Art Intercepts

Dance and Weight Training: A Perfect Pas de deux?

Photo courtesy Richard Foster

Photo courtesy Richard Foster

It seems an unnatural partnership. Big, bulky bodies throwing around weights in the gym can hardly complement the needs of a dancer for strength, flexibility, agility, grace, and performance quality. Weight training is rife with stereotypes that have generally kept dancers off of the power racks and stuck on Pilates and Elliptical machines.
Upon closer investigation, weight training couldn’t be a more perfect compliment to dance training.

A basic principle of training (for sport, health, rehabilitation, etc) is called specificity. Essentially, specificity means that the muscles you work out are the muscles that get worked out. An individual who does bicep curls all day long isn’t going to get a strong back; a person who does only crunches might get six pack abs, but not much else. Specificity also applies to types of activities, and the demands of that activity, sport, etc. For example, if you want to get better at running, you run. Want to become better at swimming? Swim. If you want to get better at dancing, dance.

Sort of.

It gets a little complicated here because sometimes a piece of choreography calls for movements that aren’t necessarily covered by a basic ballet class. To truly follow the law of specificity, we need to look at dance differently and dissect our training to ensure it matches the demands of our performances. The beauty in weight training lies in its ability to adapt to the needs of the client.

And clients, in my humble opinion, should include dancers!

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a few of the top myths about weight training.

Top Three Myths about Weight Training:

1. Lifting heavy will make you big.

Lifting weights won’t make you big unless you follow a specific formula for Hypertrophy (the “get big” program). Women aren’t likely to get big unless they try really, really, really hard, and even then they may only get big with the assistance of drugs. The thing is, an increase in muscular size is attributed, in large part, to the presence of hormones in the body. The way a person organizers his/her training variables maximizes the release of these hormones during exercise, and one of the big players here is testosterone. Women, as I’m sure you are aware, have MUCH less testosterone than men, and are therefore MUCH less likely to get big.

So now that that’s out of the way, you might be thinking: “Men dancers don’t really want to get big either.” Fair, but again, lifting heavy doesn’t make you big. A hypertrophy program dictates a moderate weight, for a moderate number of repetitions, in order to obtain a short to moderate rest period, so the client can capitalize off of that hormone release. Lifting really heavy will require longer rest periods, and the hormone response dissipates during rest. This is a common misconception of many “bros,” too – they lift as much as possible thinking that in order to get big, they have to lift big. Lifting heavy ( > 85% 1RM) will make you strong, not big. And if we are thinking about male dancers here, doing body weight activity only, or rocking out those tiny pink dumbbells does little to prepare them to haul a 125 pound beauty above their heads in an arabesque press.

2. Weightlifting leads to injury.

Sure it can, but if we’re being honest, here, dance causes injury, not weightlifting. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself (again). Let’s get some basic distinctions out of the way before moving forward here:

Weight Training is a catch all term for resistance training – adding a load to your basic body-weight movements in an organized fashion with the purpose of gaining strength, building size (hypertrophy), increasing muscular endurance, or improving power. Injury is primarily caused by trauma, a lack of proper technique, compromising weight over form, overtraining, or a combination of these things.

Powerlifting is a competitive sport consisting of back squat, bench press, and deadlift. The objective is to lift as much weight as possible, so the goal of powerlifting is typically maximal strength (despite the name).

Weightlifting (also referred to as Olympic Weightlifting) is also a competitive sport. These are the men an women in the little unitards hauling big colored barbells over their heads in the Olympics’ late night show. Again, the name is deceiving, because the primary lifts performed in Weightlifting – Clean & Jerk and Snatch – require power (unlike Powerlifting, which requires strength).

Confused? Don’t be. The overall point here is that there are different kinds of lifting weights, and ALL of them have a relatively low rate of injury compared to other sports.

Sports Injuries (Per 100 participant hours in school sports)
Track and Field 0.57
Soccer 6.20
Basketball 0.03
Football 0.10
Gymnastics 0.044
Powerlifting 0.0027
Tennis 0.001
Volleyball 0.0013
Weightlifting 0.0017
Weight Training 0.0035
- Source: USA Weightlifting

Dancers are not included here, but if we consider that dance and gymnastics share similar demands, particularly with today’s fancy choreography, we can probably assume that it’s not lifting weights that is getting us injured. Perhaps dancers should avoid playing soccer, however…

3. Dancers should focus on “cardio” for weight loss and endurance.

Weight training is a great way to “tone” the body. It burns fat and builds muscle efficiently, raises metabolism, and creates that lean body that everyone wants. If you consider the demands of dance on the dancer, class and choreography typically call for short bursts of explosive or powerful movements. If we believe in that fundamental principle of specificity (we do), rocking out 45 minutes on the elliptical machine is not going to be helpful in achieving better power or strength.

