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~

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Teacher Awareness Syndrome

It's estimated 8 out of every 10 students suffer in silence.* 

It's not new. It's been around for years but it's just now getting the recognition it needs to be addressed.**

It's called Teacher Awareness Syndrome and it may have affected you when you were younger and you didn't even realize it. I will confess to being affected even now - occasionally, and not often, but yes it even happens to teachers and experienced dancers.

Not sure if you have it? Let's look at the symptoms:

1. Sudden inability to do even a demi-plie in first position at the barre when the teacher walks past you.

2. Perfect petit allegro dissolves into bumbling shuffles when called upon to demonstrate.

3. Leg and arm coordination evaporate when the teacher stops to ask your name or how you're doing.

Look, it happens to all of us, or at least most of us. You're doing perfectly fine. You've memorized the tendu combination and then the teacher swings by and you immediately forget all of it, resulting in the teacher thinking you either weren't paying attention or don't belong in the class.

The lucky few who shine when a teacher walks past are the innate performers. They are the ones who love the spotlight and standing in front of the room. They want to be the leaders of the first group across the floor. They want to be the ones the teacher holds up as examples for others.  

Those students are not the norm. Seriously, after years of teaching, I can tell you that even the best dancers falter under the scrutiny of a teacher. You can't help it: you want to do well. You want the teacher to notice you and give you feedback. It's helpful when it's corrective but it's also nice to get a comment like, "Nice job!"

My advice? 

Students: Relax. The teacher knows you're (probably) not screwing up her choreography on purpose. She knows that when you feel her eyes on you, you get nervous. If she pauses to watch you at the barre, just keep doing the exercise and don't engage in eye contact. If she calls to you during the center, let the comment wash over you and take it in after the exercise is over. It takes practice to do this but you'll get it.

Teachers: One method I use is to glance into the mirror when I'm watching a group, especially during adagio when people often falter. This lets me see everyone and scrutinize them but they don't feel my eyes on them individually.

Happy dancing~
* Estimated by yours truly
** Recognized pretty much just by me

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pirouette technique tip: using the floor

While watching my students turn the other day, I kept seeing one bad habit being repeated: dancers hopping up to releve or hopping around in their turns. This tells me they are not properly connected to the floor.

No matter which position you start your turn from - a long lunge, a demi-plie in fourth, fifth, or second, etc. - you need to quickly find your turning axis. This is like a long pole going through the top of your head all the way to the floor through your foot. It must be straight up and down or else you will not do more than one single decent pirouette.
Photo courtesy

Some students interpret "quickly" as "hastily" and they forget that pirouette is all about balance. Some hints for better body-floor connection:

1. Think of your foot pushing the floor away, especially if you are working in flat slippers rather than pointe.

2. Try to maintain contact with the floor at all times; do not hop or jump up to your releve.

3. Pull up both your quads and hamstrings on the support leg as if you were pulling up your tights.

4. Engage the derriere muscles of your support leg as you releve.

5. Imagine a pole going from the top of your head through your spine and into your toes. This is the position of your body you are trying to maintain during the turn.

Photo courtesy
Happy dancing~