Marching Onward… and Checking In!

Hi friends, just taking a moment to check in and say I’m still here!  Crazy busy, but still here!

February to June is my super busy season, as I’m sure it is for many other dance teachers and studio owners as we prep for our annual recital, register for summer classes and work on next season’s schedule!

Haven’t had as much time to write down thoughts and new music finds, but I wanted to share a funny story from my beginning ballet class.  They are first and second graders and always surprise me, but one caught me off guard!

We were at ballet barre about to work on tendus…

Miss Cait (that’s me): “Now what do we need to remember about tendus?  Sophie?”

Sophie: “Straight legs!”

MC: “That’s right, what else, Julia?”

Julia: “Make them sticky!” (see more about that here)

MC: “Yes definitely… ok, anything else, Morgan?”

Morgan (just as brightly and matter-of-factly as the other responses): “My fish died!”

MC: “Oh.. well… I’m very sorry to hear that – what was your fish’s name?”

Morgan: “Swishy”

MC: “Well…” (scrambling for the appropriate response)

Sophie: “I know!  We can have a funeral for Swishy!”

MC: “I don’t know…”

Julia: “It’s perfect ’cause we’re all dressed up for a funeral – we’re all wearing black!” (we wear black and pink)

MC: “Ok then, let’s dedicate tendues to Swishy”

Kids: “Swishy, this is for you.”

So that’s how we ended up dedicating part of our ballet barre to Swishy the fish!

Coach’s Eye – App for Dance Teachers

I came across this great app that I just started using for cleaning dances and am loving it!

It’s called “Coach’s Eye
(link opens in iTunes) and it works on iPhones, iPads and iPods.  It $4.99, but its a worthy investment of five bucks – let’s face it, I’ve spend more on coffee in one day (not sure if I like what that says about my caffeine addiction).

This app allows you to record a dance, play it back for your students (in regular or slow motion) and even draw on the video like a football coach or the play-by-play guys on TV do.

You can also record yourself critiquing the video and then share it or send it to your students.

I am trying it out this week and will let you know what I think!

Grab Coach’s Eye:

Coach's Eye - TechSmith Corporation

Looking for more advice on cleaning dances?  Check out this post.

Looking for more apps to make your life easier?  Here are a few posts you might like.

Tell me:  Do you use your iPhone or iPad in class?  What do you use it for?

Ballet Mime

Crossed arms mean love – but be careful –
make those hands into fists and you may
be saying something completely different!

My students and I had a conversation about ballet miming this week:  Did you know dancers are storytellers as well as actors and actresses too?

Ballerinas and ballet dancers even have their own special hand gestures to tell stories – sort of like ballet sign language!

You may already know some common gestures:

– Both hands to the heart for “love

– Hand cupped by ear for “hear

– Bowing or curtseying to show loyalty

– Strong motions with fists to show anger

 

Then there are some you might not be as familiar with:

– Tapping the forehead twice for “princess” and three times for “king” or “queen

– Crossed hands with fists for “death

– And “dance” is said by circling your arms overhead in 5th position

Here are some links for more ballet mime:

Learn the conversation between the Swan Queen and the prince from Swan Lake with this fun video from The Royal Ballet:

Freeze Dance Fun

Snow dance
The cold weather makes my classes
excited to play “Freeze Dance”!

“Freeze Dance” is the first activity requested whenever we have a special day in class. My students know Freeze Dance as dance around the room and freeze when the music stops.

This past week in my beginning modern/creative movement class, we used our creative minds to come up with some new variations on Freeze Dance to try in class.

Here are some of the ways that we manipulated the game to be our own – hopefully some are new to you or inspire other new variations!

Shape Freeze

We’ve been using this version in our exploration of shape-making.

While the music is on, the teacher names a shape (circular, square, triangle) and the student must make that shape with a body part when the music stops.

Position Freeze

Similar to the Shape variation described above, but dancers must freeze in the position given – this was fun in ballet and jazz class.  Positions to try:  1st, 2nd and 3rd position, retire, arabesque, tendu, plie, lunge, etc.

This might also be fun to try with a class who is learning room positions and stage directions (“Freeze en face” or “Freeze facing upstage” or “point to corner 2”).

‘Dance Like This’ Freeze

The teacher (or student leader) tells the class how to move during the dance part (“Everyone skip”).  After each freeze, the type of dancing changes.  You can also give speed directives, such as “chasse really slowly” or “bouree quickly”.

