Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dance Magazine Article: "Loosen Up"

There were so many great articles in the August 2011 issue of Dance Magazine that I might have to do more posts! I chose this one to be the first review so that I can introduce a new topic - tension in dancers and how it can affect dancing. I can't find this specific article on Dance Magazine's website yet, but this article titled "Your Body: Tools of the Trade" describes similar short-term fixes. Find my first article review here. Update: here's the article from Dance Magazine's website.

"It's a two-stage process involving activation and strengthening, then releasing and stretching," says Tom Welch (professor of dance kinesiology at Florida State Univ). This is how Welch described releasing tension, specifically, but the quote can also be used to describe dance as a whole - dance is all about knowing when and where to hold tension, how much tension to hold, and how to release even through the tension. When dancers have too much tension in their muscles, resulting from either improper use, injury, or mental blocks, it shows up in their dancing as stiffness and an overall lack of fluidity.

The first thing the article describes, however, is not how to diffuse tension, but rather explaining the word "tension" itself. "Tension" and "stress" are commonly used interchangeably, but to the dancer, they are separate concepts. In the words of Peggy Gould (associate professor of dance kinesiology at Sarah Lawrence College), "Tension is muscle work that does not produce motion, but rather helps to maintain a stable or static situation. There is no change in muscle length, no change in relationship between the bones the muscle attaches to, no joint motion, no movement." Tension is something essential to the dancer because "We would be a puddle on the floor" (Welch) without a certain amount of it. However, excess tension in the muscles is when problems begin to arise.

To release excess tension, the various professors and dancers consulted in this article suggest different methods, such as tennis balls, foam rollers, massages, Pilates, and other short-term quick fixes. Jennifer Williams (Chaddick Dance Company in TX) even states that she gets massages from a trained therapist every two weeks. And while these things are great for the short term, I believe that working from the outside in for the long-term is never a good option. Nancy Wozny (author of the article) left the long-term fix to the end of the article and gave it less than three paragraphs, while the short term fixes took up the rest of the page. This I don't quite agree with, but at least she included it!

The long-term fix for tension is somatic work. She doesn't really tell you what somatic work is, however. Somatic means "of the body", so somatic work (or therapy) is working on body awareness. It trains your mind to think about your body in various ways and trains your body to respond to mental commands. It's an integration of mind, body, and spirit (energy), if you will. If you think about it, this kind of thing is exactly what dancers need - body awareness. If you're trained to listen to your body, you'll be able to become aware of tension and you can do something about it at the root cause. Learn more about somatic therapy here.

In short, if you master somatics, you will probably never have to see any kind of doctor again. Intense, huh? Knowing your body is essential to not only dancers, but to everyone. Wozny only touched on what her interviewees said about somatic work and different somatic "systems" (different people's techniques) and not really what somatic work can do for you, which is disappointing. I don't know what it can do for me, really! All I know is that it sounds like such a great idea.

But I know what you're thinking - "Daisy, you just criticized the author of this article for leaving somatic work to the end and you just did the same thing in your review of the article!" - but hear me out. You really do need to know what tension is before you can start to work on it or release it. All I want to criticize about this article is its focus on short-term relief rather than fixing the cause of the problem. Even the picture that accompanies the article is of a dancer balanced on a foam roller instead of doing somatic therapy. I honestly have never done somatic therapy, although Pilates comes close sometimes, but it's one of those things that I look forward to doing in the years to come because I know it will make me that much stronger and more aware as both a dancer and a person.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is if you have a problem, any kind of problem, work from the inside out, not the outside in. That goes for anything, whether it's grief (wiping away your tears does nothing), acne (change your diet, topical face washes do nothing), or an illness or injury - start at the source, don't treat the symptoms. Taking Advil or crying won't do anything but make you feel better for a few hours - do the things that will make your mind and body healthier in the long run.

If you do have a copy of Dance Magazine (they haven't posted the August issue online yet, I'll post a link  to the article when I do), find this article on page 22.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy National Dance Day!

As proclaimed by the Dizzy Feet Foundation (which you may know of through SYTYCD), today is National Dance Day! Visit a Six Flags and join in, or be lazy, stay home, and watch an obscene number of dance Youtube videos (which is normal for me anyway...), like the ones I've recommended in these posts (all part of my Best of the Best series):

Hip Hop

Hip Hop Updates



General Updates

Warm Ups

Happy Dancing :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Youtube Best of the Best: Hip Hop Updates

More amazing videos that I may have missed before or discovered since my second round of updates! I found so many great hip hop videos that this post became mostly hip hop, so I decided to just separate it out into its own post of hip hop video updates. Enjoy!

