Buckets Overflowing…

 

Dance is a beautiful, dynamic, and expressive art form that touches our hearts, connecting us to music and emotion on a visceral level.   To those who are swept away it is much more the ‘just dance’.  We dedicate our lives to the art form – whether performing, teaching, or creating.   It becomes a part of who we are as people.   Because of this personal connection to dance we tend to become tied our ideas and methodologies, so much so that perhaps our expectations are a bit unreachable on occasion.

We may even take ourselves a bit too seriously at times. 🙂

As [dance] educators, whether teaching preschoolers or high school students, we need to remember that not only are we molding the technique and artistry of our young dancers, we are also molding their minds via our role as educators.  The words we choose, or do not choose, directly impact students’ self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence.

So does that mean that giving correction and criticism is wrong/damaging?   Short answer, No.   Constructive criticism and correction is entirely appropriate when given and taken in the right context.    It is key to ensure that correction and constructive criticism is given with a purpose.

Why do we correct?  Because we know that a particular student or group is able to do more and accomplish more within their technique.   If we didn’t see the potential, we would not push students toward more specificity, more artistry, more performance, in their work.  We want you to be the best that you can be!

A group of 5 yr old creative movement students reminded me that there is an important exchange occurring between both students (of all ages) and teachers.  It’s an important exchange that is worth paying attention to in our teaching.

Filling up the buckets.

It was a Saturday morning and the conversation with my 5 yr old class went something like this …

(Me)                “H, why are you sad today?”

(Little H)       “No one filled my bucket today!”

(The entire class of 18 )   “We have buckets too!  Our teacher says that when you do/say something nice to/for someone that you put a little happy into their bucket.”

(Me to little H)  “You know, when you put some happy into another persons bucket you are also receiving a little happy in your bucket too.”

(Little H)         “Yes!  I did do something nice for someone else today.  My bucket IS full!”

Later at the end of class…

(Me to the class)  “You all were so patient today while you were learning your recital dance.  Good job!”

And everyone in the class, as if on cue, held out their hands like little buckets to receive their compliment.   On this particular day my bucket had been feeling a bit empty, but as they left the room I felt like my bucket was suddenly over flowing.

(Cue the sunshine flowing into the room and my heart melting… )

It is crucial that we, as dance educators, ensure that we are making the time and effort to fill the buckets of all of our students, everyday.   The individual work of fine-tuning technique with confidence and the enjoyment of dance is directly connected to the joy we all feel when in the studio.  This fullness is what carries each of us (student and teacher alike) through the days/moments when maybe we aren’t so positive or are maybe struggling with the work.

How can we do this via our teaching?

  • Taking the time to acknowledge the effort students are putting into their work – whether they have accomplished  a step/task or are still working on it.
  • Taking the time to recognize and acknowledge an effort to change behavior or to make a better choice.
  • Helping a student find other ways to be a part of class when they are injured.
  • Acknowledging that what they are working on is challenging and that they are doing a good job at working through it.
  • Or maybe it’s a simple “thank you for working so hard today!” at the end of a class.

Some things to avoid.

  • Sarcasm –whether it be in jest or within a correction.   Sarcasm can be easily misconstrued and taken to heart.
  • Poking fun.
  • Making up names for students, though [probably] only done in jest this puts the students in an uncomfortable position and negatively impacts self-esteem.

The moral of the story?  How we choose our teaching words can give or take away the joy our students feel through dance. And when we give our students joy – what an amazing gift we receive in return.  The Best!

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Dear Readers,

See?!  AD4L really is still online!  Life has been a little crazy lately and well, sometimes life takes priority over blogging.   It happens.   But don’t dismay!  A newsletter is in the works and today is a NEW POST inspired by some amazing and energetic 5 yr olds.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Have a beautiful day.

Jacqui

ADDing to the support of your knee joints (& technique)

In an earlier post on the anatomy of the knee we included some general guidelines to consider within our teaching and technique.  Today let’s focus specifically on the importance and benefits of accessing the use of the inner thighs (adductors).

 

First, WHY are your adductors so important?

The adductors of the leg (inner thigh) are the support system for our supporting/standing leg, whether in a neutral/parallel or turned out position.   They are a key component when considering our stability in the centre of the room, and our overall performance.

Second, the use of the adductors aids the engaging the most medial of the quadricep compartment – which tends to be underused among dancers.  Among other issues, weak adductors and medial quadriceps creates an imbalance in the quadriceps overall, and leads to issues such as Patellofemoral syndrome.

 

Adductors, the key to efficient alignment and rotation!   Engaging the adductors when standing on two legs aids the activation of the deep rotators in the hip, which in turn fosters the neutral alignment of the pelvis.

 

Leg Shapes

At this point we need to consider leg shape (see figure to the left).  Each student has a unique leg shape in that the alignment of the knee in relationship to the ankle and hip varies.

