Saturday, August 30, 2014
Yet studying in a foreign country can have a profound effect on a dancer’s artistry. “Immersing oneself in a community very different from your own and communicating with other artists about art—that’s a rich experience,” says Patricia Rincon, head of dance at the University of California, San Diego. “Your lens is expanded to new ways of seeing and approaching your work.”
More study-abroad opportunities are popping up for dancers. Some universities offer faculty-led summer intensives in prime dance locations, while others partner with foreign institutions for semester-long dance experiences. Even if a college doesn’t host its own program, it may offer resources for students to study abroad through another foreign or American institution. Here are three ways that programs are typically structured.
Each summer, University of South Florida associate professor Michael Foley leads a group of about 20 dancers from both USF and Barnard College to Paris, where they spend four weeks experiencing Parisian culture through the lens of dance. Students live in a residential area, study with European artists, attend performances and choreograph, in addition to writing papers and keeping journals. But Foley makes time for them to explore the city. “I try to find a balance, so it’s not just dance camp with a French twist,” he says. “They’re doing what they would do if they were professionals: taking class in the morning, working on repertory in the afternoon and living in the city.”
The intensive counts toward six credits, which can be applied to requirements in choreography, dance history or cultural studies, depending on the institution. Because the program happens outside of the normal school year, it doesn’t interfere with graduation timelines.
Florida State University hosts a similar Paris program, in partnership with the Académie Américaine de Danse de Paris. In addition to ballet, students experience dance history firsthand through classes in court dance and Duncan technique, take open classes around the city and tour art museums and famous dance sites, such as backstage at the Palais Garnier.
Katarina Bennicoff Yundt, an FSU student who attended last summer, says the language barrier made classes particularly fascinating. “To us, ‘plié’ means ‘do a plié,’” she says. “But to them, ‘plié’ just means ‘to bend.’ They’d be talking about the arm. You had to stay really focused to keep up.”
Semesters Spent Abroad
Some schools offer entire semesters abroad, led by a dance faculty member. (A semester-long USF Paris program is tentatively set to launch in spring 2015.) Often, these programs are held in partnership with a foreign university. This fall, Hobart and William Smith Colleges dance department, with associate professor Cadence Whittier, will lead one such program in New Zealand.
Geneva, New York–based HWS, which places a strong emphasis on community service, is teaming up with the University of Auckland, whose dance faculty is well-known for their arts and education programming. Auckland’s dance studies majors frequently go out into different communities, leading interactive sessions, for example, with elementary and special-needs students. Similarly, HWS students will gain hands-on experience implementing arts programming with local organizations. The university offers two courses to help students with the immersion process and to understand the needs of Auckland’s diverse populations. “They gain more experience observing how other people and communities do things,” says Whittier.
For semesters abroad, students have more opportunities to customize their experiences. In the HWS program, for example, attendees include other academic majors as well as serious dancers. Faculty will help those desiring more technique classes to find extra courses at local studios and at the university.
“Most of my students, when they come back, seem more grounded, and that permeates their academic and artistic studies,” says Whittier. “With that comes confidence in their ideas and interactions.”
Prepare Your Own Adventure
The most adventurous dance majors set out solo at a foreign institution. Being one of the only American students can be intimidating, but it’s also one of the purest ways to experience a new culture. Many of these universities facilitate connections among their American students and offer cultural workshops to help them adjust. If a dancer prefers a more guided experience, many U.S. schools (such as USF and FSU) welcome outside students into their group programs.
College study-abroad offices coach students through the process, often with the help of a dance faculty advisor. For instance, Rincon, at UCSD, frequently recommends the Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires for those wishing to study ballet and contemporary. She draws on her own experience teaching abroad when making suggestions, but overall, student experiences are diverse and highly individualized. “It’s all tailored to their interests,” she says.
Sometimes students integrate dance into nondance programs. “I’ve had dancers go to Argentina with an economics teacher and study tango,” says Whittier. HWS’ center for global education helped another student studying academics in France secure a teaching internship and apply for a grant to fund dance classes.
