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Mixed Berry Crisp


Everyone in the studio coming down with something?  Here's a delicious way to get your daily dose of vitamin C, over 95% of your potassium, over a quarter of your daily fiber and a lot more healthy things.  I made mine in a cast iron skillet, but it works just as well in a glass baking dish.  The nutritional information is based on the specifics I note in the ingredients.



8 - 9 cups of fresh berries *

1/4 cup - pure maple syrup **

1/3 cup flour***

Juice of 1 small lemon

3 Tbs of aged balsamic ****


1/4 cup sugar in the raw or light brown sugar

1/4 cup date sugar - (date sugar is ground dried dates)

3/4 cup flour***

3/4 cup old fashioned oats

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces*****

*8 1/4 cups mixed between strawberries and blackberries worked well in a 10" deep skillet, 9 cups should move up to a 12" deep skillet).  

** If you make this in the summer when berries are peaking, you can probably skip this

***I used Bob's red mill paleo flour which is a blend of almond, coconut and tapioca flour.  Straight coconut or straight almond flour did not work well alone in my previous attempts.

**** I used an aged chocolate raspberry balsamic which was yum!

*****I used 100% grassfed butter, one of the benefits of using grass fed butter is a 1:1 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids


Preheat your oven to 375 F

1.  If you are using the cast iron skillet, mix all the filling ingredients in the skillet and smooth it over.  If using a casserole dish, mix the filling ingredients in a bowl and then put in the glass baking dish.

2.  Mix the dry topping ingredients and then either cut in or use your hands to mix the butter into the dry ingredients until it creates pea sized pieces.

3.  Pour the topping ingredients onto the filling ingredients.  

4.  Bake on the middle rack for 35 - 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the inside is bubbling.  Let stand 10  minutes before serving.

Nutrition (based on 8 servings from the recipe)

Calories - 354

Total Carbs - 40.6 gram

Fiber - 7 gram

Sugars - 21.6 grams

Fat - 15.2 grams

Saturated fat - 8.4 grams

Protein 4.6 grams

Vitamin A - 564 IU ( 11% of DV)

Vitamin C - 71.1 mg (118% of DV)

Vitamin E - 0.9 mg (4% of DV)

Vitamin K - 11.2 mcg (14% of DV)

Thiamin - 0.1mg (5% of DV)

Riboflavin - 0.1mg (3% of DV)

Niacin - 1.1 mg (5% of DV)

Vitamin B6 - 0.1mg (5% of DV)

Folate - 45 mcg (11% of DV)

Pantothenic Acid - 0.3 mg (3% of DV)

Choline - 13.7 mg

Betaine - 0.2 mg

Calcium - 200 mg (20% of DV)

Iron - 1.6 mg (9% of DV) - this does not take cooking in cast iron into account

Magnesium - 40.4 mg (10% of DV)

Phosphorus - 78 mg (8% of DV)

Potassium - 3357 mg (96% of DV)

Sodium - 10.3 mg  

Zinc - 1 mg (7% of DV)

Copper - 0.2 mg (8% of DV)

Manganese - 1.7 mg (83% of DV)

Selenium - 2.9 mcg (4% of DV)

Cholesterol - 30 mg (10% of DV)

Phytosterols - 13.8 mg

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Fixing the Fouetté


These are the notes from an class I taught on the subject at the Dance Teacher Summit in 2011.  For clarification, these skills are meant to be cumulative, over years of training and not progressions to be drilled one class after the other in short term training.  If you have been working on fouetté turns with dancers and having a problem with execution, a suggestion is to go through the list of movement components individually and find the one(s) that is/are problematic and start by correcting those first and then re-evaluate.

Foundational Components

1 - Plié and relevé on the supporting leg 

Observing the foot barefoot (if possible) and correct any issues you find

- Maintain weight distribution in a tripod (pad of the big toe, little toe and center of the heel) through the movement of plié and straightening

- Maintain an even weight distribution across the metatarsal shelf in relevé.

- Control the foot alignment and weight distribution through the transition from plié to relevé and back into plié.

Observing the ankle alignment and correct any issues you find

- Maintain a neutral ankle alignment - as related to the position of the lower leg and foot

     * In plié, watch for gripping of the anterior tibialis.  The front of the ankle should remain soft on the descent.

     *  In plié, maintain the weight balance as described above.  Watch for rolling in or out in the arch.

     * In relevé, watch for rolling in and out.

     * Press the ball of the foot into the floor to create the relevé action as opposed to popping up.

Observing the knee alignment and correct any issues you find

- Maintain a neutral alignment as related to the hip and lower leg / ankle.

- Watch for changes in the knee alignment, especially through the plié and relevé transitions

- Correct hyperextension, encourage dancers to find straight instead.

- Remind dancers to fully straighten their knee (without going into hyperextension).

Observing the hip / pelvis alignment and correct any issues you find

- Maintain a neutral pelvic position

     * Watch for anterior tilt of the pelvis, often seen in dancers with short or tight hip flexors and sometimes compensating for a shallow plié

     *  Watch for posterior tilt of the pelvis, often seen in dancers with short or tight hamstrings anend dancers who don't understand the difference between dropping their tailbone and tucking under.

- Maintain turnout at the top of the thigh in the hip socket

- Consistency in the amount of turnout throughout the plié and relevé.

2 - Movement of the Gesture Leg


- Maintain turnout at the top of the thigh in the hip socket.

- The gesture leg does not turn out from losing turnout on the supporting leg.

- The dancer's side alignment is dependent on his/her turnout.

Battement Devant

- Pelvis remains neutral

     * Avoid tucking the pelvis under to try to increase the height of the gesture leg instead of working at the height allowed by the hamstring mobility.

     * Work on hip / thigh dissociation to avoid hip hike.

- Maintain a consistent height to the gesture leg through the plié and relevé

Rond de jambe front to side

- Maintain the turnout of both legs.

- Open the leg to the dancer's natural side position.

- Maintain the height of the leg throughout the movement.

- Maintain the pelvis over the supporting leg.

- Work on the timing of the gesture leg to coordinate with the supporting leg plié and relevé.


- Maintain the position of the thigh during the back / front beat

- Control the movement to avoid snapping.

- Watch for torque at the knee.

3 - Rotation of the Body


- Maintain neutral alignment throughout the overall body

     * Watch for forward / backward hinging of the torso on the pelvis

     *  Maintain alignment throughout the transition between plié and relevé

Shoulder Girdle 

- Arm placement is such that torso / ribcage position is neutral

- Arm height is regulated to avoid lifting shoulders or extending spine

- The 2nd position arms are not opened too far side (watch the upper arm at the shoulder socket)

- The distance of the hands from the torso allows for the upper body to remain stacked over the hips

- There is enough strength and endurance in the deltoid muscles to maintain a supported arm position.

- The shoulder blades remain flat against the ribcage - avoid protracting /retracting / winging.


- Time the descent into plié to avoid sitting in the plié and losing the potential energy created during the plié.

- Control the descent to avoid dropping into the plié.

- Work on the timing to transition between the plié and the relevé smoothly.

- Coordinate the timing of the gesture and supporting leg movements.

- Coordinate the timing of the arms with the legs.



Preparatory Exercises / Progressions

Single Leg Plié and Relevé

  • Coupé  
    • parallel barre
    • parallel center
    • turned out barre
    • turned out center
  • Retiré 
    • turned out barre
    • turned out center
  • Leg held devant 
    • 45 degrees barre
    • 90 degrees barre
    • 45 degrees center
    • 90 degrees center
  • Leg held à la seconde
    • 45 degrees barre
    • 90 degrees barre
    • 45 degrees center
    • 90 degrees center

Rond de Jambe en l’air

  • Grand rond de jambe en l’air flat
    • 45 degrees barre
    • 90 degrees barre
    • 45 degrees center
    • 90 degrees center
  • Grand rond de jambe en l’air relevé
    • 45 degrees barre
    • 90 degrees barre
  • Rond de jambe en l’air en dehors flat
    • barre
    • center
  • Rond de jambe en l’air en dehors relevé
    • barre

Putting it all together

  • Preparation exercises at the barre
    • Plié 5th, brush the leg front, open side
    • Plié 5th, brush the leg front, AST relevé on supporting leg, open side
    • Plié 5th, brush the leg front, AST relevé on supporting leg, open side, beat back /front
    • Plié 5th, brush the leg front, AST relevé on supporting leg, open side, beat back / front w/ turn
  • Preparation exercise in the center
    • Pirouette from 5th 
    • Pirouette from 5th with balance ending retiré
    • Pirouette from 4th back 
    • Pirouette from 4th back with balance ending retiré
    • Pirouette from 4th  or 5th ending developpé front in plié
    • Pirouette from 4th or 5th ending developpé front in plié, relevé open leg to 2nd
    • Pirouette from 4th or 5th and 1 fouetté
  • Building up repetitions
    • continue to add additional fouetté

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Please note that every body’s architecture is unique, so your personal mileage may vary.

