The older I get, the more aware I am of what kind of food I am putting into my body. And as that awareness has grown, I have become increasingly disappointed at what my dancers are putting into their bodies. As dancers, we need to be extra careful of what we eat, because those foods are fueling our moving. If we don’t have the proper fuel, we can’t dance our best.
While there are many ways of labeling food, there are three types of foods; carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You need all three to keep your body running smoothly. If you were to look at your diet, ideally, 45% – 65% of what you eat should be carbohydrates, 20% – 35% from fats, and 10% – 35% from protein. This breakdown does vary as you get older or with the activity you participate in, but for the average person, these are the proper percentage ranges.
Now that you know how much of each food type you should eat per day, here are some hints as to how to fill those needs. Healthy carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. Try to avoid refined and over processed grains like in white bread, cereal, crackers, and so on. Healthy fats can be found in fish, nuts, olive oil, butter, and avocado. Make sure to limit your “junk food” intake, as these foods are loaded in saturated fats. Healthy proteins include chicken, fish, beans, lentils, quinoa, and nuts. And, make sure to limit the amount of red and fatty meats you eat.
It’s not just the quantity of food you put into your mouth, it’s the quality. We should be striving to have the highest quality food going into our bellies. Most Americans are over eating but not getting enough nutrients. For example, if you were to go out to eat with your family and get a burger, fries, and a shake, that meal would have a filling portion of food. However, it didn’t have many of the nutrients your body needs to function. In contrast, if you were to have a dinner with a spinach salad, fresh berries, and a portion of baked or grilled meat, your body’s hunger would still be satisfied, and would also get many important nutrients.
Remember moderation is key. Yes, it’s ok to indulge in dessert or special treat every now and then. Just make sure that you pay attention to portion size, the carb/protein/fat amount, and to limit yourself to one “junk” item per day.
If you feel like this is an area where you can improve, set a goal today to eat better! If you need help, apps like My Fitness Pal can help you to start evaluating the quality of what you are eating. I promise that in taking care of your body, your body will take care of you back.
We all know that when we stop doing something for an extended period of time, we tend to lose some of the skill or knowledge that we have previously developed. While summer is a great time to relax, it is also important to continue your dance training. But, maybe not in a way that you would expect.
So, allow me to help you determine how to help yourself become a better dancer, without taking an actual dance class. Running helps to build endurance and develop good core to legs connectivity. Swimming and water aerobics can help you by providing resistance during movement for a full body workout. Zumba helps with rhythm, timing, and following and learning movement quickly. Biking will allow your joints to go through low impact while still helping to tone and strengthen the legs. Strength training and lifting weights aids your ability in awareness and how to engage muscles.
Even your technology can help your dancing. Apps like Sworkit, Yoga Free, and FitStar will create customized exercises for you, for free! I like to use these apps a couple times a week, and especially when I am traveling because it doesn’t require any equipment.
I have been hearing some great things from the dancers of our studio on what they are doing for summer conditioning. One dancer reported to me that she has been biking all over town. Another mentioned that she has been taking private lessons to improve her tennis skills. Though these new activities have no literal ties to dance they are helping strengthen important muscles and coordination.
Just a few hints for dancers looking to get on pointe next year. Now is the time to be strengthening those legs, ankles, and feet. Grab your theraband and do a series of pointing and flexing the feet, inward/outward circles, and write your ABC’s with your big toe. When you are standing around your kitchen waiting for dinner to start, practice your eleves. Trust me, your feet will be thanking you when you get in those shoes.
The little things you do can go a long way. Choose an activity from the list above, or think of one on your own that will help you develop a needed skill. Once you have tried the activity, repeat it over and over again to really boost your ability in the dance studio. Now that you’ve read this, get out and get moving!
Dancing in the Summertime
As we all know, summer in Minnesota is a beautiful part of the year. It is finally warm enough to enjoy the great outdoors and activities are plentiful. It truly is a beautiful time. It is also the perfect time of year use free time to hone in on skills that need improving.
We are fortunate that our studio is offering a multitude of classes this summer that can help us to continue to develop our technical and artistic understanding of dance. From the Blitz and Boot camps to Dance Composition, these intensive workshops are specifically designed to provide an impetus to help you improve. I have seen some lovely developments with our dancers in the past year, and to have those advancements be lost through inactivity would be disappointing. I encourage all of the CREO dancers to enroll in as many classes as possible to continue their skill building.
