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Getting your students to perform

By: The Dance World Editor

By: By Angela D’Valda Sirico of Dance Teacher Web

DTW_perform_MAIN

With the new season just ahead of us it is important to get our students to perform for shows, competitions and in class! Students need to understand that it’s not just about the technique but to also get them to understand how to express themselves through their performance. When children are young it is relatively easy to get them to perform because they haven’t developed all the inhibitions that come along with pre-teen and teens, but once those hormones start to come to life it can be an uphill struggle to get them to just enjoy their dancing. Usually it is because they are afraid to demonstrate any emotion because they feel so unsure of themselves, but for those that have these issues they definitely need help to feel confident letting it all come out!

I don’t encourage “mirror dancers,” but very often students are afraid to really look at themselves in the mirror and to actually like what they see. This is the first hurdle that they need to get over. You know the dancers that I am talking about, the ones whose eyes are always darting from side to side giving a look of total insecurity. I encourage my dancers to get acquainted with themselves and to look in the mirror and see someone who looks fabulous and exciting instead of dull and unattractive. To find the qualities in their faces that they like and to make different expressions to see which ones they think reflect their personalities best. Of course, in the beginning they are unable to look at themselves without giggling and feeling supremely embarrassed but the more they get used to looking at their faces the more they begin to see their redeeming features. Then the key is to get them to dance to different types of music so that they can have an opportunity to express whatever feelings are appropriate.

Just as we teach technique so must we teach performance skills to our students so that they are truly able to not only express themselves but also to reach out to their audiences with something powerful and meaningful. There is so much emphasis today on how many leaps and turns dancers can do and all the other tricks that are used in choreography that the message can sometimes be very confusing to young dancers. Of course we want them to have clean, strong technique but let’s not get away from the real reason people dance, and that is as a means to express themselves. Let’s not override the beauty of movement and the feeling of being at one with the music, the pure joy and empowerment of making something memorable on stage that will leave the audiences wanting more!

I always tell my dancers that the technique is the vehicle to help them bring the most that they can to their dancing. It is extremely important to have correct technique, and the more you have the more possibilities open up for a dancer to show the world how talented they are, but technique alone does not a dancer make! There are many technically great dancers in every major city who struggle on a regular basis to find a job performing because they have become so hung up on only perfecting their technique that they have forgotten why they wanted to dance in the first place. I find this so sad because they probably didn’t have a teacher who could help them to develop their individuality and confidence to a point that they felt comfortable with themselves so that they could get out on a stage and express their feelings to their audiences. Some people are just shy and find it so difficult to come out of themselves and put their feelings on display, however if you can get them to do it as teens they will go out into the world with confidence and this will help them even if they don’t become performers because they will be well received everywhere.

Once dancers understand the whole picture and everything that is needed to make a terrific performance, they will fall in love with dance all over again! They definitely need help to arrive at this conclusion unless they just happen to have that “it” factor, but as we know, those individuals are few and far between. The more we are able to help them find themselves, the more they will be able to give to their audiences, and the better they will feel about themselves in general.

Should you Strengthen your Quads?

 Should You Stretch or Strengthen Your Quads? [4 exercises to try]

dance legsThe way teachers sometimes talk about our quads, it’s easy to feel like we’re expected to dance without them.

“Don’t grip your quads!”

“The movement should come from underneath the leg, use your hamstrings, not your quads!”

“Don’t do squats, you don’t want to over-develop your quads.”

“Your quads are too big.” (FYI if a teacher ever tells you that, find a new teacher! Just my opinion…)

I’ve got news for you: Your quads aren’t bad.

And I’m going to explain why in today’s post.

*Guess who’s legs those are (—>) and you win an internet-hug! (answer at the end of this post, but please don’t skip ahead. Read the whole dang thing)

NO MUSCLES OR MOVEMENTS ARE “BAD”

Just like pronation isn’t bad. You may be warned against using your quads or pronating your feet, but you actually need these important muscles and movements to function optimally and avoid injury in dance.

You need to use your quads to dance, and ideally they should be strong. Trying to dance without your quads is just silly so you can stop feeling bad about it right now.

I’m talking about the “Lift your leg using your hamstring” cue during developpe or grand battement front and side, and other such movements. Sorry, it just isn’t possible. Your hamstrings don’t do that.

