Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Easy fix: Raise Your Gaze!

Ever have a problem in class, whether it's turning or a balance on one leg, and you find yourself wishing there was one simple way to fix it? Something that didn't require hours in the gym working on your core or quads?

Well, there is!

(cue the dramatic music)

Raise your gaze!

cc lic Clare Black "black eyes"
Sometimes it's as easy as that to get your balance, to stay lifted in your pirouettes and get more height in your jumps.

Many of us tend to dance small in class, whether it's because we are focusing on learning or we're tired from a long day or we're anxious about something. That can often translate into a gaze that is cast downward or inward. Our shoulders might roll forward and our centers might collapse as well. All of this leads to a very heavy energy in your body which prevents you from feeling lifted in turns or supported in adagio or jumps.

But by simply --

lifting your gaze

opening your eyes a little wider

actually seeing something

--you can change your posture, alignment, and energy in one easy move - and you will see an immediate result.

I can nearly guarantee it.*

*Note: nearly. I mean, I'm 99% certain it will work for you but there's always a tiny chance it won't but really, what could it hurt to just try?

Happy dancing~
cc lic Ethereality Pictures "Generations of Perfection"

Monday, February 10, 2020

Spring into Spring with 2 Pointe variations workshops coming to Inspire!

Hello beautiful dancers!

I am adding something FUN to the schedule which requires a sign-up before the end of February:

Pointe variations workshops!

The Bluebird workshop will be held at Inspire each Sunday, 12:30-1PM from Mar 1 through Mar 22; the cost for the 4-week session is $50.

Wondering what Bluebird is? It's from "Sleeping Beauty" with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa and it might look something like this:

 The Cupid workshop will be held at Inspire each Sunday, 12:30-1PM from Mar 29 through Apr 19; the cost for the 4-week session is $50.

Wondering what Cupid is? It's from "Don Quixote" with music by Minkus and choreography by Marius Petipa and it might look something like this:

(Attend both for $90 and save some $!)

Each week, I will break down a step or 2 that is challenging in each of the variations and we will learn the variation over the course of the 4-week session.

Please sign up in advance right here on my blog: use the drop-down menu at the top left of the blog under the banner to add the workshop or a class card to your cart.

Can't wait to start some fun SPRING variations! Happy dancing~

Saturday, February 1, 2020

New class, Valentine's Day, and more in the February newsletter!

February 2020 schedule

Classes are all on as usual throughout the entire month. Reminder: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday classes are at Inspire Dance Studio; Tuesday classes are at Live Arts LA. View my full schedule here (scroll to bottom of page).

SPECIAL CLASS! This year, Valentine's Day falls on a Friday but I will be holding a "Bring-Your-Special-Friend/Partner/Significant Other" class on WEDNESDAY, FEB 12th! This class was SO much fun last year! Non-traditional music with a simple barre and floor work that anyone can do. If you have a friend who has always wanted to try ballet but was nervous, bring them to this one!


Special notes

Starting tomorrow, February 2, (Groundhog Day AND Super Bowl Sunday!) I will be teaching a NEW CLASS on Sundays: Advanced Beginner Ballet (which is the same level as my Tuesday/Thursday classes) at Inspire Dance Studio. 11AM-12:30PM. ALSO: please contact me if you would like to see a 30 minute pointe class following. I will need to have a fairly consistent group in order to put it on the schedule.

Featured technique tip!

Get your back engaged for better turns, stronger jumps and more! A Powerful Back

More fun links:
Many of you have already seen this article in Slate magazine but if you haven't, it's worth a read with your morning coffee. A woman writes about how much starting ballet at age 62 has affected her life. If you know anything about me and my personal philosophy about dance, you know how much I believe in ballet for our mental and physical health and our connection to others as we age.


