Competition Dance and the Three Little Pigs

Like it or not, competition dance is built on the strong foundation developed by the classical art form ballet.  It could be argued that it is a different animal all together by aligning itself more with the entertainment industry however just as a sentence cannot be constructed before learning the alphabet and a sonata cannot be composed without knowledge of music theory, to learn to dance a form based in Western cultures, studying classical ballet is a prerequisite.

IMG_0289Ultimately, the responsibility is on the parents to educate themselves as to what constitutes a good school just as you would research any private institution you entrust your children to.  Sadly, I’ve heard it from kids and adults alike dozens of times – they thought they were learning to dance all those years they were paying for lessons when in fact, they were being misled. There is nothing more heartbreaking than turning students away from high school and college auditions because their training was sub-par.

Dance is an art form. Along with the other visual and performing arts, it demands knowledge of material that requires long hours of focused study to develop. There are no cliff notes or short cuts. Classes aren’t always fun, exciting, or alluring. But the rewards are huge – becoming a skilled dancer is limited to the students who do work hard. The ‘fun’ is in the achievement!!!  As I tell my dancers – it’s a lot more fun being good (skilled) than not being good! AND, the endless hours of repetition, practice, and skill development creates students with better executive functioning -cognitive flexibility, working memory, processing speed and verbal fluency. For more on those claims see

These are the reasons that I continue to teach dance. It’s a tough career and the competition is brutal but I teach because all children should have the opportunity to be well-rounded, focused, and bright. All children deserve to know the joy of movement. The thrill of being an exceptional dancer is limited to the very few.

I know there will be phone calls from parents saying ballet isn’t fun. “Sally isn’t happy – can we fix that?” Well playing piano scales, practicing the times tables, sports drills, or brushing your teeth aren’t ‘fun’ either but being a skilled dancer is. Understanding this is part of maturing. The thrill of dancing with your peers, becoming accomplished, and having options in life is liberating. While the first two little pigs went off to the fair, the third little pig took the long view and built something that would last. I’m glad my parents did.

Most of my students will not become professional dancers and certainly not ballet dancers. But I tell them I want them to have the option of going anywhere in the world to take a dance class and understand the expectations of dress, vocabulary, and respectful behavior. They deserve that and nothing less. Someday they might contact me as so many students have and thank me for having consistently high expectations of them even before they understood what that was.

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 🙂