We like to play this in tap class for practice on our traveling steps:  running flaps, flap ball changes, shuffle hop steps, toe heels, etc.

Changing Music

Also know as the iPod Shuffle…!  After each freeze, change the song and dancers must move to the new song.

winter carnival ice scuplture 07
Now these dancers are REALLY frozen!

In creative movement, we played this after a few weeks of learning the concept of listening to the music and interpreting it in our bodies.  It really helped their improvisation skills.

You could also use this in tap or jazz class to work on rhythm and finding the beat in each new song.

Partner Freeze

Dancers must freeze with a partner when the music stops.

You can give conditions such as “freeze connected to another person”, or “Freeze in a group of three”.

I like to mix this one into the other types – “freeze in a round shape with another person”, etc.

Beat the “I’m Out” Blues

For my younger classes we don’t “get out” in any of the above games – we just play for the fun of it.  For my older students, they really like the games when there is a chance to be eliminated, so we play that way.

Sometimes my classes age 6-8 request to play the “out” version, but some students get very upset from being “out” whenever we play a game like this.

I like to soften the blow by letting them come over to the music player and telling me when to freeze the music next.  Or if they are a particularly enthusiastic class, they can also come up with some new ways to freeze.

What is your favorite movement or dance game to play in class?  Share in the comments!

Dance Deals: Wooden Nutcracker Ornament

Spotted this deal and wanted to share (full disclosure: I’m not getting paid for this, just sharing the good deal!):

Cute little wooden Nutcrackers!

DollarTree – Nutcracker Ornaments, 2 for $1

You have to buy a case of 48 units (so 96 ornaments), but if anyone has lots of little ones, might make a good gift for a good price!

They are 5″ tall, which is a pretty decent size.

In other news, yuck, I can’t believe I posted about Christmas ornaments in October.  Shame on me!

Currently Loving: New Capris!

I was recently doing some shopping for fall clothes (online, of course, because who has time to go to the store anymore?!) and I grabbed two pairs of these babies from Forever21.
I use Forever21 for cheap tank tops and basic T-shirts to teach in and to layer under other shirts / over leotards, basically anything under $5 because I know its not great quality, but I’ll get some good wear out of it and I like options.  I had a gift card to use and they had a sale so I added something over my usual $5 limit:  the Contrast Ruched Athletic Capris (colors too!).
Just got them in the mail today and I LOVE them!
I was expecting the usual cheap cotton fabric, but they’re actually quite nice being spandex, nylon and polyester.  They fit like leggings rather than capris, but I like that there is color on the bottom.  They ran me $15.60 each – I think they’re now $17.80, but that’s not too bad considering I will probably wear them every week or so.
They will be a cute update to my usual BLACK on BLACK teaching uniform.
What do you wear to teach in (or take class)?  Score any new stuff for the new teaching season?

Link Love: Olympic-Inspired Movement

Thanks to Teach Preschool’s post about the Olympic Blog Hop, I discovered a bunch of great Olympics-inspired movement posts for the little ones and had to share!

Move Like a Gymnast from Creative Family Fun – these activities might be fun to incorporate into a summer camp next year.

Pom Pom Games – These pom poms look fairly easy to make and would be a fun alternative to bean bags in the classroom.

Movement Games for Young Children – a few ideas and a great list of guidelines for creating your own movement game.

Ring-Based Movement Ideas – You could easily translate these ideas to non-Olympic rings by using some hoola hoops or rubber circles.

Olympic Family Fitness from The Iowa Farmer’s Wife – a 15-minute fitness lesson for a 3-year old including warm-up, activity and cool down.

Cute London Bus Prop Idea – ok, so this one has nothing to do with movement, but the London bus they made from a cardboard box would be a cute prop!

Have you been watching the Olympics?  Will any Olympic inspired movement be making its way into your classrooms this year?

Creative Movement: Beating The Heat

Hot Sun
“Hot Sun” by Brian Gurrola

Summer is in full swing and it’s been hot hot hot where I live for the past two weeks! If it’s summer where you live, I’m sure you are feeling the heat.  I feel badly for my city neighbors who have been suffering from super heated subways and sidewalks…  Make sure you’re staying hydrated if it’s hot where you live!

