dance students did nothing but eat, sleep and think dance. Don’t get me wrong, the lost dedication it is not all the dancers of the day, but more than past years. In this age of so much video, computers, cell phones and extra activities offered at school, time is lost in the dance room.

In recent years, I am seeing valuable dance talent limited, because of time spent on other activities, that after high school years will get these talented dancers nowhere. True, these activities are social, and being social in high school is an important issue. But, there also must be balance. The valuable dance time missed for these extra activities, could possibly open doors for them in the future, in life long careers. Some may not want to be professional dancers, but as future dance teachers, dance therapists, choreographers, even dance injury specialists and the like. All of these require valuable time in the dance room. In other words, I am not seeing the dedication in some very talented dancers that I have been accustomed to in my early dance teaching years. The dedication seems to be missing and I do believe it is because of distraction. A young dancer can only be spread so thin. There is an old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” This phrase is very accurate and it means that “Jack” has done it all, but none of it well……..

Being dedicated also means that you should know as much as possible about the dance style you have chosen, especially its history. You would not be here without those dancers and choreographers that came before you. Learn of its roots. Ballet, tap and jazz, all have very historical and interesting roots. Learn how they have evolved. Learn how different steps can go together to form interesting patterns of choreography. Learn of how they have changed in modern day and age. Can you hold an intelligent conversation about the dance form that you that you love best and have been studying? This too is dedication.

As a dancer in my generation, here is what dedication was and expected of us in class, out of class and by my teachers. This is what I like to see from the dancers of this generation and what phenomenal dancers this generation would produce!

Never walking out a class. Why pay for a class and walk it out. Always dance full out unless directed by your teacher, for choreography patterns.

Never sitting during class (nor should your teacher) unless there is an injury or illness that prevents you from actually dancing. Observing is better than not being there at all. And, observing means giving your full attention to the class. That means no cell phone in class to text with while your class is going on. (Well…. there were no cell phones when I was a dance student) Nor was it a time to do unfinished homework. Being dedicated while sitting is focusing on where you should be in that line or piece of choreography.

While waiting for my turn to go across the floor, or my group in the center of the floor, I was on the side marking the steps in place. Conversing with other dancers while waiting your turn is lost class time for you. Doing this always gave me an edge when it was my turn. I learned the combinations while watching the dancers before me make their mistakes.

Being on time for class, is very important, if anything, I was early. Being ready to dance, dance shoes on, hair up and at the barre when the teacher called us in…..the first time she called.

Warm up was, and still is a serious part of class, not a time to converse with other dancers. Always give your full attention to your warm-up. This is the most important part of class. Conversation in class was kept and still needs to be kept, to dance related issues, anyway.

My dancer friends and I always practiced together when not in class, while at each others homes. We kept what was taught in class fresh in our minds and kept notes. Whenever we were together, dance was the center of our conversation and activities.

When you don’t get chosen for the “special” group or solo, I know I have been there too, it doesn’t mean you should be discouraged. In fact, the very opposite…you work harder. Practice is how you get where you want to be in dance.

And most of all, near to perfect attendance was a priority for me. Please keep that the same for you in your classes. If you miss class, get with someone prior to learn the choreography you don’t know. Class will progress more smoothly for you and your entire class, since review will be kept to a minimum.

And finally, know that dance does not come over night, or over months, or even years.
It happens throughout a lifetime process that is to be adored despite any struggle.

Don’t let present distractions ruin what you could have for a lifetime…….

vaganova grade 2 ext (2)

 

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Dance Not For Ourselves

 

Those of you who are dancers know that you have been given a gift. A gift always makes you feel good. To be able to share that gift makes it all worth while to have it. As a dancer, you get a “feel good feeling” when you dance in an annual recital, revue or concert. The audience you have invited to come, enjoys seeing you dance on the stage. Also, you get that most amazing feeling when you dance in competition and when you place or are given a special award it is even better!

Dancers are known to want to share their gift….. always. Some so much, that they make it their lifetime career, either as a professional dancer or teacher. They train and practice and go to class faithfully to try to improve on the gift that has been given them. It is just how they feel inside. “Dance not for fame or glory …..but how you feel inside”

How does dance make you feel inside? Does it make you feel important, accomplished, or satisfied? Does dance give you a feeling of being fit or making your body tone in amazing ways? But are these things selfish? Are you dancing for yourself? Are you just dancing because you love it? Which is really not a bad thing at all…..

