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Tag: Dance

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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Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Hear the word ballet, and you probably conjure up an image of a little girl with a pink frufru tutu on, pink ballet shoes, pink wrap cardigan, pink, pink, pink. It’s no wonder that there is a lack of boys in ballet classes! But all that is slowly starting to change.

Since time began, people have always put certain occupations and past times into little tiny stereotypical boxes. Firefighter – man, nurse – woman, football – man, ballerina – woman. You’re either pink, or blue, and woe betide you if you decide otherwise, because the whole world will try and convince you otherwise. But why?! Thank goodness that nowadays, these stereotypes are being blown apart. And the world of ballet is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we are only just scratching the surface here, but it’s definitely a scratch in the right direction!

Perhaps most of the problem stems from the fact that previously, the majority of professional male ballet dancers were gay or at least, perceived to be. Not that that should have absolutely anything to do with it, but in years gone by, when the world was a less tolerant place than it is now, boys interested in ballet were put in another little box all of their own, that they too must be gay. Like gay was some form of insult (insert eye roll here). This would either make them quit ballet, or not start altogether for fear of being ridiculed.

Thank goodness the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) has come up with a solution. They have recently launched a new programme, Project B. Their aim is to encourage and support more boys and men to participate in ballet classes by 2020 – the RAD’s centenary year. They want to help enrol more male dance teachers (as the teaching industry is predominantly women) to help encourage more boys to take classes and have role models to look up to.

(Iain Mackay leading a Boys Ballet Masterclass.)

They also plan, as well as many other aspects, on hosting more boys only workshops with specific male repertoire, so boys and young men won’t feel outnumbered and so discouraged from participating.

(Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

The program has already been a huge success, and looks set to continue on the same direction. Bravo RAD. For further information on the project, visit their website http://www.royalacademyofdance.org/projectb

We all know the amazing benefits of taking regular ballet classes are – good posture, healthy supple joints, long lean muscles. It’s now become popular for football players to take ballet classes as part of their fitness regime. They might sound like polar opposites, but think about it for a second. Ballet will help with having that explosive power needed to jump into the air for that header, it will stretch everything out so that sliding tackle is less likely to cause any pulled muscles or ligaments, and it will definitely help with agility, making them light on their feet when dribbling around opponents! In fact, it’s been documented that celebrity footballers Ryan Giggs and the Ferdinand brothers take classes, and owe many attributed skills to ballet. So perhaps when young boys, who see their idols talking about going to ballet classes, they will see it in a different light and think “If they can do it, so

Social media has also helped the situation along. With the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and particularly Instagram, which hosts an impressive dance community, we now know more about celebrities and idols than ever before. We follow their daily lives, their habits, their work and home lives. Dancers are no exceptions here. Many of the professional dancers use Instagram as a way of documenting their lives and connecting with the public. Take Steven McRae for example. Steven is a Principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. He is known for his strong, sound technique and athletic performances. He is also known for being a loving family man, married to Elizabeth Harrod, a soloist with the Royal Ballet, and their 2 adorable children (really need to check out their IG accounts, seriously cute as a button, doe eyes bambinos). McRae mostly documents his dancing life, rehearsals, backstage, warm up routines and eye watering stretching, but he also indulges is with how kind and gentile he is with his wife, and how he dotes on the children. Hugely admirable stuff. He, along with countless other male dancers, are proving old stereotypes wrong. They are shouting from the rooftops that there is absolutely no shame in boys/men being dancers. They are physically strong and fit and able to express themselves fully in their roles without sexuality even being questioned. Applaudable role models.

Girls have always outnumbered boys in dance classes, but no genre more so than ballet. I hear many studio owners and teachers crying out for more boys, so we all have to ask “What can We do?” Well, advertising is key here. Most studios I’ve seen advertise their ballet classes, usually stick with the pink theme, tutu’s tiaras and sparkly wands. Not exactly shouting out to the boys! Let’s make signage more colour neutral. Let’s just have bright colours instead of a sea of pink. Let’s have some boy models on the posters. That goes for Dance shops too. Hardly the most inviting place for boys/men to come and buy their ballet gear, if the pink is glaring at you from the shop front before you’ve even got through the door! Let’s search for more male teachers, be it as permanent members of staff or one off workshops hosts, so boys have someone to aspire to. We can all play our part, no matter how small, in helping our young boys realise a dream and being confident and brave enough to follow it through.

Dance Niche

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Audition Hacks – Advice For Dance Auditions You Need To Know About

Audition Hacks – Advice For Dance Auditions You Need To Know About

Going for an audition for a a dance school, company, or a working contract can be quite daunting, especially if you’re still relatively new to auditioning. We’ve complied a list of things to remember to help take some of the nerves and anxiety away so you can concentrate on showcasing all that you have to offer!

RESEARCH

Do your homework. Look into the company who you are auditioning for. Look for things like their background or history, what style they focus on, who the lead director is. This will give you focus on what you may need to work on. Perhaps the director is a stickler for technique, so you can really set to work on honing and refining yours. Perhaps the focus is more on performance and emotions, so you can go away and add more raw, real facial expressions and tiny details that will give your dancing that added extra special something. Also, if you do your research into the history of the company, you show that you are an already dedicated student, that you use your initiative and have a genuine interest in the company, earning you extra brownie points.

WORKSHOPS

It’s a good idea to take some open workshops on the lead up to your audition. This environment is very similar to that of an audition, 1 or 2 teachers or directors and a room full of talented, enthusiastic dancers, all wanting to do their best. It will help you get used to that type of competitive atmosphere that can really hold back your dancing. Another thing to add is that you will have to pick up choreography super quick, and be able to retain it and apply your technique to it straight away. This skill only gets better with practice. In class, when we study syllabus work, it’s the same exercises over and over, and we learn choreography at such a slower, less pressurised rate. Your brain needs to adjust to receiving information quickly and getting your body to do what you want it to do straight away.

STAND OUT

Auditions are busy places. So many bodies come through the doors, just numbers and unknown faces to the directors. You need to make them remember you. Where you choose to stand in the room says a lot about you. Don’t hide at the back where you might get lost amongst other dancers. It can come across as lacking in confidence. Come to the front, be confident. Hold your ground. You deserve to be there. Also think about what you wear. Black is a flattering colour yes, but also popular. Wear something that shows a bit of personality, a pop of colour. It’ll make you easily recognisable and memorable when they are making their decisions afterwards. This brings us nicely to our next tip…….

CLEVER CHOICES

When choosing what you will wear, you need to think about what sort of body type you have, and how to make the most of it. There are a few clever things you can do to help you. If you’re on the shorter side, you can choose a leotard with high cut legs, lengthening your leg line. If you want to minimise the size of your derrière, choose a leotard with cap sleeves or a boat neck line, which will give the illusion of your shoulders being broader, and evening out your figure. But be careful, leotards can also draw attention to things you may not want to, so make sure you go and try on lots of different styles before you settle so you can be confident it shows you off the best it can.

ATTITUDE

How you act in an audition will affect a directors decision greatly. Make eye contact whilst they are talking to you. If they are giving corrections as a whole, make sure you nod, or give some visible cue that you have understood what they are saying. If they give you one personally, look positive and thankful. You can read more about how to receive corrections with our helpful tips here http://danceniche.com/2017/06/06/receiving-corrections-how-to-be-a-good-student/ They will be assessing who you react to constructive criticism. They want someone who they know will listen to advice, take it on board and work on it, not necessarily someone who is already perfect. They are looking for mailable, versatile dancers with the potential to learn so they can be moulded into exactly what the company needs. They are also looking for dancers with that ‘spark’, someone who clearly enjoys dancing. Make sure you show a bit of personality, smile, PERFORM! Show them that you’d be a valuable, entertaining asset, not someone who is a wall flower and uninteresting to watch.

REJECTION

Don’t let fear of rejection stop you from auditioning altogether, trust us when we say you will regret it later in life. Seize the opportunities whilst you have them. What’s the worst that can happen?! They say no. End of. Don’t let no’s stand in your way. If you don’t get accepted to your first audition, try another. Never give up hope. Remember that you won’t always be what they are looking for. It’s not that you aren’t a good dancer, only that you weren’t what they particularly needed at that time. Know that there will be a company or job that you fit into like the last piece of a jigsaw, sometimes you just need to look a bit harder. Truly believe that if you receive a no, it’s because something that’s just right for you is around the corner.

Auditioning can be a cut throat world that isn’t for the faint hearted. We hope with our tips, we’ve made it a little less daunting for you. However the most important bit of advice we could give would be to make sure you enjoy yourself and the experience each audition gives you.

Dance Niche.

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Comp Etiquette – A Guide To Good Manners At Competitions

Comp Etiquette – A Guide To Good Manners At Competitions

So we’ve previously written about good manners as a dancer in a studio and even dance Mum Manners, but do you know the things that are required of you at competitions and the things that are deemed acceptable?! Yet again, we are here to enlighten you to help you avoid any embarrassment!

ARRIVALS

When you first arrive at the comps, make sure you sign in so they know you are there and hand all music over that is to be played there and then. Make sure the CDs are clearly marked with your name, dance school and genre of dance. Once all that is done, make your way to the designated changing area. You may want to do your hair and make up well in advance, and just get changed half hour or so before your section is due to go on. This will give you time to warm up and suss out the stage area before your performance. We mentioned these things in our Comp Survival Tips article which you can read here.

BACKSTAGE

It is important to remember there will be lots of other dancers and teachers in the wings, whilst another dancer will be performing. You must act appropriately. Keep any warm up routines or practicing of certain elements away from the backstage area. These can be distracting for the dancer on stage and also pose a health and safety risk if there are a lot of others in the same area. Instead, find a quiet, open spot for any last minute practicing and warming up, then head backstage when you’ve got a few routines before you are due on. It’s also considered rude to talk too much or be too loud, as again, it’s disrespectful to the dancer on stage and could distract them from their routine.

CAMARADERIE

This doesn’t just mean to your own troupe or team of dancers, it extends to all the dancers competing, even if from another dance school. It’s good manners to wish a competitor good luck (or break a leg if you’re old school or superstitious like me) before they perform. Once they’ve finished their routine and head back into the wings, clap along with the audience and congratulate them, a simple “well done” will do. It shows no rivalry or animosity between different schools. It’s also customary to congratulate the winners and all other fellow competitors after adjudication, to show no ill feeling. We should be genuinely happy for them. Being humble is an admirable trait to have.

THANK YOU’S

This is a huge part of competitions and costs nothing at all. It should be second nature, but sadly it isn’t always so. Once you’ve danced, you need to curtesy before exciting the stage. It’s nice to look the adjudicator straight in the eye when doing so, it’s like a non verbal way of saying thank you. If you’re lucky enough to be placed, you should step forward out of the line up and curtesy again, to say thank you for being placed. Don’t forget to say thank you to the person giving out the medals, you don’t want to look self entitled or snatch! Be a gracious winner. The adjudicator may say what they particularly liked, what you did well or even some constructive criticism, so make sure you keep eye contact with them whilst they are talking to you to show you are listening. Just because you’ve been placed, doesn’t mean you still don’t have things to learn.

ADJUDICATION

When a section is finished, all dancers will be handed their numbers and sent back on stage for adjudication. Make a decision on which position you will stand – 5th or preparatory position are the most common. You may be stood there for a while, particularly if it’s a big section. Keep to the position you chose, keep fidgeting to a minimum, but most importantly, keep smiling! Once the adjudicator stands up to give critique and award medals, it’s customary for everyone to clap, this includes dancers too. Make sure you listen intently to their feed back, not only to show respect to the adjudicator but there maybe something that you could genuinely take away and learn from, even if it wasn’t directed at you. We mentioned this and other important things to remember in our post about receiving corrections here https://danceniche.com/2017/06/06/receiving-corrections-how-to-be-a-good-student/ As each place is awarded, you should give a small round of applause with the audience, then return to holding your number clearly with that all important smile. Then as the section is dismissed, all dancers should curtesy, as a thank you to the adjudicator and audience, before swiftly exiting the stage.

ENTERING/EXITING AUDITORIUM

Again, this pointer is common sense to most but not common knowledge. When music is playing in the auditorium, a dancer will be on stage. It is so important not to enter or exit whilst music is being played. Not only will it be a distraction for the dancer on stage, it could also distract the adjudicator from watching and critiquing the performance. Once you hear the music stop, quickly and quietly find a seat or exit the auditorium. The compère will try and wait before announcing the next act, but time schedules will already be tight and they can’t wait forever. In between acts, keep talking to a minimum, with a hushed tone. I’m sure I don’t need to mention that there should be no talking whilst someone is performing!!! On that note, anything that could create noise, mobile phones and devices, noisy snacks like crisp packets, even smaller children, you should try and avoid. Babies and toddlers are hard to keep entertained, I know from you experience. If you have to take them with you, bring lots of things to keep them entertained. If they do become upset or too loud and distracting, it’s thoughtful of you to quickly and quietly head out of the auditorium with the least disruption as possible. We all know how toddlers can go from 1 to 10 in lightening speed!

HUMBLE PIE

No one likes a boaster. It’s fine for you to win and be happy about it, but please don’t have a huge mass celebration for all to hear.It’s distasteful and can be upsetting or can come across as gloating. Keep celebrations to a respectful level until you’re home. On the flip side, be happy for your fellow competitors and their wins. They won fair and square and were better than you on the day. Learn from that. Do not show how cross or disgruntled you are in front of everyone. No scowls. Concentrate that disappointment into making your dancing better for next time.

TROPHIES

Most smaller festivals require for any trophies won to be returned the next year. If you receive a trophy, make sure you get in engraved with your name, school and year you won before handing it back, usually on the first day of the festival the following year. Make sure it’s not damaged and has been cleaned or polished, no one wants to receive a dusty trophy!

Lastly, it’s important to remember when you attend festivals and competitions, you are an ambassador for your dance school. You will most likely see the familiar faces of dancers from neighbouring schools who attend the same comp circuits as you. What you do and how you act reflect directly back on the school and earns it a reputation. With the above tips, that reputation will be one of praise and admiration.

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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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Q&A with Flashdance the musical’s Gloria aka Hollie Ann Lowe

Q&A with Flashdance the musical’s Gloria aka Hollie Ann Lowe

Flashdance is ingrained in history as being a monumental and iconic film! That’s why we included it in our top dance movies to watch! You can see what else made the list here https://danceniche.com/2017/12/28/top-dance-movies-you-need-to-watch/ It tells the tale of a young hopeful Alex. A welder by day, dancer in a bar by night, who yearns to make it as a professional dancer. Hers, and most of the characters in the story are one that many of us are all too familiar with. The self doubt, trying to please others, still needing money to pay bills. We spoke to Hollie Ann Lowe who plays ‘Gloria’……….Gloria I think they got your number! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself) about the show, her character and and the parallels between the show and real life.

Hi Hollie! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Let’s begin….

DN: Dance Niche named Flashdance as one of their top must see dance movies. Were you a fan of the film before the Musical?

H: Since performing in a youth version of Flashdance when I was 14, it has been one of my favourite films and musicals. The film is so iconic and will never get old!

DN: Flashdance is an iconic film, that paved the way for perms and leg warmers! How does the Musical stand up to the film? Do you still own leg warmers?

H: I was born in 96, however growing up I loved all things 80’s! I do still own leg warmers and they often make an appearance in warm up! Ha. Our musical is adapted slightly but there are so many iconic outfits, songs, dance movements…it’s a real flash back to the 80’s!

DN: As well as acting, there’s a lot of dance content and choreography involved with being a cast member of Flashdance. What is your dance background and what is your favourite genre of dance?

H: I started dancing at 5, and have danced my whole life. Training in different styles, I moved to London when I was 17 to train in dance and musical theatre professionally and had the time of my life for three years training in all styles of dance, singing and acting before starting with Flashdance!

DN: The world of professional Dance is a tough one to break into, do you identify with the themes of the story and feelings of the main characters?

H: Alex Owens, is the epitome of any young dancer or performer wanting to break into the industry. We are faced with many challenges along the way but it is the passion, love and drive that keeps us going and gives us the best job there is!

DN: Your character Gloria, really encourages Alex to go for the audition at Shipley’s. How did you feel when auditioning for Flashdance and who encouraged you to go for it? Did you watch the film as part of your prep?!

H: Very similar to both Alex and Gloria, it’s a big scary world when auditioning. However this show and film has been so close to my heart for years that I had the most amazing experience and loved every second of the audition process! My family have always encouraged me, especially my Mum who growing up would always encourage me to reach for higher.

