Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stay Motivated to Dance

One of the hardest things when you start dancing more and more is to stay motivated. You'll start getting up in the mornings and finding yourself dreading ballet as much as you used to dread math. You might be more irritable and easily frustrated in class, or you might not try as hard as you used to. You start to lose your enthusiasm. You lose sight of why you started dancing in the first place.

How do we prevent loss of motivation and eventual burnout? I've never been at rock bottom of a burnout, but here are some things I do to keep myself excited and stimulated for my future:

Watch dance, as much as you can, whatever you can, whenever you can
Go to the ballet, go see a local company's performance, check out free shows in your area online, go see university shows, support local school and studio shows. If you can't get there in person, go to the library, rent from Netflix, borrow, or buy DVDs of performances. Be like me and stalk Youtube. Keep learning, even when you're watching, keep growing. Sometimes you can learn more or be more inspired from watching than from doing the same old thing.

Have other hobbies
This is a big one, because no one can eat, sleep, and breathe for only one thing in life. Even if it's just to listen to music on your iPod between classes or to read a magazine or watch mindless TV (guilty pleasures!). One word of caution: when choosing how to spend your down time, keep dance in mind. Don't go and climb a mountain (unless you're super-experienced) or bake cookies (unless you intend to give most of them away or you have more willpower than I do) - you might hurt yourself more than you would have in class!

Dance by yourself in your room or go out and dance socially with friends that you remember that dance isn't just a profession, it's also a way to have fun and de-stress! I love to put on music after my shower, hang upside down to dry my hair (stretching!), spend a little time stretching, and then have a little personal dance party. If you're cooler than me, maybe you can go out dancing...just don't kill yourself in your cute sky-high heels.

Do relaxing yoga or get a massage
Treat yourself sometimes. Detoxify your body and mind in a way that keeps your body lubricated but relaxed. If you're lucky enough to have friends that can do massages, offer to give them a massage if they'll reciprocate.

Read dance literature
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of our own dancing. We forget to broaden our horizons. Learning about what other dancers do and other companies will keep dance a fresh topic for you, as opposed to a stagnant, narrow subject. There's always new things happening in the world of dance - Dance Magazine is a great resource, or you can look at their website. From there, you can read dance criticism, borrow dance anatomy/history/whatever you want books from the library, read reviews of dance from newspapers or blogs.

When you're feeling down, blue, or depressed, dance it out
Or stretch, or do jumping jacks, or something movement-related to get your blood pumping. One of the reasons you likely dance (most dancers will agree) is that moving feels good to you. So, if your body feels good, your mind can't be far behind. Have you ever noticed that you'll go to class in a bad mood and feel better by the end, or maybe you haven't even thought about what was stressing you before? Moving and dancing will get adrenaline and endorphins flowing, which means that your body is chemically cheering itself up, and your brain will react to that! Also, if you start to dance when you're sad/depressed and you keep feeling better after, your mind will start to associate dance with feeling good, and dance class (technique even) will seem less of a burden.

Make an inspiration board or find beautiful dance pictures
I started collecting pictures and quotes of dance that I loved this summer. When I'm feeling a little lost in my dancing, I look at those pictures or read some of those quotes, and I feel so empowered that sometimes I start crying. I'm not telling you to look at pictures and sob your heart out, I'm just saying that that's the power dance has over me. I always feel better when I think about dance from a fresh perspective, maybe your favorite images and sayings will empower you too!

Remember what got you into dance in the first place
Why are you still dancing? When people ask me why I dance, I say that dance is my freedom. That's a personal opinion, you can love so many things about dance that will make it worthwhile for you: you can love performing in front of an audience, how it makes you feel, or maybe you enjoy taking on different characters and impersonating them. Make a physical list of why you love to dance and stick it to your ceiling so you can read it every night before you go to bed and every morning when you wake up. Ask yourself why every day, because once you start to consistently answer with an "I don't know", it may be time to change or tweak your career path.

