On Remembering the Combination

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Photo Courtesy of Joe Duty

Zach: “Sheila, do you know the combination?” Sheila: “I knew it when I was in the front!”                                                                ~From A Chorus Line

Imagine this: you’re at an audition. You learn the combination, even though it’s really long. They split everyone into groups and your group is near the end so you have lots of time to practice it. You go over it with every group that goes up. When they call your name, you go up with your group, get in the formation, the music starts, you notice the casting team watching you, and suddenly your mind goes blank. How does it start? Is it a glissade? There goes the first beat, and you missed it. The moment is gone, but you remember that feeling forever. How could you have done things differently?

Maybe for you it’s not so much nerves as concentration. The teacher is explaining the combination and all you can think about is what you want for dinner or that horrible thing that happened at work. I used to have a teacher with such a beautiful point that when she explained combinations I would just stare at her feet and then have no clue what we were doing!

If you’re a beginner to ballet, you may be still struggling with the vocabulary of the moves. Learning ballet is like learning a language except that besides just words and their meanings, there are also moves that go along with them! Here are some thoughts on each of these issues.

Trouble picking up combinations:

  1. When you are learning a combination, move so that you can see the teacher. Most people are visual learners so don’t make it harder for yourself. Move to where you can see. If you can’t see, raise your hand and ask. You’re in class to learn, and your question may help others too!
  2. Getting it into your body may help by doing it with your hands, or marking it with your feet. This goes along with how you learn – if you are a kinetic learner you learn through movement. Mark it with your body and you may see a marked improvement. 🙂
  3. Sometimes the explanation of a combination doesn’t make sense. Actually doing it may make more sense. Sometimes we spin things and they seem more difficult in our heads. When you just do it, you realize oh, it wasn’t all that!
  4. Always anticipate the next steps that will be coming up. Anticipating is a great skill that can help you avoid that dreaded feeling of “oh no, what’s next?” Practice thinking of the next thing even while you are doing the previous thing.
  5. Hang on and keep trying!  Do as much of the combination as you can. Follow someone who knows it and do it as well as you can. The movement will start to get into your body. Don’t give up!
  6. Start slow. Forget the tempo to start and just work on getting the movement. If you can do the movements and remember them slowly, you will be able to build up speed and do them up to tempo.
  7. If the combination is really long, try breaking it into sections and learning it peice by peice. If you have time between learning parts of the dance, write it down. Practice it again after a good night’s sleep.
  8. If you are struggling and the teacher gives you an easier option, do the easier option! For now. Getting correct alignment in the beginning is going to go a long way to helping you advance later on. Take advantage of being a beginner!  There’s plenty of time to be advanced. You’ll get there!  Leave your ego outside.
  9. Ballet is a language made up of big steps like verbs and nouns and connecting steps like pronouns and prepositions. If you learn the “connecting steps”,  like tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, it can help you join the “big steps” like sauté de chat, tour jete, sauté fouetté. If it sounds overwhelming, don’t worry, it will come.
  10. When you nail the combination it’s going to feel so good!

Trouble concentrating in class:

  1. Leave the world outside when you step into dance class. That way, your troubles with your mother or boyfriend or whatever doesn’t hinder you when you’re trying to dance. Step out of your world and into the studio. It’s like a mini-vacation in the middle of your day!
  2. If you are distracted by someone in class, or your spot in the room, move to a different spot. If that isn’t possible, redirect yourself from that distraction. Concentrate more on what you’re doing and do your best to stay focused on the teacher as much as you can. Breathe.
  3. Notice if you are getting distracted and bring yourself back to what the teacher is saying or doing.  Sometimes it’s as simple as noticing when you’re not focused, and bringing yourself back.
  4. Use your hands, mark it with your body. I said it before, and I’m saying it again. It can really help.