Part of the CREO philosophy states that we are striving to create well rounded dancers. This not only includes dance, we also strive to have students that are well rounded in their personal life through increasing their education, learning new skills, developing their physical capacities, and involvement in community events. I love hearing about our student’s outside involvement and love to cheer them on with other endeavors. It is my hope that this summer our students will take the time to continue their dance education as well as becoming well rounded individuals.
All that being said, this summer I am going to be writing about how to supplement your dance education! I will be giving tips for cross training, hints and what to focus on when you are in workshops, how to find crossovers between other art genres and dance, and so much more. As always, I will also be answering your questions. Last but not least, I want to know how you are implementing art and dance into your summer fun. Send me a picture (at email@example.com) of you doing what you love at summer camp, summer trips, or stay at home summer fun!
It’s performance week! All your hard work and effort will be worth it as you get to step onto that stage and dance your heart out. What an amazing time this is! Since it is a crucial week, I’ve decided to write out some tips for you on how to optimize your performance.
The first is probably my favorite, get some sleep! With late dress rehearsals and end of year testing, sometimes it is hard to think about resting your body. Try to get a full 8 hours of sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep one night, try taking a 20 minute power nap. Remember that your body needs that time to recharge.
Second, watch what you are eating and drinking. A diet of sweets and junk food will just inhibit your ability to perform, so avoid those foods as much as possible. Make sure you are eating a diet filled with colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, etc). Of course, you should also be drinking plenty of water. Avoid energy drinks, coffee, or sugary sodas that will just slow you down. Proper fuel will help you maximize your body’s ability to function on stage.
Third, take time to mentally go through your dance. Take a few minutes to sit down somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and to think through each movement in the dance. Also make sure to think about the emotions behind the movement. Above all, imagine yourself doing the choreography without flaws and with confidence. Mental imagery is a powerful way to enhance your awareness of details, choreography, and performance.
Sore and Tired
“I danced really hard yesterday and my muscles are so sore. Should I go to dance class tonight?”
– Sore N. Tired
I’m happy to hear that you are working hard in your dance classes. That is the best way to improve in your dancing. Keep it up! Now, this next thing I write may seem counter-intuitive; going to dance class tonight will actually help your soreness. It seems strange to think that moving will actually aid you getting rid of the stiffness in your body, but it does! Make sure to tell your teacher that you are sore and make sure to take some time after class to do a long cool down with stretching that targets those sore areas.
Sometimes soreness takes a while to go away, and that is just fine. If you are wanting to give your muscles some extra help, try soaking in a bath with Epsom salt dissolved in it. Or if you are really daring, an ice bath! In addition, gently massaging the sore areas will also help relieve some tension. As always, make sure you are drinking lots of water.
Q: I’m not happy with where I have been placed for next year’s levels. How can I get into the higher level?
I’m sorry to hear that you are not content with where you have been placed. It is a huge disappointment when you are expecting to be in a higher level. I’ve been in your position before, and it can be frustrating. Just remember there is always a way to move up.
The first thing you should do is set up a meeting with your teacher, school principal, and/or studio director. There is a specific reason why you have been placed in a level, and those people will know why. Make sure you come with lots of questions, a notebook, and an open mind.
During that meeting, your teacher will explain why you haven’t moved up to the next level. Listen closely and write down the things you need to work on. Then, either with your teacher or a parent, create some goals that will help you improve upon the specific skills. Through the next few months, periodically speak with your teacher before or after class about your progress. It also may be helpful to sign up for private lessons to specifically work on those goals.
Remember, the little things you do will alter the outcome; don’t get overwhelmed with the big picture. It is ok to be frustrated initially, but make sure you are using that as an impetus to improve. A good attitude and hard work make a big difference. Good luck with your goals, and keep working hard!
30 Second Rule
Q: How can I better prepare for a performance?
– Onstage Diva
When I was performing on a company, the Artistic Director was adamant that we should be fully prepared physically, emotionally, and mentally to go on stage before we performed. We spent hours going through the pieces, spend much time discussing the emotions we needed to portray, and took special care to not overwhelm ourselves on performance days. Through my time collaborating with that Director, I came to realize that all that work didn’t make a difference to my performance unless I was able to take some time before going on stage to review and internalize all of that information.
