What We Learn By Watching

As the school year flies into full swing, so do the back-to-school colds, ailments and injuries, so I thought I’d post on the benefits of watching your dance classes if you’re unable to participate.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I by no means want dancers to drag themselves to class to watch when you’re throwing up, have a fever, or are contagious!  However sometimes dancers are able to come and watch class even if they aren’t fully able to participate, and this can still be hugely beneficial! Here are a few reasons why!

  1. Sometimes when you’re dancing, there are so many things to focus on, it can be hard to process your teacher’s corrections!  When you’re sitting and watching, you can really listen to the corrections the teacher is giving and think about how to apply them to your own dancing.
  2. It can often be a challenge when you’re dancing, trying to remember steps, and watching out for your classmates to really see the shapes that you’re making in the mirror.  When you’re watching your classmates dance (and watching your teacher!), you can clearly see the shapes that you’re meant to be making.  This is often really helpful for applying to your own body when you are back up and dancing.
  3. Oftentimes, it’s easier to see what is going right, or not so right, in someone else’s dancing then it is to feel it in your own.  You might notice for example, that your classmates arms aren’t very rounded in second position in ballet.  This will hopefully lead you to re-evaluate your own body positions to see if you can fix those things.  The opposite is true too!  Maybe while watching, you really admire the way one of your classmates is using their upper body, or using their feet in their transitions, or the quality of their performance.  You can really study their movements, and what you like about them, while you are watching and then incorporate them into your own dancing!
  4. When you watch, it can sometimes be easier to see the progression of the class and how things are building on each other.  You might notice the teacher giving your classmates the correction to put their heels down when they land their jumps, and you can connect that to the same correction that was given in pliés at the barre.  It can help your brain connect how all these things build on each other as class progresses!

All our teachers at ABDC really understand the importance of watching class and how much you can learn!  And while, we know you’d rather be up dancing, we hope you can see how watching can still benefit you!  At ABDC, if you come to watch class, your teacher will give you a “Classroom Observation Worksheet” to fill out-this will get you thinking about the corrections that are being given and how you can use them to improve your own dancing!  And of course, lots of hand sanitizer and vitamin c to ward off those back-to-school bugs never hurt, either 🙂

Happy Dancing!

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Your Dance Journal!

Hi Everyone!

How’s back to school going?  I hope everyone is settling back into the routine and I’ve loved seeing you all back at the studio!  It’s going to be a great year, I can tell!

Hopefully if you’ve been back in the studio for class, you were given a dance journal!  We wanted to give you a place to write down all things dance related this year!  Here are a few ideas for what you can use your dance journal for!

  • Draw dance pictures!  You can draw pictures of your dance friends, moves you’ve learned in class, or famous dancers!
  • Use it to keep your stickers that you receive after a job well done!
  • Write down your goals!  It’s been shown that if you write down your goals you are more likely to achieve them.  So write down your goals for this year-whether it’s general things like working on your turnout, or specific steps you want to master.  Write them down and bookmark the page so that you can look at them often!  Don’t forget to write down HOW you are going to achieve your goals.
  • Write down corrections you receive from your teacher!  Take a minute after class and think about all the corrections you were given (things like pointe your feet, work on your spot, etc) and jot them down.  That way you can look at them before class the next week, and really try to fix them!
  • Write down your recital choreography!  It makes learning recital choreography so much faster and easier if everyone remembers the steps from week to week.  So write it down!  Even the act of putting it to paper will help you remember.  You can write down the steps and the counts (don’t worry if you don’t know the correct spelling-as long as you know what you mean!), draw pictures of what your poses look like, whatever works for you.  Everyone has a different system-you’ll find what helps you remember the most!
  • Write down your formations in recital choreography! Obviously you won’t have everyone’s spot memorized.  But even writing down a brief note about where you stand will really help (“on the chassé, I move to the 5 next to Sally” for example).
  • Write down any stretches or exercises that you really like!  That way you can remember to do them at home.

What are you planning to do with your dance journal?  We’d love to know!

Dress to Dance!