This includes hyper-flexion of the knee (they always look slightly bent), hyper-extension of the knee (when extended the knees are behind the hip & ankle), bowing of the legs (when extended the knees are outside the line of the ankle and hip), and knock knees (knees closer together than the feet when in parallel) — or any combination of these three can also occur.   In dance, these different leg shapes affect not only our pelvic alignment (and overall posture), but our weight placement AND (in the long-term) the health of our knees as well.

Engaging the adductors also facilitates the engagement of the muscles of the pelvic floor, which in turn engages the deeper abdominals (it’s that feeling of lift that begins from the pubic bone upwards towards your belly button).  In turn this encourages the lift of the anterior crest of the pelvis (ASIS), guiding the pelvis into a neutral, and more effective, alignment.

This concept of engaging the adductors is key in any technique – whether working from a parallel position (anatomically neutral) or a turned out (externally rotated) position.

 

Checking in with Physiotherapists Kevin Dyck and Sam Steinfeld, they answer the following questions:

Can working in your hyperextension cause long term damage?

Long term hyperextension causes lengthening of the ligaments around the knee joint.  Due to the anatomical structure of the knee our ligaments provide the stability for the knee joint. Ligaments are like rubber bands…after they have been stretched or overstretched repeatedly they do not return to their original length.  If the ligaments around the knee are constantly stretched by standing into hyperextension, over time our knees will lack the support they need and injuries occur as other structures like muscles and tendons try to offer support.

What is Patellofemoral Syndrome?

Patellofemoral syndrome is a condition that refers to an incorrect balance of movement between the thigh bone (femur) and the knee cap (patella).  Imbalance of muscle strength and length at the knee leads to an improper tracking of the knee cap in the patella groove which causes pain, inflammation and irritation. Several muscles can be the culprit for the imbalances of patellofemoral syndrome.  The most common is a weak vastus medialis oblique (inside knee muscle) along with a tight iliotibial band (outside thigh muscle-tendon).  Tight calves, tight or weak hamstrings and gluteal muscles, especially gluteus medius, are also sources of patellofemoral syndrome.  Poor pelvic and abdominal control can also cause increased forces of stress to be placed on the knee during turnout in dance.

 

So how can this information be used in the studio?

From 6-12yrs of age (and beyond) we can provide images that help children to find the feeling of activating the inner thigh.  An image that gives them the feeling of resistance without over exaggerating the action  (which can lead to tucking the pelvis) will help them to feel this action.

For example – ask each child to stand in a parallel/neutral position of the feet and to place an big, fluffy, [imaginary] marshmallow between their ankle bones, calf muscles, and upper thighs.   Cue them to hold the marshmallows in place, but not to squish them.    This accomplishes TWO things –  engaging the adductors AND bringing the legs into a neutral alignment (key for those who are bow legged or have hyperextension of the knee).

With adolescent and adult students we can use the same (or similar) image, bringing the action of aligning the pelvis and ribcage into the discussion more specifically.  Regarding leg shape, with the pre-teen and adolescent student we can also ask those students with hyperextension of the knee to bring the centre of the knee in line with the supporting ankle (see figure to the left) while engaging the adductors.  Though at first this will feel as though they are dancing on a bent leg, over time this will prevent unnecessary damage to the cartilage and structures of the knee.

 

How does this apply to young children?

Young children are just beginning to develop the ability to ‘feel’ their muscles and alignment.  As such, combining these concepts can be too much information to process at once successfully.  In my own teaching practice, the focus with young children is on the use of the adductors to bring the legs into correct alignment via imagery.  As students develop more muscular control we begin to discuss in more detail how to align the knees and begin to include more specific exercises to assist with this process.

 

Teaching Ideas:

(Alignment of the legs)

Ages 6 and up –  When doing seated exercises with the legs extended in front, take a moment to check the alignment of each students legs in this position.  Taking the alignment from the knees being side by side will foster a stronger sense of alignment through the legs.  The trick here is to assure children that if their knees are together and their feet are apart that this is ok.  Ask them to imaging holding a small ball or water balloon between their feet to aid with alignment.

(Hyperextension)

For students working with hyperextension in this seated position generally the feet will come off of the floor when then legs are stretched.   When aligning the legs, take a moment to ask them to lower their heels to the floor in this position.   Perhaps having them place their heels on a star (a foam star or imaginary) during the floor exercise.  This will begin the process of understanding in what position the knees are to be aligned when in a standing position.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Teaching the Adult Dancer…

Photo www.saltcreekballet.wordpress.com.

Turning our attention towards the adult dancer, whether beginner or advanced students, let’s focus not only on learning and experiencing the art form, but also on developing our body & spatial awareness, and overall fitness.

