Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dance Fitness Round-Up Of 2013.

Between my roles as a ballet teacher, contemporary/lyrical teacher and Zumba instructor I did a lot of choreography in 2013. Most stuff I videotape (if it's my choreo then I'm almost certain to forget it unless I do it a billion times) and some of it I post. I love all the opportunities I get to create my own work, as well as learn from others (I'll never stop loving that!).

Here's a small collection of stuff I posted during 2013. Did someone just say it was time for an impromptu dance party? I'm in!


"Thrift Shop" by Macklemore. The link is to my original posting of it which also includes the uncensored video of Macklemore's music video. Yes, uncensored, so you've been warned if you click on his vid.

"Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore (my fantasy choreo boyfriend).




"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke. (Click on the link to the original posting). Robin Thicke definitely stepped into the thick of it with this song. The song has been deemed everything from the most sexist song towards women ever made to just a song about a guy being immature and cocky. Regardless of the controversy (and I've read a great deal about it) most everyone who loves a good tune agree that this one gets one grooving. Oh, and my Zumba class freaking loves it!!

"You're No Good" by Major Lazer(Click here for my original post).



"Girl On Fire" by Alicia Keys.



Hope 2014 is filled with lot's of joy, love and DANCING!!!

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin




Monday, December 30, 2013

DIY Exercises For At Home Or Away.




I'm removed from my gym for a few days. But no matter. There are exercises that can easily be done at home! Here are some of my favorites! Just click on the links.

Image source.

Dog-Split Yoga Series.
I love this one and it is a killer as well as a great strength build.


Image source.

Awesome Abs!
I used this series for both dancers in core training and for fitness classes. I love it. My sixteen year old even kicks it out now and again. So if your visiting with family see if you can get some loved ones to do it with you! I promise there will be camaraderie and laughter!



Image source.
Pilates Swim And Grasshopper.
Once your body is warmed up with Dog-Split or Awesome Abs, then this is a really good one for core, glute and hamstring work.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Dance Fitness Routine; "Girl On Fire".

I think I promised awhile ago that I would throw together a video of this routine for my Zumba class. The choreography was inspired by my love of contemporary jazz dance.

 I filmed it after a long day of teaching dance classes, hence my refusal to wear shoes for another minute. I've been trying to foster "Bun Solidarity" so as to encourage consistent bun-age among my youthful ballet students. Push-ups will be the prize for failure to comply come 2014. 10 for no bun, 5 for pathetic attempts. You've been warned my lovlies!

All that aside, here it is. Replete with my signature crazy dance faces. I dare you not to sing along or make a show of some passion to this fabulous song (click link to buy "Girl On Fire" on iTunes) by the amazing Alicia Keys.
The video has a kind of abrupt ending, so don't scream or anything. In the event that a loved one does wander out to see why you were screaming, make them dance with you.


Thanks for hanging out and watching.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lyrical Dance; "Arms".

A short lyrical dance to Christina Perri's "Arms".



A week or so ago I got to perform this with my students from my lyrical/contemporary class. The ensemble piece was set on a mix of teen and adult dancers. A beautiful group of dancers! Perhaps I can hunt down a video of the performance (a very casual venue). I have footage of the group in class, but have promised not to post the videos, even though they look awesome!

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Exercises For Good Posture.

Today's post is a reconstruction of a series of posts I did about a year and a half ago. 

To see the original posts you can click on the following links:

Exercise #1.

Exercise #2.

Exercise #3.

Or, you can see a version of them below.

Having good posture is important. Not only can good posture make you look younger, thinner and more confident, it can make you feel better. Better circulation, better breathing and better functional movement.

What better time than the approach of a new year, although anytime is a good time for better posture!


Exercise #1;

Laying down on your back on the floor (the most reliable hard surface usually) with knees bent, place your feet about hip width apart.

Feel your neck relax and feel lengthening through the back of the neck without jamming the chin into the chest.

