Meet the Founder

 

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Meet our founder

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Category: Exercise

Want to know how to improve turnout, strengthen feet or cross training advice? Then this is the place for you!

Yoga For Dancers | 5 Reasons Why Yoga Is Good For Dancers

Yoga For Dancers | 5 Reasons Why Yoga Is Good For Dancers

Yoga can seem deceptivley easy, particularly to well limbered dancers, used to the break neck speed ethics of the studio, dismissing it as being too easy and even perhaps boring. Yoga is so much more than working the body, and the benefits are life changing. Read on to find out why every dancer should include yoga into their work out regimes.

 

  • Breathing Control

Ever been doing an exercise at the barre or centre and found yourself completely out of breath? Do you hear “don’t forget to breath” all the time from your teacher? You are probably unaware that you hold your breath during some movements, particularly the more difficult ones where concentration is needed. Yoga, specifically Ashtanga or Hatha yoga teaches you to focus on your breath and move with it. It’s a particular branch of yoga thats philosophy is to connect breath and movement, flowing through each pose. When you become aware of your breathing and tune into it, you become aware of when you’re holding it. Holding the breath creates tension in the body, and dancers want to look relaxed, making movements appear effortless. The use of the breath also adds a wonderful quality to your dancing, during port de bras for example, the breath should initiate the movement. Another good example would be pirouettes, breathing in whilst turning helps with the feeling of lift. By applying this technique to your dancing, it can really set you apart from other dancers, by literally breathing life into your performance.

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  • Stretching & Mobility

When dancers aren’t dancing, they’re probably stretching. However doing the same old stretching routine day in day out is not only boring, but your body switches off too, it needs new ways to be stimulated in order to progress. Yoga is a great exercise to add to your workout, because there are many different poses to choose from that target stretching out certain areas of the body. So you can tailor your workout depending on where you want to stretch in particular, making it different every time, keeping it fresh and engaging. Not only that, but due to the flowing aspect of continually changing poses, you’ll be training the body to have greater range of motion. It’s no good having great hamstring flexibility if you can’t access its full potential during movement.

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  • Reserve Judgement

Dancers constantly judge themselves. They analyse and criticise not only every minute detail of their performance, but their bodies too, after hour upon hour of observing themselves in the mirror. Dancers are hard on themselves, sometimes too hard. It can lead to a downward spiral of anger, self loathing, and low confidence. They will tear themselves apart and say things to themselves that they wouldn’t dream of saying to another dancer. Yoga harbours no judgement.You learn to be so present in the moment when doing yoga, that your brain has no room to think of anything else. Your taught to silence your ego, to hush that little voice inside your head that tells you you should be better. The more you practice, the more you are able to apply this train of thought to other aspects of your life, including dance.

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Photo by Tim Savage on Pexels.com
  • Listen To Your Body

One thing dancers are particularly bad at is listening to their bodies. They will push themselves to the absolute extreme, no pain no gain right?! They will keep working on something, despite feeling a little niggle here or there, until that niggle becomes a serious injury taking months to heal, instead of a couple of weeks rest it would have taken to soothe the original niggle. Why?! Because it’s so easy to fall behind in your training when  you take even just one week off, and they are scared. Scared of being left behind, scared of not being at peak performace for that audition, scared of their fellow dancers gaining an advantage. You have to look at the bigger picture. 2 weeks of rest, then coming back and working hard to regain what has been lost, compared to months of not dancing, followed by slow and repetitive rehab, then getting back to class and feeling years behind, is a small price to pay. Sadly some injuries are career ending. Yoga helps you to really be in tune with your body, to know what it wants, what it needs and what it doesn’t. Yoga unites mind and body. Some days during practice, an area can feel unusually tight, and you may not be able to deepen a pose as much as you usually can. Because your taught not to judge your body, you learn to accept. To trust in your inner voice that that is not what your body needs right now, to just let it be. To understand that pushing your body beyond its current capabilities is harmful, some even say its a form of abuse. We have to treasure our bodies, its the only one we have.