Teaching adult student can be tricky task whether the teacher is younger than the student, or of a similar age.  Within one class there can be a broad age range – from twenty somethings through seventy (+) somethings, as well as a range of experience and abilities.  Consider the reasons why an individual might begin taking dance as an adult, or might continue dancing into one’s adult life.   Here are a few intentions and desires to be considered:

To continue dancing, for life!

To learn about and appreciate the art form.

To challenge oneself physically (fitness).

For the mental challenge of learning new things and ways of moving.

To experience all aspects of performance:  preparation, rehearsal, and performance.

 In addition to all of the above intentions, having fun and enjoying the process of learning is an important intention as is key to encouraging adult students to continue exploring dance and remaining active in life.

 

“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance one must keep moving.”  (Albert Einstein)

 

The adult dance class is an opportunity to teach the technique of the art form, as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of dance, explore what inspires us as individuals, and encourage a healthy focus in dance (& life).  As adults we carry not only the stresses of our day into the class, we also have our insecurities as well.  The adult dance class can be an enjoyable and safe place for adult students to explore their physical and cognitive abilities through dance.

We’ve discussed the importance of the warm-up in the dance class in relationship to youth in dance, now let’s consider why its important for the adult student.

Adult classes generally occur outside of the usual workday schedule – which means either classes occur earlier in the morning or later in the evening   In the morning our muscles and joints can be stiff from inactivity, having been at rest for (hopefully) 7-8 hours, our heart rate has lowered and our bodies have been recovering to homeostatic balance.   For morning classes, taking the time to increase the heart rate gradually  increases blood flow to the muscles and tissues, while gradually moving through the joints warms the (synovial) fluids and tissues of the joints is key.

Any adult who has gone to the gym later in the evening knows that we often carry the weight and tension of our day in our muscles and joints (particularly in the upper body and neck).  We have been working against gravity throughout the day, which can have a negative affect on our posture and alignment.  By the end of the day our muscles are not necessarily ‘ready to move’ and this is perceived as stiffness in our muscles and joints.

In either case, a warm-up which is not heavily focused on technique aids in the awakening (firing) of neuromotor connections, an increase in heart rate, which in turn increases the blood flow to the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well.   A good warm-up also facilitates the mental preparedness of the adult student , energizing and refocusing our thoughts towards the body and its mechanics, and away from the tension and stress of the workday.

The WARM-UP is key to beginning class on an energized and positive note.   For the adult student ‘analysis to paralysis’ is a common issue and can be a de-motivating force.   Incorporating everyday, pedestrian movement that is familiar takes the focus off of perfecting technique, facilitates a quicker physical response and encourages a positive ‘can do’ attitude.   The warm-up should be non-technical, increase the heart rate, and incorporate gentle, dynamic stretches to foster pliability of the muscles and lubrication of the joints. Elements from yoga (love downward dog) and pilates (plank!) exercises can be incorporated, as well as those reliable calisthenics that we use in training and workout sessions at the gym.

Keeping the warm-up moderate in length, doing four repetitions of the warm-up provides ample time to gradually increase the tempo of the exercise.    If the warm-up begins with walking through the space using different directions, on the third and fourth repetition the walk can progress to a light jog with our without stretched feet.

Generally adult students spatial & body awareness is limited, particular for beginner students.   Incorporating the use of directions and personal space in your warm-up is an easy way to incorporate a cardiovascular element to the class.  Encouraging students to move through the space, keeping a long stride, while making an effort to move through the spaces in-between the other dancers in the room.   Agility and balance can be challenged by encouraging quick changes of direction, and in particular travelling backwards.

Rhythmical elements can be incorporated, and then referenced later in the class in a more technical manner.  For instance if the class focuses on triplets, balances, or big waltz movements across the floor, use a basic walking triplet in your warm-up.   Again, this can progress to a quicker, running triplet as tempo accelerates.   This can be a very effective way to prevent the ‘analysis to paralysis’ epidemic when learning these forms of rhythmical steps.

 

Looking for more specific ideas and progressions?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a SAMPLE WARM-UP and other ideas for PROGRESSIONS in your inbox.

SUBSCRIBE HERE

 

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Wellness via Dance

 A year ago AD4L was launched as a mode of promoting the connection between the science behind the movement (from the studies of sport & dance science) and dance teachers, students, and parents.    To further broaden the scope of health & wellness in relationship to dance the ‘tagline’ for AD4L is being updated to the following:

“Promoting health & wellness in, and through, dance.”

 

 Why the change?

Health & Wellness is no longer solely related to nutrition and how often one works out at the gym.  With the current health trends we, as educators (classroom & studio alike), need to (must) rethink how and what we promote as physical activity.

Presenting at a recent arts in education conference health & wellness panel I concluded my presentation feeling that I hadn’t shared my views specifically on how and why dance can be a method of promoting physical activity in today’s youth.