Trouble picking up combinations in an audition setting

  1. If you are nervous, if you are in an audition setting or it’s your first time in a new class, go easy on yourself. Take some deep breaths. Don’t give yourself a hard time. Make a plan of where to stand in class, where to look when you are auditioning, like above their heads. The more you audition or take class, the more comfortable you will feel, and that is part of the equation.
  2. The more fun you can make it for yourself, the less nervous you will be. Team up and audition with your friends or make new friends with the people you audition with! Focus, but enjoy the process. Auditioning is about showing them who you are as well as what you can do, so as much as you can, smile and show them beautiful you!
  3. Concentrate on the beginning and the end, and when to start with the music. If you begin strong and end strong, those are powerful moment. If you miss something, keep going as much as possible. In one audition I blanked out and I kept going and made it up. I was in front, and did it with such conviction, everyone behind me copied me! (Heh!)

When all else fails:

  1. Forgive yourself like you’d forgive your best friend. You did your best. I know it feels horrible to mess up but it’s going to be okay. Be kind to yourself.
  2. Check in with yourself on the basics. Did you get enough to eat today? Did you eat fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks? Did you get any protein? Did you get enough rest? Are you hydrated? Are you getting sick? If something might be off in one of these areas then it very well could be affecting your ability to concentrate and pick up choreography. Go easy on yourself. Get a good nights sleep. Tomorrow is another day.
  3. Don’t be so serious! Laugh at yourself. I have to bring my sense of humor when I take (any class, but partiularly) a hip hop class, because that is a different language for me and I struggle with it – so I try not to take myself too seriously doing it.

I hope this helps you! Any other ideas? Tell me in the comments!

~Sarah

 

 
Looking forward to ballet class? Me too! Tuesdays 7-8pm and Saturdays 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway buzzer #5. Two blocks below Canal Street, on the NE corner of White street. Only $10! Brand new beginner workshop coming up! First four Sundays in May: May 1, 8, 15, 22 from 2:30-4pm, $60. Email liberatedmovement@gmail.com for more information. 

Hot Soup for a Cold Day

Chipotle soup
It was a beautiful day in New York today – sunshine, blue skies, and four degrees out. I have been enjoying the sun from inside while making soup. I love soup. Warm, savory, and comforting, it it my favorite meal. Before I knew how to make soup, I was a canned soup addict. My roommate at the time, who was a chef, was horrified. She taught me how to make soup, bought me some recipe books, and forbid me from ever eating canned soup again. I’m incredibly grateful for her instruction. I eat a lot healthier (and cheaper!) than I did back then. Now I’m the one sending her the recipes.
As dancers, eating healthy is so important. (As a human, eating healthy is so important!) If you are looking for a good book on nutrition, Diet for Dancers by Robin D. Chmelar is a good place to start. I’m no expert in nutrition, but I know I feel better when I eat lean protein and lots of veggies. Although I do eat meat, I also really like vegetables, and I find restaurants seem to serve either vegetables or meat, and not always both. I also find it is a lot easier to keep my diet healthy when I cook as opposed to eating out.
When I went gluten free a few years ago, I got a little more experimental in my cooking to find some better options. I’d never cooked with hominy before, but my sister sent me some dried hominy for Christmas from Rancho Gordo. I consulted several recipes on line, but none of them had enough vegetables, and some had a lot of fancy ingredients, so I made up my own recipe. I hope you enjoy my version of…
Chipotle Chicken, Hominy, And Vegetable Soup 
1 1/2 cup dried hominy
 5 roughly cut cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 small zucchinis (or 2 large) cut in rounds
1 red and 1 yellow pepper cut in 1 inch strips (any color will do, but red and yellow are fun)
1 diced carrot (I used a yellow one(!), but an orange carrot is perfectly fine)
1-2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder (less or more, to taste)
4-6 cups of water
Two chicken breasts
Salt/pepper
1 lemon
1 avocado
Soak the hominy overnight. When you are ready to make your soup, rinse the hominy, add fresh water and bring to a boil for about 45 mins-1 hour while you are chopping your vegetables. I have found that just soaking the hominy wasn’t enough to get it soft. In a large soup pot, sauté the chopped garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped zucchinis, peppers, and carrots and sauté for a 5-10 minutes until they get soft. Add 4-6 cups of water (depending on the size of your pot and how many vegetables you have) Add the chipotle chile powder. You won’t get the same flavor if you use regular chile powder, the chipotle is the key, so take the time to look for this – totally worth it. If you are sensitive to spice, start with less and then add more to your taste. I get a little more adventurous each time I make this soup, and now I’m up to 2 heaping teaspoons! Add the chicken breasts to the pot and bring the soup to a boil (15-20 minutes). Remove the chicken breasts one at a time to a small bowl and shredded them with two forks and return the shredded chicken to the soup. Add the hominy to the soup. Add some salt and pepper. Add the juice of a lemon. For maximum yumminess, enjoy the soup topped with sliced avocado!
Enjoy!
~Sarah
Join me for ballet class on Tuesdays 7-8pm, and Saturdays 12-1:30pm. Open level ballet. 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5. Only $10 suggested donation. See you there!

