Congratulations dancers, teachers/coaches and dance parents on another year done and dusted! Competitions, performances and just week to week classes – we are all SO ready for this break!
Heading back into the studio after 6 weeks off can be a little daunting though, especially if you have spent the whole time in holiday mode. Muscles feel squishy, or brains are a little foggy, and many of us take a few weeks before we are back in the swing of things.
So how can we make sure we walk into the studio ready to smash 2018 right from day 1? Check out the tips below which will keep you in shape… without interrupting your holiday and chill out time!
Come on guys. Just do it. You already know what that first week back is like, and you don’t want a week of barely being able to walk! People always seem to think stretching will be time consuming but its truly not! Set aside just 10 min per day just to maintain where you currently are. Even if you don’t increase flexibility over the break, you have worked too hard all year to lose it now! So its just about keeping what you have! If you spent all year planting flowers and getting a garden to grow, you wouldn’t just let it die over the holidays would you? Not when all you need to do is take a few minutes to water it each day. Your body is the same!
A tip? When watching a TV show just stretch in the ad breaks! Stretch when you are on your phone, or when you are relaxing by the pool, or when winding down before bed.
The key? Even if it’s not for long, you do need to do it every day. Other wise there is no point. It’s like only flossing the night before you go to the dentist: Trust me if you leave it til the night before, the professionals can always tell.
This is easier than it sounds. You don’t need to be going to a gym or going crazy, just stay moving wherever you can. Play backyard sports with friends and family, go bushwalking, bike riding, swimming. Why not organise a fun day with your friends and have relay races or team fitness games in your local park? This is not working out instead of having fun. It’s just keeping active while you’re having fun! There are plenty of ways to stay moving without it being a chore. In Australia we have daylight savings now which is awesome for evening walks. Again you don’t need to push yourself or try to become more fit; this is about maintaining all the fitness you have gained over the year in class. After an awesome year of getting stronger and stronger, you don’t want it all to be a waste just because you spent the holidays being a couch potato! In that first lesson back, coaches always know who stayed active during the break. And if it wasn’t you, you will be able to tell the difference too – and not in a good way!
Wherever/whenever you can! Go to holiday clinics/classes/open gym. If your coach offers holiday privates, try to book in. You may even be able to share with a friends to keep the cost down. Some gym’s have dance style group fitness classes like ‘Body Jam’ that are fun for something different. If you aren’t able to take any classes in the holidays? Get your friends together for a dance day! Stretch and practice skills together, you can even choreograph your own routines together! Even if you can’t get together with your friends, get your earphones in and dance around your room – even that counts! If it is keeping your body dancing and keeping you in the dance frame of mind (thinking about technique or at least creating/remembering combos), it will make you that little bit less rusty when you come back, and that’s definitely a good thing!
Goal-setting is SO valuable! The most simple way to do it is to write a list. Keep it short and very clear. Exactly what do you want to achieve? These goals are 100% up to you, no one else needs to know and they don’t need to be the same as anyone else’s. Split your list into short and long term. What do you want to achieve by the end of Term 1? And what do you want to achieve by the end of the year?
Examples of good goals:
- Get my back hand spring (any skills like a tumbling skill or a specific leap or pirouette is a very clear goal)
- Improve my balance in my pirouettes (not just your balance – be as specific as you can. On what skill? Why?)
- Improve my fitness and stamina (pick one area to work on like: fitness, flexibility, strength, balance, turnout etc.)
- Be more outspoken in class (Or maybe yours is to not talk so much in class! Goals don’t all have to be physical, they can be about you as a person. Maybe you want to make an effort to talk to more people in your class, include more people not just your best friends, be a better role model to the younger students, or to be more organised so you don’t always forget your tap shoes this year. All of these things are awesome goals too!)
Put this list in your diary/planner or on the wall of your room, somewhere you can see it often so you will keep the goals in mind and hold yourself accountable. Starting your year with very clear intentions will make a world of difference to your focus. The next step is to make an action plan for each goal. A goal is great but what are you going to do to achieve it?? If you are stuck, chat wih your coach/teacher about your goal and see what their advice is. They can help you with tips for during class and at home.
(Shameless plug: To step your goal-setting game up a notch, you can purchase a custom Athlete Progress Journal, please contact me through Letters from A Dance Coach on facebook to order)
Holiday – in moderation!
Holidays are a time when the rules can relax a little. Bed time is not so strict, healthy eating is definitely not so strict (especially around christmas time!) and we get to enjoy plenty of laziness and treating ourselves without training, homework or school to worry about. ENJOY all the things that come with holidays, you have earnt it! But the magic word: MODERATION!!
OF COURSE on christmas day you can eat lollies and a big feast and gingerbread and ice cream – it’s christmas! But maybe we don’t eat that much every day. Maybe little treats here and there are still fun. Of course you have earned your chill out time to relax! But maybe sitting down on your ipad every day is not the best way to look after your awesome healthy body. No school to wake up early for? Of course you can stay up later and watch movies with your friends, but maybe not every night or you will end up too tired and your body clock will be crazy!
It comes down to looking after yourself, and being kind to yourself. It might seem great to be lazy, stay inside on the couch, stay up late, never drink water, and have lollies for lunch every day BUT if it is making your brain and body tired, lazy and out of shape that is not being kind to the amazing body that you have. You will regret it in February when you are puffed out just from climbing the stairs to the studio, before class has even started!
Remember: EVERYTHING IN MODERATION – this really means everything, even your exercise and stretching! So this holidays, have fun, relax and treat yourself, but make sure give your body some love when you can too – you will be very glad you did!
Happy New Year and THANK YOU for reading my first few blog posts! See you all again when Term 1 begins!
Concert time! That crazy, exciting, stressful, action-packed time of year is here! So how do we get on top of everything and make sure we can get through the big night smoothly? Read on for my top concert survival hacks, and enjoy an awesome night!
Checklist, checklist, checklist.
Your checklist is your best friend. Either make your own or your teacher might have given you one which you should always double check and add to.