Hok of Quest Crew - Super Mario Fingers
What in the world?! You can dance without your legs?! Enter finger tutting - some of the funniest and best tutting there is. Hok doing what he does best without the distraction of the rest of his body dancing as well = happiness...and on the subject of Hok and tutting...

Moon of I.aM.mE and Hok of Quest Crew collab. - the ART of TUTTING
You thought the first one was cool? Tutting times two - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I promise.

Laura Edwards - Motivation
Ever seen a girl hit harder and dance more masculine than a guy? Or maybe you appreciate tomboys? You've got to check out Laura Edwards - her dance style is possibly one of the hardest hitting I've ever seen a girl/woman hit. But don't go thinking that she can't be feminine. Check out Skin (rated R, I'd say, for suggestion and brain overload), which is about as feminine as it gets...

Ian Eastwood - So Beautiful  and   Cricketz
I've tried to avoid bombarding you with Ian Eastwood because I wish I could recommend every video there is. These two pieces are so polar opposite from one another it's almost funny. They've got one thing in common - your brain will be twisted and blown in so many different ways by both pieces.

Tucker Barkley and Ian Eastwood collab. - Scars
This is just so sick. I think this is the first video I ever saw Tucker in...and my mind was blown. Also, after you watch Ian and Tucker dance it, watch the girl in the bright blue top in the select group 1 - she kills it 10 times harder than the 4 guys she's dancing with combined.

U-Miri - Roboting
I tried really hard to introduce new artists in this post because I don't want to get stuck in a rut of only showing my favorite crews/artists! This is a Japanese crew that I really know nothing about - only that their roboting is so simple, but so effective and well done.

Twitch Boss - SYTYCD solo We Gonna Win
This is the epitome of musicality. No words, just watch.

ReQuest Crew - ReBuilt
Put a "Re" on the beginning of Quest Crew and you've got a whole new look - these girls are ready to take on the world. They were just on ABDC, and even though they didn't win, they're still phenomenal. If you saw them on ABDC, you probably remember them as being pretty feminine, and this video is anything but. See what the girls can do?

Alright...another round will be coming!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ideal Dancer's Body: Feet

Okay, I felt guilty posting just my stories two days in a row, so here's a real post. This may or may not become a series, we'll see. I've talked a lot about the body on this blog and what can be done to take care of your body as a dancer, in my posts about taking care of your body and cracking. I've previously talked specifically about feet in my injury post and in my pointe feet post.

Have you ever told another dancer "I'm so jealous of your arches, I wish mine looked like that" or "I wish I had Achilles tendons like yours"? Yeah, because the ideal dancer has gorgeously high yet strong arches and long Achilles tendons (deep demi plie). Personally, I've got really flat, wide feet and relatively short Achilles tendons. My foot is pretty square, so that's nice for pointe I guess, but other than that, I've got the un-ideal foot. If you're like me, you're probably bummed about that too every now and then. I hope this will help you love your feet a bit more and maybe even take a few steps (heh, foot humor) towards the foot you've wanted!

If you don't have the ideal high arch:
I started to realize a few things. I have unnaturally good balance, which I credit partially to my wide, flat feet. There's more contact with the floor, see? I'm not sure if there's anything to that theory, but it makes me feel better. With a shorter arch, you automatically have more stability - your arches may not drop as much, meaning your ankles won't roll in and cause you problems. Your feet are stronger, probably because your muscles don't have to worry about stretching so much, so it's easier to contract them and use them (long, stretched out muscles have less strength). So you didn't really get the shorter end of the stick. But I do suggest getting arch inserts for your shoes, wearing shoes with a slight heel on them, and not wearing flip flops as often so you don't encourage your feet to flatten out even more.

If you do have the ideal high arch:
Good for you! You've got beautiful, gorgeous feet! They look great when pointed and absolutely magnificent en pointe. But you've got your work cut out for you - you must be aware that high arches may look good, but they're a hassle to maintain. Your balance may be a little wobbly and you have to watch that your ankles don't roll in. Your feet probably aren't as strong and you might be prone to cramping. You were blessed to look good, but do your feet a favor and strengthen them. A theraband is a great way! You'll thank yourself later.

