Thursday, May 23, 2019

Holiday weekend classes & Fun teaser video!

Beautiful dancers in the LA area!

YES, there are classes AS USUAL over this Memorial Day weekend! Come take ballet with me!

Inspire Dance Studio
457 Foothill Blvd
La Canada CA 91011

Saturday, May 25: 
Beginner - 9AM
Intermediate - 10:10AM
Pointe - 11:35AM

Monday, May 27:
Intermediate - 6:30PM
Beginner - 8PM

Just for fun, here is a teaser video for my new ballet, Hotel at the End of the Universe, which will premiere on Saturday, June 29 at the Colony Theatre Company in Burbank, CA. If you're in the area (or plan to be!) I hope you'll see the show. Right now we have a discount on tickets! Until June 1, you can get 2 for $42 - a great savings over the regular price of $30/ticket. Visit Eventbrite to order yours!

Special thanks to Raul Paredes (@rawlofthedead) who shot and edited this awesome teaser!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Web of muscles OR: Why we wear slippers instead of socks

Under your foot is a web of muscles we call, collectively, the intrinsic muscles. They do so much work for us!
By Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body
There is both dorsal flexion and plantar flexion of the foot (top and bottom, respectively). The easy way to remember which is which is to think we "plant" our foot on the ground and that is the plantar side of the foot.

We definitely need both types of flexion to do ballet but when it comes to releve, pointe work and just basically pointing our feet, we rely on the muscles on the bottom of the feet and toes. The problem with this is that we tend to think of them as one muscle when they are in fact, dozens (almost a hundred!). The result of this is that we grip the bottoms of our feet and toes when we dance rather than activate and lengthen them.

One way to do that is to wear slippers with soles rather than socks.

"But I can articulate all the muscles of my feet and my toes when I wear socks!" you say. "Plus they're so comfy!"

Both of these things are true. However, when you wear slippers that have some sole (and nowadays, people only wear split soles rather than full), you give your feet some structure and you give your muscles something to work against and in turn, help strengthen them.

Another reason to wear slippers instead of socks is to give the foot a shape that finishes the line and helps guide the toes inside. Not everyone can point their feet and have their toes look like a perfect point; ballet slippers help the toes find that shape and train the muscles to keep the toes in their place.

A ballet slipper will also lift the medial longitudinal arch of the foot which is the long arch on the inside of the foot that, when active, domes the foot (hollows it out) and lifts it off the ground. Strengthening these muscles and this arch is critical to pointe work and to maintaining a high releve in demi-pointe for multiple turns, etc.

Happy dancing~

Friday, May 3, 2019

Be the bear

Beautiful dancers, if you go camping or hiking or if you live in the foothills of a mountain like my students in La Canada Flintridge, you've probably heard the advice about what to do if you are confronted by a bear.

Make yourself big.

You won't ever be bigger than a bear, unless it's a baby in which case your instinct will probably be to hug it because it will be so cute. When that adult bear rears back on its hind legs and roars at you, it will take every ounce of courage you have not to run away.
cc lic Magnus Johansson
Instead, you stand your ground, rise up on your toes and flail your arms. You rawr! back at it and show it you're not scared. (Good luck with that, btw...)

By forcing yourself to be big and tall and wide, you are defying your own anxiety about being in a frightening situation.

Which brings me to ballet. 

For many dancers, coming off the security of a barre where you might be standing behind someone who knows the combinations better than you, where you are clutching something for support, where at least one foot is on the ground all the time, is frightening.

It's scary to move and turn and jump in the center and when we feel that anxiety, we tend to make ourselves smaller. Our legs don't extend as far as they might be able to; our arms collapse over our chest and waist; our heels barely leave the floor when we jump. Our fear makes us small. The result is pirouettes that spin rather than float, terre a terre jumps, and overall weak lines in an adagio.

In a classroom, we might get away with this by telling ourselves we're just tired or we don't know the combination well enough to do it properly, or in some cases, we might say the room is too crowded and there isn't enough space to be big.

Hmmm...I call BS on that last excuse. There's always room to make yourself bigger in a crowded class: stand in the back, angle yourself in a corner, move more conscientiously of your fellow dancers.

And for the other excuses? Defy your fear. Fight your instinct.

Make yourself big.

1. When you are feeling anxious about your jumps, push yourself higher off the ground (assuming you are properly warmed-up and working through your feet). Use your center to get off the ground and propel yourself up rather than out. By jumping higher, you will give yourself more time to roll through your feet on the landing, time to straighten your knees in the air, and time to execute the steps.

2. When you are anxious about your pirouette, push to a higher releve, hold your arms higher and farther away from your body, widen your back and open your lungs. By making yourself bigger and wider and rounder in a turn, you will float more and longer and you won't spin.

3. When you fear the slow extensions of an adagio, think about starting your developpe from the top of your thigh and unfolding outward. Use your arms to lengthen your body in the space. Pull your knees up and engage your "under-buns" to stabilize yourself during a pose or promenade.