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  • General Wellbeing

In our current society, there are so many distractions in life, social media, commuting, manic work schedules. Our brains are constantly overloaded with information. Now couple that with the demands of a dancer, trying to remember countless routines and at some point, your poor brain will start to shut down. Ever have those days where the steps just aren’t staying in?! The brain is an amazing organ, but it can only cope with so much before it starts to let us know that its not coping with the work load we force upon it. Yoga helps to cleanse the mind. Due to the focus on breathing and being in the present moment, everything else is pushed aside, giving your brain a well earned rest. Just like restarting your computer or resetting your phone, your brain is refreshed and re-energised, more able to absorb information, commit it to memory and recall it quicker. This enables dancers to concentrate on performance and execution, exactly whats needed at auditions, not worrying about keeping up. Yoga promotes positivity, calmness, wellbeing and mindfulness. Studies found that an hour class, once a week, significantly reduced anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. We wrote about the importance of mental health in dancers featuring advice from ex professional dancer and psychotherapist Terry Hide, you can read here Mental Health In Dancers | Why Is No-one Talking About It? So by doing yoga, you reap the benefits  in all areas of your life.

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Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

The world we live in today is fast paced, chaotic and, at times harsh, non more so than the world of dance. You’re judged in an instant, before you’ve even been able to showcase what you can do and why you’re different. Its tough on the mind and its tough on the body. Yoga is unique in the fact that it works on both simultaneously. It strengthens and stretches the body, and brings clarity and wellbeing to the mind. There are no negative reasons why you shouldn’t be doing yoga. So before your ego tricks you into believing that yoga isn’t enough of a work out for you, I urge you to try it just once. You will reap the benefits.

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Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

Flexibility At What Cost? Alixa Sutton Talks

The world, and certainly our social media feeds are awash with hyper flexibile poses and stunts, each one more jaw dropping than the next. Each person trying to push their bodies to the absolute limit. But at what cost? Yes, they are young now, their bodies are mailable and have been trained to be so for many years, but do we truly know the consequences of such extremism further down the line for these dancers, when ageing and all that that entails comes knocking?

The risks of hyper flexibility and over stretching are certainly a topic in their own right, but one person who knows the perils of over stretching from experience is Alixa Sutton. Alixa created a safe flexibility programme, which is so successful and achieves almost instantaneous results that she travels world wide, taking her skills and passing them on to the future generation of dance. We chatted to Alixa about her background, reasons for creating the programme and general thoughts on flexibility in today’s world of dance.

DN: Alixa, tell us about yourself and the reasons behind setting up your own flexibility programme.

A.S: I come from a Rhythmic Gymnastics background, and then went into Circus Contortion.  All my career I had traditional coaches & teachers who believed in the old style methods of stretching.  As an athlete & artist, I had one injury after another.  All the injuries finally acclimated in me breaking my back, and being barley able to walk for a year, let alone train or perform.  This was such an eye opening experience for me, as it made me realize that there was another way of doing things.  I also never wanted to see my students go through what I had.  I spent the next few years studying & learning from doctors, physical therapists, reading every single study I could find on all the new information we have now about how the body works and what is best for the body.  Then I took this information and incorporated it into the practical knowledge I have about dance, gymnastics, and contortion.  I have created a method that works for every body type, age and level of flexibility- but safely.

DN: How long has the programme been running?

AS: I have been teaching the Alixa Flexibility Method for 20 years now, but we have just expanded into doing Instructor Courses the past 2 years.  I also have to say that the program is constantly changing. One of the issues is that children’s bodies are different now than 20 years ago!  Some teachers may have noticed that the younger students are much tighter than in years past.  This is because the children sit so much now, and at younger ages.  They actually cause their hips to fix in a rounded position, shorten their hamstrings, and cause a huge muscle build up in their spines from all the rounding & sitting they do.  As teachers, the “traditional” stretches we used to use to improve flexibility, just don’t work anymore as we are trying to apply them to a different type of body.  I am constantly creating new stretches to help open the body naturally through mobility &

extension.

