Monday, August 31, 2009

Pain Management

Dancers are often in pain. It’s a fact of life when you spend hours everyday pushing your muscles and bones beyond their usual limits. Sometimes running through a particular piece of choreography several times will cause muscles in a certain area to seize up. I remember longing for the day when I could be a “normal” person again: someone who would wake up free from pain and go about my day without taxing my body too much. Little did I know that my days would never morph into normality as I’d hoped, even after I stopped dancing.

Now I spend my days as a “normal” person, but it’s anything but the normal I dreamed about during my dancing days. As an employee at a bank, I work primarily at a computer. Any movement I make is one I force upon myself to take a break and get up and walk around. Unfortunately, my body has never really recovered from the abuse it took dancing. I’d like to do some research one day on retired ballet dancers and find out how many suffer from pain. Yesterday I read an article about Darcey Bussell; after being retired from dancing for two years she only exercises 45 minutes a week! She is determined to be a normal person, too. But back to my point…pain. How do dancers get relief from pain?

There are many things you can do to find relief—several of which I’ve tried. I can tell you what worked for me and then you can add comments to let us know what worked for you.

1. Chiropractic – Back when I was dancing, chiropractors were really considered alternative medicine. Today they have earned a more respectable place in medicine, and many primary care physicians refer patients to chiropractors. I’ve found that going once a month has been a good way to keep myself in alignment and to keep severe back pain at bay.

2. Acupuncture – I have a good friend from China who is an acupuncturist and I’ve seen her several times for back pain, ankle pain, neck pain, tennis elbow, depression, and what have you. She claims she can treat pretty much anything that ails you, and I don’t doubt it. Acupuncture can be expensive, and many insurance plans still don’t cover treatments. My acupuncturist actually doesn’t deal with insurance companies, so that makes it really hard for me to see her instead of a chiropractor, although sometimes I think acupuncture once a month would be ideal.

3. Massage – My healthcare plan allows me to see my chiropractor , who also employs massage therapists, and I can get an adjustment and a 30 minute massage all included in my $25 copay. You really can’t beat that, and the massage therapists there are wonderful. They target the areas where I’ve been experiencing the most pain lately. You have to feel comfortable telling them when they are pressing too hard or not hard enough. They can’t know unless you communicate with them, so don’t be afraid. Usually they are too gentle and I feel I could fall asleep since I’m so relaxed. This past month the girl was very intense and I was biting my tongue to keep from yelling out in pain. When I told her it was too much, she asked me if it was actually painful or just uncomfortable. I think that’s the way you can tell if it’s helping you or not: if it’s uncomfortable, it’s probably just right. I was actually in pain (with bruises to prove the point the next day), so she went a little lighter on the pressure after that.

4. Yoga – Sometimes just meditation and gentle stretching can relieve stress and tension. Using gravity to gently stretch out tight muscles while concentrating on your breathing can be a winning combination. There’s a lot to be said for meditation and pain, too.

5. Hot baths – Using Epsom salts in a nice, hot bath can be relaxing to tired muscles, especially at the end of a long day of dancing. If you’re pretty sure you’re going to be sore tomorrow, taking a hot bath tonight can help a lot. I like using REV for athletes. It’s a salt you can sit in for 15 minutes and it’s very helpful.

Does anyone else have ideas for helping relieve pain? Please leave a comment!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Music for Ballet Class

Recommended Music for Ballet Class

MUSIC FOR YOUR BALLET CLASS – Finis Jhung, Bill Brown, Basic Ballet 8 and 9

MUSIC FOR INTERMEDIATE BALLET CLASS – Finis Jhung, Scott Killian, Basic Ballet 5

BALLET MUSIC FOR 24 CENTER EXERCISES – Finis Jhung and Webster Smith, Basic Ballet 6 and Basic Ballet 7

