Wednesday, January 11, 2017

WINTER HEALTH AND BEAUTY FOR DANCERS

 
Winter beauty and health for dancers

 Is that a shimmy or are you just  shivering?

 Winter has hit in LA, and I’m freezing! I’m  also reasonably sure that all you dancers in colder climates are laughing hysterically at me, but it really is  winter here in Hollywood.  We’ve had cold  storms  non-stop the past month, and more rain than in the past six years of drought!

 But no matter where you live, there are  some things about our dance practice and presentation that  really  need to change when the seasons do.  And if you  haven’t addressed any of this yet, there’s  still plenty of time to!  So here’s some  winter beauty tips for you...no matter what climate  you're dancing in...

SKIN
During the winter, our skin gets dry from  the cold and wind and also from indoor heating.  The extremes of temperature make our skin flakey and dull…and trust me, nobody wants to see that on stage.

About once or twice a week, I use  a scrub to exfoliate my face. There are tons of products you can buy, but an easy   and totally inexpensive home made scrub will do the trick, without causing irritation.  Here’s  all you need to do:

 In a bowl, combine  1 tablespoon of dry oatmeal with ¼ teaspoon of table salt- any kind will do. Add a teaspoon of water , or if your skin is very dry,  use olive oil instead. Rub it into your skin carefully and gently with your fingers in circular motions, going upwards. Make sure not to drag or pull your skin. Then let the  paste sit on your face for about ten minutes, and rinse it off with tepid water.

  After this scrub, I apply  natural coconut oil  to my face.  You can purchase a large bottle of coconut oil at any health food store- it’s great for cooking too. But when used on the skin, it  acts as a humectant, drawing  moisture to you and sealing  it in, without leaving you feeling greasy and gross…plus it smells nice. I slather it all over my poor beat up feet at night, then slip on a pair of thick socks and I the morning, my feet look…well… almost presentable!  It’s also terrific as a natural make up remover.

Moisturizing is necessary, even more than  it is in warmer months. As for facial moisturizers, I love Boots Protect And Perfect Intense Serum-  I use it at night, it seeps right in and my skin feels so soft every morning. For daytime, I use Olay  Total Effects 7 In One Daily Moisturizer, which is really creamy but not oily…it feels light  and is great under make up.  There are tons of products you can buy, but an easy     ( and cheap!) home made scrub will do the trick, too.

  COSMETICS
As for winter make up, one of the problems most of us have is that our summer tans are fading. Check the foundation you’ve been using  to be sure that the shade still matches your skin tone. You might want to mix two colors together, so you can lighten or darken the current  color you are using to match your “new”  seasonal skin tone. For pale  or fair gals, bronzer might be in order…and you can find great, inexpensive ones at the drug store! E.L.F  Studio Contouring Blush And Bronze is only about four bucks and comes in a wide variety of shades.  If you want to go a little higher-end, MAC Bronzing Powder is the bomb. For bronzers, make sure to use them sparingly, since you are no loner tan; take a large fluffy brush , and lightly go over the outside contours of your face: cheek bones, temples, jaw line, then  fluff some across the bridge of your nose. This will give you a healthy and subtle sun-kissed glow, and extend  the remnants of your summer color.

 If your hair is looking dull and dirty, but it’s too damn cold to wash it as much as you do when it’s warmer, try a dry shampoo. Aveeno Pure Renewal Dry Shampoo works like a charm and is available at places like target, Walmart, CVS, etc. for under ten bucks. Also, in the winter, static electricity is a problem for any type of hair, so think about using  a silicone smoother to prevent fly-aways. I really like  the John Frieda Collection  Frizz-Ease Hair Serum  but be forewarned- a little dab’ll do ya!


 BODY
During the cooler months, be really careful about making sure your body is fully warmed up before you dance. You should be doing this anyway, but in the winter, it’s absolutely imperative, because   dancing with cold muscles is basically a way of begging for an injury! 