I’m sure you’ve had teachers tell you that to lift the leg, you shouldn’t be using your quads, but rather your inner thighs (adductors), hamstrings, and butt. And if you feel your quads “gripping” that’s bad bad bad and you will get big, bad, bulky quads as a result.

I would LOVE to see you do something badass like this developpe a la seconde without using your quads… Good luck.

I have muscular legs. It’s my genetic programming since puberty and even before. I’m athletic. I’m not a perfect ballet body-type.

As such, I was always told that this was because I was working the wrong way. My technique was all backwards. I was using my quads too much and that I need to stop because my quads would get too big and I wouldn’t be hired as a dancer. It made me feel awful about myself, my body, and my abilities as a dancer.

I’m sure many of you can relate to this fear of quad over-use.

But for the record, that’s all BS. You quads are supposed to lift your leg. Let them do their dang job.

THE QUAD-FEAR IS EVERYWHERE

Here are a few examples of this quad fear mindset from around the net:

A Q&A from balletdancersguide.com:

Q: “For two years I took a ballet class for one day a week. And my teacher told me I had extreme potential to be a professional ballet dancer. So she told me to sign up for the alabama ballet school which I did. In january she let me en pointe but the pointe classes weren’t that good so I had to practice and learn by myself at home. Everything went well except for developpes and grand battements. I used my quads instead of my inner thigh muscles. now i’m trying to figure out how do I not use my quads and just my inner thigh muscles for the developpes.”

A: “…Always remember, your developpes and grand battements both initiate from the backs on the legs (glutes). So during all your ballet classes, try to feel each movement initiating from the glutes as this will help to stop using your quads…”

Ok so yes it’s true that many dancers have trouble activating their adductors, but your goal shouldn’t be to stop using your quads. And FYI, your glutes don’t flex the hip (anatomy speak for ‘lift the leg’), so it’s impossible to use your butt for this movement. Your butt actually stretches as you lift your legup in front of you (more on that a bit further down this post).

And just check out some more comments under the main Q&A (in particular about the quads “bunching up”. How exactly does one make their muscles bunch up? Is that like an advanced spindle cell compression technique I don’t know about??)

Or check this out:

From this  thread on dance.net :

“In ballet when lifting your leg for something like a grande battement, you are not supposed to grip with your quads, you are supposed to push from underneath the leg, more so with the hamstring. This can be quite difficult because our first instinct is to grab with the quad.”

Our first instinct is to “grab with the quad” because one of your quads, the big rectus femoris, was designed to help lift your leg. Again, let it do it’s dang job! The hamstring  stretches when you lift your leg up, it does not do the work.

Nichelle from Dance Advantage does a really great job explaining the whole mis-interpreted “lift from underneath” cue HERE. She explains that this cue could just be a poor choice of language as the root of our quad confusion:

‘Note that the language in the phrase I’ve repeated above, “coming from underneath,” could easily be interpreted by students as implying that the muscles underneath the leg (the hamstrings) are responsible or must be used to lift the leg. It seems to me that this may be how the myth of lifting with the hamstrings gets passed along.’

Semantics are a bitch.

This post is to de-demonize the quads.

In fact, in the majority of dancers I work with, their quads are pretty dang weak. Sorry. It’s true.

All your quad aversion might be making you weaker.

For example, I love split squats as a supplemental strengthening exercise for dancers (more info on split squats later in this post). Many dancers I initially work with can only do 5 repetitions with their body weight before having to stop from intense quad burning. Does that sound like a dancer who needs to learn how to use their quads better?

Hell yes.

And just a note, even though we’re focusing on the quads for this particular post, remember that it’s not productive to isolate one muscle group under a laser, but rather I encourage you to look at how it’s functioning in context of whole body movement.

That said, welcome to quad city.

WHAT DO THE QUADS DO?

Lets talk about quad function.

There are 4 quads—–>

All of them straighten your knee.

Only one of them straightens your knee all the way(vastus medialis).

Only one of them also flexes the hip (rectus femoris).