Did you feel all g-r-o-o-v-y when you saw that photo at the top of the newsletter? That's LPBC company members April McLeod, Omaira Galarza and Annett Bone in a piece I choreographed that they will be performing at NACHMO on Sunday, February 9 at the Broadwater Main Stage in Hollywood. Show tickets are just $12 in advance here. Annett will be performing in a second piece on Sunday and Jackie Nii, another returning company member, will perform in the Saturday show. Come see them and all the wonderful local dancers.

Halloween in February? That's right! HauntX is a DIY Haunters convention at the Pomona Fairplex on February 22-23. Our company will have a booth to promote our shows in October and our fundraiser on April 18th. BONUS! Our zombies will be doing some flash mob performances throughout the weekend.

Below...Introducing our 2020 Company Members! This year we have 47 talented dancers in the company and I could not be more thrilled to be working with them all. We've got shows, a fundraiser, and lots of cool community outreach planned for the season. (This photo is missing a few members: Rae Aaselund, Marla Bleavins, Patricia Ho, Stephanie Kuga, Linda Le Verne, Corey McCullough, Jackie Nii, Elizabeth Risha)


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Why do we do grand plies? PLUS: Why Leigh gives super fast degages at the barre

You can always count on people who love ballet, dancers or teachers or simply avid balletomanes, to argue about the art form. Is that a tour jete or a grand jete en tournant? A pas de chat or saut de chat? Do you point or flex the foot in a frappe en releve?

Lately I have heard the argument against doing grand plie at the barre.
"They are too hard on your knees!"
"They are not used in the center!"
"They are really hard to do correctly and I don't feel like doing (or teaching) them!"

Those are all valid arguments. As a teacher of many levels of dancers, I can say unequivocally that grand plie is not easy to teach, to learn or to re-learn, which many of us do if we weren't taught correctly or if we skim through them without actually using the correct muscles. And let's face it, plies at the barre are often an exercise people do by rote. If it's the first or second exercise at the barre, you may not even be thinking about them! You're thinking about where you parked your car, what you might have left at the office, and if you need to stop at Trader Joe's on the way home. So plies are an afterthought.

However, I would argue there are two very valid reasons to do grand plie:
1. Jumps
2. Stability

The first is obvious: when we do deep knee bends, we are building our quads and our hamstrings, both of which we really need if we want to jump off the ground. Of course, we move through our demi-plie at the beginning and end of each jump, but the power has to come from somewhere!

The second is less-obvious: when we are in the center performing an adagio, we need to stabilize our center so we don't wobble and our knees don't buckle. When we talk about holding our core muscles (front, back and sides of our torso) we really want to engage the very deep muscles in our abdomen called the rectus abdominis, which are two long muscles running down the center front of your body, side by side, and the transverse abdominis, which are under our obliques and connect on the sides of the pelvis. These muscles are critical to holding us steady away from the barre. And what's a great way to engage them? Grand plie! How, you ask? When you perform a demi-plie at the barre, it's easy to correct the pelvic tilt but when you go just a bit deeper into a grand plie, it's that much more challenging to keep your pelvis aligned properly. To do it correctly requires that you engage the muscles very deep in your center.

Source: Wikipedia, CC lic

NB: correct pelvic posture is important to fully engage the deep abdominal muscles and strengthen them for center stabilization so be sure to either ask your teacher for guidance or take a quick peek at your profile in the mirror to see what's happening in your pelvic region. If you're tilting (i.e. spilling your cup of water!), engage the muscles and align them properly.

Source: Wikipedia, CC lic (NB, the darkest shade of red is the Transversus Abdominis)
Now, do you really need to do a super deep grand plie all the way to the floor? Absolutely not. And it's very difficult for many dancers to do that and maintain the turnout in their hips without forcing it. You should take your grand just to the point before you begin to turn in. You need to be able to lower yourself to this position and then recover from it without turning the knees in and allowing the hips to swing back behind the heels. Again, this may require a bit of guidance from your teacher, especially if you're not exactly sure what it should feel like. That's what we're here for! We want you properly aligned and building strength!