DN: Can you tell us some of your success stories?

AS : Oh goodness there are so many!!  Just this week I had a teenage girl who came into my course and told me I shouldn’t even bother with her as she was just horrible and would never be flexible.  I told her to wait and see.  At the end of the two hours, she came over and gave me a big hug crying and said she couldn’t even believe the difference she had seen & felt.  

A dance teacher took one of my Instructor Courses to help improve her teaching.  Several months later she wrote me that she was having so much pain with her own body that she was unable to walk. She started using my stretches daily and in 2 weeks was able to go on a hiking vacation with her family.

A student came to me and stated that she wanted to be a contortionist.  She was so tight in her shoulders, she couldn’t do a bridge and get her head off the floor. Her hips were also extremely tight.  We worked very slowly & steadily to improve her, and 4 years later she got her dream and was working as a contortionist in Cirque du Soleil.

(A before and after of one of Alixa’s clients)

DN: What drives you?

AS: Definitely what drives my is seeing the joy in students.  I love seeing someone who was always in pain feel better, or having that student who felt like a failure light up because they have had a success.  Flexibility is hard work, there is nothing easy about it in the beginning if you do it correctly, but it is so rewarding to see the changes in the students and to see them gradually become naturally flexible and to love doing it.  It is the best feeling when you able to give the tools to a student to help them improve and to hopefully stop them from being injured before it happens.

DN: What do you hate to see the most that’s currently in the industry?

AS: Improper technique.  It is very easy to do things wrong, and the students like to do everything on their good leg, or with their hips unsquared etc. because it is much easier.  But not doing flexibility in the correct alignment or on both sides equally, is so damaging to the body!  I think a perfect example is with back flexibility.  Most students use their middle/lower back to bend at because it is easiest and their cores are weak.  To do back flexibility correctly, they need good core strength and to use their hip flexibility & upper back/shoulders- not their middle/lower backs.  This takes longer to learn and is not as much fun, as students have to focus on good technique.  However, it will be the difference between having back pain & problems later on, or being safe & having a healthy spine their entire lives.

DN: What would you say is your no.1 tip tip for safe stretching?

This is a tricky question because I don’t think you can nail it down to one.  

1st I would say correct alignment & technique is very important during stretching.  

2nd It is important to relax.  I use mobility exercises with all my stretches to help the body relax, and to assist students who are very stuck improve more quickly & gently.

3rd  Making sure you stretch all areas of the body.  For example, ballet students tend to focus on turn out as they need it so desperately.  However, they often make themselves very flexible in one area and neglect others, creating imbalances which then cause overuse injuries.   They can improve much more quickly by stretching the glute & IT band areas which will open up their hip flexibility overall.

The Alixa Flexibility Programme offers student workshops, teacher certification courses and specialist contortion programmes. It’s currently on its extensive tour of the U.S, followed by Australia, the U.K and Canada. For more information on courses, locations and dates, please see the website following this link Alixa Flexibility

Safe stretching!

Dance Niche

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Dance Nutrition | A Dancer’s Guide On How To Fuel The Body

Dance Nutrition | A Dancer’s Guide On How To Fuel The Body

There is a huge misconception that dancer’s – particularly ballerinas, don’t eat, always on a diet, or have eating disorders. Sadly, whilst the latter maybe true for a lot of dancers (a whole other article in itself) this is simply not true. Read on to find to find out exactly what and when full time dance students should be eating to correctly fuel their bodies.

Firstly, there is no way a professional dancer could perform night after night, after training and rehearsing all day and still keep their bodies strong, at their peak, and with optimum energy stores, not to mention longevity of career, without eating sufficiently. They have to eat, and eat intelligently and mindfully. Of course, they have access to nutritional experts to guide them and help them to stay on top of their game. But what about students?? Young girls and boys who dance all day throughout the week, learning and honing their craft. The way they fuel their body will not be the same as the professionals just yet, but they will still need to be consuming a fair amount, to help their bodies build the muscles needed to be a strong and competent performer. THIS is what I want to educate to these young adults, at a time when their bodies have been through some hugely significant changes and undoubtedly begin to compare themselves to other dancers they may meet. I want to shatter these misconceptions that can manifest into something that ultimately shatters careers – and lives.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Laura Harrison from Dynamics Chester. She was a dancer, has a degree in Sports science, MSC in nutrition and now runs her own fitness centre. If anyone would truly understand the demands of a dancer AND be able to back that up with sound, nutritional advice, it’s her! We put our heads together and came up with a healthy eating guide for full time dance students and dancers who are consistently training throughout the week and want to maintain their current weight/fitness. Laura was keen to stress “This guide will be a very general idea on the types of food students should be eating and how often, to get them through their current dance programmes, maintain their energy levels and help to build the very muscles they are honing during training. This will also differ slightly depending on the physique and build of the dancer and how many hours training they do, but in the whole it’s a good source of information to educate dancers on nutrition”

BREAKFAST

As the old saying goes, it’s the most important meal of the day, and Laura agrees “Breakfast kick starts your day and wakes your body and metabolism up! It’s a good idea to make sure it’s high in protein to help stabilise blood sugar levels from the start” Ideal foods include eggs (poached, boiled, scrabbled) salmon, avocados, brown bread and porridge.

Breakfast cereals are one to avoid. They generally have lots of hidden sugars on them, which if you consume at the start of the day, will cause your sugar levels to rise to a high peak, which in turn will cause a crash mid morning (hello elevenses). Fresh fruit juice also has a hidden sugar agenda! Laura informs “a typical 25ml glass of fresh fruit juice contains up to 22g of sugar!” So while juice is a good contributor to your daily fruit and veg intake, it’s a good idea to limit your serving, adding water to dilute the amount.

LUNCH

Lunch is the meal half way between your day. You’ve already been dancing for a good few consecutive hours, but still have the rest of the day to go, so you need to keep your energy levels up. “You’ll need protein and carbs to sustain you” Laura continues, “……a ratio to 2-1 protein to carbs is a good rule of thumb to stick too, not forgetting lots of veg and greens.”

Ideal sources of protein would be chicken or turkey. White meats are more easily digested by the body and are much leaner. Eggs and fish like tuna and Mackerel are also great additions.

Carb options would be Brown rice, quinoa, lentils and pulses. Brown pasta, bread and potatoes are also carb rich, but they may leave you feeling to bloated and ‘heavy’ to continue to dance on, so eat those sparingly.

Green veg like broccoli, spinach and kale are perfect, but any veg will boost your vitamin and mineral intake! There’s a saying Laura likes, ‘eat the rainbow’ which basically means your plate needs to be packed full of colourful veg and fruit, not just beige carbs.

DINNER

“The idea of your evening meal is to replenish the carbs you have been burning off all day” says Laura, “although you should try and make your evening meal the smallest, so you’re not going to bed on a full stomach. The body finds it much more difficult to digest food whilst the body is in sleep state. It’s best to try and eat your dinner within the hour you have finished dancing, to adequately replenish your stores of energy.”

Brown rice and pasta are good examples of evening meals, just watch portion control. Fish and meat can be your protein sources, just like your lunch. Salads work well as an evening meal, offering a lighter meal before settling down, and an easy way to include your veg and up your leafy greens intake.

SNACKS

Laura is an advocate for snacking, “Snacks are ideal for in between meals and important to keep your blood sugar levels constant and consistent, avoiding the peak and dips effect. You just need to be mindful and intelligent with your choices.”