If you have short Achilles tendons:
Maybe you've been wondering what I'm talking about. This is the large tendon that you feel when you touch the back of your ankle, right above your heel. It stretches when you flex your foot and contracts when you point it. You can tell how long your Achilles tendon is by testing your demi plie in first position, keeping your heels firmly on the ground: if your demi plie is relatively shallow, your Achilles tendon is relatively short. To stretch your tendon, you can use a towel (like below) or a theraband to pull back on your foot:

Photo credit
If that's really as far as her foot bends back, then the woman in the above photo has relatively short Achilles tendons.

If you have long Achilles tendons:
Good for you, I really have nothing to say other than I'm jealous. :) Your long Achilles tendons may give you a little instability if they're too bendy and not strong enough. The theraband exercises I alluded to above are great for this too, but you don't want to be bending your foot back (you've already got that part!). You'll actually need a theraband, not a towel, for this one. What you want to be doing is holding the theraband in both hands, wrap the middle of the theraband around the ball of your foot, and slowly point the foot (pushing the band away from you), like this:

Photo credit
Importance of the Achilles tendon contracting as well as lengthening:
Many people want their Achilles tendons to be as long as possible, but you also want it to contract well so that your foot will make a straight line from your leg when you point it (as shown below):

Photo credit
If your Achilles tendons don't contract as well as they stretch, your foot may look something like this:

Photo credit
She's got a beautiful arch, but see how the foot makes a slight 'bump' up from the straight line of the leg? This is not bad for you in any way other than pure aesthetics. It may also not be just your Achilles tendon affecting your foot, it could also be the top of your foot, if yours looks like the second photo. A great stretch to stretch the front of your foot is to sit on top of your shins on the ground with your back straight up and down and toes parallel to the ground, and to just pull up on your knee from that position, like this:

Sit like this, and pull up on one knee with your hand. Photo credit
Yet another huge thank-you to another two anonymous posters on my quick note post! So lovely to hear from you, and thank you so much!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Choreographic Experience: #2

I was going to take a break from this and post something else today, but I got excited. So here's my second choreographic experience. If you missed the explanation on how I came to choreograph in school, please read the first few paragraphs of my previous post.

My choreography experiences were separated by a year. Fast forward to senior year, I was no longer a part of the school dance team and our teacher was a little more wary of giving students choreography jobs. She learned her lesson in my first year choreographing, when many student choreographers were behind in teaching, kept changing their minds, or just didn't know what they wanted. She warned us that not many people would get the chance to fully choreograph their own piece this year, but I was extremely lucky in that I was given the opportunity.

I remember very vividly that I spent hours trying to find just the right piece of music for my dance. I knew I wanted something instrumental because I realized that in Hide and Seek, I had choreographed completely to the lyrics, and I figured that if there were no lyrics, I couldn't choreograph to them! Smart, eh? Anyway, I knew instrumental tracks could be boring, so I tried to find something pretty epic. One of my friends turned me to the soundtrack of the movie Inception, which had just come out, so I listened to every track on the soundtrack (on Youtube, of course). After an agonizing struggle to choose, I finally settled on the last track, Time. As a side note, I hadn't seen Inception yet when I started the choreography, haha.

A few months into senior year, many people knew that I was going to be majoring in dance, and I had already garnered respect from that. My peers automatically respected me as a teacher in the classroom and had no hard feelings (that I knew of!) outside of it, for which I'm eternally grateful. I never felt like I had to yell or that my 'authority' was questioned, so if any of you are reading this, thank you so much! It also helped that I was 2 years older than before and that I was finally older than most people in the room...but not all.

I was tired of lyrics, I was tired of small dances, and I wanted to do something epic to match Time. So I told my teacher I wanted 14 other dancers (15 total including me). Everyone I knew tried to convince me out of having 15 people in my piece, but I didn't listen. When I taught the first 4 counts of 8 in the first week, I knew I was onto something - it looked nothing short of awesome with so many people. Also, with 1.5 years of contemporary training now under my belt, I actually (kind of) knew what I was doing when I said the piece was "contemporary."

From the beginning, I told my dancers that our intention was to intimidate the audience. The whole thing would be extremely intense, to match the music, but the dancing would augment the music as well. Basically, the word was "epic." Make it "epic," and I'll be happy.

This is the piece where I had my set warm up! Again, the piece wasn't super high kicks and high impact dancing, so a 5 minute warm up with some crunches, some plies and tendus, balances, and general moving was enough. Set warm ups are such a blessing - I think it's the best thing for a young choreographer.