“I feel like I’m a more well-rounded artist now,” says Bennicoff Yundt about her summer in Paris. The experience pushed her outside her comfort zone and broadened her perspective. In the end, these revelations are what make studying abroad so valuable. “There are moments of utter enlightenment,” says Foley. “To watch them find a sense of ownership of their identities and who they want to be as dancers is incredible.”
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
At right - Misty Copeland. Photo by Gene Schiavone
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Photo by Gene Schiavone
Photo by Gene Schiavone
When it comes to dance, the general rule of thumb is that the younger you begin training, the better. Serious ballet dancers, for example, are often expected to be career-ready by 16. But what if you didn’t start dancing at age 2? Is there room in the professional dance world for late starters?
The short answer: Yes! Here are some tips from dancers who started in their teens and went on to become pros:
Misty Copeland with Roman Zhubrin in Alexei Ratmansky's Firebird (Gene Schiavone)
Misty Copeland, soloist at American Ballet Theatre
Age she started dancing: 13
How did you get started? I auditioned for the dance team at my junior high school, and the coach told me my potential as a dancer went beyond that local team.
When did a professional career start to feel possible? When I discovered American Ballet Theatre. I memorized every company member’s background and studied videos.
What kept you going through the tough times? The encouragement I got from the people around me. And ABT was the light at the end of the tunnel. Watching videos and seeing live performances kept me motivated.
Were there benefits to starting late? I didn’t feel burnt out at the age of, say, 15. Everything was so new that I was always eager for more.
Do you have advice for other late starters? Be mindful of how you treat your body, especially early on. You’re in a different place physically than a 7-year-old beginner. Consider cross-training to help develop your technique more quickly.
Richard Riaz Yoder, Broadway performer
Age he started dancing: 17
How did you get started? I saw a couple of my high school show choir friends doing a time step and got them to teach me. When I showed my mom, she took me to a teacher who owned a studio for adults. At 17, I was actually the youngest person in my first class by 20 years!
Did you ever doubt yourself? I was weird in that I wasn’t self-conscious at all in those early classes. Even if I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, I was going to do it as best I could.
What obstacles did you encounter? Learning dance terminology was hard. I had a teacher early on in college who asked us what dance steps we knew—and I didn’t know any. So I went home and memorized the name of every tap step. I wasn’t sure what they were, but I knew the names of every one.
Were there benefits to starting late? I was able to make sure I got high-quality training from the beginning. I’ve seen dancers who, early on, had bad habits thanks to poor training.
Janette Manrara, Burn the Floor
Age she started training seriously: 19
How did you get started? My family is from Cuba, so salsa dancing was always a part of my life. I started studying musical theater at 12. Then the dance teacher at my musical theater school opened his own studio, and I started taking dance classes every day.
What obstacles did you have to conquer? The worst was seeing parents or other students look at me with confused faces. They didn’t understand why a girl in her 20s was taking ballet with 12-year-olds.
When did you know you wanted to dance
professionally? As soon as I set foot outside of “So You Think You Can Dance”! Being on the show during Season 5 opened so many doors for me.
Phillip Chbeeb, Hip-Hop dancer
Age he started dancing: 16
How did you get started? I was a jack-of-all-trades kid—I did everything from basketball and track to theater. After a (now) comical incident when I took a line drive to my face playing baseball, I had to ease off sports for a while. That’s when I took my first dance class.
What obstacles did you encounter? I had to learn when to incorporate my own natural tendencies into someone else’s choreography—and when not to. I had to figure out how to break movements down into pieces: the bounce, the pivot. That helped me become more aware of my body and its subtleties.
Were there any benefits to starting late? In a way it’s good that dance isn’t “my life.” I’m inspired by things outside of dance, and I think that helps me better express myself.
Alice Klock, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Age she started dancing: 11
How did you get started? I was home-schooled, and my mother wanted me to get out and meet people my age, so she asked, “What about ballet?”
How did you catch up? I worked outside of class. In academic classes like math, the more you study on your own, the better you’ll do in class. It was the same for me with dancing.
Were there benefits to starting late? I’m actually glad I started when I did because I developed as a person before I became a dancer. This is a life-consuming art.