I can’t believe the dance year is just around the corner!  The summers always go by so quickly, and a new dance year is upon us.  We are so excited!  As we enter the first week of classes, I wanted to take a minute to talk about our dress code and why it’s important.  Like any other sport, dancers have a uniform they must wear.  Our dress code has a lot of flexibility, but it is still important to dress appropriately for class, and here’s why-

  • It helps your teachers give you better feedback and corrections on your dancing.  Our teachers want to help you improve and be the best you can!  It can be hard to see if your knees, hips, ribs and elbows, etc are properly aligned if you’re wearing baggy sweatpants and teeshirts.
  • It helps YOU feel like a dancer and do your best!  Imagine going to take hip hop class in a black leotard, pink tights, ballet slippers and a bun. You’d likely feel a little out of place, which in turn will translate to your dancing!  Really want to have some swag in hip hop?  Put on a swag-tastic teeshirt.  Really want to nail your epaulement in ballet class?  You better rock that leotard and tights!
  • It’s tradition!  For years and years, ballet students have been wearing the classic black leotard and pink tights.  At ABDC, we allow you to wear any color leotard, and you can wear a ballet skirt as well, but you’re still joining a long history of ballerinas who wore similar ensembles before you.
  • It shows that you respect your teachers and the process if you arrive to class dressed appropriately and ready to dance.
  • In dance class, you need to be able to move around and concentrate!  Bulky clothing, dangling earrings or oversized jewelry, improper footwear, etc, can all make movement difficult and be distracting.  Jewelry can also present a danger when doing partner work-trust me-you do NOT want your hoop earrings getting tangled in someone’s hair in a cool lift!
  • Our dance floors are very special!  They are made of a certain material to give you the best surface to dance on as possible.  Wearing street shoes from outside into the studio not only makes the floors really dirty, it also can damage them.  This is why it’s important that you change into dance shoes in the lobby and wear shoes for hip hop that you do NOT wear outside!
  • Some dancers don’t love wearing tights, but it’s really important that you wear them for ballet class, or for your other classes if you are going to wear dance shorts.  Tights are important for keeping your muscles warm, and preventing floor burn when you’re doing floorwork in contemporary or hip hop for example.  You can also wear leggings or dance pants for many of your dance classes, but if you’re going to wear shorts, don’t forget tights!
  • Proper hair is also important!  If you’ve ever tried to spot with your hair down, you know that it just doesn’t work!  Plus, there’s no pain like whipping the end of your ponytail into your eyes-that’s why we dancers love a classic bun!  Don’t worry-we’ll do another blog post featuring tips and tricks for the perfect bun!

I hope that this helps you understand why we have a dress code!  More than anything, we want you to feel comfortable in class, so if you have any questions, please just ask your teacher!  We are here to help you feel safe and secure, as well as to help you dance your best.  Tell us-what is your favorite dance outfit?

Summer Reading for Dancers!

If this heat wave hasn’t proven this to you already, summer is NOT over!  Which means you still have time left to do some summer reading?  Looking for some recommendations for dance books to read at the beach or the pool? Here are a few of my favorites!

For Children:

Degas and The Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield (and really all the books in this series!)

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Of Swans, Sugarplums, and Satin Slippers by Violette Verdy (this was my favorite growing up!!)

Angelina Ballerina series by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

Ballerina, My Story by Darci Kistler

For teens/adults:

Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

Nureyev by Julie Kavanagh

Blood Memory by Martha Graham

So You Want to Be a Dancer by Matthew Shaffer

Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief and Larry Kaplan

George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker by Robert Gottlieb

Misty Copeland: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

These are just a few-there are many many more great reads out there!  ABDC has a few of these books in our library-check out our adorable new bookcase!  Have any favorites to add to the list, or any books you’d like to see added to our collection?  Please comment and let us know!

The Magic of Beginning Ballet

I get asked a lot what my favorite class to teach is, and I can honestly say that I don’t have one!  I love teaching all styles, all ages, and all levels-each one presents its own challenges and triumphs and I love getting to know the students in each and every class.  But every time a teach a beginning ballet class, I feel a little bit of magic.

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Maybe it’s because ballet is the first dance class I ever took (fun fact-I took only ballet until 8th grade) and it’s what made me fall in love with dance.  I love teaching dancers their first ballet class (or maybe they’re coming back to it after a long break and falling in love with it all over again).  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching all genres of dance, but there is something magical about spending an hour being a ballerina.  Ballet has been such a constant in my life-it’s so dependable in an ever-changing world!

