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Hawaiian Dance…A Cultural Dance of Beauty

hawaiian dancers

Hawaiian dance, Hula, is an ethnic dance form precious to the Hawaiian Islands. The beautiful flowing movements of the hands and hips are performed to Oli (chant) or Mele (music) It is a cultural dance that is handed down from generation to generation, and takes years to learn the authenticity of its correct cultural technique.

There are two main styles of Hawaiian dance, being Hula ‘Auana, which is a modern form and Hula Kahiko, an ancient form.

Ancient hula, was performed before the Western settlers came to Hawaii. It is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. Modern hula, evolved under Western influence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is called ‘Auana because it means “to wander” or “drift”. It is accompanied by song and western-influenced musical instruments such as a steel guitar, the ukulele and the double bass.

Styles of Hawaiian Dance, in recent years have developed sub categories. “Monarchy” includes any hulas which were composed and choreographed during the 19th century. During that time the influence of western culture created significant changes in the formal Hawaiian dance. “Ai Kahiko”, meaning “in the ancient style” are those dances choreographed in the 20th and 21st centuries that follow the styles of the ancient hula Kahiko.

There are two main positions of Hawaiian dance – either sitting, Noho dance, where sometimes Pu’ Illi (bamboo) sticks are used and also standing, Luna dance, where flowing hip movements and technical steps are the basis. Some dances utilize both forms.

To bring you to a bit of history, American missionaries, who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1820, denounced the hula as a heathen dance. The newly Christianize royalty were urged to ban their native dance which they did. However, many of them continued to privately practice this beautiful dance form and by the 1850s, public Hawaiian dancing was regulated by a system of licensing.

Hawaiian dance had a gained recognition again during the reign of King Kalakaua in the years 1874 to 1891. He encouraged the traditional arts. With the Princess Lili’uokalaini who devoted herself to the old ways, as the patron of the ancients chants, she stressed the importance to revive the diminishing culture of their ancestors within the damaging influence of foreigners drastically changing the Hawaii Islands

Hawaiian dance changed though, in the early 20th century, as it was featured for the tourists to see, but a more traditional hula was maintained in small circles who wished to keep the dances scared . There was a renewed interest in Hawaiian dance in both traditional and modern, in the 1970s.

Hawaiian dance is taught in schools or groups called Halau. On the main land it is most often taught in dance schools. The teacher of hula is the Kumu Hula, where Kumu means teacher.

The dance form is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. For example, hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or sadness.

Hawaiian technique is almost as involved as learning ballet. There is terminology of the feet, hands and hips to be learned and mastered. To consider this beautiful art form as part of an exercise regime would be insulting to any Hawaiian dancer.

Although, I learned Hawaiian dance on the mainland, I was fortunate to begin my Hawaiian dance training at 4 years of age by teachers who learned from the masters on the Islands. In turn, teaching it in my  own dance schools. In the 1980s, I began a luau based dance company with my students, in New Jersey, where we performed at luaus and ethnic based dance competitions. I have found a recent low in Hawaiian dance in the 2000’s in our area, where Hip Hop has taken the world by storm. I would love for Hawaiian dance to regain the recognition it once had in the local dance schools and to see it flourish once again on the east coast of the U.S.

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Dance For How You Feel Inside…..

mic and Jen fix you 8                    When my soul is hurting, dance makes me feel better.
When I am overwhelmed, dance helps me forget for a while.
When I face struggles, dance inspires me to keep going.
When I lose confidence, dance gives it back to me.
I have been given one of the greatest gifts in the world – dance!
~Author Unknown~

Dance is a physical outlet where the dancer, can express themselves each time they step onto the dance room. When the music starts, their inner most being begins to move rhythmically. Their thoughts of the day diminish and their true heart felt feelings emerge.

