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

Every-body’s got the Ability!

Ellie
[see note below to find out more!]

 

This writer would like to believe that we live in a time where inclusion and accessibility is part of our normal, everyday existence.    Wouldn’t that be wonderful?   The reality, unfortunately, is that those who live with disability still face a lack of awareness, accessibility, and even a lack of willingness include, throughout our society.

 

Thankfully the dance world has been breaking some of those barriers!

(can I hear a go team go?!)

 

Today is specifically about the inclusive dance studio setting.   Over the duration of my career  there are more and more children diagnosed disabilities coming into our dance classes every year.   Diagnoses have  included Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, hearing impairments, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders as well.

Since working with this exceptional population of dancers, colleagues have asked me what the best teaching practices are for these students.

The short answer?  Adapt.  Be willing to adapt both movement and expectation, if needed.

The long answer?  Teaching is teaching.  Whether a student lives with our without disability, regardless of physical facility of the individual,  it comes down to this – we are all human whether we walk, roll, speak, or use a keyboard to speak (or whatever!).  We all need encouragement and support, and we all can move within our own physical ability, therefore every-body can participate in and benefit from experiencing dance.

Teaching is a process, learning is a process.

It is key to BELIEVE  that all students are able to ACHIEVE, in dance!   In my opinion it is only the limits (stereotypes, assumptions, and fear) that the non-disabled world places on those with different abilities that prevents them from exploring the world of dance.   The notion of modifying expectations is key;  it may take longer for a differently abled student to learn a movement or to catch the subtleties in the music, but that only means that it may be a longer process.   And after all, at the core of dance training is the process of learning ~ which then takes us to the performance!

Stay tuned for more posts focusing on dance and disability ~ teaching tips, teaching challenges, and more!

 

Many thanks to Ellie’s mom and dad for letting providing this photo of her at her dance recital.   Can you tell what label Ellie has been given?   Ellie has Cerebral Palsy – she uses a walker on a daily basis and her parents have a special wheel chair for her as well, there are so many challenges that they face together – and do it with tremendous grace.    You can see one of Ellie’s teachers there behind her, giving her a helping hand.  The best part of this photo?   The smile on this child’s face – tapping alongside her dance friends, as excited as any other little girl to wear that polka dot costume and bows in her hair, dancing for her family and friends.   Joy. Joy . Joy.

 

Looking for more information on the different diagnoses of disabilities?   Have a read through our  book review of Alphabet Dance – an excellent resource for teachers!

 

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.