Main quadriceps group functions: Knee extension + hip flexion. Aka anything that lifts your leg up above 90 degrees with your knee straight. That’s, like, a lot of stuff you do in dance…

The rectus femoris in particular is the quad muscle that lifts your leg up in hip flexion. Because it crosses two joints- the hip AND the knee- it is more common for this muscle to be inhibited, or weak, because it is bigger and has more responsibilities.

Here are some other important muscles that help to flex the hip in a developpe:

  • Adductors pectineus and magnus
  • Psoas major
  • Iliacus
  • Sartorius
  • Tensor fasciae latae (TFL)

Rectus femoris is the only hip flexor also responsible for keeping the knee straight. Because of it’s dual function, if it gets weak, any of the other hip flexors on that list could get over-used and tight.

Got tight hips? Maybe your quads are weak…

Or maybe one of the four quads is weaker than the other 3, and this imbalance itself makes your quads feel sore and “grippy”.

So to stretch or to strengthen- It’s not always a simple answer.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert at teaching dance technique and I’m not a ballet teacher. What I do quite well, however is provide dancers with supplementary exercises to help them experience their bodies in new ways that will automatically help them perform their dance techniques better.

So I’ll share some of my more quad-related nuggets with you today.

It’s not so simple as “foam roll and stretch your quads”, or “strengthen your quads with lunges”. Re-training your quads for optimal function is movement pattern dependent, meaning your quads might quite strong doing one thing, but soft as sh!t at another movement pattern.

I hope today to show you a few examples of different ways that I’ve worked with dancers on their quad needs.

SHOULD YOU STRETCH YOUR TIGHT, OVERWORKING QUADS?

Most of the time, no.

Try first asking “why are they tight?”  because “they need to be stretched” is rarely the answer.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s important to not just to stretch or strengthen the quads  looking at them under a laser beam, in isolation. You have to look at whole body movement, and how and when the quads are working (or not) within that pattern.

Maybe your quads feel tight because they’re under-working and you need to stop stretching them… A viable possibility. A very similar thing happens with excessive hamstring stretching.

IMPROVE ALIGNMENT FOR OPTIMAL QUAD FUNCTION

Here’s what I see most often: A dancer who doesn’t have awareness of the position of their pelvis or spine or knees or feet during a given movement affecting how the quads (and other muscles, of course) are recruited.

Like the example of the split squat earlier, when a dancer learns where their pelvis should be in space during this exercise, it changes how it feels big time, and they go from being able to do 20 down to 5.

Another common example: Stiff feet and ankles can affect how the quads activate. Will just stretching the quads change how the foot functions? Probably not on its own, because the way your feet interact with the floor influence how things above them work.

And often hamstrings that hold too much protective tension (from overstretching, perhaps?) can prevent the quads from functioning properly. Trust me, all the hamstring stretching I did didn’t help me one bit to straighten my legs fully.

Stretching a muscle without working to improve the position of your bones- feet, pelvis, whatever- they are reacting to won’t change anything. It’ll just make that muscle feel kind of tight.

There are so many possibilities, and we all have our own unique story. I’ll share my own experience, and maybe you can relate.

MY QUAD CONUNDRUM

An n=1 example.

I’m a clear case of quads not functioning optimally because I never seem to be able to straighten my knees all the way while lifting my leg up. I got the “straighten your knees” correction a lot. Made me think, “dang, my quads are all grippy I should stretch them more”.

POP QUIZ: Which muscles straighten the knee and lift your leg? (you should know this by now…)

However, if I lie on my stomach and try to pull my heels to my butt to stretch my quads, I can’t get them all the way there. And I don’t feel a quad stretch despite the clear stiffness.

So which is it? Are my quads weak because I can’t straighten my knee? Or are they tight and need stretching because I can’t get my heels to my butt?

Should I stretch or should I strengthen?

The answer is kind of both, but mostly WORK ON ALIGNMENT. Which of course you couldn’t know without looking at me in person (this is why I can’t give you specific advice over the internet, guys!).

Remember your quads don’t work in isolation. They do what they do because of what’s happening above and below- The ankles, knees, pelvis, and spine.

In my case, mobilizing my hips and feet, and repositioning my pelvis helped me to feel better quad recruitment, and as a result of muscles doing their jobs properly and not needing to hold as much tension, I can get my heels closer to my butt, too.