Next, gently press the backs of the shoulder blades against the floor. You want to feel as much of the blades against the floor, without squeezing them together. Rather, feel the space between the shoulder blades expand, being careful to not allow the front of the shoulders to hunch in towards the chest.

As you maintain this neck and shoulder alignment, create space between the shoulders and the ears. I have heard it described once as if you are sliding your shoulder blades into your back pockets. 

Keep the majority of focus, for now, on the neck and shoulder area. Gently pulling the bellybutton towards the spine will help stabilize the rest of the body. Allow your hips and legs to stay relaxed, as if melting into the ground.

Once you have dialed all of these cues in, maintain this alignment for 4-6 focused and deep breaths. Release by bringing your thighs to your chest and hugging your legs. You can add gentle rocking side to side for a gentle massage. Or take a break by simply letting your entire body to rest and reflect for a moment. Then redial all of the above cues back into your body and begin again.

Repeat this exercise 3-5 times, or as desired, a few times a week or even daily.

An exercise like the one above can help train awareness of one's posture, and awareness is the first step.

Exercise #2.
We will move to the backs of our shoulders. 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. 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!

Exercise #3.



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...



Take some time to get that posture aligned for 2014!

Thanks for hanging out.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin.


Monday, November 18, 2013

My Morning Chow.

*Note: In this post I talk a bit about nutrition. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. The common sense thing for me is to tell you to consult with your physician before making changes in your diet. The common sense thing for you to do is to get crack'in on some research of your own. Perhaps get a conversation going with your doctor!




A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a gentleman at the gym. He knew me by my reputation as a Zumba instructor (at least I'm hoping it's that representation of me). Actually I had meet him about a year prior because he knows my husband. A retired anesthesiologist now, when he was still working my husband, then a surgical tech, had been in on many of the surgeries he performed anesthesia for. My husband was also the one who introduced him to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

After getting all that sorted out our conversation went into fitness and nutrition. He asked me what I ate for breakfast to keep my energy up. He himself had been doing smoothies in the morning and was just not getting the results he wanted. As well as feeling bloated and run down. Basically, just not satisfied. Maybe a little miserable too.

So what did I tell him?

First, here's a little about my journey to why my morning chow is what it is.

For years breakfast around my house for my kids and myself was usually a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk or toast. Sometimes the toast had a little peanut butter on it or a thin sheen of butter and some jam. Once in a while I would get fancy and make french toast or pancakes. Then there were the amazing opportunities of cold Take Home And Bake pizza from the night before.

About two going on three years ago I came across Robb Wolf's book Paleo Solution Diet: The Original Human Diet.

It kinda made sense. I was willing to give change a shot. I had been putting on weight over the last few years, although I wasn't too horrified by it. I finally had boobs! A non-dairy bra size. With that I also had a substantial  ass-expansion project going on. Again, I wasn't too horrified, since for the first time in my life I was actually starting to feel comfortable in my body and for real sexy. But then again, I couldn't help but notice that I was making my way to the next size up in clothes.

The main thing that peaked my interest about changing how I ate was to feel better. I was feeling sluggish. And achy. And I really wanted an alternative to the anti-depressants I was taking (a long, thought out decision I made once I realized that I had been battling depression for most of my life. I have mentioned in the past that the choice to start or stop taking anti-depressant medications is a very serious one. Consult a doctor or other qualified expert). I'm not above wanting to "look good naked" either.

While I never dove in head first to strict "Paleoism", I did make some pretty fierce changes. One of the biggies was dragging my tired bed-headed butt out of bed and make a hot breakfast for my kids and myself. A breakfast that was based on animal protein and healthy fats (grass-fed butter and animal fats, avocado, olive oil, omega-3 rich fish oil among them). I use many of the tenets of the Paleo/Primal way of eating as a template now. I believe we each need to tinker with what works for us.

I found these via Ancestralize Me .