Most people have an understanding that the female pelvis changes during puberty and make the assumption that an adult female’s pelvis remains the same post puberty (maybe with some changes during pregnancy), however this is not the case. If you picture a skeleton you are probably picturing a male pelvis. For whatever reason, that’s the norm when you get a skeleton (maybe it’s because I can order a decent quality male skeleton for about $200, but for a skeleton with a female pelvis I’m going to have to pay over $1700). So when we tend to visualize the bones of a person, we are probably visualizing male.

The picture above shows the changes between the pelvis of a fifteen year old female (light pink) and the pelvis of a 25 year old female.  Up until the point of puberty, a female and male pelvis are very similar to each other. In puberty, the female pelvis will widen across the crests of the hip and flare open to create more of a shelf designed to help create space and support the changes of pregnancy, the pelvic outlet will become wider and rounder and the pubic angle is more “u” shaped than “v” shaped. From puberty to 40’s is when a female pelvis tends to be at it’s widest usually when estrogen levels are at their highest. Post menopause, the female pelvis appears to narrow (possibly up to 8%) and the change in shape, narrowing at the openings again and across the width. (1) The male pelvis will narrow with age as well, but it doesn’t to change shape and the narrowing tends to be about 1/2 the rate of the female pelvis. (2) Female pelvis also come in several shapes - gynecoid (more circular - about 60% of females have this pelvis shape), platypelloid (more oval side to side - about 3% of females have this shape), android (more heart shaped about 12 % of caucasian and 8% of non caucasian women have this) and anthropoid (more oval front to back - about 30% of caucasian and 50% of non caucasian females have this shape). (3)  The picture below shows the changes of the female pelvis from the age of 40 to 80 (light pink).


It’s important to remember that whenever a bony structure of the body, like the pelvis, changes, everything that is attached to that bony structure moves with it. In the pelvis this means that a good number of muscles and ligaments will shift, as will the nerve pathways. While both genders will have the same bones, similar soft tissue and nerves as each other, the change in the bony structure of the pelvis means the location / alignment of these structures might be slightly different just based on gender and where a woman is in her hormonal cycles. (Some research is looking into if there are actually smaller shifts in the pelvis based on where someone is in the menstrual cycle).

Females are twice as likely as males to have an anteverted hip alignment. This means that the head of the femur (thigh bone) is more likely to be located forward in the hip socket, which means more of the ball of the joint is located outside of the socket. This is not the bony prominence you feel on the front of the hip, but is a bit more to the side of the front. If this positional deviations is severe enough that the person walks with a toed in alignment, it can overload the structures on the front of the hip. (4)

When ideally aligned, the female pelvis (after puberty) will have a slight tip forward, this will move the ASIS (the boney prominence you feel on the front of the hip) to be slightly in front of of the pubic bone, this alignment may cause any pressure across the ASIS to be felt more strongly. If the body alignment is prone (face down), gravity will increase this tilt even more unless the person is actively engaging the lower glutes and their hamstrings to try to counter it.

Bone density and bone weight are other considerations. In comparison to a male of the same size, the bones in a female’s pelvis will be lighter in weight and thinner. A woman will typically lose up to 25% of her bone mass in the first decade after menopause, but even at her peak of bone mass, she would have lighter bones and less density than men her age.

The female coccyx is more moveable (compared to the males’. Females are 5 times more likely than males to develop coccydynia (tailbone pain) because of the wider pelvic structure, more weight on the coccyx when seated, and if a woman has given birth vaginally this will increase further. (5)

Another part of the change of the pelvis has to do with the pelvic floor muscles. Women are more susceptible to problems in the pelvic floor musculature because of the structure of their pelvic floors (men tend to have shorter thicker muscle here, women’s tend to be larger and thinner) and the fact that their reproductive organs are internal and create pressure on the pelvic floor.  Many females are told to grip their pelvic floor muscles as part of "core conditioning".  This way of training has negative implications.  Just like any other muscle, the pelvic floor muscles need to be able to engage at the needed level and to release as well.  Constant gripping or even consciously holding them in a lower level contraction all of the time can cause the the muscles remain in a shortened state and become too tight. While this can cause incontinence (yes it’s a bit ironic), it will also start to disrupt the position of the coccyx, can affect the position of the pelvis, create too much inter abdominal pressure (which can affect proper  movement of the diaphragm during breathing) and create SI (sacro illiac) joint issues (the pelvic floor muscles stabilize this joint from the inside). The pelvic floor muscles also need to change whenever the pelvis shifts, when it is too tight, shifting becomes problematic. Pelvic floor muscles that are too tight can also make vaginal penetration range from painful to excruciating.  Pelvic floor muscles are partially innervated by estrogen receptors which means that as the levels of estrogen in the body fluctuate - whether during menstrual cycle, peri-menopause, menopause or due to medications that change estrogen levels (like inhibitors given for cancer and other medical conditions), the ability of these muscles to fire and work efficiently will also be affected.(6)

(1) - Comparative ontogeny of the hominid pelvis and implication for the evolution of birth. authors - Zollikofer, Ponce de Leon, Sanchez-Villagra, van Schaik, pub 2016 -…

(2) - Adult pelvic shape change is an evolutionary side effect. authors - Mitteroecker and Fischer…

(3) - Anatomy of the bony pelvis: a study in android structure. author Lateefa Al Dakhyel -…

(4) - Differences in lower extremity anatomical and postural characteristics in males and females between maturation groups. authors - Shultz, Nguyen, Schmitz - JOSPT - March 20018…

(5) - Coccydynia: an overview of the anatomy, etiology, and treatment of coccyx pain. authors - Lirette, Chaiban, Tolba, and Eissa - The Ochsner Journal, 2014 14(1)ce

(6) - Hormonal Influences on the Pelvic Floor.  author - G Willy Davila - Pelvic Floor Dysfunction - A Multidisciplinary Approach - Springer, 2009

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Dance Props - Part 2 - Macarons


Super lightweight and easy to make in a variety of "flavors" these macaron cookies are a great prop to make during camp environments as no heat or water are needed in the preparation.


Model Magic clay - white (it took just under 1 lb of clay to make all the macarons shown)

Regular art markers

Wax paper

2 inch circle cookie cutter

Directions -

**I chose to wear gloves working with the clay because it makes clean up easier.  Placing wax paper on
 the work surface keeps the clay from sticking and helps maintain the shape.**

1. Divide the package of clay in half.


2. Color the clay with a marker on both sides.

3. Knead the color into the clay.  

4. Repeat until the clay is the color you want.  The color does not significantly change as the clay cures.


5. Take a small amount of clay and make a ball.

6. Roll out the ball until it's the thickness you want.  I used a marker as my "rolling pin". 

7. Use the cookie cutter to cut your circle and tear the excess clay off.  The rough edge makes it look more realistic.

8. Continue until all your clay is used and you have an even number of disks.

9. For a white filling, use just the plain clay.  For a flavored filling, repeat the marker dyeing wit

h a small amount of clay.  The green cookies were originally filled with white and then I used a thin marker to color the edge of the filling but it was very challenging to keep it off of the cookie layers.

10.  Use your fingers to flatten a small ball of the filling clay and use the cookie cutter to make your circle.  For the filling, smooth / round the edges with your fingers.


11. Place a cookie half (right side down) and then place the filling on it, top it with another cookie half (right side up) and place it on a flat surface.


12. Allow the cookies to cure for 24 - 48 hours.

13. For a prop that won't move during a dance routine, glue the cookies in the arrangement you want on a paper doily.  Then double side tape the doily to the serving tray.  This will allow you to more easily re-use pieces for future props.

Read more…

Most dance teacher's, choreographers and studio owners I know have experienced that time when you think of the perfect prop to add to your dance and really finish the whole look - and then you can't find something that would work.  Your well meaning theatre friends give you a great list of options that they've used and sometimes they will work for dancers, but a lot of times our needs are unique.  Items need to be secure, safe, visible and the weight is very often an important factor.



One of the really challenging props is a drink in a glass.  

Put prop drinks into a search engine and you'll find pages on pages of what non alcoholic drinks can replace which alcoholic drinks, or what drinks won't go bad under stage lights, how to duplicate carbonation, foam froth etc.  While an interesting read, none of these were very helpful to me as I needed the drinks to be carried on stage and they couldn't spill, well because spilled sweet tea on stage could just be a nightmare for the dancers.

Challenge 1 - The drinks can't spill and sippy cups just don't match the vibe of the piece.  Changing the search criteria to avoid actual liquids didn't really help.  A common suggestion was painting the inside of the glass to look like it had something in it.  If the piece was only going to be staged on stages and with the audience at a decent distance, or the drink in the glass is opaque (like milk) this option might not be a bad one.  Neither of these 2 situations applied in my case.  

Another option was just to use opaque glasses so you can't tell what, if anything, is in them.  This one could work, but then I'd have to hope the dancers and audience could picture the tea in the glass.  This option went on the "if nothing else is possible list".  

Clear epoxy resin products that are used in modeling were also suggested.  You've probably seen this in artificial flower arrangements where it looks like there is water in the vase, but there wasn't.  This seemed like a great option, espec

ially during a break in winter weather where I could actually work on this outside since the chemicals smell and ventilation is crucial for using them safely.  When I went to actually look into it further, the weight of the finished product would be a problem as one of the girls would be carrying a tray with 4 tall glasses.  The product can also be pricey.