From then on, I taught a ton of choreography every week, but I had a problem of layering (different groups doing different things at different times). I was layering so much that I wasn't done teaching until the week of the show (oops). I also had times when groups of dancers literally sat on the side for the majority of the hour and a half and only came in to dance when I wanted to see everybody. That's a little tough - I had to tell them to be quiet sometimes, but they were generally respectful, if not bored. I also taped the piece every week with my Flip camera and posted the videos on Youtube so that my dancers could see the bigger picture and what they looked like. It was also a useful teaching tool for me, so that I could see who was struggling in what part of the movement and what looked broken and incoherent in the choreography. Sometimes I had to choreograph and rechoreograph sections before I taught them up to 5 times because it wouldn't fit in the music or overall scheme of the piece.

I never really took into consideration what the different layers of choreography looked like on top of one another, but somehow it all managed to work out fairly perfectly. There weren't too many traffic jams (people running into each other on stage) and the pieces looked good next to each other. It was probably something I should have thought about before hand, so I really was just lucky that it worked out.

By showtime, I was so excited and proud of the piece I had created. I had broken out of the strict adherence to the lyrics that I developed in Hide and Seek, and also had come up with new movements I had never considered or even dreamed of before. It was "epic" like I'd hoped, at least in my mind. And at this point, I cared if my dancers thought the piece was boring, but I didn't really care about the audience. I did what I set out to do, whether they like it or not. My teacher also said that I had made my students do the hardest thing anyone could ask a dancer to do - I made them walk on stage, and I made it work. Which I thought was nice :)

But they did - I received an enormous response from friends, teachers, parents, even the technical/backstage crew, and I'm so, so forever grateful. But really, I'm just so proud that I could work with 14 dancers smoothly and that we all looked great on stage.

As a side note, when I finally watched Inception, I didn't like it at all, but I was still in love with the song, so that's okay. I'm still a tad scared but convinced that this was the height of my choreographic career, but I really hope not.

If you're interested in seeing the piece, I'd be happy to give you the Youtube link! Just comment below :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Choreographic Experience: #1

Since I kept hinting at my dabbles in choreography in my previous post on teaching peers, I figured I'd dedicate a few posts to talk about it.

I had a few run-ins with choreography in my high school career, but let me explain how it happened first.

When I was a sophomore (high school), I was on the dance team, and our teacher wanted us all to artistically explore and express ourselves and discover what choreography could be, so she gave each of us our own piece in the annual dance production. Of course, we had to pass music, choreography combinations, and costumes by her, but other than that, it was whatever we wanted to make it.

I chose "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap for a contemporary piece (even though at that time, I had basically no contemporary experience or training). The dancers I originally wanted weren't approved by my teacher: instead, I ended up with a few seniors (one of whom was also a boy - but not the boy I wanted originally) and another sophomore, all of whom were older than me. I was also given only one hour after school to rehearse every week, as opposed to most of the other pieces, which were given an hour and a half. Plus, it was right after school on a Wednesday, so none of us got there right on time anyway, so it was more like 45 minutes per week. I was convinced that all of this would spell my downfall, but it miraculously didn't.

We started rehearsal in early October, and by winter break, I had finished teaching all of the choreography. It was pretty simple and followed the lyrics extremely closely (at least I thought so - no one else but my mother could tell), but it was effective. The piece was a story of an abusive family and my message was trying to raise awareness of child abuse. I was pretty insecure about how it would be received, since almost no one had seen it, but I was happy with my work. I feel that I was mainly lucky that my teacher never said "no" to anything that I did, and I may have been the only student choreographer who she never censored. She never told me to change my choreography, to hurry up and teach, to change my costumes or music - everything I originally proposed and wanted, I got. Except for the original dancers I wanted, but I really must thank her for giving me the dancers she did, because they all made it special in their own way, and it would not have been the same without the group that I had. I'm very grateful to both her and them for this entire experience.

Now, not to break the story, but I want to talk a little about the way I choreographed. It's hard to say how I came up with movement - I did just that. It just came to me. I listened to each lyric very closely and made an abstract movement that somehow expressed that lyric. And even though I had a 6' x 8' space in my room to choreograph in, somehow the choreography wasn't confined to a small space on the stage.