I found out pretty quickly that it was definitely worth getting out of bed a little earlier. Not everyone in my household is hip on eating in the morning. My husband for one. He's a big boy and can figure out what works for him (in no way does that prevent me from nagging him from time to time). My pre-teen son was another story. I wanted him to just suck it up and eat his morning chow so he wouldn't crap out during his school day.

Aside from consuming more animal proteins, healthy fats and nuts, the biggest change I made was removing gluten products from our diet. That meant removing anything that had wheat grains in it. I also removed legumes from my diet, including peanuts. My hubby and my kids still have them from time to time (what would football season be without chili beans and taco chips?). I find that I just don't feel well when I eat them. I don't worry about how to make tofu delicious because I tossed out soy as well. What about dairy? We eat dairy throughout the week. I use heavy whipping cream (preferably organic and pasture raised) in my coffee every morning. Because of what I have discovered about our body's need for healthy fats, I no longer recognize low or non fat dairy as an ideal food choice. The exception being when my kids and I get frozen yogurt. It's hard to find full fat at the fro-yo parlor, and 'round these parts that yummy frozen treat happens. Yes, I indulge in sugary yum yums, but not nearly as much as I used to. The cravings for them just are not as strong. I attribute that to the removal of gluten and just being more aware of my consumption of simple carbs. Having an adequate amount of fat in my diet helped too.

What about them carbs?

When I first went about making changes in my family's diet, carb rich foods got significantly reduced. There are carbs in vegetables, fruits and tubers (sweet potatoes). While I started off fairly low-carb, once I reached a leanness that I was comfortable with I realized that I felt a whole lot better if I had a certain amount of carbs in my diet. My kids usually have access to plenty of fruit. Corn chips and corn tortillas are somewhat of a sacred food in my house, so I didn't fret too much about their access to carbs. So throughout the week we have rice or potatoes (white) as well as sweet potatoes. Sometimes we get gluten free pizzas or make gluten free mac n cheese. They are more of a fun treat than a staple. What I have learned though, is that when you eat your carbs can have an affect on how you feel and perform.

Here are my carb strategies:

No carbs in the morning. Not even fruit. That is for me, not my kids. I remind them that they need to get their protein on at breakfast.

If I have really hit it hard at the gym I will try to have some kind of "recovery" carb available to me. Coconut water is my favorite. ZICO Chocolate Coconut Water is my absolute fav. Even a piece of fruit. I do this especially if I know there will be physical demands on me later in the day. On other days, whatever I ate for breakfast will usually carry me to lunch. I should say, will carry me without me throwing a temper tantrum and straight up losing it because I have hit my cranky and hungry mode. It used to happen all the time. Now not so often. That's a big plus in my book.

Outside of "recovery" carbs, if I feel I need them, I prioritize what I eat in the middle of the day to animal protein, vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds and yes, some dark chocolate. I may gobble up some root chips (I. Love. Them.) or plantain chips (with guac. Yes!). While I will maybe have a sweet potato, I avoid foods like rice or white potatoes (except for In and Out fries. That would be straight up crazy, Yo.). Why? Because they make me sleepy, foggy and sluggish for the rest of the day. My husband and I have both found this to be true. Times that we have gone out to eat for lunch on a weekday this becomes a factor in where we chose to eat. I save the rice and taters for dinner time. For me, carbs in the evening contribute to my winding down process. Throughout the day I have feed my body protein, fats, veggies, nuts, dark chocolate and it all gets topped off with some carbs. This system has been working really well for me for the last year. I never feel deprived and I don't feel panic about falling into bad habits that will derail me (except for my love of red wine).

Fortunately for my new gym buddy, I didn't go into all the detail that I just did here. I gave a much shorter version.

Stick to animal protein and healthy fats for breakfast. My go to favorites:
I love eggs. When I have eggs for breakfast I usually have about 3. For crazy mornings when I am trying to get kids ready for school and myself ready to teach a class or classes at the gym, eggs provide a perfect solution for getting some oh so good protein as well as other important nutrients.

Here are some ideas for some quick breakfasts:



1. Eggs scrambled in Kerrygold butter, served with half an avocado, maybe even with a little splash of Tapatio. Sometimes I use coconut oil instead of butter.


2. One or two chicken apple sausages.

I get mine at Costco. They are great for lunch and dinner.

3. Breakfast sausage links or patties.

My favorite brand. They cook up fast in a skillet.

4. Eggs, however you want to prepare them, and some pieces of bacon. (By some I mean as many as I can get before my kids demolish the plate).

5. My new favorite for crazy mornings- hard boiled eggs in a bowl with avocado oil drizzled over them and some sea salt. A fork is recommended. More often than not I just use my fingers.

6. A hunk of BBQed tri tip. Hot or cold.

7. Leftover meat from dinner the night before. Meatballs!

What about some veggies? I haven't included many ideas about throwing in some veggies because, like many people, I just don't have an adventuresome palate in the morning. But you most certainly can throw some spinach or chopped up zucchini into your scrambled eggs. Or maybe munch on some cut up bell peppers, cucumbers and/or carrots. One of my daughters will quarter up a tomato with her breakfast sometimes.

8. If you can plan ahead, try making some egg dishes that can be reheated.
The following recipes are all from Everyday Paleo.
Egg Cupcakes
Easy and Delicious Sausage Fritta.
Southwestern Frittata.
Family Style Frittatas

Doesn't seem like it's worth getting out of bed in the morning without some fruit? Try berries, like blueberries. You get sweetness as well as some great nutrients with a low glycemic level (~40).



So did my gym buddy try this new regiment? He did, and he felt great!

So what about gluten-free waffles and pancakes? Hello weekend mornings! Here's a little stroke of magic I learned from a friend; spread a layer of sour cream (none of that low fat crap either) over your crispy waffle. Then drizzle with maple syrup. Try not to embarrass yourself in front of your family and friends when you experience how delicious it is! I think it tastes like cheesecake.

Thoughts? What is your go to breakfast? Need a change? Lemme know what your results are.

Thanks for hanging out and reading. If you like what you see hit the "subscribe" button.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin






Friday, November 8, 2013

Rose Red Solos.


Okay Rose Red soloists. Here are the links to the in studio videos of the variations. If you have a copy of the performance you can use that as well. For the Angel Corps group, I don't seem to have a video of the dance, so maybe you guys can help each other out with the performance DVD.

Have a great weekend!


Gold Solo

Pearl Solo

Snow Solo and Snow and Rose Duet

Angel Solo

Butterfly Solo

Rose Red Solo

Jewel Solo

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Miss Erin

Monday, November 4, 2013

Perhaps It's Time For A Paradigm Shift; On how women view themselves.



We are all inundated with images through the media on how we are supposed to look, or what is considered ideal. The ridculously sad truth is that most of the images shoved in all of our faces are not even real. They are doctored through photoshop, lighting is manipulated and poses are struck that under normal conditions would have the people around you wondering as to your well being.

While it is important to find inspiration for health and well being, why does it always have to be based on something so superficial as a hot bod. Yes, most all of us want to look good. But so many of the images are along the lines of "Strong Is The New Skinny".



Here's what's wrong with images like the one above; the model is still very thin. Much thinner than most regular women living regular, very busy, non-photoshopped lives.



Even this image I believe withholds some important realities. There is no doubt that the model is strong and very ripped. She might also be at a body fat ratio that can, over time, cause serious side effects for women. Chronic fatigue, bone weakness, diminished mental abilities, depression and infertility among them. And we are still supposed to be supportive wives, on task mothers and real go-getters in this crazy game of life?

I love the results I get from doing pull-ups and doing squats with weights. I'm delighted to have gotten some of the roundness of my bum back from doing glute building exercises. Sometimes I will look at my abs and think "Oh, getting some jiggle. Uh-oh" or my thighs and think to myself "What am I doing wrong?"

NO! NO! NO! Stop it, stop it, stop it!

As women do we really need our abs to look like a man's? Aren't we supposed to have some squishy parts to be loved and squeezed?

Here's some perspective on why we have such a skewed view on body image.





Can we have a little space to just focus on striving for a body and perspective that is the result of healthy choices and achievements that aren't completely centered on a "hot bod"? What about feeding ourselves and our loved ones healthy foods, managing stress, finding time to fall madly in love with our passions, feeling renewed in our romantic relationships. Learning to love not just our real bodies and what they are capable of (in healthy ways!), but our minds and wisdoms gained from experience too.

Here's some more ridiculousness as to how the media bamboozles us with smoke and mirrors.

Let's start burning some new images into our collective consciousness.

Here's a couple to get started with.




Image source.


Image source.

Thanks for hanging out.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dancehall! {I'm gonna fake it till I make it!}

I love Dancehall style of dancing. I'm still in the fake it till you make it phase. I'll probably be here for awhile. Zumba has lovingly embraced the music and dance stylings of Dancehall. It is a presence at Zumba conventions, including visits from such Dancehall greats as Sean Paul. One of my favorite Zumba Jammers, LaToya Bufford, a Dancehall master, infuses her amazing routines with her special flav of DH.

I told my Zumba class that I would record and post one of my Dancehall inspired dance fitness routines.

Here it is.


Together we can fake it till we make. It's more fun that way!

Every choreographer needs to search for their inspiration. It might be through literature, paintings, poems or screen. Or the fabulous You Tube!

Here are a couple of routines that I found that helped to inspire some the moves. If you watch them you will notice that they are much more complex than the dance fitness routine I choreographed. That's because they are choreographed as dance pieces for trained dancers. Dance fitness routines are usually choreographed to make fun dance moves and great musical flavors accessible to a larger population, one that doesn't necessarily need to have an extensive dance background. Dance is for everyone. Everyone needs to dance.

This one is a great ensemble piece.

This girl got moves! Perhaps in my next routine I too will include twerked out splits (jk).

Interestingly, Dancehall is very popular in places like Russia and Ukraine.

Thanks for hanging out.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin.

What's your favorite "fake it till you make it" thing? Found a great sounding Dancehall song? Let me know! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hunting Down Holiday Music {it's the most wonderful time of the year!}


Image source.


Every year around this time I start the search for pieces of holiday and Christmas related music to choreograph dances to for upcoming performance opportunities for some of the dance classes that I teach. In years past it's a task that I would dread. I would spend hours lamenting about how the beautiful, wide world of music became whittled down to a fraction of its glorious self when the main focus was Christmas music. Like being forced to stay just on a floating piece of wood instead of the whole ship.

Oh, and by the way, Rose and Jack could have both totally fit on that door...


Image source.

Last year I rolled up my sleeves, pulled on my big girl panties and straightened out my tiara. I ventured out of the box I allowed my vision of holiday music to be and started kicking over some different stones. I was pretty delighted with much of what I found. Here's a post from last year about it.

I haven't really found any new albums or singles this year that tickle my fancy, but I do have quite a lot from last year to rummage through. That's this year's challenge. Perhaps I will find that shiny new toy (movie soundtracks are my favs) this year after all. While searching for Christmas music to choreograph to is not high on my list of enjoyable tasks, I really dig listening to Christmas music around the holidays. One of the local radio stations in my area shifts their entire playlist to holiday music the day after Thanksgiving. I will usually play it while driving around in the car. But not while hitting Black Friday sales, because nobody has offered to drive me store to store while I ply myself with shots of J├Ąger. That's the only way I'm doing BF. Good luck getting me out of my mashed potato and gravy coma.

Thanks for hanging out.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin

Do you have a favorite Christmas song or album?




Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Technique On A Tuesday; Rib Wrap/ Shoulder Press Down/ Plum Line {and the Pilates neck pull}.






Recently I have taken on teaching three one hour mat Pilates classes a week while the regular instructor is on a break. I'm grateful for the opportunity, especially since Pilates is somewhat in my wheelhouse and the classes are scheduled during school hours. Working three evenings a week as it is is enough for me and my family.