DN: Being a professional dancer yourself and having successfully made a career in dance, what would you say your top tip for dancers at auditions is?

H: My top tip would be to enjoy every second….even an audition! Things will come and go but most important thing is to every step of the journey, even the rejection…be grateful for the lesson learnt and enjoy moving forward.

DN: Lastly, what would you say to anyone who might be thinking about coming to see the show?

H: With edgy choreography and exciting musical arrangements, Flashdance is a must see show for everyone!! You will be taken on a journey back to the 80’s and have a fun filled night out!

Thanks Hollie for the insight! Break a leg with the rest of the tour!

Flashdance is finishing its run here at the amazing Manchester Opera House, however the rest of the tour dates can be found here http://www.flashdanceuktour.co.uk/tour-schedule

This is definitely one show that is bound to get you out of your seats dancing and singing along, leg warmers mandatory!

Dance Niche

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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.

Dance Niche

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Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell has become a household name of late, chasséing her way into our homes (and our hearts) every weekend, thanks to being one of 4 judges on the glitziest tv show around – Strictly Come Dancing. She judges fairly, with eloquence and always with constructive criticism, making sure she ends on a positive note as not to dishearten the dancing celebrities, keeping them encouraged. She has firmly taken the seat as not only one of the most likeable and sincere judges, but as one of the nations sweethearts. A rare accolade indeed. But many of the younger viewers may not know the Darcey that we, as dancers, know and adore. So let’s delve a little into her life story.

Darcey – born Marnie Mercedes Darcey Pemberton Crittle, joined the Royal Ballet lower school ages 13, where she progressed to through the upper school before joining the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (now known as Birmingham Royal Ballet) in 1987. Darcey was hailed for her clean and precise technique, so it’s not surprising that in 1988, she had a lead role written for her, which is when she moved to the Royal Ballet and promoted to principal dancer at the tender age of only 20, becoming their youngest principal dancer at the time.

Darcey danced many of the well known leading roles including Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty, and and the Swan princess in Swan Lake. My personal favourite role she played was that of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker – the qualities she brought to that role are exquisite! Another favourite was a sketch she did with comedienne Dawn French, where they danced the infamous ‘mirror dance’. It is hugely entertaining, and really shows Darcey’s wonderful personality and not taking herself too seriously! If you haven’t watched it, here’s a link, you’re welcome! https://youtu.be/UyIMLz_jRbI

In 2007, she retired from ballet, with her last performance of Song of the Earth, and received an 8 minute standing ovation! Dame Darcey is still very much involved in the dance world, despite her retirement. Not only is she one quarter of the Strictly judging panel, she is also President of the Royal Academy of Dance. Being quite the creative, she wrote a series of children’s books called ‘Magic Ballerina’ , about an aspiring ballerina who discovers her shoes are magical! She has also recently launched ‘DDMix’ Diverse Dance Mix, a dance based fitness regimes in which she pulls inspiration and moves from dances all over the world. She is passionate about getting people moving and enjoying dance!

Her most recent accolade, was being named in the Queen’s New Years Honours list, receiving an OBE and her title of Dame, which is hugely fitting. She said “I gratefully accept it on behalf of all the dance organisations that I am so fortunate to be part of. Dance is such a beautiful art form, it is inspiring and provides joy, social cohesion and wellbeing.” and we couldn’t agree more.

So here’s to Dame Darcey, congratulations, and long may you continue to enrich lives through inspiring others to dance.

Dance Niche

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TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and is a fairly controversial topic, as there will always be strong views for either side. Before I continue, I’d just like to say that I am in no way advocating poor technique, or the lack of, as we all know technique and good form help keep us as dancers safe and injury free. It’s more to do with current trends in the dance world and of course, personal opinions will always come into play.