There's also my teaching process. Like I said in my teaching your peers post, it's hard to assume the role of teacher to people who are your friends and equals outside of the classroom. I found it particularly hard to yell at the seniors for not paying attention when "senioritis" started kicking in. But yell I did, and I might have scared them a little. Not much, but enough to pay attention to me. Sometimes you have to yell. My main issue teaching was I never wanted to take the time to warm up, which wasn't a huge issue with this dance because it wasn't high impact and high kicks, but I did throw my back into permanent spasm by not warming up (I still struggle with lower back pain from this experience). I didn't want to warm up because I didn't think I had the time, but if I had taken even three minutes to warm up, things may have gone better. Anyway, back to the story.

By the time the show rolled around, my piece was one of the favorites of the show, and I was pretty blown away. I had no idea that such a different piece for the school would be so well-liked (don't be afraid to be different!). The school had probably never seen a piece with such a dark storyline or dark intention, or even seen contemporary the way I did it, but they liked it, and I was so thankful. The senior boy in my piece also had his own choreographic work in the show, and it as well was a new style of contemporary that had never before been seen. Together, I think we helped bring storytelling dance and contemporary into the dance program at our school.

And that's the end of the piece at my school. Begin competition story.

I later found an ad on our school performing arts bulletin board about a choreography competition at a local college. It was for both high school and college students. I decided to ask my dancers whether they were willing to do a few extra rehearsals, so I took the plunge and entered. We competed in a preliminary round in front of a panel of judges and were told that if we made it to the final round, we would receive a phone call that night. Making it into the final round meant we would have made the top 3 works and that we'd be in the running for prize money. All three of the top spots received something. That night, I was on the phone almost screaming. We had made it into the top three and were guaranteed a prize! Not that it was about the prize money, but it was pretty exciting, especially to a 15 year old as I was at the time. We competed the next day in front of a small audience and took 3rd place (the other 2 were college-student-entered and were pretty amazing), but I was even grateful to have made it that far. I did win money, and I split it evenly amongst the four of us to thank them for performing with me.

Looking back, that was my first ever dance competition (I was no stranger to competition - I used to be a figure skater), and I competed with my own choreography. That's something I'm really proud of, even if I look back at the recording of the piece now and cringe. I learned a lot from that piece that I put into use two years later when I choreographed my next piece. But the thing I gained the most was confidence - for being able to handle 3 students who were older than me in a professional manner (most of the time), for choreographing an entire (and my first) work, and for pleasing an audience. And I think that confidence is really what I needed all along.

I also want to give a quick shout out to the two anonymous posters on my thank-you post yesterday - you two really, really made my day (and it was a rough day), so thank you ever so much for your lovely comments. You have no idea how much I appreciate it :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quick note!

Hi everyone!

Really, thank you so much for taking time to stop by every day, every once in a while, or even once! Thanks for reading, it really makes my day to see that people read what I have to say.

On that note, I've enabled anonymous commenting, so I'd love to hear from you! If you have any questions, comments, or new post ideas, I'd be glad to hear them (and grateful for new ideas)! Don't worry, I haven't completely run out of ideas...but I will eventually and I'd like to hear from my readers :)

Keep dancing!


Teaching Your Peers

Whether or not you realize it, you've probably taught someone something before. Maybe your best friend missed a dance class and you're catching her up on the combination (this post isn't really about this kind of teaching), or maybe you're like me and have choreographed for groups of people before (I was unpaid and it was unprofessional. I'll talk about it sometime). Either of these situations will deal with you teaching people who are roughly the same age as you, some of whom may even be in your friend group.

Let me just first get this out of the way: yeah, it's really awkward. And it probably will feel awkward for at least a few sessions. I actually was teaching a few people who were two years older than me, and that was extremely delicate. Just how do you draw the line between friendship and teaching?

It's hard to keep your personal life separate from teaching. I did say in my previous post about taking criticism that it will really help if you leave your personal life at the door, but it's hard when your friends are following you in. How to walk the line? I'll try to help!

Make it clear that you have authority.
Sound like a teacher. Come in with a lesson plan, treat your students like students, don't let them get away with talking behind your back. If you respect them, they'll respect you.

On the other hand, don't get power-hungry.
Unless you've started your own company (doubtful if you're a young dancer like me), you've got a boss. You probably don't have the authority to 'fire' someone, so don't act like you do. Don't treat your students like dirt, treat them the way you would want to be treated.