It was during my time with that same company, that I created the 30 Second Rule for myself. The rule is simple; during 30 seconds before going on stage, I would take some time to slowly inhale and exhale, think through things in the piece I needed to fix, what character or emotion I was portraying, and to go through any movement I needed to. During those mere 30 seconds, I was able to center myself, and physically, emotionally, and mentally prepare for the performance.
I have started teaching this rule to my dancers because I know how much it helped me. However, this is something that can be modified from person to person. You don’t have to use 30 seconds; you can use 10 seconds, 5 minutes, etc. You don’t even have to do the things I did. You can choose to just sit there and breathe, or stretch some tight muscles, or focus on a memory that will help your performance. The thing that matters, is that you are ready to go on stage.
I know that this method has helped me time and time again, and will definitely aid my student’s performance. After all, dancing may seem like it is only physical movement, but it requires much emotional and mental action, as well.
Good luck with your performance!
No Bugs in the Cheesecake
Q: I heard someone say “no bugs in the cheesecake” in class the other day. What does that mean?
– Grossed Out
What started out as a funny fictional story meant to remind my students to finish their sequences the best they can has now turned into a funny saying my students love to quote. The story goes like this, “One night I went out to a nice restaurant. While there I had an array of delicious foods that I thoroughly enjoyed. When I was done with my meal, I still had room for dessert, so I ordered cheesecake. It turned out to be the best cheesecake I’d ever had. But, as I was about to take the last bite, I noticed a big grasshopper sticking out of the cheesecake.”
At this point in the story, most students get a disgusted or sickened look on their face. Why is that? Because the something that was so good, just came to a rather off-putting end. It is the same way with our dancing, whether at an audition, performance, or in class. If you were to do an amazingly beautiful pirouette, only to sloppily land it and casually walk off, it ruins the whole effect of the turn. Another example is at the barre. If a sequence is done articulately well, but then the dancer forgets to finish in the proper ending position, a sour taste is left in the observer’s mouth.
All that said, complete your sequences to the fullest extent possible; end your barre sequences engaged and in the proper position, get all the way off stage before relaxing, or if anything, end with a smile and with confidence. The last impression in the minds of the audience make a big difference in how they recall the entire performance. As silly as it may seem, my “no bugs in the cheesecake” saying may not be so ridiculous.
A Difference of Opinion
Q: What do I do when I get different answers to the same question?
This is a common occurrence in dance. Not because your teachers are giving you incorrect information, but because of the variety of techniques there are in the dance world. Although dance genres may have started in one geographical location, they have since spread out through the world. Along the way, things are added, personal dance philosophies are mixed in, and alterations to traditional techniques are made.
Depending on where your teachers grew up, and the type of training they received, their knowledge of technique and execution of steps can be different. For instance, let’s say that Teacher #1 was trained on the East Coast, while Teacher #2 was trained on the West Coast. Both Teacher #1 and Teacher #2 were taught according to their school’s method of dance. However, since they come from different places, and they didn’t receive the exact same dance education, thus their understanding of dance and certain movements can differ.
In addition, even schools in the same geographical location can vary. For example, when I was growing up, my ballet teachers always had me execute grande plies in fourth position, due to the traditional methods of barre. However, when I was studying at a university, many of my professors would avoid doing grande plies in fourth because of the strain it puts on the knees early in class. Because of that varying training, I have had to decide how I want to teach grande plies in fourth, thus my method on that particular movement is different from many other teachers.
Now, how to deal with this situation. It is smart to listen to all of the information your teachers give you. They are telling you what they believe to be correct, and most of the time it is. As a rule of thumb, unless what you’ve been told is causing pain or injury, do what the teacher tells you to do in their class. It can get confusing, but it will help you make decisions for your personal dance philosophy. It also helps to do some research on your own. The more you know, the easier it is to make an educated decision.
Above all, don’t get frustrated. Your teachers have experienced the same thing during their trainings, like I mentioned above. If you have concerns, talk to them about your confusion. Chances are, they have a very good reason for why they teach a certain way. They are there to help you develop and are willing spend a little time to help you progress. If you are still having trouble after talking, ask your teacher for a private lesson to give you a better understanding of what to do.
Best of luck!
Q: What are some good exercises to do at home that can help with my dancing?
