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 🙂

Enjoy http://www.spring.org.uk/2014/06/musical-training-increases-executive-brain-function-in-children-and-adults.php

IMG_2562

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.

 

The Dance Competition Trap

I’m often asked my opinion of dance competitions in my art form and although I’m not a big fan, I understand that many business owners are compelled financially to offer these events. I would however encourage educating the parents with newsletters and a great website with the pros and cons of these expensive and often shallow experiences.  But beyond that, sometimes offering kids exposure to this side of the business and additional performing opportunities is a good thing. However, the quote below should be considered in creating well-rounded, strong dancers:

“Competitions reward an aesthetic that’s sassy, in-your-face, show-offy. But dance is about sharing, not showing off. Students who have done well in competitions fall into the trap of thinking their technique is perfect, when there are many aspects of being an artist that they need to discover. They’ve been taught that when they win, they are at a peak. They haven’t yet seen that learning is life-long.” Susan Shields

Good Nutrtion- Our Best Ally!

There really is nothing more critical for a dancer than proper nutrition so it’s important to have great resources. Try  DR. ANDREW WEIL’S FOOD PYRAMID from a medical doctor who has spent his entire career keeping up with the latest and greatest that both traditional and progressive science has to offer.

Losing Weight: The How and Why of It.

By far, the singular question everyone asks the dancer is “How can I lose some weight?” I first wrote this article more than 3 years ago and with a bit of acquired wisdom, mainly realizing that I need more information than the question alone supplies, I’m glad to say there’s even more dimension to my initial reply. “Why do you want to lose some weight” is now my standard reply because that really makes all the difference in the world.

The human body is an amazing machine and you can’t possibly not believe in a Divine force if you understand the mechanics even a little bit. And scrambled into the human condition of body, mind, spirit marches the ego (personality) and its all-powerful wants and needs. Left un-checked or shall we say, living in less than mindful ways creates habits that have some consequences on both how we feel and how we look. Hmmmm – right back around to mindfulness, as usual.

All of us know that weight is simply calories in and calories out and that no weight loss occurs unless we expend more energy than we consume. It’s more complicated than that in reality but that’s where it all begins. So we are left with the simple challenge of changing our habits since, obviously, if you’re asking the question, your equation isn’t working for you.

I’m unable to tell you what you are willing to change. Only you can do that. But any one of the following will work. In other words, do one of these consistently, or better, a combination of them, and you will lose weight!

  • Will it be different eating habits?
  • Will it be a different fitness routine?
  • Will you give up driving and walk, bike, or run everywhere?
  • Will you stop eating dairy products?
  • Will you stop eating meat?
  • Will you stop eating processed foods?
  • Will you vow to not eat after 7:30pm every night?
  • Will you give up alcohol?

Professional dancers are considered some of the world’s finest athletes. Physical endurance and strength training six days a week all day year-round necessitates learning about the body, specifically your body. Everyone is wired differently but we know what we want and what we don’t want. Or do we? The discipline required to study an art form is unique in this culture but anyone can master their own mind but not without effort.

  • First develop a plan (or follow someone else’s) – make sure it’s a good one
  • Find a buddy, a partner, a trainer, or a sergeant to hold you accountable
  • Follow the plan
  • Measure your success and offer incremental rewards
  • Achieve results

So we see the process is simple to understand, uncomplicated to devise, BUT (there’s alway a but, and yes, you will always have a butt) discipline is the magic element. If I told you this bottle of 500 pills I’m giving you would drop the pounds, you’d take the pills consistently, wouldn’t you? That requires discipline. If I told you this bottle of cream would get rid of cellulite you’d use it religiously wouldn’t you? And hopefully you’re in the habit of brushing your teeth each night before bed. Habituated patterns come in both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’category. And we’re all capable when we engage the will, which, like any muscle, needs exercising. More on that at http://zendances.wordpress.com/2007/04/25/discipline/

There are plenty of areas of your life where you’re disciplined. Along with brushing your teeth, more than likely you fill the car with gas when it needs it, buy groceries when you need to, clip your nails and apply your make-up… I mean this all takes discipline as well so you do have what it takes – I promise! So the questions are can you develop this discipline? How badly do you want this? Are you willing to devote some time, energy and resources to it? If it was easy, would you want it as bad?

Changing patterns is a stretch for us humans. We aren’t, culturally, prone to caring well for ourselves. Most of us alive now have lived well, in the moment, accustomed to instant gratification. But we can grow up, change ourselves, lead healthier, fuller lives with a bit of effort.

My favorite motivator is this question – am I a good role model? For my kids, my students, for my clients? Am I earning the right to be a leader? Could I be doing a better job? What if my own children came to me with this problem- how would I counsel them? And remember- you must have a buddy, a helper, a coach – someone who will give you that nudge when the last thing you want to do is put on your shoes. The will does gets stronger the more you work it.