 

(this is me, getting up on my soapbox…bear with me)

 

In this teachers view, dance is one of the most malleable, flexible teaching tools available.  We have more dance classes and performing arts programs in our schools now than ever before; Preparing performances and assemblies, we also have more of these groups participating in competitions & festivals.  More provinces also have specific dance curriculum within both arts and physical education.  Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps we are limiting ourselves, and the discipline of dance.  We tend to hold dance within the boundaries of the discipline and the starkness of the studio & space setting, ultimately excluding those with less movement experience and natural ability for dance.

Everyone can connect to dance in its most basic form and structure – space, body, effort, & relationship awareness.  The beauty of approaching dance from this perspective is that it can be applied to virtually any subject– math, history, science, english/literacy, geography, physical education, music, etc.   Most importantly – this perspective of dance is also extremely adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

The recent addition of programming to AD4L (Dance-Ability programs) is based on this notion.  Taking these concepts of movement and wrapping them around more formal dance disciplines to create a dance environment which can be molded to the needs of the individual and the group.

What I wanted to say to the educators at the arts conference (gotta love hindsight)…

Let’s step away from the notion of [the joy of] dance being held captive within the boundaries and limits of the formal dance disciplines, stark studios and spaces, and bring dance [movement] into our everyday teaching.  take a moment to explore lessons through movement and encourage students to incorporate music & movement in their presentations.   Avoid leaving the task entirely up to the music & dance teachers.  Dance (& creativity) teaches students how to take a risk, to put all of your effort, creativity, and thought into a movement/performance.   Challenging ourselves as educators to bring a movement perspective to our teaching will not only bring a new dimension of learning to students, but will also provide our youth with a new lens to view the benefits of physical activity for daily life.

 

Here are some example of how using movement  more actively in our classroom teaching can affect a child’s health and perspective on wellness.

Let’s look at the dimensions of health:

 Physical:  On a physiological level, movement = increase in endorphins (which make us feel good & gives an energy boost).  When we move we take in more oxygen (energizing our blood and therefore the brain as well).  For youngsters, often this activity reinforces and creates more opportunity to develop the crucial psychomotor skills necessary to participate in all forms of physical activity (for life!).

 Emotional:   See point regarding endorphins above… increasing our energy puts us in a more positive mindset.  Dance & movement in a less formal setting reinforces positive, healthy, respectful ways to express our emotions.   Confidence and self-worth increase when we repeat this activity.

 Spiritual:  Regardless of your belief system, when we feel better about ourselves we see our world in a more positive light.  When we make this action part of our daily lives we instill this positive perspective throughout the whole of our lives – at home and at school.

 Intellectual:  Fostering active learning through the creative arts provides problem-solving (critical thinking!) challenges for students (& teachers).    Challenging our cognitive skills and encouraging the development of critical thinking.

 Social:  Children & youth of all abilities moving together, learning together, presents a myriad of social learning opportunities.  Learning to work together as a team,  being respectful of everyone’s ideas & stories, giving each participant the opportunity to contribute to the final product – all worthwhile and important social skills.

 Occupational:   Essentially being a student (at every age) is a form of occupation.  We prepare for it and spend a large part of our day doing work that is delegated to us by our teachers.  Making it an active experience makes the process much more enjoyable, and therefore going to ‘work’ is a more pleasant and enjoyable part of our day.

Teaching Tip: The Inclusive Dance Class

Life can go on now, the 2012 Olympics have come to a close!

One young man stood out during these games.  Though he didn’t win any medals for his country, he garnered something much more valuable – the respect of his fellow athletes, and a roar of support from the packed athletic stadium.   He will always be known as the young man who had the courage to step up and break down the barriers created within the International Olympic Committee, becoming the first Paralympic Athlete to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Oscar Pistorius.

 Today’s post is a continuation of a post from early July on the inclusive dance setting, so it seems appropriate to include a quote from Mr. Pistorius (or rather, his mom).

 

“You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”    

 — Oscar Pistorius, 2012 Olympian and Paralympian, double amputee since childhood.

Here are a few tips for working with the child/teen/adult students who live with different abilities…but then, we all have different, unique abilities!