Finding Grace: the Art of Port de Bras

Grace: the mysterious element that makes a dancer irrisistible to watch. It is her elegant, controlled smoothness, a simplicity of line that catches the viewer’s eye. It is perhaps more important than high extensions and multiple turns. When a dancer has fluidity and ease, we are mesmerized by her astounding effortlessness, her harmony of freedom and control. We are pulled into the magic of her movement, by the warmth of her polished poise.

I recently read The Art of Grace, by Sarah Kaufman, dance critic for the Washington Post for the last 30 years. A dancer herself, she is an expert on the topic of grace and in true journalistic style, she explores its every iteration. Her book (that sometimes reads like a poem) deliciously discusses grace in a range of contexts from dance to acting, stage to screen, tennis court to Supreme Court. I was inspired by the vast variety of her interviewees and the many ways she related grace in movement to grace in life. Like her, I also learn life lessons from ballet. In her introduction she offers an open invitation “But Grace is within reach of us all….hopeful news for the klutzes among us. Grace is wonderfully democratic. The potential is there for everyone. With practice, grace is a skill we can all develop.”

Last week I wrote about positions of the arms. Now I want to explore one step further. Dance, after all, is not a series of static poses, it is the movement that joins positions, the grace that flows in between. How then do we harness that grace to improve our dancing?  

  1. Awareness.  The first step in bringing grace to your arms is awareness. Start by paying attention to your arms. Watch them in the mirror during class. Is your hand above the line of your shoulders? Where are they in space as you read this? Is there tension in your shoulders? Can you allow your breath to soften and melt any tension there?
  2. Long neck. Along with allowing breath to soften your shoulders, keep your neck long, and ears away from shoulders as you balance as much as when you move. Imagine you could slide your shoulder blades down your back. Think of the grace of a swan’s long soft neck.  
  3. Posture. Reach the crown of your head to the ceiling lengthening your spine as your feet push into the floor. Head is over your relaxed shoulders which are over your hips, which are lengthening towards your feet. Expand yourself. Take up space. Keeping that up-and-down expansive energy in your body, let go of any overt effort.
  4. Arms. Your arms are just an extension of your elongated posture, though always slightly rounded into a gentle oval curve, and elbows usually slightly bent, just enough to create a smooth line. Elbows lift away from the floor, and away from each other.
  5. Wrists and Fingers. Continue the line of your upper arms with your lower arms. Keep your wrists supple without being droopy, and your fingers energized without being stiff like the supple branches of a willow tree. One thing that can help droopy-wrist syndrome is energy in your fingers. Imagine you have tiny laser beams coming out your fingertips. You could also imagine that your fingertips are gently brushing something incredibly soft, like feathers or a bunny.
  6. Breath. There should be breath in moving your arms from one position to another. When moving arms from fifth to second, arms open and palms gradually turn to face forward. When moving your arms from second down to preparation, your arms should “breathe” and lift slightly, and fingers float up as if encountering a slight resistance, a wind, or as if moving through a thick substance. 

Simplicity is key. Graceful arms are challenging because they are so specific and so simple. We almost want to make dance harder than it is by adding arm embellishments or wrist movements or drooping hands that only detract from the line, and break the flow. Keep it smooth, easy, fluid, relaxed, unhurried, gentle and simple.

The artistry involved in port de bras takes awareness and practice, but your dancing will improve as you find and develop this grace. Look for grace. Read about it in Sarah Kaufman’s book, watch dance as often as you can, discover grace in unlikely places – in the falling snow, or the warmth of a stranger’s smile. The invitation to finding grace is open to us all.

Ballet Arm Positions ~ as easy as cake?