Somewhere i

n my hours of internet research, I followed a link to someone's ETSY page where there were great fake drinks and upon looking at the description, they turned out to be gel candles.  I realized I could have a winner with this option.

Challenge 2 - The glasses couldn't be glass.  Maybe I'm strange, but I really don't want glassware made of glass on stage.  It just seems to be an unnecessary risk.  So off I go looking for plastic glasses.  Ideally I was thinking they should be top rack dishwasher safe since I was going to have to pour melted wax into them and didn't want the glass to melt or crack.  Please note, that while I am using the gel wax to create this prop, I am not putting a wick in the glass so there is no way they can be lit.  Searching online, nice plastic glasses were crazy prices for a prop, so off to the dollar stores I went.  Finding 4 that matched, were clear, and were an appropriate size turned out to be really challenging.  After trying a bunch of stores I finally found 4 that worked and matched.  Telling this story to a friend the next day, they suggested visiting a restaurant or catering supply company - so hopefully you have one around you to make the shopping easier.


Challenge 3 - I wanted ice cubes.  These are acrylic ice cubes.  A two pound bag was enough for 4 glasses full of ice, with maybe a dozen cubes leftover.  Here's the Link to find them.  There are several other versions available, this listing just happened to be the best combination of quantity, size and price.  I don't know that I would be happy with these if they weren't for the application I used them for - so if you're end goal is close up photography of an ice cube, you will want something else. 

Now that those challenges are covered, here's what I used and how I made the prop drink pictured near the top.  

Glasses - 2 for $1 at one of the dollar stores

ice cubes linked to above

Art Minds Gel Wax - purchased from Michaels in the 7 lb tub (yes I have lots left, but the only other option was less than 1 lb and I knew I needed more than that.  The price was $49.00 but I was able to use a 40% off coupon.

Art Minds Liquid Dye in Caramel - 0.5 oz - about $4.00 and I still have about 1/2 a bottle left

Plastic Lemon Slices - about $3.50 for a bag of 5 slices, the ones I got were ok, but I would probably look around for others.

Iced Tea Spoons - I happened to have these lying around, but have found them quite easily for reasonable prices.

The wax that I mentioned above could be melted in a saucepan on the stove.  Keep the temperature on the low side and allow time for the wax


 to melt.  While it is melting, do not leave it unattended and prep your glasses.  

Artificial ice cubes will not float, so you need to stack them the way you want them.  I put the spoon in first at an angle and then basically stacked the ice cube at angles to make it look like the cubes were floating once the "tea" is in the glass.

Once the wax is melted, add the liquid dye in stages to get the color you want.  I did take the wax off the heat before addingthe color.  Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the was - an infrared thermometer keeps things nice and neat.  I waited until the wax cooled to below 220 degrees F before pouring it into the glasses.  I did notice that as the wax temperature got closer to 200 deg F, it was getting lumpy again so just keep that in mind.

Slice a groove in the lemon slices and add one to the rim.

Wait for the glasses of tea to cool before moving them too much.

If you are going to have people with trays of drinks, mark the placement on the tray and then use a good glue (I found E6000 glue to work well) to secure the glasses in place.  Instead of a plastic tray


 I found a 12 inch pizza sheet in the dollar store and used that.  It was a heavier weight then the plastic trays and I thought it would hold the weight of the glasses better.  If you are using a tray and want it carried on one hand, I would glue a piece of elastic on the bottom of the tray that the dancer can slip their hand through to keep the tray from sliding.  (If using a plastic tray you can slice the tray and attach the elastic that way.


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supporting leg exercises - part 2

One of the problems I see a lot with my students is the inability to understand when they are "sitting in their hip", or if they do realize it, they aren't sure how to correct it.  For a lot of dancers, sitting in the supporting side hip happens when they are concentrating on a combination, fatigued, or trying to keep their hips square (but trying the wrong thing).

If students develop a strong supporting side and are working on it consistently, muscle memory will often kick in to help them sustain it during times of concentration in other areas, but this sounds a lot more simplistic than it's execution in the real world.  In the long run, it's much easier to prevent a bad movement pattern from being ingrained, then it is to correct a faulty pattern that a dancer has been allowed to get away with for long periods of time.  I start working on the concept of a strong supporting side from a young age - I just don't always call it that.  

Here are some ways you can increase the awareness of the supporting side in all of your classes:

1.  Unilateral movements are great, especially once students realize that each side is a little bit different and learns how to work them appropriately.  Completing all of the repetitions of the movement on one side before switching to the other side will help with strength development.  Alternating movements from side to side with minimal adjustment will help with stabilization.

2.  Alternate your starting side week by week.  Not only has it been shown that your brain works differently on the side you learn a movement (or combination on), but the side that the exercise is introduced on will often get more repetitions of the movement due to marking and other movement based ways of learning the exercise.  This will change the work done by both the supporting and gesture sides.

3.  Correct students whenever you see them sinking on their supporting side.  Yes, it gets tiresome for all involved, but if you think about how many other things the students are thinking about, they might not even realize there is a shift going on.  

4.  If you are working on the supporting side as a focus for the class, keep the exercises simple so that they can focus on the work.  

5.  Try a new cue, instead of lift out of your standing/ supporting leg (which often causes students to hip hike), ask them to lengthen the back of their leg into the floor or heel.  This is not to be confused with back weighting, but instead encourages an active engagement around the hip which will often re-set the pelvis in the proper alignment.

6.  Try some of these barre exercises, adapted with a resistance band to focus the attention on the supporting leg.  


For the exercises shown, knot the tails of the resistance band so that they are being held in place without slipping.  Place the side with the knot over the barre and then pass the loop around the barre and through it to lock it in place.  The dancer then steps into the loop and moves away from the barre until there is a little bit of tension in the band.  If the barre is to the side of the body, the focus will be on the lateral muscles of the leg needing to stay active.  If the barre is behind the body, the focus will be more on staying pulled up through the front of the hip area and maintaining the forward weight on the foot.  This is also a great way to help students who hyperextend learn the muscle engagement needed for a straight supporting leg without hyperextending.

1.  Tendus from 1st en croix. Works well with back or side to the barre. 10406284262?profile=original

2.  Degagé from 1st en croix. Works well with back or side to the barre.

3.  Ronds de jambe in both directions.  Works well with back or side to the barre.

4.  Frappé / petits battement.  Works well with back or side to the barre.

5.  Fondu. Worked better with the side to the barre and the band on the gesture ankle, keeping the movement at about 45 degrees.

6.  Port de bras / cambré - Worked better with back to the barre.


Some general things to watch for:

- Hinging the torso forward instead of maintaining the proper alignment of the body.

- Select a barre height that provides a fairly level pull of resistance.  This also will have to do with where on the thigh the band is placed.

- If you have portable barres (as I did in these pictures), the students need to be placed to counter balance each other.

- If you are doing any kind of fondu, developpé, relevé lent, type of movement and have the band on the gesture side, placing it on the ankle will cause the band to have some rolling, but will avoid the tendency to sickle that comes from placing it on the foot.  

- If you are doing any higher extension type work with the supporting leg staying straight, having the band on the supporting side from either the side or the back works well.


Enjoy, but do remember that the additional resistance will cause the students to fatigue sooner than if there was no band present.  Start by introducing a couple of exercises before going through more of the barre with the band in use. 

When moving to the center, remember that the students muscles maybe fatigued in a different way than from normal barre.  Focus on exercises that will help them with stability and weight transfers to see where they are at before moving into more challenging turn or jump combinations.

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Supporting leg exercises - part 1

In the summer, i'm often fortunate to have some small classes with students who are open minded about exploring a dance concept throughout a class and in one of these the focus that evolved was about the concept of the supporting leg and how active it really is when used correctly.  Over a couple of blog posts, I'm going to give some of the exercises I used to help students connect with their standing sides during class.

This series of exercises is done on a foam roller. The foam roller used is a normal / medium density and the dimensions are 6 inches in diameter and 36 inches in length.

Finding Equilibrium

The student lays along the length of the roller - please make sure his/her head is supported by the roller and not hanging off of the edge.                                

10406285069?profile=originalTheir feet are about as wide as their sits bone (for the narrowest) to inline with the hip sockets (for the widest).  The wider the base of support, the less challenge the balance component is.  Their hands can be on the ground for this first exercise. The challenge is to feel the balance of the weight across the pads of the big toes, little toes and heels.  Have the students maintain their balance without major movements (micro corrections at the feet and ankles are to be expected).  Watch the pelvis and correct students if you see them tucking under (flattening their lower back to the roller), a neutral line will translate more to what is happening in a standing position.


Once they are able to maintain stability there, encourage them to lift one hand at a time towards the ceiling.   Have the students focus on what changes they feel throughout their bodies as their hands lift.  Then think about which corrections they need to make to maintain the correct position.  One of the areas to draw their attention and focus to is the asymmetries that might be occurring:  Is one foot rolling more or less than the other?  Is one leg trying to open the knee outwards to counterbalance?  Are the feet still the same distance apart or have they shifted sideways or forward?  Look at the toes and let students know if you see clawing or knuckling in the toes, etc.

