Let’s Talk About Balls

These are my balls

I want to talk about balls. Not the kind you can get away with grabbing when you’re a celebrity. Not the kind of balls it takes to call your political opponent ‘nasty’ or the kind you want to hurl at your television on occasion – or three occasions, or lately every time it’s on. I’m talking about the antidote to all the stress of life, dancing, and this political season – massage balls! (Only 3 more days, world, we can do this!)

Seriously though, self-massage using massage balls is great at releasing tight areas. Balls are inexpensive, portable, and easy to work with. You probably already know that massage increases circulation, and brings blood and oxygen to muscles allowing them to relax. What you may not know is that releasing muscles and ligaments that are gripping can also help them perform better, allow the correct muscles to engage, and enable your body to function better! While getting a massage is a wonderful treat, using balls whenever and wherever you need is easy on your wallet and your schedule.

Where to get Balls:

You can use tennis balls, though I prefer a slightly harder ball like the Pinky Hi Bounce balls pictured above that I got in the toy aisle at my local drug store. (In Harlem the balls even come in iridescent shades!) Google says you can buy them on eBay for $4.78. They are three inches in diameter, slightly smaller and firmer than tennis balls. Some people prefer the harder lacrosse balls which are the same size but I find those balls are a bit too hard for me.
A word of caution: if you are experiencing serious pain that is not going away, please go to a doctor! Also, for my type A friends, go easy with the balls, and don’t roll over bones, or any sensitive areas. Don’t confuse sensation or tenderness with out and out pain, and stop if you feel any weird (bad) zinging sensations indicating you may be irritating a nerve. Be gentle with yourself, always. 
Here are five ways you can use balls for massage:

  1. Back Massage: (For those of us with long hair, tie your hair up before doing this one so you don’t get your hair caught under your balls). Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your feet down and lift your hips high and put the balls together in the middle of your back so the balls are on either side of (not ON) your spine. If your balls want to roll away from each other you can put them in a little ball sack. Heh. But, yes, I’m being serious. Press your feet into floor to roll yourself down (and the balls roll up) until the balls are near where your shoulder blades are. This area carries a lot of tension and may feel tender at first. Breathe into the sensation and allow yourself to relax and sink into the balls. If you want more pressure, press your feet into the floor and lift your hips. If you need less pressure, you can do this same thing with the balls against a wall instead of the floor, bringing your feet close to the wall for the least amount of pressure. Once the initial area of tension has dissipated, roll the balls slowly up towards your neck or down your back, stopping to breath and relax into each new area of tenderness. 
  2. Hips: Stay on your back but open one knee to the side so you’re halfway rolling to your side. Put one ball under the fleshy area of your butt. You may find some tender areas in there to release especially as you roll towards the side. Prop yourself up on your elbow for more pressure. You are releasing your gluteal muscles and as you get more on your side, your piriformis, a muscles that runs between your outer hip bone and your frontal hip point. This muscle gets sore with a lot of walking or when you do a lot of frappes – your standing leg, that is. When you find a good spot, you can get deeper into the muscle by slowly straightening and bending the leg you tilted to the side, or moving the leg in any way that feels good. Recently I was having some pain in the front of my hip and when I used the balls to release this area in the back of my hip that was gripping, the pain in the front of the hip lessened remarkably. Don’t forget to breathe as you are doing this. When you finish rolling out one side, switch to the other hip.
  3. Hamstring massage: Sit on the floor with your legs bent. Straighten your legs out in front of you as you place one ball under each thigh. Press down into the ball and turn your leg in and out from the hip to roll across the muscles of the hamstring as opposed to up and down. Move the  ball up or down your leg to the next area and then go back and forth across the muscle fibers.
  4. Shoulder blade: Lie on your back and and put the ball under your shoulder blade. Move your arm straight up and shug your shoulder up and down to get into the muscles there. Gently open your arm to the side to ‘cactus position’ and you may feel a stretch across the front of your shoulder.
  5. Foot Massage: Step on your balls to massage the arches of your feet. Place one ball under your foot in the arch near your heel. Add some pressure and then release and move to a different spot and repeat. This maybe particularly beneficial if you have plantar fasciitis. You may find it helpful to roll gently adding pressure as you can tolerate it. Or roll the ball lightly underfoot with less pressure. 

