Monday, April 30, 2012

Problem Solving Skills In 5, 6, 7, 8...

The owner of the dance studio that I teach at (Kinetics Academy of Dance), fellow dance teacher as well as friend and I were prepping for an upcoming event where students from KAD were going to perform. We started running through some of the things that were going to have be changed last minute; dancers unable to show up, pieces being pulled or added, etc. Pretty par for the course stuff with events like outdoor fairs, mall events and the like.

 The young dancers (10 through 15 years of age) that were going to perform were going to have to make adjustments on the fly, since they hadn't had a chance to practice the pieces without their missing performers. Us dance teachers really weren't worried.

Why weren't we worried? Well, we just knew that they would figure it out. What reasons did we have to come to this conclusion?

Week in and week out dance combinations, movement patterns for both individuals and groups and a variety of musical compositions are thrown at these youths. In fact, children and teens all across the world that are involved in dance (of any kind really) are experiencing the same.

Dance provides an excellent opportunity for children to exercise and hone their problem solving skills.

Aside from the magic that occurs in the brain when music and movement are combined, there are other problem solving opportunities;

maintaining a circle formation in a group

executing steps in time with a musical selection, and doing it with a variety of body movements, tempos and rhythms.

how not to crash into the people around you

how not to get kicked by the people around you

spacial awareness

having to make quick decisions while executing an exercise or task

understanding and remembering to make last minute changes to a rehearsed pattern

mental flexibility

the list can go on and on.

Does this show up in other activities?

Certainly. Martial arts are a great example. Many sports are dependant upon the players utilizing problem solving skills.

What stands out to me with dance though, is the musical aspect (keeping time, counting, pacing) and the wide variety of movements. Some forms of dance have a larger vocabulary than others. But for the most part, the brain is having to frequently change gears, reassess and reanalyze.

Honing problem solving skills through dance, in my opinion, is a very transferable life skill.

What can get in the way?

Being in a negative learning environment can really jack things up. For anyone, at just about any age. In just about any activity; martial art, sports, dance. Hell, even achieving excellence in underwater basket weaving can be derailed by a mean and demeaning instructor or coach. When we feel fear, humiliation or anticipate punishment, our amygdala takes center stage in our brain functioning, and we revert all brain power to a fight or flight response. Not so good for learning or higher thinking skills.

Are these benefits exclusive to the brains of the young?

Absolutely not! Dancing makes you smarter at any age.

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Words To Inspire; Be Yourself!

When I was thinking earlier in the week about what I would want to post as inspiring words, a quote from Oscar Wilde popped into my head;

Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

I fell in love with this quote the first time I read it. Everyone, at sometime in their life, can relate to the anguish of trying to be something they are not, instead of embracing their own unique qualities.

As I was researching the exact wording of the quote, I came across this article. It's worth a read.

Some final words to go along with both the quote and the article. This is something my husband told me a long time ago when I was fretting over how I appeared in a certain situation  Over the years I have repeated the same words back to him, and him to me.

People care only half as much as you think they do.

Of course the term care in this context can easily be replaced by judge. When it comes to heartfelt concern and the like, I have been in many situations where the care from others has been immense, and thus cherished and appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Straighten Up For Spring; Exercise #3.

Here is a third exercise to help us get that posture strong, yet supple.
Click here for exercise #1 and here for exercise #2.

Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms resting along side your body. Just like in exercises 1 and 2.

Let's run through some alignment principles;
neck relaxed

back of the shoulders and ribcage are "melting" in to the floor

front of the ribs are "sewn" shut

belly button pulled to the spine (belly button to spine will be on the more intense muscle engagement for these exercises. "Standby" mode would be to simply brace the muscles of the torso as if bracing to be patted on the belly, or God forbid, punched in the stomach)

natural curve of the lumbar (small of the back) is present, but not exaggerated

knees lined up with both the hips and feet (knees are not touching)

weight is distributed evenly through the feet

Next we are going to challenge this position by incorporating arm movement.

Inhale as your arms extend towards the ceiling.

 Exhale as your arms reach overhead, careful to not let the ribs pop open, or the pelvis tilt away which would increase the lumbar curve and stress the lower back.