NEW BALLET MUSIC 1 – Finis Jhung and Anna Korab, 27 Barre and Center Exercises

LISA HARRIS APRES LE PLIÉ Music for Ballet Class

LISA HARRIS VARIATIONS, Music for Ballet Class

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS, AT HARKNESS HOUSE Raymond Wilson, Pianist/Supv. by Sandra Balestracci Item 5031

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS, AT HARKNESS HOUSE Raymond Wilson, Pianist/Supv. by Mikhail Korogodsky Item 5032

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS Sophie Velberg, Pianist/Supv. by Sandra Balestracci Item 5054

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS Sophie Velberg, Pianist/Supv. by Mme. Halina Item 5050

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS Douglas Corbin, Pianist/Supv. by David Howard Item 6002

BALLET MUSIC FOR CLASS Douglas Corbin, Pianist/Supv. by David Howard Item 6003

25th ANNIVERSARY – David Howard,Douglas Corbin

BALLET MUSIC FOR BARRE AND CENTER FLOOR, Sophie Velberg, Pianist/Supv. by Mme. Halina Item 5049

BALLET MUSIC FOR BARRE AND CENTER FLOOR, Karl St. Charles, Pianist/Supv. by Mme. Halina Item 5044

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Applying Different Techniques

One of the advantages of taking ballet from many different teachers is learning that there is more than one way of doing things—and that it is good to be accommodating. If you’re in a class where the teacher likes you to brush the floor on a frappé, then you brush the floor with no questions asked. Some other variations on a frappé include wrapping the foot or flexing the foot at cou de pied prior to striking the floor.

Throughout a dance class you will see subtle (or not-so-subtle) differences between teachers. Some like you to extend the leg 90° à la seconde before executing a pirouette en dedans; others just want you to bring the foot directly to the knee. Some would like to see your leg as high as it can go in adagio at the expense of alignment; others would rather see your leg lower, using proper alignment. Some teachers are very particular about the port de bras they set for a combination while others are not so picky and would rather see you adding batterie or going for triple and quadruple pirouettes.

You really need to be sensitive to the expectations of the teacher in ballet. And as a teacher, it is important to make your expectations clear. I always found myself getting more attention from the teacher if I gave him or her exactly what they were looking for, rather than sticking strictly to my own goals. Of course, you can work on your goals within what the teacher is asking, but most teachers follow a plan of action and have a reason for asking you to do things a certain way. And even if they don’t, it isn’t your job to question their tactics!

I went to a class when I moved to a new area, and the teacher’s philosophy was one I’d never encountered before (and didn’t agree with at all). She wanted us to stand at the barre in first position, and when we moved into tendu we weren’t to shift our weight onto the supporting leg at all. We were to stay exactly as we’d been in first position. I was falling all over the place and was sore for several days, but I did my best to do as she asked. I wish I could say I got a job with her company, but that didn’t happen in this case. J

Learning to deliver what is asked of you will be a great asset when you go to an audition, too. The audition teacher may throw in something just to see how well you follow directions. They will tend to be more impressed with the people who do as they say, rather than those who show off with extra beats or pirouettes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Improve Your Balance

Improve Your Balance

In ballet, balance is a key factor. There’s more to balancing than simply holding a pose, too. Every aspect of an adagio exercise requires tremendous balance and control, whether you are holding a pose for several counts or simply moving from one pose to the next. A pirouette is a balance while turning. The interesting part about balancing, to me, is not so much the physical strength it involves, but the discipline of the mind. Both pieces are important.

Yes, you must be strong. In order to hold a balance you have to be in command of the pose and have the necessary strength to maintain it. We know that balancing at retiré is a good preparation for pirouettes. If you want to do a triple pirouette with the foot at the knee, you must be able to at least balance in that position without turning for as long as it would take to rotate three times.

