Youth Fitness On Steady Decline

Frustrated American educators have watched while those in power have ignored recommendations and research that has suggested this for over 25 years although families that can afford to give their child the greatest gift they have to give, a dance education, can be assured of good fitness throughout their lifetimes because of this early investment.

Movement and Music Increase Executive Functioning

As if any of us here needed further convincing, here is yet one more short article supporting the argument that children and adults need more and not less of what dance has to offer. Note – executive functioning is referring to cognitive flexibility, working memory, processing speed and verbal fluency.

“Musical training can now be added to three other activities which have been shown to increase children’s executive functioning: physical exercise, mindfulness training and martial arts.”

Since dance training requires precision in all 3 of the above activities, or similar, I would suggest that it isn’t that bright above average children are attracted to dance but that dance is creating bright, above average children. I have NEVER taught an accomplished dancer who didn’t excel in school and develop psychological maturity ahead of her peers. And I’ve been teaching a long time 🙂



Growing Up a Dancer in the 21st Century

Growing up has always been tough. Everyone you love knows that so they do their best to give advise to dancers, catch them when they fall, and bolster self-esteem. But most lessons in life are learned through trial and error and the life of an artist-in-training is certainly no exception.

Scan 123640011Last Christmas, I went to visit my first teacher. I remember how angry she made me a million times. I remember not getting roles I wanted or compliments I thought I deserved. She was like a mother to me but she always did what was best for the company which often meant I was denied. But I persevered. I realized rather young that I was no prodigy so I tried to capitalize on my strengths and work on my shortcomings. My own mother was from an era that trusted the teacher and didn’t interfere when I was weeping about some shortcoming I thought my teacher possessed. There were never teacher conferences or talk of changing schools. Each day, I arrived for class and rehearsal, just like the day before. All these years later, I know how wise both my teacher and my mother were. I learned rejection and perseverance from the two people I respected the most. It prepared me for a life that is filled with plenty of rejection and requires endless perseverance. It also allowed me to train and work as a dancer, an artist, and now, a professional dance teacher.

I train dancers because I believe the discipline it teaches is unparalleled. No one has the discipline of a ballet dancer! But that’s only when the process is allowed to work. Often I am confronted by parents unhappy with some perceived injustice and it almost always includes not the comments I made but the comments the student perceived and relayed. This teaches kids how to manipulate those around them and deprives them of the lessons they might learn. A teacher with high standards that has faith in a student’s ability to rise to the occasion  should be encouraged to have high expectations, not lower them in order to soothe the ego of the child in front of them.

I encourage parents and students to let the system function the way it has throughout history. No teacher is in this for the money, the fame, or the power. They teach because they know it can lead to a life-long love of the body in movement. That gift is the best thing you can provide your child. They will thank you all of their life and come to respect your wisdom and insight. You will not only improve the quality of their life but the lives of their children as well. It is the gift that keeps on giving if you allow it to.


Changing Fascia with the Melt Method

I thought some of you might appreciate reading about this rather new fascial relief method developed by a former athlete and used to good effect by dancers as well. Note that at the end of the article, the author mentions that the method “doesn’t last” after she leaves the class however most of your reading this blog will understand that a casual approach to any change of habit requires the discipline to work at those goals on a very regular basis. In other words, three sessions a week may maintain a beneficial habit but to actually develop, improve or change body structure, an even more regular schedule of 4-5 times a week is necessary. And those of you aspiring to a professional career, 6 days of work and one day of rest is probably your best bet 🙂

Some Holiday Help

Scary Deviled Eggs
Scary Deviled Eggs

I’m really not one for tricks for dieting or sleight of hand however we recently had Halloween here in the US and I think there are some very good ideas in an article I read by Stephen S. Holden at the Washington Post, published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on a recent Wednesday. In summary, the article talks about plate size and color as key to helping people eat less which is important since we have such an obesity issue in these parts. Ironically, anyone who has been to college in this country has also been poor enough to eat cereal out of coffee mugs and dinner on a saucer.

Brain nerd me finds all of this fascinating as we explore optical illusions. But there’s more to it than just providing less space to pile on your hot dish – researchers have found that the portion will look bigger  so you’ll serve yourself less and consume less if the plate you serve yourself on is small. And of course the opposite is true. The reason high end restaurants use very large plates is to create art, right? The food is framed by a mat and frame, if you will, with more space to embellish the food as art 🙂

But the contrast of the food against the plate and the plate against the table cloth also factors into the equation. The more contrast the better in terms of serving yourself less. Fettucini (white) on a colored plate on a colored cloth will result in a smaller portion that white on white.

Most of us realize that restaurants and bars use these illusions by using smaller, thinner glasses (don’t get me started about ice) to create the illusion of more beverage for your dollar. So tall and thin on the glass wear for more conservative consumption as well.

And if your goal is more consumption, a finicky child perhaps, use the opposite approach. Bon a petite!

Flexibility – the Tortoise and the Hare Revisited

There are some really dangerous practices out there in fadville and tearing muscles and damaging ligaments is just the beginning of the risks involved with trusting the wrong information or trainer with your body. Arming yourself with some good information and using some common sense can go a long way in avoiding injury. Forced stretching is also responsible for avulsion fractures – a situation where part of the bone in pulled away due to vigorous stretching techniques. The healthier you are, the quicker you can bounce back from injury however avoiding it altogether should be the goal of course.

My last post on flexibility may have been a bit more technical than most people like so I wanted to follow-up with more information on this particularly important subject.