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But there’s another reason why I love teaching beginning ballet classes so much-every time I teach them, I as a dancer improve so much!  Teaching those classes, explaining all the nitty gritty details and intricacies of body placement and épaulement, how to use your feet, and the shape of the hands and arms (oh man, ballet is SO detail oriented), makes me re-evaluate all those aspects of my technique.  Let’s face it, sometimes when we’re learning super fast combos and trying to do six million turns across the floor, little things like the angle of your head and the shape of your hands gets lost.  But in beginning ballet,  you have the time to adjust all those little details that make a good dancer into a great one.  I always think it’s interesting when dancers tell me they want to be in a higher level and “more challenging” ballet class, because I actually feel dancers improve most when they take it slow!  Brief story-spring semester my Junior year of college I studied abroad in Northern Ireland.  Melinda had passed away a couple of weeks before I left, and I decided I needed a break from dancing.  That lasted all of about two weeks before I asked the director of the dance department if there was a ballet class I could take.  She told me to take class with the seniors, so I was expecting a class like the kind I took at Skidmore.  Instead I learned the class was taught by a student and was definitely more of a beginning level class than I was expecting.  It was perfect though!  I worked my butt off in every class, and it was a great way to focus on things I wasn’t really working on at home.  I knew what I needed to work on, and I was really able to focus on those things.  It was a lot of fun too!

These are just a few of the reasons why I love teaching this class!  But I’d love to know-what’s your favorite class to take and why?  Please comment and let me know!

Ways to Beat Summer Dance Withdrawal!

Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from dancing!  It can be good for our bodies and our minds to take a break.  But eventually the dance withdrawal sets in!  Here are some ideas to beat the no-dance-blues!

  1. Drop in to June classes!  ABDC has classes running through the end of the month and you can drop in, so come dance with us!
  2. Get out and move!  Even if dance classes are on break, you can take yoga, jazzercise, or just go for a run, bike ride, or walk!
  3. Have a dance party with some friends!  Gather some friends, play some music, and have a dance party!
  4. Watch dance movies!  There are lots of great choices-from documentaries like First Position, to movies like Step Up, Leap or movie musicals!  Pop some popcorn and dance along!
  5. Watch old recital videos!  There’s no better way to get excited about the upcoming dance year.
  6. Even without dance classes at the studio, you can still work on your technique!  I like Kathryn Morgan’s barre videos on Youtube! Grab a chair and get to work on those tendus!  We’ll also be doing some Facebook live videos this summer, so stay tuned for those!
  7. Stretch!!  Too nice to be inside?  Bring your yoga mat outside for an outdoor stretch session!
  8. Go see a show!  There are lots of great performances that will help you get your dance fix.

How long does it take before you are itching to get back to dance?  For me, it’s about 3 days 😛

 

 

What does working hard look like?

Hi dancers!

Today I wanted to write about hard work!  Working hard is important in all aspects of our life, from school to jobs to relationships.  In dance class working hard is important,  to get the most out of class and to demonstrate to the teacher that you’re ready for another challenge.  Sometimes though, I think that working hard means different things for students and teachers.  To me, working hard doesn’t mean being the best in the class, or showing off your perfect double pirouette when other dancers are still practicing single turns.  Here are a couple ways students show me that they are working hard:

Before Class-

  • I can tell you’re ready for a productive class when you come in to the studio on time and prepared. This means hair done, coat off, dance shoes on, with a smile!
  • Once you’re in the studio, are you showing your teacher that you’re ready for class to begin?  You can do this by standing at the barre quietly for ballet class, or standing in the center if your class starts with a center warmup.  Does your warmup always start standing?  If so, and you’re lying on the floor when I turn on the music, I’m not sure you’re ready to begin.  I love when my dancers greet their friends and teachers at the start of class, but you can show me you’re ready to dance by saving your longer catch-up sessions for later!