Remember that it was your choice, and you can change your mind
If all else fails, dance was your choice and it's rarely, if ever, too late to change your mind. You can change majors or go back to school (or night/online school). If you're still in high school, think long and hard about why you want to go into dance. Even in college, you can double major (make sure the school you go to supports this - if it's a BFA program, it's unlikely) or minor (again, check with the school). And remember that being a dance major in college doesn't mean you have to dance professionally - from there you can move on to Laban studies, physical therapy, Pilates/Yoga certification, massage, sports/dance medicine, technical theater, photography and filming dance, costuming, designing, criticism/writing, and just about anything else you can think of. Dance has its fingers in many fields, you can do other things and love dance just as much.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 5

For once, I have nothing special to say in this blurb. Go watch awesome videos!

Keone Madrid - Crank It Up
This is cool, bada**, krump-inspired hip hop. And it's...great.

GRV - W.O.D. First Place Choreo Upper Division (Pomona, CA)
Okay, World of Dance is amazing. We've got some awesome choreography and planning going on here...and just look at that mass of people! Personally, I loved "Get Outta Your Mind" the most, but the whole piece is completely mind blowing.

Kaba Modern - Body Rock 2010
This is a good, solid performance. It starts off not particularly exciting or energetically...but if you want to see something really awesome, start at 2:35 and just watch that section. It's the best part and totally why the video made this list.

Piece of Sky
I featured this video in one of my last posts, but I really had to put it on this list too! This girl is talented, gorgeous, and mature for her age, yet maintains a youth and "wide-eyed" sense of innocence that is absolutely astounding and perfect for this piece/song. The song does get a little theatrical and "big" at the end, and the choreography starts to wander a little, but I still believe this is one of the stronger performances I've ever seen by such a young girl.

Stacey Tookey performed by Kendall - "Come Home" Stacey Tookey Choreography WCDE
Competitions/conventions like West Coast Dance Explosion make me feel conflicted: on one hand, regular dancers get to experience and learn from famous choreographers, which is great, but on the other hand, they're crowded, held in horrible venues for learning dance (carpet over cement anyone?!), and I believe that they promote younger dancers to be pushed too hard. On that last note, I think Kendall (the dancer in this video) does this piece beautifully, and the choreography is one of Stacey's better, in my opinion. In fact, I feel like she does it better than I could. Is that sad?

Vaganova Ballet Academy 7th Grade Center Adagio 2
If someone told me I even had hopes of looking like this and doing this at some point in my life, I would cry from utter joy.

Flash Mob: The Joffrey Gets "Real Simple" Full Version
Ever seen a flash mob do fan kicks? I thought not. Also, some of you may know that the Joffrey is a ballet prepare to be astounded by their choreography!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pet Peeve: The Dancer Must Match the Emotional Demand!

Remember when I made a post called Pet Peeve: The Dance Has to Match the Music back in August? Since then, I've come across another piece that plays with my mind a bit...(believe me, there are more out there, this is only one example):

DC Dance Factory - Someone Like You 
This is only a clip of the full piece, but even from this 46 second glimpse, you can tell that the style is off. "Someone Like You" is an incredibly emotional and stirring piece of music, but this dance is When she's not being seductive, the movements look haphazardly thrown together.

But it's not just the fact that the choreography didn't match the music that bothered me. It stroked another pet peeve of mine very harshly: emotional content. I love emotionally charged music. I love it when the singer/vocalist's words feel like daggers thrust into my chest (yes, I'm apparently a masochist). I am a firm believer that showing/communicating emotion is the single most important element in a dancer's skill set. So it must come to no surprise, when I see a dancer not connect with a piece emotionally, that I'm dying inside.

