Walking On Air

As I’ve only recently gained an interest in Dancing With the Stars, it wasn’t until a week ago that I stumbled upon a piece done in 2013 for the show. It’s called “Walking On Air” and it features the choreographer and well known DWTS professional, Derek Hough alongside dancer Jamie Goodwin.

This piece was visually impeccable to me, and after watching it one time, I couldn’t stop. I felt the need to share it will you all, so I’ll put the video right here:

This piece was choreographed on a rotating room, something famously done first by Fred Astaire in the 1951 musical “Royal Wedding”. The song was “You’re All the World to Me”, and was charming, captivating and cool. Fred Astaire, of course being Fred Astaire, executed it rather flawlessly, despite the real difficulty and stamina it requires. This piece made the dance history books, so much so that Derek was asked to recreate it for Dancing With the Stars.

When watching this piece, I was rather blown away. While the dancing and decorations are well-executed, my first thought was the choreography. To have to choreograph something not only to the music, but to the movement of the room you’re in as well is not an ordinary task. It seems I was not the only one to acknowledge this tricky and terrific feat, as Derek received an Emmy for his work on this piece as well as two others.

In choreographing a dance like this, it takes a lot of thinking outside the box, as well as strength and technique. You can’t tell from watching this, but at one point, Derek in holding on to furniture which appears to be on the floor, but is actually on the ceiling. It’s so well done, that even if you try to keep track of the rotation, you’ll eventually become lost in it. That’s why someone was kind enough to place the rotation from the ground and the rotation of the room side by side so we can see how such magic was created. I prefer to watch the original version, because it has a much more magical feel, and is so captivating to watch. If you want to watch the side-by-side video, to understand where exactly the room is click here. If you want to watch the behind the scenes, click here. To read more about times when rotating rooms were used in cinema, click this link which will take you to an interesting article I found online about such moments.

I thought you all might find this as intriguing as I did. I think it’s important to appreciate the talent of others, and find inspiration in their work. I know I was inspired by Derek’s work, hopefully you were too.

(Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home, regular walls won’t rotate, and gravity is not yet able to be defied :D)

– M

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Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

I’ve met a number of people who have told myself, my friends, and my fellow dancers, “Dance is a short lived career, you might wanna just keep it as a hobby”. I’ve had friends give up on their dreams of being a professional dance because they thought it “wasn’t realistic”. But then again, I’ve also had friends who have chased this dream.

“Do the thing you think cannot do”, Eleanor Roosevelt once said. My Mom used to tell me this when I was a child. However, it wasn’t until recently that this really struck a chord with me. As someone who has not had too much dance training, but has a strong passion for dance itself, I am constantly torn between my desire to do something and the limitations holding me back. I thought of making some sort of career in dance, but always told myself, “You don’t have the technique, the experience, or the training to”. That’s true. I don’t have the technique, or the experience that other dancers have, but I do have the passion. That’s why I decided while maybe majoring in Dance wouldn’t be for me, minoring would be a good idea. I decided that with my Major in Business Management, Minor in International Business and Minor in Dance, I can give myself a number of opportunities. I can travel, make connections, and learn new cultures all I want, and when I think it’s the right time, open my own dance studio with my best friend. My best friend took a different approach.

Her name is Cassandra, and she’s been studying dance since she was three. She’s done every type of dance, from ballet to hip hop, and is one of the best dancers I know. She loves it, and you can see that in her expression every time she performs. She went through a very difficult internal debate her senior year. She would be graduating from her dance studio, and she was undecided if dancing was something she should continue doing as a profession or as a past time. She told me that she was scared of the uncertainty that comes with being a dancer, and she thought maybe she should just become a doctor, to ensure her finances and her future. But then she realized that her life wouldn’t be the same without her feet hitting the dance floor everyday, and that convinced her to take on two majors; one in dance, one in biology. For now, she works towards being a professional dancer, but she knows she always has biology in her back pocket.

Now, there will be dancers who choose not to go to college, either to continue their training, or because of job offers, and it’s not entirely necessary. However, studies have shown that dancers tend to need some type of extended education after their dance career ends. This is why I encourage all dancers out there to consider college. It’s important to chase your dreams, most definitely. However, don’t do so recklessly. Having a back up option does not mean having no faith in your initial plan, it just means you’re prepared for whatever the first plan throws at you. And always remember that preparation is key.