Outside of subbing mat Pilates on and off over the last year and a half I haven't really been doing classes that much. I sort of forgot how intense mat Pilates can be. How it can encompass the whole body. There are even movements that focus on upper body strength and form.

Mat Pilates ties in very nicely to some of the other formats that I teach; classical ballet technique and Balletone (a combination of fitness, ballet technique, yoga inspired movements and pilates).

One of the things that I love about Balletone is the teaching methodology that is an important part of the program. One major aspect of the methodology is placing focus on a specific part of a movement in a series of movements. It might be the quality of the movement (sharp or slow) or range of movement (low or wide) or applying extra focus on something technical. As was the case in what I focused on last week through much of what I taught.

The relationship between the rib cage and the shoulders as well as the center or what I like to refer to as the plum line of the body.

For Balletone I cued throughout the various movements for my students to imagine the muscles of the rib cage wrapping around the front of the ribs. Much like a corset. Then to imagine the shoulders as the plunger handle for a TNT detonator.

 I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I'm really into visuals. Sometimes the more cartoony the better.
Just think about it, a plunger on a detonator has a certain amount of resistance or hydraulics to it. It's that feeling I'm trying to illustrate. A controlled amount of downward pressure in conjunction with the wrapping of the rib cage muscles. Then, while all that is going on, think about the plum line of the body as a pole drilling up through the center of the body to the sky.

There is the wrapping of the ribs coming in from the sides, the sustained downward pressure or resistance of the shoulder complex, and then the ascending energy of the plum line "pole".

By shifting the focus to this trio of muscle controls on the posture of the body revealed new layers to movements we had done many times before in Balletone.

For one of the mat Pilates classes I wanted to apply this trio to breaking down the Pilates neck pull exercise.
I have done the neck pull a few times in the past. It is a rather advanced move, that despite its name, does not involve any pulling on the neck. Rather a sustained amount of pressure of the interwoven fingers against the back of the skull to create a lengthening effect.
I was a little intimidated to whip it out, so I made sure to prepare modifications for participants who were not quite ready for the full neck pull. I wanted to make sure everyone had something to work on. I also included builder exercises in the warm up that would pertain to the actual neck pull exercise.
When applying the rib cage/shoulder press-down/plum line lengthening, well, it made the exercise pretty intense. At least I thought so.

One long time student of Pilates mentioned after class that while doing the side line (a set of exercises done while balancing on the side of the body) portion of the class she felt exhausted. She usually found the side line portion of class very doable, but that day's class was really giving her run for her money. Aha! One of the great things about shifting the focus to a specific part of the body. Breaking out of the norm every now and again;
When shifting intense focus to just one or two parts of the body, other parts fire up in ways you never thought possible. Example; focusing on the rib wrap and shoulder set through various exercises made it less noticeable that the glutes and quads were working like crazy to support what you were asking of the ribs and shoulders. This becomes especially apparent when you shift back to focusing on what you would normally focus on. The muscles of the legs were probably working much harder and in a different way when we had our focus on the ribs and shoulders.

One of the first things I fell in love with about Pilates is that once you concur one challenge there is another one eagerly awaiting your efforts. Ballet technique is very similar. There is always something to improve upon. Pilates and ballet technique can often be like peeling back the layers of an infinity onion. No matter how many layers you peel back there is another one waiting to be peeled. And they might make you cry.

Simple exercise to engage the rib wrap/ shoulder press.  

Start by laying on your back on the floor, using a mat if you need extra cushioning. Knees bent, feet flat on the floor, legs hips width apart. Make sure hips, knees and ankles are all tracking.

Inhale. As you exhale feel the front of the ribs knit together as you pull the belly button towards the spine. Repeat 2-3 more times.

Next, inhale. As you exhale feel the backs of the shoulder blades slide down the back, as if you are trying to slide them into your back pockets. Repeat 2-3 more times.

