Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Always moving UP!

Hello beautiful dancers!

As I've mentioned in the past, lots of people (instructors included) want ballet to be a list of do's and don'ts, always and nevers, and for many things, we can accommodate that. For instance, a battement tendu always stretches to a point, you never sickle your foot, and so on. These are basics we can all agree on.

Depending on the school where you study, however, the foot might wrap in battement frappe or it might flex. The working leg might developpe during the execution of a fondu developpe or it might go through an attitude. New dancers are understandably confused when they take classes with teachers who don't allow for other styles of ballet.

That's why I share the "always" whenever I can. So here's an always:

Begin every action with an UP.

No matter what you do, start with UP.

Plie? Lift up in your torso before you descend.

Tendu? Lift up in your core and standing leg before you release the gesture leg.

Jumping? Turning? That's right - lift your center, take a breath - feel the up before you go down.

But why? you ask. Why wouldn't I concentrate on down if I'm about to move across the floor?

Many reasons, but the simplest is this: by lifting up, you engage your upper body and core muscles which makes you lighter and propels you across the floor faster and more smoothly. For a pirouette, focusing on the down means you're already falling out of the turn; by thinking UP, by breathing, by lifting, you're giving yourself a head start on staying up en releve. And we all know (or we can guess) what happens when dancers en pointe don't engage their core muscles: their ankles and feet do all the work.

When you watch a dancer with lovely port de bras, take a look at what she or he is doing with their arms. More likely than not, they are lifting up first with a breath under their arms (space for their pamplemousses!) before they start to move.

Next time you're in class, try to begin everything you do with the UP. You'll find that exercises are a lot easier and that you feel lighter throughout the class. I think you'll also discover you have more height in your jumps, more expression in your epaulement, and an easier time with turns.

Happy dancing - UP!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Massage therapy: luxury or necessity?

The smart dancer knows the answer to that question. No doubt, massage is a necessity.

Soothe sore muscles? Check.

Break up scar tissue from recurring injuries? Check.

Increase blood flow? Check.

Dancers! You need this!

Regular bodywork is like maintenance on your house. Keep up with the weeds before they ruin the foundation.

As dancers, we learn to live with pain and discomfort. We often adjust our gait or compromise our alignment in order to accommodate both. It's not until a real injury sidelines us that we realize, "oh hey, I've been hitching my hip to the side for months!"

As teachers, we frequently demonstrate exercises only on one side or repeatedly or exaggeratedly or - I'm guilty of this - to be silly. Consequently, we are off-kilter much of the time but don't know it!

As humans, we carry stress in our shoulders and lower back. We strain our necks at computer screens and our wrists and forearms on our phones and tablets. We sit in traffic for hours every week. We walk in heels on concrete. We don't bend our knees when we lift our cat or our kids. Oh my gosh, we're a mess!

The answer: regular massage.

Never neglect the feet!

Aside from the very practical benefits of massage therapy, there are innumerable intangibles like mental relaxation and a healing touch. In addition, you'll often find skilled therapists who practice other types of body work such as cranialsacral therapy and Reiki, among other services. You may find them in medical offices with doctors who understand the benefits of noninvasive therapy, especially chiropractors and physical therapists.

So now you are kind of nodding your head in agreement that maybe massage could be incorporated into your life but you're wondering how you find someone. The number one way is by referral. A good friend or a doctor can recommend someone to you that you can trust. Just because there's a storefront down the street next to your local Pinkberry that's running a never-ending $40 special doesn't mean it's going to give you what you need. Experiment with the different types of massage (e.g. Swedish, sports, etc.) until you find the style and the person who can give you the most benefit.

As for frequency, well, you are your own best guide. Some people keep standing monthly appointments, some go a couple of times a year. Whatever works for you and your schedule (and yes, your budget), just try to be consistent. You wouldn't put off getting that oil change for five years, would you? Of course not! But you don't always have to follow the manufacturer's guidelines, if you know what I mean.