It's up to you and your knees (and your teacher!) as to whether you do a grand plie and there may be lots of good reasons for you personally to not attempt them but if there isn't and you find that you're wobbly in the center or you can't get off the ground in big jumps, consider working on your grand plie.


QUESTION from the class: "Leigh, why do you give such fast degage combinations at the barre? They're hard and confusing!"

Good question! No matter what level class you take with me, I will give you a fast degage combo at the barre. You might have trouble with it because of the speed but I want you to try it anyway. Why?

1. Step out of your comfort zone! We all have a tempo at which we like to perform certain steps (for instance, I like slow grand battements so I can get my leg high which takes time) so if you push yourself a little bit, it will be that much easier the next time you try it. This goes for anything! Try for the triple turn when you want a double, etc.

2. Focus on speed for allegro. Fast small steps in the center require quick feet and fast reflexes. If we do a fast combo at the barre and constantly shift our weight from side to side, that's going to have a direct impact on our movements in the center later. We will be more likely to be able to shift our weight and our muscles will fire up faster.

3. Engage the inner thighs. Slow degages tend to use the quads more than the inner thighs, especially if the accent is on the degage extension rather than the close to the position. When we do a quicker action, we are accenting the close, which requires us to use the muscles that close the thighs together. Again, this has a direct application to our allegro combinations in the center.

Do I expect you to perform a super fast combination perfectly? It would be nice, sure, but it takes time to feel comfortable or at least allow yourself to not be perfect. You will flub it and feel like your feet and toes are made of concrete but the more frequently you do them, the more you will find the time to work the feet properly.

Happy dancing~

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Forgotten yet Powerful Middle Back

Do you have a sagging, unengaged back?

Some signs:

You sink into your hips when you shift from two feet to one in the center (e.g. during adagio)

Your arms get left behind when you turn

Your quads and calves get tired when you jump

Your big jumps feel labored and grounded

These are just a few tell-tale signs that you're not using the middle muscles of your back. Think of the muscles in the center as the T's: Trapezius, Teres major and Teres minor. Your Traps are a pair of triangular muscles that also wrap up across the upper back but we're interested in the lower portion of the triangle. Your Teres major and minor are under and to the side of the Trapezius. You can find them if you reach under your arm pit and walk your fingers toward your spine.
Back Muscles.jpg
By Henry Vandyke Carter, derivative work: Rafael Di Marco Barros, Public Domain
Above from Wikipedia: Posterior view of muscles connecting the upper extremity to the vertebral column. A -Trapezius, B - Teres Major, C -Teres Minor, D - Latissimus Dorsi, E - Levator Scapulae, F- Rhomboid Major

The middle muscles, like the middle child and the middle manager but not the middle of an Oreo cookie, often get neglected on pirouettes, jumps and adagio in favor of the flashier muscle groups.  We think of our quads and hamstrings on jumps, our glutes on adagio, and a whole host of things during pirouettes.

But the one thing all of those actions have in common is the mid-back. If you can engage these muscles, you will find yourself far more lifted in adagio, more suspended during turns which will allow for multiples, and lighter during jumps.

Accessing the muscles is a matter of being mindful at barre.

--When you prepare through first to a second position arm, feel the fingertips reaching out from your center and to the side.
--When you cambre forward, try not to let your shoulder roll but lengthen the spine as you tilt forward and really try to think of your middle back returning you to your neutral position.
--When you bring your arm overhead in fifth, try to initiate the movement from the middle of your back rather then your elbow or biceps.

Think of these mid-back muscles as the complement to your torso. Just as you engage your torso (your core, your center, whatever you choose to call it), you need to work the muscles on the opposite side of your body.

As you start to become more aware of those muscles (and of course, you are also incorporating the Serratus muscles we talked about in this blog post), your muscle memory will kick in when you are off the barre and moving with nothing to hold onto. These powerful muscles will provide added stability in the center.

Happy dancing~