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 dancebrought2u.com

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 balletstrength.com
Happy dancing~

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Step by Step: a new ballet workshop series starts June 18

Beautiful dancers, I'm so excited about a new series of workshops I'll be starting on June 18. Every other week, I'll be holding an hour long workshop devoted to breaking down and learning a couple of steps (for instance, transition steps like glissade or pas de bourree). Which is why I'm calling it:

I'd like to say I'm putting them all in a particular order because of XYZ or because I'm following a syllabus from some famous school but I'm not! I'm simply choosing steps I believe my students, and hopefully others, need to work on in order for them to grow as dancers or to move on to other levels of classes.

The first 10 scheduled workshops are:

6/18     Barre basics: plies, port de bras, tendus
7/2       Small jumps #1: changement, echappe, jete, assemble
7/16     Transitions #1: glissade, pas de bourree, chassee
7/30     Small jumps #2: entrechat quatre, royalle, sissonne
8/13     Transitions #2: balance, waltz, contretemps
8/27     Center adagio: developpes en croix, port de bras, promenade
9/10     Pirouettes: en dedans, fouette
9/24     Big jumps #1: saut de chat, pas de chat
10/8     Traveling turns: pique, chaine, lame duck
10/22   Big jumps #2: tour jete, saut de basque

Because they are every other week, I will have the opportunity to squeeze in additional workshops, should the need arise. For instance, if after the "barre basics" a group of students requests more time or more steps from the barre be broken down, I can offer a workshop the following week. 

Flexibility! After all, we are dancers! That is what we specialize in.

As with all of my workshops, the cost is $16/class. There is a minimum of 5 students and a maximum of 10. If the minimum is not met and the workshop is canceled, I will refund students' money by PayPal.

You can sign up for any of the workshops, regardless of your level, and you do not need to do them in any order (for instance, you can do Small Jumps #2 even if you did not do Small Jumps #1).

Important information!
When: Thursdays, 8-9PM, beginning June 18
Where: Dance Arts Academy, 731 South La Brea Avenue, LA, CA 90036
Cost: $16

To reserve your spot(s), go to www.leighpurtillballet.com and choose any of the dates/workshop titles from the pull-down menu and sign-up through PayPal. You do not need a PayPal account. If you have any questions, please contact me!  Happy dancing, everyone~

Monday, May 18, 2015

From Page to Stage!

It feels like it's been a million years since I wrote the opening lines to my novel, Sweet Sorrow:
The whisper blew a chill across her cheek. It tickled her eyelashes and curled around the delicate pink shell of her ear. The voice of her beloved echoed in her head, calling her name, and despite her best efforts to reach out to him, her body remained stubbornly rigid.

And now it's a ballet and Nancy Evans Dance Theatre will be putting on the first half of it in less than two weeks! I can hardly believe how far it's come and how beautiful it's shaping up to be, even in its more grotesque moments (remember, there are zombies!).

When you write a novel, you have no idea where it will end up: in a bookstore or online, most likely, or just stuck on your hard drive. It's unlikely you think it will be a ballet! Except that's how it all began, with a phrase I used in my ballet class about six years ago. Costumes, lighting, bottles of potions and even a crypt! Who could have guessed when I tossed a short but intense adagio into a Halloween ballet class that it would evolve the way it has?

The most exciting part for me has been to see how excited other people get when they talk about it or hear about it. Dancers have been overwhelmingly positive; friends and family have been extraordinarily supportive; and I've had the luxury of collaborating with Nancy and her dancers, who have shared their gifts with me as I develop the story.

For the next week and a half, I'm not going to plug the show relentlessly nor will I bombard people with emails entreating them to SEE THE SHOW! And DONATE IF YOU CAN! lol...beyond today, of course. 

Here's the link to the crowdfunding campaign. This is the last week of it, just a few more days. If you can donate, that's awesome. If you can share the link, that's awesome too. As you can see we've raised 1/3 of the funds, which is still amazing - and we thank every single person who has donated or shared. You are all fantastic people and I wish/hope that you can also see the show come to fruition!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Searching for Solutions: Parking!

As a teacher I see problems all the time and my natural inclination is to solve them! Whether it's a sickled foot or a lifted hip, I want to help make dancing easier for my students. I want them to do their best.

But I can't help them do their best if they can't get to class!

Ballerina Olga Lepeshinskaya
 Dancers in LA are constantly fighting traffic. If they have to drive a long distance, inevitably they will be sitting in traffic, their hip flexors working constantly and putting extra stress on their backs and Achilles tendons. And don't get me started on anxiety: am I going to be late for plies? Will there be room for me at the barre? Will I get a chance to put on my leotard before I run in?

And this one: Where will I park? Yup. In LA it's all about parking. Where, how long, and how much. Just recently a parking lot that was right next to Dance Arts Academy on La Brea and Wilshire closed so a lot of my students who were used to parking there no longer can. I wish I could magically make all the meters free and the lots open but since I can't, I have the next best thing: options!

If you're a student of mine at Dance Arts Academy and you were used to parking at the bank, here are a few options for you:

*Free street parking after 6PM:
--8th Street and 9th Street west of Cochran
--Cochran between 8th Street & Wilshire
*Metered parking until 8PM, most free after 8PM:
--south and north of Wilshire on Detroit, Cloverdale, and Cochran (as well as other streets farther west)
**Pay lots/structures:
--South Cloverdale between Wilshire and 8th ($1/hr)
--apartment/retail bldg across the street from DAA at La Brea & Wilshire (enter on 8th Street where it says Retail, first 15 mins free, $2.50/30 mins, credit/debit only)

You can park on both La Brea and Wilshire after 7PM (which is handy for a night when we have a workshop at 8PM).
And finally, when in doubt, look online! Here is a link to a website that lists free, metered, and lot parking in the immediate area (scroll down through the bottom list because they range in price):
Another one from LADOT is very handy and easy to use. Also, at the top of the page are links to 3 mobile apps that you can download:


I hope this helps get you to class and maybe lessens the parking anxiety. We are dancers; we are flexible!
Happy dancing~