Include EVERYTHING! Small accessories like gloves or hair ties, plus shoes, tights, even the right socks and undies for each routine. Need a specific bra for one costume? Add it to the list. You should also include your makeup and hair essentials, drinks and snacks. Add extra supplies for emergencies: bandaids, scissors, a small sewing kit is always handy. Makeup wipes, and extra safety pins, even strapping tape if you need it. Everything goes on the list! Pack in advance (don’t leave it til the last minute!) and triple check that checklist as you go. Don’t just leave it up to mum, you need to pack or at least do it together so you know exactly where everything is. Knowing you have everything on hand will make you feel less worried backstage.
Bonus: Pack SPARES. Need black socks for a routine? Throw in a second pair. You might just save a team mate’s life when she realises she has left hers on the kitchen counter 2 mins before curtain! (Growing up I was usually the one who forgot my socks, not the one who packed spares… actually I still kind of am that person. Trust me, if you bring spares you will be loved forever by that poor person you help out!) Also if you wear stockings of ANY kind you gotta have spares. The person with no spare pair is always the person who gets a huge hole before the performance!
It’s not just what you pack, it’s HOW you pack. Everything folded in one duffel bag together = nightmare during quick changes! Put each costume with all its accessories it’s own clearly labeled bag. When you arrive at the theatre take time to look over the running order/program and arrange your costumes with the first routine at the front or on the top of the pile. Put everything in order so you are ready for those quick changes, and take this time to do a final check that you have everything.
You need to also have a way to organise what you are taking off. During a quick change there are usually bits of costume flying everywhere and before you know it you can only find one shoe, and that perfectly organised pile looks like a tornado has hit it! Almost every year I am tearing a dressing room apart looking for someones hat that they “seriously put right there a minute ago!!!!”.
If you have every costume in a separate bag, make sure you put that costume back in the bag as you get changed. You might have a separate empty bag, tub or laundry basket to put these clothes in. Whatever the plan is, stick to it! It’s little things like that that will make a huge difference and keep you feeling calm in the dressing room.
Fuel Your Body.
What you eat directly impacts all areas of our performance including our energy levels, muscle performance and even our mental alertness. Your body is exactly like a car that needs petrol to run, so make sure you are fueling your body high-performance ingredients. The night before: Eat a great dinner that your body will be able to use tomorrow. Dancers love carbs! Go for brown rice or wholegrain pasta. Pair your carbs with good fats and protein for optimal performance: the protein will help the sugars release more slowly. On the day of the show you should eat regular small meals rather than one huge lunch so keep you feeling light and to keep energy levels up. Don’t skip breakfast! Even if you aren’t hungry, you need this kickstart to the day. Slow energy release foods are best, like greek yogurt with granola and berries. Keep snacks on hand during the show too. A banana is our favourite energy booster, along with trail mix or cheese and wholegrain crackers. Try to resist the urge to just go crazy on the lollies! You will get a great rush of energy when the sugar hits, but it won’t last long and you will soon feel even more tired than before. Of course throughout the day you need to HYDRATE! It doesn’t matter if you don’t “feel thirsty” just keep sipping. Your muscles will thank you!
Remember to fuel your car properly so it can drive the distance!
Catch some zZzZzZzzzz’s.
It can be hard when you are full of nerves and excitement, but sleep is SO important in guaranteeing a great athletic performance. Did you know Olympic athletes often sleep up to 12 hours a night!? It is treated as an important part of their regime just like their training and diet! Sleep is the time when your muscles repair and grow, making sure that when you wake up your body is strong, not fatigued, and is ready for action. The last thing we want when we are performing is tired muscles or low energy.
On any game day or performance you need to be mentally switched on. Sleep increases your reflexes and reaction times, it helps you think clearly, aiding concentration and memory to prevent you from making silly mistakes at crunch time. You will be much more focused on a full night’s sleep.
To make sure you get a good night’s sleep make sure you don’t snack too late at night (the food will turn into energy and keep you awake), and try to reduce screen time an hour before bed. An hour with no computers, iPads or phones will help you wind down and get a great sleep.
Get in the zone.
Arriving at the theatre on concert day is SO exciting! All your dance friends are buzzing around the dressing rooms and there is a special feeling of nerves and excitement that you only get on concert day. Among all the chatter and excitement and selfies, remember to take the time to organise your costumes, snack and hydrate and get in the zone. Make sure you know where everything is, what order your routines are, where your quick changes are. And get prepared. Get hair and makeup done as early as you can so you have time to chill, so you know you won’t be running around looking for your brush as the overture is playing! Then find a little space for yourself, and get warmed up. Warming up your body and stretching is just as important for your mind as it is for your body. Breathe deeply and listen to your body. The butterflies will be easing up and you will be in your concert zen in no time.
And finally… enjoy your moment!!!!!
This is your night! Leave it all on the stage and savour every beat! Concert time is where you feel alllll the feels. It can be bittersweet performing your competition pieces for the last time, nerve wracking performing new routines and exciting showcasing the products of your hard work and passion – so enjoy it! You have worked hard for this, and now you can trust that your hard work in the studio has set you up for a great performance on the night. Don’t forget to be present on the stage with your team mates and friends. Feel their energy on stage with you, enjoy the stage and the lights and the dance, and realise that you are doing what you love for the last time this year. When you are up there really feeling the love, your genuine smile will light up the stage.
Chookas to everyone with concerts, recitals and show-offs coming up! Congratulations on all you have achieved this year, and I hope the performance is one to remember. Enjoy!
Hi dance family!
It’s been a while! Life has been crazy busy over the last few weeks, between diving into owning my own business, dance judging interstate, working on freelance choreography, and teaching my own students (concert time!!!) it is allll happening! Things got a bit hectic so thank you for sticking with me; I’m happy to say that more dance posts are in the pipeline again now and we are back on track! SO! Without wasting any more time, let’s just jump right in, here is your reminder to what NOT to say to your dance teacher! Of course we are dancers who count in 8’s so it makes sense that there are ‘5,6,7, 8′ points listed below! I hope this post encourages you to think twice next time you are about to say one of these, and remember to try the “instead” option – its all about the little things that make you an awesome student, and keeping your energy in class positive, focused, and respectful!
