Saturday, April 25, 2009

Zen and the Art of Dancing For Artistic Fulfillment

Most of the dancers I hear from are recreational dancers or adult dancers or adult beginners who are just getting started. The professional students have most of their problems solved by their environment. For the non-professionals, dance is also a soul expression, a creative outlet, resulting in the daily life becoming more artful. For what dancer does not do something everyday relating to their dance experience?

Zen and the art of ...... living! The mindfulness practiced in meditation, flower arranging, a tea ceremony, a ballet class, performing kata, is a commitment. It is a commitment to be there at the exclusion of all else.

There only is where you are, when you are, doing what you're doing. There is nothing else. Any reflection on something else, somewhere else, some-when else is all in your mind!

And you might say that dance is all in your mind too! Dance certainly starts in the mind, and maybe I don't want to take that topic any further.

In a ballet class, maybe you do not have quite the ideal ballet body. Maybe you are totally on the wrong side of the ballet body barrier. What every dancer, regardless of body type, has in her/his favor, is the ability to concentrate.

Concentration is zen-like. It excludes everything except what is being done in the moment. I am not a zen master or any kind of meditation guru, but I can say with certainty that this definitely works for ballet. I have seen four year olds concentrate on their demi plies, battments tendus from first position, and slow rises in parallel position with utterly non-distracted attention. It continues to astound me.

Learning ballet benefits the most from this type of concentration. I think the value is in the doing, not the results. The results in ballet are largely dictated by the body type. The doing remains unmarred by conventional values. Ballet technique, strength and flexibility can all be gained by focused practice. And whichever side of the ballet body barrier you are on, the soul expression, the rewards of the creative outlet can be equally fulfilling.

So, especially if you are on the difficult physical side of progressing in ballet, don't let yourself get distracted by the ideal form of the body that you do not have. Or if you're an adult beginner, or adult re-starter, enjoy and relish the focus you get in class from the long slow climb to intermediate and advance levels of ballet.

Imagine applying the concentration you give to a demi and grand plie exercise, where you set your tone and level of involvement for the entire ballet class, to clearing the dinner table, doing your homework, or preparing a business proposal. It's all life.

If you have this approach, you cannot be worrying, comparing yourself to the next dancer, to your favorite ballerina, or any other nervous thought. You have brought all of you to the plies, the tendus and the rest of the dance routines.

The interesting thing is it is this kind of focus that draws attention to a dancer. The one you cannot take your eyes off. It's the zen, the soul expression of really being there that captivates the audience. You can be that any time, all the time.

Amazing sources of dance education such as The Perfect Pointe Book, and The Body Series books and DVDs, will help you learn the art of dancing to your fulfillment.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Doomed With My Body Type in the Dance World

Ballet students in general have two strikes against them when they start ballet. I have heard so many in the ballet world say:


(I chose that image because I'm not into body shaming dancers! You know what I mean...)

"I am doomed with my body type". 

Some are correct. With the wrong proportions and genetically bulked up muscles, only a few awesome talents break the ballet body barrier. The second strike is that dancers are their own worst critic, regardless of genetic luck.

Anyone who has seen a few classical ballets, or modern ballets with dancers in white spandex unitards, has figured out what the favored ballet body type is:

*Small head***long neck***shortened torso***long, thin, lean (but slightly muscular)legs*

This is a matter of genetics plus training, and it is important for the dancer to have enough strength to control motion. In non-ballet fields, these proportions are not normal and may even be considered detrimental.

Turnout of the leg from the hip joint.

This would depend whether the natural angle of the thigh bone in the hip is angled outward or inward. Also, increasing the flexibility of the surrounding soft tissues must begin before the age of seven to significantly enhance the degree of turnout.

However, serious full time ballet training should NOT start at age seven. Well designed weekly classes with no rush on advancing from simple exercises (for instance the early Cecchetti or R.A.D. grades) is as complicated as training should get.

Slight knee hyper extension has become a pleasing line in ballet. The slight backward curve of the leg enhances the look of the arch curve outward (yet undermines the function of balance).

A dancer with hyperextended knees can be taught to hold them straight, that's one more of the zillion things to think about throughout a dance class. This ideally would be mastered before getting into pointe shoes.

Bowed legs is favored for the ballet dancer for both practical and visual reasons. External tibial torsion (outward rotation of the lower leg) is favorable in that it can increase turnout look of the feet.