I hope this helps ease the tensions in your body if not in the political scene. Those tensions can only be solved one way. Vote. See you on the other side, and see you at the barre. 

~ Sarah

An Adagio for September

Inspiration for dancing: My great grand-mother Blanche, center, with her two sisters, Corinne and Celestine wearing fabulous hats!

I was inspired to choreograph an adagio to the song Luray Women sung by female duo Clishmaclaver because of a conversation I had with my mother recently about the people who are still around and those who live on in our hearts and memories. I was making her laugh, telling her the story of my Dad’s first pun when he was a little boy. She laughed, but then she said, “Is he still around?” Not wanting to hurt her, I answered, “Well, he’s around in our hearts and memories.” She sighed, “So he’s not still around”. I had to admit she was correct. Then she asked, “Which of my people are no longer around?”

I was thinking of this conversation and all the people who are no longer around and I thought of this song. The lyrics make me think of my great grandmother, (center), and her two sisters. My mother loved telling me her grandmother’s stories. Their parents only had enough money to send three of their six children to college. They figured the three boys could always get work on a farm, so in the 1890s they sent their three daughters to college. My great grandmother became a teacher, got married and had one son. Her middle sister became a lawyer and her youngest sister was a drama teacher who came to New York. This dance is for all those who came before, and for sisters everywhere.

*                       *                     *

About the dance: I wanted to include walking in the adagio because walking can be so difficult to do naturally. Walk to the music, not a ballet walk with pointed feet, but a regular walk to the slow tempo of the music. Keep your walk fluid even though the tempo is slow. Make eye contact with the other dancers in the room, connecting to your center, to the floor, to the music, and to each other.

The choreography for the first verse and chorus are written out below. For the second verse and chorus, reverse the dance to the other side. For the third verse, repeat the first side to the end of the verse, so the last thing is the soutenou turn on “roots entwined”.

About the Music: I love the song sung by female duo Clishmaclaver (Jennifer Culley and Brooke Parkhurst) on their album Roots Entwined. But I couldn’t find a sample of it or a link for where to buy it online. All I could find was this youtube of the song, which is also lovely, but just not the same. If any of you who are more internet savvvy than I find it, can you let me know in the comments below?

LURAY WOMEN Sung by Clishmaclaver, on their album Roots Entwined.

Tall as timber, Great Aunt Lizzie Wrapped in rugs against the cold Counts 1-8, walk 8 steps, ending in 5th position, Left foot front, croisé.

Looking out across the mountains Counts 1-2, plié pas de cheval front (L) foot; counts 3-4, posé up to sous-sus, legs together in fifth, 2nd arabesque arms, right arm forward.

To the valleys of my soul  Counts 5-6, balance as you bring arms to 5th, then towards the left, counts 7-8, step your front foot out to the left and tombé, arms continue the circle towards the floor, and you contract your upper body, head down, standing on your left, in plié facing front, en face, with your right foot tendu à la seconde, arms in a low second.

On the porch where Lizzie’s rocking  Counts 1-4, lift your right leg slowly to à la seconde. Don’t rush this, you have plenty of time. Lift your body, head and arms lift to a “v” towards the ceiling.

Great Grandma Nannie comes and stands  Count 5 Passé, arms to 5th. Counts 6-7  back attitude croisé, arms open to third position. Right arm is high (arm away from the audience, same arm high as leg that is back) Count 8, start the promenade to the right. (See below)

Underneath her plain white apron  Counts 1-4 promenade to rights. As you promenade, the back leg goes from back attitude through passé to front attitude. Arms go to fifth position.

Holds my future in her hands Counts 5-6 extend right foot to dévelopé croisé front in plié. Arms bend in towards stomach and extend to third arabesque. Count 7 Posé forward, arms stay in third arabesque, Count 8 Plié in fifth, back soutenou turn, arms do an inside port de bras.