1. “Can we do *such and such* today?”
While your dance teacher will always be very happy that you are eager to learn/practice, and it is great to show initiative, this one for me is still a no-no (and drives me crazy) for a few reasons. Whether you realise it or not, your lessons are planned by your teacher who spends a lot of time thinking about the lesson and the students in advance and knows exactly what they are doing. Even when it seems like you are “just” stretching or “just”running through a routine, trust that this is for a reason and nothing your coach ever asks you to do is random. It is a little disrespectful if we are in the middle of an exercise and you ask to do something else – it shows that you don’t respect the teacher’s call, or maybe you are just not giving the current exercise your full attention.
Instead: Choose the right time. I always appreciate enthusiasm and do want to know what things you would like to focus on, so please find a time outside of class to come and see me. If you want to focus on specific things or want more practice on something let’s talk that over and see what we can do. I would bet that your coach/dance teacher already knows what it is you’re going to ask and has a method in mind, trust the process!
2. “Can we just mark this one?”
Are you dying?
(Don’t even ask. No coach wants to feel a ‘can’t-be-bothered’ vibe from any dancer while they are trying their best to teach a great class! And no team mate in your class wants your lethergy rubbing off on them! Don’t kill the vibe! If you are getting tired or feeling unfit then that is even more reason to push yourself to dance full out! Don’t give in to he urge to take a rest. It is when you are tired and out of energy and push yourself for just one more leap or just one more kick… that is when you grow. And trust me dancers, whether you realise the benefits quickly or even in a few years time, you will thank your coach later!)
Instead: To your coach if you think you need to: “may I take a drink break please? I’m feeling really tired.” OR to yourself: “You can do this! Push through!”
3. “I need to take it easy today because…”
“Take it easy” just kills me. Two clear options when you are sick/hurt:
A. Do you have an injury or illness that requires time off? Your teacher needs to be told about it before class and will also expect to hear what you are doing about it: when is your physio appointment, have you been treating it, etc.
B. If you can’t walk, you are excused and may sit down. Different teachers will have different views on this, here are mine: Please still come to class if you can (unless you’re contagious): you need to see what the class is doing so you stay up to speed, and your teacher will appreciate you making the effort. But sit down the front and watch/listen. Half heartedly dancing/limping around the dance floor just makes it harder for everyone else. As a choreographer trying to watch the routine I can’t see the overall visual if one person is not dancing properly, you also draw my eye throughout the entire class. The vibe is then also set. One person it marking or taking it easy, before long another person is too, then the energy of the whole team is diminished. Do you reeeeally need to ‘take it easy?’
This is not to say you aren’t allowed to be unwell or injured! Of course let your coach know if something is not right. Just realise if it is something you can dance through, or not, and then which action do you take? Really it should be one or the other.
4. “What time is it?”
I’m sure its common sense as to why this is rude, but I will admit that as a young kid I once got in trouble for asking this! So for the sake of any younger dancers reading the blog I will explain. Just like asking to “mark it”, asking the time implies that you are waiting for the class to end. You aren’t focused, you aren’t enjoying the class, and most of all you don’t want to be there! Maybe when you are older you will have opportunities to teach. Its then, when you are standing there in front of a class of teenagers (or minis who can be just as overwhelming!) that you realise how important the dancers’ attitudes are to the class. There is nothing worse than having a class prepared and be out in front giving it your all, only to see disinterested faces looking back at you.
Keep focused, you can do it! Classes are just not that long, you will be finished when the teacher dismisses you!
Instead: There is nothing else you can ask in this case, but check your thoughts and why you are wondering about the time? Maybe you’re hungry and need to have a better snack before class? Or maybe you are bored because you aren’t paying attention and staying focused. Nothing in dance is boring if you are thinking about it correctly, even a demi plié needs focus.
5. “I know”
This one is for the teenagers. If you were already stretching your feet you would not be being told to stretch your feet! “I know” or the infuriating “Yep” or (god forbid) even the faintest eye roll in response to a correction or instruction is not going to get you anywhere – except maybe out the door! Keep the back chat to yourself and take every correction on board. Your teacher is a teacher for a reason, they can spot your flaws easy and call you out only because and they want you to improve. You may be the best 13 year old dancer on the planet but you don’t know everything. It is not a personal attack. It is not being said to purposely annoy you. Just stretch your feet.
Instead: “Yes Miss Brittany”, “OK”, “I don’t understand what you mean” is also totally fine, OR you can say nothing at all, and by applying the note straight away your teacher knows you are listening and working on it.
6. “I don’t know this part”
If you were away last week, dancing til halfway through the routine and then just standing there in the middle yelling out “I was away I don’t know this bit!!!” while everyone else dances around you trying not to crash into you is one of your teacher’s least favourite things. (Don’t laugh mums, this happens weekly!) Trust me, I can already tell that you don’t know it, I can see that for myself!
Instead: Jump off to the side during the part you don’t know and start copying and learning! No one in the room wants to spend another 20 mins of the class going over what we already did last lesson. If you are old enough to take the initiative, you should find a friend (bonus points if this happens before class, hallelujah!) and ask her to show you what you missed. Time is precious, people!
7. “She’s not doing it right!”
This is mostly for the younger dancers. The teacher can see everyone, and if Suzie isn’t pulling up her knee we don’t need you to tell us, and Suzie certainly doesn’t need you to announce it to the whole class!
Instead: The golden rule for Minis: (and one we can all remember at every age) worry about yourself! Eyes on the mirror please Sally, your knee isn’t perfect either!
8. Folded arms
True this isn’t technically something you say… but it kind of is! We dancers know that the body is capable of speaking a thousand words with one movement. Please think about your body language teenagers! If you were standing in front of a group of 15 yr olds what would you want to see looking back at you?