10406285466?profile=originalFrom this position, make the challenge more dynamic.  Start to execute a simple port des bras series that is even on both sides.  Hands going from a rounded first position in front of the sternum, up overhead to 3rd or 5th (depending on the terminology you use), opening to 2nd and lowering down to a preparatory position by the sides of the thighs.  Also take those movements in the reverse.   Start the movements at a very slow speed and hold each position for 8 - 16 counts to allow the students to regain balance and control.  

Next decrease the hold time and then move to a quicker pace.

Once that is comfortable (or manageable), move to asymmetrical movements, either holding one arm in place (1st is the easiest) and doing the port de bras with the other arm.  

Watch for signs of asymmetry in the body as the movements increase in speed or complexity.  Here is an example of compensation in the legs.   Also remember to check the pelvis area, since one of the first places people like to compensate is by tucking under.


The next level of challenge is to take one foot off of the floor, start by placing both hands back on the floor, and without

shifting the leg that will become the supporting leg, lift one leg into a parallel attitude.  Keep both hands on the floor and do some simple foot articulations with the gesture side - point and flex and ankle circles in both directions.  Return that foot to the floor and repeat with the opposite side.  Have the students pay attention to any adjustments they are finding they need and again compare their right and left sides.

Once both sides have been successfully completed, bring the starting leg back up to parallel attitude, turn the attitude out and back to parallel at the hip.  Have the students focus on the compensations as mentioned before.


For the last challenge in this series, have the students maintain the single leg stance and bring both hands off of the floor.  Once balance can be maintained, the goal is to bring the students through the movements described in the previous exercises, with the suggestion of retrograding the order.  So start with the turn in / out of the hip, point/flex of the feet, ankle circles, then the port des bras.

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Healthy and Affordable Coffee Protein Smoothie

I'm not a huge fan of the taste of coffee, so it really surprised me that I liked the coffee drink that came in one of my juice cleanse orders.  If you are a coffee lover, you might find that you want a stronger coffee flavor in this smoothie.  At the ridiculous prices (and often scary nutritional info) of getting coffee out, I played around with making mine.

The recipe comes in 2 parts - making the cold brew coffee and then making the smoothie itself.  It's written out for a quantity of 4 smoothies because I've found it tastes much better after it's chilled in the fridge for a few hours and I'm less apt to get bloated from the air being whipped in during blending after they've sat for a bit.  And since it's just as easy to make a quadruple batch than a single - it saves you cleaning the blender and pitchers an extra 3 times.

To Make the Cold Brew Coffee (regular strength)

1/2 cup of course ground organic* coffee grinds of your choice 

32 oz of filtered water

Pour the water over the coffee grinds and let sit for 12 - 24 hours.   I use a French Press pot because I can then just press the plunger down and pour off the coffee.  You can also do it in a large pitcher and pour the mixture through a coffee filter into another container.  End result, you want the liquid not the grinds.  Changing the type of coffee and ratios of coffee to water will do more to make the coffee stronger than the length of the steeping time.

You can also purchase cold brew coffee concentrate at many retailers - this will often be a bit stronger, then the cold brew coffee above, so it's a great route for people who like the strong coffee flavor.

*Coffee is one of the most heavily pesticided crops in the world, splurge on the organic.

To Make 4 Smoothies

2 Cups Cold Brew Coffee

1 Cup Raw whole cashews soaked overnight* in water and then drained from that water

4 Cups of filtered water (divided)

8 Pitted dates

1 Tbs Ground Cinnamon (no that's not a typo)

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

3 Scoops/servings of unflavored protein powder ( I use Raw Grass Fed Whey)

In a blender, combine the cashews, 3 cups of water, dates, protein powder, cinnamon and vanilla extract.  

Blend on the smoothie setting or as long as needed to make a smooth, but thick liquid.

In a large pitcher combine the coffee and 1 cup of water and then add the blender mix (my blender only has a 48 oz capacity, so this is part is a necessity for me - if your blender is much larger, you might find you do okay tossing everything into the blender in one shot).

Stir the pitcher mix and divide into 4 bottles.  (I use glass bottles like THESE).  The bottles will appear very full but once the air drops out a bit the level will too.

If you like your drinks sweeter - add a Tablespoon or 2 of pure Maple Syrup (but remember to add that into your nutritional info.

* Cashews get amazingly soft in water, I will often let mine soak more than a day.  I've not found that substituting any other nut will work.  If you don't do cashews - try subbing out 3 cups of your milk of choice for that much of the water.  I prefer making my cashew milk so I don't get all the other fillers, sweeteners etc put in the boxed products.

Nutritional Information per serving

Calories - 387

Fat - 15g

Saturated Fat -3g

Cholesterol - 39 mg

Sodium - 37 mg

Total Carbs - 48 g

Dietary Fiber - 4 g

Sugars - 36 g

Protein - 23 g

2% of Daily Vitamin A

16% of Daily Calcium

14% of Daily Iron

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the importance of a good starting position

Recently, at a large dance teacher's convention, I was fortunate enough to have time off from teaching to both take classes from other teachers and to observe dancers and teachers in class.  One thing that struck me was the lack of focus on proper alignment in starting positions.  While these often subtle differences don't  usually cause an injury, they do set the body up for less than optimal movement - why would we want to prepare our students for class this way?

Since many warm ups for all ages are done sitting on the floor, I wanted to look at what happens with different body positions and cues in a commonly used position - knees bent, soles of the feet together.  

It used to be quite common to see dancers holding their feet, fortunately this trend seems to be disappearing.  Holding the feet will generally cause the dancer to sickle their foot and ankle in this position.  As it's important to be anatomically accurate with your students, please don't tell them to hold their feet if you really meant their ankles, especially with our younger dancers just learning their body parts, this can cause a lot of confusion.

The next thing to think about is, is having the dancers hold their ankles really any better?  It is for the alignment of the foot and ankle, but let's look further up the body to see what's happening.  10406284656?profile=originalFor many students, holding onto their ankles will require them to anteriorly tilt their pelvis (tipping the pelvis forward), in order to hold onto their ankles.  This often has to do with the proportions of their torso, arm and leg lengths more than it does with their flexibility.  When the pelvis is anteriorly tilted, the abdominal muscles (especially in the lower abdominal area in this instance) will not be actively working to support the torso.  Instead, the hip flexor muscles will be shortened and possibly gripping to create and hold the position (depending on how much the hands are pulling as well).  Additionally the extensor muscles of the back will also overactive to keep the body from continuing to hinge  forward thanks to the pull of gravity.  Counter the forward incline, we'll often see the chin lifted, indicating increased extension of the neck.  

Here is the same dancer in a less obvious forward incline. 



And where she is when she is holding onto her shins instead of her ankles and is able to be sitting upright with a more neutral pelvic position and her weight on her sits bones.

When we look at the body from the back we see a different set of adjustments.


One of the changes we see is the position of the scapulae (shoulder blades).  When the dancer reaches her arms forward to grasp her ankles, her scapulae will protract - moving away from her spine and gliding slightly forward as the travel along the curved pathway of muscles laying atop the back of the ribcage.  Since many tweens, teens and adults tend towards a shoulder line that is either protracted or rounded forward, this isn't a posture that is beneficial to encourage during warm up.

When her hands are allowed to move to where she can sit upright, we can see a better alignment of the shoulder girdle.

10406285264?profile=originalStarting in a neutral alignment is also beneficial to proprioception.  Starting in a position where the body is aligned and balanced, allows the students to feel and begin to understand the forces that will take them off of balance or out of alignment.

Students will feel the changes in muscle tension which in turn either allows them to move into a stretching type movement or eccentric contraction; or if too extreme will trigger the stretch reflex where their body will tighten up to prevent injury.

Finding a starting place where the body is experiencing equilibrium will also teach the students the difference between active and passive positions.  It is also important for them to learn that active positions have a wide range of magnitude - from a gentle and supportive activation to stronger engagement as the challenges are increased.  

Passive positions rely on connective tissue structures such as joint capsules and ligaments to hold on to prevent injury.  This type of movement is more apt to cause an injury than the more dynamic way of movement.

In addition to the purely physical reasons above, active positions require more mental connection between the brain and the body.  The dancer needs to take self assessments about where his / her weight is, what they feel working or relaxed, if the magnitude of effort is appropriate for the movement etc.  This leads to a more fully engaged dancer, more mindful practice and allows for more growth with less risk of injury.

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How to Relax Your Mind from Stress

Each day we have experiences that are likely to produce anger, anxiety, disappointment and frustration. The result is physical stress: the strain on your body caused by its automatic reaction to the events that have caused you to be upset.

The sequences go like this: mental stresses are transmitted from the outer brain, the cerebral cortex, to a lower brain center, the hypothalamus, that controls our emotions.

The alarm goes out, and the body attempts to rally in defense, as if it were responding to an actual physical attack. Signals of emergency are relayed throughout the nervous system.

Adrenalin pumps into the bloodstream, and hormones spring into action. Hooding the body. The immediate results are the ones described above - increased blood pressure, irregular breathing, a racing pulse, a tightening of the neck and back muscles, and pressure to empty the bladder and bowels.