Luray women, how you’re with me  Counts 1-2 step to the right (remember step to the back foot)  into plié, left foot tendu side, right arm stay extended side. It’s slow, continue stretching your arms out to the music, Counts 3-4 ronde de jambe your left foot to croisé front straightening standing leg. Right arm comes to fifth.

Soft as memory, strong as wood Counts 5-8. Plié and Port de bras forward and up over pointed (left) foot

In my face you are returning Counts 1-4 Brush left foot through first position to arabesque. Right arm comes to chest, palm facing out. Left arm extends out to back as if in arabesque, as if someone behind you is holding your hand, palm facing down, and begin to penché.

I hear you singing in my blood Counts 5-8 Penché down and up. Counts 7-8 Plié standing leg and touch left foot to the floor, arch back. Hand at chest sweeps up to a high arabesque arm, palm out (not in fifth). Pull up to sous-sus, pas de bourré fourth position, left foot front.

There are four extra counts here Inside pirouette to the left. Land in fifth position right foot front, arms open to second and float down to preparation.

Reverse all on the other side.

Verse 2
Now the years and all my memories
Flow like water by the bridge
I can see them in my mirror
Tall as trees along the ridge
Just like trees along the mountain
Through the years grown straight and tall
Till the place where they’ve been standing
Seems deserted when they fall

Luray women, how you’re with me
Soft as memory, strong as wood
In my face you are returning
Hear you singing in my blood

Verse 3
If you lose the one that loves you
Make a life that’s all your own
Find a place no one can reach you
Turn your back and go back home
But if you find the one that loves you
If you love the one you find
Be like sisters on the mountain
Branches touching, roots entwined


Want to learn this dance? We’ll do it one last time in class this coming Tuesday. Ballet class 7-8pm on Tuesdays, 12-1:30 on Saturdays. 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5, Only  $10. Don’t be shy, anyone can dance. 

Asking How to Get Better at Ballet (or anything) vs. Asking Why 

Comic genius Lucille Ball at the barre

When I’m not doing well at something in life or dance, I inevitably ask myself ‘why’. Why am I not getting this?, Why does everyone seem to get this but me? Or in ballet: Why can’t I get my leg higher?, Why do I always fall out of my pirouettes?, What is wrong with me? It feels so frustrating and self-defeating. 

In a gym class the other day at Mark Fisher Fitness, Michael Littig, Fitness expert, encouraged us to instead ask ourselves ‘how’. We went around the room, each saying how we wanted to feel – accomplished, motivated, energized, successful, strong. Each of our desired outcomes could be ours, he said, if we asked ourselves how do I get there instead of why can’t I get there. Asking “why” keeps you stuck, spinning your wheels and not moving forward, while asking “how” allows you to see the possibilities, encourages you to problem solve, and allows your mind (and body) to start changing. I told a friend about ‘how vs. why’, and we applied the concept to an idea she had, and pretty soon we had talked out an exciting plan to make her idea a reality! 

With this concept in mind, I decided to apply it to ballet. How can I get better at ballet? Let’s make it more manageable. How can I get 1% better at ballet? (We’re not talking ABT, just 1% better!)*

1. First it might help if I show up regularly to ballet class. I can work on that by looking ahead at my calendar, and blocking off the time. I can help myself stay on course by letting friends know I have a previous engagement at that time but I’d be available afterwards or on another night. I don’t have to tell them what the commitment is! Don’t feel bad for your friend, like that person is less important than ballet. No, you are doing this for you, and aren’t you just as important as your friend? Yes you are! 

This also applies to work. If you had tickets to a show for which you already paid money, and your boss asked you to stay late, you’d say, “I won’t be able to stay late tonight, I have plans.” Why should ballet be any less important than Hamilton tickets? 🙂  You don’t have to explain your personal commitments. 

2. Next I make sure I have something clean to wear and I pack my bag the night before so in the morning rush I don’t forget my shoes or pants or something. 