  • Get to know your student.    Know that the diagnoses given by doctors does not give you much insight into the behavior of the individual or the persistence and patience of the individual with themselves and within the label.
  • Observe and try a few different approaches.  Just like you would with any other student!  You may very well be blown away by how able your student truly is!
  • Communication is key.   With the family/parents, with the student, and your class.   Children are smart – they are aware of the differences between themselves and others, often times they don’t understand why the student acts differently or has different needs than themselves.   Talk to the class and explain it in a way that is age appropriate.  [TEACHABLE MOMENT!  Here we can teach our students compassion and understanding in dance…].  NOTE:   Ask the parents if they would like to be involved in this process – often they have very effective ways of explaining their childs’ differences to other children.
  • Modify your expectations (if needed).   Teaching a child who has different abilities can be frustrating if you expect them to learn in the same way or at the same speed as the rest of your class.  By modifying your expectations you can alleviate your frustration as well as the frustrations of the student and the class.
  • Talk to the student.   Regardless of the age of the individual – when issues arise in class (as you would with any other student) talk to them directly and in the presence of the parent (so they can support your decisions and approach).
  • Follow the students’ lead –  let them guide you as to whether or not a concept/movement is too much for them.    Again, take the time to observe.
  • Research.   Do your research.   Local organizations have access to current research as well as contacts within the community that can give you insight into specific disabilities.  Many structured forms of activity are offered for people with different abilities –  call, ask questions, find out how they adapt movement and activity.    The world of sport is light years ahead of the dance world in this area – contact your local sporting organizations to see if there are any paralympic events happening in your area.  Check out this excellent resource as well – Alphabet Kids!
  • Patience.   Patience.  Patience.   It may take you awhile to figure out how  best to work with the student – be patient with both yourself and the student.  The learning process might take longer, and/or the changes may be subtle to everyone but you and the parent.  But when you get there,  to that moment of achievement — its awesome!
  • Acknowledge the baby steps along the way (as with any student).  Acknowledgement builds confidence and self-esteem, which in turn motivates the student to continue with positive behavior/focus/etc.  It can be something as simple as a subtle behaviour change, or a subtle change in a range of motion — acknowledge acknowledge acknowledge!

Remember that  disabilities are as unique as the person that has been diagnosed.   There is no one cut and dry way to teach an individual living with a disability – whether the diagnosis is intellectual/cognitive, physical, or neurological.   You can count on one thing for sure – it will surely be a teaching adventure!  That said, this list is a good place to begin the journey.

Bravo Mr Pistorius, Bravo!

 

 

Author:   Jacqui Davidson 

Gasping for more?

 Are you able to take a true, full, deep, and cleansing breath?   Gasping for more?

In the April newsletter our contributors discussed the involuntary process  of breathing. Today I thought I’d touch base on how our postural alignment can negatively affect our ability to breathe effectively, and efficiently access the muscles of the abdomen.    A handy tool for helping students image (visualize) the release of the pressure of performance, anxiety, and expectation has also been included!

As discussed in an earlier post, postural alignment is key to the health of the dancer as well as efficient and effective technique in all dance forms.  It is also key to whether or not we are able to access the abdominal muscles and muscle of the diaphragm effectively as well.   Fortunately breathing is a completely involuntary process – so we don’t have to think about making it happen.  BUT we CAN change HOW we are breathing.

At the attachment point of our ribs to the spine a joint is made, its synovial in nature allowing the ribs to move slightly up and down – like a bucket handle, and slightly forward and up – like a pump.   In the image to the left, notice where the ribs are attached to the spine.   There are 12 pairs of ribs attached starting at the 8th vertebrae down to the 20th vertebrae – essentially a third of the spine that is involved in the process!    The lesson?  If the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach) has an altered alignment due to improper posture -the ribs will function in a less effective manner – ultimately affecting your ability to inhale and exhale deeply.  As Monique indicated in her April article – this then has a direct effect on how much oxygen we are able to take into our lungs, and therefore our blood stream.

So let’s look at posture a little closer.   Have a look at the image to the right, notice the mid-back (the thoracic spine).  Can you see how each posture will affect the function of the ribs?   Let’s look specifically at the Lumbar Lordosis, Thoracic Kyphosis and the Forward head positions.

Lumbar Lordosis:   The abdominal muscles are extended and often the shoulder begin to pull back as well — essentially bending the thoracic spine in opposition it’s  natural curve (slightly forward).   Here the abdominals are unable to effectively support the breath, and the ribs, though still moving, are unable to use the full range of motion of the thoracic vertebral joint.

Thoracic Kyphosis:  Here the shoulders are sliding forwards and the top of the pelvis is tipping back slightly – compressing the rib cage (and the lungs and diaphragm which are housed within the rib cage), shortening the front abdominals and waistline.  Often this posture is partnered with neck and shoulder pain.

Forward Head Position:   Here the chin pokes forward bringing the head forward of the neutral alignment (centre line of the body).  In opposition the thoracic spine pushes back and upwards, again compressing the chest and preventing the full inhalation of oxygen into the lungs.  This posture can also compress the organs within the abdomen (stomach & intestines in particular) and affect their efficiency as well.

More! More!

In the April Newsletter Pilates Instructor Trainer Monique gave us a quick tutorial on breathing.  Now let’s add a pressure releasing dimension to that exercise.