Adequate mobility of the ankle and foot so that the body can be stacked up from a demi pointe or full pointe position. A less flexible ankle especially would have the dancer's weight slightly back. Hypermobile feet are the fashionable shape, a highly domed arch. This is something you are born with, or not. However, ankle flexibility can be increased with gentle stretching, over time.

The hypermobile foot is not the best functional foot for ballet. Until it is strengthened sufficiently, pointe shoes will break quickly and the dancer will not have good control.

Some talented dancers with lesser-favored proportions and muscle shapes rise in the ranks to become soloists and character performers in classical dance companies.

Hard work, a winning personality and acting ability all help contribute to the success of a dancer like this.

Yet body type has nothing to do with the love of dance or performing talent. If a dance student realizes that she/he is struggling to accommodate ballet positions, let them keep struggling.

And also investigate other styles of dance where success is more likely.

Hitting the ballet body barrier never has to be a negative. It may propel a young person toward a different area of performing.

And this person will have gained dance technique, discipline, ability to work hard, and they will be no longer doomed with their body type in the dance world.

If you feel that you are struggling in ballet class, take advantage of the amazing dance education available from expert educational material such as The Perfect Pointe Book and The Body Series books and DVDs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to Lose Some Weight and Keep it Off For Your Dance Recital Or Ballet Exams

Writing this in mid-April, I'm thinking back to the tension that begins leading up to the end of the term ballet recital and ballet exams. And after that comes the summer swimsuit. Do you look long and lean enough? Dancers never think so.

Sugar is a great tranquilizer.

When tension starts to build over the coming ballet recital or ballet exams, the human brain knows what to do. However if you don't eat your cookies before a long rehearsal or dance class, you will wear them for a while.

So as stress kicks in, planning realistic goals to maintain your weight, or lose a little, is what will help you succeed.

For example, if you think you might want to lose four to five pounds, count the weeks between now and your performance.Calculate how many parts of a pound you want to lose per week.

A quarter or third of a pound a week is easy to lose by this simple strategy:

  • don't eat any bread, crackers, buns, muffins, chips, pasta or potatoes
  • make sure you DO have some healthy snacks with you at all times
  • use a protein calculator to make sure you eat enough every day
  • if you have to eat on the run, choose a wrap or lettuce-wrap instead of a bun
  • keep a fork in your dance bag or purse in case you can't get a lettuce wrap, then you can eat out of the bun and discard it
  • choose water, never a sugary sports drink
  • in a juice bar, get vegetable juice with apple juice, but skip the frozen yogurt (unsweetened berries are okay to add)

Healthy snacks could be walnuts (two or three big ones are quite filling), an inch cube of cheese with celery, jerky (try to get the no-nitrate and no coloring added brands) or fresh fruit.

Make sure you sleep well. Most health food stores sell powdered calcium/magnesium which relaxes your tense muscles and also usually results in a deep sleep.

(If you have any kind of medical condition check with your doctor about this.)

Control your weight with a protein calculator.

Healthy fresh foods also give you the brain power to think rather than worry. "Train Your Brain" by Deborah Vogel will help you stay living smart with positive emotional intelligence.

Just remember, you always look more long and lean than you think you do. With realistic goals you can lose some weight, keep it off, and stay healthy.

D. Buxton is a writing partner with Vone Deporter, of The Sedona Series, about a surfer girl in pointe shoes.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Going Back to Ballet Classes - Join the Adult Ballet Dancers!

Recently I've talked to older dancers who want to get back to ballet classes after five, ten and even 27 years! Good for them! Ballet is excellent fitness, excellent exercise, and if approached with patience by a healthy adult with experience, or an adult beginner, artistic fulfillment can be achieved too.

The most fun part of reading all the blogs/sites that I can find on the internet is that - WOW - I find blogs for example, written by a young adult returning to ballet classes and ending up going to The National Ballet School of Canada for older dancer classes, and I know her teacher Bob McCollum! Too much.

I actually used to teach Bob! At long-time defunct Ballet Ys. Go Bob!

But, back to you. If you're reading this because you want to be going back to ballet classes, and you're thinking "I'm too old"..."It's been too long..." "can I really be an adult ballet student"....

Yes you can. An adult beginner, yes. Why not?

An adult re-beginner - absolutely! With a safe, patient approach - letting go of how it USED to feel - plie, tendu, degage, battment, now.