Be sure to dress for class or  rehearsals in “classic dancer layers”- including a   substantial sweater or sweatshirt, leg warmers,  closed dance shoes with socks, that sort of thing.

 Make sure  the  your bedroom is warm enough at night. If it's chilly  where we   sleep, that could lead to curling up int weird positions... which   will directly lead to stuff muscles and sore joints! 

During the winter, gals have to be really on top of our vitamin D intake.  Adequate amounts of vitamin D will help your body to perform to it’s fullest-  it’s great for our bones and it boosts the immune system…and of course, we need that for dancing!  Vitamin D also keeps our mood up, and increases  morale.  

During the spring and summer,  get a lot of vitamin D naturally from sunlight,  but  during the winter, because  of the longer nights and lesser amount of daylight hours, it’s a safe bet our D levels are decreased. 

 If you’re not already taking vitamin D supplements,  make sure to ask your doctor  which dose  is best for you



  Stay warm and cozy, dancers!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TEN HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL DANCERS




How many times have you shared a dressing room or studio space with a dancer who was a total train wreck?  Every other dancer in the place just sort of backs up and watches in horror as the crazy person -who, of course has shown up late- digs frantically in a suitcase scattering it’s contents all over,  yells loudly on a cell phone, or has a complete meltdown. 

We’ve all witnessed that, right?

 Baby dancers can be excused (ok, once or twice) because they haven’t learned the ropes yet and don’t have the experience -or guidance to know exactly what’s up. But ironically, it’s all too common that the disorganized, noisy  and entitled nutcase is a seasoned pro…and sometimes it’s even the featured artist!

There’s a big difference between bumbling your way hit’n’miss through  gigs and being a true professional. Even though most of us already know (and practice) the points I’m about to mention, they’re worth re-visiting; they’ll  help you to have a long, healthy and prosperous career.

 Here are ten habits of successful dancers:

 Make Health A Priority
 This one seems like a total no-brainer, but many of us blithely ignore it. It’s obvious that we can’t perform to the best of our abilities by running on fumes. Many dancers (self included, by the way) routinely function on insufficient sleep and “meals” that consist of a power bar and a handful of nuts… or by pigging out during post-gig fast food parties. And what about ignoring injuries, preferring to dance while in pain rather than sitting a few shows out? Raise your hand if you’ve been there- we’ve all done it.

Needless to say, we’re only given one body per lifetime. Taking care of yourself is vital if you want a long, healthy career. So rest up, eat clean, take your vitamins, and see a doctor when you need to, and know the world –or your career- won’t end if you miss some time due to an injury.

Be Dependable
  Be impeccable with your word. If you confirmed a gig, you gotta be there…and you need to show up on time. If you’re running late, call or text. If you know in advance can’t make a gig or if a sudden emergency comes up, let the show producer or venue owner know immediately. Suggest a substitute, and share their info or offer to contact the sub yourself.

 Manage Time Wisely
 There’s damn few dancers who have managers, publicists and booking agents, so if you want a successful career, you’re going to have to handle all of this stuff by your lonesome. That means that even if you’d prefer being onstage or in the studio, someone’s gotta do the administrative work…and that someone is you. This includes everything from making lesson plans for your classes to promoting your gigs, from updating your website to booking shows, travel and studio time. There are only so many hours in a day, but it’s crucial to carve out some time to take care of business, it’s necessary. Set aside an hour or two a week just for administrative work, and you’ll probably notice a huge difference in your career.

 Be Organized
 This actually relates to the previous point, because good organizational skills will save you time!  Keep a pre-packed dance bag to bring to class, whether you’re taking or teaching- that way, you won’t be wasting twenty minutes looking for your ballroom shoes, resistance band, or iPod.

 Store your costumes with all the pieces and accessories (jewelry, wigs, shoes) you need for that particular act.

   Decide what supplies you need for any gig.  Create a master checklist if you need to, and refer to it as you pack.

 Focus
 Keep yourself on your toes physically by mentally envisioning what you want to achieve. Be in the moment; no “phoning in” your dancing at rehearsals, and certainly never onstage or at an audition.

