Nutcracker 2017 Participation Fee

Nutcracker 2017 Participation Fee

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Javelin your pique!

Yes, that's correct. I just used "javelin" as a verb!

Jessica Ennis, British track & field superstar
One of my biggest pet peeves as a ballet instructor is when students bend their knees as they pique to either a turn or a balance and no amount of my shouting, "Keep your knee straight!" seems to help.

Pique is a difficult concept to grasp. In our daily lives we always bend our knees when we walk or run or climb stairs, and certainly in ballet class, we are admonished to bend our knees during plies at the barre or when we jump in the center. But in order to pique properly, we need to keep our entire leg straight and to engage our hamstrings and quadriceps.

Let's use an example with pique arabesque. Here are the basics:

1. With your right leg in tendu devant (knee straight!), prepare with a fondu on the left leg.
2. Push off the left leg and arrive en releve with the right leg completely straight (toes pointed as the foot hits the floor; don't anticipate the releve by flexing the toes).
3. Pull up on the right side of the body so your torso doesn't pitch forward but remains upright.
4. Point the left foot and send the leg up into a long arabesque.
5. Finish with a failli through first position en releve and bend the right leg as the left leg swings through to tendu derriere croise.

Okay, that's simple enough. Except many, many dancers insist on bending the knee in step 2 and end up "climbing the stairs" to their balance en releve. How can we avoid this?

Let's go back to the javelin. I'm sure all of you can picture how a javelin thrower launches her javelin. She heaves it over her head and it arcs up through the air, landing with one end sticking straight into the ground.

In the example above, your right leg is the javelin and your left leg is Jessica Ennis. Launch your javelin in an arc so it goes up and out before landing in the ground. This will mean you place your toe (the sharp end of the javelin) into the ground a foot or more ahead of the rest of your body.

Think LAUNCH then ARRIVE. You launch your javelin and then the body arrives behind it.

Hope this helps! Happy dancing~

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why wear leotards and tights in class? Because...

...I said so - ha!

Whenever a new student contacts me about my classes, one of the usual questions concerns attire. While most people are familiar with the traditional ballet look (black leotard, pink tights and pink slippers for women; white shirts and black tights/leggings and black slippers for men), they often associate it with pre-professional schools for children and teens, rather than recreational adult classes.

My answer is most likely: wear what is comfortable for you. That could mean a t-shirt and yoga pants, leo and tights, socks instead of slippers. I want new students who are unfamiliar with being in a ballet class to be as unconcerned about their appearance as possible. That inhibits learning.

However, once a student has gotten comfortable with being in a room filled with mirrors - and strangers! - they often want to wear more classical attire. I encourage this, of course, but not for the reason you think.

Most teachers prefer their students wear leotards and tights so they can see their lines. They also want the students to see their alignment, which is harder to do when spines and pelvises are covered in baggy shirts and shorts.

That's true and very necessary, especially with younger students, who don't yet have body awareness and can't feel where their bones and muscles are.

But the reason I want you to wear a leotard is so you can feel how your body moves in the space, a/k/a dancing. Ballet is not just about alignment and poses. Ballet is movement in space; it is 3-dimensional, not 2-dimensional. When you wear a baggy shirt, you can't feel how your torso moves up and forward as you cambre or do a grand circular port de bras. When you're wearing loose shorts, you can't feel how your leg moves through space as you do a developpe ecarte derriere.

Yes, it is tremendously helpful to be able to look in the mirror and see where your leg is, whether your hips are tilted, if your shoulder is lifted. But you need to feel that. You need to feel movement. Baggy clothes or an extra shirt create a barrier between your body and the space around you. Now, no one is suggesting you dance naked (!) but a leotard and tights are the next best thing.

Happy dancing, everyone~

Monday, August 28, 2017

6 weeks til showtime!!

Hello beautiful dancers and friends of dancers and zombie lovers and friends of zombie lovers!

Did you know...
--"Zombie Ballet" won the second episode of the Gong Show this summer?
--We were invited to perform for the second year in a row at the ScareLA horror convention in Los Angeles?
--An hour long production is coming in 6 weeks?

On October 8, at the Lanterman Auditorium in La Canada Flintridge, the Leigh Purtill Ballet Company - the nonprofit company I formed in January - will present the premiere of "Sweet Sorrow, A Zombie Ballet." Shows are at 4PM and 7PM. Tickets are on sale now through Eventbrite; $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
Don't wait! Get your tickets now!