3. During class, I stay present, and focused, continually bringing my mind back into the room and not worrying about work or something outside  of class. 

4. I listen to all of the corrections given in class, and apply them to myself even if they aren’t specifically given to me. Any correction in ballet class can potentially help, so I pay attention.

5. I scan my body during class. Is my head held high, extending the back of my neck? Is my chin parallel to the floor? Are my shoulders down and back and is my back wide? Are my elbows lefted and my fingers reaching out as if they had LED lights radiating from my fingertips? Is my tailbone lengthening toward the floor as my belly lifts in and up? Can I maintain this tall, wide, expanded posture with grace and without tension? Are my legs extending out and away from my body, are my feet reaching long with all the toes reaching and stretching long when I point my feet instead of scrunching up my toes? 

6. I watch the other dancers in class. Everyone has their gifts and abilities, no matter what their level and watching the other dancers can allow me to learn more than if I only focus on myself. There is also some research that suggests watching others dance creates a kinesthetic response. It’s as if neurologically you are doing the movement when you watch others do a movement, particularly one with which you are familiar. Pretty cool!

7. Finally, after ballet class is over and while you’re still warm, commit to doing 5 minutes of simple stretching to take care of your  body before changing your clothes. 

8. What about homework?  Dancers ask me this all the time. The thing is, you can’t cram for ballet class. If you overstretch, you risk injury. Ballet is something at which you will improve slowly over time. When you are first learning, it’s better not to practice at home anyway because you don’t want to practice it wrong. The good news is that means you don’t need to do anything extra! You went to class, so give yourself a hug. No guilt for today! 

Keep asking yourself ‘how’. I’m going to see what other areas of my life I can improve using ‘how’. Until then, I’ll see you at the barre. 
Looking for a ballet class? Come join mine! Tuesdays 7-8, and Saturdays 12-1:30. 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5, two blocks south of Canal street. Classes are only $10.

*Getting 1% better at anything is also a Mark Fisher Fitness ism. 

Perceptions on Corrections

George Balanchine, co-founder and former artistic director of New York City Ballet giving a correction to a student.

When you get a correction from a teacher do you internalize it as a bad thing? Do you use it against yourself to prove yourself right that you are not a good enough dancer? “Aha, I bend my knee when I do grand battements, it’s a sign I should stop dancing.” Uh, no. How about just becoming aware of when you are bending your leg and starting to work towards straight legs? Or what if you choose different words “My grand battements are going to be so much better now!” 

 When I was growing up my ballet teacher told me that if a teacher gives you a correction, it should be taken as a compliment. Sometimes it can be difficult to see it that way. Dancing is so personal. As with acting, or singing, when we dance, we are the instrument of the art, we are the dance. Being the moving clay on which we sculpt our art, we may find it difficult to separate where we end and the dancer begins. Maybe our technique or timing could use improvement, but that does not mean we are bad dancers or bad people. Sometimes the very words meant to compliment, correct, and even encourage us can be misinterpreted. It can be easy to allow a teacher’s words to hurt us. Even fairly innocuous words of “stretch!” and “pointe!” can be heard through the warped prism of our own judgemental inner critic. We instead hear: “You have horrible feet.” “You’ll never be flexible .”  

 Years ago in a ballet class the teacher abruptly stopped us mid-exercise – impatiently clapping her hands. “You were all wrong!”, she informed us, glaring angrily. She wanted us to do echappe releves on the “and” count, and none of us had understood her instructions. (I don’t think she explained it very well, to be honest.) She doled out various corrections to other dancers and then turned to me and said “And you! That was just Awful!” I turned to my friend, tears gushing down my face, but unable to say goodbye, I simply ran out of the class. Hilarious in retrospect, but in the moment, I was traumatized. I realized later she had been expecting more of me because I was in the front of the class, and had more training than some of the other dancers. She did not express her correction in the best way, to be sure!  But maybe she was right – I probably could have done it better, and so what? I’ve realized since that it’s very possible to dance horribly, totally mess up a combination, or even have a really off day and still be OK. It also doesn’t mean I’m an awful dancer. 🙂 

Corrections are really the gold of dance class – the teacher is spending their time paying attention to you when there is very limited class time and they could just as easily be focusing on someone else. It’s someone outside of you noticing one tiny thing that could make a huge  difference, maybe even save you from injury. If they notice you, it is a compliment. 