That really is true. If you are beginning again, begin again. Do not reflect on the past UNLESS you can remember the exact feeling of strength, of power, of control. That is good to remember because guess what - your muscles remember too! They really do. So if you trained to the point where you could execute ballet technique with certainty and elegance, please remember, over and over again. This is good for your brain, and will translate to your muscles.

If you are an adult beginner, you have made an excellent choice for fitness and exercise. You cannot get a more refined routine of movement to practice. You may have a longing for artistic fulfillment. For many, Pilates (wonderful) or yoga is chosen. But some are born to dance ballet, whichever way possible, whenever.

I"m thinking Bob may agree with me, he certainly was.

If you are an adult beginner or re-beginner and need the nit-picky details of ballet technique, get it fromTHE BALLET BIBLE.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So Many Pointe Shoes, Only Two Feet

Being able to dance ballet in pointe shoes is the result of years of careful practice. Young dance students in their first ballet class have visions of tutus and pink satin pointe shoes as they struggle with their first battment tendus, or ballet foot exercises.

While every ballet exercise is a workout involving posture, balance and turnout, every single pointing of the foot contributes to that day when the students go to the ballet store to seek exactly the right fit in pointe shoes. And when you get to the ballet store, so many pointe shoes!

Years before you get to the dance wear store to find the right pointe shoes, have you missed any opportunities to prepare?

You can prepare the best with The Perfect Pointe Book.

Every ballet class is a pre-pointe class, if you want to look at it that way. Every battment tendu, battment degage, every releve, every jump, is a pre-pointe exercise.

It's all about your use of your feet. In a dance class, and between dance classes. From the way you stand on them, to the way you point them, to the way you support your foot muscles with posture, turnout and balance, involving your whole body.

It's also about the nutritional support you give them. And the rest and relaxation, perhaps using a pinkie ball or a foot roller to get rid of the residual tension after classes.

It's about your between-class-shoes, maybe not wearing the cute floppy type sandals, but wearing something more supportive. Glue some bling on your sneakers!

Okay, back to the ballet store to fit pointe shoes. Here you are with your two feet. Do you know your foot type?

Have you stood on a piece of paper and outlined the right and the left foot? It helps. Even a professional pointe shoe fitter will appreciate that.

Hopefully, you will find a good fit, the right brand, right style, etc., in your first few pairs. But ultimately, it's the strength of the foot muscles and the accuracy of your technique that will get you dancing in pointe shoes, as opposed to struggling with the exercises.

Whenever that is, do not be in a hurry. It's what you do BEFORE you wear pointe shoes that matters.

To get into pointe shoes faster, get The Perfect Pointe Book.

What Ballet Dancers Need to Understand About Weight Loss and Calories

To gain weight is still the nightmare of serious dance students, even as they work out hard a few days a week. It doesn't make sense, except in the light of what has become the staple industrialized-nation diet. Too many fats, nutrition-free carbohydrates, and factory made cheeses dominate the fast food landscape. Sugar (if you're lucky) or high fructose corn syrup in every mayonnaise, tomato sauce or BBQ sauce on those sandwiches or hamburgers. Even in salad dressings.

Your body doesn't count calories the way you do. It sorts them out in order to provide you with the energy you need, and to manage your blood sugar levels efficiently. This can seem a little complicated, but just know that when you eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats, your body has a sorting system, not a counting system. Regardless of the number of calories you eat in any given meal, your body behaves in a certain way.

Whether you get a 300 calorie burger or a 1200 calorie burger, the sorting, energy burning and fat storing process is the same.

For example, if you grab a sandwich or burger for lunch, or after school on your way to ballet or some other dance class:

** insulin messages your body (liver, muscles and fat cells) to absorb those carbohydrate calories (a bun, crackers, or slice of bread),as glucose.

** and also messages your body to store any excess as fat.

** and worst of all if you do not want to gain weight, to then stop using fat as an energy source. And to store it instead.

Insulin is like a computerized track switch in a train yard. It routes the carbohydrates, and fats to specific places. You train it to do what it does, by repeatedly eating in a certain way.

The fats consumed in the same meal, healthy or otherwise, will get stored, not used as energy.

Calories from protein foods (meats, fish, eggs, dairy) send a different message to your body. Those calories tell your body "everything is okay". Why? Because your body, which cannot manufacture proteins, can manufacture many things it needs from proteins. Now your body will SWITCH TRACKS.