Inhale as you reach the arms back up to the ceiling.

Exhale as you bring them down along side your body.

You can further increase the challenge by doing this arm exercise in a seated position.

Starting with your right arm, reach it in front of you.
Be sure to keep your shoulders square and away from the ears. Ribs are securely fastened in front. Abs engage.

Maintaining the alignment in the torso, slowly reach the arm overhead. Keeping the focus on alignment. As soon as proper alignment is compromise, readjust the arm and secure proper alignment.

Be sure to do an equal amount on each arm.

Now you can try both arms together.

Don't let this happen...

Ribs are popped. Lumbar curve is exaggerated. Core is not engaged. Yikes!

Keep that alignment...

I hope you enjoy these exercises. Thanks for reading!

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Awesome Abs, Part Deux...

A few days ago I posted a video of ab exercises that I came across from an e-mag I subscribe to.
Here is the video in case you didn't find it in my previous post.

Well I finally tried it. Love it! Below I have some recommendations for each exercise.
I repeated the series, in its entirety, 3 times. You can do the same, or repeat each exercise 3 times (or however many you would like to start with.) before moving on to the next exercise in the series.

Reverse Sit-up; a set of 15 (if this is a new exercise to you, 8-10 is a good place to start).
Careful not to allow the momentum of the legs rule the exercise. I focused on sending my legs straight up and down.

Criss-Cross; 10 sets (I counted to 20, odd #s on R/even #s on L). 5 sets is a good beginners goal. I had to remind myself to slow down and not speed through each one. The pearl of this exercise is found in using proper form and technique, not speed at which executed.

V-Sit; 5 sets. If you have never done a v-sit check out my modifications in the earlier post. A mod that worked for me was to circle the arms around from their overhead position as I came up into the v. Much more challenging to keep them overhead the whole time, so I've got my work cut out for me.

Side Plank Crunch; 10 on each side. If this is a new exercise for you, focus on nailing down the position of the side plank. 5-8 is a great starting place.

Planks; 1 minute, arms straight. New to planks? 15-30 secs. is a good place to start. Wrist issues? Try the planks with your hands fisted downward, or better yet, on your forearms. Remember, become the board.

Superman; 5 sets, each held in the up position for 5 counts. If the arms behind the head is not appropriate for you (shoulder issues, not strong enough yet, etc...), try leaving your hands in front of you, in a hand over hand position, just don't use the arms to do the work. Or place your hand over hand arrangement against your forehead when you go into the up part of the exercise. You still get the extra resistance, but without as much strain. Squeeze those glutes and point those toes!

I hope some of the ideas and modifications come in handy.

I want to try and do this little diddy at least two times a week. Anyone want to play along? Let me know what you think. Getting results?

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Awesome Abs!

I came across this video from one of the dance related e-mags I subscribe to.

Check it out. Do it.

Some of my notes below if you care to hang out a bit longer!
The exercises in the video are;
A version of the reverse sit up. This exercise targets the rectus abdominis. If you are a woman and have given birth, this is a very important exercise to have in your abs arsenal! Having the arms alongside the body, palms down, gives some toning work to the arms and shoulder complex as well.

Criss-cross is next. This exercise targets the external obliques and internal obliques. Take your time, as demonstrated in the video. You get more out of this exercise when you slow down as opposed to speeding through. Stopping the knee so that it stays aligned with the hip (table top leg position) increases the challenge even more. Notice the breathing cues. Me like.

V Sit. This baby targets everything. The full v sit is pretty intense. A good build progression would be to keep the knees bent as you come up into the v. If this is still too intense at first, keep the feet on the ground, knees bent and just focus on the action of the upper body. Build your progressions from there. Notice how the lady doing them keeps her shoulders down, not over set, but firmly in place. When you can do a round of these, help yourself to a bad-a** badge!

Side Plank Crunch. Obliques, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis are all targeted with this exercise. I find stacking my feet to be uncomfortable at times, so staggering the feet (one foot placed slightly in front of the other) is a nice alternative.

I'll have some planks, thanks! Planks really are an all around great and effective exercise. A gem in bodyweight training. I like the time progressions given. After awhile you and friends (your amant, perhaps) can have 2.5-5 minutes contests!