In all instances, making yourself "bigger" than you are - taller, wider, rounder, higher, longer - will help you. It will also give you more confidence when you're not feeling so secure.

cc lic State Library of Queensland
 Happy dancing~

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A million tendus

If you're an experienced dancer with years of classes behind you, you've likely done thousands of tendus, thousands more degages, and perhaps a million demi-plies. As a teacher I try to structure my combinations so you don't realize you're doing the same tendus you've seen a bajillion times but honestly, there are just so many ways to combine steps at the barre.

But there's a very good reason for this: muscle memory. Just as baseball players and golfers practice their swings over and over and over again, we dancers must practice the same steps over and over and over again until they are so much a part of our bodies that we don't think about them.

cc lic Paul L Dineen "Big Swing"
 If we had to think about every muscle and every bone that must move and coordinate in order to do a grand jete developpe, we would never get off the ground!

Take a look at this breakdown of a baseball player's swing - and he's not even propelling his body into the air!

Baseball Swing Anatomy

Today I want to talk about the tiniest little things that have a BIG impact on your turns, your jumps and your lines.

Your toes.
cc lic melalouise Sous Sous

Ten tiny parts of you that really sell you as a polished dancer, no matter how many years you have been taking class. Your toes do so many things!

--they keep you on the floor
--they push you off the floor
--they start your pirouette
--they finish your lines
--they form the platform upon which you balance
--they are the basis of your pointe work
--they shape your foot and guide your leg through the air no matter what you do

cc lic Quinn Dombrowski, A Leg Out of Nowhere
 And they MUST be STRETCHED. This is an absolute MUST.

Teachers always tell you to point your toes but instead, think STRETCH, not point. We don't want to grip our toes or feet - we want to lengthen them. With the stretch/lengthen imagery, we will spring ourselves up to retire for a turn; we will spring to glissade and brush every jete.

Without exception, your toes must be stretched to a fully extended position EVERY TIME they come off the floor (unless the choreography calls for a flexed or soft foot) and they remain stretched until the foot returns to the floor. From the very first exercises at the barre (typically a plie combination), think about the toes adhering to the floor; think about them when you balance flat or en releve. Think about them as you articulate the foot during slow tendus. The more you engage the toes, the more you articulate them, the more muscle memory you're gaining. Soon it will feel weird for you to not point your feet.

Happy dancing~

Monday, April 8, 2019

Ch-ch-changes: Meet Blossom, my new studio dog! And more...

Beautiful dancers and local students!

If any of you are on Facebook, you've seen Your Daily Blossom, a fun photo of my new dog, Blossom, that I post every day. She's about 4 years old, a miniature poodle mix, and she loves being in the studio! I've always wanted to have a dog in my class.

Blossom is still learning the ropes. She sometimes follows me when I demonstrate at the barre or in the center but much of the time she will stay in her bed. I have to teach her "stay" so she won't follow me - if anyone knows how to train dogs and would like to help me, I will gladly barter for classes. She knows how to sit and she knows her name.

She has a lot going for her: her size (tiny), her temperament (playful and happy), her lack of barking, and her hypoallergenic coat. She loves to be petted and will often roll onto her back in front of a student for a belly rub. She also likes to greet each student when they walk in the door.

So far, I haven't met a student who has not liked her! But I wanted to tell everyone about her so they know she will be there on Monday and Wednesday nights. Saturdays are too long for her and currently, my Tuesday and Thursday classes are at Dance Arts which doesn't allow dogs.

Which brings me to another change...Dance Arts Academy, a fabulous studio in LA, is closing its doors at the end of June. It's tremendously sad! Flamenco dancer Carla Luna opened it almost twenty years ago, transforming a former bowling alley on the second floor of a building on La Brea near Wilshire into 5 studios of varying sizes. The place was a treasure for all kinds of dancers, from classical ballet with Reid Olson and pre-professional studies with Marat Daukayev to modern dance and jazz and tap, it was a welcome rest stop for dancers who were touring Los Angeles, for new residents to the area, for dancers who wanted a variety of teachers in many disciplines.

Unfortunately, the area has been getting more and more populous with many developments on the horizon. The new owners of the building don't want a dance studio, which is such a shame. So many beautiful studios are being bought and demolished! Just before this was the famed Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood. These studios were institutions!

For dancers (and studio owners) affordability is absolutely imperative. Dancers don't truly need much: an open floor plan, raised floors, barres and mirrors for ballet, a dressing area and bathroom, and in LA especially, a place to park. Let's be honest: dance isn't exactly a money-making business. We get by and we do it because we love it, but it's not really a business that will get you rich. (If anyone knows how, please share!) But where a yoga class can pack a small room mat-to-mat, a dance studio needs space to move. Where do we go to find that? That's the problem in a city like LA: there aren't many undiscovered areas where rent is cheap. (And yes, if anyone knows the answer to that, please share!)

What does that mean for me and my classes? Well, we'll be moving. Tuesday and Thursday classes will be at 2 different studios on the east side. More details on this will follow soon but for now, let's just dance at Dance Arts Academy and enjoy the big beautiful space that Carla created!

Happy dancing~