Instead: Stand up straight on both feet, uncross your arms, un-glaze your eyes, and look like you are paying attention, this will not only fool your teacher but you will end up tricking yourself into being focused too!
BONUS: 5 Things you should always say:
- Hello – to your teacher and all your classmates, acknowledge everyone (not just your best friends) this gets your class off to a positive start and is just good manners.
- Thank you – whether it was the most amazing class you have ever taken or the most boring, thank your teacher. They have given you their time and attention and deserve respect.
- Yes – to everything! Nothing is lost by giving it a try, and by the same token, nothing is gained! Ditch the attitude, or self doubt, or embarrassment, or laziness. Whatever it is, it’s holding you back! Start saying yes!
- Great job – notice when your classmate is being praised by the teacher, or when they improve or try something new. A quick clap or few words of encouragement no only makes them feel great (with almost no effort from you) but it keeps the vibe of the whole class positive. It all adds up.
- In general, just be respectful and remember that your relationship with your coach is a two way street: you will get out of it what you put in, and neither one of us can make you successful on our own. Team work makes the dream work. Communicate when you aren’t sure of something, ask questions, engage and respond, let us know if something is wrong and keep us in the loop with how you feel you are are progressing. Realise the mutual respect and a happy relationship between you are your coach is a foundation for eeeeverything. Work hard for your coach and they will work hard for you, every single time.
Thank you all for taking the time to read this! I hope it impacts your next class – happy dancing!
I’m writing this in the best mood on the plane home from Brisbane where I judged our first Qld Hip Hop Knockout – an event concept that’s been my baby for a few years now, and that I have been SO lucky to see brought to life in both Sydney and Queensland this year by DCE.
This is a hip hop only event, and we have an all-on-the-floor style battle where dancers are encouraged to jump up all at once and freestyle to the same music. I felt like my dream had come alive last night watching everyone on the floor doing their thing. So much energy, passion and talent in the one place! Seeing so many amazing young dancers all freestyling at once, sharing the floor together in front of a cheering crowd was just magic!
So how can we possibly judge something like this?? The answer, is that we judge it ith the same emotional response that we use when judging regular routines – we let ourselves be drawn naturally to the what is often called the “It Factor” or that “special something”. You don’t need to look for the It Factor: a person who has it will grab your attention and pull your eye to them without you even realising.
“It Factor”: A hard to define, mysterious, magnetism that draws you to someone.
It is a presence. Charisma, confidence, energy, electricity.
Judges and audience members alike (including you, probably!) have all sat for countless hours in front of so many incredible dancers, who have solid training, experience, and great choreography.
So think of the most memorable solo performance you have ever seen, quick! What popped into your head first? I bet you didn’t think “Oh I just loved that girl with the really pulled up knees” did you?! You connected with the energy, the vibe, and the ‘wow’ moments. That’s what makes you remember a routine or performer you saw days, weeks, months ago.
Now think of a troupe/crew/team. We have all been guilty of coming to the end of an entire routine and realising we just watched that one girl the entire time! Right!? That person who forced you to keep watching, who didn’t let you look at anyone else. There are technically perfect dancers who can’t hold your eyes like that. These special people are the ones with the “It Factor”
There are plenty of blog posts to come about technique and all your dance teachers are working hard with you, perfecting your technique with every class. Harder to teach though, is performance quality, stage presence, “IT”.
So technique aside, what makes a standout, memorable performance? What are those dancers with the It Factor doing differently? Let’s take a look at just 5 elements.
This is SUCH an important word.
Connect with the music. What is the emotion? What is the vibe/character/feeling/story? A dancer needs to deeply understand their music and concept to really dance as one with it.
Connect with each other. If you are in a team or even a duo, you are in it together. No one wants to see a routine that looks like 10 soloists just doing the same steps in their own bubble. When you are connected it shows in your performance and you will naturally strengthen each other. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact! You have worked on this together, now enjoy it together! Trust me, the audience will feel it.
Connect with THE AUDIENCE. Projection is key. A lot of the time in hip hop or a sad lyrical piece the dancer can keep their emotion too close to them. We can not feel it from your body alone. Eyes out to the audience, face communicating, upper body oozing emotion. You need to exaggerate the emotion so the back row can feel it with you. There is absolutely nothing more valuable than an audience/judges who are feeling drawn in to your dance and connected with you. Let us be part of it.
Freestylers, don’t just go. Dance with the music, dance in it. When you hear sounds and rhythms in music and at the same time you see a body making those sounds physical, the synergy gives you goosebumps. My favourite choreography plays to the subtlety of the music and my favourite performers are those who can reflect that with nuance and flavour.
For dancers who have been given choreography, how does it flow with the music? You need to identify exactly where your light and shade is, and how your vibe and facials can amplify or compliment the choreography. Let your movement and the music fuse together – it won’t just look great, it feels amazing too!
Chase that moment where the audience goes “OHHHH!” and get one for yourself. Innovative choreography does this in amazing ways but so can the actual performer. What are your “moments” in your routine? Where can you really feel the emotion? On what parts should you be really connecting with the audience? As an actor I am all about finding the magic moments in a scene. A dance performance is no different! A light bulb will switch on when you find your routine’s “magic moments”. Find them, live in them, and it will completely transform your next performance.
MORE! You cannot argue with energy. Energy does mean strength, intensity and “going for it” but it also means personality, charisma, vibe, flavour, essence, projection. It can be aggression, it can be joy!
Important to note: Energy is not just present in hard hitting choreography. Energy should radiate from your body when you are standing still! At this weekend’s event our favourite dancer was picked before she had danced a single step. She walked on, took her opening position, and we all went “woah.” There were sparks coming off this girl! Then she did not let us take our eyes off her the entire time, not when she was on the side, or at the back, never! In a team routine it is not necessarily the strongest technique that always draws the eye, it’s the performer with that extra something.
Now team dancers, think of this: that one dancer might be amazing, but when every dancer on that team is magnetic and electric oozing their own special something – those are the truly unforgettable performances.
My BIGGEST tip for any dancer/routine as a judge: ENJOY IT. Live in your moment, commit to it, go hard, and project it out to share it with us. If you are really in it, I promise we will be too. And I might just be more generous with points if I am vibing with you and you’ve put me in a fantastic mood. You wouldn’t believe the amount of minor flaws judges will overlook when you are making them smile, feel excited, and enjoy the moment with you!
At the end of the day, when you walk out there you aren’t in the studio any more. You aren’t in your room dancing around in your undies any more, you are in front of an audience. Entertain them, and don’t stop pushing until there is a smile on every face out there, and on your face for the rest of the night.
That’s what its all about.
Every dancer is a work in progress and we will never be perfect, no matter how hard we try. We all work hard to keep improving – but did you know that there are things you can do at your next class that will give you instant results and fast track your improvement?! Take a look at these 5 points, and challenge yourself to give them a try.
1. Be prepared.
Ballet class? Have your leotard and tights on, hair in a bun. Tap? Have your tap shoes in your bag. Forgetting something not stops you from being able to work to your full capacity, you can’t dance full out when hair is in your eyes or you don’t have the right shoes. Being appropriately dressed does a lot for your frame of mind, many of you will know what I mean when I say that when you are in your baggy clothes you just feel more ready for hip hop. Tights and a leotard will instantly snap you into work mode and make you feel ready for ballet. Aside from this, being unprepared it also tells your teacher and the rest of the team that getting ready for class wasn’t a priority for you. Everyone is busy or comes straight from school. Being prepared shows your teacher and team that this class is important to you and you are here to give it your full attention. And that is exactly what you’ll do! When there is nothing stopping you, you will have a much more productive class.
2. Use your Mirrors!
Most studios (unless you hire a hall or similar) have mirrors*. This may come as a shock but they are not just there for you to check your hair in! It is amazing how we become so accustomed to having a huge wall of mirrors that we forget to actually utilise them! Check the mirror at all times.
- Learning new choreography? Use your mirrors. Do you look the same as your choreographer right down to the angle of the hand and the tilt of the head?
- Cleaning your routine? Use your mirrors. It will halve the time this takes. Who looks different? Are you bending as low as the person in front of you? Is your chest on the same angle as the person beside you?
- Technique class? USE YOUR MIRRORS. When the coach talks about pushing your shoulders down you need to literally look at your body in the mirror and see yourself doing this for it to sink into your brain and body.
SO many dancers don’t use their biggest tool!
*If you don’t have a mirror where you train you need to hone your attention to detail. Really listen and look at the choreographer, strive to mimic his/her body shape, and resist letting moves evolve from the original choreography to fit your style unless you are asked to.
3. Stretch at home!
You have heard this before! I know you have! There is not a coach/teacher on this planet who would not advise you to stretch at home. Just do it. Stretching does not need to be a huge time commitment, sit in second position while doing homework, sit in the splits while watching TV. You will make time if it is important to you, and it should be. We all stretch in class but it is simply not enough, your muscles need to stretch every day for you to see improvement. If you are a base in cheerleading and are lifting with your legs for a few hours a week, you need to stretch double!
Of course, you don’t have to stretch at home, but you will notice those who do, slowly creeping past and overtaking you in class.
4. Know when to STOP talking.
Hint: It’s as soon as you walk through the door.
The talking/laughing rule is my most flexible because we all want our studio to be a place where we have fun. Part of why you go to your particular dance school is because your friends are there. Socialising is a huge part of dance and successful teams are those with a strong bond, who love and support each other. All coaches love teaching students who have fun and enjoy each other’s company, and it is a blessing having girls in class who love to have fun together… BUT there is a time and a place. When your teacher is speaking, you are not. Ever.
Knowing when chat time is over is very important, above all it shows respect for your teacher. When you get older some of you might move into teaching or choreography yourself, and you will learn very quickly that the feeling is being disrespected by someone not listening to what you are teaching is not a nice feeling at all. Your dance teacher never talks for the sake of it – they are telling you something you need to know.
This includes when someone else is taking their turn or is being corrected. When the teacher’s attention is on someone else that is NOT your time to talk – it is your time to listen and learn. If Suzie has just done kicks from the corner and been told to point her toes, I should not see you taking your turn and executing kicks without pointing your toes! To your teacher, it shows that you are not paying attention. If you were listening you would have already heard and applied that correction. A correction for one is a correction for all.
5. Say YES
When the teacher needs someone to do a highlighted skill or a featured solo? Put your hand up! When he/she asks for someone to do a specific leap or trick? Step forward!
If you volunteer and don’t get chosen, you have lost absolutely nothing! But there is plenty to be gained if you do get chosen, so it’s worth putting yourself out there. If your coach or teacher asks you “Can you do (insert skill here)” Say yes. Own it! You have worked hard to be able to pull that skill so there is no shame in having confidence and saying “yes I can”. If you can not do what is being asked, the best answer is “that’s not my best skill but I will work on it” – never ever just say no. Show that you are willing to try! It’s all about attitude.
By the same token, if your coach wants you to try something new, say YES. You might arrive to class to be told you are learning something completely new today: embrace it! No coach will ever ask you to do something dangerous or something they know is beyond your capability. It may be a challenge, you may fail the first 2 or 20 times but it is not completely beyond you. Dive into it and give it your all. PLEASE remember, class is exactly that: class. You are allowed to fail, fall over, look bad. But you must try. Your teacher is there to guide you through the process. If he/she is asking you to try something new, it is because you are capable of doing it! There is nothing more frustrating to a coach than a dancer who says “no” or (God forbid) “I can’t” – we know you can and we just want you to reach your potential! A YES attitude is the first step, and it will take you a long way, in the studio and in LIFE.
Bonus points: The “No Mark-Throughs Challenge”
Yup. It’s exactly what it sounds like. NO mark-throughs, even when the teacher says you can take it easy.