Superman (or Superwoman). This exercise is a great one to finish with. After all the contracting work, now the core muscles have an opportunity to work in the opposite direction. The placement of the hands behind the head, elbows stretching out, gives the front of the chest a nice stretch and opportunity to open up. An excellent counter movement to our techno world of hunching over iphones and computers.

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Words To Inspire...

One of the "hats" that I wear is that of Kindermusik educator. The curriculum books we use for lesson planning have these little "Inspiration" bubbles that are woven throughout. I love them. Sometimes they are words for parents, sometimes for teachers. Often they are for anybody with feelings and a soul!

Sundays, for me, are when I start to mentally wrap my head around the upcoming week. Some weeks can seem pretty overwhelming. Sometimes the most daunting tasks can become much more doable with the right perspective.

I particularly like this one;

"Be happy. It is a way of being wise." - Colette French

Happiness is something that one has to work at. It can be so easy to fall into the habit of being miserable (there are times that miserable is there for a reason). But even when times are tough, the right perspective can help. Happiness can reveal other paths of thinking. Illuminate new ideas. Thus increasing wisdom.

Whenever you can, find happiness in all that you do.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Inspiring Words, Kick A** Attitude!

This morning I started skimming through my list of bookmarked blogs. First stop was to Krista Scott-Dixon's website

A piece under Rants caught my attention.

Inspiring. Funny. Kick A**. I'll give a warning about language, even though I personally love Krista's salty way of putting things.

Enjoy! The House That Stumptuous Built.

Okay, here's my take on it if you want to hang around for just a bit more;

Even though the article was mainly addressing fitness training, her line "Deep kindness is braver than bashing and berating", damn near brought me to tears. I've long viewed dance instruction, whether approached from a fitness, recreational or artistic angle as a direct line to one's soft and chewy center. Most don't think twice about the action of taking three steps forward, but call it a dance step...sometimes a totally different reaction. If you know anything about the world of dance (especially classical technique), or even if you don't, you probably know that there are some pretty abusive methods employed by a lot of teachers. These methods are just as unnecessary in a dance studio as they are anywhere else.

As to fitness training, I can totally relate to building up the nerve to enter the mancave section of my gym. Even after six months of regularly going in there to do pull-ups and dead lifts I still have days when I feel insecure and lonely, "Nobody talks to me", "I'm pretty sure I looked like a complete dumb ass with that barbell".

So when I start to feel those clouds of self-doubt rolling in, I will recite passages of stumptuous's beautiful rant. And if I suddenly get the urge to take the, in my opinion unintelligent, uncreative and just plain lazy, low road of "bashing and berating" my dance students, I will grab myself by the scruff of neck and remember there is a higher and far better road.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Straighten Up For Spring! Exercise #2.

Let's do some more work on that posture of ours. For exercise #1 click here.

Okay, so we are laying on the floor, on our back with knees bent, hips and feet  about hip width apart. Be sure not to let those knees "knock" each other. Maintain them firmly in place, hip width apart, while engaging in exercises.

We will move to the backs of our shoulders (scapulae). They should be relaxed and spread as flat as possible, being sure to listen to your body for signs of pain, on the floor. Visualize lacing up the front of your rib cage, while allowing the back of the rib cage to melt into the floor.

We now journey to our hip and pelvic region. For a look at what we will do next, click  here. Our back is in a neutral position when the natural lumbar curve (the curve of our lower back) is present. By tilting the pelvis towards the ribs we flatten out that curve, creating an elongated spine. Then release and go back the neutral spine position. That is one set. You can do repetitions at a medium tempo, or hold the tilt portion for longer before releasing. Keep the focus on the pelvis and keep the work out of the legs.

As you work between the two pelvic tilt positions engage the core by pulling the belly button to the spine.

Quick, check in with the shoulders and ribs!

Following the guidelines of how many, how often (3-5x, a few times a week or daily) from exercise #1, add ex. #2 for your journey to getting and maintaining healthy posture.

*Note to ladies; doing pelvic tilts is a great time to add in some Kegel exercises.

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!