Cardio training is useful for a dancer when stamina is required. For example, if your choreography involves a continuous jogging and hopping pattern around the stage for 15 minutes, then taxing the cardiovascular system at a moderate intensity is a really good idea. That 50-second Chinese variation in the Nutcracker uses a different metabolic system – it’s essentially a high intensity interval. So, to get better at high intensity activities, you’ve got to train at a high intensity. Plyometric training, kettle bell swings, treadmill sprints, and -cough- Olympic Weightlifting are excellent ways to tax the metabolic pathway you’ll need to utilize in that short variation. Not to toot my own horn, but, toot.

Vocab words:

Hypertrophy – An overall increase in muscular size, brought on by a specific training protocol that capitalizes on the hormonal response to exercise.

1RM – One Repetition Maximum. A basic test of strength in which an individual successfully lifts as much weight as possible for a given exercise one time. 1RM assessments follow a specific protocol ramping up weight to a maximal level over the course of four to five sets.

Muscular Endurance – The ability of a muscle to sustain a moderate level of force for an extended period of time. Endurance training programs typically consist of low weight, high numbers of repetitions, and limited rest.

Power - is defined as a function of force and velocity. With increased power, an individual is able to produce high speed, explosive movements.

At Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Everybody Dances

Dance fans are likely to know Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) for its reputation as a world-class professional dance company, but a growing number of community programs are aimed at making dance accessible and available for all. 

“Hubbard Street’s Education and Community Programs create environments in which everyone dances,” says Kathryn Humphreys, who for 12 years has served as HSDC’s director of Youth, Education and Community Programs. “Our mission is always to get as many people dancing as possible… We have worked with a huge variety of special needs populations in the schools and seen the impact that moving with the kids and creating these experiences has on them.”

As the longest running program of its kind in the Midwest, HSDC has a highly successful Parkinson’s Project focused on improving mobility and independence for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive degenerative movement disorder that causes muscle rigidity and slowed movements, tremors and postural instability. While there is currently no cure, significant evidence favors participation in specialized dance programs to ease the symptoms and possibly slow the progress of Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinsons Project participants at Hubbard Street Dance Center

Hubbard Street Parkinson’s Project participants at the Hubbard Street Dance Center. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Under the umbrella of Adaptive Dance Programs, Hubbard Street will expand the Parkinson’s Project to include two new pilot programs on site at its studios in Chicago’s West Loop this summer: The Autism Project for youth grades 1-6 on the spectrum, and Physically Integrated Dance for youth ages 8-16 with physical disabilities.

“Our Adaptive Dance Programs will focus on their participants’ strengths — on their talents and potential, as they learn to see themselves as we see them: as dancers and choreographers,” says Humphreys. “These new curricula will highlight concepts of the choreographic process, established dance techniques, and improvisation skills relevant to the goals of each individual. Work is well underway to secure our ability to offer these programs at little or no cost to participants.”

The content of the new programs will be largely decided by committee members at Hubbard Street, with insight and input from Joshua Krasne (Visiting Assistant Director of the Resource Center for Autism and Developmental Delays at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Susan D. Imus (Chair, Columbia College Chicago Department of Creative Arts Therapies), and organizational support from Rush Orthopedics, Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. However, even with all those academics involved, Hubbard Street maintains that these classes are not being offered for the purpose of scholarly research.

“We don’t have HIPAA privileges, and it would cost millions of dollars to try. We are pretty clear that these are not dance therapy classes…. our Parkinson’s class was very clear with us that they wanted to take a dance class. They get enough therapy in the rest of their lives. We got similar feedback from this committee that the students and the parents of the students want to find a way for them to have ‘normal’ activities.”

The committee is split on whether or not to create inclusive programming combining children from special populations into conventional classes in the program; Humphreys eventually sees a future for both blended and specialized classes. Having a child on the spectrum, she understands first hand that the type of experience one chooses for his/her child is a personal decision based on what the parent and child’s goals are.