Finally, inhale. As you exhale combine the rib wrap/shoulder press down as you pull the belly button towards the spine. Repeat 2-3 more times.

You can challenge this in a sitting position and while standing with feet in parallel.

Thanks for hanging out.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin.




Monday, September 16, 2013

Ballet Technique and Training; What To Work On This Year.



Image credit.


The middle of August marked the start of a new Fall semester of dance classes at the studio I teach at.

While a handful of dance students take during the summer, our schedule gets scaled way back (usually a welcome break for me). So the focus during the short summer break is mainly fun and maintenance.

Each year I try to decide what I want to focus on in the skill building and refined movement departments. As well as working on the basics of perfecting the various steps, how they connect to one another, balance and transitions, strength and speed, sustained movement, grace and articulation.

It won't be until about mid-October that I have to worry about setting choreography for any performance opportunities around the holidays. After we return from winter break in January I will have to put a great deal more focus into choreography for our annual show in June.

For now though, here is a list of the things I want to focus on, lest I forget as the weeks roll by. Some of them are things that can be applied to other formats that I teach in the fitness world, namely Balletone and Mat Pilates.

Cleaner and sharper arm movements.

Our arms start from the back because they were once wings.
~Martha Graham
Often, the arms are the last part of the body to settle into strong technique. And no wonder, what with all the complexities of what the legs, feet and torso must do in such a large movement vocabulary as classical ballet. Even a torso well aligned with strong legs and feet under it can struggle through many complex movements, like pirouette turns, fouette turns and arabesques. Those, as well as many other steps, can be undone by the arms. This can be due to arm movements that are not well timed, or arms that "fly out" because the muscles surrounding the rib cage have released and the muscles of the shoulders and upper back are not properly engaged.

Here is a post about shoulder stability during a leg movement.
Another post; A New Way To Think About How Limbs Are Connected.

Locking in the proper placement of the shoulder in arabesque.

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Above are some beautiful examples of arabesques where the dancers' shoulders are engaged and properly placed. Clean and efficient.
Once a clean and efficient line is mastered, then a dancer can add more dramatic versions to their movement vocabularies. Always with the clean and efficient line as a home base. I like to tell my dancers, "Get the clean line. Then you have some place to go to."

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More articulate footwork.
 I don't promote cranking turnout through the feet (forcing the feet to be turned out more than what is realistically in the hips), because it is false turnout and very damaging to the ankles, knees, hips and back. I do promote clean foot positions. When a step is executed and finished in a clean position it usually means that the dancer has all the right muscles fired up.
Erg. The picture below is a no-no. The dancer has her feet cranked out and forced, the biggest clue being that there is a significant collapse of the insteps. I guarantee the knees are collapsed and rounded forward as well.

Some young dancers are naturally very flexible in their hips for turnout, and often they are naturally flexible through all the joints of their legs. For those students it's important for them to make the lifting up of their insteps second nature. This will help to make proper alignment through the torso, lower back and legs second nature as well.

"Don't let the glutes ruin your turnout party."
The leg has some isolated mobility inside the hip joint. You can rotate the leg inwardly and outwardly while at the same time not moving the hip, or rather, your butt. There are about six deep lateral rotator hip muscles responsible for this action, as well as other actions like adduction of the leg.

  1. Piriformis
  2. Gemellus Superior
  3. Obturator Internus
  4. Gemellus Inferior
  5. Obturator Externus
  6. Quadratus Femoris
Maintaining a turned out position of the leg or legs is very dependent on this group of muscles. For overall sustaining of a well aligned "ballet" posture, many muscles must work in unison. But not necessarily at the same intensities at the same times. Just standing in a first position is doable enough. What about when the leg must be lifted, whether for a quick move or sustained in the air? Those six small muscles can easily get bullied by a much large group of muscles. A group of muscles like the glutes, which are necessary for leg movements that require hip flexion and hip extension. To keep the glutes from taking over and thus tamping down the effectiveness of the internal rotator muscles, I like my students to think of the glutes as engaging and wrapping around the back of the hips. As opposed to being the main muscle to operate the leg, especially in moves requiring the leg to be lifted to the side of the body.
Nobody likes a bossy bully at their party.

