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.

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.

 

 

A gift for you: Appreciate and celebrate, without hesitation

RWB: Zhen Guo Chen as The Mouse King & RWB School Student in Nutcracker. photo: David Cooper

[Guest post by Philly D]

Dance is a form of movement that I am passionate about, so I am so honoured to be a part of this blog and contribute in any small way. In my short time with you I want to simply remind you how valuable you are and offer you a few keys to unlocking that value on your own.  Every day as young people you are faced with many challenges, and that’s why I’m so happy a blog like this exists.  It’s a place that can help you face some of those challenges in a supported way.

When you were a little kid, we often got the message, “you are special”.  However, we’re made to feel like we’re only SPECIAL “IF”.  If we have the right body type, and fit the right stereotype for dance.  Outside of dance, just trying to make it through school we’re always made to feel like we’re only special “IF”.  If you wear the right clothes, IF you hang out with the right people, IF your family has so much money, IF you go to the ‘right’ school, IF you score this many points in the game for us, IF you bring home the RIGHT grades.  From all areas of life, the message we seem to get is that we’re special alight, but there is a big IF attached.

It’s not true.

The truth is, that you are special BECAUSE, first and foremost, simply because of who you are.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you see it in the people you dance with, go to school with.  When you do realize it, you can reduce your stress and anxiety and DANCE from a more passionate place.

Easy to say, harder to do.

So let me offer you three KEYS to Unlocking The Value you hold within side yourself.

Appreciation

  • It always begins with a little appreciation. When you can actually just stop, see the value in the things that you DO have. It’s to easy to get drifted away in what you don’t have and what you want.  Unlocking your value begins with a little appreciation.

Celebration

  • This is can be broken down like this, celebrating WHO YOU ARE leads to who you can become.  The problem is that hiding all the parts we don’t like about ourselves is to easy.  We can hide behind our screen names and websites, we can hide behind our clothing, our books, and we can hide behind our circumstance in life.  When you hide who you are, you forget about who you can be.  By this I mean you limit your growth.  Celebrating who you are awakens new growth every day!

No Hesitation

  • You can appreciate, and celebrate, but when it comes time for action, doing what’s right, you can not hesitate.  This key to unlocking your value is all about ACTION.  But don’t overwhelm yourself thinking it always has to be some large action.  Real growth and change happens in the day in day out small action steps.  Don’t hesitate to be a part of your life and see that you are special because of who you are…NOT IF.

Guest contributor Philly D is a passionate human being. He loves to share Mindfulness, Hip Hop and Yoga together in one unified force of uplifting fun. Phil tours his [dharma] Hip Hop Yoga program around the globe. At home, he is a business owner (Moksha Yoga Winnipeg and Minneapolis)  and, more than this, he is a husband and father!

 

Photo courtesy of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet.