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Tag: dance life

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!

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Surviving dance comps as a parent

Surviving dance comps as a parent

Dance competitions and festivals can seem pretty intense, especially for parents of dancers! There’s your baby, all on their own on a stage that seems to swallow them up, not matter how old they are! What if they go wrong? What if they slip and fall? What if they miss a beat, or speed ahead of the music?! In your eyes, they will always be your baby, and you’d do anything to protect them, but there they are, so exposed and you can’t do anything to help them if something doesn’t go quite to plan! But never fear, Dance Niche is here to guide and help you through comp season.

DON’T PANIC

Try to stay calm as much as possible. Children feed off emotions of parents, so you don’t want them to start stressing out and worrying unnecessarily. If they are worrying or nervous, they will look to you to be their rock, so make sure you’re the picture of calmness, even though your stomach is about to turn inside out!

Remember to breathe! The only difference between excitement and nervousness is the amount of oxygen getting to the brain, it’s the same chemical responsible for both emotions. Take big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is also advice we give dancers too, you can read our competitors tips here https://danceniche.com/2017/04/11/top-5-dance-comp-survival-tips/

BRING PROVISIONS

Comps and festivals can be a long day, especially if your children have multiple dances. It’s a good idea to bring some food and drink with you for you and your dancer. The festival organisers afternoon have refreshments available, but if you’re there all day, it can get expensive! Try not to bring anything that’s too messy, so your child can eat in her costume whilst waiting if needs be, but make sure they don’t eat for at least half hour before they are due to dance, to make sure food has settled and they will be at their best.

It can also get very tedious waiting around, so bring a book or iPad to help pass the time. Taking your mind off the waiting will help keep the nerves at bay.

BE ORGANISED

If your have a tiny dancer, you’ll have to do the prep work for them. Make sure you make a check list and have everything ready the night before, including costume, footwear, music, make up and hair box etc. It’s a good idea to get them to help you in the preparations. It teaches them how to be organised and helps them understand what’s needed, as when they’re older, it’ll be their responsibility. If you have an older dancer, you can verbally check in with them to make sure they’ve got everything covered.

ITS NOT YOUR ROUTINE

This one applies to parents of the younger dancers mostly. I know they are small and look like a dot in the stage but it can be incredibly off putting for the adjudicator if you are doing every single step of the dance in the audience. Not only that, how will your child every learn how to take responsibility for their own dance and actually learn it, if they know they’ve always got you mirroring for them. If they have a blip and freeze, give them a small prompt of course, it happens all the time, but that should be enough to jog their memory. Let them get on with it. If they cannot remember the majority of a routine, you have to question if they are ready yet.

REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE THERE

You might feel feel like comps are the worst things in the world, and the added time, stress and pressure just isn’t worth it, but does your dancer think the same? I bet your child loves comps, thrives off them even. They love to perform, and not only does it give them more experience, but they wouldn’t even be doing them if they didn’t want to be up there dancing on their own, centre of attention! If you ask your dancer, they may feel a little nervous pre performance, but afterwards, they’ll be bouncing off the walls with adrenaline. You’re there to support you child, help them build confidence and make memories. If they don’t feel anxious about it, you shouldn’t either.

Being the parent of a comp dancer is often a thankless task, and it’s hard work too but just remember these few tips and it should be a whole lot less of a stressful thing. Don’t forget the other mums too! Competitions bring a real sense of togetherness and camaraderie, so there will always be a seasoned pro Mum there to hold your hand! You will find you might actually start to enjoy comps.

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Dance Mum Etiquette – How to be good parent.

Dance Mum Etiquette – How to be good parent.

Being a Dance Mum is hard, REAL hard and it’s a rollercoaster of high emotions and situations which can be tough to tackle week on week. I know this because I am a Dance Mum myself. Not only did I dance when I was younger, my eldest daughter is currently dancing, and I’m now also a dance teacher myself, so I’m in a unique position of seeing things from all sides. I’ve put together a few do’s and don’ts to hopefully make it a smoother ride.

DO make sure you are organised.

There are going to be so many dates to remember, exams, rehearsals, festivals, shows, workshops, fundraising, you name it. Get yourself a calendar specifically for ‘dance’. As soon as you get anything important through from the school or studio, write it down straight away. Even if the exact dates are not known until closer to the time, you can always mark with a star or TBC so you know roughly when or at least have those dates in the back of your mind if anything else were to crop up. When each event draws nearer, write a list of all the things that will be needed, costume, make up, accessories, food. If your child is older, you can give them some responsibility and compile the list together. Come the day, you can check everything off the list, and avoid a whole lot of stress.

DO make sure you pay fees on time.

This may not be your child’s calling in life, it may just be a flash in the pan hobby for them. For the studio owner and teaching staff, it’s a career, a livelihood. Blood, sweat and tears are literally invested into not only the studio, but the children. So by making sure all tuition fees are paid when they are due, you are thanking the staff for all their hard work and efforts, not just paying their wages. If you pay by direct debit, check that all details are up to date and correct to ensure a smooth transaction every month.

DO teach your child about responsibilities and commitment. Yes, they may only be young. No, the local studio is not a professional gig. Yes, your child may have exams coming up. It’s your job as a parent to teach your children some fundamental life lessons to prepare them for the real world. Ultimately if your child no longer wants to take dance lessons, wait until the end of that term. It disrupts the flow of the class to have children leaving mid term. You may have already pair the term upfront anyway, so notify the teacher beforehand that your child has requested to leave. Don’t worry, it’s not against the law, it just gives everyone time to adjust to the news before it happens and allows them to say their goodbyes. In particular, if there is a show or production coming up that your child is included in, please please wait till the end of the show before pulling out. It is every teacher’s nightmare to suddenly have bodies missing from a group dance, that may not be able to be replaced. Not only that, if your child has committed themselves to being part of that team, then they cannot let the rest of their team members down. Teach the the value of sticking it out until the end, for everyone’s sake. In the real world, they won’t have mummy or daddy to fall back on and give excuses out for them when they decide that they can no longer be bothered.

DON’T live your life through your child.

Perhaps you always wanted to dance but never got the opportunity. Perhaps you were destined for greatness but an injury ended your career before it started. It is plain to see when a child is being ‘pushed’ into dance more than they want to be. The passion is just not there. There is no sparkle behind their eyes. They grow to dislike dance more and more with every passing week that they are ushered to classes. Just because they have amazing ability or a general interest, does not mean they want the same things as you did. Dance may just be a fun hobby, or outlet for them. Don’t take that away from them by inadvertently placing your own dreams upon their shoulders. It’s heartbreaking to see, and not only will they resent taking classes, in the end the will resent you too. Listen, really listen to your child.

DON’T compare.With a mixture of different fortes and personalities, it’s easy to start comparing your child with someone else’s. So what if one child’s leg is higher than your child’s, or has an oversplit when leaping, or pirouettes like a spinning top. As soon as you start comparing one thing, you’ll soon find your picking at more and more things and the list suddenly begins to grow. One of my favourite quotes is “comparison is the theif of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt. When you compare your child to another, you are instantly sending a message to your child that they aren’t good enough. Not only will it kill the joy for you, but it will sap all of the joy out of dance for your child as well. Their confidence takes a huge nose dive. Think about it. It also works the other way around. No one likes someone who gloats. So what if your child has won 5 trophies last week, nailed her fouetté turns and been chosen to represent some brand. Everyone is happy for you, but it doesn’t make you any better than the rest. Stay grounded.

DON’T question teacher decisions.

As a parent, you can have a very blinkered view on your child and their ability. As teachers, we see them as an individual but as a whole group as well. We carefully consider every action and outcome before deciding upon anything, and it’s ALWAYS with the child’s welfare at heart. If your child isn’t on the front row for a particular number, if she didn’t make the cut at all, if she’s not yet been invited to pre pointe class, if she doesn’t have a solo, if she isn’t taking the exam, it’s because there’s a good reason. It may be your child has already been at the front and we want all the other children to have a fair chance. It may be your child’s feet are beautifully arched but not yet strong enough to meet the demands that pointe requires. It may be your child is a wonderful dancer as a team, but we’ve seen them struggle to cope on their own. It may be we genuinely don’t think they’re ready for that exam, when a couple more months hard work will have them ready and confident enough to achieve the marks we know they are capable of. If we make a decision it’s either based on health and safety or the wellbeing of your child. Please respect that and back us up.

Being a dance mum or Dad is a tough gig. The relentless taxi service you provide, the endless supply of money, family meals altogether a thing of the past, the stress and anxiousness you feel in their behalf. We, as teachers, are eternally grateful to you, as without you and the support you give your children, we would have nobody to teach, we wouldn’t have jobs! Just remember why. You do all of this because they don’t just love dance, they live it, and you love them, unconditionally. One day, when they’re grown and a family of their own, they will understand everything you did for them, and they will thank you for it. In the mean time, stay strong, and keep reminding yourself why you do it whilst opening a bottle, you’ve definitely earned it!

If you enjoyed reading this, you might like previous article on how to be a good student! http://danceniche.com/2017/05/30/class-etiquette-a-guide-to-good-class-manners/

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