When you start getting serious about your dancing, it is important to do some “homework”. Thankfully, this “homework” doesn’t include textbooks or writing papers. Instead, it is adding on to the daily exercise that you should already be doing.
Since dancers spend much of their time doing anaerobic work because of the stop and go nature of the traditional class, try getting some aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise will help you with your endurance, heart health, and help you maintain good breathing practices while dancing. Whether it be swimming, biking, running, or zumba, find an exercise you like and do it for at least 20 minutes, three times a week.
Strength training is a great way to cross train and focus in on the muscles that you use in dance class. Though using a weight set or machine may come to mind, there are many ways to do strength training. Pilates helps with finding the core, breathing, and connecting with the limbs. Yoga develops flexibility and builds muscle at the same time. Using therabands on feet and ankles (as well as in other exercises in place of weights) creates resistance and develops muscle tone. There are many other methods of strength training, many of which can be found in free videos or tutorials online.
After your exercises, make sure that you take time to cool down and stretch the muscles used during the exercise. If you are going to focus on deep stretching, make sure the body is really warm and is ready to be stretched. Be especially aware of the knees to not over stretch and hyperextend them.
Once done finish the workout by drinking lots of water and getting a snack with some healthy proteins and carbs. Some great and simple snacks can be whole wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt and berries, and hummus and pita/carrot sticks. Just make sure you don’t go straight for the chips or candy.
Enjoy your exercise!
Practicing at Home
Q: I want to practice dancing at home, but I don’t know what to practice! I am also scared that I might mess up and get my body in a rhythm of doing something incorrectly. What should I practice, and how do I make sure I’m doing it right without a mirror?
– Hard Worker
I am happy that you are thinking about doing some out of class practicing. Yes, when you practice out of class you run the risk of not rehearsing the correct way. However, there are ways of ensuring you dance just as well at home as when you are in class at the studio.
It actually all starts in the studio. Through class, try not looking in the mirror, and instead, feel the movement. How does it feel when you are in correct alignment? What does it feel like when you do a certain movement? That ability to sense what is going on in your body may take some time to learn, but it will eventually come. And as a bonus, this will not only help your class work, and out of class practice, it will also help you when it comes time to perform.
Always make sure that you are warmed up and ready to dance before actually beginning anything. Run in place, do jumping jacks, and articulate through all of your joint’s range of motion before you begin dancing. As for what to practice, you can practice anything you would like as long as you have enough space. Think about what you are struggling with in class, feel the movement while at the studio, then repeat at home. Some things that are simple to work on at home include: flexibility, balance, rotation, cardio, and strength building. I will focus another post on specifics for these, later.
In general, unless you have a large area with a wood floor and is free of sharp furniture edges, I don’t suggest practicing turns, leaps, or other big traveling steps. However there are things that you can do at home to help with those movements. To help your turns, try finding your balance, en releve with a foot in retire, and see how long you can hold. Once you can hold for a significant amount of time, you can try balancing on a pile of pillows or some other object that is slightly unsteady. For leaps, lay on your back and practice battement devant with your legs kicking as sharp and strong as you can.
Don’t forget that mental practice is also extremely important. If you are struggling with remembering choreography or being able to execute a step, take some time to think them through. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and articulate the steps in your mind. Repeat as many times as you need. You will find that being able to practice in your mind will get rid of your mistakes, and help define and solidify what it is actually supposed to look and feel like.
Good luck, Hard Worker! With some outside of class practice and some good focusing you will be able to develop your dance technique.
Q: I want to have really nice looking buns, but they never seem to stay in. I have medium length, thin hair and I use a bun holder. Can you help me?
– Wanna (B.A.) Bun Head
Great question, Wanna (B.A) Bun Head! Learning how to do a bun can be frustrating. Trust me, I’ve been there. Just don’t give up; you will get the hang of it. In the meantime, let me give you a few tips:
Just remember that learning how to do your hair for class is just like learning a new skill. It takes time, practice, and sometimes a little frustration. Don’t give up! If you need some one on one help, come see me before of after class and I will be happy to show you what to do.
New Year, New Goals
One thing I love about starting the new year, is the sense of a clean start. I love knowing that I have a fresh starting point from which I can set new goals. I’ll let you in on a little secret, this year, one of my goals is to find a bit of time each class to work one-on-one with each student. Yes, it seems like it will take a lot of effort, but I know it will be worth it. For me, I will gain a better perspective on what my students need, and my students will (hopefully) develop in their technical dancing ability.