In the dance room, as the first chords play for the beginning barre work or warm up, the dancer automatically recalls the choreography that has been drilled into their brain. It suddenly becomes second nature and the thoughts and troubles that filled their mind before they walked into the dance room have vanished, only to be exchanged with the music and choreography that is set before them. As the class continues to the center floor work with adagio choreography, concentration becomes of the utmost importance. Then the quickness of the allegro and across the floor work brings the emotion of joy and excitement, as leaps and jumps cause the dancers to use all the energy they have left to produce beautiful images in the mirror. The cares of the outside world is gone, only the music and their movement remain.

With thoughts focused, the dancer feels the music. Their emotions change with each different exercise or piece of choreography that is taught and practiced. The music and the steps take over take their normal everyday routine frame of mind and they enter a different world. A world in which they find comfort and peace. A world in which the dancers can become themselves. They have reached a place where everything in the world is….. ok.

What better activity can their be for a child? What better after school activity is there where a child can find release, focus, discipline, and possibly a future career. Dance is it! It is physically demanding, so it is good for the body, but it is also creative. Sports is no way a comparison. Sports is physically challenging but by no means creative. Creativity is so important for a child as well as an adult. It brings forth the true person.

When you are happy, dance. When you are sad, dance, you will instantly feel better. Dance is a release of emotion and stress.
Dance for how you feel inside…….

Body Language Speaks Louder Than Words!

ballet class barre
Have you ever heard the expression ….“The eyes are the window to the soul”? People can practically read your complete thoughts just by the expression on your face. While in ballet class, your teacher can read you more than you know, by just a glimpse of your facial expression. Your teacher can tell whether you are interested in what you are learning, you are tired and just don’t feel like doing what ever you are being taught or whether you are interested at all. Your facial expression can show respect or just plain rudeness.
Your teacher can read your body language and will wonder if you are really in class because you love to dance or just going through the motions because this is where your friends are at the time. Your body language will prompt a teacher to either ignore you or push you to great lengths, depending upon what your body is tell them. Which is your preference?

Beginning with the eyes. The eyes can tell so much of what is on your mind. Be careful the way you look at your teacher or other dancers. The look in your eye can be either encouraging or it can be deadly to someone else’s attitude. Another dancer or your teacher can catch your feelings through your eyes and it will change their whole day. Many times we send signals to other dancers with our eyes and facial expressions that we don’t even realize we are sending. Plan on being in control of your own feelings of the day and not let them show in class. Take class time out as an “oasis” for yourself. Try to put your feelings on a “shelf” for the hour or so you are in class and absorb what you are there for.

Sometimes your body language in class is a reflection of your physical being and not your emotional being. Did you have a hectic day before class? Did you not get enough sleep the night before? Has it been an extremely busy week, physically, with extra rehearsals? Each of us have personal lives outside the studio. Even if you are tired from the day keep your yawns in hiding! I have been in a position where I was demonstrating barre work to dancers and have a dancer yawn while they were in execution of the barre choreography I just taught! Is it me as a teacher? Am I boring? I hope not! These are the things that will go through a teacher’s head when a dancer yawns. A simple yawn can make your teacher or even the dancers around you think that you are bored or not interested in a combination or even a correction.

Being tired is normal. The body can only take so much physical activity without rest. But….keep up your image while you are in class. Remember you are a dancer! Look the part! Don’t sit during class, keep your body moving. Sitting on the floor can be portrayed as a form of laziness. It can also be disrespectful while your teacher is working to give you what she has planned for you.

Sometimes dancers come into ballet class exhausted from the day. They go directly to the barres and hang or slump over them. This is not a great way to begin class. You are carrying your physical feelings into class with you, which will prompt you later on during class to sit. Instead, come into class proudly and ready to work, even if you are tired. Stand erectly and pulled up!

Body language will often display envy or jealousy. Do you look up to someone in your class? Do you display a look of envy or honor? As a dancer, you should look upon a classmate’s achievements as one of honor. Their practice, focus and ability should be help to motivate you to work even harder. Look at those dancers and admire their work and perseverance to get where they are. Strive for that excellence and do not slump your body over thinking that you will not achieve such lengths. Do not ignore their achievements, show encouragement.