Whoever you're teaching is in just as awkward of a position as you are.
Think about it. Your students might feel like you're better than they are, and they may resent or hate you for it. Even if you don't act stuck up, they may take it that way. If your teaching starts to come in between you and your peers even outside the classroom, talk to them and make sure they understand that you are only their "teacher" when in the dance studio, not outside of it.

Be professional.
You can't expect your students to treat you like a teacher if you don't act like one. If you don't know what you're doing, of course they won't respect you. Even if you feel uncomfortable, don't show it. Several times I've gotten nervous and felt uncomfortable teaching are the times when I was able to teach the least material. The more I put personal feelings aside, the easier it got to get into "teaching mode." Come in with your lesson plan and stick to it. It's a good idea to set rough time limits for each section of your lesson. But even if you have a ton of material to get through, don't forget a warm up!

Do a warm up!
I taught my class a set warm up so that I could come in and start and my students wouldn't question anything (it became routine for them to just jump in and do it). This became especially handy when I suffered my foot injury because I didn't even have to lead them for them to know exactly what the warm up would be.

Don't pretend like you know everything.
If one of your students catches you unaware with a question (happened to me all the time with choreography clarifications) and you don't have an answer, include your students in the decision. Ask them what's easier for them or what they like better and take the majority decision. Never tell them "do whatever you want" unless improvisation is in the choreography (and even then, give them examples) because they'll come up with something that you didn't anticipate and then you'll have to correct it yet again.

If you came in unprepared or you run out of material, give a water break.
Your students will be just as happy to have a 5 minute break as you will be to have a little time to get yourself together again.

I really hope this all helped! I've been in this position three times before. I choreographed two pieces for my school's annual dance concert (one in my sophomore year of high school, and one in my senior year), and a third for my senior project (also in high school). I'll talk about those experiences sometime, but this is how I learned to deal with teaching my peers, maintaining their respect in the classroom and their friendship in daily life. Feel free to ask questions :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Youtube Warm Ups

One of my friends who dances on and off said that she hasn't been taking classes this summer, but has been looking for a way to stretch and stay in shape, so she asked me for some recommendations on guided stretch videos! I figured this would make a great post, so I'm sharing the information with you guys!

I won't add any of my usual commentary that I make on my "best of the best" posts, but I've separated the videos out into categories. Yoga I put in here because I think it's a great way to stretch on your own. The stretch videos I've chosen show you how to do certain stretches, while warm ups and cool downs are for those of you just looking for some guidance in a routine. There's a little cardio/step work involved that isn't stretching in the warm ups/cool downs.

Yoga: (My advice is to learn the Sun Salutation and just do that. There are other salutations you can learn, but this is the most common and easiest for newcomers to yoga to do.)
Body of Yoga - Sun Salutation A
cpyogacpyoga - Surya Namaskara Classico
SoundsTrueVideos - Shiva Rea Yoga Sun Salutation

Stretching: (I don't really want to promote these kinds of videos. Stretching without warming up first is dangerous, so I'd only use these if you're looking for something specific)
Anaheim Ballet - Instructional Stretching
Team Stealth - Lower Back Stretching Exercises
Team Stealth - Quadricep Stretches

Warm Ups/Cool Downs: (honestly, it's so hard to find good guided warm ups on Youtube. Here are the best I found)
GoddessEma - Sweet Dreams
beYOUtv - Soul Sweat Dance (there's some Sun Salutation/Yoga influence at work here)

But, if you're looking for an easy way to quickly increase flexibility (or just get those splits you've been wanting for years), stretch after your hot shower. This way, you know your muscles are already warmed up so you don't have to waste time warming up and you don't have to worry about hurting yourself. Do a few lunges, overstretches on the door or kitchen counter, and you'll have those splits maybe even in a few weeks!

Note: I did maybe 2 hours of research for this? It's hard to find good videos! I'll post more if anyone is interested/as I find more.

Taking Criticism

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like to be criticized, and I'm not just talking about dance! I tend to take general comments as cutting remarks, and combined with my hot temper, sarcastic tone, and tendency to become defensive and condescending when arguing, it doesn't always end well. What I've learned to do over the years of dancing is how to take criticism on my dancing, and it's helped me take criticism better in general. Well, I'm working on it, and I hope I can help you too.

Don't take it personally. They're just trying to help.
Your teachers aren't out to get you, most of the time. Some teachers are just not nice people, and they will make cutting comments just because they can (I had a teacher who told one of my good friends that she "liked her dancing but didn't like her personality"). I used to cry because of comments that my ballet teacher made in class, but I learned that if I separated my personal life from the classroom, the need to cry stopped. However, 99% of the time, your teacher is making the comment because there was something that could be improved. Even if they're yelling, it's not really you they're yelling at as a person, they're yelling at you as a dancer. On that note...