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This gorgeous wedding cake was made by my best friend Abi Langlas who is a pastry chef in Honolulu. All the flowers are also made of pastry magic! http://www.cakeworkshi.com


Maybe ballet arms aren’t as easy as cake (and is cake really easy?) But it would seem that arm positions are to a dancer what frosting is to a cake. Just as it wouldn’t be a cake without the icing, a dancer isn’t complete without port de bras, or carriage of the arms. Here is a run down of the basic arm positions. {Bear in mind that ballet historically had three main schools, French, Cechetti (Italian), and Russian. Each of these schools had slightly different names and styles for various positions. As a result, some arm positions are called different names by different teachers. In general, these are the arm positions that are most helpful to know and if your teacher calls it by another name, let me know!}

  1. Preparation, also called Low Fifth or En Bas: Let both arms to hang at your sides. Then round your arms slightly like you are holding a beach ball towards the floor in front of you. Bring your fingers to almost touch each other and tuck your thumb in towards the center of your hand so as not to break the line of your arm and fingers. Allow space between your arms and your body (“as if you didn’t want to squash your tutu” my teacher used to say.) Preparation is where most combinations start and finish.
  2. First Position: From preparation or low-fifth, bring your imaginary beach ball in front of you so that your palms are facing you and your hands are in front of the lowest part of your rib cage. This is first position. Keep your shoulders plugged into your shoulder girdle, and engage the muscles along the backs of your uppers arms to lift your elbows and keep a nice round shape with your arms. Allow your wrists hands and fingers to continue the curved shape of your ams, and tuck your thumbs in. Hands should always be lower than your shoulders. First position is particularly important for turns, but it is also important because it is the ‘gateway’ position, like the Times Square subway stop in New York which is a major train switching station, when you move your arms to another position, arms go though first position.
  3. Second Position:  From first position, grow your arms open so that your arms are extended straight out from your shoulder as if your beach ball had turned into a big giant redwood tree (there’s an image!) Although your arms will be extended out from your shoulders to the sides, keep your arms rounded and slightly in front of you as if you were actually hugging a tree. Like first position, keep elbows lifted.
  4. Low Second: Between second and preparation is a position called Low Second. It is sometimes used as a preparatory position.
  5. Fifth Position, or High Fifth: Fifth is far more used than fourth or third, so I’m going in order of appearance in the cast, as it were, not numeric order. Fifth position mirrors preparation or first position, but overhead. Simple in concept, if not in practice. Like second position, keep your arms a little in front of you–over your forehead, not over the crown of your head. You should be able to see your arms above you by raising your eyes, and without raising your head.
  6. Third Position: Third position is when one arm is in fifth position, and the other arm is in second position.
  7. Fourth Position: Fourth position is when one arm is in fifth position, and the other arm is in first position. This position is not used very often, honestly. A more common fourth position used quite frequently is one arm in second, the other in first. Sometimes this is called third or low third, depending on the teacher. If you already know first and second and fifth, you’ll be able to roll with whatever the teacher says.
  8. First Arabesque arms: Although arabesque arms are not considered part of the five arm positions, it seems important to include them here because we use them pretty frequently. When you are in arabesque, standing on one foot with the other leg extended straight behind you either in tendu or any height off the floor, and you have the same arm forward as the leg you are standing on, this is first arabesque. The arm that is forward should be directly in front of you, and the other arm is extended behind you and to the side. Palms of both hands face the floor.
  9. Second Arabesque: (Again names differ.) Usually what teachers call an arabesque when the opposite arm is forward than the leg you are standing on.
  10. Third Arabesque: Third arabesque – when you have both arms in front of you, palms down, but one arm is straight out from your shoulder, and the other is higher, at a 45 degree diagonal. Each arm extends from the shoulder, so the arms are shoulder distance apart. Again, names can vary.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions about arms in ballet, or if I need to clarify any of this. Thanks for reading!

~Sarah

Ballet class every Tuesday 7-8pm and Saturday 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway Buzzer #5. All classes only $10. 