I’ve seen this with several of my clients as well. Sometimes activating the quads will help them to release tension elsewhere that is preventing them from lengthening. Yes, activating the quads can release tension from the hips.

So yeah… It’s not as simple as stretch this, strengthen that.

Like many of my blog posts, you’ll probably have more questions than answers at this point. But that’s ok! I really do want you to think and ask questions. Don’t believe everything you think you know.

HOW TO OPTIMIZE QUAD FUNCTION FOR BETTER STRENGTH & EXTENSIBILITY

Strength meaning, you can activate them at the right time, generate enough force to lift your leg as high as you want, and protect your knees from exploding?

Extensibility meaning that because they activate at the right time, harmoniously with other muscles with similar and opposite functions, they can lengthen further because they don’t hold the excess tension that a poorly coordinated movement pattern tends to accumulate.

If  movements like plies, squats, lunges, hip bridges and even back-bends cause discomfort in your hips, lower back, or knees, could be sign your quads need some lovin’.

I’m going to suggest that the supplemental work you do to help re-train your quads should include movements and positions you don’t into very often in dance.

This means doing exercises that require:

  1. Breathing- Hard because I reckon you hold your breath for stability.
  2. Hip extension– Hard because our hip flexors get pretty tight and short in dance.
  3. Hip adduction– Hard because we’re always stretching our adductors
  4. Hip internal rotation– Hard because we’re always turning out.

Your quads might be pretty good at the dance moves, but get out of dance mode and the quad truth is revealed.

Not sure what any of those terms meant? I’m too lazy to explain in this post (it’s already too long), so prof Google can help you out if you want more info.

So what’s the solution for quad mastery?

MY FAVOURITE QUAD EXERCISES

For strength, releasing tension, and general awareness.

These will also help you to find center with your pelvis, making life better in general.

Split stance breathing

Inspired by Anatomy in Motion.

In this exercise you must stand with both legs parallel (internal rotation), and as narrow as you can manage (adducted). The back leg (extended hip) is the “working” leg, that you’ll be focusing on straightening while it is in extension behind you.

All you have to do is breathe. Put one hand on your back, one on your stomach, or even put your hands on the sides of your ribs. As you inhale, expand into your hands. As you exhale, get all the air out. Aim for a 3 times as long exhale to inhale. Exhale so much that you give yourself no choice but to inhale. Try to keep your butt relaxed.

As you do this, you may notice that the position of your pelvis changes subtly. As you keep your awareness on your back leg straightening, you may notice your hip, calf, or ankle stretching, and your quad starting to burn. Good. Keep going. Keep breathing. Go until that quad burn becomes too intense. I don’t know how long this will take you.

Go for a little walk around. How does it feel to have awoken your quad and reposition your pelvis with your breath and focused awareness? Probably kind of lopsided, but loose in the hip and awesome. Do the other side now.

From here, some exercises to strengthen your quads and improve alignment include:

Deadbug

Half kneeling

Split squats

 

Try these out, and see how your new positionally stronger quads feel in dance.

One client asked me once, how do these exercises transfer into dance?

Think of it this way-  You were a human first, and a dancer second. Make the human stronger, and the dancer will be too.

Also, take a look at the performance pyramid below.

Many dancers specialize so early and start dancing as young as 2, and so never got the functional movement, or general physical preparation part. Our performance pyramids are all upside-down!

By re-balancing our bodies to be good a general movement first, and then layering back on the performance, and THEN specific skill (arabesques and stuff), you’ll definitely notice a difference.

You’ll also be a lot more durable and won’t have to worry about your knees while you dance.

But you don’t have to agree with me or believe me. Just give the advice and exercises a try for yourself. Try strengthening your quads rather than stretching them. I think you’ll notice a huge difference in your alignment, your movement, mobility and strength, and how your body feels on a daily basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. How did these exercises work for you? And if you’re a life-long quad-stretcher, let me know how it feels, perhaps, to stop stretching them, and work on strength instead.

Very curious.

And if you want more exercises and ideas like the ones in this post, then you’re going to LOVE Dance Stronger.

Dance Stronger is my latest project- A book and 4 week training program designed to get you stronger for dance (duh).