Ultimately, the wear and tear on your body's machinery begins to tell in physical complaints that have become commonplace.


Anti-stress Exercises

"I can count on a headache almost every day. It's as if there is a vice around my head that tightens as the day goes on."

Doctors everywhere hear such laments by the hour. While they can arise for good medical reasons (and a thorough physical examination is a must), most often they have no physical basis. They are functional symptoms, not organic.

We will never be able to avoid entirely episodes that evoke tension. A rebellious child, an unreasonable boss, unmanageable bills - all these, and more, will remain psychological facts of life. We can reduce their cost to our well-being, and keep them from being translated into chronic physical complaints.

If you really want to unwind, you must begin to reverse the lifelong habit of reacting as if every predicament is a life-threatening emergency. Here are some practical exercises that will help.

Learn to recognize how different tension and relaxation really feel.

For many of us, the advice to relax may just as well be spoken in an unknown language. Because we are accustomed to living in a constant state of tension - always prepared to avoid threatening situations, to hurry before it is too late, or to expect the worst - we cannot actually tell the difference between a tense and a relaxed state.

To wean our bodies away from tension, we must start by recognizing how dissimilar tension and relaxation are. Here are two exercises to help you recognize what it really feels like to relax.

(1) Lie down in a position you find comfortable, your arms at your side. Raise your right hand at the wrist. (Just the hand, not the arm.) Now concentrate on how the top part of your forearm feels. That's tension. Next, let your hand go limp at your side again. The sensation in your arm now is relaxation.

You can try this exercise on other areas of your body as well. Tense the area, then relax it.

Start at your toes, and work up to your head, including your neck, jaw and eye muscles. If you are unable to feel the sensation of tension produced in a particular part of your body, touch the area with your hand, and feel how hard it is.

Or, try this approach:

(2) Sit quietly in a chair, and make a fist with your right hand. Notice the sensations in your forearm for the next few minutes the thickness and heaviness, the tension. Now stop making the fist without actually opening the hand, and notice the sensations in the muscles of the arm now. That's relaxation.

You can use this exercise in turn for other areas of your body, learning to tense, and release the body muscles like a wave from your head to your toe.

Practice these exercises until you recognize your body tensions for what they are. In everyday life, when you hunch your shoulders, clench your jaws, or tighten your fist, you do them routinely and unconsciously. Learn to identify such stress reactions when they occur.

Breathe your way to relaxation.

Breathing is more than a key to our physical survival. It is a bridge between our conscious awareness and our unconscious feelings; between our surface appearance and our hidden emotions. Stifled, shallow, or rapid breathing indicates inner turmoil.

The following exercises are designed to help you release the tensions that are harbored within. While doing them, you must give your full attention to the sensations and the sounds of your breathing. Put other thoughts out of your mind. Do these exercises at least twice a day.


Away from Tension

Introduce relaxed breathing into your daily routine, practicing for several months if you are serious about changing the faulty habits of a lifetime.

(1) Lie on your back on a firm surface, head slightly raised on a pillow so that your spine is straight, knees are bent, and feet are on the floor about 20cm (eight inches) apart.

Put one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Draw deep breaths into the stomach and let the abdomen rise. The chest should hardly move at all.

At first this may seem difficult, but as you practice, it will soon become a comfortable way of relaxing your breathing. Give your entire attention to the feeling of the breath.

Concentrate on long and slow breaths - in through the nose, and out through the mouth, whispering "Haaaaah" - a sound like the wind - while the jaw, tongue, and mouth are dropped slightly open. Keep your mind on the sound and the sensation of breathing into your stomach. Do this for five or 10 minutes at a time.

(2) When this becomes easy, sigh deeply, as if in relief. Let all the air out of your lungs. Then simply permit the air to come back in. You do not have to force yourself to inhale, it will happen naturally. Do this 10 times.

(3) When it has become natural and pleasant to breathe into your stomach, practice this at odd moments during the day, taking three of four deep breaths, and putting all your attention into the pleasure of breathing. You can practice every time you begin to feel tense.

Teach your muscles to unsnarl.

When tense situations confront you, they are sure to be reflected almost immediately by a tightening of muscles throughout your body. The result is often a stiff neck or backache that hounds you by day, and prevents sound sleep at night.

Here is one approach to undoing the vice of muscular tension that takes hold at times of anxiety and threat. It involves focusing on each part of your body in turn, inhaling, and then imagining as you exhale that you are sending your breath to that part of your body.

(1) Sit in a comfortable chair, both feet on the floor uncrossed, hands lying relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes, fake a deep breath. Hold the breath for a moment: exhale slowly. Do this three times or more.

(2) Now breathe normally, in a comfortable, relaxed rhythm. Inhale. Send your breath down to your toes and relax them. Next, send your breath to the soles of your feet, and then to your ankles. Your feet are now fully relaxed. Inhale. Send your breath down to the muscles of your lower legs from your ankles to your knees, and feel them relax. First do your left leg, and then your right leg.

(3) Breathe very slowly and easily, and continue the exercise, sending your relaxing breaths to other parts of the body - your thighs, your buttocks, the muscles in and around the genital area, your stomach, your lower and upper back, your chest. Now send your breath down through your shoulders, along your arms, to your fingertips.

(4) Continue to inhale deeply, sending your breath in turn to your forehead; your cheeks, eyelids, and jaw muscles. Let your jaw drop. You will enjoy a comfortable feeling of letting go as you relax these muscles in your face and jaw. Let this feeling of deep relaxation spread to the muscles of your neck, throat and tongue.


Uninterrupted Quiet

Clear the clutter from your mind. Even while you engage in other activities - ride a bus, attend a class, talk to a friend - your mind may wander off in all directions, on to the day's grocery-shopping list, the doctor's appointment you have next Thursday, or the conversation you had this morning.

Such undisciplined mental activity causes tension, and prevents us from fully enjoying the experience at hand. The habit is extremely hard to break.

Here are some approaches you can use to stem the avalanche of thoughts and distractions that sap your energy and well-being.

(1) Arrange for 20 minutes of uninterrupted quiet, and sit comfortably with eyes closed. Chant aloud the word "calm" or any other one-syllable word until all you really hear is your own voice. Now let yourself chant mentally. Simply sit, "hearing" that mental repetition of the chant. If you start to daydream, or thoughts intrude, gently guide your attention back to the chant.

(2) Sometimes you will know that you are following the chant even though it has been transformed into a sensation other than sound - for example, a form or an image. It is as if you are following an elusive path, that always leads back to the simple word that blocks distractions. This helps to provide a clearing in the dense thicket of ideas and people that compete endlessly for your attention.

If you are a visual rather than verbal person, you may profit more from a form of meditation known as "one pointing."

(3) Twice a day, for 10 minutes at a time, contemplate some favorite object - a flower, or a leaf - without having any thoughts. If you find your attention straying, gently bring it back.

Find Time to Practice

If you do the exercise regularly, don't be surprised to find that even a match- stick can inspire your interest and total attention.

A few minutes of such exercises, even if done during lunch hour at a desk, can provide more refreshment than a nap. The important thing is to practice daily, and to allow the experience to deepen over a period of months.

Learn to let go. For many of us, the thought of letting go, of losing control over even the most minute aspects of our lives is a frightening prospect. We feel that we must constantly manage, supervise, rehearse and control.

That is why we often have so much trouble falling asleep at night. We have not learned to let go of the day's events, or tomorrow's prospects. The result is a quicksand of insomnia, created by a tense mind and a taut body. To undo this habit, try this 30-second exercise a few times a day:

Sit on the edge of a straight wooden chair, your knees about 30cm (12 inches) apart, and your legs slanted forward at an angle greater than 90 degrees. As in all relaxation, it is important not to be distracted by tight clothing, and to set aside your watch and glasses. Sit up very straight, and then let yourself collapse like a rag doll, the head forward, the spine rounded, and with your hands on your knees.

Make sure you are comfortable, and then talk to yourself. "My right arm is heavy, my right arm is heavy." Repeat this for about 20 seconds while making mental contact with the arm from the armpit to the fingertips. Then make a fist, flex your arms: take a deep breath, open your eyes.

Repeat the procedure three or four times a day, and before bedtime. After you become skilled at making the right arm heavy, you can extend the exercise to your legs and other parts of the body.

In undertaking any of the exercises suggested here, you must keep one important rule in mind. Find a time to practice each day. Relaxation cannot be incidental to your life.

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Why I Very Rarely "Give Class"

10406283674?profile=originalI've been asked before, when can I give a class and I always have to explain that I don't "give class".  It's not because give may imply that there is no charge for this service, because I will often do pro bono work for different organizations.  It's because I choose to teach a class, not give it.  

Looking at the definitions of give as both a transitive and intransitive verb - the definitions indicate an active and a passive party.  The person doing the giving is being active, but the other party, who is receiving, is not necessarily invested in the process.  Where as, when I look at the activity of teaching, both sides need to be more invested or engaged in the exchange - especially if your teaching style is more learner focused.  