During Class-

  • Dancers can show me they are working hard by listening, following direction, and taking corrections.
  • Remember, you are not invisible to the teacher just because it isn’t your turn to go across the floor.  Are you standing on the side being respectful of the other dancers, and listening to corrections the teacher is giving them (they might apply to your dancing too!)?  Are you practicing the combination, or reversing it to do the other side?  I notice these things, and they show me that you’re engaged in class and working hard.
  • Are you abiding by the teacher’s rules?  If the teacher wants you to take sweatshirts and sweatpants off after warmups, are you doing this without asking?  If the rule is no jewelry, are you taking it off without being asked?  Are you waiting for appropriate moments for water breaks?  These are important signals to the teacher that you respect their classroom.
  • If your teacher gives you a correction, it is because he or she wants to help you, and knows you are capable of improving!  Show us that you are going to work on applying that correction by responding “thank you” to corrections that you receive.  Saying nothing makes us question whether or not you heard us, saying “I know” makes us wonder why you didn’t do it the first time, and making excuses indicates that you’re not willing to work on improving.
  • Ask questions!  Teachers love thoughtful questions about the material we are working on!  Now, that doesn’t mean asking “why is the sky blue” when we’re doing tendus, but asking questions is a great way to show us that you are paying attention and engaged.  The only exception?  If I just spent a couple minutes going over the arms for our across the floor combination, and you ask “wait, what are the arms again?  I wasn’t paying attention.”  Uh oh!
  • Answer questions!  Nobody likes to talk to themselves.  If your teachers asks “do you have any questions?” or “should we do that again?” or “do you need to go over that?” pretty please, answer us!  Most of the times, it’s just a simple yes or no.  But when these questions are met with crickets, we’re not sure what to do.  Are you asleep?  So confused you don’t know what to say?  Mad at us?  Answer us, and we can help you.  If you need to go over something again, just say so!  We’re asking these questions because we want to know what is going to help YOU the most.
  • Do your best!  If I ask for 8 pushups, and that’s not where you’re at, that’s okay! But are you showing me that you’re willing to work on it?  Do as many as you can, and then hold a plank.  Do all 8, but as modified pushups if you need to.  Told to work on your split?  Don’t just sit there!  Work on it the best you can!  Ask for advice on stretches or grab some yoga blocks to help you hold it.  Just because you can’t do something NOW doesn’t mean you never WILL.  But trust me, if you’re getting water or asking to go to the bathroom or blowing your nose every single time I know that you know that pushups are coming….I’m on to you.  I’d MUCH rather you do what you can than not try at all.

After Class:

  • Say thank you to your teacher!  Say good job, see you next week, have a good night, etc to your dance friends!
  • Keep up the good work at home by reviewing your choreography!  We know you’ve got a lot of other stuff going on!  But just a few minutes over the course of the week between classes to think about new choreography, formations, or questions you might have for next class makes such a big difference!  And we’re always here for you so if you do think of a question and you see we have a minute to spare-ask!  We’ll be happy to go over something with you.

All of these things translate into all aspects of your life, from school to jobs.  Remember actions speak louder than words-so don’t tell us you’re working hard-show us!

What are you doing to show your teacher that you’re ready to work hard in class?  Comment and let us know!

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

This week, I’d like to share a bit I’ve learned about fixed vs. growth mindsets.  Here’s an image that summarizes the two:

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A growth mindset is important for dancers, because most of what Dance asks of our bodies is not natural!  Yes, some people have an easier time with flexibility, balance, etc, but what we ask of our bodies during dance class is beyond what they were built to do.  If we have a fixed mindset, we will be easily frustrated-but with a positive growth mindset we can embrace challenges and learn to work in a smarter way to achieve our goals.  We learn in so many different ways-by watching the teacher or dancers who’s technique or stage presence we admire, by listening to and applying the teacher’s corrections, or through practice and repetition.  If we can embrace a new challenge, try our best, and not give up, there isn’t anything we can’t achieve!

Tell us in the comments-which mindset do you think you have?  What are some ways you can swap your thinking in order to have more of a growth mindset?

The role of games in dance class

Sometimes I hear parents mention how many games the students are playing when they are watching their young child’s dance class.  We do play games in dance class, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain why!

Games serve a purpose in dance class-not just because they are fun!  They can break up the class a bit and give the dancers some time to express themselves so they are ready to focus on the teacher again, much like recess in school!  And they also help us teach the dancers.  For example, a popular game is freeze dance, where the dancers dance freely, and then freeze when the music stops.  This game teaches the dancers to listen carefully to the music while dancing, and teaches them to be in control of their bodies so that they can stop instantaneously when the music freezes.  This past week I was working with my younger dancers on pathways, so while the music was on I was giving them directions such as “move in a zigzag pattern” or “move only in straight lines.”  Sometimes during freeze dance we might instruct dancers to dance like animals, or superheroes which sparks their imagination and helps them think about other ways of moving!  Another favorite game of mine is “Late Last Night.”  During this song, dancers are instructed to pretend to sleep, and then dream about having different kinds of shoes on-cowboy boots, space boots, ballet slippers, etc-and then they must get up and dance as if they have those shoes on their feet!  This game also encourages the dancers to be creative and think about ways to move, and also allows us to practice what we’ve learned that day-for instance while they are dreaming about their ballet slippers, I might ask them to show me a step we’ve worked on that class.

