ode to toes!

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My toes are free!

Free at last! Free at last!

Sandal time is here again and my feet shall rejoice. The toes that have been kept hidden away in socks and boots are now being re-introduced to the world. They have been kept from daylight but now they are free to take the sun once again.

Now, dancy feet are not always pretty feet. They get blisters and bruises and have unsightly, unmentionable issues. Even if you have the most damaged ballerina feet I still urge you to expose the toes!

Your dancer feet take a beating and they now deserve to be taken out. Take them to the beach. Dip them in the water. Squish them in the sand and walk them in the grass.

They need a little fresh air.

To all of the dancified toes and feet out there..

Have a great summer!

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Let’s Get Physical

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I tend to go on and on about all the joys associated with dancing and how great it can be for your soul and your happiness level. I tell everyone to feel the music and enjoy the liberating qualities of movement…

Today, I thought I would go over some of the actual physical benefits of taking a dance class. Yes, there are those too. (Haa!)

If you know me, then you know that I will not (and cannot) get all sciency about it. This will just be a brief explanation…don’t be scared.

It is pretty obvious how being up on your feet jumping around is good for your leg muscles and is great cardio, but there is some very specific muscle conditioning that goes on in a dance class.

There are releves (rises on the balls of your feet) that are perfect for making strong calves. Plies (like squats) are where the powerful thighs come from. Tendues, degages, frappes…pretty much all exercises at the barre target every muscle in your leg and glutes. For example, degage works both inner and outer thigh and tush. It is like the adductor/abductor machine at the gym. I call it the thigh master move.

Ballet barre is like being a human gym.

When you are at the barre one hand pretty much always rests on it and the other arm is in use. At minimum it is being held out to the side for the entire exercise or it does its own positions to match the leg. It can be a killer arm work-out and no weight is necessary. Keeping your arms up and in use creates long, lean muscles and will not bulk up the arm which is a worry for some women.

So far, doing some basic ballet barre exercises has provided you with a complete arm and leg fitness routine and I haven’t even mentioned about the increased flexibility or core work…the abdominal benefits….the back strength.

While doing all of these dance exercises it is proper form to keep your abs sucked in, your shoulders back, have great posture, keep your back straight…your core is engaged every second. This is what helps create the dancer’s body, keeps you having correct alignment and makes you extremely strong. When the leg is lifted it is done using the stomach muscles. Every dance step requires your abs to be flexed and in use.

Ok, so what I am saying here is that dancing is really a total body work-out. No weights. No machines. It gets the job done by using all major muscles simultaneously. There is muscle conditioning, cardio and stretching, which meets all of the recommendations for a healthy fitness regimen. You can bend and balance your way to strong abs and never do a crunch or a sit-up.

Strong arms…no push ups.

Am I overselling? Too much hype?

Well, you do have to like music and moving though. It is still dance. Also, professional dancers do these exercises everyday to have the strength they have and look the way they do. It is not magic. It is hard work, and repetition is everything.

Not just ballet or barre, all dance classes will follow a similar formula and will give you an amazing work-out. That guy on TV is completely right that Hip-Hop can sculpt you some awesome abs. Modern dance also really works the stomach muscles as you contract and release and balance. Jazz has many of the barre exercises but done in the centre where your core will be engaged for every move. Kicks, turns…lots of jumping…Dance can have every body part in use from your fingers (literally) to your toes.

All types of dancing offer you extraordinary physical benefits so I am highly recommending it to you now.

Lose the weights and machines and give a dance class a try. Not a dance inspired group fitness class…try a real dance class. You might be surprised.

No tutu required and a great work-out will be had!

I’ll stop now. See, I didn’t get sciency. You’re welcome.

Ok, Shoulders back. Suck in the stomach. Chin up. Squeeze the glutes…

And 5-6-7-GO!

“success will ensue…”

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I just read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. In it, he makes this statement, “Don’t aim at success  – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…”

I thought that was a great way of saying it.

Do what you love and success will come.

Just do what you feel good about and you will be happy.

But is this true?

Could this be true in the dance world?