Checking in with your postural alignment, talk yourself/your students through the exercise –  on the inhalation imagine a kettle of water coming to a boil on the stove, now on the exhalation imagine the steam shooting out of the kettle – your exhalation is the release of that steam.  With each breath the pressure in your ‘kettle’ decreases so you can focus on the task at hand, allowing you to then bring your body more easily into alignment.

On the next breath focus on lengthening the spine by reaching the top of your head to the ceiling while also ‘feeling’ your tailbone lengthening to the floor. Encourage students (and yourself) to maintain this length as you move through your class/day.

 

Tip:  Set a daily posture reminder on your phone or ipad.  I suggest “Time to take a Break!  Stand up and realign your posture – now take a few deep breaths – maybe add a stretch or two.”

 

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Creating an effective, efficient warmup — Keep it fun!

 

In a recent guest post Diana Harris discusses the physiological response to warming up the body.  Today’s post delves into the how:  How do I create an effective warmup (that doesn’t take up too much time)?  And responds to the question that many are thinking – Yes, but does it really HELP my dancing?

Yes!   As a dancer you will find that you are more aware of  your body beginning from the first plie, rather than halfway through class.   While blood is circulated and warmth is brought to you muscles, your neurotransmitters also become more efficient at sending and receiving messages via the warmup – so they are ready to respond more quickly.  The result?  Quicker muscular response = decreased chance of injury AND increased progress!

[Adult students – this applies to you too!  Taking the time to arrive to class a bit early and do a brief warm up will not only encourage a quicker muscular response, it will also help you to focus your energy in class.]

The good news is that the process of warming up does not have to be complicated, nor lengthy.   Teachers can invest a bit of time in ‘setting’ a warmup – and then keep that warm up for a few weeks.   Keep it fresh by changing one element every once in a while, but the goal is to keep it simple and easy to remember (so that your students can then do it on their own, without specific instruction).

A sample warmup 8yrs and up:

[Music – ideally starting at a walking pace and speeding up gradually as the pace of the movement increases.]

    1. Begin walking in the space at a moderate pace.
    2. Quicken the pace and encourage students to use their arms more aggressively (exaggerate the natural swing of the arms).
    3. Progress to high marches – activating the quadriceps and abdominals by lifting the legs in a high-stepping march. Continue the exaggerated swing of the arms.
    4. Progress to a skip – still traveling freely in the space.   Add cues to change direction.
    5. Alternate steps 3 and 4 – two to four times.  Increasing the length of time and encouraging students to ‘skip higher’ each time.
    6. Slow it down to the high march – encourage a focus on breathing.
    7. Slow it down to a brisk walking pace and bring the students into a circle in the middle of the room.
    8. Taking a cue from the Asanas used in Yoga –  standing in parallel, bring the arms overhead as you inhale.   On the exhale open the arms through second position of the arms and bend forward to the floor, keeping the knees slightly bent.
    9. #8 can be repeated, and/or move into a lunge (for teens) stepping one foot back into a lunge position (ensure that the front knee remains at a 90 degree angle with the knee directly over the ankle).   Repeat on the opposing side.
    10. Finish with students returning to standing with an energized inhalation and exhalation.
      • Note:   If you use turned out positions in your class you can incorporate a more relaxed plie in step 10 beginning in a wide 2nd position of the feet and moving to 1st position.  This will help students to access alignment with external rotation before diving into classwork in turned out positions.
      • Circles, patterns and pathways:  This warmup can be done in a circle or moving freely in ‘personal’ space.
      • Here  skipping is the aerobic movement – who doesn’t love skipping?  It brings a smile to the face of the even the shyest students!   Yes, older students find it a bit silly to skip — but the silly factor gets them smiling and laughing.  Class begins with a giggle and a more positive perspective.  That said, any aerobic movement could be incorporated into this warmup example.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Now it is your turn!   What tools do you use to warm your dancers (or yourself) before class or performance?

 

Giving Your Knees the Lovin’ They Deserve

The Knee Joint – Simple Yet Complex

On the surface, the knee joint seems to be a simple “hinge” bending back and forth.  However, if you take the time to look more closely at this joint, you will discover a much more complex mechanism.

The knee is made up of 3 compartments, a medial (inner) compartment, a lateral (outer) compartment and an anterior (front) compartment.  This anterior compartment is another joint called the patello-femoral joint (knee cap).  The bones that form this joint are the femur above, tibia below and the patella (knee cap) in front.

The knee joint has very little boney stability and relies a great deal on the ligaments, cartilage and muscles to provide the stability of this joint.  Movement is produced by 2 key muscle groups, the Quadriceps (front of thigh), which extend the knee and the Hamstrings (at the back of the thigh) that bends the knee.  The superficial calf muscle (Gastrocnemius) also crosses the back of the knee joint and is involved in bending the knee at times.