Adding the nuance of the head and shoulders into movements.
Most dance forms, especially ballet, are dependent upon the use of the mirror. The mirror can be a valuable tool, issues of body image aside. As a dancer becomes more and more advanced they must learn to balance the utility of the mirror versus the habit of dancing to the mirror. At a certain level of accomplishment it is not enough to save dancing past the mirror to the "fourth wall". It is something that must be practiced in the classroom as well. Many nuanced movements of the head and/or shoulders require a dancer to lose eye contact with the mirror, while upping their reliance of their peripheral sight.On a more emotional and artistic note; it can be a blessing on those days that nothings "looks" right, and to just give way to the dance. Forget the mirror!


Keep your plies like warm taffy.
I am again blessed this year to be working with a few different levels. While the studio's oldest group of dancers has quite a repertoire of jumps in their movement vocab, the groups below will be learning some new steps, including jumps. The only safe way to execute all of these jumping steps (really any jump at all), is to start with a plie and end with a plie (whether on one leg or both legs). Bending the knees is not enough when one is talking about ballet technique. The quality of the plie becomes critical. A jerky, choppy or stifled plie can make a step more difficult to execute, and more importantly, cause injury to the dancer. I have been working on the concept of likening the muscles of the legs to taffy. If you have ever seen or handled cold or frozen taffy you will know what I mean. Difficult to move and even prone to shattering. Hot taffy becomes a hot mess! The plie should be like warm taffy. Pliable yet connected. It can still be manipulated and controlled.

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I think that's a pretty good list to start with.

Thanks for hanging out and reading. Feel free to share your thoughts. If you are interested in more from Miss Erin's DanceFit subscribe at the top of the page!

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thrill The World; It's Coming!

Last year was the first year I have ever done the international sensation Thrill The World, a day when, all over the world people dress up like zombies and collectively dance to Michael Jackson's iconic "Thriller".



This year will be the city of Chico's 5th year for participating in the event.

For me how it all started was I just wanted to learn the dance. The song and video came out in 1982. I was twelve years old. All these years have gone by and I had never learned the dance.

I thought it might be fun to make it something that my morning Zumba class could learn too. Learn it just for fun. Nothing more.

So for about 6 to 8 weeks, a couple of mornings a week anyone who was at the gym fifteen or so minutes before class joined me to learn it bit by bit.

Then came talk of performing it with the rest of the TTW zombies in our downtown plaza.



Some of my Zumba goers kiddos joined in the fun. Even more amazing was that people, who in their whole lives, had never done anything like TTW got "their zombie on" and joined in the dance. That, to me, is magic!

Saturday, October 26th 2013 marks this years TTW event. So it's time to get crack'in! So starting this Friday morning...

Zombie March

(forward) right left right left
(take-it-back) right left right left
(to-the-front) right left right left
(take-it-back) right left right left

Last year I scheduled a 2 hour block on a Sunday afternoon to really dig in to the choreography and to give people who weren't necessarily part of the Zumba crew to learn the dance. I'm hoping to do at least two this year. Dang! I better start planning this out!

Although, just like with last year, learning the dance doesn't mean you have to perform it. Learn it just for fun. Be part of the camaraderie. You can always come out and watch your fellows zombs. Plus, you can whip the dance out at parties!

Last year my family showed their love and support by coming out to the event location, which had a huge audience. Maybe this year I can talk a few of them into participating. 

One of the great things about TTW in Chico is that there are practices scheduled in our city's beautiful park, as well as a couple of other locations. Many groups coming together. Click here to find out more about those practices. To find out about locations all over the world, click here.

Most TTW organizations raise money for a local cause. To find out more about Chico's (Arts For All), click here.

Have you ever done the Thrill The World event? Got any favorite tips to "get one's zombie on"?

Thanks for hanging out and reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Erin