Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Technique Tuesday; Keeping The Shoulder Stable During A Leg Lift Side.

The shoulder complex is just that, complex. There are so many small connections for fine tuned movement with all of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the shoulders.

So it's no wonder that movements in other parts of the body can have a resounding effect on what the shoulders do.

The video tutorial today addresses an aspect of shoulder stability during movement. Of course, this is pretty specific to dance oriented movements, but stability is stability, so other parallels can probably be drawn when thinking about stability and placement during movement (i.e., a one-legged dead lift ).

Thanks for hanging out and watching.

Enjoy the dance that is life!


Monday, July 22, 2013

So You Think You Can Tell A Difference? {I got a little ranty on this one...}

No shock that I am, as millions of others are, an Über-fan of FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance?" I adore most all of the choreographers, both the ones that have been around for multiple seasons and the newer ones. If you are familiar with the show, you know that there are male and female choreographers. 

The other day I was on Facebook (or "book-facing" as my husband would call it) and I came across an interesting article;
Behind the "ballet is like porn" headlines... That'll get one's attention!

The quick and dirty of the article is about a comment made by a female artistic director, Tamara Rojo, about how the world of classical Ballet is dominated by male choreographers vs. female choreographers.

Just about any subject combined with the words "like porn" will cause a stir. The article does address that her comment was not necessarily omni-focused on the sexuality of specific choreography:

Rojo's use of the word porn, however, has a very different and specific slant. She claims that men and women tend to approach the art of choreography from opposite perspectives: while the latter start with the emotion they want to express, the former begin with the making of steps – an approach to bodies that Rojo suggests is parallel to the objectification of porn.

Hmmm....interesting. I teach in a small city, and as is fairly typical in communities like mine, most ballet instruction and choreography is done by women teachers and choreographers. But I have worked with male choreographers in the past. Bigger arenas do have a trickle down effect on the world of dance. I think that when its an issue of female choreographers being encouraged to produce works and pave new grounds, it's worth discussing.

From my own experiences, the male choreographers that were objectifying, or had a running theme of portraying female dancers as muse-like creatures reeking of poorly veiled sexual undertones, were kinda sceevy bastards any ways, and should in no way have access to young female dancers. The ones who produced work that had passion, depth and emotion were men comprised of, well, depth, passion and emotion. Any sexual undertones were shared among male and female dancers.

I have long considered many of the traditional tales of the classics of ballet to be somewhat misogynistic and degrading to women. "Giselle", to me is the worst among them. A handsome, young male aristocrat decides to go slumming for the afternoon in a village of peasants. He gets sweet on one of the pretty young ladies in the village, and bestows all kinds of promises on the naive Giselle. It is soon found out by all that he's a liar when his mom and dad catch up to him and his escapades. To Giselle's humiliation it is revealed that her new love is not who he said he was and that he is already engaged to another. And a woman of a much higher station than Giselle. Ouch. Giselle goes completely mental (clearly the works of Judy Blume and a copy of Go Ask Alice were missing at her local library). She eventually, although quite gracefully, dies of a broken heart. Right there in the center of town. And why wouldn't she? She is a young female, clearly incapable of any sort of resilience, and completely at the mercy of all that makes her the "fairer sex".
So Fancy Pants (he has a name. And no, it's not punk-ass punk. He is referred to as the Duke) does feel kind of bad after all. He goes to mourn at Giselle's grave late at night. That's when the Wilis come out (the spirits of young maidens abandoned on their wedding days, set on revenge. Oh, Hell hath no fury!). Queen Wili rolls onto the scene and breaks out the Official Girl Interrupted Rule Book. She commands that the Duke do what all men must do when they trespass onto Wili territory; dance till he dies! (okay, I will concede that she is a bit harsh). But Giselle comes wafting in (remember, she's a Wili now) and saves his sorry hide. She agrees to do half the dancing so Duke can do what it is he needs to do to stay alive. Carbo-load and cat-nap, I guess. Well, Giselle does get eternal peace in the end. She earns the privilege of becoming just worm food and not a spirit of nighttime torments. While Sir Spring Break gets to go on swiving the hired help and maybe tossing a thought or two about the pretty young village girl as he slowly hurls himself towards gout and sleep apnea. Yeah, its not my favorite story line.
Wow. I digress.
There are other story lines of the classics that have that equation of female empowerment = automatic sacrifice. No reaping the benefits of making strong independent choices, or having the opportunity to learn from one's mistakes and then building a strong sense of self. Think about where all those female villains come from in these antiquated tales. They are almost always a woman scorned, seldom a woman wisened.
Dang it! I went on another tangent.
One last thing before I make my way back to the beginning (what were we talking about?). Lest you think I have it in for dudes, don't. I'm frequently horrified at attitudes towards men and boys in our modern culture, and how we (as a society) punish them for behaving as if they have a male brain (um, hello?) while simultaneously punishing them for not exhibiting signs of having a female brain. Men are more than capable of being both strong and sensitive, as women we need to understand what sensitive looks like for a man. Just like how we, as woman appreciate being recognized for how we show strength.
Okay, seriously. I went in directions that I did not intend to when I started.

My original point for this post was going to tie the article about ballet and porn to having the opportunity to observe any stand out differences between male and female choreographers on SYTYCD. After reading the article I can't help but want to see if there are any stand out differences. Join me?

Paul Taylor is one of my all-time favorite choreographers. His male and female dancers soar not as objectified stereotypes, but as graceful artists and commanders of movement and space.

Have a look!

Paul Taylor's Esplanade Part 3/5

Company B is one of my all-time favs!

One last question. Was Degas a misogynist? Remember, he did all those paintings of ballerinas and women drying off after bathing. Here's an interesting article.

Thanks for hanging out! No, really! Thanks!

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Enjoy the dance that is life!


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Technique Tuesday; A New Way To Think About How Limbs Are Connected. {And Maybe I Unload About The Past, Just A Little...}

How do dancers get that quality in their arms that makes their limbs appear to go on forever? They don't just move through the air, but rather they move the air around them.

One of the keys to employing this quality of movement is to rethink how the arms connect to the body. Yes, the arms are connected to the torso via the shoulders. But what if we think of arm movements originating in the center of the back. Now we are not just aware of the muscles, ligament and tendons of the shoulders, but we have tapped into the power supply provided by the muscles of our backs as well.

To be more specific; the trapezius (connecting shoulder and back), the latissimus dorsi and rhomboideus major.

The shoulders have enough to do, what with the complex structure of the shoulder complex, without having to be the "engine" of sweeping arm movements. The back however, well, just look at the size of those guys (muscles).

I first was introduced to this concept years ago (many, many years ago) at a Summer Intensive Dance Workshop. It was laid out for me in a kind of round about way though. (Cue "doodly, doodly, wavy going back in time" music).

It was back in the mid to late 80's. I was at a Summer Dance Workshop at Westside School Of Ballet in Santa Monica, Ca. Yvonne Mounsey was the founder. In her youth she was a much esteemed ballerina for the father of neo-classical as well as American ballet, George Balanchine.

It is very common at Summer Intensives to bring in guest teachers, as well as using a studio's own talent. This particular summer it was decided to bring in another of Balanchine's Ballerinas. Melissa Hayden. Okay, for starters, there is no question that that lady had credentials (may she rest in piece).  Pretty sane here. Here is a lovely article about her, It is a great tribute to her careers as both a highly esteemed dancer and dance teacher.

I believe all the words of the above article. But I tell you what, she was scary as HELL that summer. Even her friend who had danced with her long ago was taken aback at her approach to teaching students as a guest artist.

Now, I was a pretty shy young dancer. Frequently uncertain of my abilities, and frankly terrified by my own shadow half the time. Boy, I tell ya. She went after that like a dog after a rabbit.