Some dancers are just not emotional, and that's okay. There's styles of dancing that require little to no emotional output and/or investment from the dancer (The Radio City Rockettes are a great example of a group where dancers do not show emotion). However, if you're going to choose an emotionally charged song like "Someone Like You", please show emotional investment! As a note to teachers and choreographers: if you feel that the dancer is not up to the emotional demands of a particular song, please do not choose an emotional piece for him or her! I feel this is really common sense: play up your strengths, don't show your weaknesses if you can. Exposing emotion is not something everyone can do, in fact, most people probably do not "put themselves out there" very well or feel uncomfortable doing so.

Here's another one: CA Dance Company - Hallelujah. The dancing is fine, maybe a little disconnected and fragmented, but it's alright, it has potential. The face? The emotional investment? Blank. Zero. Okay, she's young, but maybe she should have gone with a different, more age-appropriate song. "Hallelujah" is one of the most classic dance songs out there, it's been done over and over, and many times in exactly this manner. If you're going to do it again, give a little of yourself.

On the other hand, the dancer in Piece of Sky (same competition I think) took on a great character! She's of a similar age to the two girls in the videos above, but she's emotionally invested! Can you tell the difference?

Why do you dance if you won't put a little of yourself out there and make yourself seen? Show the world something it's never seen before, take a chance. Give them a reason to watch you. Be unique, be you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Dance Moms"

No, I'm not talking about real mothers of dancers, I mean the new TV show, Dance Moms. Just from the title and what little I've heard of it, I'm a little scared to watch it. It goes right along with a theme I've discussed many times before on this blog: the controversy of competitive dance, especially for young girls. The show follows one of such competition studios and the training, blood, sweat, tears (and moms) that make it all happen. Do I really want to know what goes on behind the scenes of a competition studio? I'm not sure...

On the other hand, I want to do a little shameless promotion. For those of you who might watch the show, do you remember seeing Maddie's solo "Disappear"? I'm so lucky to be friends with the singer/songwriter Christina Li, so if you liked the song, please check her out on her Youtube channel, her Facebook page, or her website for a free download, and look at her other songs as well!

Update: Her album "Songs of Innocence" and the single "Disappear" are both now available on iTunes!

Have any of you seen the show? Do any of you watch it religiously? What do you think? Maybe you can help me decide whether or not I should start watching...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Makes Dancers Good: Work Ethic

In this series, I'll be discussing different aspects of dance that I think "good" dancers have or do. Please note that these are my opinions and I am in no way trying to force my ideas on you, and that I'm not an expert, so I'm just sharing my thoughts as another dancer who's noticed things. See my first four posts on "Soft Power" , Breathing, Relaxing, and Tension. Thanks!

There's a lot of elements that must combine into one person in order to make a dancer, and even more to make a professional dancer. You need power, strength, fluidity, control, extension, balance, musicality, athleticism (endurance/cardio), artistry...etc etc. But you can have all these things and never get hired. Why? Attitude. Work ethic.

Think about how you judge people. Admit it, you do: we all judge. You can sometimes tell just from looking at a person (observing their mannerisms, hearing the way they speak, seeing the way they move, etc) whether you want to be friends with them or not, right? That's your initial impression of a person.

Now think about auditioning. You're going in to get a job, so you're looking to give a good first impression. These people who may eventually hire you don't know who you are, they don't know how good of a person you are. But what they do know just from looking at how you audition is how hard you work.

Work. Hard. My teacher always says in class never, ever mark. While you don't have to be going full out all the time (who has the energy?), don't ever look lazy or inattentive whether you're in class, rehearsal, or an audition. You want to catch the teacher's eye so you'll receive criticism/compliments and improve, you want to get put in the front row of the formation, you want that job, and you want it badly. That's why you're a dancer, right? If you work your butt off, you might get that job over the girl next to you who has her leg by her ear who's wearing that sexy little salsa number. No offense to the girl next to you, of course, but if you work hard, people will notice, and people will want to work with you. You show that you'll work harder and care more than any person in the room, you'll book that gig.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 4

Yet more Youtube videos. They're great, again. You know me, there's a multitude of hip hop videos, some from the same choreographers and crews that I keep featuring...but I've also introduced a style of dance that I've never talked about!