The BURN FAT button gets pushed! Your body starts running on the protein stores you are giving it and to be more efficient, your body starts getting rid of fat.

Growing children and young adults usually do not need to worry about any of this. But, if they are dancers, I know that they do.

If you're grabbing fast food any day, grab a burger wrapped in lettuce. It's a little messy to eat, and it's way high in sodium. But the proteins and vitamins and minerals and fats will get the front seat for energy burning. Even though the sauces will probably have some high fructose corn syrup in them.... not so much as a bun, and carbs from the fries.

You will digest the proteins, fats, and tiny amount of salad/vegetable better without any carbs. Because it is two different sets of digestion processes anyway.

Thinking outside the bun does not mean add a flour or corn based wrap. Just lose it!

Bringing chopped vegetables and a couple of cubes of real cheese or a handful of walnuts with you from the house.....okay, dream on. But you could.

Building muscle mass will also help you learn how to lose weight for ballet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Taking Advantage of the Brain Body Connection in Ballet/Sports/Fitness Training

Classical technique takes strong, long, lean muscles and a healthy brain. Ballet/sports/fitness goals are demanding and time consuming yet can be life's inspiration even on a recreational level. Understanding and using a natural posture of the spine in any style of dance classes actually supports healthy brain function, which in turn governs many chemical messenger processes that result in body strength and elegance and the enjoyment dancers and fitness buffs seek.

While dance techniques use a lengthening of the spine, it is never meant for the natural curves to straighten. The back of the neck curving inward, the upper back curving back outward, the small of the back curving inward and the sacrum curving outward again, are all minor but necessary shapes.

Dancers and other athletes focus on eating a good diet. They want stronger muscles as they develop advanced technical movements, strive to get into pointe shoes or aim for excellence in sports. Partnering in all styles of dance demands another level of technique and coordination, spatial awareness and sensitivity. What do the natural spinal curves and spinal (muscle, bone, nerve, discs) have to do with this?

The spinal canal is like the information highway of your body/brain connection. CSF (cerebro-spinal fluid) is pumped to the brain, carrying the necessary nutrients for effective functions. These brain functions cause physical, intellectual and emotional wellness to the degree that your nutrition is good, and to the degree that the CSF reaches the brain.

This pumping action is initiated by the movement of the sacrum (the lowest portion of the spine) and the cervical spine (neck). So free, easy movement of the low back and neck allow nutrients to get to your brain.

If this canal is dammed up with spinal compression due to muscle spasms, the spine being forced straight or even into a reversed curve (which happens most commonly in the neck), then what is needed in the brain may get there in vastly diminished amounts. Muscles that never relax enough will decrease in movement, and the pumping effect of the sacrum and neck will be less.

The chronic diminishment of oxygen and nutrients to the brain can lead to disease and degeneration, physically, intellectually and emotionally (or socially, if you prefer). An extreme example is an incident underwater where the brain is deprived of oxygen too long, leading to serious damage.

Many people, as well as athletes, have undetected spinal imbalance and misalignments (subluxations), as they engage in their everyday activities. Gradually, this CSF pumping mechanism decreases.

When nutrients do not reach the brain in the proper quantity and quality, the brain can atrophy, or shrink and lose function, even as young as 25 years old.

Another factor in brain health is the proper function of communication signals that take place within the spinal column, specifically in the brain stem and spinal cord. Overexertion involving poor placement of the spine would affect the signaling to secrete important glandular chemical hormones, which govern our organs and how well they function. These hormones and chemicals also govern our moods, our perceptions and our expectations of the future.

The spinal nerves going to our organs can get compressed, or "pinched", affecting heart, lung, stomach, liver, adrenal, and many more functions. And, in turn, the body would fail to process and metabolize the nutrition that it is fed. This is an ongoing degenerating cyclical process.

Proper understanding and execution of ballet/sports/fitness form, along with good rest and recovery, relaxation and stretching, (safe, motionless positions), enhances the brain/body connection. The fit get fitter and the unfit get weaker.

It is easy to get an evaluation by a chiropractor for proper spinal alignment and correction of spinal posture. Better to have one before a semester of training starts, or before class and rehearsal schedules intensify before ballet exams or performances. Why wait till something goes wrong with your precious brain/body connection.

Enjoy the abundance of anatomy, dance, strengthening and ballet stretches education at THE BODY SERIES.