In this challenge, marking is not even allowed when learning new choreography! This is a challenge for most people, we don’t want to go full out until we know the combo properly, I get it. However, marking will not only stop you from learning it correctly, it will actually make you take longer to learn the steps!
This is a challenge you set for yourself, no one else needs to even know about it. Can you go a whole week NEVER marking through a routine or combo? Can you go a whole month? A whole term??
Here’s what happens as a result of setting this challenge for yourself:
- Your coach will LOVE you. Trust me.
- You will inspire others around you. Others will feel you dancing full out next to them and automatically try to keep up.
- You will improve DOUBLE as fast – trust me.
- You will look better on stage: the way you practice is the way you perform. EVERY run of the routine counts.
- Your stamina and fitness will improve straight away!
- You will train your brain learn new choreography faster and more easily.
SO! As a coach I now put it out there to YOU the dancer. Implement these points in class.
Every one of them.
Watch what happens.
You will be glad you did.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock and Alamy
When is it time to quit?
When is it time to move on? I’ve spoken to many people who consider ‘fun’ sports to be something that only children take part in, something that is dropped when university work becomes intense or first part time jobs start to require our time.
Of course some of us sadly withdraw from dance/cheer or other sports due to injury or other reasons beyond their control, but what about all those athletes who quit because they believe they have to do so in order to grow up?
This post is for the athlete thinking of moving on. I have a few thoughts to put to you.
Recently I saw one of those motivational videos on facebook, designed to convince you to spend your time doing more of what makes you happy. (I will put the video link at the end if anyone is interested.)
In a nutshell, the guy draws a little timeline of the average life. He circles the part of the line that represents how many years of your life you spend working (spoiler: its most of them) bookended by two much smaller parts of the line. This gives a visual representation of how the 2 fun parts – childhood and retirement – are tiny lengths of time in comparison to ‘the working years’. The point was basically, get a job you love and stop waiting for retirement to enjoy your life. Makes a lot of sense. Great video.
SO as I do with pretty much everything, I couldn’t help but apply it to dance. And I don’t make videos, I write blogs. So here is my dance version of that video, in blog form:
Here is your life (Obviously we don’t all live to be exactly 90, give or take a little, who knows. Its just an example, people.)
If we’re lucky, the majority of us dancers start to learn dance during early childhood, usually before the age of 10. Many lucky dancers do start around 5 or 6 years of age, although if you didn’t start til late primary school or even early teens, this chart would look even worse for you! So for the sake of the exercise, let’s say we start at 5 years old.
We spend many years in the studio, making friends, developing skills such as strength, agility, flexibility, coordination. We develop artistry – learning to understand expression, musicalty and performance quality. We become a team player who is there for our team mates and who has a whole team supporting us. We create bonds with our teachers and with the other students who are there because of the same passion that we have. We overcome self doubt, push our limits, and celebrate our successes. We compete, perform, and enjoy that amazing feeling of having it all come together of stage. We make lifelong memories and have an absolute ball doing what we love.
During those years, dance is our world. It is of huge importance in our young lives.
For many of us, in our late teens when we take on jobs or university (or both) we begin to prioritise our education or careers and we stop dancing.
Here’s the interesting thing. All of that stuff I just spoke about? Yes it’s such a huge and important part of our life, but here it is circled on the chart.
Yep. Even if you hang in there til age 20, that red circle is you dancing.
Now as I said earlier, many high level dancers suffer injuries that make continuing on impossible, but so many of my ex students have spoken of “growing up” “moving on with their life” and “putting their heads down”. All valid reasons to step away from a time consuming passion, right? Someone studying to be a teacher or doctor has no reason to continue to dance. The stress of time management when it comes to juggling study and your part time job, plus family time and good old fashioned rest.
Well, a topic for another blog at another time (and there are already countless in exhistence on this topic) is the tried and true list of skills that make dance worth sticking with, such as time management, goal setting, confidence, teamwork, memory and focus. Its also the perfect way to give a stressed out, hard working brain much needed balance – time away from the desk and moving your body with your friends. The problem with dance is that we enjoy it. If something is ‘fun’ its not considered as important as study or work. It’s “just for fun”, so it can be sacrificed when our schedules start to fill up with grown-up stuff.
After looking at the chart, my advice is to really think about life without dance. Is cold turkey the way to go? There are alternatives, even for the ex-competition star who was in the studio every night training every discipline and is now too overcommitted with work to continue that training schedule. Maybe you don’t have to compete. Maybe you drop to a once-a-week recreational class. Maybe you pick your favourite class and only come on one night to contemporary or hip hop. If you can make it work, please do it. Keep your body and your brain working the way a dancer’s body and brain works (its a thing!). More importantly keep yourself in the community and part of the studio family you have grown up with and achieved so much with. The social aspect of dance is as important as any of the other parts. Because once you do decide your time is up and you hang up the dance shoes, these are the years you spend not dancing:
Hows that for perspective!?
I don’t know about you, but that chart is enough to keep my feet moving for a few more years!
Hi Dance friends and family! So much for my goal of fortnightly posts, I am already a day late on this one! The last 2 weeks have flown by. I had a post prepared ready to go for this week’s entry, but after a huge 3 day competition this past weekend I decided to write down a few thoughts I was left mulling over instead.
Dance teachers are just that: teachers. We do our job primarily in the studio, but we are also coaching and teaching our students during their competition. Children in particular take something out of every experience and never stop learning. So here are a few of the valuable things (written for both dancers, coaches, and parents) still soaking into our little human sponges during comp time.
Self (and coach) performance evaluation.
Yes, coaches do tell the kids when they did something wrong on stage. No, we don’t just tell them that as long as they had fun that’s all that matters. This is because that attitude of “close enough is good enough” does not do any justice to the dancers themselves. Telling you you’re great when you are, and that you’re not when you’re not, is what the hard working dance student deserves to hear.