With the rise of social media, National T.V competitions and reality shows, dance – and dancers, have been projected not only into the lime light, but into the lives of young aspiring dancers everywhere. They follow their favourite dancers week by week, voting for them to get through to the next stage. They follow their social media accounts with enthusiasm, marvelling at each new pose they post. Instagram has a particularly large and influential dance community, as t.v and professional dancers from all over the world display their craft. Professionals. People who have spent years upon years honing and perfecting their craft with complete and total dedication. And of course much like you and I, they only post the very best photos, the ones that are timed just right to get that perfect shot, the grande jete beyond 180 degrees, the developpe a la seconde by their ear, and the ever popular ‘crotch shot’ aka side tilt, which seems to be as common as leg warmers in the movie Fame! In fact, it’s that common, and some say distasteful, that it has its own hashtag ‘#stopthecrotchshot

We live in a world where how many ‘likes’ your photo receives, dictates how good you are as a dancer. So naturally, young dancers are wanting to emulate the idols they follow, and post the best dance pose they can, hoping to rack up the likes. This has also transpired into choreography. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. More and more I see dancers at festivals show off their acquired skills, one into another, into another, but it’s getting to the point where they are almost showing off. Yes, of course, that’s what they are aiming for. They want to wow the audience and adjudicators with the amazing tricks and displays of hyper flexibility, however these elements are beginning to roll into one another, BAM, BAM, BAM! Quite often, these are the dancers that are placed. The ones who thrill us with their continual display of talent. But is it that thrilling?!

For me, Dance has always been about telling a story, being able to dance with such emotion that the audience pick up on the vibrations, making the hairs on their arms stand on end. You know the exact feeling I’m talking about. A good dancer can move you to tears. It’s part of the magic. You feel like you’ve been let into a private moment. It’s intoxicating, and leaves you wanting more. Can this simply be achieved by a display of capability? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, a well placed trick or element can really add a spectacular highlight to the dance, but it’s more than that. What about the steps in between, the facial expressions to convey the feeling, a well placed pause, a moment of stillness can hold so much tension and captivate an audience so much so the atmosphere is almost tangible. This is the true art of dance surely. To be able to give yourself so fully to a piece, to bare your soul, that the audience are able to re tell the story back, as they live it with you. Martha Graham famously said “great dancers are not great because of their talent. They are great because of their passion” and I think that speaks volumes.

But this doesn’t stop at tricks, and here’s where I could become unpopular with my view, it can also be true of actual technique too. Let’s set the scene……….local dance festival, lots of competitors in a section. There’s that one girl who has been genetically blessed for Dance……..the almost flat turn out, legs for days with slight hyperextended knees giving beautiful lines, feet that arch like bananas, and all the grace and beauty of any prima ballerina that has passed. But she lacks something. That spark behind her eyes, the fire in her belly, the calling from deep within her soul. She dances because she is good at it, REALLY good, but what drives her? Does she perform and project? No, she is selfish with her performance, and has a face like she’s simply stood waiting for a bus. Dare I say it………perhaps slightly boring! Cue the girl that isn’t so genetically blessed. Her legs aren’t as long, she doesn’t have the best turn out but she works with what she’s got and she pointed her feet as much as they allow, but she has something special. She has that ‘X’ factor. She doesn’t want to dance, she needs to. Her face visibly comes alive as soon as she steps on the stage and the audience know instantly they’re in for a treat. She captivated them so much, you can hear a pin drop. It’s also visible when you watch a group dance. There will always be that one dancer who catches your eye whether they are at the front or back. They catch your eye because they perform! They use their face as well as their body. They dance with such passion that it oozes from ever pore. It’s what an audience want to see. They want to watch someone who is interesting and intriguing, who’s fire burns so brightly they too can feel the heat and they get that all over tingling sensation that brings tears to your eyes. Someone who moves them when they dance. It’s echoed very much in the computer animated film ‘Ballerina‘(or Leap if you’re in the U.S) Effectively a battle between a talented girl who’s danced all her life, but dances because that’s what she’s always done, and a girl who has dreamed of being a dancer but wasn’t given the same opportunities, but her passion and determination she’s her through. It makes such a good story, because it’s a true one, “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

So who would win? Ultimately, it’s down to the individual adjudicators, and again, this varies. Some favour perfect technique over performance, but I will always be swayed by that special something a dancer gives. In a perfect world, a dancer would have both, and these rare creatures are the ones that make it pro, all the way to the top, but they are just that, a rarity. Don’t let that stop you though, there is a growing trend in the dance world. Things are changing, slowly, but for the better. Companies are beginning to hire different dancers, differently by age, build race, but that’s a whole other blog post………

So what is your opinion? Which camp do you lie? Are you Team Felice or Team Camille? Content or creativity?