I recently had a very wonderful massage with a woman in La Canada named Julia Suh. Not only is she a tremendously intuitive therapist, she is also a yoga teacher so her approach to massage, as I felt it, was movement-based. It felt like she was moving with my muscles as I would dance. Additionally, she offers healing cranialsacral therapy which, for me, resulted in one of the most relaxed states I have ever felt. I link her on my sidebar for students who are interested in contacting her.
Julia Suh, massage & cranialsacral therapist
Happy dancing! Happy healing~

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Is that a grapefruit under your arm?

Hello beautiful dancers!

Lately I've been unhappy with my students' armpits. 

It's not that they're smelly or gross - they're empty! 

Caveat: this is NOT my original imagery. A teacher friend of mine likes to tell her class to hold something under their arms when they are standing at the barre, to feel as if there is an object they are keeping pressed between their arm and their torso.


This week, I'm asking all of my students, regardless of their level or experience, to imagine they have grapefruits under their arms. This imagery serves several purposes:

1. It keeps space between the arm and torso.

2. It adds shape to the arms.

3. It activates the back muscles.

Beginning at the barre, try to picture the space under your arm as filled with an object like a grapefruit. As you move the arms through port de bras, continue to hold that object, even when the arms are above your head. However, be very careful that you don't squish the fruit under your arm. You must shape the armpit around the fruit and hold it in place.

HINT: When you do cambre, lifting your spine up and back, turn your head gently to the side and take a sniff of that grapefruit. That is where your head should be, rather than facing the ceiling.

When you come to the center, hold that grapefruit when you are doing pirouettes and that will help you engage your back muscles and keep your abdominal muscles active, which in turn will help you stay lifted. If you're really concentrating, think about this image when you do big jumps; keep those grapefruits under your arms even as you fly across the stage.

Take a look at Misty Copeland in this photo. Notice how there is shape to her underarms even as she holds her hands high above her head. The grapefruits are still in place!

Misty Copeland, courtesy American Masters
Don't lose your grapefruit! Or as the French say, Ne perdez pas votre pamplemousse!



Happy dancing~

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Update: ScareLA, Tips from the Pirouette Workshop and Show Tickets!

Wow, it CAN'T be August already, can it? That means the "Sweet Sorrow" world premier is just 2 months away! Oh my goodness! But first there is ScareLA.

Last year, the horror convention was held in Pasadena. It was our first time there and we had a blast! And the audience loved us too, so the con asked us back for more. This time the convention will be in downtown LA. We'll be doing the dance again (always a bit different, of course!) and we'll also host a table and sell merchandise and show tickets. Want to see us?  Get tickets at our website, zombieballet.com and go to "Events." If you buy ScareLA tickets through that link, we'll get a small percentage too. Thank you!

And to tease you, this is what it looked like last year:


And if you want to get your tickets to the show in October, we've got those on-sale now at Eventbrite:


And finally, tips from the workshop on Sunday, which was loads of fun, even if most attendees did have sore legs the next day!

Pirouette Tip #1: wrap your arms in first position like you're holding something that doesn't want to be held.

Pirouette Tip #2: practice getting over your leg by springing to releve degage derriere from a 4th position demi-plie. The longer you can hold this position, the better and more stable your turn will be.

Happy dancing (and turning and ScareLA-ing)!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pirouette Workshop July 30!

Hi local dancers!

It's been almost 2 years since I've held a pirouette workshop so you know this one will be packed with lots of great tips and exercises to improve your pirouettes en dehors.

Date: Sunday, July 30, 2017
Time: 2:30-4PM
Cost: $25
Limit: 15 students
Location: Inspire Dance Studio (see sidebar for address)

No matter what your level, you can always work on pirouettes, right? This workshop is 1.5 hours long and will focus on the biomechanics of turns so you can build your own toolbox and never have to rely on "luck" to get yourself around.

Purchase your spot in advance by clicking the link above and to the left under the banner of this blog. If you prefer, you can pay me directly in class but be advised the workshop is limited to 15 (actually only 12 as of this writing).

Can't wait! I love pirouette workshops!

Photo of Pierre Trudeau doing a pirouette by Charles LeBlanc


Happy dancing~