Set Goals
 Never stop striving for what you want. Set your goals, and   make a timeline for what you’d like to achieve. Break down the steps you think it’ll take into bite-sized, do-able chunks, finishing each task before starting on the next one.

Stay Grounded
 No matter how talented you are, nobody wants to work with a diva.  Entitlement is an ugly trait in anyone, no matter how famous or in demand they are. This old saying might sound a little brutal and cutthroat but it’ll help you remember to stay humble. There’s always someone younger, prettier, more talented, and easier to work with waiting to take your place.

Practice
 Baby dancers are addicted to practice cause it’s so new and fun. But once we get comfortable and established in our careers, many of us tend ignore home practice, or reviewing the fundamentals by drilling.  World famous ballet dancers do their barre exercises every day, and Olympic medalists train like crazy people, also every day.  No matter what level you’re at, you are no different- your performances will grow by leaps and bounds if you get back to basics.


Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Dancers
 This is much easier said than done, because it’s in our nature to compare and contrast.   It’s one thing to want to perfect a move because you like the way another dancer does it.  But all too often, comparison leads to us beating ourselves up, because we perceive we’re lacking something that another dancer has.
 Once you realize that every dancer is different and each has individual strong points to offer, it’ll be much easier to stop comparing, and feel comfortable and happy in your own right.   

Never Stop Learning
 There’s always something to learn. The more you broaden your horizons, the better dancer you’ll become. Learning is a process; it can be active and intentional- as in taking a class in a style you’ve never studied, or it can be passive, like watching another dance’s performance on You Tube.   If you’re receptive, you can learn things that will improve your own dance technique even by studying unrelated subjects.  Even your beginner students can teach you something relevant. Inspiration and “A-ha moments” can strike at any time. Stay open and be curious.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

TECHNIQUE TIPS TO IMPROVE TURNS

 
Photo by Maharet Hughes

Turns and spins may look effortless on stage, but the components that go into them are many, and sooo much more than just moving through space.

When I first started dancing, turns seemed like an elusive, unreachable goal.  I knew nothing about the mechanics involved... and all too often, I found myself in classes where it wasn’t properly broken down, either. It seems that outside of beginning ballet classes, it’s just assumed that dancers already have the foundation technique or innate ability to execute a turn-or series of turns- and that’s simply not true!

 To begin with, clean well-executed turns of any kind all start with balance. 

Achieving and maintaining the center of gravity in the body is crucial to dance in general, and specifically for turning. This sense of stability activates three different parts of our physical bodies, and they must work together, constantly shifting and adjusting to make up the clean execution of turn technique.

 The first is our vestibular system, located in the inner ear. Without getting too scientific, it’s the primary place that controls our ability to move our bodies. The vestibular system sends messages to our brains about kinetics, or the ability to fuse movement with balance.  This is why people affected with inner ear problems or an ear infection often experience vertigo or dizziness.

The second is our motor control skills, which govern the interaction between our brains and our muscles, bones and tendons. The motor system sends cognitive information from the central nervous system to our musculoskeletal system, enabling us to perform every day movements and tasks…and to dance.

The third component is the ocular or visual system, which not only allows us to see, but registers depth perception and physical orientation. Of course, the eyes send info to our brains when we dance. It’s important to know that during a turn, unless you’re a crackerjack at spotting, your eyes won’t be fixed on a certain point, putting your equilibrium a little out of whack.

 All three of these  bodily systems work together as reflexes to aid our proprioception, or the sense of our physical body in space. A common example of the use of proprioception (or lack of it!)  is the field sobriety sobriety test where an offer commands a potential offender to close their eyes while standing on one foot and touching their nose? A sober person can usually do this easily, but someone who is impaired or intoxicated cannot.

Ok, so now that you’ve got a little background, let’s move on to some exercises that will get you turning like a champ.