Quest Crew - Mobile Routine
I know, Quest again. This is different for them though. Some parts actually remind me of I.aM.mE. You'll see the part I mean. Also, who can resist some Disney? Something else amazing, but not quite dance related - Ryan's Amazing Headspin Strike.

Tan Nguyen - I'm Good I'm Gone
This is really, really interesting. Somehow, the way it's choreographed reminds me of a contemporary-ish jazz...and yet it's hip hop. It's great, check it out.

Kindergarten Krump
These kids have more swag at 5 than I could ever dream of at 17. Sad? Maybe. But they're awesome.

Academy of Swag - Chair Routine at Hip Hop International 2011
This is crazy awesome. No music: just chairs, dancers, and hip hop the way it's taught. You just been swagged.

Instant Noodles (of ABDC) - Hip Hop International 2011: In the Lab
This isn't the world's greatest routine, and it is on this list for one reason. The entire video is really interesting, don't get me wrong, I like it! But start at around 4:00 and watch for about 10 seconds. That is why it's here. You'll see what I mean. It's the small things that blow your mind.

Laurie Ellington and Brandon Gonzalez - Not Until Now - A Film of Contact Improvisation
The term "contact improvisation" is sometimes loosely used to describe unchoreographed dancing where two dancers are always "in contact" or touching one another. What many people don't know is that real contact improv involves these elements with a third element of shared weight. This is a great exploration in contact improv, but there's also real emotion here. The description says that the dancers are going through a struggle, but I feel like they're really very connected. Of course there are unideal transitions, but that will always happen in improv. It's beautiful. (This is also my "well filmed" video of the week)

Martin Keogh and Neige Christenson - the play of weight
Continuing on the topic of contact improvisation, this is quite mind blowing at times. I so admire contact improv when it's in its pure, true form like this - 95% of the time, there is weight being shared, there are spaces being explored, the movement is fluid and nonstop. The movement isn't always beautiful or graceful, but it's innovative and so endlessly creative that that in itself is something beautiful and very special.

Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Update: What's in my dance bag?

Since coming to college, my dance bag has changed. I no longer drive to dance and lug my 500 pound dance bag a total of about 200 feet. Now, I have to carry my bag about a mile each way to the dance building. (You can cross reference what I'm talking about to see what stayed and what went by looking at my first What's in my dance bag? post.) So what's changed? First of all, I've switched to one of these as my dance bag:

Photo Credit

After the first day of lugging my other bag to class (I even took half of the stuff out!), I realized it wasn't going to work. Now, I have to keep a few essentials with me in the small front pocket and leave the bigger pocket for bigger things and things that I take out and replace every day. What's in it?

In the front pocket:
  •  bun hair supplies for ballet (hair net, bobby pins, hairbands)
  • theraband
  • tennis ball
  • inhaler
  • paper tape
  • tissues
  • band aids
  • foot tape
  • cotton
  • Ziploc baggie of almonds (emergency snack!
  • deodoran
In the main pocket:
  • towel
  • rotating dance shoes (I only take the shoes I need...don't leave them in there all the time anymore)
  • lunch (sandwich box with bread, cheese, turkey, and lettuce separated out. Juice box and string cheese, maybe an orange)
  • water bottle (I use this one from Brita that lets me drink any water wherever I go because of a nifty built in charcoal filter)
  • change clothes (if I'm going straight to class after)
  • books/binder/notebook (depending on if I have class)
  • purse (small bag with my student ID, keys, wallet, phone, hairties, and another emergency snack)
What I wear to walk to class:
  • bottom layer: dance clothes (cami and shorts or leotard and tights, depending on the classes)
  • top layer: jacket/cover up, long shorts/short sweats, socks
  • sneakers
  • stud earrings (love my jewelry)