Do you have advice for other late starters? Never compare yourself to other people in class. I learned so much from dancers who were three or four years younger than me because I didn’t let age get in the way.
Michael Wood, Tap Dancer
Age he started dancing: 18
How did you get started? When I was auditioning for musical theater college programs, a friend told me about Oklahoma City University’s dance program. I figured, why not? And I got in!
What kept you going? My parents. I couldn’t always feel myself getting better, but whenever they came to see my performances, they’d say, “You’ve come further than you think.”
Did you have any breakthrough moments? During my junior year of college, a teacher said, “Michael, I think ballet has finally clicked for you.” And that was exactly what happened. One day I stopped feeling like I was trying to do ballet, and just started doing ballet.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Chances are you’ve seen things like this happen, to yourself or someone else. Maybe you’ve even acted this way toward others. In a high-pressure environment where dancers are often competing against each other to be cast in the best roles, jealousy and stress can drive girls to their cattiest.
Naming the Beast
Any action that hurts someone’s relationship with others—teasing, gossiping, spreading rumors or deliberately excluding someone—is called relational aggression. It can be as subtle as rolling your eyes or as overt as insulting someone’s appearance in front of others or behind her back.
Experts say that relational aggression is more common in girls than boys and peaks in middle school, though research as to why this is the case has offered a number of possible reasons. Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, author of Mean Girls Grown Up, says that relational aggression tends to be more common in activities where bodies are on display such as dance, swimming and gymnastics. This leads to comparisons, jealousy and self-esteem issues. Girls who are mean to others benefit by boosting their own self-esteem—they might get a laugh from others or bond with fellow dancers by excluding or insulting someone else.
How To Respond
If you’re the victim of mean comments or actions, immediately talk to someone outside the studio (a parent, an older sibling or a friend) about what happened and how it made you feel. “Come up with a plan for yourself including things you can do [next time],” says Dellasega. Some options are to walk away, say “that hurt my feelings” or make a joke.
The textbook response to bullying is to give an “I statement,” such as “I felt really upset when you insulted me in front of everyone.” In real life, though, that might not be the best approach, especially for teens, says Dr. Laura Martocci, a sociology professor at Wagner State University. “Oftentimes, bullies don’t care, [because] they’re trying to make you miserable,” she explains. “It’s also making [your] feelings totally contingent: ‘I feel bad when you do this, so you should stop doing that because I can’t feel good about myself.’”
Instead, take control of the situation by reacting in the best possible way that suits you. If you’re shy, confidently ignoring mean comments can be the most comfortable response. Using sarcasm—like saying, “you don’t have to blow out my candle to make yours brighter”—allows you to stand up for yourself and turn around the situation. Throwing back another insult, on the other hand, will only put a bully on the defensive and escalate the situation.
If you’re confrontational, try turning your enemy into a friend by talking to her outside of the studio one-on-one, suggests Dellasega. Explain that her behavior bothers you, and ask if there is something you’ve done to upset her. Tell her that you’d like to try to work together instead of against each other, and keep the situation neutral by asking her what she thinks you both could do to change things. After she responds, work together to come up with some guidelines for the future. For example, if she has something to say about your performance, ask her to speak to you individually and directly, rather than talking to others about it.
When Enough Is Enough
When another dancer’s behavior is affecting your happiness in class, it’s time to talk to your teachers so they can address the behavior or mediate a group discussion. “Your teachers should address things as they happen—[something] as simple as eye-rolling—with that person immediately after class,” says Diane Scarcella, a regional director for The Ophelia Project, a national organization that educates teens about relational aggression.
If there’s a widespread problem with relational aggression in your school or studio, you’ll need the leadership of instructors to change the culture. Teachers and coaches should demonstrate appropriate behavior themselves and make it a school-wide standard.
Start traditions that promote respect like applauding each other after class and making an effort to genuinely congratulate fellow dancers on a good performance or competition. Instructors at Linda Dies Dance Unlimited in Warren, PA, worked with Scarcella on a studio-wide project to curb meanness. They’ve adopted the motto “It’s cool to be kind,” and posted a mission statement including standards of respect, tolerance and understanding near the entrance of the studio. A lobby bulletin board displays dancers’ positive achievements outside of dance, and they’ve also made it a classroom rule that dancers are not to correct each other; it’s the teacher’s job to give corrections, no matter how experienced the students.