Our older dancers sometimes play games too as a special treat!  One game I like to play with my tap classes involves the dancers standing in a circle.  They go around the circle and count, starting from 1.  The only catch is that if it’s your turn and your number would include a 3, 6, or 9, you must make a sound (clap, stamp, etc) instead of saying the number.  You must also keep time and not hesitate or rush when saying your number.  This teaches musicality and focus.  Other games focus on teaching terminology or working on improvisation, which is also very important for dancers.

I also feel like games are an important time for me to make a personal connection with the dancers, without having to instruct or correct them.  Games are a time where I can dance freely with them so that they can see my love of dance and we can just be a bit silly together!  Them being able to tell me their ideas about how a lion might dance, without there being a right or wrong answer or without judgement, builds trust between us which is important in class!

So if you see us playing games in class, don’t worry!  There is a reason for each activity the teacher has chosen, and if you’re unsure what it is, just ask!

Being Brave

When I first set up this blog, I couldn’t resist selecting this template.  Does the cover photo look familiar to you?  It’s a picture of Trolltunga, in Norway, where Andy and I got engaged this past June!  Trolltunga, meaning “troll’s tongue” is a grueling hike in the heart of the fjords, and from the minute we decided to go to Norway we knew we had to go.  I mean, just look at the photo!  How could you not?  Now, as some of you know, Andy is a pretty tremendous athlete.  He was a track and cross country star in high school and college, and he is one of those people that enjoys things like triathlons, Tough Mudders, and any other sort of crazy challenge that make other people cringe.  Sometimes he carries a 50 lb bag of sand in his backpack when he goes hiking-just because.  Crazy, right?  I enjoy hiking but don’t have too much experience beyond some hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my family or Andy.  So here we are, planning to take on this 10-12 hour hike.  And I’m feeling pretty good about it.  And then we get to Norway and the day of the hike is approaching.  We flew into Bergen, and the lady at the car rental said “are you hiking Trolltunga?  They have to rescue a lot of hikers every year with the helicopter, so be careful.” Which was pretty much my cue to go in to full scale panic mode.  Like, ohmygodwhatamidoingi’mgoingtoplummetoffacliffintoafjord panic mode.  I couldn’t eat at all the day before, or the morning of the hike.  I started off with the biggest knot in my stomach, but as we hiked, and hiked, and hiked, it just started to go away.  Thoughts of plummeting to my doom were replaced with thoughts of “oh my gosh!  I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”  After 6 hours we reached the top, and it was there that I got to say yes to Andy, who was by my side the entire time during all the freaking out- cheering me on, telling me to take my time, step here, keep going, you can do it.

So why am I telling you all this?  I was at NUVO this past weekend with some of our dancers, and it struck me just how BRAVE we have to be as dancers.  It’s incredibly brave to dance onstage in front of three people who’s job it is to judge you.  It’s brave to take a class in a style you might not have ever really studied before.  It’s brave to try a new step that seems scary or completely impossible, and it’s brave to attempt that step in front of your teacher or classmates.  Seriously, these are scary things!  One of the things that I love most about dance is how freeing it is.  Because, we can and should strive to be perfect, but let’s face it-we can’t be perfect.  Someone’s leg is always going to go higher than yours, someone can always do one more turn than you can, someone can always oversplit more than you (ouch!).  But you know what you can be?  You can be brave.  And you can be YOU.  And who can be more perfect at being you than you?  No one!  It’s not possible for someone to be better at being you than you are, right?  So you can be brave and you can be you, and that’s perfect.  That’s enough for me.  You, in all your wonderful, weird, wacky glory, are enough for me, because you are the ONLY you.  So dance full out, even if you have no idea what you’re doing, perform onstage even though the butterflies in your stomach are out of control, hike a mountain, answer a question in class even though you might be wrong, or be like Andy and trek around with 50lbs of sand in your backpack.  Nope, I take that last one back.  Don’t do that, that’s crazy.  But you get my point.  Be Brave, and surround yourself with people who make you feel brave.  You never know where it might take you.