It takes a lot of hard work to see success as a professional dancer. You need to set specific goals and achieve them. A dance career will not just show up if you are not well trained…but…we have all seen that the most successful dancers are not always the technically superior dancers. The dancers with heart and passion are the world’s favourite to watch. I definitely do not receive as much enjoyment from watching the dancer with the highest extension or most turns as I do from watching the dancer that is bursting with energy and it is visible how much they love what they are doing.

If you are good at what you do, chances are it will be seen, and you will be rewarded with success. If you live your life with purpose and meaning then happiness will be there too. You don’t have to climb a mountain to find it. No gurus necessary. Find your own passion and go with it.

I don’t think you could be a dancer if you didn’t feel you HAD to be a dancer. The amount of hours involved in professional training and the blood, sweat and tears…you would not do it if it was not a love. Certain career choices are logical and voluntary, while others are a calling or a way of life. Viktor thinks we should all find our own way of life and our own meaning.

“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…”

Do what you love and the success and happiness will follow.

For doing what you love, I already consider you successful.

falling on your butt…

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You risk falling when you try a big jump. You risk being dropped by your partner while doing a lift. You risk feeling silly trying new moves and when you put your body and soul out in front of audiences and adjudicators, sometimes receiving a negative response. The whole dance thing can be a risk taking adventure. But is that a bad thing? No. It’s not. It’s great. Taking a risk is a really good thing for you to do.

After falling a few times you then accomplish the tricky jump. You get to soar through the air feeling amazing and looking spectacular. You master the difficult lift impressing yourself and the audience. You and your partner find the rhythm, timing and connection needed and you no longer worry but start dancing beautiful duets.

If you didn’t take the risk in the first place you would never find the joy and success on the other side.

Going to dance class can seem scary for those who have never tried it before and even for those who go regularly. Each class is different so you don’t know completely what to expect. You don’t know ahead of time what the choreography will be. What if it’s hard? What if I can’t do it? What if I don’t do it as well as everybody else? There can be a lot of worry going to any dance or fitness class because you are putting yourself out there and moving your body and learning, in front of other people.

Here is a secret though…

The other students are NOT watching you. They are not. Not really. Obviously people in the same room notice each other, but especially with adult, non-competitive dancers, people are more focused on themselves. When you start doing the dance combination you are concentrating on yourself, not on the people around you. Everyone is watching THEMSELF in the mirror. Not you. So don’t be nervous and judge yourself harshly. Just have fun and learn. Give yourself time to get used to it. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and feel silly. Give yourself a break. Everybody makes mistakes and feels silly sometimes, even the professionals.

Some people go into a class knowing the moves already and some people don’t. Some are more flexible than the others. There are students who like to stand right in the front of the class and have confidence even if they are not doing everything exactly right. There are students who hide in the back even though they know exactly what they’re doing. Whether you have the dancified risk taking gene or not, on behalf of all dance instructors out there, (well, maybe not ALL, but many…) I feel that I can say, we want you to come to dance class and feel like it is a place of happiness, health and learning. We want you to dance full out and take the risk of falling flat on your butt!

The big fall flat on your butt move is not a result of bad dancing…it is a sign of a great dancer! You are a dance class participant who put their ALL into trying the steps. It is evidence that you are a risk taker and for that I will always applaud you.

Take a risk and then take your bow.

SPRING!

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Is it here yet? Is it ever going to get warm out? Anyone feeling Springy?

I love the Spring season for all of its promise. For the shedding of the layers of sweaters and jackets. For the fact that it will turn into Summer…which is my favorite of the seasons. I love Spring for bringing back the grass and flowers and for making the nights brighter. I don’t just love the season. I also love the word. In dance, we use the word spring a lot. When teaching dance terminology, often we say things like, “spring into the air from both feet…” or “spring into the air from the ball of one foot…”

Springing into the air sounds fun and cool doesn’t it?

I’m not sure if we all spring enough outside of the dance studio so I am suggesting we all spring more this Spring. Spring into some gardening. Spring into your work. Spring into walking or family fun. Spring into your grocery shopping! This Spring we should really try to put an actual spring into our actual step. “Spring into the air from the balls of both feet!” Springing or jumping, in dance, means you take a leap. You push off and up and without hesitation you spring. Do something without hesitation this season.