Jealousy and insecurity are major contributors to the mean-girl phenomenon. In the dance world and the real world, there will always be someone who is better than you at something, so learn to accept your natural feelings of envy. “There’s nothing wrong with looking at another dancer and saying, ‘Wow, she can do that better than I can.’ It’s what we do with [that knowledge] from that point on,” says Dr. Cheryl Dellasega. Instead of reacting to envy by putting others down, channel your envy in a positive direction. Harness those feelings to motivate yourself to work harder at achieving your own goals. Or, ask that fellow dancer to share the secrets of her success with you.
Dr. Cheryl Dellasega gives straight answers on how best to react in two common studio scenarios.
Q. What should I do if the meanest girl of all gets the lead role?
A. Ask yourself, did she get [the role] because she’s mean or because she’s talented? Having people recognize her abilities is going to make her feel more secure and decrease that mean behavior. However, if she gets something that everyone else wants and people treat her badly because of it, it may reinforce her thoughts of “See, I’m right. None of them are my friends anyway.” It’s how you respond that determines your future—if you’re going to be mean and nasty to her, then [her] mean behavior is likely to continue. If you’re the bigger person and say, “Hey, congratulations,” or “I know you worked really hard to get that,” it may improve your relationship with her. Be gracious; this scenario will repeat itself throughout life. It’s important to learn that people are always going to get things that you want, and they aren’t necessarily going to be the nicest people.
Q. What should I do if I get the lead and others are talking about me behind by back?
A. Win them over by helping them feel secure and recognizing that they are talented too. If you see that other girls are talking about you and are resentful of you, make a point of approaching them one-on-one and saying, “Listen, I wouldn’t be where I am now without your support. I just want to thank you for being a part of this group, because we all work together to make everybody look good.”
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Luckily, you don’t have to let stress run your life. Here are five ways to manage your stress so that you can hit the studio and stage feeling calm and focused.
Focus on the Things You Control
“We all have a ‘circle of influence’ that contains things that we can control,” says Dr. Peter Lovatt, director of the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. “There’s little point in being stressed about things outside your circle of influence.” Lovatt says that mastering a double pirouette is something you can accomplish by learning the proper technique and practicing. On the other hand, “you have no control over whether there will be a vacancy in a particular dance company for you,” he says. Worrying about things you can’t change is counterproductive because you decrease the time and energy available for things you can.
Break the Cycle
Stress symptoms are often interrelated. “When we’re stressed, we lose some of the awareness of and control over our muscles, which can make us question our competence and become upset,” Dr. Lovatt explains. This physical symptom and emotional response can make you feel even more stressed, creating a vicious cycle. When you catch yourself spiraling downward, slow down. Identify how your stress manifests (for example, muscle tension and irritability, followed by trouble breathing). When you notice those symptoms, make a conscious decision to relax before things get worse.
Dance for Yourself
“It’s great for dancers to be able to move for self expression with no audience,” says Sara T. Workeneh, MA, ADTR, NCC, a registered dance/movement therapist and counselor who also teaches at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. “Move alone in the dark. Do Qigong [a Chinese practice involving breath, movement and energy] or yoga.” Moving without the pressure of having to do it “right” can remind you of your love for dance and help you express emotions you might be unable to articulate in words.
Rest and Recover
“Apply yourself in activities that are different from dance that will allow your body to relax while it’s engaged, such as swimming or hiking,” Workeneh says. However, be wary of jumping headfirst into a new form of physical activity when you’re already stressed. Instead, practice your non-dance exercise of choice once a week to prevent stress. If you can, work outside. “Outside contact, feeling the earth under your feet and breathing fresh air, is important to feeling and being grounded,” she says. “It impacts one’s ability to have clarity of mind.”
Focus on the Present
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, give your full attention to a single task. For dancers, that means focusing on the specific dance class you’re in, one exercise at a time. “Don’t worry about what will happen in the performance next week, or how you did in class yesterday,” Lovatt says. “The more you can relax and focus, the more control you will have over your body and mind.”