You can do other things besides formal education. Health and fitness are extremely beneficial. Keeping your body flexible and strong can help reduce the risk of an injury that postpones or ends your dance career. Eating right keeps your body active and in shape, which is important for any lifestyle, but especially for dancing. However, there’s other steps you can take as well.

Being involved in the dance community can show great promise in prolonging your dance career. That’s how Bonnie Homsey was able to do so. In an interview with her for the Back Stage East in 2007, Homsey says “‘There were many more-talented dancers than me out there, but lots of them didn’t sustain careers in dance because they didn’t have what was needed to live the artist’s life.’ A model for anyone interested in a lifelong career in dance, Homsey not only sustained a longer-than-usual career as a performer but also extended her work into nonperforming areas, allowing her to remain active in the professional dance world far longer than the average terp.” So yes, while this article does say it’s difficult to sustain a long dance career, it is not impossible, as Bonnie Homsey proves. She founded a dance company, which helped her to stay in the dance world longer, as well as kept herself in shape and got an understanding of both Business and Dance.

I have to give a forewarning that the dance career can be really difficult. There’s no promises in it, and it can be a hard fall before you really even get up. Even so, you’ll never know until you try. This isn’t a career you can wish your way into, it takes hard work and sacrifice, but this career can be fun and leave you feeling fulfilled.

So, I encourage all that wish to, to chase your dreams of being a dancer, no matter how much you might convince yourself to do otherwise. Make sure to prepare yourself, either physically, with healthy living and exercise, or mentally, with education in a different field. There’s no such thing as too much preparation, so take any steps you think might be beneficial in securing your future and supporting your dream.

And always:

Chandelier vs. All God’s Creatures

If you’re any young aspiring dancer, there is a good chance you’ve heard of the show “Dance Moms”. If you’ve heard of the show, then you’ve probably hear the name “Maddie Ziegler” more than once. On the show, Maddie is Abby Lee’s (the studio owner’s) top star pupil. She wins most, if not all, dance competitions she enters, and trains hours upon hours everyday. She is constantly the one everyone is compared to, and she has recently stumbled upon a great amount of success in the dance world. In just the last year, Maddie has starred in three music videos, performed at the Grammy’s, and found herself on talk show hosts such as Ellen. It all began with the first music video: Chandelier by Sia.

Sia, a famous Australian popstar, found Maddie through watching her in Dance Moms. She says now that she “figured if she could cause her to tear up doing these competition pieces, she must really have a talent.” (more on this comment late). In this video, she plays a “Sia state” or a representation of Sia, and she has a somewhat “possessed personality”. It’s a very moving piece that gained a lot of attention, and with it, a lot of controversy. It’s one of the most watched videos of all time on YouTube, and the video was nominated for multiple awards.

It has become one of my favorite videos, partly because of the confusing and yet astounding choreography, partly because it truly showcased Maddie’s talent, and partly because it brought back attention to the art of dancing. It’s a much different dance than Maddie’s typical competition dances, most definitely, and while there are some tricks in it, it’s easily more striking and thoughtful than any other piece Maddie had performed previously. First, check out these two videos below. First, is the Chandelier music video. The one below it is one of Maddie’s most famous competition dances which received a perfect score. I encourage you to watch both in full screen. Watch both, and then continue reading below.

There’s common ground in both videos: a tremendous use of facial expression, great form and lines, and excellent connection to the character in telling the story. But when it comes to the complexity of choreography… well there’s not much in common.

In the Chandelier video, there’s really nothing very “competitiony” about it. It’s a lot of different intricate movements. Each movement in the piece adds to the story, each part is it’s own line of the story. Even little details, like when she is at the table and moves her hand to her mouth (which is sign language for “I’m hungry”) tells the story of the difficult life Sia is trying to depict. The whole story of the video is about the song, and the problems with alcoholism Sia had to face. Maddie is Sia. She, as I see it, is going crazy between being the “party girl”, the one that everyone loves, and her own raging alcoholic as described in the song. She’s “the one for a good time call”. In other words, she’s trying to distract herself from her own issues by partying. If you notice, she interacts with all of the windows that have light coming through them, never the darkened window. This, I believe, is to symbolize the desire to escape, to “see the light”. Notice as I say all of this, I begin my thoughts with “I believe”.