Two incidences that have seared themselves into my memory from her week (2 weeks?) of teaching;

Standing at the barre (did I mention these were very populated classes?), I can't remember what step we were working on. Apparently I was rolling my shoulders in a bit. Okay, I admit it...I was slouching. It was most likely the kind of slouching that attracts bullies to their victims like bees to honey . Not a slouch of disinterest, but lack of confidence. Anyway, she came up to me, fairly close to my face. She proceeded to ask me, "Have you ever known happiness?" (What kind of question is that? and OMG, the guest teacher is talking directly to me!). "Um...yes. I think so", I answered timidly. CLAP!! Right in my face. A loud, invasive clap of thunder, mere centimeters from my nose. Well as you can imagine I did exactly what she wanted me to do. I stood up straight as possible. Chin up. Sternum presented in all its glory, despite my mortification and humiliation. Hey, I get it. Every teacher has their methods for getting their points across. But for frick'en frick's sake, we have a complex language for a reason. Lord knows I've come up with some pretty crazy analogies and metaphors to explain things to dance students. For me though, their intimidation and humiliation  do not serve any purpose to me. I'll let someone else in their life provide them with whatever bullsh*t baggage they are destined to drag along their journey through life. Questioning someone's ability to understand happiness in one's life to teach proper carriage of the torso seems rather personal and inappropriate. Performing arts is greatly comprised of smoke and mirrors anyways. "Pretend you are the happiest you've ever been child. Now never dance another way!" How hard was that? I'm no great scholar or word smith even. That was a great ice-breaker for the mighty leg-hip/arm-shoulder pin-grab-wrestle-wrangle-jam. So violent was she in her minstrations to the placement of my limbs during grand battements (she did not necessarily hurt me and OMG, the guest teacher is grabbing my limbs!), that one of the studio owners pulled me aside an hour later to make sure that I was okay.

I was not alone. Even the top dance students had stress related pains and injuries. I'm pretty sure that, to this day, I have a knot in my upper back with her name on it. Most of the class pianists grew apprehensive to play for her classes, due to her combative nature and abrasive approach to every interaction. She also exhibited some authentic O.G. dance teacher habits like smoking during rehearsals of Balanchine rep. Ah, the good old days...

Okay. Enough whining about the past. Thanks for letting me unload.

Let's get to the positive. Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I innately developed a sense of learning what I could from whatever teacher I happened to be working with. While I don't remember her exact words, Miss Hayden conveyed a very strong sense of moving your limbs, especially your arms, from a place more central to your core than just the limb's connecting joint. I didn't necessarily internalize and utilize this point of technique right away. But as my skills and technique grew, and challenges were presented to me, I would revisit the lessons presented to me.

I suppose I should be grateful for the attention I received from Hayden. In many ways I am. While I wouldn't clap in a student's face, getting an understanding of proper posture and presentation of the torso (carriage) is of the utmost importance to dancers. I prefer, as an instructor, a well constructed verbal instruction combined with gentle physical manipulations. While it felt awkward as hell to have my limbs pulled this way and that in front of my peers (where is that gaping, swallowing  hole in the ground when you need it?), it has contributed greatly to my understandings of body alignment for ballet technique. Here and here. Perhaps most importantly though, how I wish to convey information and ideas to my students.

Thanks for hanging out and reading.

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Miss Erin

Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Monday! Dance Fitness Routine; "Blurred Lines".

I grew up watching ABC's "Growing Pains"Alan Thicke played the lovable and wise patriarch of the family. Leo Dicaprio appeared on the show early in his career.

When the hell did Mr. Thicke have a hot son? It appears Robin Thicke has had quite a career in music, but only recently has he been shuttled to the top with the hit "Blurred Lines", ft. T.I. and Pharrell Williams.

Questionable intentions behind the lyrics perhaps (sort of a modern "Baby It's Cold Outside". Dude, she said she really must go!), but catchy as all get out. And I'll be the first to admit, sexy as hell.

Fun song to dance to under most any circumstances (unless you are trying to escape some drink pushing creeper's house on a winter's night).

So here is a dance fitness routine;

You know Alan Thicke is not without his own musical merits and legacy. Within this link is the proof. Warning; the unrated "Blurred Lines" video is in it as well. I don't know if I have watched the unrated version or not. So you've been warned. I don't know how risque they's is gonna get. Also, your mind might be blown with some of the most spectacular aerobics choreography that the 80's had to offer. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Thanks for hanging out!

Enjoy the dance that is life!

~Miss Erin

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th Of July! A Dance Of the Stars and Stripes!

In 1958 George Balanchine, often known as the father of American ballet, choreographed a ballet in salute of his adoptive country. Stars and Stripes. The music is by American composer John Philip Sousa.

Below is an excerpt of an American classic!

Enjoy! May your 4th of July be filled with fun, family and friends. Stay safe!

~Miss Erin