The cartilage or menisci are half moon-shaped structures which sit on top of the tibia in the medial and lateral compartments.  They serve as shock absorbers and also deepen the joint to provide more stability and keep the femur from sliding off the tibia.  2 key ligaments inside the joint are the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.  The anterior cruciate ligament keeps the knee from hyperextending and from rotating too much internally while the posterior cruciate essentially does the opposite.  Two ligaments exist outside the joint and are called the collateral ligaments.  There is a medial (inner) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways laterally and the lateral (outer) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways medially. The collateral ligaments are more commonly injured than the cruciate ligaments.

The patello-femoral joint acts as a pulley system for your Quadriceps muscle.  The patella is imbedded in the Quadriceps tendon and attached to the tibia below through the patellar tendon.  This gives your Quadriceps a better mechanical advantage to work with your knee as it bends.  It is also important for the inner and outer fibers of your Quadriceps to work in balance to keep the patella tracking properly.  Patello-femoral joint irritation and pain is common when this imbalance exists.  Your Quadriceps also performs an important role in jumping by contracting concentrically while it aids in softening landings by contracting eccentrically.

The Hamstring muscles (of which there are three two inner and one outer) bend or flex the knee joint and help extend the hip along with the gluteal muscles.  They also act as a “dynamic” anterior cruciate ligament and help to keep the tibia from sliding forward off of the femur.

These are the key structures of the knee joint that must work together to allow for normal operation of the joint under the large loads and stresses we put the joint through daily with all our activities.  Dancing, of course, places huge demands on this joint and with the use of good technique and proper training in and out of the studio we can keep the joint healthy and lower the risk of injury.

 

How can I apply this to my teaching/dancing?

ALIGNMENT IS KEY!   

  • Remember the aligning our dots exercise?   Postural and pelvic alignment has a direct effect on knee alignment – start from the feet and work your way up when assessing knee alignment.

Invest time in teaching proper alignment

  • When working in ‘turned out’ or parallel positions, ensure that the knees are moving in alignment with the feet and hips.  For some this will be a challenge, but its a worthwhile investment of your time.  The investment will pay off tenfold when you see that your students are able to self-correct.

It IS about efficient and effective movement.

  • Teach students to work within their own physical ability.   Students are not built from a cookie cutter method (all physiques the same).  Take the time to look at students’ physique and guide them to work within their own unique physique (encourage individuality!).   This will optimize the efficiency of their movement, training more effective and efficient movement patterns over time.

Talk about the anatomy of movement with your teen and adult students.    

  • First, it is important that they have an understanding of why it is important to work within their own physique.  Second, experience indicates that this gives them a deeper understanding and awareness of their bodies, which then translates into a more thoughtful work ethic in studio.

Be willing to adapt.

  • No dance form or teaching method is perfect for every – body.   Find ways to adapt tried and true methods to suit the bodies that you are teaching.

It is not about today.

  • All of this awareness and prevention is less about preventing an injury today or tomorrow, and more about preventing injury over time.   Whether dancing, walking, or running indoors/outdoors, improper alignment of the knees causes friction and wear in places where it is not meant to occur.  In the long-term this can translate into worn out cartilage, meniscus damage, ligament damage, and chronic knee pain.

Remember that “An ounce of prevention = a pound of cure”.

Authors:   Sam Steinfeld, Kevin Dyck & Janine Didyk, RWB Physiotherapy Team (article) and Jacqui Davidson, Founder AD4L (teaching considerations)

 

Are you optimizing your performance?

Warming Up – Why is it Necessary?

Guest post by fellow blogger and dance educator, Diana Harris of The Healthy Dancer blog.

A little vocabulary before we begin…

ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate, it is our fuel source for all activities from doing homework, to typing, to doing laundry, to dancing, to running.   What we eat has a direct impact on how much ATP our bodies are able to produce.

Synovial Fluid: A liquid that is present in our synovial joints (shoulder, elbows, knees, ankles, etc.) which allows for the smooth movement of our joints and keeps the connective tissues that form the joints healthy.

Dancer Jera Wolfe. Photo credit Shawn Simpson.

It’s time for the rehearsal to begin, and there is only a short amount of time so it may be tempting to skip the warm-up and just jump right in.  What happens during the warm-up that makes it so important anyway?

We are given one body and our job, as dancers, is to make certain that we care for our bodies and insure that they are working at an optimal level. A warm-up not only prepares us mentally by focusing our thoughts, it also leads our body through steps to prepare for the demands we place upon it.

When we begin to warm-up, our muscles are able to use phosphate that is stored within them as ATP and phosphocreatine molecules to create energy immediately.  The energy that is created by this system will, however, only last for 8-10 seconds.  After those ten seconds, the muscles begin to use the glucose, or sugar, that is readily available to create energy for the next few minutes of exercise.  Our muscles are able to create energy for this brief period of time without having to rely on oxygen.

