Friday, April 15, 2016

5 Friday Faves - Barrework

5 Things I Love at Barre:

1. Demi-plie.
From the very beginning of class, a demi-plie combination in all positions really makes me engage all of my muscles and sets the tone for the class. If I can feel my deep external rotators firing up and turning out my legs from my hips, I will feel more solid and stable in everything that follows. And they just feel good, especially when a simple very open port de bras is added.

2. Very slow tendus.
I prefer to wear socks for the first couple of tendu exercises so I can really work the soles of my feet and articulate my toes. From teaching in dance sneakers, my arches can become very tight and knotted and they tend to cramp a lot so using the floor to massage my foot is extremely helpful. And they just feel good, especially in fifth where I can feel my legs "fit" together from top to bottom.
Me teaching tendu, not in socks

 3. Degage assemble.

As my legs and hips begin to warm up, I really like the feel of degage assemble with fondu. Both feet coming together in fifth position is solid and contained and the fondu action makes me feel lifted. Here I like how the feet and legs "assemble" as one, with the weight transferring from one foot to two. I like making the pelvic adjustment here because it reminds me to use my abdominals which is crucial for center work when we jump off the floor. And yes, they just feel good.

4. Retire balance en releve.
The one thing I have always been able to count on since I was a kid has been balance, particularly on one leg. Finding a center line has never been a problem for me and when I'm asked to releve in any position, I can usually feel confident that I can do it - and confidence in ballet is very important! Ha! Seriously, though, I love how retire fits in the hip socket, how the turned-out leg is flush from thigh to knee and I like fitting my big toe into the notch just above the knee to "lock" it in place - a good feeling! 

5. Developpe a la seconde.
Another thing I can count on is my developpe to the side. This is another one of those natural things for me but note, it wasn't always this way. As I often tell my students, I didn't find this extension until well into my 20s. Until I was an adult I kept using my quads to get my leg up and hold it. Now, I can feel the rotation in both hips as well as the straight line from head to toe through my spine. At barre, I love how it makes me feel taller to extend my leg to the side. Yeah, this feels good too.

Me teaching an adagio at barre

My main takeaway from barre? It feels good. That is why I love it. Yes, there are the practical reasons I wrote about previously, but the fact is, exercises at the barre simply feel good to me. I love warming up my spine and neck and feet and hips.

There is a natural endorphin rush with any exercise but there is also the relief that you are still alive, you still can dance, you still can move, you still can express yourself.

Happy dancing~

Monday, April 11, 2016

New way to sign up for my workshops!

Several students had requested I add a shopping cart to my website in order to sign up for multiple workshops more easily. And now, I have one!

Pirouette workshop 2015

To use it, simply choose a workshop from either of the drop-down menus on my website and click "Add to cart." That will take you to the PayPal page. You can check out then or you can click "continue shopping" which will take you back to my website and you can choose another workshop.

(Hint: if you don't click "continue shopping" but want to add more workshops, leave that PayPal tab open and go back to the website tab. The cart will refresh automatically and you won't need to keep opening and closing it.)

You can add workshops from either location to your cart so if you want to sign up for a workshop at Dance Arts and then another one at Vonder Haar, they will both go into the same cart. You can remove items from your cart before purchase or change quantities if you are purchasing for a friend.

Whoo-hoo! Technology really can make life (or at least workshop shopping!) easier.

Happy dancing~

Friday, April 8, 2016

What is the purpose of barre?

Yesterday during a class I was taking, a student asked a technique question of the teacher. Even though I knew the answer to the question, it was not my class so I kept my mouth shut.

(Note: this is exactly the right thing to do when someone else asks a question. Nothing. Say nothing. Even if you have the answer or think you do, stay quiet and let the teacher answer it. Jumping in with your response only invites others to do the same and soon, all hell has broken loose and the teacher has to get things back on track which is, frankly, a pain.)

Back to the class and the question...

Yes, I teach at this barre.
 Since this was an advanced class, many of us were wondering why this question was asked. Shouldn't advanced dancers understand technique, especially at barre? This led me and another student, a professional ballerina who also teaches, into a discussion about barre and its relationship to the rest of class and to performance. As we talked, we realized the student had asked a question that, regardless of its appropriateness or timing within the class itself, didn't make sense. We concluded that the person who asked it likely didn't understand the purpose of the movement she was asking about as it related to the greater picture.

It's important to understand why we do barre and what purposes it serves for later classwork and performance.

1. There is a sequence to barrework that warms us up, beginning with gentle plie exercises that warm up our hips for proper turnout, followed by slow battements tendus that help us articulate our feet and toes, all the way through core conditioning with grands battements and ankle strengthening with petit battements.