When the dancers really do a great job, we of course celebrate and make them feel as good about themselves as possible, which they absolutely deserve – but how will they get to enjoy these moments if we are just always telling them how amazing they are?
A great thing about most All Star comps is that you get to watch an instant video replay of the performance after you come off stage, which is an extremely valuable coaching tool. The kids have just come off the floor so the performance is fresh in their minds. To have a visual tool they can then compare with what they felt they did (as opposed to what it actually looked like) means we can take them through a play-by-play of the routine, so generally the dancers will watch the video with the coach speaking over the top of it giving running commentary. They know to keep an eye on themselves as well as the overall picture, and to make mental notes of what they thought was good and what they would like to improve on next time. Our dancers are usually right on the money and know where they can improve, self correcting is a skill you continue to hone as you develop as a dancer and smart dancers are often able to do it without much prompting. Coach commentary is always a mixture of both negatives and positives, as they happen. Its usually simply “Sally that supporting leg” ( or even just a quiet “Sallyyyy” is enough – Sally knows.) and then we are straight onto “great timing guys!” literally on the next beat.
The dancers who can connect the coaches correction with what they see on the video or in the mirror in class and can apply the note quickly are the ones who progress the fastest.
Yes, we do call out individuals both in class and at competitions. We are never nasty or personal with the correction (I promise, no teacher is ever yelling “point your toes” just because they hate you!) but we will mention the dancer by name. Dancers, when you are on a team accountability is so important, and it is a tough life lesson to learn. It is something that carries over into your adult life though and makes for a strong young adult. In cheer for example, your whole team can drop from first place to fourth simply because one person landed their tumbling badly (among many other things) and she every other member has done their job correctly, the disappointing result is literally because of that one person. No pressure.
The lesson? Own it. Grow from it. Apologise to the team if its really that bad. Move on. And the rest of the team? Accept it graciously. Learn from the mistake as if it was your own (because if it hasn’t already been you, it will be some day!). Forgive. Move on.
At every dance school ever, parents will every now and then raise concern about coaches “singling out” their child or correcting them “in front of everyone”. If this is happening to you/your child (which it is, because it happens to them all!) trust me it is not a negative thing. You grow a thick skin, and even better, you very quickly stop making that mistake. Out there on the dance floor you can’t blame anyone else. We know that you do your best every single time because of this! In your post-dance adult life wherever you find yourself living and working, you will be able to quickly identify your own mistakes, own them without the need to throw anyone else under the bus, and correct yourself swiftly. Accountability is a tough one to get the hang of, but so important.
… but not getting in “Trouble”.
Very rarely in a dance class or at a competition does a dancer actually “get in trouble”. They are spoken to if they did something wrong. They are corrected. Our voices get more forceful the more times you make that same mistake. But as long as you are trying your hardest and giving 100% then no matter what goes wrong, you are not in trouble. Half the time a little pair of eyes will dart straight to the coach when something isn’t executed well, and the facial expression we give back is all the dancer needs! Dancers please remember, if you’re being corrected it is because your coach/teacher cares. If we thought you weren’t worth it we wouldn’t bother!
Supporting your team.
Another one that flows on into other aspects of your life. A good team player is a good member of staff, team leader, business manager. This means everything from congratulating the member who performed well, to psyching everyone up backstage and staying positive, to supporting the person who didn’t give their best performance. Sometimes you come off stage knowing you crushed it, only to realise you have been let down by someone else not performing quite as well. How does a good team member respond to this? With strength and positivity towards all team members. Helping them recover for the next performance. Realising that all ups and downs are shared as a team. Remember, YOU as the dancer create the team you want to be in. The phrase “your vibe attracts your tribe” is true. Set the tone of support, positivity and encouragement and you will be pleasantly rewarded with how the day pans out.
Dealing with disappointment.
Sportsmanship is something all coaches of all sports teach their kids. You clap for everyone and remain professional at awards presentations even when you don’t get the desired result. You never ever carry on like a sore loser. No one wants to see a tantrum because you performed badly, or because you thought you would win and didn’t. HOWEVER. Disappointment is part of the game, and if you are upset with your performance or the result, it is because you care. This is a good thing! When something goes wrong, it doesn’t pay for coaches and parents to say “it doesn’t matter”.
It does matter.
To say “don’t worry about it” or “it doesn’t matter” diminishes the hours of hard work you have put in, the dedication and passion you have, and the effort that went into the performance. It does matter.
Instead we can say “Next time it will be better” “We will keep working on it” or if it was a one off, encourage the dancer to focus on the positives of the performance. The coach can broach the subject again at the next training session. A disappointed dancer is not always a bad thing. A disappointed dancer is usually a goal-setting, hard working, passionate dancer.
The art of moving on.
Important both in class and on a competition day. Take the criticism or correction seriously, and acknowledge the mistake BUT : Do not get worked up (no tears!). Do not dwell.
Dancers, if you are upset with yourself or have made a mistake, acknowledge it and make a mental note to look at it at your next class. Then erase it from your mind. The last thing your team needs is a dancer who is still in a negative frame of mind for the next performances – all that will happen is your performances will steadily get worse and worse!
Just think: “Yep that was disappointing – I know why that happened/didn’t happen – OK let’s nail this next one!”
That attitude will make a world of difference.
Same goes when you are corrected in class. Taking it personally or taking on a negative attitude will create a mental block for the rest of the class. Take the criticism, apply it, and off you go. Chances are the next thing your coach will say to you is “Great job!” and you can both move on and keep working.
The takeaways: take every opportunity to self-improve. Trust your coach. Give 110% ever single time. Acknowledge and correct, then move on.
Thank you for reading another little note from my brain! Please feel free to leave messages and comments, and share this post with your dancer, dance coach or dance parent. Enjoy the rest of your comp season! xx
Hello and thank you for checking out my first (of many planned) dance blog articles!
Competition season has officially started for us at Bradshaw (we do mostly All Star style dance/cheer-dance competitions and the Australian season has just begun) and I thought the perfect place to start my foray into dance blogging would be to talk about a competition or eisteddfod from the view of your coach.
