Saturday, January 8, 2022

Additional Zoom classes this week: 1/10-1/16/22

 Hello beautiful dancers, both local and remote!

All of my classes this week will be hybrid (both in-person and on Zoom) to give you added flexibility during this current virus surge. In addition to the usual classes that are hybrid, I have added the Zoom option to 3 more classes this week:
--Wednesday 6:30PM Beginner
--Thursday 7PM Basic
--Saturday 12PM Intermediate

You can sign up for all classes here.

I'm very appreciative of all of you who stay home when you are feeling ill. Let's all stay healthy in this new year!

(reminder: I will not be teaching 1/18-1/28)



Sunday, December 26, 2021

Use it or Lose it! A mantra for 2022

Hello beautiful dancers~

We're not yet finished with 2021 but I am starting to think about what 2022 will look like. If, like me, you were disappointed in 2021, I think it's because we expected "normal" to return. That, according to many experts, will never happen and we need to move on from that. 

But if you looked very closely, 2021 was a massive improvement over 2020!

~Miracle vaccines became available to everyone in the space of a few months. 

~Dancers in my area were able to return to the studio (with masks, but still, such a better place to be than in your living room).

~Some dance companies like mine performed in a theater with a real live audience (including Fred Armisen! What?!).

~Many people, including myself, traveled again to see loved ones.

Remember 2020? NONE of that happened. 

Okay, so let's think about 2022. We all wanted to use the pandemic as a learning tool, right? Some of you learned to bake or play music; some of you realized you hadn't been spending enough time with family or friends and made resolutions to see them more frequently. It's natural for us to want to come out of this (or make peace with still being in it) by creating new rituals or life lessons.

Honestly, I have a hard time sticking to promises to "be good to yourself!" or "seize the day!" or "live every day like it's your last!" Those are great things to remember but most of the time - for me - they don't stick. Something critical will happen - like an accident or a health scare - and in the moment, I will think, oh my gosh! that could have ended terribly! I'm so grateful it didn't! In reality, I think it's hard for any of us to live by those sayings because, well, life goes on. You have to work and buy the groceries, feed the dog and pay the rent. Everyday things tend to trump the big once-in-a-lifetime things because they press on you to get done. It's hard to tell the DMV you didn't get the smog check because you were seizing the day.

What's easier for me to use as a guide for living is a practical saying, something that is not just a personal philosophy or wishful thinking but actually something that I can follow. So this is one that I think can guide us all, whether we are dancers or just regular humans who want to dance:

USE IT OR LOSE IT.

The best thing about this very practical saying is that you can apply it to a huge range of things.

1. Your body (the obvious one, of course). We've long known that joints require constant lubrication which breaks down as you age. Movement = lubrication. Movement is what minimizes inflammation (i.e. arthritis) so if you continue to exercise daily, you keep your body - spine, knees, shoulders, etc. - going longer and with less pain. Daily movement also keeps your heart healthy, your muscles strong, and improves your balance - all of which are important for aging bodies. And no matter what age you are now, your body is aging. That's just life, lol.


 

2. Your brain (the second obvious one). Many of us experienced brain fog during the pandemic, whether we were infected with COVID or not. It comes from being quarantined, from not being able to get out and interact with others, and from never-ending Zoom meetings. Being in lockdown, uncertain and anxious for so very long results in depression. If you haven't felt it, you know someone who has. This is a sneak peek of what our brains do when we age: it's harder to remember names and places, harder to get excited about doing something we used to love, harder to envision a future that is different than what we are experiencing now. Keep your brain active through reading (don't just listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video), fun puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku or word scrambles, and writing. Each time you challenge your brain with a new word or concept, it starts to form new grooves in it (remember, the human brain typically stops forming neural pathways by young adulthood but we can continue to forge new ones if we want to). Creating new pathways and forming new connections contribute to a healthier brain.

3. Your good dishes (or furniture or wardrobe or perfume). What are you saving these things for? What day are you waiting to wear them or serve food on them or sit on? The Queen of England is not coming to visit you any time soon. You can substitute any celebrity you like in that sentence. Seriously, though, why not use your candlesticks when you're eating a Wednesday meatloaf or a Friday pizza? Unless you have collectible Star Wars action figures that lose their value as soon as you open them, then you're wasting an opportunity to feel good, look good or smell good.