Sarah Cullen Fuller teaching Adaptive Dance Programs participants

Sarah Cullen Fuller, Hubbard Street alumna and founding teaching artist since 2007 for the Parkinson’s Project, with Adaptive Dance Programs participants at the Hubbard Street Dance Center. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

For the time being, the pilot program will be focused on two specific populations, but HSDC isn’t limiting the class to narrow specifications of how Autism or physical disabilities are defined. And if the pilot program goes well…. but it will go well. Humphreys has no doubt that the Adaptive Dance Programs will be successful, and fill an important and underserved group of aspiring dancers.

“I’ve got it on the schedule for Fall,” she said, and if Hubbard Street runs its educational programs anywhere near how they run their professional dance company, the program, like everything else they do, will be a smash hit of the highest quality.

Further details about Hubbard Street’s Adaptive Dance Programs and pilot sessions are available upon request, by email to, or by phone at 312-850-9744 X 133.

Note: The author has not professional or financial affiliation with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

The Long and Short of Achilles Tendon Health

It feels great to have Lauren back at Dance Advantage after a hiatus. She is excited to talk about one of her favorite topics: Tendons!

Achilles stretchingThis isn’t the first time we’ve had a tendon talk. A few years back I discussed Achilles tendonitis and comments have continued to roll in with questions about how best to treat and avoid tendonopathies in the lower leg.

The balance between strength and flexibility:

Part of overall muscular fitness is recognizing that every athlete (and I’m including dancers here as athletes) must have a balance between muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. The ratio of each of these components changes based on the demands of the sport, and obviously most dance forms require a higher degree of flexibility than other athletic pursuits.

Dancers are ultra-aware of the importance of maintaining good flexibility, but the demands of today’s choreography also require a considerable amount of strength, endurance, and power. Too much emphasis on strength, and the dancer risks injury from tendons being too tight. Too much emphasis on stretching, and loosey-goosey tendons can easily become overstretched and at risk for injury.

Hands down, the best way to avoid lower leg tendon injuries is to be diligent about proper technique, particularly when performing jumping movements.

Jumping puts a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon, and most techniques require the dancer to press through the heels to cushion the landing. Every time a jump is landed, the dancer completes a soft, toe-ball-heel progression before pushing off into the next jump.

Aside from protecting the tendon from injury, this technique will also load the tendon and allow its natural elasticity to recoil and propel you into the next jump.

The Stress Reflex: [Read more…]

How To Devise an Effective Pre-Show Warm-up

Warming up is an essential part of the performance process.

While it’s widely recognized that we should warm up, it may be less understood how to do so effectively.

The amount of time spent warming up before a performance depends a lot on the demands of that particular performance.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does the choreography require a lot of jumping, highly athletic movements, or extreme range of motion?
  • How am I feeling today? Am I sore? Injured?
  • How old am I?*
  • Where in the performance does my part occur? How much time will pass between the warm-up class and actually dancing onstage?
  • What type of floor am I dancing on?
  • What shoes am I wearing for the performance?
  • How cold is the theater?

All of these factors can and do influence how much you need to do to be properly prepared.

Class of dancers sitting, stretching side. Photo by Savage Rose Photography

A warm-up class (assuming you have one), often occurs an hour or more before the start of the show, and your body only stays “warm” for about 5-15 minutes (depending on room temperature, clothing, etc) without continued activity. So it may be necessary to repeat a warm-up routine closer to when you perform.

In the exercise world, we divide warm-up into three basic categories: Passive, General, and Specific.

 Passive Warm-up [Read more…]

Dance Instructors and Injury Management: Leave it to the Pros

The diagnosis and treatment of injuries isn’t up to you…

An x-ray of the footExperienced dance instructors have seen hundreds of sprained ankles. We know the signs, symptoms, and basic treatment of common dance injuries.  Heck, I spent the last year of graduate school studying how to identify and treat injuries.

Regardless of the extent of our knowledge, it’s important that all dance instructors understand the clear boundaries between our jobs and that of a health care professional. Though doctors often lack experience working with dancers, there are a few reasons why dance teachers should steer clear of diagnosing or treating their students’ injuries:

Health care professionals have licenses for a reason.

While it is fine to make “recommendations”, you should be very clear when talking to an injured student and/or her parent that you are not a doctor, and use extreme caution when mentioning any sort of treatment or medication.  Using suggestive rather than definitive language looks like this:

“Well, it looks like it might be a sprained ankle.  You may want to put some ice on it and elevate your foot.  I’m not a doctor, but your symptoms are consistent with a sprain. To be sure, I would get it checked out.”