All dancers will show body language when they are feeling frustration in an area that they need improvement with. Possibly you are feeling you are not learning as quickly as you anticipated. Your stance, or how you hold yourself….tha is, your body language will show your negativity or your state of mind. Make improvements in small steps and expect progress. Look proud of your improvements. Take in encouragement to embrace your passion to dance. In other words, work hard and dance it out! Your body is your tool, the language it displays is you, use your body wisely and not for displaying emotions…….

Can Male Dancers Dance en Pointe?

men on pointe

 

 

 

I have been asked this question so many times by dance students, “Can male dancers dance on Pointe?”  There are several reasons that we don’t see this very often other than the famous Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. I will try to sum up a few and include a link to a great video.

The dancer extra  must take great time and effoet  in developing strength in the arch and ankles, and for many male ballet dancers it simply is not worth the trouble. At the same time, some male ballet dancers, have argued for the value of male dancers learning to dance en pointe, if only as a strength and balance exercise.

 The frame of thought is that you don’t see male ballet dancers on their toes because choreographers don’t tend to come up with choreography for them. There are a few exceptions to this,  one is Sir Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Bottom the donkey dances en pointe to represent hooves.

One other  exception is the all-male ballet corps of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, in which a number of the male dancers wear ballerina attire and dance female parts. As the corps focuses primarily on classical and romantic ballet, this means that most of their shows feature many male ballet dancers dancing en pointe. Although the corps is in many ways presented as parody, the tecnique of the dancers is pretty amazing, and shows the ability of male ballet dancers to dance en pointe with amazing strength and grace as you can see in the video link below. Watch this video of  Vladimir Makahlov and you decide…..

http://www.networkdance.com/album/view_wallmedia.php?pid=264&media_type=3&media_id=79393

 

After The Show Is Over……

 

on stage

 

As a Dance Educator, what do you think of after the final show of the season is over? When the curtain closes and your work, ideas and creativity have come to the finish? How do you feel about the production, your work and the effort that the dancers and yourself have put into it.? What did you think of the overall final performance?

 

For me, I always have mixed feelings…

I know that my dancers ALWAYS do their best. They are trained that way throughout the year. I never doubt their ability, their confidence or their joy of being on that stage. I have full confidence that they know their choreography, their placement and their cues. I am in love while watching them fulfill what I have created for them to perform on that stage…their special day.

For me, as a Dance Educator, I sometimes question myself when I see error in our productions. I know that the audience doesn’t see what I see from the wings or back stage or dressing rooms. I know that they don’t know that there was a problem or the mistake that I see. I know that the audience is enjoys seeing their loved ones on that stage and are happy their dancer is up there doing their best.

But sometimes, I question myself. I wonder if I gave my all to make the performance wonderful. Should I have chosen a different costume? Was the music just perfect for that age group. Was the blocking just right? Was the choreography too hard.? Was the scenery constructed properly? (yes in small studios the teacher/choreographer is in charge of set construction) Were the stage hands given proper cues? Was there too much delay between numbers. There are so many questions that go through your mind as the show is going on and as the Dance Educator.

But one feeling is a sadness that it is all over. Yes…I am sad….

I have to reel my thoughts in and sit back and think about what had transpired during that performance. I have to come to the realization of the “crash” of the excitement of the final few weeks leading up to the performance and come to realize….. what is this dance life all about? I have been involved in recital for as long as I have memory….I need to think, what am I here for if I find flaw in what I see happening during our performances.

I know…..

I am here to teach children how to dance…(most especially ballet…the most important dance form). I am here to teach them the discipline of dance, the health benefits of dance and keeping fit. I am here to teach them to work as a group. I am here to create a love of dance in their hearts and to hold on to for the rest of their lives, as I have been instilled in me.  But I think that most of all I am here to put happy memories in their lives that I hope they will cherish for ever.

For me…. I am feeling saddness that it is all over…as I think any dance educator will also agree…

BUT ……..we get to do it ALL over again next season……

Thank you to my dancers for being a part of my life …you keep dance alive in me always….and that is what being a Dancer Educator is all about. And that is what I feel …..