The exercises in this post are actually directly from the program (the reject videos, because of the bad sound quality, sorry!), but to get a full understanding of how to integrate them into your dance cross-training, you’ll have to join the full program when it’s ready in August.

I think you’ll really love it (my trial group are getting fantastic results so far).

What you need to do is click —>HERE<—, and let me know that you want to be notified when Dance Stronger is ready for lift-off so you can be a part of our amazing community of strong, empowered dancers..

If you loved this post (or if you hated it) please share with a friend. Let’s stop the quad fear, together.

PS *Misty Copeland’s legs. Obviously

Finding the True Meaning of Teaching Dance

By Angela D’Valda Sirico of Dance Teacher Web

By: The Dance World Editor

As a teacher you are probably earning a sustainable salary, but also think of success as not only being a monetary thing. It’s also about having happiness, successful relationships and the ability to help your students not only attain success in dance but in their lives as well. If we are able to give back to the society we live in by helping the people around us we will feel challenged and fulfilled and know that we have a mission for our life. Perhaps that all sounds a little out there but it really is true. We need to express ourselves and realize our uniqueness to feel satisfied in our daily lives. Just as we need to challenge our students, so must we do that with ourselves too! The things that truly move you will give you the passion that you need to bring into your classes and your daily life.

Ask yourself a few simple questions: 

  1. What are your core values?
  2. Who do you admire most as a person and professional?
  3. What goals should you set for yourself?
  4. What human cause affects you most or is dearest to your heart?
  5. What can you do to help and how can you use your professional knowledge?
  6. How can you provide the people around you with a memorable experience?   DTW_TeacherInspiration_MAIN

Establishing your core values is important because only by doing that do we really find out what is important to us. Easy, you say, but is it? Start the process by making a list of all the values you most admire in others and then rate them from 1-10. There are no bad values it just depends which are more important to you. If you understand this you will understand what gives your life the most meaning. If your life has more meaning you will be capable of giving more to your relationships both personal and professional. Your teaching will take on new meaning and your ability to create content for classes and choreography will be greater. So often we have no real time to think clearly so find a place to go where you will be uninterrupted as you do a little self-analysis.

Deciding who you most admire in any part of your life may not be difficult but understanding exactly why, may take more time. Whatever the reasons, don’t be intimidated by them but learn from them and find ways to apply the same principles to yourself.

Goal setting is always important but make sure that you set them for all areas of your life, not just your professional one. Find out what you would most like to change and then write down a plan to make it come true. Visualizing your dreams and goals on a daily basis really does work. It trains your mind to accept nothing less. Don’t live someone else’s goals, set your own and make a decision to move forward.

Do you have a cause that is close to your heart? Is there some injustice that you would like to help make right? Whatever moves you is the direction you should go towards. Do research on the subject, start small and don’t try to change the world overnight. Once you get started on the road to helping a cause all kinds of opportunities could present themselves to you. Find out how you can use your expertise to help those less fortunate and then just take that first step.

Making memorable moments for the people around you is really not difficult if you are aware of what makes them happy and fulfilled. It is not always the grand gesture that has the most impact, sometimes it is just doing small things or having a moment that people really value and remember. I always think of one of my former students when I think of memorable moments as a teacher. This young man was extremely thoughtful and yet quite a difficult personality to teach but no matter what, that student would always remember to bring me a chocolate with almond flavor because he knew I liked it. That small gesture is ingrained in my memory and happened many years ago. It was just one human being reaching out to another. Isn’t that really what makes it all worthwhile?

Discovering more about ourselves helps us to give more to others. Staying focused on what is important to us gives us the power to be able to extend our knowledge and empathy to our students and our employers. Challenging ourselves helps us to stay ahead of the game as teachers and individuals to live a happier and more successful life

About Angela D’Valda Sirico

Originally from England, Angela received her early training from one of Margot Fonteyn’s childhood teachers, Carol Bateman. She later attended the Arts Educational Trust and was invited to perform with the Festival Ballet in London, but decided instead to continue her studies in the US. Angela began an extremely varied professional career performing around the world, and later met her husband Steve Sirico while filming a TV special. After years of performing together around the world, their focus shifted to teaching. Angela is a published author, as well as Co-Founder of Dance Teacher Web. www.danceteacherweb.com

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