Tosca: fall in love with opera

 

I fell in love with opera when I was still living in Honolulu. I had the opportunity to perform with the Hawaii Opera Theater as a dancer in the chorus for their production of Aïda. The singers were incredible: I couldn’t get over how they produced such a sound. It seemed like something they did with their whole body – I could feel the vibrations radiating from them in waves. It was amazing. I had a huge crush on the bass, mostly because the walls shimmied when he spoke. He had me at (three octaves down) “Hello”.

The other thing that was exciting about the opera was the elaborate process that we all underwent before ever getting on the stage. I’ve been a dancer and actor all my life, and getting into costume and makeup had always been something I had done myself. Not so with Aida. It was an assembly line! We stripped, and were ushered into showers where they sponged us all over with body paint, and then dressed us in our costumes, and put our hair in tiny pin curls as we waited in line for wigs. After that was the line for the makeup team. When it was over, I hadn’t touched my tackle-box full of pancake and Ben Nye make up, and I was barely recognizable. It was really fun!

*              *             *

Two years ago I replied to a job posting for a choreographer that had been forwarded to me by a friend who knew I had enjoyed choreographic work in the past. I was really excited when I heard back from Dicapo Opera – a company I had heard great things about when I had worked in the office at Gotham Chamber Opera. Since then, I’ve helped director Michael Capasso on many Dicapo productions. During that time he was extremely busy, which I later learned was because he was working to revive the New York City Opera! I am very proud to be working on this production and to be listed as Movement Coordinator in the program. It has been an incredible journey.

This week’s production of Tosca is the comeback performance for the new New York City Opera, now under the direction of Michael Capasso. Performances are January 20-24th at The Rose Theater in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. Tickets start at $20. I can’t wait for you to see this gorgeous production, with the costumes  designed from the original 1900’s production, and the stunning sets. The music is phenomenal, and the singers will make you fall in love with opera.

Tickets and detailed information.

~Sarah

Open level Ballet classes every Tuesday 7-8pm and Saturday 12-1:30pm at Liberated Movement located at 380 Broadway, two blocks below Canal Street, Buzzer #5. All are welcome. 

Happy New Year!

 

Thank you for dancing with me and reading my blog this year. You’ve given me an incredible gift of teaching, and it has been my joy to share my love of ballet with you. I look forward to more dancing and blogging in the new year! Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying life, dancing to your hearts content, and swinging from the chandeliers! It’s going to be a great year.

Happy New Year!

~ Sarah
Class on Saturday is 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5, two blocks south of Canal Street, New York. Class is only $10! See you there.

On Dancing ‘Across the Floor’ (and Making Mistakes)

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You are in a ballet class for the first time–maybe your first ballet class in a long time–and suddenly the teacher says words you dread: “from the corner”. You realize you will be traveling from one corner of the dance studio across the center of the room in front of all the other dancers in a small group with only two two or three other dancers (to hide behind). Some of the dancers in your group may know the combination–in which case you can follow them; others may not–in which case if you follow them, it will be certain death. It can be completely terrifying. I’ve been there. I understand. No one wants to be judged or to publicly make a mistake! The thing is, dancing through the center of the room with the space to really take off and move can be a totally exhilarating experience and some of the best dancing of your life! Here are a few tips to help you get out of your head and dance.

1. Know when to start. Usually (not always) the teacher will play the music so you can hear it before you start dancing. Listen for the downbeat in the song. If it’s four beats to a measure, the teacher may count you in with a “5, 6, 7, 8!” Sometimes you may feel when to start. Trust that excellent instinct!

2. Find someone to dance with who you can follow. Maybe you have a friend in class who is slightly better at remembering steps than you are. Place yourself upstage of her so you can copy her AND still spot the corner. Find people you like and dance with them-it makes dancing much more fun. If you don’t know anyone, smile at someone. Congratulations, you just made a new friend!

3. Be extra confident about the first step. Even if you know the combination, if you have trouble getting into it, you can trip yourself up at the start. Ask the teacher questions, or ask a fellow dancer. If you aren’t sure, it is really ok to ask. It’s far, far better to ask in the beginning when things are still being explained than when everyone else is dancing and you are standing at the brink feeling terrified. Also, if you know the first step, even if you mess stuff up in the middle, you know how to start, and that’s great.