What NOT to do:

“You sprained your ankle.  Put some ice on it and elevate it, take some ibuprofen and in about a week or two you’ll be ready to dance again.”

If, in fact, your student didn’t sprain her ankle but instead broke her foot, tore a ligament, snapped a tendon (or perhaps has an allergy or negative reaction to the medication you recommended), following your advice is a quick way to a shortened career and, potentially, a lawsuit.

Injuries can be complicated, and aren’t always what they appear to be.  

During college, a friend and fellow dancer Melissa Carlson (now Lewis) found this out first hand.  In her words:

After landing a grand jete with my left foot turned under, I noticed immediate pain; severe bruising and swelling ensued within an hour or two. Thinking that it may just be strained or sprained (or in truth–NOT THINKING!) I attempted to dance on it the next day, despite the fact that my foot was much too swollen to fit inside a ballet slipper.  I finally went to the ER for x-rays and found that the 4th and 5th metatarsal bones had broken.

Later that week, I went to see an orthopedic specialist who prescribed three months of total rest and a regimen of nutritional supplements to help increase my lacking bone density.  Being extremely unhappy with this reality of a diagnoses, combined with being headstrong and immature, I decided that the best way for me to heal was to pretend as much as possible that nothing was wrong and go back to dancing as soon as I was able to bear weight on my injury.

Of course my foolish inaction resulted in disaster, with improper and incomplete healing and the specialist suggesting surgery and a full year of rest… I did nothing of the sort, and went back to rehearsing and classes as soon as I was able.  The short-tem results of the injury were pain and discomfort, whereas the long-term results have been the inability to wear pointe shoes or stand unsupported for long periods of time, and arthritis within that area of the foot.

Thankfully, through good nutrition and supplements I was eventually able to bring my bone density up to normal and keep it that way.  Had I originally listened to the doctors advice, I think the injury may have healed with no severe consequences, like the ones I forced my self into suffering through bad judgement!

Dancers are passionate people, and our careers are short. During injury, we are so anxious to return to our craft that we often shortchange the recovery period. In truth, this probably contributes to why our careers are so short, and a little patience might create more longevity among dancers. Small injuries, left undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or untreated can become career-ending injuries faster than you can say “metatarsal”.

The Dance Instructor’s Role

Instead of playing doctor, there are several important functions you serve that support a student’s recovery. Angeline Lucas nicely outlines a plan for dancers with chronic illness here on Dance Advantage. Injury management can and should follow a similar plan, and to summarize, here are a few key points:

Talk to the dancer, and the parent, on an ongoing basis throughout recovery.
Work in tandem with the doctor(s) using a team approach.
Provide a modified training plan and/or alternative activities.


Making accommodations

Speaking of alternative activities, there are a few considerations for students who are returning from injury.  Just because a dancer is down, it doesn’t mean she is out, and once cleared by a physician to return to activity it’s possible to train and take class keeping these important points in mind:

Let the dancer drive the bus.
Only the dancer herself knows what she’s feeling as she returns to dance.  While you can provide a barometer based on feedback from the medical team and the student’s body language, it’s important to try and allow the dancer to take control of her recovery.  This may sound contradictory to the story above, so let me reinforce that this is in cases where the dancer has been cleared for activity from her doctor.

Training the uninjured side while the affected side recovers creates a bigger problem.
Injuries often occur on the weaker side of the body, so if the dancer is recovering from a foot, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, etc. injury it is important to not simply keep on with the uninjured side during recovery.  If able to continue training, work equilaterally. Find activities that decrease, rather than increase the strength disparities between the two sides of the body. Maybe that means working on the floor, or in a pool, or simply not raising the arms overhead. If needed, work with a physical therapist to identify the needs of the student and create a program that will assist in her recovery.

That can be really hard in a class of 30 dancers…
Indeed.  An older, trained dancer may be able to take responsibility for making some modifications, but it may be more productive to work one-on-one with her or have her work exclusively with a physical therapist.

In all cases, don’t be afraid to recognize what you don’t know, or can’t handle, and ask for help.

Have you continued dancing on an injury or followed inaccurate advice and regretted it?

Tell us your story in the comments!

Four Things I Learned from Teaching Littles

A mentor of mine once said that the only difference between being a college student and being a college professor is that the professors are a chapter ahead in the textbook.

This hit close to the mark when I first got a job teaching college students how to exercise. Quite frankly, I was terrified.