When I think of someone "giving a class", I think of someone who presents a series of movements, but doesn't go much beyond presenting steps or patterns and expecting the dancers to copy them to the best of their abilities.  As a trained, former professional dancer, there are days where taking a class that someone is giving is an okay choice for me.  It gets me up and moving, allows me to push or not push myself as my body and mind need and lets me just move for movement's sake.

While I can appreciate this style once in a while from the dancer point of view, it's not a skill set that I am comfortable with as a teacher.  I am much more comfortable teaching class.  I like seeing the lightbulb moments on a student's face when they put together the theory and the movement and understand how things build and develop.  I enjoy teaching more than just the movements - explaining the hows, whys and other information that allows more depth to the comprehension of the movement.  Nothing makes me happier as a teacher, as when students come up to me and they can explain things, in their words, from their experiences on why things work a certain way or why we do things in specific ways.  

As my students continue to develop as dancers and mature as people, I hope they will have some teachers who give class.  This will give them the chance to use the skills and knowledge that they have learned in a different kind of environment.  The important point being that they will have a good foundation in the needed skills going into this kind of class.  Every dancer needs to experience the free joyful movement that comes from "taking class" when they are ready for it.  

To the more advanced and prepared dancer, a balanced diet of types of classes is crucial for the continued development of artistry and technical abilities.  Teachers at this level are able to present material in a different manner because the foundation is strong and the focus is about teaching and learning in a different way.  To a less prepared dancer, the giving class style of teaching can lead to gaps and lack of knowledge and understanding.  

Not sure if you are teaching or giving class, here are some areas to look at:

1 - What do your lesson plans center around?   A series of exercises without a common thread or goal for that class, may skew more towards the giving class idea.  

2 - How do you handle an exercise not working out?  Do you re-arrange the remaining part of class to focus on a problem area that came up, or do you just gloss over it and continue through your prepared combinations.

3 - Do you explain the progression of the exercises over time - (a tendu building into a degagé, to a battement, to a grand jeté for an example)?

4 - Are your students engaged in the information exchange, or is it more a you demonstrate and they follow along kind of format?

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Today, we'll talk about aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is the ability of your lungs, heart and blood systems to get oxygen to the muscles, and the ability of muscles to use that oxygen to release energy from store fats and sugars.

Any exercise that stimulates the aerobic system to become more efficient is an "aerobic" exercise. There is a direct relationship between the demand on oxygen by the muscles and the pumping of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles by the heart, so the heart-beat rate is often used to indicate the level of aerobic stimulation during exercise.

The rationale for using the step test as an indicator of aerobic fitness is based on this relationship between oxygen consumption, heart rate and exercise work load. There is a positive relationship between oxygen consumption and submaximal exercise work-rate, and a reasonably high correlation between heart rate and oxygen consumption. So we can use heart rate to predict aerobic efficiency.

Although there is a rapid decrease in heart rate after exercise, there is still a relatively high correlation between heart rate during early stages of recovery and heart rate during exercise. This step test uses heart rate in recovery to indicate aerobic fitness. The theory is that the fitter you get, the lower your heart rate during the test and the quicker it will recover after exercise.

I never use tables for predicting maximum oxygen uptake from step tests, as they're subject to errors of 12 to 15 percent. The point of this test is to measure aerobic response now, then undertake an aerobic exercise program, and then remeasure response to measure change.

Today we're going to use this relationship to look at a simple test to monitor changes in aerobic efficiency, the Queen's College Step Test, my favorite as it is easy and accurate at measuring changes in aerobic fitness.

Some may have had unpleasant experiences with the original step test developed at Harvard University. This is much simpler and not as stressful!

The Queen's College version is a three minute test which uses heart rate in the early stages of recovery as its indicator of aerobic fitness. This measure shows definite training effects - recovery heart rate will be relatively lower with increased cardiovascular fitness.

Counting pulse. Don't do this test if you have knee or hip problems, or if you have a medical problem that may be aggravated. Fatigue in thigh muscles (quadriceps) may result if you lead with one leg all the time. Change the leading leg regularly through the test.

Equipment. All you'll need is a 405mm step-up bench, a metronome or similar to set a rhythm, and a stopwatch for timing the test and counting your pulse.

Females will need to step at a rate of 22 per minute and males at 24. Set the cadence, or rate of stepping with a metronome set for 88 beats per minute for females or 96 for males, or certain pulse meters, stopwatches, or wristwatches can be programmed to sound at the correct cadence, and include a stopwatch function for timing the test.

Life Tips:

Procedures. You may like to practice taking your pulse so that it is taken accurately and exactly during the specified period - otherwise the test will have been a waste of time.

  1. Stand facing step bench, with both feet together on the floor. 
  2. Start metronome or similar device at prescribed beat.
  3. Count in the start of the test to four, and then start stopwatch and to step up and down, one foot at a time: beat 1, step up with one foot; beat 2, up fully with the other foot; beat 3, down with one foot; beat 4, down with the other foot. Step regularly, exactly in time with beat.
  4. Remember to start timing the activity as soon as you begin to step.
  5. You may find it helpful to count the cadence aloud to get the rhythm: "up-up, down-down, up-up, down-down".
  6. After exactly three minutes, stop and stand quietly. Stop earlier if at any time you get join paint, light-headed or unduly fatigued.
  7. You now have five seconds to locate the carotid pulse in neck. After five seconds, take pulse for exactly 15 seconds.
  8. Now convert the 15-seconds pulse to beats per minute by multiplying the bests per 15 seconds by four.
  9. Record the result so you can compare the results to previous results, starting your recording of aerobic fitness.
  10. Walk around a little to cool down, and then stretch your leg muscles.

You can test your aerobic fitness every month or so.

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Sur le cou de pied is a position that I find very helpful for encouraging students to shape their feet correctly for classical ballet training.  Benefits include:

  • Heel being presented forward
  • Toes lengthened to wrap around the ankle
  • Mobility encouraged at the ankle of the gesture foot
  • Teaching the maintenance of turn out on the supporting leg
  • Increased foot articulation

This position is taught starting in my Introduction to Ballet class levels, to students who are at least 7-8 years old.  Since many dancer students today take a very minimum of classical ballet class, they do not get the advantage of having their feet and legs strengthened and shaped by slow, careful, and repetitious work.  Instead they are often pushed at a pace that is faster than ideal and the finer details of line and solid foundation get lost in the process.  For this reason, in my classical ballet classes, I will always begin teaching sur le cou de pied and working from it, as opposed to using the conditional position or a flexed foot when it is a viable option.  Once a student has the shape, strength and articulation to work from sur le cou de pied, moving to the conditional position or a flexed foot is easier than vice versa.

There are a progression of exercises to slowly and safely introduce this position to students aged 7/8 and up. It is very important that any strain felt in the foot, ankle, knee or hip be addressed as soon as it becomes known, since there are many joint movements involved and compensation in one will refer up or down the chain of the body.  When my students transition into a blocked pre-pointe shoe and their actual pointe shoes - these progressions are re-visited, as needed, to encourage foot strength and articulation.

For all of these exercises begin standing facing the barre - preferably portable barres that are facing a mirror (unless you have mirrors behind your fixed barres).

Please note there are generally several weeks spent on each exercise before progressing to the next level.  A huge part of the learning curve for students is their ability to maintain the correct alignment of the supporting side.  The common challenges for the supporting side are maintaining turnout from the hip down and not hyper extending the supporting knee, as well as overall proper postural alignment.

Exercise 1

  1. Find 1st position of the feet and distribute weight evenly.
  2. Bend knee to lift the heel of the gesture foot (to the relevé).
  3. Slide the heel across to the front of the ankle.
  4. Lift the ball of the foot to wrap around the ankle to sur le cou de pied devant.
  5. Hold.
  6. Lower the toes to the relevé position.
  7. Repeat the sur le cou de pied to relevé combination 4-8 times total.
  8. Return the foot to 1st position.
  9. Repeat on the 2nd side.

Exercise 2  

  1. Start in 1st position with the feet and then tendu the gesture leg to the side to close to 3rd position
  2. Lift the gesture side heel as described above.
  3. Wrap the foot into sur le cou de pied.
  4. Hold 2 counts.
  5. Lower the ball of the foot to the relevé position.
  6. Close 3rd position.
  7. Hold 2 counts
  8. Repeat 4-8 times on each side.

Exercise 3  

  1. Starting in 3rd or 5th position.
  2. Lift the gesture foot to sur le cou de pied devant.
  3. Hold 3 counts.
  4. Lower to the starting position.
  5. Hold 3 counts.

Exercise 4 

Decrease the counts from Exercise 3 to 1 count per part.

Usually around Exercise 3 I begin to introduce the sur le cou de pied derrièrre using the same series of progressions as devant.  The break down for that movement is:

  1. Lift the heel.
  2. Slide behind the ankle.
  3. Brush the toes off the floor away from the standing leg.
  4. Lower to ball of the foot.
  5. Return to the starting position.

After students are comfortable with both positions, the exercises for the position of sur le cou de pied are replaced with very slow petits battement preparation exercises and then also holding the shape of the foot while extending the leg to different positions pointe tendu.  