Just as I have set my goals, I encourage each of my students to set goals. They are a great motivator and can really aid in developing into a better dancer. If you need a place to start, think about the level requirements for your class. What skills do you need to work on? Once you have that in mind, take a moment and write down how you are going to work on that skill; in class, at home, or both! Then continue to work on that skill until you can check it off.
The amount of effort that you put into achieving something, is greatly reflected in the result you get. Try setting a goal today and see the results you get! Good luck!
Q: What do I need to do to get on pointe?
This is a question that I get asked often. Let it be known that going on pointe is a challenging experience. In order to make sure our dancers are really ready for that, we have made certain requirements. In order to begin pointe training dancers must:
If you are interested in doing pointe, and you are near to or older than 12, talk to your teacher, and let them know that you are interested in doing pointe. Your teacher will then watch you during classes to make sure that you can achieve all the requirements. When you have performed adequately, the teacher will hand you a pointe certificate and other information at the end of class.
Evaluation Time Begins Next Week
Q: What can I expect from this year’s evaluations?
Like last year, this year we are updating our system to evaluate our students. This is not something to be scared of, it is simply a list of requirements that we are setting for each level. This way, specific things will be taught and achieved in each level, resulting in well rounded and well educated students.
This is how it works: from now until the first week of March, our teachers of leveled classes will be watching their students during class, if the student achieves a skill for their level, it will be checked off on their end of year evaluation form. It is meant to be a continuous process, evaluating each student daily for their achievements.
At the end of the year, if all of the requirements are met for the level, the student will be able to move on to the next level. If the student has not achieved all the requirements, they may not be able to move to the next level. However, this is a continuous process. If the requirements seem to hard for a level, we will evaluate what needs to be done in placing students into levels.
Starting next Monday there will be a list of all required skills posted in the CREO front room bulletin board. If you have questions or concerns, see the above email address and send me a note. I will be happy to talk it through with you.
In The Bag
Q: What kind of things do I need to keep in my dance bag?
A dancer’s bag says a lot about him or her. It can show what genre of dance they are practicing. It can display how prepared, or unprepared they may be for the class that day. And, that bag can also contain the “secret weapons” that help them make it through a long class or rehearsal.
As dancers, we need to come to the studio prepared for whatever the class may bring. Though it may differ from genre to genre, there are many items that should be a staple in every dancer’s bag. I have compiled a list of items that I think are essential for dancers to keep in their bag.
From this basic list, it is important to add items that pertain to your genre. Ballerinas can get extra strengthening time in before or after class by keeping a theraband in their bag. If you are dancing en pointe, make sure that you have athletic tape, baby powder, and moleskin. Hip Hop dancers can keep accessories to help them get into the class choreography. And, Modern dancers bring some foot lotion to help relax those tired feet after dancing without shoes.
Overall, no matter what kind of dance you are doing, remember that how prepared you come to class can make or break your day. So, go pack those bags, and get working!
How Can I Show My Director I’m Ready For a Bigger Role?
Q: I have performed in several performances with my dance studio. While I love performing and I love the dancers I work with, I am dying to have a lead part. I just can’t seem to get out of the group dances. What can I do to get the director to see that I can handle a lead?
A: Thanks for your question. You are not alone. Most dancers have aspirations of performing captivating lead roles as soloists. Unfortunately, there are more dancers than there are solos. Therefore, if you want to be a soloist you need to show the director that you can bring something special to the performance.
2. Never, ever complain about your role. Show the director that you are invested in the role. Make he or she think you adore the role.
3. Be willing to learn other dancer’s parts. Productions always need understudies. Ask your director if he or she would be willing to let you come in and learn the soloist roles along with the soloist. Let the director know that you can take more on.
4. Take class. Directors are fully aware of who is growing as a dancer in both technique and performance. They often check who is going to class. Those who are consistent often get better roles.
5. Develop a signature move. Now days, audiences are looking to be wowed by dancer flexibility and virtuosity. Try to develop an impressive multiple pirouette, amazing new leap, or tumbling move. If asked to improvise in performance, class, or audition, use the move to impress the director.
6. Let the director know that you want to have a lead role. Ask him or her what you need to do in order to show him or her that you are right for the part.