Leave your personal life at the edge of the dance floor.
When you step into the studio, you're there for class, not to mope about the 10 page paper you have to write tonight or the fight you just had with your boyfriend. I definitely went into class in a bad mood a few times and it made it that much harder to take criticism. If you come in with a positive attitude, forget the world, and just focus on your love of dancing, you'll not only feel better about yourself, but you'll improve as well!

Similarly, leave your dance life on the dance floor.
Don't go home and cry about your ballet teacher not liking your hip alignment in class. It's not worth it. And the more you cry and blame the teacher for hating you, the less you'll look at yourself and improve whatever the teacher was trying to get you to do. 

Teachers criticize you because they care about you.
Why would a teacher waste their breath, their time, and your money to make a comment to you if they didn't care about making you better? If they think you're a lost cause, they won't spend 5 minutes trying to get you to stretch your foot without curling your toes under. They criticize you because they think that whatever they have to say will make you a better dancer, so take their comment as the gift it is and improve yourself. A little girl in the class I used to assist would always cry when the teacher would "yell" at her to correct something, and the teacher was always nice enough to tell her afterwards that she just needed to make corrections when criticism was given. Your teacher may not be as nice, so make sure you try to correct things as soon as you get the criticism in order to avoid further conflict.

I've been hinting at it this whole time, but the teacher said something for a reason - there's something to be improved.
Why else would they say anything, if what you just did was perfect? News flash: no one is ever perfect. I've seen videos of prima ballerinas who complain about their stability or where their hips are. There's always something that can be improved, and the moment that you stop remembering that and start blaming your teacher or being hurt about the comment is the moment that you will stagnate as a dancer. You'll stop improving if you don't realize what there is to be improved.

Keep in mind that if a teacher does comment on you personally, it may not be your fault.
If the teacher tells you to lose weight, to take off your cute pink sweater, or that they don't like your tone when you talk back, okay, that's probably your fault (unless you're not actually overweight). But if the teacher tells you to stop being stupid and do that quadruple pirouette when you're not having a great turning day, that's not your fault. Don't take it personally, you're not stupid. But you may not be trying as hard as you can either.

I hope these tips have helped! Taking criticism is how we dancers survive (boy, am I in the wrong field, huh?), so just try to realize that criticism makes you better and is not designed to hurt you emotionally.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates!

So yeah, my best friend kicked me for missing stuff (if YOU missed my first few lists, here's my Ballet, Contemporary, and Hip Hop best-lists). I have too many videos! I'm a Youtube junkie! So I decided to appease her update with yet another list. From now on, I'll be doing updates every now and then, whenever I gather enough videos to post! If I get a good response, I might do a monthly update, but we'll see! Here's another round of my favorite videos, in no particular order:

EMANON collab. with High Define Koncepts
(Hip Hop) Conceptually great, filmed great, danced great. Nuff said.

Gigi Torres - Like A Boy
(Hip Hop) May not seem like much, but check out the date on the video. One of the first hip hop videos I ever watched and admired. Essence is doing well and for a good cause :) (one of the videos the best friend kicked me for not posting. Heh.)

Just for Kix has a Youtube channel that runs a series of short videos to teach dancers how to do basic steps, tricks, and stretching techniques. No particular style here, but I'd say it's for lyrical, contemporary, and jazz dancers. Be careful when trying to learn without a teacher though - I learned my toe rise here, and look where that got me.

Mark Kanemura - Dance Dimensions "Paper Planes"
I liked this one not because the dancing or choreography is super amazing (I enjoyed it though!), but because Mark (yes, from SYTYCD) makes this sort of funky hip hop/contemporary/jazz combination that works. Definitely for the versatile dancer.

Beyonce - Single Ladies
I already introduced the song on this blog with Dance Precisions' version in my Age-Appropriate Dancing post, but I'd like to say that I really, really respect Beyonce for this video. Did you know she wanted to be a dancer before she started singing? I know, who hasn't seen it/heard the song, right? But it's still one of my favorite music videos of all time! It's so fierce! On that note, here's a cool flash mob video of 100 Single Ladies (front view here).

iluvsepster - YDC Video Improv Contest "I Believe"
This one honestly made me cry the first time I saw it. It also took me over half of the video and yelling from my best friend to realize why she won the "Most Inspirational" award. That's how blind I am good this is.