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Imagine a dancer who gives the appearance of "having it all"--talent, prestige, admiration, lots of friends, and best of all, a promising future. Then, imagine this same person laid low by depression. Confusing? No one is immune to mood disorders, whether a top performer or a straggling dance student. Population estimates indicate that depression afflicts approximately 17 million Americans across the country.
Depression is a real medical illness, like diabetes or ulcers. This means that you can't "snap out of it" like you can from a temporary ease of the blues. Instead, symptoms of depression typically last for two or more weeks due to biochemical changes in the brain, creating feelings of sadness that permeate your life. Worrying and irritability are also common, as are problems with concentration and memory. It may be difficult to think, sleep, dance, or even have sufficient energy to do your daily activities.
For many dancers, injuries are more than broken bones or torn tissue. They come with a deeper kind of loss, one of precious stage time, the momentum of a burgeoning career, even personal identity. In the early stages of a serious injury, the physical pain is often overshadowed by the emotional trauma. Dancers’ fusion of self and body is so complete that when they can’t move, their world unravels.
“Injured dancers may experience a form of grief,” says Elizabeth Manejías, MD, who works with dancers at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. She says mild depressive symptoms and anxiety are common. Lynda Mainwaring, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, led a study on the topic. “We found that dancers, both here in Canada and in the United Kingdom, reported that often the psychological aspect of injury was the most difficult component to cope with,” says Mainwaring.
Dancers are trained to be stoic. And because their whole world is connected to their physical presence, when they’re forced to be stationary, there’s a void. “Especially when the injury is serious and involves long-term recovery, it threatens a dancer’s identity,” says Mainwaring. When dancers can’t dance, they temporarily lose not only their career but also their lifestyle, their means of expression, their sense of purpose.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 8; without it, I felt incomplete,” says the Joffrey Ballet’s Miguel Angel Blanco, who spent a year off the stage after two consecutive surgeries on his Achilles tendon. “I had days where I asked myself, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I missed a lot of great shows, including a world premiere by Edwaard Liang and Wayne McGregor’s Infra.”
The danger of depression is twofold: In addition to the emotional drain, it can put the brakes on recovery. “Depression can hurt concentration, sleep and appetite, all of which are necessary to support the healing process,” says Manejías. A 2001 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that patients with leg wounds who had depression were four times as likely to experience delayed recovery. “Also,” says Manejías, “there are studies to suggest that depression can heighten the experience of pain because similar areas in our nervous system process both feelings.”
Dangerous Territory: The Studio
Every dancer has a different coping strategy. Some feel so betrayed by their bodies that they want to avoid dance at all costs. Others find comfort in maintaining a connection to ballet. For Houston Ballet’s Madison Morris, who was out with ankle injuries at the end of last season, deciding to watch her peers proved a turning point. “I feel ashamed to admit that I had to drag myself to see our mixed rep program ‘Made in America,’ ” she says. “I knew it would be difficult to watch them while I was still unable to dance.” Ultimately, she found viewing the performance helped her feel closer to the work she loved.
“Some dancers may benefit from attending rehearsals and taking notes, or assisting in some way that helps them feel involved,” says Mainwaring. “Some may not feel comfortable watching others perform when they can’t.” The ability to return to the studio also evolves over the course of a recovery. Many dancers can only handle being back once they can start marking again. “Every step of the process is important,” says Dec. “I got my hope back once I was reaching certain milestones, getting closer to dancing again.”
Expand Your Artistry
Exploring a new passion while sidelined can be enormously beneficial. “I encourage dancers to focus on nurturing activities and exercise to give themselves the space to process any emotional turmoil,” says Manejías. Having another outlet helps keep dancers from getting obsessively wrapped up in their injury, and what they were—or weren’t—able to do in physical therapy that day.
It isn’t just about distracting your mind. Many dancers discover new dimensions of themselves. Whether it’s photography or Pilates, developing other talents will help you return to the studio as a more complete artist. Morris, for example, taught private ballet lessons, choreographed for a youth group and even joined a 24-hour film project. “I thought acting would be a fun and a less physical outlet while I recovered,” she explains.