Fruit and veg are ideal to snack on. Apples are a great source of fibre to aid digestion, bananas are packed with protein, carrot and cucumber sticks are perfect as well. Protein snack balls are good for a boost, as are nuts and seeds, which are full of the good fats our body needs, particularly the joints, but be mindful that they are also high calorie, so again, use portion control and limit your intake. Yoghurts are also good for protein, and help with calcium levels.

Smoothies are a convenient snack on the go, but be wary of what you’re putting in them, “2 parts veg to 1 part fruit” Laura recommends, to avoid it becoming to rich in natural sugars which will cause your levels to spike. Avocados, beetroots, kale, spinach, cucumber, carrots are blend-able veggies with hardly any taste once mixed together. If you then choose fruit with a distinctive taste – pineapples, mangos, mixed berries, they will then take over the taste buds. You may need to add milk or water to loosen the consistency.

Some pointers to remember;

• SHIFT thought patterns from ‘diet’ to ‘fuelling the body’

• AIM for 7 portions of fruit and veg per day

• STAY hydrated, aim between 2-3 litres per day

• EAT little and often through the day to help stabilise blood sugar levels and avoid ‘dips’

• SWAP bread, pasta and rice for the brown variety to aid digestion

• PREP is key, prepare meals and snacks the night before

To conclude, full time dancers and students require an adequate, balanced diet to not only provide them with the energy and stamina throughout the day, but to aid muscle growth and prevent injury. Without it, a dancers career would be quickly over before it had even begun. I hope this serves as a reminder to young, impressionable girls and boys out there, that dancers do in fact eat properly, if they want longevity.

Again, this information is a loose idea on they types of foods students need to be eating. There are a great many factors that contribute to differences – age, build, gender, hours spent dancing, but on the whole, this is a good guide to maintaining a healthy balance and mindset towards food. Laura and I felt so passionately about this, that we are also preparing guides to eating for performances, to get lean, and also some meal idea suggestions to take the hassle away, so watch this space!

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Dance Niche.

With special thanks to Laura Harrison of Dynamics Chester, for providing a wealth of nutritional knowledge www.dynamicsdanceandfitness.com

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Everyday things you’re probably doing that could hinder your dance and how to fix them

Everyday things you’re probably doing that could hinder your dance and how to fix them

Humans are creatures of habit, but not all habits are good for you, particularly where posture is concerned and we all know how important that is for a dancer. And the thing about habits are that you do them so often without thinking, that you’re probably not even aware you’re doing them. Here are some of the most common things you do every day that could be harming your dance practice.

TECH NECK

The sudden increase in technology and the devices we use daily has had a dramatic effect on our posture. Next time you’re on your phone, tablet, PC, make a note of your posture. Probably shoulders hunched over, with your head dropped forwards. This creates roundness and tightness in your upper back, and puts added strain on your neck. In time, with increased duration, can cause a permanent curvature to the upper spine, not to mention tight muscles which will restrict range of motion in the shoulders.

Combat this by doing lots of upper back stretches and shoulder mobility exercises. If you do yoga, heart opening exercises. If you have a foam roller, lie on your back placing it underneath your shoulder blades. Stretch your arms above your head and gently roll backwards and forwards. You will feel a release sensation in the upper vertebrae. You can also hold the stretch if it feels particularly tight, and let gravity help. A classic shoulder mobility exercise is done with a resistance band or tea towel. Hold either side of the band/towel in front of you, keeping your awns straight. Lift your arms above your head and try and get them to pass all the way back to behind you, then back in reverse. This is a tricky one. You’ll need to start with your arms quite wide apart at first, but with more practice and increases mobility, you’ll be able to accomplish this with your arms closer together.

HIGH HEELS

Wearing high heels may look amazing, but be careful not to wear them too often. Extended periods of time in high shoes puts your feet and ankles under a lot of strain. Corns and hammer head toes are very common afflictions, not to mention other more serious damage. The foot and ankle are at an unnatural angle, which can cause tension and strain through the intrinsic muscles and metatarsals. Wearing heels daily can actually shorten the Achilles’ tendon and tighten the calf muscles, reducing your Demi plie range. Not only that, there’s a real chance of falling off your heels and twisting your ankle or worse!