Thank you very kindly for your support!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Always moving UP!

Hello beautiful dancers!

As I've mentioned in the past, lots of people (instructors included) want ballet to be a list of do's and don'ts, always and nevers, and for many things, we can accommodate that. For instance, a battement tendu always stretches to a point, you never sickle your foot, and so on. These are basics we can all agree on.

Depending on the school where you study, however, the foot might wrap in battement frappe or it might flex. The working leg might developpe during the execution of a fondu developpe or it might go through an attitude. New dancers are understandably confused when they take classes with teachers who don't allow for other styles of ballet.

That's why I share the "always" whenever I can. So here's an always:

Begin every action with an UP.

No matter what you do, start with UP.

Plie? Lift up in your torso before you descend.

Tendu? Lift up in your core and standing leg before you release the gesture leg.

Jumping? Turning? That's right - lift your center, take a breath - feel the up before you go down.

But why? you ask. Why wouldn't I concentrate on down if I'm about to move across the floor?

Many reasons, but the simplest is this: by lifting up, you engage your upper body and core muscles which makes you lighter and propels you across the floor faster and more smoothly. For a pirouette, focusing on the down means you're already falling out of the turn; by thinking UP, by breathing, by lifting, you're giving yourself a head start on staying up en releve. And we all know (or we can guess) what happens when dancers en pointe don't engage their core muscles: their ankles and feet do all the work.

When you watch a dancer with lovely port de bras, take a look at what she or he is doing with their arms. More likely than not, they are lifting up first with a breath under their arms (space for their pamplemousses!) before they start to move.

Next time you're in class, try to begin everything you do with the UP. You'll find that exercises are a lot easier and that you feel lighter throughout the class. I think you'll also discover you have more height in your jumps, more expression in your epaulement, and an easier time with turns.

Happy dancing - UP!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Massage therapy: luxury or necessity?

The smart dancer knows the answer to that question. No doubt, massage is a necessity.

Soothe sore muscles? Check.

Break up scar tissue from recurring injuries? Check.

Increase blood flow? Check.

Dancers! You need this!

Regular bodywork is like maintenance on your house. Keep up with the weeds before they ruin the foundation.

As dancers, we learn to live with pain and discomfort. We often adjust our gait or compromise our alignment in order to accommodate both. It's not until a real injury sidelines us that we realize, "oh hey, I've been hitching my hip to the side for months!"

As teachers, we frequently demonstrate exercises only on one side or repeatedly or exaggeratedly or - I'm guilty of this - to be silly. Consequently, we are off-kilter much of the time but don't know it!

As humans, we carry stress in our shoulders and lower back. We strain our necks at computer screens and our wrists and forearms on our phones and tablets. We sit in traffic for hours every week. We walk in heels on concrete. We don't bend our knees when we lift our cat or our kids. Oh my gosh, we're a mess!

The answer: regular massage.

Never neglect the feet!

Aside from the very practical benefits of massage therapy, there are innumerable intangibles like mental relaxation and a healing touch. In addition, you'll often find skilled therapists who practice other types of body work such as cranialsacral therapy and Reiki, among other services. You may find them in medical offices with doctors who understand the benefits of noninvasive therapy, especially chiropractors and physical therapists.

So now you are kind of nodding your head in agreement that maybe massage could be incorporated into your life but you're wondering how you find someone. The number one way is by referral. A good friend or a doctor can recommend someone to you that you can trust. Just because there's a storefront down the street next to your local Pinkberry that's running a never-ending $40 special doesn't mean it's going to give you what you need. Experiment with the different types of massage (e.g. Swedish, sports, etc.) until you find the style and the person who can give you the most benefit.

As for frequency, well, you are your own best guide. Some people keep standing monthly appointments, some go a couple of times a year. Whatever works for you and your schedule (and yes, your budget), just try to be consistent. You wouldn't put off getting that oil change for five years, would you? Of course not! But you don't always have to follow the manufacturer's guidelines, if you know what I mean.

I recently had a very wonderful massage with a woman in La Canada named Julia Suh. Not only is she a tremendously intuitive therapist, she is also a yoga teacher so her approach to massage, as I felt it, was movement-based. It felt like she was moving with my muscles as I would dance. Additionally, she offers healing cranialsacral therapy which, for me, resulted in one of the most relaxed states I have ever felt. I link her on my sidebar for students who are interested in contacting her.
Julia Suh, massage & cranialsacral therapist
Happy dancing! Happy healing~