It is great to be steady and balanced in life and in dance. Control and strength are necessities for all dance styles. But when it comes time to spring…it becomes about energy and power and trying to fly.

Inside the studio and out, this Spring let’s all try to fly!

And the winner is…

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It is dance competition season for many young dancers out there. Time to plaster on the make-up and shellac the hair! Bust out the costumes and just try to keep the Moms from arguing! (Ha!) I used to love competition season and it still brings back tons of happy memories.

But…I am now very excited to be teaching grown-ups. Non competitive grown-ups.

Well, maybe I should clarify. These adults are a little competitive. However, this time around it is with themselves. They look in the mirror and try to compete with their remembered body from the past. They are no longer looking for the best dancer award from an adjudicator but they try to win the “you did a good job today” recognition from themselves. No trophies here, except for the imaginary ones we can give ourselves for successfully completing the combination of steps “like we used to”.

My friends and I had some amazing times at competitions when we were kids and teenagers. It can be a fantastic place to learn about competing in a healthy way. It can be a fun bonding experience with all of the other dancers. It’s a chance to perform. A chance to see how you measure up…

We the dancified grown-ups, use our time in the studio for all of that now. It has all of the bonding, fun and measuring…

And yes…sometimes we wear costumes and use props too! (Just for fun! Haa!)

Which comes first…?

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Which comes first, the music or the steps?

I will not keep you in suspense. In my opinion…absolutely, 100%…music first, choreography next.

There are teachers and choreographers who imagine a certain type of dance movement and then seek out the music that will suit it. Some will have music composed specifically for a certain dance piece or there are pieces done to just a drum or spoken word.

My favourite part of the choreographic process is when the music tells me what to do.

It tells me.

I hear something and it just appears in my mind. My body just does it. It’s like magic! I would not want to work in any order other than music first, choreography second.

For me, (and I can only speak for me and there is no right or wrong way with an artistic process) dance is nothing without the music. Dance is an expression of the music. Dance is what my body wants to do when it hears music and while listening to music, often times my brain is making up steps to do to the music. I have now learned to turn that part of my brain off while driving though. I was a bit of a hazard operating a motor vehicle while simultaneously mentally choreographing.

Sometimes you have to choreograph focussing mainly on what looks good. Sometimes you get to just relax and do what feels good. Ideally you find the perfect combination of both. When the dancer’s body is doing a beautiful looking move at a precise moment in the music with a dramatic sound with a descriptive lyric that is all seamlessly tied together dazzling my eyes, drawing in my mind…well, that, my friends, is my nirvana! My bliss! Ahhhhh…dancing. Happy place.

I may have just found enlightenment. Hmmm…ok, maybe not.

However, I do love to choreograph and I particularly enjoy trying to find the right music and movements that will make my students FEEL. Feel happy. Feel brave. Feel the love. Ok, so some days it gets a little weirder and I find myself saying things like, “feel like an angry teenager” or “the grandfather on Parenthood died, this one’s for Zeke!”

To each their own! Choreograph what you like! Even if you don’t think you are a choreographer, when you hit a dance floor I know you become one, so you can relate. When you decide to raise your arms or shake your booty or flip your hair…that is choreography!

And I bet you did it because, magically, the music told you to!

And that…is dancified.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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Do. Or do not. There is no try.

There has always been some confusion about this line from Star Wars. (Yes, I LOVE Star Wars!) It is what Yoda says to Luke Skywalker when Luke doesn’t believe he can use the Force to lift an X-Wing. (small airplane thing, if you don’t know) Luke says,” I’ll try”.

”Do. Or do not. There is no try” Yoda calmly suggests. Oooooooooh, deep thoughts. (I LOVE Yoda!)

It seems that people either instantly grasp this concept or they miss the message.

It is pretty hard to explain. But I will try…Haaa! No. I won’t try. I will DO!