 What can you do to make sure a teacher’s correction or comment doesn’t ruin your day? (Or your makeup?) 

1. Strive to take corrections in the spirit they were meant, without taking them as a personal attack. Remember, a teacher’s attentions should be flattering. 

 2. If you can’t convince yourself your teacher has your best interests at heart, at least know that you are not alone. You are also not awful or anything else he may have said to you, or that you may have interpreted. Teacher’s words can hurt, but teachers are humans too and not perfect. Things can come out unfortunately wrong. Forgive and forget. You are okay, and you will overcome this and someday, (hopefully soon), you will be able to look back on this and laugh. 

3. After you’ve had some time to think about it, (and hopefully after a good night’s sleep and a good meal), rewind what the teacher said. Was it totally random? Was it justified in any way? Does it have any ring of truth to it at all? Is there anything you can take away from the comment that can constructively help you? If not, then let it go, but be honest with yourself here. The same is true for the compliment that you won’t accept or believe and are refusing to acknowledge. Could there be a shred of truth in it?  Maybe the teacher can see that you are improving. Take the compliment! 

4. Sometimes corrections can be difficult to incorporate right away or frustrating to execute. “He wants me to not hop in my pirouettes but how? How do I not do it?” Part of that could be strengthening ankles and gaining core strength. Other fixes may require learning to relax or increasing flexibility. These things take time. Weirdly enough, a lot of corrections are psychological. Part of what helps is believing it can actually be done, physically by any human, and secondly that you can actually do it. Be really patient with yourself here, and remember you are a work of art, which takes time and love. Sometimes that frustration can even be useful to push you past the blocks you have. Don’t give up.

5. Others have gone through what you are going through. Maybe it requires asking questions, and talking with other dancers to find solutions. This is why we take classes together, to form a community and to figure out issues together. Another dancer might be able to show you slowly, or tell you their tricks. I get it though, it can be hard to ask – not being able to do something can feel humiliating. If you are feeling too shy and don’t want to ask your teacher or that nice girl in the blue leotard, ask Google! There are so many humans on the planet at this point, that not only have others gone through what you’re going through, there are entire websites and Google groups devoted to solving your exact  issue. Problems are better solved together. Reach out to someone 🙂  

 6. Finally, don’t let someone else get you down. You want to dance and you deserve the chance to dance and it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your body type is or anything else hanging you up. You can do this!  

I wish I could convey to my students how beautiful and magnificent they are. They show up with their excitement and vulnerability and together we go for a ride and get to know each other through a wondrous journey called ballet class. It takes guts to dance! And because it’s challenging, the thrill when you get it, combined with the feeling of moving in space, there is no greater high. In a few weeks you’ll notice that what seems really challenging today is totally doable and you are the one others are asking for help. Getting corrections (and compliments) are part of that process. It’s all in your perception. 


Come take class with me! I teach Tuesdays 7-8 and Saturdays 12-1:30. We are a donation based studio. We ask for a $10 donation, half the cost of a regular dance class!  380 Broadway at White street, Buzzer #5.       