In reality, it’s often overlooked that your mobility now, at whatever age you are, will have a direct impact on how mobile you are as an elder and we should all, no matter our age, be concerned with this. We don’t want to wait until we are facing the consequences of our neglect to decide that caring for our bodies isn’t just a fad. It has a direct impact on our physical, emotional, and our spiritual health. So along with balance and strength, flexibility requires daily attention for your body and brain to be functioning at it’s best for many, many years. Once you lose your mobility, you also lose the freedom to travel where you want, how you want, and when you want. So there’s a lot at risk.

Luckily for us, there’s lots of worthy information and progressively more sophisticated methods of enhancing mobility/stretching that have less to do with stretching the muscles and more to do with stimulating trigger points. How this works in ridiculously simple terms goes like this: the brain receives a chemical message when a trigger point is stimulated and in turn ‘allows’ the further extension of the fascia and muscles. And all of this without the risk of injury that may impact your body and your activity for months and sometimes years.

Three points to consider here:

  1. The mind and how it ‘speaks’ to the body: The more you’re able to mentally control the amount of tension the body is holding, the more the physical body can relax and ‘allow’ relaxation and elongation into a stretch. This is a very important point – the brain is in charge here and guess who’s in charge of the brain. Yes you!! But like everything in life, the more you practice, the better you get at this and activities such as a regular meditation practice strengthens the mind. So the more you can influence the messages your brain hears, the greater your ability to affect outcomes – in this case, flexibility.
  2. The nerves, or your nervous system: These are the neural pathways the messages travel between the desired point of flexibility and the brain. It’s a good idea to keep the cobwebs and debris off this path as you want the best communication possible. Calming the parasympathetic nervous system is the first thing that comes to mind with activities such as yoga, deep relaxation and breathing exercises.
  3. The fascial system – That web of connective tissue that runs throughout the body that transmits mechanical tension is called fascia. Keeping the physical body free of tension is one of the best ways of ensuring that all the stretching you do each day utilizes your full range of motion. In addition, fascia needs regular ‘wringing action’, like a sponge, to continuously lubricate the physical body. Movement facilitates this. In short- move and don’t stop moving. Regular sessions of even the simplest movement such as dancing to your pandora, swinging the golf club, twisting in the garden, walking, or taking a bike ride- things most of us simply need to do more of, particularly as we age.

As a movement teacher in the field of wellness, I am tickled by how simple it really is to keep the body functioning at 100% which is the good news. The bad news is that we tend to be a pretty sedentary society and when you start from the disadvantage of being stressed out and inactive, things might get worse before they get better. But all of this would be so much easier if relaxation was more popular. We are idle so much we feel we need ‘boot camp’ when we do get going. We aren’t so good with that middle ground – remember in the end the tortoise does leave the hare behind.

But in case I’m not being clear, if you are particularly muscle-bound or generally inflexible you could benefit enormously from a weekly massage and a well-rounded daily fitness approach. The body always strives for balance – a balance between strength and flexibility, between front and back and right and left, between physical and mental stimulation. Extremes are not the slow and steady that win the race. Flashy, sexy, hot and trendy might be nice diversions but they probably weren’t in the master plan except for some exclamation points here and there.

The MVE Chair Machines

My health club has 16 new MVE chair machines and twice a week, I’ve been taking classes to leUnknownarn how to use them. As most club classes go, each session is filled with new, curious people which is a good thing although now that I’ve been on this chair for a few months, I’m wanting to go to the next level.

The chair is actually a Pilates apparatus – made by Pilates for either small group or private classes. The instructors at my club run double duty by trying to rotate the more than 16 people in class between mats and chairs. Of course, most of us who’ve been teaching for many years know that class size is the one constant we all complain about so some things don’t change no matter where you teach.

The movable springs that control the pedal can be tightened or loosened depending on your strength, flexibility and balance much like other Pilates machines. Some exercises are done sitting on the bench moving one leg  or two, some lying on the bench (mainly core work), some exercises are done with the body in a plank pose on the floor while moving the pedal with one arm, sometimes you stand to the side with one leg moving the pedal, and even stepping w both feet on the pedal and hoisting the upper body into a handstand position- the possibilities seem endless.

So unlike other activities I’ve tried lately, except for yoga on the paddle board, I am really feeling a difference along all sides of my spine. Now we tend to think of the ‘core’ as being fairly broad in many respects- ya know, that large 3 dimensional X between shoulders and hips that includes the pelvic floor. Or should we think of it as a large beach ball obcbc_2_musclesn account of it’s summer. In any case, I’m becoming more aware of the smaller stabilizing muscles of the spine, the multifidious and the erector spinea (see diagram on left) and their important role. Forget all those silly crunches we’ve come to think of as core muscles because without these smaller babies turned on, those more superficial muscles aren’t working for you anyway.

There’s also the sling muscles – the pelvic floor muscles. Never mind their names. And guys, listen up! You have them too and ALL OF US want control of imagesthese muscles, right? So you have to work them – use them or lose them – pretty simple concept. Well, again, working the chair with one leg while balancing on the other forces you to keep the trunk stable, the focus closer to your center of gravity,  and thus use those really deep muscles with funny names.

Give this a try if you’re into keeping your workout working for you. And remember my #1 rule of staying with any fitness routine and why all those dancers don’t leave studios that clearly aren’t teaching them anything – find a work out buddy. Really, it works!

There is little doubt when visiting a place like Yosemite that there is a higher power, a Divine plan, and a force greater than ourselves conducting this life! We are but small pawns in the plan, entitled to the majesty of places like this for no other reason than we exist. In this place, it isn’t difficult to be humbled, to be enchanted, and to aspire to greatness.