In order to do anything at all, you have to try. So how can there be no try? Well Padawans, if you just “try” it means you may not succeed or accomplish. Just “do”, and keep doing, until you have it done. Trying sets you up to say, “well, I tried but I couldn’t…” Doing is doing. You have not provided your mind with any alternative option. The mind is all powerful you know.  We all have the Force! (Even though my son insists that I do not really have the Force because I have yet to use my mind to make the TV remote levitate into my hands from across the room. Doesn’t mean it’s not possible!) I do believe that our thoughts shape the world. If you think it, it can be done. Just make sure you do, or do not. As my favourite little green man says, “there is no try”. Do not give your mind an out. Whether it is a new venture, a fitness goal, opening a stuck jar or mastering your pirouettes, you have to believe and you have to focus.

Do. Or do not. Don’t just try. Do it until you succeed.

I usually tell people to “try something new” but from now on I will say, “do something new” instead!

Do get dancified or do not get dancified…there is no try to get dancified?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just say “be dancified” and leave it at that for now…? Maybe I should stop saying dancified so much? “Help me Obi Wan you’re my only hope!!!!” Haaa!

How about I leave you with a classic…

“May the Force be with you!!!! Always.”

warning signs that you are dancified:

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How do you know that you are, in fact, dancified?

You are always packing an ipod, phone, radio…something with ear buds and tunes.

You shush people and tell them to be quiet so you can hear a song playing in the background.

At any party or club you are the first onto the dance floor and then you are the last off the dance floor.

Your exercise choices consist of dance based group fitness classes, dance videos, Zumba or barre. No weights or machines anywhere in sight.

After a dance or fitness class you go home and find the music and practice the moves.

You can drive and dance…cook and dance…fold laundry and dance…pretty much do anything and dance.

You dance in your bedroom, living room and kitchen. You also dance in other people’s bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens.

You still watch music videos and then do the choreography.

You can recite lines from dance movies like, “nobody puts Baby in the corner”.

When you get good news or you are particularly excited about something you break out a happy dance.

You signed your children up for dance classes because they will love it. (real reason is to live vicariously)

You wear comfy shoes to go out dancing so you can really work it.

And you know you are really, super dancified if you are actually reading this!  HAAAA!!!!

Shout out to the dancified people!!!! You are my kindred spirits!

GET HOT!!!!

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It is the end of February and it is freezing cold. I have had to shovel my driveway and I have been wearing two pairs of socks at a time. I am not a happy, winter loving grown-up right now. I am very, VERY ready to ditch the jacket and boots and get outside again. I don’t remember what grass looks like. I haven’t worn normal shoes in ages. I do like winter hats because then I don’t have to do my hair…but I really, truly long to see some green again. It is pretty tempting in these hideous cold months of the year, to hide in bed and never leave the house. Every year I say that I want to move to Hawaii. (haven’t actually done it yet) Every year I throw down the shovel and question why anyone would want to live here?! (still here though) But there is a place that is always hot! (You totally know what I’m going to say don’t you?) The dance studio! The gym! The club! The Community Centre! Wherever you go to work out and sweat…GO THERE! Don’t say it’s too cold. Get there, get your groove on and GET HOT! That is a dancified order! In the winter most people get less exercise even just because we walk less and stay home more. In a time of frozen noses and toes I recommend trying to exercise MORE! Bundle up and go dance! Dance in your living room if you must! Feels extra great to get warm and sweaty after spending so much time huddled up thinking and saying, “brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” Don’t just sit around waiting until the cold weather is over. I am announcing that winter must get dancified too!

The official first day of spring is only about 24 sleeps away. Hang in there people. Dance through the pain. Dance it off. Bust out the leg warmers and keep moving until we see the ground again. Spread the word that there is a place you can go to in the winter where you can always GET HOT!

Dance class even starts with something called a WARM-UP! Haa! (I know, terrible humor. Just terrible. Take pity on me. I’m cold.)

In conclusion… If anyone out there has the means and wants to take me to Hawaii, please let me know. I am ready and willing to take up Hula dancing full time! Haa!

Oh, that was not my point, was it????