What’s for lunch: Drunken Chicken Soup

Drunken Chicken Soup

I struggle to eat healthily amid fast-paced New York life, work, teaching ballet, and directing opera. One of my biggest challenges is making sure I’m eating enough protein. As a dancer, eating lean sources of protein is really important. I know for myself, if I have ready-made food in the house, I’m far less likely to eat popcorn for dinner. I also have something yummy to bring for lunch!
This soup is fast, easy, healthy, and gluten free. I stole the basics for this recipe off the side of a crockpot box, except it included no vegetables! I embellished, eliminating the tomato paste that can trigger acid reflux, substituting hard cider for the beer, and adding carrots, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. The result is a hearty tangy soup that is very satisfying. As a bonus, carrots and sweet potatoes are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, manganese and fiber! If you like olives, this soup is for you! I call it…

Drunken Chicken Soup

  • 2-3 chicken breasts
  • 22-ounce hard cider (or two regular sized hard ciders)
  • 1 1/3 cups water (a little less or more depending)
  • 1 large or two small sweet potatoes peeled and chopped in 1 inch cubes
  • 1-2 small regular potatoes peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
  • 4-6 carrots chopped
  • I jar stuffed green olives with the juice
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 2-3 tsp paprika (more to taste)

Add all ingredients to a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until chicken is cooked– about 20-30 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pot and cut into 1/2 inch cubes and return to the soup. Be sure carrots and potatoes are tender before serving. If you use the juice from the olives, you won’t need to add salt and there will be plenty of flavor. Serve and eat when vegetables are tender. Enjoy!

Joy: Superpower for Spring


Daffodils in Bryant Park

I grew up in Hawaii where we don’t have extreme seasons – not like in New York. We have whale season when humpback whales come to the islands, but that’s different. 

Winter used to be really hard for me with its short dark days. I couldn’t take the cold – anytime it fell below 20 degrees I would get sick. I’ve slowly learned about boots and warm clothes over the last thirteen years, and now I find spring the most difficult season.

Spring is tricky. The weather is changing faster than we can change our coats. It’s hot, cold, warm, wet, windy, and weird! The light looks like it will be warm out but it fools us. We’re impatient for summer to come and isn’t that similar to growth? We’re impatient to be better dancers – for the summer of our dancing to be in full swing. The growth period of learning is painful. It comes in fits and starts, just like spring. One moment is a  feeling of getting the steps, feeling the music just right, and then there’s the awkward uncomfortable gangliness when you can’t find the beat or recognize a step you once knew and you’re totally discombobulated. It’s tempting to be cruel…”Well I was never going to be any good anyway.” It’s tempting to lie to oneself -“I never liked that kind of dance to begin with,” (when you know you love it!) …It’s tempting to quit.

It’s easy to get caught up in our minds about the perceived judgement of others or the very real judgement we inflict on ourselves. Try to ease your mind of these kinds of thoughts, the worst of all suffering, and imagine instead we are all flowers in a garden, different, and unique, but no less beautiful than any other. Does the elegant tulip look down on the trumpet-nosed daffodils, those happy-yellow beacons of spring?  

It’s tempting to buy into one’s ego – “I’ve been dancing this long, I should know this by now”. How long has spring been around, how many millions and billions of years? Growth is not a smooth process, it’s up and down in fits and starts, three steps forward, two steps back. Instead of focusing on the goal, focus on the joy that dancing brings you. Your summer will come. For now, celebrate the imperfect moment of uncertainty when you aren’t sure exactly what the step is and you choose to dance anyway. As you move, you may start to figure out the movement. Bravo! Bask in the goodness of learning, the luxury of being a beginner without the pressure of having to perform. Relish the elation of simply moving to music. Instead of anticipating the summer, enjoy the daffodils.

My favorite moment in ballet class Tuesday night was when everyone was skipping in big glorious circles around the room to the Happy song, – “because I’m happy…” Everyone was jumping really high, lifting their knees, and pointing their feet: a room full of adults, all of us emphatically and gleefully skipping! Is there anything more joyful than that?

~ Sarah

In my open level ballet classes, sometimes beginners get left behind. I’m teaching a basic beginner workshop the first four Sundays of May–May 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd from 2:30-4pm at 380 Broadway.  For more information, email me at liberatedmovement@gmail.com

Open level classes are 7-8pm on Tuesdays, suggested donation $10.  For Ballet workshop 12-1:30pm on Saturdays, we request a minimum donation of $10.

On Remembering the Combination


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!



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
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!
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?


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!


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