Dance not for ourselves ….is a point I am trying to make. Don’t lock your gift in a closet and take it out just to show someone that you can dance. Take your gift out to do good.

At the studio where I am privileged to teach, we have a motto and that is “Dance To Make A Difference”. Dance to make a difference in someone’s life. Share your gift to those who need to see it! Those who will remember it always, that you gave your time to share your talent just for them.

Coming up this month is an annual event which I truly believe in. Pathfinder Village, a Downs Syndrome community in our town, permits us to come and entertain their residents. It is one of the most rewarding times of the year! To see the expression on the audience faces and the happiness that they feel when we go there to share our gift is “priceless”. The residents just feel so involved in each and every dance piece we present. Our annual story ballet from our revue, just draws them into the story, that with each and every action move the dancers make, the audience feels that emotion! The energetic jazz and acro pieces excite the audience, also. And when our little show is finished, we get to talk to the audience and hug them and hold their hand……something that they truly enjoy, human contact.

In past years in New Jersey, I took my dancers faithfully to visit nursing homes, retirement villages and veterans hospitals. The dancers never failed to put a smile on the residents faces. To be able to share the gift of dance with someone who is truly entertained is amazing.

This year, L A Dance Academy, the studio where I call home, will be putting together a Christmas Show to raise funds for underprivileged families in our community. Mostly the entire dance studio is involved for the mammoth undertaking. Excitement is lifted as we put together this performance and our dance family gives their time, effort and support so that we the dancers and teachers of L A Dance Academy can give our gift of dance to our community.

Our anticipation is that we will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to our audience, a little more experience to our dancers and most importantly, to make a family facing crisis, a bit more comfortable. If you are a dancer, reading this post get yourself involved to use your gift to lift someone’s “spirits” …..

Dance To Make a Difference!

Ballet Feet, The Most Important Tool Of A Dancer

All ballet dancers wish for fabulous feet. That beautiful elegant arch and stretched metatarsals. How do your feet get that way if you are not born that way. I dreamed of that beautiful ballet foot while I was training. At home as a teen, I would sit on the floor with the tops of my feet under the low lying couch we had in the living room and just stay there. The couch would be stretching my metatarsals and creating the arch I so wished to have.

Well there are many exercises you can do to gain beautiful feet, and the one I stated above is not one of them, which we will see later. Here are a few good ones….

Beginning with the Achilles Tendon

The Achilles tendon runs down the back of your lower leg and into your heel, and is a weak spot for many dancers. The repetitive motions in ballet, especially dancing en pointe, can cause a strain or tear in the tendon and ligaments, creating pain in the foot. Achilles stretches will loosen tight muscles, and strengthen the area.

Stand on a staircase with your knees slightly bent. One foot should be planted fully on the step, and the other should hang off the step so that only your toes touch the surface. Balance with your planted foot and press down with the foot that is hanging off of the step to feel the stretch in the in the Achilles tenbdon. With good balance you can do this with both feet at the same time.

Stretching your big toe

When you dance en pointe, you place a significant amount of pressure on your big toe joint and the sole of your foot. Stretching out the big toe can manage and prevent injuries in which the joint can become stiff. This exercise may also relieve pain from plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue on the bottom of your foot.

Manually stretch your big toe by pulling it back toward your body. Doing this can help your joint remain flexible and less likely to lock. This stretch also stretches the sole of your foot at the same time.

Freed’s of London suggests that you sit down with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly bunch your arches together while keeping the toes flat on the ground. You do not want to scrunch your toes at all, you want to feel like you are picking up a towel on the ground with the entire metatarsal area…. do not bunch your toes. It will take while but you should begin to feel your arches burning, that’s a good thing! This exercise is great because you can literally do it anywhere, anytime.

As a ballet dancer, you appreciate the importance of maintaining strong, supple feet and you value high, flexible arches. Dancers subject their arches to tremendous pressure; they must be sufficiently pliable to absorb the shock of endless jumps and work en pointe. While it is wise to include arch stretches in your overall dance conditioning program, be sure to choose sensible exercises that help to prevent, rather than invite, injury.

Stretching manually

One way to stretch the arches of your feet is to take a manual approach.

Begin by seating yourself comfortably in a strong chair and resting one foot across the opposite thigh. Taking the working foot in both hands, apply gentle pressure to the top of your toes to stretch the bony arch of the foot. Release your grip and hold the position of the arch of your foot. The manual stretching technique allows you to fully control the amount of pressure you apply to your arch.

