Monday, January 18, 2016

Balancing dance and academics

My parents have always supported my siblings and I in our love of the arts - paying for lessons, driving us here and there, making sure we practiced, etc.

As supportive as they were, they always stressed that school came first and extracurricular activities came second. Without decent grades and study habits, we knew that when it came time to go to college, we would have a really hard time maintaining a good academic career that would inevitably affect our futures.

Modern families are BUSY. Nearly every minute of every day is scheduled or booked with meetings, appointments, rehearsals, practice, drive time and homework time. It can be hard to find a balance between school and extracurricular. You don't want to put too much time into one, or the other suffers in performance.

Here are some tips from one former busy student to another:

1. Get organized and manage your time.
This is something I still do today - In high school, I started carrying around a weekly planner that listed major homework deadlines, dance practice times, performances and concerts. On days that we're busier than others, I would often block out times to study or do homework. My mom kept a monthly calendar on the refrigerator that showed everyone's events and activities to help plan out her commute. Try to plan out your whole week on the weekends.


2. Take advantage of down time.
I would sometimes bring homework with me to dance class just in case I had some extra time to study. Because we were driving around so much, I found that travel time was also a great time to study or catch on reading assignments. When teachers would give us "free time," I tried my best to get some homework done instead of chatting with friends. No point in wasting precious time doing nothing!

3. Don't procrastinate and don't get behind on school work.
I had a terrible habit of procrastinating. It added so much more stress and lot of late nights struggling to get assignments done. If you have time to do it now, DO IT NOW. 

4. Use your weekends.
As good as it feels to just lay around and do nothing on the weekend, this is a GREAT time to catch up on school work and get it out of the way. Read, study, start writing that essay on the weekend when you know that you have a busy week ahead.

Happy studying, and happy dancing!

Miss Tess

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Learn ballet: How to do Échappé

Échappé is a fun little movement that involves sliding the feet apart, then pulling them back together.

Start with the feet in third or fifth position.

Demi-plié both legs. Make sure the knees are going out sideways, not forward or to the floor.

Slide both feet evenly to the sides on the toes and straighten both legs.
Be sure that the toes and knees are not facing forward. They should continue to face out to the side.

Pull the legs back into the third or fifth position in plié with the other foot now devant.

Practice a few times in a row, making sure to change feet each time. It may be easy to start by holding onto the back of a chair.

Now try this pattern:
échappé, échappé, changement, changement
échappé, échappé, passé, passé

Happy dancing!

Miss Tess

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Before and after dance class: Caring for your body

Dancers are not only artists; they are athletes.

I think many dancers, particularly younger dancers, forget that although they are making art through movement and music, they are, in fact, exercising and using a lot of energy. And, what started out as a fun after school activity/hobby has now developed into a life-long passion. In order to keep up, its SUPER important to take care of our instrument to dance - our bodies!

Dance is more than just attending classes, learning choreography, throwing on a tutu and performing on stage. It begins to take over our lives, including our health.

My dance teacher taught us very early that class started with preparation before we even stepped into the studio. Concerned that we were not coming to class with enough nutrition and energy, she read us an article about proper nutrition before exercising.

Not only is it important to take action before class, but after class as well! One of my biggest concerns are students who walk out into the cold after class! Eeek! Keep those muscles warm!

So today a present a list of dos and don'ts to care for your body before and after your dance class:

Before class...

1. DO eat a snack! Athletes need fuel. Fruit, whole grains, protein, potassium and water are a great way to start class! It's best to eat at least 30 minutes before dancing.
DON'T eat processed food, anything fried, candy, big meals or soda. Also, DON'T not eat or you will have no energy!

2. DON'T stretch! It seems silly not to stretch before a dance class, but stretching cold muscles can actually lead to pulls and strains - not something  dancer needs. I usually do a little barre stretch at the end of the barre exercises and a more intense stretch and attempt splits at the end of class when muscles are completely warmed up.

3. DO prepare for dance class in advance. Sometimes its the little things. When I was younger, forgetting my ballet shoes would affect the way I performed in class and added stress. I always encourage dancers to get their gear together the night before so that they don't need to worry about before class.

4. DO sleep! Your body needs rest in order to accomplish the next day's activities, especially physical ones. If you know you're coming to dance class, get some much needed rest so that you're not dragging yourself into class the next day.

After class...

