Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Improving your arch - actively!

100% True story: when I was in college, a fellow dancer who wanted a better arch used to place weights on the tops of her feet at night while she was studying and let them pull her toes forward and down to the floor, stretching the muscles and ligaments in the hopes of creating a more pronounced lateral arch (i.e. the side view of the foot in which the top rises like a mountain, what people in the ballet world call "a good foot").

We scoffed at her. How on earth could that passive stretch do anything to her arch, which was primarily due to bone structure? If anything, allowing weight to pull your foot would simply result in overstretched ligaments which - PAY ATTENTION HERE - do not snap back once they are overstretched.

Let me say that again: Overstretched ligaments do not return from whence they came. Unlike muscles, they do not have the same amount of give. DO NOT passively stretch your foot like this - e.g. using an arch stretcher. DO NOT. Bad dancer, bad, bad dancer.

It worked. I can't recall how long it took her but one day we noticed, "Hey, she's got good feet." She never had them before. At the time we all attributed the change to her nightly regimen. Fortunately we were all smart enough not to attempt to replicate her success. Today she probably has really weak ankles and wobbles in her releve.

HOWEVER - thinking back on it now, and with my years of experience as a teacher, I doubt the veracity of this. Instead I think she probably just learned how to get up on her releve and to use the floor and point her feet properly.

Some people have naturally beautiful arches and that's great. Some don't and that's great too. How feet work is far more important (as an adult or recreational dancer) than how they look. As a teacher, I show people how to get the most from their feet, how to work the floor and pull up, how to keep the bones in line and use the right muscles to lift, and so on.

But there's nothing wrong with wanting to improve your arch. And in doing so, increase your strength and range of motion.

In this post on her blog, The Healthy Dancer, Diana Harris writes about the best exercises for dancers to increase their arch. I think they are all terrific suggestions and I highly recommend students who want to improve their arches take a look for themselves and try to incorporate one or two on a regular basis. Thank you, Diana, for letting me include your post! (You can also click the caption below the photo to get to the article)

From The Healthy Dancer, "Exercises to Improve the Arch of Your Foot"
Happy dancing~

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Heat or Ice?

Let me preface this post by saying "I am not a doctor." I don't pretend to know medicine in any way, shape or form. I can ONLY speak from personal experience and/or anecdotally. I read a lot. I study a lot. But whatever I say cannot and should not be construed as medical advice.

That being said, I want to talk about heat and ice.

Maisie Williams dancing (photo courtesy Geekmundo.net)

"A Dance of Fire and Ice," my homage to Game of Thrones' writer, George RR Martin

If you are a dancer, heat and ice are your best friends. They are the cheapest and easiest and most organic forms of pain control. I'm a big fan of Advil and use it as necessary but my go-to will always be heat and ice.

Generally speaking, ice is used immediately after an acute injury or activity while heat is used before activity and 24 hours after an acute injury. There are times when you can use either heat or ice, depending upon which is preferable to you and those times are with "itises" - tendonitis, arthritis, etc. - or with pinched nerves.

Some examples:

--You twist your ankle coming down from a jump. You use ice immediately.
--You sleep "funny" and wake up with a stiff neck in the morning. Get out the heating pad.
--Your ankle is crunchy and range of motion is limited due to Achilles tendonitis. Use what feels good, typically heat before activity and ice after.

Other non-medical treatments I like for pain control and anti-inflammation:

1. Arnica in gel or cream form (some also take this orally which works like Advil) after an injury to control bruising and inflammation
2. Ben-Gay and other menthol-based analgesic creams before exercise
3. Capsaicin patches that have an adhesive backing and can be trimmed to fit the area needed, before exercise
4. Instant cold packs for after an injury, can be used as an emergency ice pack because they are "chemical" ice

Put the above 4 items in your dance bag and you'll be ready for anything! (Temporarily, of course, until you can get yourself to a doctor!)

Happy dancing~

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Never run back the way you came" - and other absolutes in ballet class

Oh the many things students do in class that make me chuckle or wince.

1. Never run back at the group coming behind you. They will kick you or get mad at you or, at the very least, get confused. If you finish the combination - or you forget it - just keep moving forward or downstage.

2. Always start and end your jumps with demi-plie. I cringe whenever I see students finish a jump with a straight knee. Ouch!

3. Similarly, always start and end your pirouettes with demi-plie. You must use one to get momentum going and end with one to finish smoothly, not like a mannequin.

4. Never bend your knee before you pique. That's a big fat N-O. Instead bend the knee of the leg you're pushing off.

5. Never do rond de jambe en l'air with your hand while you're doing it with your leg. I see this sometimes and it makes me laugh (although, honestly, I do it sometimes when I teach!).

6. Never look down at the ground, especially before a turn or a jump. If you must see the floor for whatever reason, just cast a quick glance down, don't actually drop your head. It changes your alignment on a turn and works against you for height in a jump.

Any others you can think of? Happy dancing!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A trip and a tip!

Wish you were here? So do I!
Ah beautiful dancers, it's the summer time which means fun and sun and vacations. I wish I could say I was a world traveler, a globe-trotting gadabout who loved to see the sights but alas, I am a homebody and a studio-body. I like nothing better than to watch Netflix with my husband and dog and to teach class.

But it's nice to get away too so this summer that's exactly what I'm doing. From Monday, July 20-Saturday, July 25, my classes at both Dance Arts Academy and Vonder Haar Center for the Performing Arts will be canceled.

On Monday, July 27, I will be back in the studio at VHC to teach as usual and on Thursday, July 30 I will hold my Small Jumps #2 workshop from 8-9PM at DAA. Each workshop has sold out so be sure to get your spot while you can.

I leave you with a tip! This is expanding on the "Open Your Eyes" post of last week.

Imagine you have eyes on your chest. 

I'm not being rude! I mean the top of your torso at your collarbones, directly under chin. Right where my hands are in this photo:
Picture eyes where my hands are and that will help lift you

Often when we dance in class, we close ourselves off from the rest of the room by subtly dipping our chin to our chests and making ourselves smaller. Even when doing a series of traveling turns across the floor, we pull back.

If you can imagine eyes on your chest, "seeing" where you are going, you will lift up and out instead of collapsing. This will help you stay upright during pirouettes and help you avoid sinking during slow movement like adagio.  Try it!

Happy dancing~

Monday, July 6, 2015

Open your eyes!

Abre los ojos!

It's one of my favorite Penelope Cruz movies and also one of my favorite corrections for students.

My dog Peaches shows how to open your eyes
Open your eyes!

Many times we dance in a box and we don't realize it. We keep our movements close to our bodies rather than stretching beyond. Whether it's an adagio or an allegro, we need to dance outwardly, dance bigger for our audience to see, even if it's just the teacher watching.

We start by opening our eyes and seeing something.

Adagio: Look beyond your reflection in the mirror; Look behind it to the back wall or imagine your audience up in the balcony.

Pirouettes: Lift your gaze slightly higher than you think so you rise up to meet it when you go en releve.

Big jumps: Keep your chin up on tour jetes and grands sauts; gaze out past your stretched arms or the direction you're traveling to.

I tease my female students that I can see they're wearing blue eye shadow because they're keeping their eyes shaded or lowered. The joke is that of course they're not wearing blue eye shadow (this isn't the 80s!) but their eyes are only half-open or they are looking down.

Simply by lifting our chins and opening our eyes, we are lifting our chests and not collapsing inward. That will help suspend us and lengthen our spines which will make it easier to turn and allow us to have more ballon on jumps.

Happy dancing~