Though my teaching resume was fairly substantial even at that time (nearly six years ago), the bulk of my experience was teaching ballet to pampers through pre-teens. What did I know about teaching college?!? Or exercise?!?

At first, I didn’t see a correlation between teaching kids how to dance and the world of academia, but when you’re offered a steady job with steady pay and benefits, you fake it ’til you make it.


Six years ago I traded my chiffon skirt and slippers for sweats and gym shoes…

As it turns out, those 10+ years with the littles, a group that many dance teachers would agree are the most challenging (but also most rewarding… right?),  have come in exceedingly handy. The past several years spent with my 18-and-ups have allowed me to appreciate the time and experiences I had with my littles.

Teaching is teaching, regardless of age, and I’m continually surprised by the similarities between toddlers and higher ed. Littles are just small people, so you can, for the most part, teach them the same way that you would any other population.

The biggest notable difference from teaching college students is that the three-year-olds get scheduled potty breaks… otherwise, the rules are pretty much the same.

There are a couple of things that I gained from years of teaching small children that have become invaluable to me as a faculty member at the University of Illinois. In hindsight, these are qualities that not all of my colleagues possess (did I say that out loud?) and frankly sometimes I think we professors could benefit from a little face time with some littles. [Read more…]

Sprains, Strains, and How To Deal…(Meet Your Feet, Part 3)

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, sometimes injuries happen.

Parts one and two of my three month “Meet your feet” series generally focused on maintenance and preventative actions to take for your feet. In this final installment of the series, I’m taking a closer look at injuries and how to cope throughout the recovery process.

A foot and ankle; photo by savageblackoutThere are two main categories of injury: acute and chronic

Acute injuries result from a trauma or single occurrence, for example, landing wrong from a jump or trips and falls.  Acute injuries can be very serious, but are often more easily detected and diagnosed than chronic injuries.

Chronic injuries develop over time and are usually the result of improper technique or overuse. Treatment and recovery can be tricky, because a dancer with a chronic injury must evaluate and address the flaws in her training and technique that caused the injury while simultaneously focusing on healing. Because of this, chronic injuries are more likely to recur.

Examples of Acute Foot and Ankle Injuries:

Examples of Chronic Foot and Ankle Injuries:

Aside from acute and chronic, injuries can be further categorized by the type of tissue that has been injured.  Generally speaking, we divide acute musculoskeletal injuries into three groups: sprains, strains, and fractures.

“Sprain” and “strain” are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, and other times used casually to describe discomfort (i.e. “I strained my hip yesterday”).  In reality, sprains and strains are entirely different injuries… [Read more…]

Meet Your Feet, Part 2

Your feet impact your dance technique.

In Part 1 of this series on the feet I gave an overview of general foot care and maintenance, with specific attention given to the toes.

Now let’s take a deeper look at the mid-foot and ways to keep your feet strong, even in the off-season!

Arches of the foot


We often refer to dancers as having “high arches,” “low arches,” or “flat feet.”  The way the middle portion of the foot is shaped can greatly impact a dancer’s technique and alignment.

Instead of thinking as the arch as just one “thing,” you can actually draw four arches along the foot.  Their fancy anatomical names are: Medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal, anterior metatarsal and transverse.

The two longitudinal arches span the length of the foot, from the heel to the head of the metatarsals at the base of your toes. Medial indicates the pass toward the midline of the body over the great toe, and lateral passes along the outer edge of the foot from the heel to the fifth (pinky) toe.

A weak lateral longitudinal arch contributes to sickling and supination, while a weak or flattened medial longitudinal arch leads to pronation. Conversely, a dancer with a pronounced medial longitudinal arch (commonly referred to as a high arch) may also roll to the outside of the foot (supination).

The metatarsal arch spans the five metatarsal bones, and the transverse arch reaches across the lower ankle from the cuboid bone to the internal  (or first) cuneform. This arch essentially mirrors the elastic on a ballet slipper. Both are used in stability and balance, particularly en releve.

From the bottom up…

By Jiří Růžek via Wikimedia Commons

Failing to pay close attention to the use of the foot can become the cause of a number of injuries.

Improper alignment of the foot in relevés and landings from jumps can lead to two of the most common dance injuries: ankle sprain and fifth metatarsal fracture (so common, in fact, that it is also referred to as the Dancers’ Fracture).