Combat this by wearing heels for limited times only. If you’re in you feet all day, try and wear flat, comfortable shoes. If your calves are feeling tight, use a yoga block or the first step of your staircase. Put the ball of your foot on the step, and use a chair or wall for balance. Slowly lower your heel down as low as it will go. You will feel a nice stretch of your calf and Achilles’ tendon. Hold for a few seconds and rise back up. Repeat as necessary.

Using a resistance band is also good for reversing damage. Place the ball of your foot in the middle of the band, and pull either end up towards you. Draw circles with your foot in one direction, then the opposite, slowly and controlled. The resistance from the band will help strengthen all the muscles around the ankle.

HEAVY BAGS

Whether heading to college or dance class, you’re probably hiking a huge bag full to the brim with stuff, and all on one shoulder. Stop now! Carrying on one side can really effect you posture. It can cause curvature of the spine, uneven shoulders and weaker muscles on one side of your back depending on which shoulder you favour!

Combat this by only carrying things in your bag that you need for that day/lesson to reduce the weight, and always try and use a rucksack, with both shoulder straps across each shoulder, which distributes the weight more evenly across your back. The tea towel exercise mentioned previously is also good for relieving tension in the shoulders from carrying all day.

You can also try this. Stand side on to a wall. Place your arm closest to the wall at a right angle, coming out from your shoulder parallel and fingers pointing upwards. Turn the palm outwards and place on the wall with your whole forearm. Keeping your arm in that position, take a step slightly forwards, so your arm is now slightly behind you. You should feel a nice stretch across the front of your shoulder girdle.

SITTING INTO YOUR HIPS

Waiting for a bus, stood in a queue or waiting to go into the studio, you’re probably stood with all your weight into your back leg with your hip distended. Doing this for long periods of time or frequently isn’t great for your hips. It can cause also the tendons and ligaments around the hip joint to stretch and lengthen, which in turn weakens them. This will effect the height of your developpes and sometimes even shift your centre of gravity from centre!

Combat this by always standing with weight evenly distributed between the two feet, with knees relaxed and not snapped back into any hyperextension. Exercises for strengthening the hip flexors will also be beneficial. Sit on the floor with your legs extending in parallel in front of you. Without compensating in your lower back, lift one leg off the floor as high as it will go, hold and put it down. You can also pulse the leg once it’s in the air. Repeat on both legs. You can improve on this by placing 2 objects in front of you. If you imagine a clock, at 5 past and 10 past. Again without sloughing, lift the leg over first object, then over the second then back over the first and finish where you started. This builds strength and also mobility for developpes a la seconde.

FEET UP ON THE SOFA

It’s a great to spend an evening relaxing watching the TV, with you feet up. Or is it?! Are you curling your legs up to the side of you? Look at the angle of your feet and ankles. Your top one will be pretty neutral, but I bet you’ll find the foot underneath is bent, flexing in towards you. This stretches and lengthens the muscles on the outer side of your foot, weakening the ones on the inside. This will give your foot a suckling line when extending or pointing and is a dangerous line for pointe work.

Combat this by lifting and extending your legs out in front of you, on a foot stool or similar. It will keep your ankles and feet in neutral alignment without any weight bearing on them. The foot exercise with the resistance band mentioned above is great to help undo this. We also wrote a post on strengthening your feet for pointe, which has more foot exercises you can try. Read about them here https://danceniche.com/2017/05/02/pointe-shoe-chronicles-strengthening-your-feet-for-pointe/

When dance is your chosen craft, your body is your tool. You have a responsibility to look after that tool as best you can. This means avoiding anything that might hinder or damage it, which will ultimately hinder your dance. So just check in with yourself every now and then and be mindful of your posture and what your body is doing. Your dance will thank you for it later!

Dance Niche

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