Morris also found support from an unexpected source: an audience member. One day, while Morris was in the theater, a woman approached her wanting to know when she would be performing again. “Her concern during that simple conversation made me feel like I was still part of what was happening onstage,” she recalls. “I was still part of our talented team even if I was riding this one out on the bench.”
Different types of depression may produce additional symptoms. Dancers in the northern hemisphere who develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the late fall and winter months may crave sweet and starchy foods and gain weight. In contrast, individuals with bipolar disorder report mania in addition to depression, making rash decisions, such as maxing out their bank accounts, when elated. Dancers with the most benign type of mood disorder, known as dysthymia, suffer chronic, low-grade depression over many years, often beginning in childhood or adolescence. While some dancers are disabled by depression, others continue to function with difficulty. Still, clinical depression should never be ignored, since it is involved in more than half of all attempted suicides.
Although depression tends to run in families, factors apart from heredity can trigger an episode. These factors may include illness (such as an underactive thyroid), stressful life events, a decrease in exposure to sunlight, fluctuating hormones (associated with oral contraceptives or premenstrual syndrome), substance abuse, and burnout. Psychological makeup can also lead to depression, especially in high achievers. In fact, countless accomplished people have suffered from depression, including the late co-founder of the New York City Ballet, Lincoln Kirstein. Does this mean that talented people are more vulnerable to feeling down when others feel up? According to Dr. Sidney Blatt, a psychologist specializing in depression at Yale University, the same qualities that create significant achievement can also lead to self destruction, depending on one's perfectionistic tendencies.
So is perfectionism destructive? Yes and no. Like accomplished people throughout history, successful dancers tend to have extremely high standards. In fact, giftedness and perfectionism often go hand in hand. This is positive up to a point because it drives you to constantly push to achieve excellence. It becomes negative if you must avoid failure at all costs. Unfortunately, the dance culture's emphasis on an ideal body and technique may push certain vulnerable dancers over the edge, especially if teachers refuse to make allowances for fatigue, injuries, mistakes, or anatomical flaws. For example, I know one 16-year-old dancer who became seriously depressed after she was ridiculed in class for having "knobby" knees. Over time, her quadriceps muscle developed, making this problem much less noticeable. However, the emotional damage was already done.
Given the relationship between low self-esteem and depression, it is safer (and more productive) for teachers to focus on learning goals, where the dancer's self-worth is not tied to being perfect. Examples include learning new tasks and acquiring information. Taking a positive approach in dance training can also help dancers manage their own perfectionistic tendencies and set more realistic goals.
Not surprisingly, depression often catches dancers off guard, particularly in a culture that prizes stoicism. As a result, dancers and teachers may view certain red flags associated with depression, such as a loss of energy and concentration, as signs of weakness. Likewise, substance abuse, whether it's cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or food, may represent a futile attempt to self-medicate for depression. Although it's never a good idea to rely on self-diagnosis, you can use a simple self-screening test developed by the National Mental Health Association to help you determine if you or someone you know is depressed.
But this is in no way a substitute for a medical diagnosis. First, check all the symptoms that apply. If they add up to five or more and have lasted for more than two weeks, the next step is to get a diagnosis from a licensed therapist, such as a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker--not some amateur who may want to analyze your past lives. The NMHA Resource Center can put you in touch with mental health services in your community (800.969.6642).
The good news is that depression is a highly treatable medical illness. In some cases, psychotherapy is all that is needed, although the length of treatment may be more extensive for negative perfectionism. Antidepressant medication can also be a useful adjunct to therapy--but he aware that using alcohol and illicit drugs along with certain antidepressants can be dangerous. At the very least, remember to set realistic goals and seek out supportive people. And never underestimate the healing power of laughter.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a lecturer, a psychologist in private practice, and author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass).