Poor alignment of the foot and arch can also weaken the ligaments that connect its many bones. A result of this can include a “fallen” arch – permanent loss of flexibility and lift in the longitudinal arches – along with a host of secondary conditions such as tendonitis, stress fractures, and integumentary (skin and nail) problems.

Because of the continual impact requested of the feet in dance, fallen arches or improper technique at this part of the body can also impact the entire alignment of the body and contribute to acute or chronic injury at the ankle, knee, hip, and/or back.

Dancers and instructors have mutual responsibility in understanding and being diligent in correcting the alignment of the feet, and building strong muscles to support the arches.

How to build strong feet:

Outside of class, there are a few exercises you can do at home to maintain and keep improving the strength in your feet. I would highly suggest investing in a theraband to assist you with these exercises, but you can also use a towel or just do them without any resistance:

  1. Point and flex: Sitting on the floor, pointe and flex your feet slowly with the theraband around the top half of your foot.
  2. Pick up the wash cloth: Sitting on a chair (or the sofa), place a small towel or washcloth on the ground and try to pick it up with just your toes.  Check out this video from dancer Nikki White.
  3. Toe Sit-ups: pointe your toe and just lift the toes up and then back to pointe.  Repeat 12 times, rest, and repeat to more sets of 12.  Check out this great article from Nichelle including a video on how to do toe sit-ups.
  4. Ankle rolls: With a theraband, slowly roll your ankle outward 12 times and inward 12 times, articulating through the foot as much as possible.  Rest and repeat two more times.
  5. For more ideas, visit this article from Chicago Dance Supply.

Please share your ideas and additional exercises for strong and flexible feet in the comments below!

Meet Your Feet, Part 1

The human body contains 208 bones, and 52 of them are in your feet.

bones_footYour foot is arguably one of the most complex structures in the body, especially when you consider the purpose it serves for us dancers: support, balance, and propulsion.

Much like the musician and his instrument, for us dancers it is crucial that we keep our feet in good working order.

Foot maintenance:

Dancers are notorious for their… um… not-so-attractive feet.  “Pedicure” is not in our vocabularies!  Here are some considerations for ways to prevent and treat minor injuries, and general care for your feet:

  1. Cut your toenails short, and straight across.  The nail should be straight across and not curved because curved nails or nails that are too long can lead to ingrown toenails.  The length of the nail should be *just* where the white part begins, with a very small amount of white showing.  Use clippers as opposed to scissors to get a clean, straight cut.
  2. Don’t wear toenail polish.  Polish prevents you from being able to see under the nail, so you can’t see if you’re developing a problem such as a bruised or ingrown nail.  That doesn’t mean you can NEVER wear polish… go ahead and wear it for special events and then take it off before your next class, or, wear a clear polish that allows you to see the nail.tiredfeet
  3. Learn to love calluses.  Dancers should keep their calluses trimmed if they are overly thick and causing pain (forexample, if it feels bumpy in your shoe or against the floor), but generally calluses are a really good thing.  They help protect against blisters and abrasions, so avoid the urge to file them off!
  4. If you develop a blister: Blisters are par for the course in pointe work, especially as you break in new shoes. They can also result from rubbing in soft shoes or jazz shoes, or from harder tap or character shoes. Blisters can occur anywhere on your foot, but generally tend to pop up on the surface of the toes, inside or outside border of the metatarsals, or on the heel. Blisters can be painful – even the littlest ones! Below is some advice on how to treat the two main types of blisters: [Read more…]

Dancer Gifts 2012: DIY Hot/Cold Compress

Perhaps you didn’t know, but I can be a crafty lady every now and then!

Even though I started seeing trees and menorahs mixed in with the Halloween costumes a few weeks ago, it’s still early enough in the shopping season that you can plan ahead with some handmade gifts for the dancers and dance teachers in your life.

So, I took a break from grading papers, finishing three articles, and ironing pants to have a little fun with a craft project…

A surplus of hot/cold packs is a must-have for any young dancer, professional dancer, dance teacher, studio owner… the list goes on.  I use them constantly for reducing swelling in tired feet and legs, acute injuries, and even to keep my lunch cold.

With a sewing machine, some scrap fabric, and plain white rice, you can easily create a hot/cold pack that is customized, cute, and chemical-free!

Here’s how to make them:

  • Cut doubled fabric into 6″ x 6″ squares (So, you need two squares for each compress).