Because of the heat, in creative movement summer class we’ve been channeling “cool thoughts”.  Here are a few exercises you can do with your classes:

1) Snowy Day Dances.  

Maria explains it best in her blog entry with a ton of great creative movement ideas about snow, and using the book, “Snowy Day” (Maria’s Movers)

Snow Man

2) Build a Snow Man (or Woman) – group exercise 

Split up into “Snow People” and “Builders/snow artists”.   The Builders will create a snow person out of the Snow People by gently guiding and shaping each snow person into a shape to make one big snowman.

The first time we do this exercise, I assign each Builders a part, like “lower body”, “face”, “accessories”, to help them narrow down what they are creating.  If your crew is really good at working together or you have a small class, then you might be able to skip the assignments and just let them create together.

Remind the Snow that their job is to hold their position, but cooperate if a new Builder would like to shape them differently.

Each of the Builders adds on the creation (stretching arms to create scarves, moving hands for buttons or even suggesting an expression for the Snow to make). Suddenly… Voila! you have a snow man!  Switch the groups and tasks and repeat! 

I love this exercise for my youngest creative movement class (ages 7-10), as it is a great introduction to group work and partnering in a fun way.  This is a very hands-on activity… we learn about communication, leadership and cooperation. 

My older kids get a kick out of it too and you can create some cool lifts (no pun intended) out of it.  With my older ones, I skip the assignments and just split them into groups of 3-5 and tell them they need to create a snow man or woman using their bodies.  Then we take turns showing our snow person and creating storylines about what the snow person does for a living, what he or she is doing at that very moment.  A lot of fun!

3) Ocean Dances 

Check out this page Ohia.com for a lot of great ocean-inspired creative movement exercises!

4) Storm Dance

Weather and nature is great for creative movement inspiration.  My 5 and 6 year olds enjoy being seeds that blow in the wind and then turn into flowers when the sun shines.  When we are flowers our roots are planted (either by sitting, kneeling or standing in one spot) and just our upper body moves.

Learn From The Way The Wild Flowers Grow. They Do Not Work Or SpinSometimes there is a big thunderstorm coming and our petals and leaves blow very fast (we sort of look like those inflatable tubes that wave all around).  Other times it rains and we drip and droop.  When the sun shines we stand up very tall and spread our leaves to catch all of the sunshine.

Other times we pretend we are clouds that float about the room.  Our clouds can be blown by the wind together to travel in one direction or sometimes we float in different directions. Have fun creating your own weather dances!

5) Other “Cool”Summer Movement Inspiration

– Ice melting and freezing: great for “freeze dance”
– Floating in a pool or stream: oh no! there’s a whirlpool!
– Making shapes that divers make (cannonball!)
– Blowing in the wind
– Rain:  light rain, heavy rain, being a flower or plant in the rain
– Fishing: being fish, being on a boat, fishing, being the worm, seaweed
– Fans:  slow fans, oscillating fans, big fans, small fans
– Making Lemonade: adding sugar, ice, lemons, mixing

Music Suggestion:  The David Sun Natural Sound Collection: Sounds of the Earth – Storm The David Sun Natural Sound Collection: Sounds of the Earth - Storm - Sounds of the Earth

How do you “stay cool” at dance class?  Any summer movement ideas?

Yoga-Inspired Ab Exercises, Part 1

Looking to change up your abdominal exercises in class or at home?  Try these yoga-inspired moves that are sure to get your abs firing!

The Exercises

Here are a few exercises to add into your ab sequence during your jazz, modern or ballet warm-up.  If you’re not sure how to do them, click on the name for a more detailed explanation from Yoga Journal.  All photos unless otherwise noted are from creative commons on Flickr.

Downward Facing Dog

Yoga basics.  Stretches the hamstrings and gets the blood flowing.  Keep the shoulders pressed down away from the ears.

Yoga- Down Dog
Downward facing dog – photo from Flickr.

Variation – Dolphin Pose:  From downward dog, lower your elbows to the floor while keeping your heels pressed down.  To strengthen arms, you can slowly mover from dolphin to downward dog and back a few times.

Plank or Dolphin Plank

Begin in down-dog and move the shoulders over the palms and hold.  A variation is dolphin plank, which is done on the elbows.

Kumbhakasana (Plank pose)
Photo from Flickr.

Added challenge:  Lift up one leg a few inches off the ground.  Hold.  Switch legs.