1. DON'T walk out into the cold! This is especially important now that the seasons are changing. As good as the cool air feels after dancing for an hour, walking straight out into the cold air will actually cause your warm muscles to cramp.
DO put your warm clothes back on!

2. DO eat another snack! Your body uses energy, so now it's time to replenish it. 

3. DO drink lots of water! Your body loses a lot of water while you are dancing. Be sure to give your body a drink!
DON'T touch that sports drink! It's full of sugar!

4. DO stretch and cool-down. Stopping all movement is bad. Keep the blood flowing with a cool-down stretch.

5. DO change your clothes. This may seem strange, but changing out of your dirty, sweaty clothes can prevent acne and infections!

I hope everyone takes this heart to keep your bodies healthy and dancing for many more years!

Happy dancing!

Miss Tess

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Two ballerinas walk into a barre": The importance of barre work

Typically, all ballet classes start at the barre - a long rail used to provide support during warmups and exercises.

My dance teacher always said that barre was the most important part of the class. She even told us that if we were more than twenty minutes late, not to bother coming in since we had already missed the most essential part of ballet class. If we were less than ten minutes late, she would make us do our plié and tendu exercises by ourselves to make sure we started class the right way. Our barre work determined our performance for the rest of class.

Barre exercises account for most of the ballet class. For my older students, I like to spend at least half the class at the barre. Most students would agree; it's the most boring part of class. Repeating the same steps over and over, then turning around to do them on the other side - it's not nearly as fun as leaping across the floor or learning new choreography. My younger students often start to complain after two exercises.

(The Royal Ballet)
However long, boring, and drill-like barre exercises are, a ballerina cannot live without them. These necessary exercises help to warm-up a dancer's muscles, gain speed and precision in footwork, increase strength and flexibility, and improve balance. Hard work at the barre reveals itself during center floor work and the rest of ballet class. The more effort put into barre work, the more a student will get out of class.

I believe that a students' performance at the barre sets the tone for the rest of class. I always ask my students to perform barre exercises as if they were performing on stage in front of audience. I notice a huge difference in poise and presentation.

Next time you're in ballet class, give it your all when you're at the barre instead of just going through the motions!

Happy dancing!

Miss Tess

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Coming back from summer break and getting back to the grind

Well, its that time of year again... summer is ending and for most students, it's time to regain that focus and get back to the grind of academics and after school activities.

For me, the end of summer/beginning of fall always felt refreshing - almost like New Years. It was like a chance to start over and renew myself.

So, here are some tips to start off a great school year!

1. Set some goals for yourself!
What do you want to accomplish this year?
How about making the honor roll at school? Get straight A's?! Read 100 books?

You can set goals for dance as well! Are you finally going to get that center split? Balance on one foot for more than 30 seconds? It can even be a little goal like working on turnout or kicking higher!

Write out these goals tape it up where you will see it often (ex. bathroom mirror, refrigerator, computer desktop, etc.)

2. Making a plan to accomplish those goals!
We can't accomplish our goals overnight. It takes hard work, patience and discipline. Make a plan for how you are going to go about reaching the goal finish line!

Instead of watching T.V. at night, read a few chapters of a new book instead!
Make time in your schedule to stretch for 30 minutes everyday!
Maybe less Facebook time and more study time to make it to the honor roll?

The possibilities are endless!

3. Find friends and family to share your goals with you!
It is much more motivating to have someone accomplish your goals right along with you instead of trying to do it alone.

Make it a competition with a sibling! Who can read the most books by the end of the first term or the end of the school year?

Can you or your friend finally hit that double pirouette?

4. Check yourself along the way.
It's the end of the first semester... How are you doing on those goals?
Evaluate yourself to keep yourself on track!

I hope everyone has a most splendid year and makes it their most accomplished year yet!

Happy dancing!
Miss Tess

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recital jitters: Feeling calm and collected before stepping out into the spotlight

It's that time of year... RECITALS!

I know our teachers here at Ballet Petite are wrapping up choreography and polishing dances so that they will be performance ready. Our production team has also been vigorously preparing costumes and props.

It's getting a little crazy, but we love it!

I have some students that are performing on stage for the very first time ever! What a special moment!

I remember my first dance recital ever. It was a butterfly dance. I was the pink butterfly. My teacher made me these beautiful wings to wear and silver antennae. I hardly recall the choreography now, but I do remember one part where I held my arms in fourth position and twirled toward the back of the stage in order to prepare to leap toward the audience. Twenty years later, I still remember the thrill of being on the stage for the first time and having people applaud for me.