4. Your friendships (romantic, familial or just friends). The phone rings and we see the caller and let it go to voice mail. They're gonna want to talk forever and I don't have time now. Or there's a text or email that you don't reply to. They want to get together and I don't have time now. Well, what are you waiting for? What's more important? If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it's this: don't count on tomorrow or next week or next month. Not to get too morbid but, sad fact, you or your friend might get sick and that day won't come. Isn't it better to pick up the phone and say hello now? Or make a plan to grab a coffee some afternoon? If the person talks a lot, then tell them you have a "hard stop" so they know in advance you have to leave. Trust me, you will feel so much better when you do this. You will ask yourself why you waited so darn long.

5. Your dance class (you knew this was coming, lol). Everything in the previous paragraphs - body, brain, possessions, friendships - is wrapped up in a dance class. Dance helps your body and brain stay young and healthy; a class is an opportunity to dress up for yourself; our dance community surrounds you with friends. You don't need to be a professional dancer to get something (some things) from a dance class. Lifelong learning keeps your brain engaged and regular exercise strengthens your immune system. Friends help keep you sane and fulfilled. And when you get your fancy leotard or leggings out, put a drop of your favorite essential oil on your wrists, and snap a selfie in front of the barre, you feel good about yourself for yourself. Mental and physical well-being all in one place: dance class.

I wish everyone a very happy new year! Please stay healthy if you can, try to avoid stressful situations that can tax your immune system and your patience, and post this motto above your desk:

USE IT OR LOSE IT!


Monday, November 15, 2021

My journey to jetes: from zero to grand in 7 months!

Beautiful dancers, like everyone during the pandemic, I was stuck at home in a small space with a slippery wood floor that had no give. Over the course of a couple of months, I brought in a portable barre, marley flooring, and some springy dance floor squares (which I liked so much I bought a second set to make the area bigger!). 

Also like you, no matter how I was able to modify my former dining area, I couldn't do anything big - no grand allegro at all and very limited petit allegro. I focused on maintaining strength in my quads and hamstrings as well as building core strength through sit-ups, pushups and planks. I also ended every class I taught over Zoom and YouTube with releves to keep calf and ankle strength up for all of us, including me!

Returning to my classes as a teacher (first outdoors on concrete last winter and then in-studio in the spring), I was cautious doing jumps. I didn't want to injure myself or my students! We began with very small jumps like sautes in first position, gentle glissades into jetes and assembles but no beats. For grand allegro, we did temps leves in passe and arabesque, some grand jetes and pas de chats and worked up to tour jete and sauts de chats.

I loved watching my students find their jumps again but for myself? Up until about a month ago, my progress followed my students except for sauts de chats. I wasn't quite at the point where I felt confident to really push myself off the floor and attempt a big jump. I worried that I would never be able to do grand allegro again, which was always something I enjoyed.

So how to get my jump back? Gradually and carefully, like all things. Here are some things that I did that might help you:

1. I added beats to my petit allegro which forced me to really push my body off the ground - something very important for big jumps, obviously.

2. I did lots of grands battements to work my quads and get my leg off the ground quickly.

3. I worked on my splits for hamstring flexibility.

4. I focused on developpe during adagio at the barre, especially en avant and holding fully extended for as long as possible.

5. I continued my planks every day to keep my core engaged so I could get extra lift on the jump.

No matter what you want to tackle, take it slowly, beautiful dancers. You don't want to injure yourself (believe me, hamstring injuries take forever to heal!). Enjoy the journey! Happy dancing!

 

Will this be me in next week's classes? Hmmm....


Friday, September 10, 2021

What does "mark it" mean?

Beautiful dancers, there are a lot of things that make perfect sense to long-time students but are confusing to new students.

One of the most ubiquitous ones is "marking." Have you heard this in your classes?

"Let's mark this turn combination."

"Mark it on your own while I find music."

"I was just marking it!"