That’s just it: pieces like this are so masterfully created that there’s thousands of ways to interpret them. They could mean exactly what you think, or it could be something else entirely. Surely, the choreographer had an idea in mind when he made the piece, but it doesn’t mean that our interpretations are any more incorrect than the original. It’s like interpreting a poem; you can’t just read it once and understand it, it’s originally going to make no sense. It takes close observation and rereading to fully understand what the creator is trying to convey, and even then you might find something entirely different.

Dances like the “All God’s Creatures”, “competition dances”, they don’t have that complexity. They’re very clearly interpreted, purely just by reading/hearing the title of the piece. Sure, they are performed beautifully, and they demonstrate the dancer’s many different “trick” abilities, but they don’t really tell a story. The most the story is really portrayed is through Maddie’s expressions, costume, and music. The rest of it is turn after turn, leap after leap, and sometimes, if they get really crazy, a turn into a leap. There’s no complex movements that try to portray the story. That is what separates “artistic” dancing from competition dancing. That’s what really makes the art of dance beautiful.

There’s no denying that watching both pieces are entertaining and both are performed beautifully. But there’s clearly something more to Chandelier. The movements make you want to watch it over and over, to try and catch a hidden meaning in something you didn’t see the first time. When you watch All God’s Children, or really any other pieces that Maddie has performed, you know what to expect, and you know that it will be good but it will be typical.

That’s what I want aspiring dancer’s to see, and to strive for. To perform because you want each movement to mean something to the story in the song, and you want to leave whatever audience there is, with something to interpret. Competition dance is pretty, and fun, absolutely. But it doesn’t have the same shock value, or attention to detail as artistic dancing.

I encourage young dancers, and even choreographers, to try and give themselves a challenge. Next time you’re dancing for fun, free styling or in class, or choreographing a piece for your students, try and limit the number of turns you do in one piece. Try to keep the number of jumps to somewhere between one and three. Make the movements more about the story and less about the glory. You may just gain a whole new perspective on the song, on your talent, and on yourself.

Stretching

If there’s one exercise that every dancer needs to make sure they do daily, it’s stretching. Not only is stretching important for flexibility, but it keeps your muscles loose and healthy. It’s very easy to succumb to an injury from lack of stretching; I myself, have pulled my hamstring before because of rushed and improper stretching. A number of dancers have torn ligaments that have ended their careers, either temporarily or permanently. So basically, why not stretch?

Stretching might seem time consuming, painful, and inconvenient. However it’s very easy, and very beneficial. Stretching is good not only for dancers but for non-dancers as well. Many athletes stretch before practice to enable their muscles and joints to reach their full range of motion. It’s important for the average person, athletic or not, to wake their muscles up with a good stretch. You probably don’t realize how often you stretch daily; when you wake up in the morning, one of the first things you do is probably stretch all of your muscles out to wake them up, right? Giving your muscles a good stretch after a long period of sitting still helps the stiffness and tightness of your muscles go away. It’s a wake up call to your muscles to get ready to move and it feels nice to have a good stretch, doesn’t it? I know every time I stretch out my muscles I give out a giant sigh of relief. It’s a nice and quick way to feel more awake.

But even non-athletes can benefit from the more intense and prolonged stretching. You see, stretching increases blood flow to the muscles. It also increases flexibility, and the more you stretch the more flexible you become. I know you might be thinking, well if I don’t dance, why should flexibility matter to me? An understandable question that has an understandable answer; a lack of flexibility can cause movement to become slower and less fluid, making an individual more susceptible to muscle strains or other soft tissue injuries. This can hinder both active lifestyles, and the day-to-day, normal motions we all go through. Stretching your lower back can lead to improved posture, not to mention that an increase in flexibility leads to an increase in balance and coordination.

So know that you know why you should stretch, here’s some tips on how to go about stretching and some stretches that will benefit dancers and non-dancers alike.

1. When you stretch, put on music. Music helps you keep pace and count of how long you’ve been doing a certain stretch and it will encourage you to keep going. The type of music depends on the type of stretching. For a faster-paced set of stretching, you may want to go with hip-hop or pop. This type of stretching may be more beneficial for hip-hop and jazz dancers. If you’re going for a slower-paced stretch, such as a ballet dancer might prefer, you may want to choose slower, classical music. You may want to choose an upbeat song to get you going and motivated. It all depends on what your preference and style is, do what is best for you.