When we practice balancing at the barre it is helpful to remember that the position we’re balancing in is never static. We aren’t statues; we’re living, breathing beings. There must be life and breath involved. I once had a teacher who would say that from a single balanced position, the audience must never know whether we will run off the stage, move into yet another position, or even begin to turn. This is where it’s imperative that we can adapt to those minuscule changes in order to maintain our equilibrium. Even if we feel ourselves drifting off to the right, we are able to make adjustments that put us back on our center axis without completely losing the balance.

I had another teacher who would come and stand next to us while we were balancing and make ridiculous movements like a chicken. Anything to make us lose our concentration and laugh. This part is what fascinates me more than the physical part. Being able to focus our thoughts on staying lifted out of the hips, breathing in and out, noticing change in the environment but sustaining our position within it—this takes a lot of practice and discipline. It’s important to stay with yourself and not worry about the person in front of you who may be doing a better or worse job of it than you are.

Another point I’d like to make about balance is focusing the eyes. Just as we’re not trying to look like a stiff statue, we may find it easier at first to maintain our balance if we keep our eyes focused on an object, but it’s really good to practice moving your focus too. When I was teaching I would try to start out class with balances on two feet, then on one foot, then moving from one position to another (for example, from retiré to arabesque or attitude), or taking the arms from fifth en haut to an open V and turning the gaze away from the barre.

Key Points for Balancing:

1. Lift out of the supporting hip. Let there be a circular energy: as your weight pushes down into the floor, lift the muscles above the kneecaps and through the thighs upward. Don’t “settle” into a balance.

2. Keep the back wide and don’t let the shoulder blades creep towards each other.

3. Think of lifting up and over, like your ribcage is resting on a little shelf.

4. Focus at or above your line of sight so your chin doesn’t drop.

5. Keep breathing and moving, adapting to minuscule changes in your body and the atmosphere.

6. Strengthen and engage your core, the abdominal muscles.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Choreography for Four Little Swans


Four Little Swans

Enter Upstage Left Cross Hands in front, B+ R foot front

Hold counts 1-3, cou de pied R foot devant on count 4

Enter Upstage Left Cross Hands in front, B+ R foot front

Hold counts 1-3, cou de pied R foot devant on count 4

1. Traveling R change coupé back and front, step R (cou de pied L bk), L(cou de pied R bk), continue for counts 1-8, 1-2 (head to R)

Small grand jeté onto R ouvert (3)-head lowers to look down at R leg),

Pas de bourrée LRL to 5th (4&5)

Relevé passé L to front of knee (6)-head changes to look L

Roll thru on R, lowering L to cou de pied front (7) hold (8)

2. Repeat step 1 to L, R, L (1-16, 1-16, 1-16)

Except last time relevé passé R leg, close R front 5th position plié (7) hold (8)

3. Entrechat quatre relevé passé R leg closing 5th back (head L on passé)(1-2)

Entrechat quatre relevé passé L leg closing 5th back (head R on passé)(3-4)

Four echappé to 2nd closing 5th, head moves L, down, R in half circle) Step travels upstage (5-8)

4. Repeat step 3 three times more (4 times altogether)

5. Chassé relevé 1st arabesque R (1&) Fondu L at cou de pied back (2) small temps levé R

Repeat L (3&4) Repeat 6 times more (8 arabesques altogether)

After last arabesque L, tombé onto R leg croisé devant

6. Traveling back on diagonal upstage Left, small coupé changes like in step 1

Step L cou de pied R front (1) step R cou de pied L back (2) Repeat (34)

Jeté á la seconde L onto diagonal and cou de pied R front (56)

Relevé R leg écarté devant 45˚ (7) Tombé R across (8)

7. Repeat step 6 three times more (4 times altogether)

After last écarté devant, roll thru on left foot and cou de pied R back (no tombé) (8)

8. Pas de chat downstage R on diagonal 15 times (head downstage R) (1-15)

Attitude croisé devant L, in fondu on supporting leg (16)

9. Embôité attitude devant RLRL 45˚ (head front en face)(1-4)

Embôité attitude derrière RLRL 45˚ (head down en bas)(5-8)