While these are students are super excited, some are extremely nervous. Unfortunately, I even have a couple students decide they did not want to do recital because they were a little scared of being in front of so many people. That is totally normal and it is nothing to be ashamed of!

If you are braving the crowds, but still have a little anxiety before that big performance, here are a couple tips to help calm the nerves so that you can do your best and give the best show you possibly can!

1. Don't forget to breathe!
It may seem like something that should come naturally, but come moments of anxiety, you can actually forget to breathe. Lack of oxygen might cause you to faint, especially if you're dancing! Practice the dance at home a few times and pay close attention to when you are breathing.

2. Think happy thoughts!
Don't think about what could possibly go wrong. Do think about all the things that WILL go right!

3. Eat well!
Healthy foods are great to get you the energy you need for a performance. Try to avoid caffeine and sugar, which can make the anxiety worse.

4. Be well prepared!
The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel. Make sure to attend class so that you get all the practice you can with the help of the teacher. Practice a couple times at home and visualize the dance in your mind before you step out on stage.

5. Don't focus on yourself!
Think about what you are trying to accomplish - you are entertaining an audience. In cases of recital, many people there know who you are and are there to support you.

6. Smile!
You can fake anything with a good smile! Look happy and confident and you will be!

Happy dancing, and break a leg!

Miss Tess

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Books for Dancers

As I got older, I wanted to know more about dance, but just going to class just wasn't enough. I actually wanted to research dance - its history, the techniques, the landmark performers, etc. I wanted to know dance.

I started checking out books from the library and people would also gift me books as well, and I read them all from cover to cover.

So today, I bring you Miss Tess' top ten list of dance books!

1. The Pointe Book
A ballerina's essential tool. This book was introduced to me by first year en pointe by my dance teacher and she taught out of this book.
I eventually got a copy for myself and found it super helpful to have around. It contains everything on how pointe shoes are made, how to care for them, and also some handy exercises and techniques. A definite recommendation for every dancer thinking about or is dancing en pointe.

2. Conditioning for Dance
My dad gave me this book for Christmas last year and I LOVE it. The targeted exercises are exactly what dancers need to in order to build up strength and flexibility.
My favorite characteristic of this book is that it gives great visual examples. Much of dance is visualized in order to interpret thoughts into movement.
A great tool for dancers of all genres to have.

3. Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday
Photographer Jordon Matter snaps photos of dancers doing ordinary things in ordinary places. Of course, nothing is ordinary when you add a little dance: a ballerina leaping in the aisles of a bookstore, a man dressed in a suit dances across the subway platform, a young couple on an exciting picnic.
This is a fun book to have in your library. An inspiring collection of photos to remind you that you can dance through anything.

4. Tutus, Tights, and Tiptoes: Ballet History As it Ought to be Taught
My sister brought this book home from a ballet camp one summer.
It's a cute, funny, and satirical look on the history of dance. A fun and enjoyable read.

 5. I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina
This is a sweet and beautiful story of Anna Pavolva, taken from her autobiography. It delicately tells the story of when she visits her first ballet performance and the inspiration that stems from it. Combined with Edgar Degas' spectacular artwork of dancers, it serves as a great reminder that no dream is impossible.

6. Ann Miller: Tops in Taps
Being a tap enthusiast, my dance teacher gifted me this book. It's a history of tapper Ann Miller's rise to stardom told in photographs. My favorite photograph of Ann was one where they strapped a pedometer to her ankle to see how many "steps" she danced.

7. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets
Written by the legendary George Balanchine, this is the dictionary of well-known, popular ballets.

8. Song and Dance Man
I remember that my art teacher read this to us in the fourth grade and the story has always stuck out in my mind.  It's a cute story of three grandchildren who watch their grandfather perform like he did in the vaudeville days.

9.Mao's Last Dancer
I saw the movie and loved it. Then I read the book. Equally as beautiful. Like Anna Pavlova, Li Cunxin defied the odds and overcame hurdles to become a ballet dancer and follow his dream.

10. DK Eyewitness Books: Dance
My dance teacher had a shelf of books outside the studio I loved to go through before class. This book was always one of my favorites. I liked going though it and learning about all the different kinds of dance styles. When I was a young child, all I knew was ballet and tap. This was also a book I frequently checked out of the library.

Happy reading, and happy dancing!


Miss Tess