    Sewing a pouch
  • Using a 5/8″ seam, sew a border around your squares with the right sides out (this is unusual if you’ve sewed before…).  Start your border midway through one side and leave a gap so that the two pieces of fabric aren’t completely sewn together.  Remember, you’re making a pouch and need to fill it!

  • Place a funnel through the opening and fill with 1-1/2 to 2 cups of white rice.

Filling the pouch with rice, while drinking coffee and ironing pants…

  • Sew the pouch closed.

  • Using pinking shears, trim the seams to make a cute, finished edge.

Voila!  It’s really that simple.  Really what you should do is cut about 45 squares and make tons of these, but for demonstration purposes, I made three…
There they are hanging out in the freezer next to the bell peppers and the green beans.  The rice will maintain the cold temperature just as well as that blue, gooey, chemical stuff.  For a hot pack, place in the microwave for about a minute, and there you have it! Action photos taken by Julie Ballard.
What other ideas do you have for easy, DIY gifts for dancers?




Dance Your PhD: Choreographer/Bioengineer Christopher Knowlton explores knee replacement through dance

If you ask any PhD student what his thesis is about, one of two things is likely to happen:

1. You get a long, drawn out paragraph of mumbo jumbo things that no one in the outside world will ever understand…


2. “It’s about electrons.”

That is to say, you get the watered-down, one word version and a subtle invitation to please stop asking questions because you wouldn’t understand it anyway.  But what if there was a way to communicate complex ideas, the stuff of PhD’s, without watering it down or shutting the rest of us out? 

Apparently there is…

What was once a little known video contest for PhD students to explain their research through dance has blown up into a full-scale online dance film fest.  Scientist/writer John Bohannon developed the Dance Your PhD contest as a way to make science accessible and understandable to everyone.

Plus, he sees this model as a way to attack some of the problems we face in the dance community. Bohannon gave this TED talk a few years ago, where he claims that dancers are a valuable and fragile resource.  Using dancers as a learning tool and a means of communicating lofty, inaccessible ideas could be one way to protect the fields of both dance AND science.

Science is hard. 


The Dance Your PhD project attempts to make really complex ideas a little more accessible to the outside world.  On top of that, it forces scientists to take a look at their work, step away from the numbers, and ask themselves, “So, what?”  Doing this is important to finding the big picture.  It’s a really healthy and cathartic process to force yourself to summarize your work in a way that everyone (including you) can “get”.  Scientists need to find the “Why” in what they do as much as dancers do.


If you know me, then you realize that these are ideas that I can get behind.


I got the chance to sit down with one of my favorite dancer/scientists Christopher Knowlton.  Ok, “sit down” is an exaggeration for an email conversation…..

photo of Christopher Knowlton by Kelly Rose, courtesy of Synapse Arts


Anyway, we chatted a bit about the pursuit of his PhD in Bioengineering, balanced against his life as a professional dancer/choreographer and Artistic Director of The Dance Team, and how he’s combined his two worlds to create a dance film for the Dance Your PhD contest.  Here’s the gist of our conversation:


LW – How did you learn about the Dance Your PhD project?


CK – Rachel Thorne Germond of RTG Dance, the first choreographer I worked with in Chicago, posted a link to the contest on Facebook a little over a year ago, and I took an immediate interest. It was too close to the contest deadline to participate, so I mentally (and browserly) bookmarked it, hoping it would happen again in 2012. Not long after, there was an explosion of posts among my dancer friends sharing a TED talk given by John Bohannon & Black Label Movement called “Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal“. Dancers were buzzing over the video’s use of stunning choreography to convey facts and data, in a way that lecture and performance really became inseparable. I’ve always been interested in movement conveying factual information as well as emotional, and since both my work as a scientist and my work as a choreographer have attempted to do those, I decided that I just had to participate. So my mental bookmark has now become a fulfilled New Year’s resolution.


LW – Explain your film a little bit, and how it relates to your thesis.


CK – The film takes the viewer through my thesis, as demonstrated through dance and subtitles. Much of the technical jargon that I work with on a daily basis, such as replacement, accumulation, isolation, inversion,  and alignment, also have meaning in dance. Sometimes these meanings are similar, sometimes they are different; in that way, much of the dance is somatic wordplay, and I hope that that is the glue that makes technical concepts stick with a broader audience. The subtitles help the viewer navigate the relationship between the movement and my research, but at different times I try to anticipate, match or follow up the movement. We actually created the choreography first, which we made in silence during three two hour rehearsals and filmed in six hours. The script was added during editing to provide more context, and music was slapped on for some continuity. I made the film for a very broad audience, and so I focus a lot on why my research is significant to the viewer. I wanted to add citations for each statement as you would in a research paper in order to appeal to those who wanted more technical information, but there simply wasn’t enough time. The competition is called Dance Your PhD, but in reality, the competition is Dance Film Your PhD – anyone who has made a dance and a dance film know how different those two things are. Our choreography was made for live performance, where the text would be spoken, but I feel it translated to camera fairly well.