10. Repeat step 9 three times more (4 times altogether)

11. Pique L, retiré R to front of knee (traveling stage L)-head tilts L

Tombé R across (head tilts L), Tombé R across (head tilts R) 7 piques in all (1-7)

Attitude devant R leg (8)

12. 15 embôités devant traveling downstage, step L on count 16 or pique to 1st arabesque letting go of hands, step onto L and lower to R knee.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Daily Dose of Discipline

I’ve been thinking lately about how dancing can affect someone’s life in general, whether they continue to dance past high school and college or not. As a teacher I had many talented students who went on to study dance at the university level. Some found their way to NYC and Broadway (Lyndy Franklin and A Chorus Line), others are teaching dance, but many have gone into separate fields altogether. When I was younger I used to think that I had to be involved in dance or else all the hours I’d spent perfecting my craft were for naught. But is it true that what we learn in the dance studio can’t apply somehow toward our life in general? That there aren’t lessons about working hard, little by little, to see a change several weeks or months down the road that can help us no matter where we end up?

It saddens me that I’m no longer involved in dance the way I used to be. When my family moved away from Kentucky to live closer to my husband’s family in North Carolina, we left behind a thriving dance supply store (Dance Essentials, Inc.) and I left a wonderful teaching post as director of the ballet program at Town and Village School of Dance in Paris, Kentucky. My parents kept the store running for a few more years before selling it and joining us in North Carolina, and on a recent trip through Kentucky we stopped to find that the store had closed for good. It was sad to see our small legacy stamped out, so to speak. But I believe there was a higher purpose for our lives and it was time to move on.

Three years after moving to North Carolina, my father-in-law developed an aggressive, malignant brain tumor. We lived a short drive away—we could even walk if we had to—and it was a blessing to be available if he fell down and needed help. We were at his side when he passed from this world, and though we miss him terribly, we feel blessed that we were given those few years to spend with him. We witnessed a most impressive and dignified journey toward the end of life as he knew it, and saw his faith in God and the world-to-come gently bud and flower.

When we came here it was necessary for me to find a “real” job immediately, since my husband had not found work yet. I landed a job with First Union Bank doing support work and developing simple reports in Excel and PowerPoint. From there I learned how to manipulate some simple Access database back ends, and started building a few new databases to make the reporting I was doing more automated. My father-in-law was not surprised by my interest and ability to jump right into software development. He was a project manager working on IT-related projects at Bank of America and elsewhere, and he encouraged me to move into the IT field full force. He saw that software development had a creative side and dancing had a technical side, so the two fields in his mind were a perfect fit, and the transition wasn’t as difficult for me as you might think.

Although I enjoy my work, my passion has always been dancing. I probably couldn’t teach a class to save my life now, but I did manage to teach for a year at Dance Davidson. My daughters took dance until their interest waned and they moved on to other activities. And my body went through a transformation with fibromyalgia that on the worst of days made moving a fraction of an inch excruciatingly painful; on the best of days I would be able to go without a nap, but most days I was so exhausted it was all I could do to stay awake through work and fall into bed for a nap before supper, only to hit the sack again at 8:30 p.m. No matter how much sleep I got I was still exhausted every morning.

So I wonder at times how dancing has enabled me to do the things I’ve done that aren’t dance-related, and it’s amazing what I’ve discovered. I have not missed any days of work due to my fibromyalgia. From the reading I’ve done, many people with the disease miss work and apply for disability. That was never an option for me. I had gone to ballet class day in and day out, whether I had menstrual cramps or not—even the day after I had my wisdom teeth pulled I was there, modifying things slightly to adjust to my sore and swollen jaw. Whatever mood I may have been, even when I was fasting for my religion…I was at ballet every single day. The discipline of that alone has had a tremendous impact on my life. As a mother, I find myself counseling my children to suck it up (using more motherly wording, of course—“You’ll feel better once you get to school,” for example!) because they use every excuse in the book to get out of doing things. I can see that limping through life on excuses is not an option and I don’t want them to get into that habit.

