Rehearsal with (Alex)andra Taylor Dance

I’ve been in the studio with (Alex)andra Taylor Dance as we prepare for an upcoming performance in November. We have been playing around with the idea of “absorbing” each other in our improvisations. I find this sped up version of our improv warm-up playful and inspiring. We have a great connection to each other even when we are simply doing our own thing, and eventually we all find our way back to the group.

Check out Alex’s Website and facebook page!

Enjoy!

Advertisements

On Stretching

As a dancer, I can feel my body getting stiffer and less flexible within days of going without stretching. For most individuals it isn’t necessary to be able to touch your nose to your knees with your legs stretched out, so why is stretching so important?

While studying exercise physiology, I have begun to notice that there is a strange lack of consensus for or against stretching. As for preventing injuries and improving athletic performance, the research is conflicting. And although stretching can certainly help to increase and maintain range of motion over time, and this is becomes extremely beneficial as we age in terms of our functional ability to do activities of daily living, there is not a lot of research on what type of stretching works best.

Active or dynamic stretching is most often encouraged. Yoga would fall into this category. This type of movement encourages the lengthening of one muscle or muscle group while activating it’s antagonist. It incorporates slow movement throughout the entire range of movement. For example, lowering into a runner’s lunge will stretch out your hip flexor while challenging the quadriceps for stability and the hamstring of the opposite leg for support.

Static stretching is probably what most people think of when they hear stretching. This would involve the isolation of certain muscle and holding at the end point of that stretch for an extended length of time. For example,  lifting your elbow over your head and using your other hand to pull it toward the opposite side is a static stretch for your triceps.

Setting up for ballistic stretching can be similar to either dynamic and static but the idea would be to “bounce” into the stretch near the end point of that range of motion. One example would be reaching your arm overhead and leaning to the opposite side into a lateral flexion. This side stretch which lengthens the obliques and intercostal muscles of the elongated side is often repeated at the end point, and was popular in aerobic style classes.

There is also  passive stretching which requires a prop or a partner. This type of stretching necessitates for complete relaxation of the joint and surrounding muscles.  In yoga, the use of a strap to help stretch the hamstrings, while lying on your back, can be very helpful for people whose leg cannot exceed a 90 degree angle.

In my opinion, these are all valuable methods of stretching. Figuring out what works best for you will probably require some trial and error. Dance training utilizes all of these techniques, and incorporating a little of each into a routine will probably get you the best results.  And of course it will depend on what your end goal might be; maintaining hip and hamstring flexibility might be a priority if you want to be able to reach down and tie your shoes. For older populations, maintaining shoulder range of motion becomes helpful for activities such as dressing. One thing is for certain with flexibility and range of motion, if you aren’t “going there” today, you can’t expect to be able to be there tomorrow. In other words, if you don’t use it you lose it.

What I like about movement classes, is the fluidity you can achieve while stretching. This would be considered dynamic stretching but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or pushing toward the maximum stretch. Finding the range of motion in your rib cage and hips can just be about motion, and finding an ease in the joint. Tai Chi is a good example of this, and there have been multiple studies of why this is good for the joints and overall health. The body holds a lot of stress from our day to day lives and practicing some kind of movement technique helps you become more aware of what your body is doing and allowing your self to consciously let that tension go.   Personally I believe this is something we can all gain from, whether you are an athlete or just an individual wanting to become more active and stay in good shape as you age.

If you are not afraid of looking a little goofy, trying a movement improvisation based on circles and spirals in all of your joints might tell you a lot about your movement capacity.

If you aren’t into dancing around in your living room, here is a series of stretches you could do at work that might not attract too much attention.

1. For the front of the chest and shoulders: (great for posture) Find a door jam. Place your hands at shoulder height on either side of the door frame and allow yourself to fall forward opening up in your chest. Keep your core engaged for support and if you can keep your heels down you’ll get a bit of calf stretch as well.

2. For the glutes and lower back: (great for those of us who sit a lot) Sitting in a chair, put one ankle over the opposite knee and round forward into the stretch. Take a nice deep breath and try to relax in your hip socket. Repeat with the other leg.

3. For the neck (great to release tension): Sit up tall in your chair, drop your shoulders down, lift slightly in the sternum to open the chest. Lower your chin toward your chest hold for a few breaths and then begin circling your head. Imagine drawing a circle with the top of your head and be careful not to drop your head completely to the back. Repeat the circling in the other direction.

4. For the hip flexors (great for the front of the hip and the lower back): From standing, take a big step forward into a small lunge. Tilt your pelvis back trying to open up the front of the hip. Make sure your front knee is tracking over your foot and doesn’t go past your toe putting extra pressure on your knee. Stretch your back leg long and reach your heel toward the floor. If you are feeling strong here, you can raise the same arm as your back leg up over your head and lift up and over to the opposite side into a small lateral stretch. This will enhance the stretch of the hip flexor and test your balance.

5. For your obliques (great for the spine and core stability): Stand up with your feet together. Clasp your fingers together and rotate your arms so that your palms are facing away from your body. Raise your arms above your head and slowly reach up and over to the right side. Imagine lengthening the left side while keeping the hips stable and your weight evenly dispersed on both feet. On your next inhale slowly lift back up to standing before starting on the opposite side. Careful to only go as far as you can control, this stretch requires quite a bit of core strength if you are doing it correctly!

Take deep breaths during your stretches and if you start to feel pain back away. Some stretches are more uncomfortable than others but you should never feel sharp pain, this may be a sign that you are stretching too far.

Nurturing our Practice

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with my lovely friend esther. She is an amazing yoga teacher and is studying thai massage as well. For quite some time now, we’ve been swapping sessions with each other whenever we get the chance. We actually met at the Ohio State University’s dance program, I was in undergrad and she was getting her Masters, and then we reconnected here in New York.

It does not surprise me that so many dancers begin to turn to other forms of movement and teaching. The connection with the body and movement rarely just leaves someone after they’ve spent years training in a studio and performing and creating and experimenting. Even if that person decides their dancing days are over, they often find something else to fill that void. While I still love to dance, and jump at any opportunity that arises for me to play around in the studio, I’m glad that I’ve found a way to connect with this unique knowledge that I’ve gained after fifteen years of traditional dance training and to bring that into each class I teach.

“Swaps”, as we call them, are such a nurturing way of giving back and continuing the education. Esther has been giving me private yoga and meditation sessions and I’ve been training her with Pilates techniques. While the two forms are drastically different in style and philosophy we surprise ourselves with the underlying connections and often pause during our sessions to discuss possibilities about anatomy and why each practice approaches specific movements with slight differences. It keeps our own practices fresh and makes us think about why we do what we were taught to do, or if maybe we should think about doing things differently. No matter what we decide, it’s the conversation that keeps us on our toes.

Irene Dowd Interview

I ran across this old interview with Irene Dowd that was published in Dance Magazine back in 2005. I love the way Irene describes movement and anatomy. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a workshop with her looking at the shoulder girdle and the anterior serratus. She is such an amazing teacher with the ability to break things down to a functional and graspable thought that can be applied to any movement practice.

In the interview, I especially love the question about visualization. Before we move we have to have some sort of idea of what the movement is going to be so we all use visualization whether we are conscious about it or not. Our brains are constantly communicating with the rest of our body. This becomes important when trying to correct old habits or change the way we initiate movement. Irene has extensive experience in re-training motor control processes and she does this through visualization techniques. You can re-train your body, it takes a bit of conscious thought and practice, but it can be done.

The question and answer below is great as well:

DO WE GET INTO TROUBLE BY HAVING A “RIGHT” IDEA OF HOW TO MOVE?

“Right” varies according to the movement goal. We are artists first, and our goal is to serve our art. “Right” is constantly changing. Mabel Todd used to say, “The mind is an instrument of thought, not a museum.” We are constantly learning.

 

 

Revisited

This weekend, At CPR, Center for Performing Research, in Williamsburg, SUNY Brockport dance alumni are presenting new work in a show entitled Revisited.

Marisa Ballaro, a dear friend of mine, and a Certified Personal Trainer, has choreographed a short piece using the music of the band, wakos (wise and kind old souls). It’s part of a larger process that will involve a live performance with the band and aerialists at The Muse in Williamsburg.

I’m thrilled to be a part of this project and can’t wait to see where it leads us. It is so refreshing to be dancing and doing something that I truly enjoy. With the craziness of the city and struggling to get through each day, it is a fantastic reminder of why I choose to live in this city and live this life.

As an alum of The Ohio State University I would love to see all of us Ohioans living here in NY get together to do something similar. It’s always good to be creating and collaborating with your peers!

Revisited details:

When:  Friday, January 20th OR Saturday, January 21st – 7:30pm
Where: Center for Performance Research – 361 Manhattan Ave., Unit 1 (Williamsburg, BK)
Tickets: $20 (https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/214125)

In Focus

Recently in rehearsal with Marisa Ballaro, we were discussing the ever importance of focus.

Focus changes how we perceive what we are seeing, what we are feeling, and what we see when we watch it. It’s amazing to me what a difference it makes in someone’s dancing when they have an active focus. It becomes more intentional, more committed, even more full bodied- even if the only thing they change is really seeing whatever is in their view. It’s exhilarating to watch a dancer who is fully aware of her surroundings, of the other dancers, of the audience. It is a point of engagement.

focus: n., a center of activity, attraction, or attention. Also, a point of concentration.

Focus brings purpose to a dance. It gives the dancer a purpose, something to convey to the viewer.

It’s no coincidence that focus is one of the principles of the Pilates Method. What a difference exercising with full awareness of what you are doing makes to the overall experience and effect. The eyes can be thought of as a major link to the mind body connection which is so important when exercising or doing any type of movement. The body is instinctively smart and by letting the mind become more involved in what the body is doing, you give it a chance to do what it naturally wants to do, making movement easier and more efficient.

Thinking about the gravity of it’s involvement in dance and movement made me think about how this can translate into everyday life. Every type of action or goal needs an underlying focus. As simple as this may be, I think sometimes I forget about the main goal and go through the motions of what I think I should be doing at that moment, whether its with my friends and family or with my career or with a stranger on the street. So often I find myself walking down the streets of new york city completely blurring everything around me, stuck in my interior thoughts. I usually get my motivation and inspiration for ideas just by watching the people around me so it’s no wonder that I give myself a hard time for not always paying attention. How much have I been missing?