4. Everyone has different ways of learning. A lot of us are visual learners. Watching can be an amazing tool to learn how to do a particular move, or see how steps fit together. When you are not dancing, pay attention to the dancers who are, you can learn a lot whether they do the step correctly or not.

5. ‘Marking it’ is doing the steps but not fully. When the teacher is going over the steps, do it with your body, even if you are only half doing it or just doing it in place–you can even do the steps with your hands! Doing it physically in some way will get the movement into your body and actually make remembering the steps easier. As you are watching and waiting to dance, mark the movement with your feet or hands in your own little space.

6. It’s scary to get out there, I know! But don’t wait to be last, that puts added pressure on yourself. Sometimes you have to force yourself to go–like forcing yourself into cold water at the beach–but once you are in, you may find it exhilarating!

7. Attitude is everything. Even if you aren’t able to do the first step of the combination, and you aren’t at all sure of any of it, go for it anyway! (Unless you feel you may hurt yourself!) Like anything else, mindset is key. Keep a positive attitude about the situation–yes, you may mess up, and that is okay, that is why we go to ballet class–to learn and get better! Think of it this way, when a baby is learning to walk and she tries to stand and then plops down, you don’t say “Well that was horrible, obviously you’ll never be able to walk at that rate!” No! Of course not! You applaud her and say “Good job, that was awesome, do it again!” And you will try and next time your dancing across the floor will be better and pretty soon you’ll be the dancer everyone wants to follow–so stay positive!

I think the biggest fear in going across the floor is the fear of making a mistake. The truth about mistakes is, everyone makes them. Every. Single. Human. Even that ridiculously amazing dancer who looks like she was born doing triple pirouettes.

I asked a violinist friend about making mistakes. She said “Don’t let it get to you. Acknowledge the mistake and then put it away and move on.” Regarding making mistakes in life, an acting friend observed: “Mistakes are some of the best parts of my life! If I cut out all the mistakes, the rest would be pretty boring.” And about making mistakes in art, a writer friend gave me this quote by writer Neil Gaiman: “Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” I mean, that almost makes me want to screw it up! The fact is, you will make mistakes, there is no avoiding them. You cannot improve without them. Therefore, there is no point to beating yourself up over them! So what is stopping you? Nothing. Get out there and Dance!

~Sarah

Join me for open level ballet classes at Liberated Movement Tuesdays 7-8pm and Saturdays 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. Everyone is welcome. We’re learning Snow from Nutcracker this month. See you in class!

Thank you Jay Z or How To Break The Ballet Blues

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The gorgeous Misty Copeland, first African American principal dancer with American Ballet Theater.

Thank you, Jay Z! That’s right, I am a ballet teacher, thanking Jay Z for how his music rocked my ballet class and inspired me too!

I often enjoy incorporating all kinds of music into ballet class. I used an Irish Jig on Saint Patrick’s day and Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind in spring. One dancer requested a waltz, so I looked on line, and was surprised when a Jay Z song came up. Sure enough, “My 1st Song” is in 6/8 time–the man is rapping to a waltz, it’s very cool. It has this earthy undulating rhythm.

After hearing the song, when I really listened to the words, I realized the other cool thing about this song. It made me understand why Jay Z landed on the front page of Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people of 2015. By the way, my sister was also on that list, just not on the front cover.

In the song, Jay Z talks about how he asked Puff Daddy how to keep going, how to keep things fresh, how to keep his head above water. I did some googling and learned that in 1995, Jay Z was selling CDs out of the back of his car, and by 2003 when he wrote this song, he was a superstar megatalent and was planning to retire, just 8 years later! In the song, Puff tells Jay Z you have to keep things fresh, like when you first started, like back when you were an intern, like it’s your first song.

I realized this applies to ballet too–and probably every other passionate endeavor. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of success that sometimes you lose touch with the joy of simply creating. It’s vital to keep working, keep moving, and remember why you started dancing in the first place. Connect with the simple pleasure of learning your first steps, of feeling your body move in space, of turning or sailing across the floor in a leap. At first, when you start ballet you’re learning a lot of new steps, things are fresh and new and exciting. After awhile that learning starts to level off and you don’t see yourself making such big strides as you first did. It can be frustrating going to class and thinking you aren’t getting any better. What happens is the changes become more subtle as you begin a deeper learning of putting your expression into the movement, which is more nuanced. It can’t be measured so definitively. Whatever you do, don’t give up – do like the song says – keep going, keep moving – and remember the joy. Yes, it’s pain and struggle but it’s also the laughter it brings you. And that is where the gold is, that is your everything – it’s your life.