Dance Niche

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Top dance films you NEED to watch right now

Top dance films you NEED to watch right now

Dance is a vessel for visual expression. So it seems only natural for it to be part of some pretty major films and movies, as a way to convey those feelings that perhaps words cannot. Here is my list of top dance films that will make you spontaneously jump from your seat and move in ways you didn’t even know were possible!

DIRTY DANCING 1987

Starting with the obvious. Armed with some epic dance moves (that lift) one liners, and an utterly irresistible soundtrack, this movie was destined to be a box office hit. Patrick Swazey (swoon) and Jennifer Grey are the ultimate dance couple, and their finale dance is has been adopted by newly weds everywhere, trying to emulate the same magic for their first dance.

 

STRICTLY BALLROOM 1992

Sticking with the partner dancing theme, this is THE ultimate ballroom dancing movie! Story of the underdog winning over, it stars a hunky lead male, a plain Jane protégé, sequins galore and enough fake tan to keep David Dickinson in constant supply! Full of high drama, rule breaking and controversy, its definitely a classic you don’t want to miss!

FAME 1980

This list would not be complete without this hall of fame movie. A cult classic, depicting the struggles of young students at a New York Performing Arts academy. Through Fame, the love of leg warmers and sweatbands was born, and made stretch Lycra an absolute must for dance class (Mr Motivator clearly drew inspiration from this film).

FLASH DANCE 1983

Following on from the back of the Fame popularity came Flash Dance. The rags to riches tale that taught us that anything is possible is we believe in it hard enough and work for it. It follows the story of a young woman who works 2 jobs to make ends meet but dreams of being a professional dancer and auditioning for a prestigious dance company. Cue 2 of the most iconic scenes in dance film history, particularly one that wished we all looked as glamorous if we’d had a bucket of water dumped on us!

COYOTE UGLY 2000

Okay so you got me, it’s not strictly a dance film but it’s one too kick ass to be missed off. A young girl heads to New York to pursue a singing career and gets a job in a local bar to become a bar tender with a difference. This film had every woman dancing on bars and tables (much to the dismay of the actual bar tenders I’m sure) and became an unconventional story of girl power! Girls rule and boys literally drool!

SAVE THE LAST DANCE 2001

Romance was truly at the heart of this film, a love really does conquer all kind of story. A promising ballerina is forced to move in with her Dad and attend a different, rough around the edges school. She falls in love with a local bad boy, and their inter-racial relationship causes issues for them. However she helps him on the straight and narrow and he gives her performances that special edge so she makes it through an important audition. This film is packed with music and moves that make you want to hit the dance floor and give it all you got, all night long! 

 

THE RED SHOES 1948

The oldest film on the list but boy is it a goodie! Starring real life ballerina, Moira Sheerer, she plays a ballerina who must choose between the love of her art and the love of her life. This film has the most dance content and technically correct choreography in it, and features snippets of well known ballet productions, including Hans Christian Anderson Red Shoes, which bewitch the wearer into dancing till their death! Mathew Bourne has recently adapted the story for his new stage production, which has already proved to be a huge success.

CENTER STAGE 2000

A teen classic, this film follows a group of young students at a dance academy as they prepare for a final production and the hurdles they face as they work towards getting into a renewed professional dance company. It details the struggles of young dancers today, and is like an up to date version of Fame, just a lot less shiny lycra, thank god!

BLACK SWAN 2010

A big box office success, and why wouldn’t it be, when its based around one of the best love ballets! It tells the story of a professional ballet company as they prepare for their production of Swan Lake. The main character is a perfect Odette – unassuming, modest, graceful, but has she got what it takes to transform into her alter ego Odile?! Featuring some amazing dance sequences, and classical music, it also has a dark undertone to the storyline. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! You can brush up on your Swan Lake knowledge here Ballet Classics – Swan Lake

And there we have it, my top dance movies you need to watch, if you haven’t already! Did your favourite make the list? Is there an epic dance film I’ve missed out and need to watch myself? Let me know, I could do with a good Netflix session for my – ahem – research!

 

Happy watching,

Dance Niche.

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