When you mark something, you do a mini-version of it as a way of figuring it out before you perform it. You might hear "mark it with music," in which case the teacher plays the music they want you to dance to and you follow along. You might trace the path the combination takes along the floor. You might practice the steps to make sure you know what they are. You might only work your arms instead of your legs and feet.

 
Practice the patterns on the floor
(Horse Ballet, courtesy NYPL)

Marking can mean different things to different dancers and in different scenarios. But what everyone agrees is that you don't dance it "full-out," that is, as if you were performing it. There are also many ways to mark:

 - with just your feet: you walk through the steps of the combination in a low-key way which can be helpful if you are in the center and the combination is long and travels a good deal (or doesn't!)

 - with just your arms: you gesture with your arms as if you were dancing the combination full-out which can be especially useful if you are doing adagio or reminding yourself about where to hold your arms during turns and leaps

 - with just your hands: the most common for barre exercises as well as easier center floor combinations

This last one is one of the most efficient ways to mark. Dancers use their hands like feet and map out the combination the teacher is giving them. You will see them move their hands in the air in front of them as if they are doing the steps with their feet. 

Marking with your hands is a great way to get the steps in your body. When you move your hands like feet, your brain picks up another way to access the movement. You're instructing it in a way that is separate from the rest of the body which will do the actual steps. It's extremely beneficial to help you learn choreography more quickly.

 
Don't just stand there!
(NYCB Rehearsal, courtesy NYPL)

From a teacher's point of view, when we ask students to mark a combination with or without music, we watch to see how they pick up the choreography. Are they walking through it? Using their arms mostly? Using their hands? What we don't want to see is a student simply standing there doing nothing. Marking is movement with the body not just the eyes! We want to see that you're getting it - or not. When we mark together as a group, a teacher can see if you missed something or if a step is confusing or if the music is too fast or slow. We also want you to hold off on questions until we do it together. Many times marking a combination will answer the questions you have.

Speaking of questions, got any burning ones to ask? Have you heard something in class or seen something done without explanation - and you want an explanation? Just ask! Happy dancing!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Basic ballet vs. Beginner ballet - what's the difference?

Beautiful dancers, every teacher has a different definition of their "beginner" level. For some instructors, beginner is what brand new students start with, learning the positions of the feet and how to stand at the barre, etc. For others, it's a class that lots of different dancers take, including advanced dancers, and students do everything from plies to pirouettes.

(And for the record, I believe ALL dancers can benefit from a beginner or even a basic level class, regardless of their experience. Sometimes we learned things wrong or not at all! And sometimes we just need to focus on the technique and not complex choreography.)

**If a class marked Beginner has a finite number of classes, then generally speaking it will be a class for brand new students.

**If a class marked Beginner is ongoing and students can drop in at their whim, then generally speaking it will be a more advanced or "complete" class.

My Beginner level is the latter of the two above types. Students are expected to be familiar with:

--plies

--positions of the feet and arms

--tendus, degages, grand battements

--ronds de jambes

--developpes

 --compound steps like pas de bourree and balance

--glissades, jetes, assembles, chassees

They don't need to be experts at it all! But having been exposed to these steps or concepts will make my Beginner class a lot easier for them because it's more like Beginner/Advanced Beginner.

After the pandemic, I realized that a lot of my more advanced students would probably need a Beginner class to ease them back into the studio so the Beginner class began to include far more advanced dancers than it would have pre-pandemic. 

But I still wanted a place for brand new students! So that's when I decided to start my Basic class. This is the class for learning all of the steps above and so much more:

--port de bras

--classroom conventions and etiquette

--holding the barre, moving the head, engaging the audience

It's a great class for someone who has no experience in ballet or dance, a dancer who has had an injury or lengthy time away from the studio and needs to move slowly and mindfully, or anyone who wants to refresh their muscle memory or learn proper terminology.

So why am I telling you this now? Because I have a super awesome  

Thursday night Basic class at 7PM  

(at Inspire Dance Studio)

and I will be opening a  

 Saturday morning Beginner class at 10AM 

(at Inspire starting August 7th & it will also be hybrid) 

HAPPY DANCING, EVERYONE!