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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Busy, Busy January

Hi, Friends and Readers:

January has been a rewarding--and cold--month. I've been working on prioritizing and time management as I gear up for my busiest time of year. So far my efforts have paid off and I'm feeling ready to face the rest of winter!

I've started teaching BarreFIT at my studio and absolutely love it. I became a devotee of barre workouts in NYC since they combine two of my passions--ballet and Pilates! BarreFIT is my own program that seamlessly blends those dance and pilates elements with yoga and cardio. If you live locally, come check out the class on Thursday mornings at 6:30 am. A Monday morning and Friday evening class will begin later next month.

On the dance side of things, I've been busy choreographing dances, ordering ballet costumes and trying to make some tough decisions about the future direction of my business.

My humble studio is undergoing some ceiling renovations this week that I'm excited about. After those structural things done, we'll continue working on the cosmetic improvements we began last spring. I'm not the best interior decorator but it's always fun to give a new look to an old space.

As a performer, I've been busy with rehearsals for another play--this time a dinner theater production of Daddy's Girl with the Short Tract Town Theater (where I did Rogers & Hammerstein's Allegro last summer). It's been fun to play the mean girl.

Onto February!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Moments of Joy

       Sometimes, I let the moments of joy in my dance studio pass by.  I can get so focused on helping my students improve their technique that I forget to encourage them to enjoy their dance class experience. I'm still working on finding that balance between insisting upon discipline and respect and letting them be kids having fun with movement.
       My closest ballet friend and I met in ballet class when we were 10 and 11 years old, respectively. We were a pair of serious and dedicated ballerinas who only let our guards down (and acted like the kids we were) with one another. Our parents actually had to remind us to let loose and have fun every now and then. To that, my friend would usually say, "I don't do ballet because it's fun. I do it because it's hard." 
     For most of my life, that's how I've operated. I choose the activities that are challenging. I make goals and plan my life around accomplishing them. 
        Because I had that kind of mindset as a kid, it's difficult for me to remember as an adult that most of the kids I'm teaching take dance because it's fun. Most of them do not have their sights set on joining a ballet company. Many might not even plan to dance beyond May or next year or high school. While I still want to provide the training foundation that a student who does want to dance professionally should have, I am trying to be more focused on my students' joy and less focused on the perfection of their technique. 
      This past week, I had one of those great dance teacher/studio owner days. I entered the studio stressed out about a last-minute scheduling change we had to make due to some building repairs in my studio. I was worried parents would be confused or upset by some cancellations and schedule adjustments. I was soon reminded how blessed I am to have a studio full of understanding and supportive parents and kids. Everyone was gracious about the changes and excited about the building repair. I really have the best families at my school. 
     Inside the studio, all of my students were happy and cheerful. I noticed the tremendous progress they were making technically and the joy this progress seemed to give them. It was just a fun night. 

       As we work toward our end-of-year show and I make plans for the future of my school, I'm trying to remember those moments of joy; the moments that make me happy I'm a dance teacher. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Swan Lake Begins

In my last couple of post, I mentioned that I'm staging a mini-production of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake with my students this spring.

Even abridged, that's a huge undertaking. We haven't even started rehearsing yet, but I'm already freaking out a little bit. What was I thinking?

I chose this ballet for a number of reasons. First, it's fairly easy to abridge. I'd love to do a full-length production of a classical work in the future, but for now, my resources are too limited to be able to do that well. I think we'll still be able to tell a cohesive story with our shorter length version with a little creativity. I also wanted the first ballet HMAC tackled to be something familiar to most audiences.

Casting such a major, iconic ballet with a small number of students is proving a challenge. Swan Lake traditionally has a very large corps de ballet. I'm working with a total cast of about twenty dancers (about half of whom are under the age of ten).  I have some blocking ideas for how to make the stage seem fuller and plan to use my little ones and jazz students as supers (extras) when needed. While I don't have many dancers advanced enough to tackle the Petipa and Ivanov's iconic choreography, I'm trying to model mine after the original as much as possible. I'm excited for the challenge this will give my more advanced students, particularly those playing the principal roles. I hope Swan Lake will push them to hone their acting and performance skills along with their technical prowess.

Thanks to the freezing cold weather in our neck of the woods, I have an extra two days out of the studio to edit music and work on choreography. In spite of my stress and nerves, I'm ecstatic to bring this gorgeous music to life on stage for local audiences!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fat Talk

I have a no fat talk policy.

Sometimes I break that rule in my own life. For all my talk about healthy body image, there are still days when I don't feel great about what I see in the mirror. I still struggle with worrying about numbers--the digits on the scale or the measurement of my waist. I'm aware that those feelings may be around in some capacity for the rest of my life and I try to acknowledge those negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.

In my studio, it's much easier to enforce the policy. I spoke on a podcast recently about how I try to encourage my students to think and talk positively about their bodies. As a teacher and role model (Scary!) for young girls, it's important to be aware of how even the tiniest comments can cause dancers to be self-conscious or overly self-critical.

For example, I know some teachers say things like "Don't show me what you had for breakfast!" or "Hold in those pizza rolls!" to instruct dancers to hold in their stomachs. Those kinds of phrases are unhelpful on a number of levels. First, they usually cause dancers to "suck in" rather than engage their centers. Second, a sensitive dancer could easily interpret such a correction as a comment about her weight. Third, they make eating food seem like a bad thing for a dancer to do. Finally, they're just squicky and weird.

Instead, I say things like "draw your belly button in" for younger dancers or just "engage your abdominals" for older students. There are so many ways of giving this correction (or similar ones) without being crazy and demeaning.

If I hear a student saying something negative about a part of her (or his) body, I try to jump in with something positive to counteract it like saying they have beautiful long arms, or strong legs or a nice line in a position. It seems sort of silly, meaningless even, but I really believe these small things can make a big difference in how an adolescent girl sees herself, especially if she gets a lot of criticism about her appearance or abilities at home or school.

Along with speaking positively about others' bodies, we dance teachers need to be careful how we speak about our own appearance in front of our students. It's tempting to be self-deprecating for a laugh or just because we're not feeling that great about ourselves on a particular day. But remember that these girls are watching your behavior and listening to your words. Create a healthy, encouraging environment and you'll cultivate healthy, confident dancers.