Work through your foot

You can also stretch your arches safely using familiar exercises at the barre. Learn to consciously work through your feet, holding your point when the arch is at its peak.

Begin by facing the barre with your feet in first position. Hold the barre with both hands. Working your right foot first, slowly tendu side, keeping the entire underside of your foot on the floor as long as possible. Continue to slide your foot, pressing the ball of your foot into the floor as your heel lifts up. Slide your foot still further, keeping your big toe on the floor as the ball of you foot lifts up. Take a complete 32 counts to arrive at a fully stretched foot. When your arch is lifted as much as possible, hold the stretch for 4 counts. You can then reverse the direction of the foot, slowly working back through the metatarsal as you slide the foot back to first position. Repeat 8 times on the right before switching to the left.

Partnered stretching exercises

Stretching your feet can also be accomplished with the help of a partner. To do this exercise…

Dancer A sits on the floor with their legs extended to the front, keeping the back and knees straight, feet parallel, and toes pointed to the floor. Dancer B will then hold, with both hands, the metatarsals of person A pushing their toes even closer to the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, release, and repeat four times with each foot.

Resistance band exercises

Stretching your feet with resistance bands (ie. Thera Band) can be beneficial to a variety of muscle and soft tissue groups in your feet, including the plantar fascia on the sole of your foot, the Achilles area and the ankles. All of these locations are prone to overuse injuries and stress fractures.

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and loop a resistance band around the bottom of your foot. Pull on the band as you point your toes toward the floor.

Although stretching is important to achieve the ideal “ballet feet,” strengthening is as important. To strengthen your feet, try these exercises using the exercise band for resistance.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Flex your foot and place the exercise band across the ball of your foot, making sure the band reaches over your toes. Hold onto both ends of the band and pull taut. Slowly point and flex your foot moving through demi-pointe to reach each final position. Repeat 25 times with each foot.

Also, you can sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your spine straight. Working one foot at a time, loop the band around the bottom of the foot and grasp the ends of the band in both hands. Starting in a flexed position with the toes pointing upward, slowly and deliberately articulate through the foot. Using the band as resistance, press the ball of the foot and then the toes away from your body and into the band. When you reach a fully pointed position, hold for 5 seconds before reversing the direction of your foot. To reverse, pull back your toes and then the metatarsals until the foot is fully flexed. You can repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times before working the other foot.

Stretching using your pointe shoes

In your pointe shoes, probably one of the safer ways to stretch your feet. Kneel down, and put one foot up on pointe. Place your hand on the heel of your foot and apply gentle pressure to slowly push your foot over on pointe. The angle and pressure can be changed to stretch different areas of the foot. Note: make sure that your foot is NOT sickled and make sure that the floor is not slippery and your foot will not slip out underneath you.

 Also in your pointe shoes you can hold onto the barre, rise up into first position and then plie while on pointe to push over your shoes.

Mechanical and wooden devices designed to stretch the foot.

Megan Richardson, a certified athletic trainer and clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, warns dancers about the dangers inherent in extreme stretching techniques. She points out that tucking the feet under a low couch or piano, as some dancers do, places undue stress on the bony arches of the foot and can lead to injury. This is something I used to do as I stated in the beginning of this post!

She also states it is also wise to avoid mechanical or wooded devices designed to stretch the arch. Megan states that such devices take control away from the dancer, preventing her from adequately gauging how much pressure she is applying to her arches. She also states that extreme stretching techniques such as these can lead to overstretching, which can strain the tops of your feet.

Please think twice about purchasing one of these. Although I have never used one, I researched them and located advice from professionals. Some say that here has been recent evidence that stretching of this kind will not benefit your foot, but can actually over-stretch the tendons and ligaments, etc. making your foot perhaps stretched a bit more, but weaker in the process. These stretcher devices came out years before any studies were done on them and that new research is very much against this type of stretching.

Ballet dancers want strong, flexible feet. Strong feet are required to help you successfully work en pointe. Ballet focuses on creating long lines with the body, and flexible feet help to finish that line, creating a beautiful picture. Strengthening and stretching exercises can help you develop flexible, strong feet. Stretching your feet every day will help make your feet more flexible. When attempting stretching exercises, begin slowly and if you ever feel pain stop the exercise immediately.