~Sarah

If you want to see what it’s like to dance ballet to Jay Z, we’ll be working on it today 12-1:30 at Liberated Movement. 380 Broadway buzzer number 5. Only $10.

Check this out: Jay Z took the train to his concert and he sat next to this woman. It’s very sweet.

Inspiring Liberated Movement

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I love to teach. I get inspired by my student’s enthusiasm and by watching dancers improve and blossom. I also love to learn anything I can to help my dancers (and myself!) dance better. This past month I have had two remarkable learning experiences that were totally different and yet weirdly similar. The first was a ballet teacher training and the second was a gym I joined. Hard to believe these two would have anything in common!

The ballet teacher training was taught by Lisa Howell, author of The Ballet Blog, a wonderful online resource. Lisa is a Physiotherapist who works with dancers in Australia. I found Lisa’s blog last year when googling symptoms of a foot injury. Her online explanation of what was going on with my ankle was eye-opening. Not only was the diagnosis correct and confirmed by a visit to a surgeon specializing in dancers’ injuries such as mine, I was also lucky to avoid surgery partly through learning about feet and ankles through Lisa’s books as well as from physical therapy. Lisa’s goal is to teach teachers how to train dancers so that common injuries can be avoided. She helps dancers overcome specific physical limitations and challenges. She also helps dancers avoid injury altogether through special training and techniques. I urge you to check out her blog and website and videos and books. She’s a wonderful resource.

One of the techniques she advocates is Fascial mobilization. A lot of us sit all day and then expect to be able to get up and move meanwhile all our muscles have gotten all stuck and stiff. Fascial mobilization involves mobilizing the connective tissue between muscle groups. Lisa explains it far better than I can in this video (plus she has a really great accent!). Check out her YouTube video. I’ve been incorporating some of these exercises into the beginning of ballet classes and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in everyone’s arabesques!

  • Try this: Pretend you are in a glass box and the walls are just out of reach. Try to touch every surface one at a time–top, bottom, sides, front and back, and every corner of the box by stretching your arms, twisting, bending, and when you think you’ve stretched to your limit, go three more millimeters. 

Another thing Lisa advocates is crawling. (Yes, on the floor!) Apparently a lot of research has been done in the last few years showing the importance of crawling for babies’ development, but also how crawling can be helpful for adults–it can retrain muscles, improve strength and coordination and make use of the body’s natural ‘cross-body slings’ that are part of the fascia. Lisa just wrote this blog about it. Check it out here.

  • Try this: Get on your hands and knees. Lift your right hand and left knee and move them forward and place them down at the same time. Now switch and use the left hand and right knee. You may find that developing grace in the seemingly simple act of crawling can be challenging. Keep your head up and slide your feet along the floor as you crawl. You can make it harder for yourself by going backwards or sideways, varying your speed, or lifting your knees one inch off the ground and crawling on the balls of your feet.

I was very much surprised then when I joined a gym called Mark Fisher Fitness and the first thing they had us do was crawling! I was also thrilled. It was exactly what Lisa Howell had taught! While Lisa told us to look up Mike Fitch and his animal crawling sequence, Mark Fisher Fitness is strongly based on the Original Strength principles taught by Tim Anderson. Both trainers seem to be teaching similar principles all designed to help body builders gain strength, and body control. Seems like dancers can probably learn from these techniques as well.  Here is one of Tim’s articles about crawling. I’ve also noticed that doing the weight lifting and training this month has definitely improved my dancing. It’s helped my core in particular. Cross training is great–I’ve found canoe paddling/kayaking, biking, and particularly yoga very helpful. Really anything else you do with your body can help you gain better awareness and control and can improve your body for ballet. Cross training has helped me overcome stumbling blocks – things I’m struggling with in ballet. After strengthening another area of my body through another discipline, I come back to dance and find my front developé is easier or I can get my arabesque higher. Both of these techniques–the fascial mobilization and crawling–are both aimed at restoring the body to its natural movement patterns that can be lost due to injury, stress, and sitting for long periods of time.