After The Show Is Over

after the show

Thinking Like A Dancer ….Happy New Year thoughts for a great 2014 dancing year!

ballet class barre

 

 I am wondering what dance students think about when they are not at dance class ……

Do they think about preparation for dance class? Do they review choreography and technique? I am on the positive side and hope that they do. Sometimes I am overly excited about what I see in class, but there are times that I am gravely disappointed in dancers that I expect more from. Am I expecting too much?

I have been finding lately that many dancers come to class unprepared. Hair not done, pieces of dancewear missing, a missing shoe, dangling earrings on in class (which they are requested to remove). Many are late for barre work because of “dilly dally” or chit chatting or fixing their hair in the dressing/waiting room. I am not understanding why? Do these dancers go this unprepared to school? Are there consequences at school that are not at dance school? Do the dancers consider the dance studio a school?……

Many dancers arrive at their studios directly from school. Which does take some planning on the part of the dancer for them to come completely prepared. I do remember going to dance school directly from school, as a young dancer, myself. My dad would pick me up at the ring of the school bell and my dance clothes where in my dance bag in the car and ready for me to dress at the studio. In some instances, where rehearsals were immediate upon my arrival, I dressed in school before the bell and I was totally ready at the studio or rehearsal hall. My long hair was done properly for dance, prior to attending school those rushed days. I was ready to go.

What makes this decade different? Is it the loose hair that is seen on dancers on TV and video? Is it the many different colors and styles of leotards that the dancewear industry has today? Is it the new bare legged trend we see on dancers? Or is it fashion that the Hip Hop dancers are instilling in the dance profession that dance students think that this attire is acceptable for all dance genres.

On another note ….. some dancers, even whole classes, are not remembering steps, choreography, and even terminology. Where as other classes are right on top of these essential things. I would begin the class week after week repeating and repeating steps, dance combinations (enchainment) and writing them out on the mirror only to start all over again the following class. Where as other classes remember these essentials at the “bat of an eye“! Is distraction a cause? Are some dancers involved in to many activities to be faithful and determined to excel at dance class? Is their thought process that attending a dance studio a social activity and not viewed as a school?

A dance student who wishes to excel in the dance world needs to Think Like A Dancer. They need to be focused and determined to be the best they can be in class.

A good resolution for the New Year is to begin a habit that would be enriching for the dancer while in class. Here are some tips for dancers to think on…..

1) Prepare for class by attire, hair, shoes, dance bag, before hand. The night before if you attend class directly from school. Be sure you have a leotard, tights, proper dance shoes for that next day, hair ties and a brush. Proper warm ups (color and correct fitting) for when it is a bit cold all ready in your dance bag. If you have your class assignments ready for school each day than this should be a breeze for you.

2) Prepare mentally and physically for steps. Practice. Keep a dancer’s notebook for steps and combinations. This practice is beneficial for you and for the entire class so as to keep the class moving forward and not staying stagnant repeating and repeating essentials that were taught weeks before.

3)While in class, listen carefully to the teachers instructions. Dance class is not a time for socialization. The waiting and dressing rooms are a good place for that after class. Dancers need to be attentive while the teacher is instructing. Keep your eye on the teacher to learn the steps.

4) Be alert and attentive in class. One thing every ballet teacher wishes, is that the dancers be in position before the teacher asks and before the music starts. What a pleasure for the teacher to turn around after setting the music and seeing a class of dancers spaced properly and in the correct foot position to begin.

5) Prepare mentally for steps. Think at home on what you have learned in class. Be prepared for your next class. While in class, be thinking the steps so that your brain is ready to implement them. During the preparation music, focus on the step ahead.

6) When the teacher steps back and wants you do dance the enchainment on your own you need to “own” your steps and then wait for corrections, instructions and the famous, “Ok, One more time.…”

In 2014 put your “best foot forward” and make going to dance class worth it for you …you will be happier and grow as a dancer…if you are Thinking Like A Dancer……

Have a great dance year!