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DIAVOLO| Architecture in Motion Auditions 2017

DIAVOLO | Architecture In Motion® seeks male and female dancers to join the touring ensemble to perform, choreograph, collaborate, and teach. Dancers must have a strong background in modern dance, partnering, improvisation, gymnastics and acrobatics. Major commitment in Los Angeles with travels all over the world. Experience in acting, extreme sports, gymnastics, and other movement styles a plus.

2017 Audition Dates

March 11 | Dallas, TX

Booker T. Washington High School, 10a-2p

March 25 | Oakland, CA

Project Bandaloop, 10a-2p

April 15 | Philadelphia, PA

University of the Arts, 10a-2p

April 29 | Los Angeles, CA

DIAVOLO studio, 10a-6p

Please bring performance resume, teaching resume/credits and head shot to check in. Long pants and long sleeves highly suggested. Knee pads and athletic shoes required. RSVP REQUIRED at | @Diavolo_LA 

DIAVOLO | Architecture in Motion® uses dance to explore the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment. Creative Director Jacques Heim steers DIAVOLO’s diverse team of dancers, designers, choreographers and engineers to create visceral and awe-inspiring works that reveal how we are affected emotionally, physically and socially by the spaces we inhabit. Meticulously designed bespoke architectural structures serve as the central inspiration for each work, activated by the stylistically varied and intensely physical choreography which has become the hallmark of this truly original company throughout its rich 25 year history.

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This recipe is modified from a NY Times recipe - "Pan Baked Lemon- Almond Tart".  I played around with the recipe trying to figure out how to boost the good fats that our bodies need to recover from dance.  Fats are part of the composition of all cell membranes, so eating better fat choices will help build healthier and more efficient cellular function.  Healthy fats are also important for tendon health.  Free range eggs and grass fed butter will improve the ratio of Omega 3 - Omega 6 fatty acids which will contribute a better quality fat and reduce the inflammatory response. 

Base Recipe - makes 4 servings 

3 Eggs - free range

1 Tbs chia seeds (ground after measuring) mixed with 3 Tbs water and allowed to gel for about 5 minute

1/4 cup sugar (I used raw sugar)

Pinch of salt

1/2 cub almond flour / meal

1/2 cup of coconut cream (this is thicker than coconut milk)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbs butter - from 100% grass fed cows

Version 1 - 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Version 2 - 1/2 cup fresh blueberries 

Version 3 - 1/2 cup fresh raspberries cut in half


1 tsp of sugar


For all versions - heat oven to 400 Deg F

Place butter in an 8 inch oven proof skillet and put on the stove on LOW (I used a cast iron skillet)

Beat eggs, chia mix, sugar, salt and coconut cream together.

Mix in the almond meal, lemon juice and lemon zest

Mix in the additional ingredient depending on the Version you are making

Once the butter is melted, swirl it around the pan, being sure to coat the sides.

Pour the batter mixture into the skillet and turn up the heat slightly.  Let it sit on the stove until the edges of the egg mixture are set.

Move the skillet into the oven and start checking at 20 minutes.  The fruit versions seemed to take about 5 more minutes to set in the oven.  The center of the tart should be springy but firm.

Sprinkle the tsp of sugar across the top and move the skillet to the top rack of the oven and set the oven to broil.  Broil for 1-3 minutes, watching carefully for the top to become golden but not burn.

Allow the tart to be sitting at room temperature for at least 10 - 15 minutes before trying to cut it and serve it or it will be a crumbly mess.  

Just a note that Versions 2 and 3 will be a bit moister than version 1.  You can play around with reducing the amount of coconut cream slightly to counter this if you want a dryer texture.

Nutritional Information

Nutrient - Almond  / Blueberry / Raspberry / Original

KCal -371 /315 / 313 / 408

Fat - 29 / 23 / 23 / 26 g

Sat Fat - /10 /10  / 10 / 12 g

Monounsaturated - 5.1 / 1.5 / 1.5 / 9g

Polyunsaturated -  2.7/ 1.4 / 1.4 / 2g

Carbohydrates - 21.3/ 22 / 21 / 36 g

Fiber -  4.3/ 3 / 4 / 1 g

Sugar - 14.5 / 16 / 15 / 33 g

Protein - 11 / 9 / 9 / 8 g

Cholesterol - 174/ 174 / 174 / 215 mg

Sodium - 59/ 59 / 59 / 146 mg

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Here's a version of Mac and Cheese that keeps the comfort food aspects in but also improves the nutritional profile so that it can be healthy meal option.  This particular version freezes well, so to save some precious time, make a double or triple batch and freeze in individual glass containers for those times life is too crazy to cook from scratch.

Makes 4 servings
2 cups of butternut squash in approximately 1 inch cubes
2/3 cup low sodium chicken stock (preferably free range) - vegetarian or vegan use vegetable stock
3/4 cup milk (preferably from grass fed cows) - cut down or eliminate dairy with So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk
1 clove garlic - peeled
4 oz grass fed cheddar cheese like Kerrygold - vegan try Daiya cheddar style - grated
3/4 oz Romano or Parmesan cheese -grated - vegan skip and add another ounce of Daiya
8 oz Pasta - Tinkyada Organic Brown Rice Penne or Tolerant Red Lentil Penne or Whole Wheat Pasta
2 - 3 oz Uncured Chorizo sausage - Vegan - skip and add a little bit of cayenne or red pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 375 Deg F.
2. Place butternut squash, stock, milk and garlic in sauce pan. Simmer uncovered until the squash is very tender - start checking at around 20 minutes.
3. Grate all of the cheeses.
4. Remove chorizo from casing and crumble into small pieces. Cook in a small heavy bottom skillet until crispy. Drain on a paper towel.
5. Prepare pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain when done, but don't rinse with cold water.
6. Once the squash mixture is done, either put in a blender or use an immersion blender (remove from heat first). Blend to smooth and return to saucepan.
7. Stir in all of the grated cheeses until melted.
8. Add in the chorizo bits and stir.
9. Place pasta in an 8 x 8 glass or ceramic baking dish. Pour sauce over the pasta and mix well.
10. Bake in the center rack of the oven for approximately 25 minutes until bubbly and turning brown around the edges.

Recipe Comparison
Nutritional Data calculated using - Pacific Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth, So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk, Kerry Gold Dubliner Cheese, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Tolerant Organic Red Lentil Pasta and a link of uncured chorizo from the local butcher

Healthy Version / Traditional Version - All Recipes Homemade Mac and Cheese
KCal - 433 / 858 KCal
Fat - 16g / 48.7g
Sat Fat - 10g / Not available
Trans Fat - 0 / Not available
Cholesterol - 45mg / 142mg
Sodium - 438 mg / 879mg
Total Carbs - 42g / 66.7g
Dietary Fiber - 8g / 3.4g
Sugars - 2g / 10.7g
Protein -27g / 37.7g

Why is it healthier?  

Lowered calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol and sugar.

Higher fiber.

Using grass fed dairy helps to improve the nutritional quality of milk and cheese (if you are not doing the vegan version).

Free Range chicken stock has better nutritional quality than conventionally farmed chicken stock.

Moving away from processed white flour pasta provides more nutrition and fiber.

There is still much debate on if there is benefit to uncured vs cured meats.  The chorizo in this recipe is used as an accent, not a big quantity, but in general eating fewer chemicals in food is probably a better option when it's available.

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Deconstructing the Tour Jeté

This post is based on the Progressions for Progress class that I recently taught at the Dance Teacher Summit in NYC and Long Beach.  With the positive feedback from the class, I decided to write this up as a blog post so that I can share it with more people.  The process used here can easily be adapted for all dance steps.  To clarify the step being deconstructed, this link will take you to a video clip of a well executed tour jeté.  

Step 1 - Determine the components of the tour jeté:

  • Jumping
  • Grand Battement Front / back
  • Timing
  • Torso / Pelvic Alignment
  • Rotation and Control
  • Spotting
  • Arm Coordination
  • Landing

Step 2 - Note what tends to go wrong in each area (some common errors are listed here for you)

  • Jumping
    • Jump is not high enough to complete the full rotation in the air
    • Feet are not used fully
    • Jump is not powered from the lower body
    • The jump travels horizontally instead of vertically
  • Grand Battement Front / Back
    • Legs don’t scissor
    • Jumping “around the corner”
    • The battement front is not front
    • The battement back is not back
  • Timing
    • The movement is not smooth
    • The turn occurs at the wrong time
    • The take off does not maximize force production
  • Torso / Pelvic alignment
    • The hips open too wide in the arabesque
    • Body placement gets “unstacked”
  • Rotation and Control
    • The body rotates in pieces
    • The rotation is not completed by the landing
    • The landing continues to rotate
  • Spotting
    • The dancer doesn’t spot with actual visual focus
  • Arm Coordination
    • The arm movements don’t match the rest of the body
  • Landing
    • The dancer looks like they are “bobbing for apples”
    • Hopping the landing
    • Landing without plié