We learn as dancers to accept our limitations for what they are on any particular day, and to deal with and adjust to those minute by minute. Our balance may be off on one day because we have a cold, it might be hard to feel lifted because we’re having menstrual cramps, or a muscle or tendon is pulled or sore from overuse. We learn to adapt. Almost every dancer has some sort of ailment they are working to minimize. Wrapping an ankle because of tendinitis, wearing leg warmers and coming early to warm up stiff joints, applying ice packs…you can look at dancers in class and sometimes you can see evidence of their adjusting to ailments and sometimes you can’t.

There are times we go to class even when we’re sad or not in the mood. I can tell you that when I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona and was going through a difficult emotional time (divorce), far from my family in Indiana, I suffered from panic attacks and depression weeks before I finally sought medical help. But did I miss class? No way! I remember going into the small closet we used as teaching assistants to change our clothes (where we stored the CD players and equipment), crying my eyes out and then pulling myself together enough to face fifty tap or ballet students in the elective classes I taught. Somehow I managed, and it has made me a more resilient person to this very day. Suffering from hardships and going through the motions (no pun intended!) in ballet class everyday kept me grounded and gave me a sense of peace I couldn’t have found anywhere else at that time in my life.

And now I am where I am, mothering three lovely children and teaching them lessons I learned about working through difficulties and never giving in or giving up on your dreams, simply by taking each day at a time and doing your best…minute by minute.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Classical Ballet: Combinations for Ten Complete Advanced Classes

I just completed compiling combinations from classes I either took or those I taught dating all the way back to 1985! I'm publishing it through Lulu and was hoping to make it a coil bound book so it would be easier to manage while teaching a class. However, after going through the process of publishing the book I realized that only perfect bound books are eligible to receive an ISBN, so I had to go back and redo it. I'm waiting for my proof copy to arrive in the mail, and if I get real artsy I can create my own cover design as well. They say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but on Lulu those with custom covers sell four times as much as those without.

So, for my followers I'm posting a link to the new book. It won't be available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble until I get that ISBN, but it is available from Lulu (albeit minus the ISBN on the cover page!). It is called Classical Ballet: Combinations for Ten Complete Advanced Classes.


Monday, August 10, 2009


Center Pirouettes 4/4

5th position croisé devant R foot front

1 Tendu écarté devant with R arm 5th high L arm 2nd

2 Plié in 2nd position, arms 2nd

3 Retiré L leg to front of knee, arms to 5th en avant

4 Point tendu L éffacé devant, R arm 5th en haut L arm 2nd

5 Close 5th

&6 Tendu L to side écarté derrière, close 5th back, L arm 5th en haut, R to 2nd

&7 Tendu L to back, L arm arabesque front, close 5th

&8 Tendu L to side écarté derrière, close 5th front, L arm 5th en haut, R to 2nd

1 Passé back (R) foot to front of knee, arms 5th en avant

2 Place into lunge croisé devant preparation for pirouette en dedans

3-4 Double pirouette en dedans to 5th croisé L foot front

5 Relevé to 3rd arabesque

6 Place 4th preparation for pirouettes en dehors

7-8 Double pirouette en dehors to 5th back finishing croisé L devant

1-16 Repeat all on other side

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Embôité Turns across Floor 2/4

Begin upstage L corner, R foot croisé devant

1-4 Embôité turning (4 embôité at cou de pied devant=2 turns), arms low 3rd,

changing opposite arm front as leg)

5-6 Tombé onto R, sauté de basque turning

7-8 Soutenu turn R

1-2 Piqué turn en dedans

3-4 ¾ of a piqué turn en dedans to lower L leg to sous-sus croisé back

5 Extend R leg 45° croisé devant

6 Close sous-sus R croisé devant

7 Hold

8 Plié 5th position

1-16 Repeat across floor in same direction

Monday, August 3, 2009