 

Improving Your Leg Extension

side extenstion

 

So many dancers ask how to improve their leg extensions. Developing a good leg extension is one of the most cherished things a dancer looks forward to. Here is a re-post of  important information in creating that beautiful extension in you.

 

 

There are a number of things that ballet teachers work on diligently to develop in their dancers. First and foremost is a love of dance. Next is the appearance of the dancer’s body. Correct alignment, stretched and pointed feet, good spotting technique, beautifully stretched out leaps and higher jumps. But one of the most impressive skills that is sought after, is high leg extension. I am referring to the working leg either to the front or to the side. This is practiced first at the barre, then moves to the center with adagio music and developpe exercises. A standard ballet class will have at least one exercise at the barre and one center floor. Both barre and center exercises will repeat right and left sides, to train the extension that defines the beautiful slow developpe.

The typical ballet class is not enough to develop the necessary strength, flexibility and coordination required of the dancer to develop the necessary muscle groups to achieve the highest of extensions. I would like to recommend that while practicing at home that several conditioning exercises should be done. Conditioning outside the dance class, at home, will show good results for back strengthening, arabesque height and front and side leg extensions.

There are two muscle groups involved in good extensions. The quadriceps and the hip flexor muscles.

The quadriceps are a large muscle group that includes the muscles on the front of the thigh. It is the a large muscle that extends out of the knee, forming a large fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the thigh bone. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to flex the thigh bone. They are situated on the upper thighs and just beneath the hipbones. Hip flexors allow for lifting of the knees and bending at the midsection. Because they continuously work to support the body, hip flexors tend to become stressed and tight, which can prevent the highest of leg extensions

Here is a five minute exercise that should be done in three sets of ten repetitions on both legs. It should be repeated three times per week for six weeks to get some better extension results.This exercise is to stretch the hip flexors. 

Sit in a long sit position: back straight and both legs extended front

Lean back on your hands

The leg to be exercised is turned out with the knee slightly bent like a front attitude

The other leg is bent and the foot is flat on the floor

Lift the attitude leg slowly and then bring it back down again, in three sets of ten repetitions.

The achievement here is to use the quadriceps as little as possible and work the hip flexors.

Another way to stretch the hip flexors is to:

Lie flat on your back, and pulling one leg into your chest.

Lift the other leg up and pointed towards the ceiling and turned out.

Then slowly lower the leg until it eventually rests on the floor.

As you hug one leg, feel a release in the hip flexors in the extended leg.

Hold the working leg off the floor as close to the floor as possible for about 20 seconds before releasing the foot to the floor.

Remember to keep the small of the back pressed to the floor. Repeat for the other leg.

Stretching the quadriceps is important for good leg extension and hip flexors stretch ability and should not be totally neglected.

Lie on to your stomach flat on the floor.

With a flat back, relaxed neck and relaxed legs, Begin lifting your right foot and lower leg upward and bend it at the knee.

Lifting your body up slightly, reach back behind you and grab your right foot with your right hand.

Pull your leg upward and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds.

Next, perform the same quad stretch using your left leg.

You can also perform quad stretches for your hip flexors from a kneeling or standing position.

Or…Use a chair or wall for support if needed.

Pushing backwards toward a wall with your leg bent between your body and the wall during quad stretches will intensify the stretch and provide support. So instead of holding your foot, use the wall behind you for balance and stretch.

For a more intense stretch,

Start with your left leg. Kneel down on your left knee and position your right foot in front of you, knee bent.

Place your right hand on your right leg to guide your balance. Your other hand should be at your hip.

Keep your back and head straight, with your abdominal muscles tight. Shift some of your weight to your right leg, moving forward slightly. You should feel your left thigh stretching.

Extend the left leg behind you so that you are on the ball of the foot.

Raise both arms straight up above your head parallel to your ears.

Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat it three times, then switch legs.

There not many things in ballet as beautiful as a high leg extension…..one that can be held with ease. Work on it!