Why I Tend Not to Offer a Typical “Dance” Class

If you haven’t noticed, I don’t offer the run-of-the-mill dance class: ballet, tap, modern, jazz, ballroom…  And by this, I mean the format I grew up with and have continued to see (I’m sure there are exceptions): warm-up at the barre, across the floor repetitions, and execution of choreographed phrases, on count, to enhance technique. Here’s why:

1. I prefer to work with concepts rather than steps.
I want my students, all ages, to learn to feel and understand how their body moves.  Often in traditional classes, yoga included, students watch and mimic.  This can keep students in their heads and not observant of actually how their body is executing the movements or keeping aware of how those movements feel.  This is when injury results. This also limits movement vocabulary.  In my classes students find, through their own experimentation, the full range of leaping, rolling, big, wavy, extension, sharp, shape, traveling.  They can execute from an internal point any movement fairly easily, or have the tools to practice a more difficult movement they have discovered or witnessed.

2.  I really don’t wish to have a bunch of little me’s running around.
Every body, every personality, is DIFFERENT. I celebrate diversity and rejoice in witnessing individual spirits shine.  I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong” way to dance.  How limiting!  I like seeing individual’s own style develop.  Because each body is structurally and habitually each different, students will execute similar movements differently – sometimes drastically.  This can be frustrating for them, but I’d rather work toward accepting our bodies and working toward healthy goals.  It is not unknown that often traditional classes can cause issues of perfectionism and poor body image.

3. In my opinion, children under the age of 9 are not developed physically, emotionally, or mentally enough to handle technique.
Children are malleable!  Holy cats this is amazingly true.  But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.  By the age of nine children have gone through magnanimous amounts of natural physical development and growth.  They need time to know this body and get comfortable with it once its reached a period of slow down.  They need to discover, “What can I already do?”  They also have gone through so much brain development, a lot of which isn’t addressed, that excessive discipline, mental rigors, and pressures can be too much (which they get a lot of already in other places).  The stress response to this pressure is sometimes not noticeable, often internalized.  I want children to know that the way they are already made is perfect.
I feel this is particularly true for the more sensitive children or those slower to develop.  I watch my own youngsters awkwardly moving, so disconnected from their own body – and instead of trying to make them control those bodies I want them to ground and become aware that they are those bodies.

4. There are so many more things I can accomplish by not sticking to a regular class format:
– I can help specifically nurture movement and brain development
– use activities they already enjoy to provide structure and learning
– discovery and exploration of more vocabulary, which helps naturally boost self-esteem
– I can expose them to more influences.  The more we see/hear/touch the more we have as tools for expression.
– I can use yoga and Bartenieff to tone (more on that below).

5. I want to offer classes that encourage the best bone alignment and muscle balance.
Studies have shown that early and prolonged study of ballet can be brutal and harmful on the body – particularly on the spine and knees (see below for some examples).  Adults have habitual postural holds that have given them issues preventing them from executing full range of motion.  New studies are out constantly on structural health – I want to stay abreast of as many as I can and not adhere to an age-old technique (beautiful as they are).  My main goal is to help remind bodies of their natural, individual design and strengthen them from the inside out – but not over the top!  As much as we are a society of obesity and lack of exercise, I feel we are also a society of excess fitness.  i.e. Tired!

I believe that Bartenieff Fundamentals and Yoga combined are the best tools to reconnect, align, educate and tone our bodies.  These are styles that combine body/mind/spirit for full wellness, deeper integration and self-empowerment.  Bartenieff’s return to fundamentals can repair missed stages and enhance mobility while protecting from injury. Yoga addresses each area of the body equally and delivers peace.

Examples of studies on the negative impacts of ballet, not just for those that do it intensely – you will also find positive benefits if you do your research:

– International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/Public/Bull_4-1_pp10-13_Radell.pdf, “Body Image and Mirror Use in the Ballet Class”
– Society for Personality Research, http://www.tpettijohn.net/academic/Price-Pettijohn_Ballet%20Dance%20Attire%20(2006).pdf, “The Effect of Ballet Dance Attire on Body and Self-Perceptions of Female Dancers”
– Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, http://www.citraining.com/Injury-Stress-Perfectionism.html, “Injury, Stress, and Perfectionism in Young Dancers and Gymnasts”
–  Healthychildren.org, http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sports/Pages/Ballet-and-Dance.aspx
– National Center for Biotechnology Information,  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21703093, “The effects of nutrition, puberty and dancing on bone density in adolescent ballet dancers
– The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/51/5/779.short, “Nutrition and the incidence of stress fractures in ballet dancers”
British Journal of Sports Medicine, http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/40/4/299.abstract, “Dance training intensity at 11–14 years is associated with femoral torsion in classical ballet dancers”
 The New England Journal of Medicine,  http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM198605223142104, Scoliosis and Fractures in Young Ballet Dancers 

6. Healthy Approach to Competition and Performance
In my classes, students “perform” for each other in every class (particularly in the Expressive Movement classes), often subtle-ly.  This helps the shy because they don’t realize they are being witnessed.  Self-confidence is comfortably and slowly built.  Students are encouraged to show their parents what they’ve been working on.  In class students are watching each other, with respect, so they push each other in healthy ways.  For those that are heavily attracted to and comfortable with public performances, there are occasional opportunities with me to perform.

7. Honestly, I don’t practice those styles anymore, so they aren’t in my mental memory.  Additionally, they were not kind to my self-esteem so I am not confident in them.

Finally, I want everyone to know they can dance!  No matter age or experience.  From the fit to the tattered and out of shape – see how much you can move!

So when you are considering dance for you or your child, ask yourself WHY you seek it – what are your goals, what do you want to learn, what benefits are you seeking.  Scout around and find the option that really will help you achieve these. This includes finding a teacher you fit well with. Typically, when people say “I want to learn how to dance” what they mean is two things: One, they mean, “I want to learn a specific skill,” and two, they mean, “I want to express myself.”

Learning a specific skill is extremely satisfying and healthily challenging for our brain.  But keep in mind that there is not ONE right way to dance, you can’t do it wrong.  In fact, it is inherent – any parent of a toddler can see it is a natural form of expression.  So if you want to learn a specific type of dance consider if you are fully ready: are you confident with your own body, are you already fairly coordinated, have you been exposed to several styles?

If you want to express yourself, be sure that you aren’t choosing an outlet that doesn’t internally tear down your self-opinions – find a choice that lets you move how you want to move and doesn’t demand that you look a certain way.

For my children it is important that they feel comfortable in their own bodies and individuality, their overall health is extremely important to me, and I want them to feel beautiful and accepted as they are.  This is more important to me than learning discipline and form.  I am not overly concerned with how their dancing looks and know that discipline is going to be a part of any activity they are involved in.

I believe in these things and offer them for those who also believe in them. 

Right now, I AM offering a Contemporary Dance class for adults.  On Sundays from 3:50-4:50pm.  I know this will be a fun way to connect with you, connect with friends, build some endurance, release some stress, and help familiarize you with my work.  It won’t be available for long 🙂 – come while you can!


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