All dance teachers, choreographers, and coaches ride an emotional rollercoaster watching their pieces performed on stage. While it is a shared experience understood between all of us in the industry, I think it might be illuminating for the dancer or parent to realise what might it might be like for us! So. in 5 brief(ish) points, this is kind of what that ride is like for me.
1. The Nerves
As nervous as you are, trust me, we are too. The routine is our baby, right from the moment we conceptualised it in rough form. We choreographers are extremely passionate creatives and any artist be it a writer, painter, designer, knows the trepidation of presenting your finished artwork to an audience – let alone a judge! Will the judge/adjudicator like it? Will the opposing teams be impressed? Will the parents be happy?
From another aspect, we are always nervous for you. One thing we hate is seeing you come off stage disappointed in your performance. We are all dancers or used-to-be-dancers who know and love that feeling of absolute elation that comes from knowing you just gave the best performance you could. It is magical! And we want absolutely nothing less for you, every single time you dance. This is why we mentally dance every single step with you!
2. The Mental Commentary
I wish I could put into words what your dance teacher’s brain is doing during a routine. It is watching, thinking, feeling – a million things at once. Your mind is checking that the spacing is even, that the dancers are actioning their notes from class, keeping an eye on the girl who wobbled on this part in the last lesson, waiting for that one rhythm the team sometimes rushes, having a quick micro-celebration when something great happens. Like many coaches, I am even twitching on the parts that need to hit and squeezing my own core muscles on the turns (yes, seriously!) …and all of that is just one count of 8.
For any given section of a routine, my brain’s inner dialogue is usually something like this:
“Ok come on guys you can do this, good opening, good, good, GOOD, whoops timing girls!!!!! Aaaand remember that change, got it, yes! Boom ta ta good. Remember hit on two, one TWO! YES! Ok hows this visual looking? Yes! 6,7, and gooooo, YES! TOES SALLY!!!!! Shoom boom ah. Hit 7, hit 8. Squeeze squeeze squeeze SQUEEEEZE!! 7,8 and 1 YES! Here’s that turn, come on Suzie come on Suzie come on Suzie! YES SUZIE!!! Ok guys remember what we practiced on this part: bennnnnd and a boom ah shoom YES! Damn not quite right, ta ta budoom shoom ahhhhh, oh wow that really hit! WOOOOO YES GUYS!!!!! Ok pull up pull up pull up ok whoops thats ok, ENERGY GUYS COME ON YES THERE YOU GO KEEP IT UP COME ON WOOOOO oh wow that bit looks really good! Now the new part Sally new part Sally YES SALLY! SHE GOT IT!
3. The Screaming
Trust me, we all know how crazy we as coaches can look when we are screaming and our bodies are jerking around half doing the choreography. We know. We just can’t help it. (Those who do eisteddfods may not have this problem, but one thing I really love about All Star and Cheerleading style comps is that cheering by the crowd is encouraged. Perfect for the crazy screamer style of coach.)
No matter how I’m feeling, I know the kids will be listening out for my energy. If you are in the audience at once of these competitions I really encourage you to show your support this way. Energy from the audience in front of you makes a huge difference and as performers it is the very thing we thrive off.
As soon as the routine is over the dancers notice if the coach/teacher just claps, cheers, or goes mental. It is their first piece of feedback from their coach. Ever since I was a kid we placed so much importance on Miss Coralie’s dreaded reaction at the end of a performance – a cheer from her was our holy grail. In the eisteddfod enviroment where I grew up, the teacher would stand in a quiet and dignified manner at the back of the auditorium and noise during the routine was not encouraged. All we had to go on was her cheer at the end, OR if the audience wasn’t too dark, we were dancing for “the nod”. The sacred nod meant we had done very, very well. Without fail this was the first thing everyone would talk about as we made our way back to the dressing room,
“I didn’t hear Miss Coralie, did she cheer? Did any one see her face?”
“She didn’t cheer, I saw her nod” – then a flurry of Chinese whispers all the way down the corridor to the last dancer:
“Miss Coralie nodded!”
“I saw it too, she was smiling”
“Guys she was smiling!”.
I remember those moments more vividly than receiving any trophy, and any coach who grew up as a young dancer does too. Those memories are exactly why we as teachers now measure our reaction, comments, and energy so carefully.
4. The Pride
This is the big one. Dancers, you probably don’t realise how proud you make your teachers! It is such a beautiful thing. Working with you even over the course of one term, helping you improve, finding ways to overcome a mental block or stick a skill or just have more confidence: it all pays off when we see you on the stage.
Usually with long-term studio dancers it goes even further. We watch you dance as a senior and can’t help but be transported back to the studio where a young, shy little girl was still learning coordination and basic technique. There have been a few truly tear jerking moments like this for me, particularly on the Worlds stage, and those moments of seeing your students achieve great things and bloom into beautiful mature dancers and confident young men and women are worth more than gold.
5. The Debrief
The second the dance is finished a new checklist starts in your coach’s brain. There is one overwhelming feeling (usually joy, relief, or pride, but sometimes it can be disappointment or dissatisfaction, too). Under that main emotion however is my brain having a micro-debrief. Usually we only have 30 seconds before we are going for a costume change or warming up the next routine. So that chat will go something like this:
YAYYYYYY OH I AM SO HAPPY THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL!
*insert skill here* needs more work at our next class
So proud of Suzie she was fantastic in that part
Sally didn’t nail that combo but its ok we’ll get it
SO happy the visuals worked/lift stuck/dancers remembered their notes
Still not happy with that second section, should I change it? Ok think about it later.
Need to remember to tighten that transition next lesson
Costumes looked great, glad we went with the gloves
Oh there’s the team go hug them!
Then I get to exhale the nerves and run to the dancers and share in their excitement and happiness! I have a quick, warm moment where I just love my job and every member of the team, and then I tear off into the dressing room and prepare to do it all again.