As this energy is created and the warm-up continues, the autonomic nervous system receives a signal to stimulate the nerves around the heart.  The heart receives a signal to contract, or beat, faster and stronger.  The stronger the heart’s contraction, the stronger the release, resulting in more space in the heart for a greater volume of blood.  This greater volume of blood means that, when the heart contracts, more blood is pumped out and circulated through the body with each heartbeat.

At the same time, the nerves that control the blood vessels are activated and signal the vessels to constrict, or get smaller, meaning there is less blood flow to all parts of the body.  Concurrently, the energy creation, or metabolism, that is occurring within the muscles overrides this signal, and the blood vessels in the muscles get wider, or dilate, which results in greater blood flow to the muscles.  Therefore, blood flow is diverted away from the organs so that the working parts, the muscles, may receive an optimal amount of nutrients and oxygen.

As all of this is occurring in the circulatory system, the brain stem, which controls our breathing, is receiving signals to stimulate and increase the activity of the respiratory system.  As a result, our breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen to the blood, which is being rapidly delivered to the muscles.

This oxygen is used for the next step in creating energy as the warm-up ends and more rigorous physical activity begins.  This process is called aerobic glycolysis and allows the body to continue to breakdown stored glucose to create energy for a sustained period of time.

As a result of all this activity, the temperature of the muscles has increased, leading to increased flexibility.  Additionally, the heat that is generated during the warm-up also serves to liquefy the synovial fluid that is in our joints.  While we are resting, the fluid becomes jelly-like, but as heat is generated, the jelly breaks down into a liquid form that is able to lubricate our joints and keep them “well-oiled” and moving smoothly.

Our bodies are amazing machines that are equipped to do so many things. However, much like a computer, the human body is wired to complete tasks in a series of steps. In order to be able to provide the optimum physical performance required for a class or a rehearsal, the body needs to be able to sequentially go through the above steps.  We, as dancers, demand so much from our bodies.  Our bodies will definitely respond, but we need to make sure we are going to let them.

 

Author Diana Harris: Holding a BA in Dance Education and an MS in Exercise Science, Diana has been a dance educator for the past 19 years.  She has studied ballet, modern, jazz, tap and musical theater dance.  She believes in creating healthy, thinking dancers and believes that dance can be beneficial to all and should be accessible to all.

 

 

Fa la la la laaaa, la la Alignment!

(2011) Bruce Monk

Alignment is the foundation of  [all] good dance technique and fosters a healthy spine, for life! Because it is so fundamental to the healthy dancer (and individual) it is beneficial to begin preschool classes with a posture exercise and focus warmups for higher levels on posture and alignment as well.   In programs working with individuals in wheelchairs it is also tremendously beneficial to focus on the alignment of the spine as poor posture in seated positions can hinder the use of the arms and flexibility of the upper torso, as well as promote excessive tension.

In our November Newsletter Monique Lavoie discussed the stereotypical posture of a ballet dancer, demonstrating that  poor alignment can hinder our strength and overall balance.     Whether teaching the once, twice, three, or six times a week dance student I feel it is our responsibility to build not only train healthy posture, but to foster students understanding and appreciation of the importance of posture and alignment in all aspects of movement.   Pilates is an excellent tool for retraining our neuromuscular pathways for overall musculoskeletal health.    Monique’s article is a brief discussion, but an important one – click the following link to check out her article.

LINK:  Focus on Pilates (from Nov. 2011 Newsletter)

TEACHING TIP: Use songs (for preschoolers)  and visuals to foster both the understanding and the physical implementation of posture.   In my opinion, when we ‘see’ alignment and begin to apply it, the muscles begin to hold the correct alignment of the bones.  From here the students begin a more organic process of using the muscles to stabilize posture.

 

Using foam shapes (I use dots or stars) play connect the dots with your students (of all ages)!    With the help of an assistant or a student the conversation with the class goes something like this…

 

Where does the teacher look first when checking your posture?    “my feet!”   (place a dot – on the side of a child’s ankle)

Next?  “my knees!”   (place a dot on the side of the demonstrators knee)

And next?  ” my hips!”  (you get the picture)

And next?   ” my ribs!”  (Preschoolers have a hard time with that one sometimes)

Then?  ” my shoulders!”     And then?  ” my head!”

 

This worked wonders with my preschoolers – now all I have to say is “Have you connected your dots?  Are they in a line?” And they will begin to physically self correct their alignment.

 

Older students and even adult students can benefit from this visual as well, incorporating how the use of turnout can impact alignment (demonstrating the need to re-align when turning out) and the adjustments that need to be made when turning out.

Author: Jacqui Davidson

Photo by Bruce Monk.