(This sequence is repeated in the center: from small to large, slow to fast, etc.)

So number one, barre is to warm up all our muscles and ligaments to reduce the occurrence of injury.

2. Muscle has memory. While ballet barre may seem repetitious, with arms and heads often held in the same positions all the time and most exercises performed en croix, we are teaching our brains to make connections - and later corrections - automatically, thus freeing us from having to think all the time. We don't need to think how to sousous, we simply do it. We don't think how to do grand rond de jambe. We just do it.

(Similarly, in the center, we often repeat sequences of steps such as tombe pas de bourree or glissade jete so they become part of our body's vocabulary and we don't need to break down each component.)

So number two, barre is to imprint vocabulary on our brains and bodies.

3. Preparation for center. This is, perhaps, the most important purpose of barre: to get us ready to do things unassisted. As I like to tell my students, dance is shifting your weight from side to side, forward and back, up and down. If all we did on a stage was work one leg at a time, the dance would be quite boring. So we use our time at the barre to get ready to change direction quickly, to shift our weight from one foot to another, to align our bodies properly so they don't fall when we don't have anything to hold onto.

For an advanced class, I might focus barre on very fast tendus or degages that have intricate patterns so the dancers are constantly shifting weight, which they can then apply to the quick footwork of petit allegro.

For a beginner class, I might ask them to hold balances en releve in different positions to strengthen their cores, feet and ankles, which will help them when they do an adagio combination or jumps.

Often when I take class for myself, I ask myself what the purpose of a particular movement is and where in the rest of the class can I apply it. Knowing the answer gives me renewed focus on the step so I get the most out of it.

I love barre.
Bottom line: don't just go through the motions at barre, assuming you know what a tendu is or how to execute a rond de jambe. Use it to establish your lines and find and strengthen your center so you can dance with confidence. Take the time to make mind-body connections so you can perform unfettered, so you can free your mind to express itself and explore choreography.

Happy dancing~

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pet peeve: point your feet!

Every once in a while I find myself philosophizing (some might call it "ranting" but I am merely passionately opinionated) with my students. I see something and then I have to say something. Last night with my beginners I had to stop the class after we did a center pirouette combination to talk about pointed feet.

Here's the thing:

You. Must. Point. Your. Toes. Every. Time. They. Leave. The. Floor.

Unless you are taking a modern class or the choreography specifically calls for a flexed or relaxed foot, please always point your toes. Always. ALWAYS. ALWAYS!!!!

Pointing your toes (and of course your toes are an extension of your arched foot and your ankle which must also be engaged and stretched and yes, pointed) accomplishes so many things when you dance:

1. It finishes the line in a tendu or arabesque.

2. It helps spring you off the floor when you're performing allegro.

3. It gives you a point to stab into your knee to hold the retire during pirouette.

4. It guides the audience, aiming their attention where you're traveling.

5. It engages all of your muscles to give the appearance of a longer leg.

6. It shows off the thousands of hours of barre work you've done.

I'm certain there are more reasons to point your toes but remember that a beautifully-pointed foot is the ultimate symbol of a strong dancer. No matter how many turns you do or how high your extension is, pointed toes show that you are a finely-tuned dancer and that you are dancing with your entire body.

Happy dancing~
Photo: Matt Paish (

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Street parking changes at Dance Arts Academy

Dita von Teese parks a car properly
For my LA students, please note the below information when you come to take class with me at Dance Arts Academy. On Tuesday, I got a $68 parking ticket because they changed a street sign overnight. I don't want that to happen to you!

**The blocks on 8th Street and 9th Street between Cochran and Dunsmuir near the school are now permit only after 6PM.  On 9th St, this includes both north and south sides of the street; on 8th St, it is currently only the south side so you can continue to park on the side closest to the school.

Additional street parking that is currently available:
--8th St between Dunsmuir and Burnside on the south side
--8th St between Burnside and Cochran on the north side
--9th St between Burnside and Ridgeley, both north and south sides
--Burnside between Wilshire and 8th on the east side
--Cochran between Wilshire and 8th on both east and west sides

There is metered parking til 8PM north and south of Wilshire and on the blocks west of La Brea.

Also, the lot between Cloverdale and Cochran is available until 9PM for $1/hr.

The lot directly across the street from DAA is convenient but pricier: $2.50/30 minutes although you get an hour free with validation from Lassens.

Finally, there is valet parking for $5, usually on the same block as DAA or on the block south where the restaurant is on the corner.

Bottom line: look at the signs! These free spots may change too.

Hope this helps~