Lisa told us about one of the teenage girls she worked with who had overcome some specific physical limitations. She said to Lisa “I can find the right people and ask the right questions, nothing is impossible!”  I hope I can inspire dancers to think the same way–that nothing is impossible. Anyway, if you’ve been wondering why we’ve been crawling or stretching at the start of class, now you know what is behind it. I hope learning these techniques will make you a stronger, more capable dancer, able to dance with less pain, fewer injuries and a freedom that is truly liberated movement.

~Sarah

 

Come dance with me–at Liberated Movement–every Tuesday night 7-8pm. And Saturdays 12-1:30. http://www.liberatedmovement.com. Suggested donation is just $10, half what other classes cost in the city. 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. See you there!

 

 

What’s Your Holding Pattern?

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I recently flew from New York to San Francisco to see my mother. As the plane was coming into San Francisco, the pilot came on the air to say we were going into a holding pattern. I had just been rubbing my neck, stiff from the long flight. A “Holding Pattern!”, I thought, “That’s what I have going on in my neck!” Since getting back I have been been noticing where else I hold my tension – in my jaw, between my shoulder blades, my upper back, in my feet, and in my hips. Excess tension doesn’t make dancing easier. It makes a dancer stiff and robotic – better to be like grass that is willowy and can move and sway than to have the stiffness of an oak tree that can break. Holding your body in a certain way for a long period of time can cause repetitive patterns of stiffness when dancing, and can cause pain or even injury.

Where do you have a pattern of holding on to tension you don’t need?

1. Pay attention to how you stand. Do you press your hips forward with your weight shoved forward into the fronts of your hips? When you dance do you find your hip flexors are painful and gripping? Or do you stand with a sway back letting your belly out and then notice pain in your lower back? Without judging it, just notice your posture and then become aware of how you can modify your stance – weight even between your feet, pelvis neutral – neither tucked under or arched, shoulders wide and relaxed.

2. How do you walk? Are you gripping with your feet? See what happens if you imagine your feet are wearing big clown shoes. You may find you engage your core more. See what you can let go of just by noticing.

3. On which side do you carry your purse or bag? Be sure to alternate the shoulder that does the heavy lifting. That extra weight on your arm affects your hips and pelvis as well as your shoulders neck and back. Of course your shoulder and other muscles must work when carrying the bag, but when you put your bag down, do some gentle shoulder movements to release the tension there.

4. Notice how you sit, particularly if you work at a desk job. Try this: sit up so you can feel your sit bones in the chair (might be easier to feel in a hard chair), relax your shoulders and ease your rib cage down–they are just riding along on top. Keeping your chin parallel to the ground and your collar bones wide, use your low-low abdominals to start lengthening your spine on the inside from your tailbone up through the top of your head. While you’re doing this, see if you can take ten deep breaths – expanding your ribs on all sides – front, sides and into your back. I try to do this at work though I’m usually interrupted, but the next time it quiets down I find my sit bones, lengthen my spine and breathe.

5. What about your ribcage? A lot of times the front ribs flare out in our efforts to sit or stand up straight. Try relaxing them. What do you notice? Maybe your upper back can lengthen, and you can expand your back ribs as you breathe.

6. I’ve also noticed how much I bite my lips when I’m thinking. I’m trying to become more aware of that so I can release the tension in my jaw. What is your face doing? Do you bite your lip when you do developés in ballet class or when the subway doesn’t come, or things get stressful at work? Don’t judge yourself, just notice your jaw, your tongue, and all the little muscles around your eyes. See if you can release that tension.

Of course getting a massage or rolling on a foam roller or rolling on balls can help release tension. But if you go right back to grinding your teeth or gripping your hips when you walk, it’s only a temporary solution. We all have holding patterns in our bodies. By being aware and noticing these patterns, and breathing into tight areas, we can release unnecessary tension, and leave the holding patterns to the airplanes.

~Sarah

Join me for ballet class on Saturdays 12-1:30 and Tuesdays 7-8pm at 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. Two blocks south of Canal Street at the corner of White street and Broadway. Classes are only a $10 donation.