Step 3 - Coming up with progressions or exercises to correct these areas

  • Vertical Jump 
    • Have the dancers practice “plié, jump, land, stretch with their bum and head either against a wall or standing back to back with another dancer. 
      • Errors to look for 
        • Torso and Pelvis hinging forward on the plié - can indicate tight hip flexors, weak glutes and hamstrings, restricted ankle movement among other issues
        • Tucking under on the plié - indicate the lack of pelvic control and  often over work of the glutes and hamstrings.
        • Throwing of the upper body backwards to get off of the floor - upper body is trying to create the momentum as opposed to the legs pushing off.
        • Feet and ankles not fully stretched - will indicate that the feet are not helping to propel the body off of the floor.
        • Double bounce plié which indicates the plié was stopped and restarted in the shortened position.  This will limit the power that can be properly produced

  • Grand Battement
    • At the barre to start and then in centre when ready - Battement front, close 5th position and battement back with the opposite foot and close 5th.  Continue to alternate front and back.
      • What to look for 
        • The weight transfer has minimal body shift.
        • The hips and torso stay aligned in both directions.
        • The pelvis stays vertical in the battement front- common error is the pelvis tucking under and moving with the thigh instead of the leg dissociating from the pelvis.
        • The pelvis angles forward appropriately as the leg goes into battement back.
  • Across the floor - step out the chassé to the side (step, together, step) going from sideways on the step, together and then stepping turned out on the final step so that your body is now facing square front in the direction of travel.  Battement front and close.  Repeat the same side all the way across the floor
    • What to look for
      • The movement of the chassé goes directly side, not on the diagonal, and then the step forward is a 1/4 turn of rotation.  Keep the movements very square.

  • Timing
    • Take the battement combination across the floor and close the gesture leg to first position after the grand battemtn front and as the leg is closing complete 1/2 turn.
      • What to look for
        • The dancers should have the non turning version clean first.
        • The rotation happens as the leg is closing in 1st position.

  • Torso / Pelvic Alignment
    • Chassé side, grand battement front and at the same time jump off of the floor.
      • What to look for
        • The jump is vertical and not traveling forward
        • The jump should happen as the battement leg is starting the brush so the take off is from 2 feet.
        • The landing is in 1st position plié.
        • If the dancers know assemblé, have them bring the bottom leg towards the top leg slightly before closing.

  • Rotation and Control
    • Use the exercise in Torso/ pelvic alignment and add the 1/2 turn rotation as the legs are closing.
      • What to look for
        • The rotation doesn’t start until the gesture leg is starting to close.
        • The dancer spots
        • The dancer lands in 1st position plié with their torso aligned.
        • Once the dancer can do this cleanly, have the dancer immediately lift the other leg into arabesque after landing and hold their balance.

  • Spotting
    • Have the dancers work on châiné turns spotting your hand where they need to call out either 1 or 2 fingers depending on what you are showing each time they turn. 
      • The goal is to encourage the students to focus and not just turn their head.

  • Arm Coordination 
    • Add arms to the battement and rotation across the floor exercises.
      • You are looking for the arms to reach en haute at the height of the battement front and then press into the desired arabesque position as the dancer lands.

  • Landing
    • The students run 2 steps and then execute a straight legged grand jeté.  Landing the grand jeté on one leg in plié with the other leg raised in arabesque.  Have the students maintain the landing position for 4 - 8 counts without hopping or bobbing.
      • What to look for
        • This grand jeté needs to have an up and over feeling.
        • The arabesque leg should not drop towards the floor and then bounce back up.
        • The head and neck should follow the line of the torso, no PEZ dispenser head lines please.
        • The hips should be as square as possible.

Once these steps are clean and consistent, have the students repeat the rotation and control exercise landing on 1 foot (which completes the parts of the tour jeté).  As the students continue to get stronger, the tour jeté would continue to increase the scissoring action and grow.

The steps above could be broken down even more finely - the jump breaking down into the plié, the actual jump and the landing etc.

This will also help you decide when a student is ready to start working on these compound steps.  Once you recognize the skills that build into the step, you can start preparing the student by teaching the individual components.  Next move onto the combination of 2 elements and then continue to grow on these foundations until the full step is completed.


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10406282861?profile=originalI was recently asked to present a few classes at a small conference geared towards hypnotists, not my normal dance, exercise, anatomy type of student to be sure.  During the time spots I wasn't presenting, I was welcome to participate in classes that other people were presenting and these ran the gamut from clinical topics to self hypnosis and then applications to other areas like pain processing.  One that caught my attention was covering the topic of can everyone be hypnotized (by the way the answer seems to be no) and then how to work with someone who is hard to bring into a hypnotic state (or trance).  Not being really familiar with the whole hypnosis thing, I was kind of intrigued to see what options were used.  I was partially expecting the instructor to whip out a shiny pocket watch and swing it back and forth or have some other stereo typical prop, but he just kept talking.  

The talking was in a normal conversational tone, not the affected modulation that I had been hearing as I was walking by other classrooms, or the rhythmic chanting that is used in many meditation practices that create a self hypnosis in the participants.  This person was speaking with inflection, even enthusiasm at times, and asking questions of the volunteer, encouraging dialogue - not the one sided "you are getting sleepy" endless loop one would imagine.  The topics were geared towards relaxation etc and it just wasn't working.  The instructor asked the volunteer, whether they really wanted to be put into a trance - answer "yes".  Then asked what the volunteer was perceiving as the roadblock and they said "heightened awareness".   They then went on to list everything that was going on in their brain that just wouldn't shut down and what happened next was a light bulb moment for me.

The instructor totally changed their tactic and instead of having the person trying to relax actually started to rapid fire instructions - "listen to the music you hear in the background, really focus on it, have you heard it before, who's singing…", "oh that hum of the light is getting louder, why could that be"…."do you feel the stitching on your shoes, really become aware of the sensations on the top of your feet"…. "don't forget about the music"…"did you notice how much warmer the room got"…"lunch really smells good"…  All of the things the instructor was telling the volunteer to do were things that the volunteer had mentioned as distractions in their brain when asked.  There were no visual references, but probably because the instructor and volunteer had been in direct and focused eye contact with each other the entire time so there wasn't a visual distraction noticed.  After a very short time of this, the volunteers eyes kind of blanked out, and then they dropped into a quick trance state.  Did they stay there long? - no and if that were the end of the class this would be a totally irrelevant post.  

Next, the instructor broke down what we just saw, there is only so much information the brain can process before it needs to check out.  That amount of information is going to be different person by person and for each person it will also depend on which senses are involved.  I personally check out very quickly on visual overload and if you think about what kind of situations seem to stress you out (seemingly out of nowhere) you might be able to find a common thread.  Even though the instructor was verbally cueing the volunteer, so the input for the volunteer was aural, it was triggering the information that was being perceived by multiple senses.  Another important point of information that the instructor brought to our attention is that the brain is trying to process all of these "directives" on an equal playing field because one was not given more importance than the other.  The brain basically short circuits and shuts itself down in self defense.

Why the lightbulb?  I had a flashback to being in a class where the instructor just kept rapid firing corrections and I just couldn't get it.  I thought I was stupid, untalented, or just wasn't trying hard enough.  What if none of that was really the case, but I was just on information overload.  I've done a lot of research, taking lots of training, and have many years of experience working with students with challenges - both physical and mental - from both a teaching dance and teaching post rehabilitative exercise and one of the things that has always been stressed is to layer information.  I started adapting this approach into my teaching over a decade ago and noticed a positive improvement in how my students were able to progress.

I kept it because it worked, but until this past weekend, I didn't really understand the full reason why it worked.  I thought it was just "one less thing to think about" so it was easier to process.  It never occurred to me that "that one more thing" might actually be shutting the brain down in self defense.  How many times when you teach do you see the "deer in the headlights" stare coming back to you?  How long was the string of directions you just rattled off?  You might not even be processing what you said as a string of directions, because to you, that string of directions = one movement or correction.  For example - Before starting an exercise you rattle off,  "engage your abs, make sure you are holding your turnout, drop your tailbone, open your shoulders, close your ribs, weight forward".  As a teacher / trained dancer your brain is saying - stand up straight to a student where this posture is not second nature - the following is happening

"Engage your abs" - and then having to figure out how to do it

"Hold your turnout" - and then having to get their body to do it

"Drop your tailbone" - what's the difference between dropping their tailbone and tucking under - etc

"Open your shoulders" - what does she mean, how do I do that

"Close your ribs" - how much can my ribs close without rounding forward, can I still breathe here?

"Weight forward" - what part of my body do I need to shift from, is my bum sticking out ?

Student's brain --- >"I can't do all of this, which one(s) do I try to do?

Teacher's brain ---> "I'm just asking them to stand up straight, why are they staring at me like I have 3 heads".

Want to explore this a little more in your studio?  Try triaging your corrections and then building on it.  It takes a little more effort on our part because you need to actually figure out what your real hierarchy needs to be.  A friend, who comes from a business background, has a strategy they use called the 5 Whys.  Very basically broken down you ask why 5 times.  Each tine trying to go one step deeper or closer to the fundamental need that is trying to be addressed.  Use this is in your dissection of a correction to get to the root what what you are trying to fix and then find the correction that will address the most critical part of that and start there.  Once that is starting to be fixed, it will sometimes fix the next level or will change what you would find needs to change next.

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