Develop Your Proprioception
 In my classes, to demonstrate what proprioceptive orientation is, I ask my students to close their eyes, extend their arms, and stand on one foot for as long as they can.   Some can do it for an extended time naturally, while others start to sway and waver… while sober!  Proprioception works almost without any visual cues, it’s our body’s sense of “righting” itself. The good news is that by doing exercise better proprioception skills can be developed.


Improve Your Balance
 Check and see where your weight is by rising slowly up onto the balls of your feet and maintaining the position for as long as you can. Notice where the brunt of the weight is. If it’s on the outside of your foot, towards the small toe, that’s showing a weakness in your ankles. This position is not optimal for turning, and it could potentially injure you. A “classic” Dancer’s Sprain occurs when the foot rolls over onto the outside edge, during dancing or any type of day-to-day activity.

 Try this exercise to get your weight placed properly:
 With feet just under your hips, rise up slowly onto the balls of the foot, pressing your toes into the floor. Keep your weight over the middle of each foot, and a little towards the big toe. Hold this position for at least eight counts, and slowly lower down to the floor. If you need to, use a ballet barre, a chair or even a wall or doorframe to maintain stability.  Hold on as lightly as possible, trying to let your body do most of the work. Repeat at least four times, slow and steady.

  Another exercise is to stand with the feet hip width apart. Pick up one foot- not too far off the ground- while making sure the foot you’re standing on has equal weight distribution between the ball and the heel. Hold in place for at least thirty seconds, before switching to the other foot. Repeat.

Strengthen And Stabilize Problem Areas
  Even though we dance constantly, all of us are stronger in certain areas…and those areas over-compensate for where we are weaker. One of the most notoriously weak areas for many dancers (of all genres) is in the hip. My chiropractor taught me these strengthening and stabilizing the hips.

  The first is to strengthen the calves. Stand on a staircase and lightly hold the railing, stand on one step with the toes and ball of both feet on the stair itself. Raise both feet to releve’ position, hold for sixteen counts, then as slowly as possible, lower the feet so that the heels are pointing downwards, towards the next lower step.  Repeat at least four times. This will strengthen your calves and give a nice stretch to your hamstrings, too.

For he second exercise on the stairs, turn sideways to face the railing, holding it lightly, keeping the knees soft. Keep one foot on the step itself, and slowly lower the other foot towards the next step. If this is difficult, your hip is weak; you also might notice that one side is stronger than the other. Repeat the exercise on both sides at least four times initially, building slowly towards eight, then twelve repetitions.

Find Your Weight Placement For Turning
 Practice each turn in its most basic form; even if you think you’ve mastered it already.  This will help you with the “intention” of the turn, and burn it into your muscle memory. Do the turn in slow motion on flat feet, planting each foot firmly down onto the floor before taking the next step. Next, do the same thing, but with your eyes closed. After you’ve repeated these movements a few times, do the turn full speed and you should notice a marked improvement.

Engage Your Core While Turning
 While we perform or rehearse, we are in dance posture:  spine elongated, abs engaged, ribcage lifted, shoulders back and down. But sometimes in class or during solitary practice, we forget our posture because we are so focused on mastering technique. In order to execute a great turn, keeping dance posture is essential…and that includes keeping your core tightly engaged. This will provide you with far better bodylines, and provide an essential center of gravity.

Learn To Spot
 Spotting keeps the dancer’s eyes and heads oriented in a certain place to alleviate dizziness and to enhance control during turning.   The way it works is that a fixed focus for the eyes will help you to keep control and retain your balance. While the actual turn is happening, the dancer’s body will rotate at a certain speed… but the goal of spotting is to have the head actually get through the rotation a little more quickly, in order to control the direction of the turn or series of turns.

Spotting is simply the act of focusing on a certain spot while turning.  To practice spotting, pick a location on a wall or the studio mirror, and practice turning very slowly, beginning and ending each turn with your eyes on the place you’ve picked as your spotting point.


 If you practice these techniques, your turns should show a marked advancement in a fairly short time.

  Happy dancing!


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