Travis Wall - Wonderful (SYTYCD solo)
Yeah, I know. MORE Travis Wall. Bear with me. I've never particularly liked SYTYCD solos from anyone (as my dad likes to say, "the show isn't called 'So You Think You Can Choreograph'") unless they're professionally choreographed, but this is what I call a solo. It showcases everything he can do (8 pirouettes? Look at that control.) in 30 seconds and adds in some humor at the end. It's a wonder he didn't win the show...

Pilobolus Dance Company - Shadow Dance
Pretty clever stuff from an awesome company!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pilates & the Theraband

I just took my first ever full Pilates class and I'm feeling sore because I've been dancing without enough strength for a while good. It was really, really good, and I think I'm definitely going to continue for a while.

While many teachers say that yoga is a great thing for dancers, so is Pilates. They both develop strength, balance, tone, breathing, and body awareness. Their focuses are different though - there are many different kinds of yoga, some focusing on spirituality and breathing, while others focus more on the physicality, but in general, yoga is more spiritual while Pilates is straightforward core strengthening. Yoga is as much about training your mind and cleansing your spirit as it is about becoming healthier and stronger physically, while Pilates focuses on the second part.

I like yoga too, so don't get me wrong! But for the dancer who's just looking to strengthen (or maybe someone who can't stomach all the spirituality stuff), Pilates is amazing. My ballet teacher's been telling me to take Pilates for the longest time, and I'm glad I finally took a class today.

So you're probably wondering what I'm doing talking about the amazingness of yoga and Pilates if I've only just had my first Pilates class. Good question. I wanted to encourage dancers of all levels to take yoga or Pilates on the side to help them focus on their bodies more, but mostly I wanted to introduce a workout tool that I used in class today: the Theraband.

Therabands are basically long, thin sheets of latex rubber (or if you're allergic to latex, I've offered a non-latex band below that serves the same purpose). While it doesn't sound like much, I promise that whatever weights, machines, or push ups can do for you, this band can help you do it just as well, and maybe even better. Okay, if you're bench pressing 250, maybe not, but for the rest of us dancers that struggle with the 15 push ups, it's amazing. Here are a few videos to give you an idea of what's possible: Arm Pulls, Mid-Back, Abs. There's so much you can do, and it's portable, cheap, and can work for anyone! I will definitely be taking one to college with me in the fall, plus a yoga mat so I can work out even in my dorm room!

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

You might recognize these three as characters off Rice Crispies cereal boxes and treats. I wish this story was as sweet and fluffy as puffed, sugared rice.

Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Photo Creds

I'm talking about joints. You can name almost any joint on my body, and I can probably crack it. If I can't crack it on command, then I've cracked it accidentally before. If I say "ow," almost all of my friends will know to ask "what cracked now." This includes not only ankles and toes, but "joints in the middle of my foot." I'm not kidding. Look at the picture below, I'm talking about the Metarsocunieform joints.
Photo Credit
By the way, the Calcanecuboid joint is where I was feeling the pain when I slipped my cuboid out of place those few times, like I explained in one of my earliest posts. (As a side note, I swear I've felt bones in my skull crack before, and aren't those supposed to be fused together? Maybe it was my jaw...)

A lot of you can probably identify with this kind of thing, but we all crack for different reasons. Personally, I crack so much not necessarily because of dance (although it probably doesn't help), but because my joints don't have quite enough cartilage and because my ligaments are especially stretchy. I get natural flexibility with my stretchy ligaments (no, I'm actually not crazy flexible and I'm not a contortionist), but it's painful sometimes. You may not crack for my reasons, but the same thing happens to your joints as to mine when we crack-

Why Cracking Happens:
When you move, your joints slip around. This makes tiny pockets in the joints sometimes that fill with nitrogen gas, and when you move in a certain way, the nitrogen bubble in that pocket will slip out and make a "cracking" sound. Generally, my cracks don't hurt much, and that's good. If you're cracking and it doesn't hurt, it's fine, it means nothing bad. However, once your cracks start to hurt and hinder your dancing, you might want to see a doctor or physical therapist. My doctors have never been able to help me much, but I may be seeing the wrong people.

I can't tell you what to do with your cracking joints because I honestly don't know. If you know anything, tell me! I mainly wanted to explain why it happens. Are you the queen of cracking in your studio like I am? :)