Hatha Yoga Core Abs Video - Plank Pose
Dolphin pose with lifted foot, photo from Flickr.

What to watch for:  Make sure your students are keeping their abs tightened and not allowing their back to sway.  Students with arm or shoulder injuries should avoid this exercise.

Hands and Knee Balance

Begin on hands and knees.  Keeping abs tight stretch out opposite arm and leg.  You can make this a moving pose by bringing the knee and elbow in and out while still balancing.  The motion challenges the dancer to use their core to maintain balance.

Watch that students are keeping their hand and leg in line and are not tempted to work their extension by arching the back or kicking their leg higher than the hip.

Side Plank and Dip

Hold side plank position.  For added difficulty, raise and lower and raise hips slowly.  This position strengthens the arms and wrists as well as the abs.  My students found it very hard to balance in this position, especially once we added the dips. Some of them modified it by lowering to their elbow.  Make sure you keep the shoulder stacked over the elbow or wrist.  Also watch out for hyperextended elbows.

Ask A Yogi - 4
Added challenge:  Lift your top leg off the ground – you can do this just by a few inches or all the way until it is perpendicular to the bottom leg (like a side battement).


Plank Cross

From the plank position (on hands), lift the right leg and tuck the knee into touch the outside of the left elbow.

High Lunge

From down dog, step one leg through to a lunge.  Exhale and sweep the hands overhead.

Avoid arching the back or sticking the ribs out.  The ribs should feel “drawn down into the torso”.

Crescent Lunge

Half Moon

From the lunge or Warrior III, rotate the body to face the side and reach one hand down to the floor. Smoothly push up into the half moon pose, stacking the hip bones on top of one another.

Half Moon

To deepen the pose, lift the lower hand off the floor and rest it on the supporting leg so that the student is balance only on the leg.

For a further challenge, raise the top arm perpendicular to the floor (as shown above). Imagine there’s a wall in front of you, and press the top hand actively into this pretend wall. Then, if balance is steady, slowly change the gaze up to the raised hand.

Another option is to perform small circles with the raised foot to challenge the balance.


Three-leg Down Dog

From downward dog, lift one leg so that it is parallel with the torso.  This is the three-leg Down Dog.

Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana Tri-pod down dog

To work the abs, tuck the knee and bring the knee to the right elbow, shifting the body weight over the arms and hands.  Stretch the back out and up, the bring the knee to the left elbow, stretch it back out, and knee to the forehead.  Repeat 3-4x total and then repeat on the other leg.

Putting It All Together

5-minute Ab Sequence #1:   Hands and Knee Balance with knee tuck (4 per side),  Downward Facing Dog, Plank, Side Plank w/Dip (4 per side), Plank, Lunge, Half Moon, Lunge, Plank, Downward Dog, repeat Lunge, Half Moon, Lunge with other side.

5-minute Ab Sequence #2: Hand and Knee balance with knee tucks (7 per side), Down Dog (20 second hold), Plank Cross (4 per side), Down Dog to Three-Leg Down Dog with knee tuck (3 repetitions per side), Dolphin Plank w/small leg lift on each side (hold for 10 seconds each side).


Photo Guide and resource list for each sequence after the jump

Continue reading

Creative Movement: The Name Dance

One of my favorite activities to do on the first day of Dance Camp or the first day of class is to create a “Name Dance”.  It is a simple and fun activity that helps us learn each other’s names.

The Name Dance
To begin, start in a circle.  One at a time, each student says their name with a simple gesture. Encourage the students to do whatever movement they want – does not have to be a ‘technical step’. Let them experiment with how they say their name – rhythmic, loud, soft, etc.

Go around the circle a second time; students may keep their same gesture or change it.  This time, when a student does their name gesture, the class must echo them in both movement and sound.

The third time around, build the dance.  Link a few name gestures together and practice saying / doing them in a row. See if you can make it all the way around the circle to finish the full Name Dance.

Bonus Name Dance Activities
If everyone is still enjoying the Name Game and you’ve gotten the hang of it, try going faster, in slow motion, facing outside the circle or going in reverse order.

This game is a lot of fun and students will remember their step for weeks to come – I’ve had students say “oh, now we’re doing The Emma” or “can we add a Sophia in here”.  Some of my classes like to greet each other with the other person’s gesture.

And by the way, a “Miss Cait” is a very fancy curtsey 🙂