2. Make sure to engage all parts of the body, including the neck and the feet. It’s easier than you think to pull a muscle in your neck or to get pains in your ankles and feet from twisting your foot the wrong way without proper stretching. Roll your head in circular motions to stretch your neck, even something as simple as turning your head to the right, and left will help. Also, try rolling your foot on your ankle to avoid ankle injury, and point and unpoint your feet to stretch them out (this means to push your toes and arch down to the ground and then to release them to their usual position).

3. This is my own personal tip that I’ve made for myself that has helped me through the years. There are times when you may be stretching where it’s painful to hold the position so you release after holding it for 3-5 seconds. To avoid doing this, and to make sure I am properly stretching in full, I will sometimes bite on my lower lip with pressure, and focus my thoughts on the pain in my lip rather than the pain in my legs or hamstrings. In doing this, it is important to be careful not to bite too hard as you don’t want to actually cause any harm to yourself. If you find that you can you change your thought process without doing this, all the better! Also, be sure not to push yourself too hard, because you can damage your muscles even by just stretching. Don’t do anything you know your body isn’t ready for; for example, don’t go for a fully split your first time stretching. It’s important to pace yourself.

As for actual stretches, here are links to different stretches you can do. The titles of these links may say “Stretches for dancers” but I recommend them to dancers and non-dancers alike.

http://www.dancespirit.com/your-body/the-best-stretches-youre-not-doing/

http://www.wikihow.com/Stretch-Properly-for-Dance

In attempting these stretches, my final and possibly most important statement in this: don’t overdo it. It’s important to gain flexibility, and you may think that after two or three stretching sessions, you’ll be ready for a split. Absolutely not. And that’s okay. However, you will see improvement in your general “bounciness” and your muscles will feel more fluid. Pushing yourself to do an incredibly painful stretch will not make you “stretchier” in a day. A lot of stretching has to do with relaxing your muscles. Take it at a pace that’s right for you, and remember that time and consistency will give you the results.

It’s important before attempting any exercise that you give your body a good stretch. You’ll find you perform better as well as feel better, and what more could you ask for? So whether you want to be able to pull your straddle jump higher, or you want to less tight and tense, stretching has lasting benefits as well as positive inputs in your dance, or day-to-day, performances.

What About Dance?

Hello there!

If you’ve found this blog, and you’re curious as to what it’s all about then this is the best post to start with. This blog is entirely dedicated to dance, as you may tell by the head title. Every subject matter on this blog will have something relating to dance; however, not all of these posts are dedicated purely to dancers. Many of these posts will be an invitation to non-dancers as well..

As a dancer myself, I have a lot of love for the art. I’ve been dancing for 5.5 years (since I was 13) and but I’ve loved it since I was born. I feel a strong connection to the subject and I think that there are a lot of issues in the dance world that the rest of the world is unaware of. I want to bring these issues forward in a way that interests all people.

My hopes for this blog, to summarize, are to achieve three main goals.                                       1. I want to raise awareness about the need for attention to health in dancing, and hope to do so by discussing the different ways a dancer can prepare their body from an early age to help them dance longer.                                                                                                                 2. I want to raise awareness about the difficulty dancers face in transitioning from their dance career to a new one, and to offer them a solution to the stress they might endure during it by giving them one universal solution; preparation.                                                            3. I want to raise awareness of dance in general. I want people, dancers and non-dancers, to find an interest in the art, and to find something in it or about it that they can relate to. I want them to realize dance is not purely turns and leaps, but it is creative and artistic expression.I want to discuss different dances, and to help people find the meaning in the movements.

There are four categories, listed in the top bar menu; Exercise & Health, Artistic vs. Competition, Advice, and Miscellaneous. Exercise & Health is about exactly what you might think, Exercise and Health. It’s important in anyone’s life to have a healthy lifestyle, and the tips in this section can help you do so. Artistic vs. Competition is a section dedicated to comparing the artistic style or dance and the dance style seen at dance competitions in an effort to help people identify the difference. Advice is a section for dancers mainly, and is a section with stories of dancers who found a way to prolong their dance career, and tips on how to do so. Lastly, Miscellaneous is any interesting stories or pieces I find that I think might be interesting or beneficial to my readers. Feel free to explore any of the sections, even if you’re a non-dancer, you may find the advice section interesting, or find something that inspires you to become a dancer.

So you see, you don’t have to be a dancer, or be involved in the dance world to find a connection to dance, and to this blog. I want this to be a blog that will benefit dancers and non-dancers alike, and I hope you find something in its contents that you find interesting or useful.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this blog! I have plenty in store.

– M