Sunday, August 3, 2014
So why are athletes embracing dance? Many believe that dance fundamentals can enhance athletic performance by increasing agility, precision, flexibility and timing. Although this concept isn’t exactly new (Roni Mahler was hired in 1984 to teach a 12-week series of ballet classes to the Cleveland Browns NFL team), pop-culture trailblazers like Grease’s Danny Zuko and High School Musical’s Troy Bolton have inspired a new generation of athletes, proving it can be cool to explore their artistic sides. Add to that the victories of football legend Emmitt Smith, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno and Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi on “Dancing with the Stars,” and it’s no wonder that greater numbers of athletes are hitting the dance floor.
Athletes can also benefit from dance’s rehabilitative and injury-preventive qualities. According to Shaw Bronner, who has treated athletes and is a physical therapist for The Ailey School and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, taking dance classes can actually accelerate an injured athlete’s recovery. “[They] often want to get back to the field prematurely, and dance allows them to work on certain skills that augment what they’re doing in traditional rehab,” she says.
By targeting jocks, your studio can diversify its customer base and attract an entirely new audience. Read on to find out how to make it a win-win situation for everyone.
Do Your Homework.
To develop or incorporate dance classes for athletes, it’s important to become familiar with the ins and outs of various sports. “People in the sport aren’t going to appreciate a dance teacher coming in and not focusing on what they’re doing on the field,” says Grace Maxwell, owner of Athletic Grace Dance Studio in El Segundo, California. “When marketing yourself to athletes, make sure you understand the physicality of each sport and know why it’s important for them to dance—from reducing injuries to building endurance.”
Rosso agrees that sports knowledge is a must: When preparing her Dance for the Athlete curriculum, she observed soccer, football and basketball practices. “I took notes on the drills and footwork each coach used, then went back to the studio and incorporated them into
Relating to a sport also makes class instruction easier. Maxwell recalls one student who was able to nail a
troublesome swing dance turn after she likened the wrist rotation to a martial arts movement, and basketball players who mastered the grapevine in hip-hop class when she compared it to one of their drills. “When I describe movement in a way that reflects their sport, it clicks much better with them,” she says.
Make Class Athlete-Friendly.
By making appropriate attire choices, a studio owner greatly increases his or her odds of endearing athletes to dance. Just ask Julian Littleford, a former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company who now spends his days training athletes at his Del Mar, CA–based Pilates studio, JL Body Conditioning Inc. “Many athletes are nervous about going to class and would never dream of wearing tights and ballet shoes,” he says. “They’re going to feel more comfortable if both they and the instructor are in sweatpants and socks.”
The right music can also go a long way toward making athletes feel comfortable in class. Maxwell and Rosso recommend forgoing the classics for upbeat jazz or contemporary tunes, even when teaching ballet. “High school–aged students are not going to be as enthusiastic about dancing to classical music or learning strict ballet techniques,” Rosso cautions. “You’ll get more out of the students by using non-traditional ways to incorporate pliés and relevés, as well as putting those movements to music they can relate to.”
Maxwell agrees: “Shows like ‘DWTS’ are incredibly popular because they don’t use classical waltz music. I use tango or even cha-cha tunes in ballet class—it just keeps students more engaged.”
Tailor the Techniques.
Along with learning about specific sports and incorporating elements of them in class, it’s also crucial to understand how certain dance techniques can play into athletic performance. Stretching should be an integral part of any athlete-oriented dance class, as it’s often lacking in sports training. Try implementing some of the following ideas as well:
Rosso: “Although you might not get as technical as you would with advanced ballerinas, you can certainly do pas de bourrées, chassés, tendus, dégagés—[what] you’d teach beginners—without getting so much into terminology . . . it’s about the right approach.”
Maxwell: “In my Ballet for Skaters class, I incorporate ballet principles from a skating perspective. When we do ballet barre, we work in parallel position as well as turnout. When we get to center, we’ll change into dance sneakers and work on multi-rotational jumps.”
Littleford: “Forward and back port de bras will help with trunk movement and hamstrings. Any rond de jambe series, along with the grand battement series, will help with hip mobility. Tendus are very good as well because they sensitize the feet. As far as stretching, all abductor and hamstring stretches are major for any athlete.”
Although the jury is divided on whether to offer athlete-specific dance classes or integrate athletes into existing classes, all agree that dancers themselves are equally as athletic as those coming off the field or court. “I truly believe that dancers and athletes are one and the same,” says Littleford. "Many athletes say after taking dance class that it was the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and the results are quite astounding.”
Sunday, July 27, 2014
1. Meeting New Expectations
Becoming a dance major is a lot like starting your first professional job. That’s because in order to best prepare you for the demands of the real dance world, college programs simulate them in a safe environment where you can learn from your mistakes.
Though your studio may have been relaxed about occasional tardiness or missing a class, college is a no-excuses atmosphere. You’re expected to act like a professional. Show up early in appropriate dancewear; keep personal drama out of the studio; learn what extra training your body needs, and do it outside of class; and attend every class and rehearsal. “You have to be really responsible,” says Elizabeth Price, associate director of the School of Dance at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Since you’ll likely be living without your parents for the first time, it’ll be up to you to stay organized and motivated. “There are a lot of distractions in college, and you learn that it really is up to you to make yourself get up and go to class,” says Elizabeth Ernst, a dance major at University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music (CCM).
2. Finding the Courage to Stumble
So much of the college experience is about taking creative risks, like auditioning for your school’s company, trying new styles and presenting your own choreography. You’ll learn how to deal with success, disappointment and everything in between—just like you would in the professional dance world. College dance programs are designed to get you out of your comfort zone and into a place where you’re really growing.
“Sometimes, dancers come into the program and feel they need to prove their ability or value in some way,” says Barry Finkel, co-chair of the dance department at American Musical and Dramatic Academy College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in L.A. “It can be a sort of trap. If they get caught up in it, that can shut off their receptors to new information.”
It’s important to be willing to reevaluate your technique from its core, even if that means retraining yourself to do a basic plié. “We might ask students to approach something in a completely new way, or take a note that they’ve never received before,” says Marina Benedict, who co-chairs AMDA’s dance department with Finkel. “Sometimes, that can feel like taking a step back.” Knowing that you’re being graded might make you nervous about easing off more advanced steps to rethink the basics, but as long as you’re giving everything you’ve got, showing that you’re eager to learn and following the teacher’s instructions, there’s usually no need to worry about grades.
3. Finding Space to Grow
“I knew I was a big fish in high school, but I understood that when I went to college it wouldn’t be that way,” says Sarah Haggerty, a recent dance graduate from the University of Florida. If you’ve spent years as the best dancer at your home studio, entering an environment with dancers who were also the best at their studios can be a big adjustment. But all it takes to make the transition is a little humility and a willingness to grow.
When Sarah arrived at the University of Florida, she was happy to find that the dance department was a close-knit, welcoming environment, even though the larger university had tens of thousands of students. Instead of feeling she needed to compete with other dancers, she was able to focus on opening up and becoming a unique artist. “In high school, dancing was all about technique,” says Sarah. “I was never asked to find my individuality or explore who I was as a dancer and a person. When I got to college, I needed to shift my view of dance and open my mind to know that I could be in a vulnerable place and be OK.” And at CCM, Elizabeth spends even more time with her fellow dancers than when she was in high school, since they also live, eat and spend weekends with one another.
4. Surviving The Day-to-Day
Even if you’re used to dancing several hours a day, the physical demands of being a dance major are often more intense than what dancers experience in high school. That was the case for Sarah, who turned to massaging her muscles with tennis balls and taking long showers to combat the tightness caused by increased hours in the studio. At schools like George Mason, dancers go through a full athletic screening to find weaknesses that could lead to later injuries, and many universities have an athletic trainer on hand who can work with dancers as they adjust to the heavy workload.
5. Expanding Your Definition of Dance
Almost any college faculty member will tell you that two of the most important qualities of successful dance majors are open-mindedness and eagerness to try new ideas. “The ability to shift the way you’ve been viewing dance is a necessity,” says Sarah. You’ll dive into new dance styles you may not have much experience in, and you’ll study dance-based academics like dance history, anatomy and choreographic theory. During the process, you might find that you not only become a different dancer, but also develop new ideas about what dance is and why you do it.
“Throughout college, you’re going to be constantly exposed to new things,” says Price. “That’s actually the point of college—expanding your mind and body. You may not be able to do everything well at first. But over time, you will."