LW – What, if anything, do you hope viewers take away from your film?


CK – If people understand my thesis and never have to ask me awkwardly again what I do, that would be great! But what I’d really like them to take away is how effective dance, or more appropriately, movement, is as a communicative tool. Scientists often lack the abilities to clearly, concisely and memorably explain complex ideas. Every career requires strong communication skills, but research needs a special combination of good technical and soft skills; even if you had a cure for cancer, it wouldn’t do any good unless you can translate that science into the real world. To me, dance and art are necessary components to any education so that problem solvers and innovators can learn to express effectively.


LW – What’s next for you?


CK – Dancerly, I have a lot happening next: I [premiered] a trio called Shelter for Synapse Arts Collective’s New Works this weekend at Hamlin Park, I’ll be premiering a quintet called The Bro-uble Standard in Links Hall’s Dances to Songs I Hate 2 at the end of October, and I am re-staging an evening-length work called Hub and Spoke in a show I put together called The Past Is Prologue in early November. (That’s not to mention projects I’m performing in for other people.) Scientifically, I’m currently writing my second and third academic research papers to submit for publication, and I plan to present my preliminary thesis defense in December. But more in the vein of this film, I’m in the process of writing a residency proposal to create a simple engineered suit to track and record motion. With it, I want try to better understand differences in dance movement styles, investigate the dancerly and scientific notions of ‘approximation’, and create a performative-lecture to explain the results.


It sounds like Chris is a pretty busy guy, and an ambitious one.


And now, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for…the film:



NEAT! Want more? If you have a nice chunk of time and a hunger for learning, view the other 2012 Dance Your PhD entries here.


Christopher Knowlton is a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago and researches joint replacements in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush University Medical Center. Chris is honored to be choreographing in his second season with Synapse Arts Collective. Chris is also currently a collaborative performer for Mark Jeffrey & Judd Morrissey, Erica Mott, Katie Graves, We Stand Sideways and The Dance Team, a group for which he has acted as artistic director for the past year. Chris’s choreography credits include Shortest Distance, a solo performed at the Cincinnati Art Museum, The Box the Gift Came In, a solo premiered at the annual Links Hall benefit THAW and Hub and Spoke, an evening-length piece for The Dance Team premiered at the 2011 Chicago Fringe Festival.

The Fit Dancer: Get off the couch for back-to-dance bootcamp!

Back-to-school time is upon us, and with the freshly sharpened pencils and crisp wide-ruled paper also come the frightening anticipation of returning to dance.  While most studios offer some sort of summer intensive and many dancers go away to professional intensives, chances are many young dancers spend a good chunk of summer putting in serious time on the sofa.  Sure, taking a break is a great idea, but going from little or no daily activity back to three, four, or five days of dance per week can put a strain on the body that can be avoided by easing back into form.

With summer swiftly coming to a close there are a few things dancers can do to ready themselves for fall dance classes, while still celebrating your final days of freedom!

1. Aqua:

Swimming is great exercise, and there are several ways to enjoy it besides swimming laps.  Try an aquatic fitness class at your local health club, or do a mini dance class in the pool! The no-impact environment in the pool will be easy on your joints, and the resistance of the water on both sides of the body are great for getting back in shape.

2. Dance-based Fitness:

Zumba®, a high-energy group fitness class based on Latin dance moves, is all the rage in the fitness industry these days.  There are a number of other group classes that pull principles from hip-hop, jazz, and ballet.  Many health clubs and community centers offer promotions, coupons, Groupons, and day passes to try classes out for free!

3. Yoga, Pilates, or Yogalates:

Many private Yoga and Pilates studios offer free 7-day passes or trial sessions. Any combination of stretching and strengthening will wake up your body and get it ready for dancing.

4. Bootcamp:

For awhile I’ve been touting the positive effects of cross-training for dancers.  Bootcamp has become a popular form of building all around fitness, and is a great compliment to dance training.  It can also help you rebuild the strength and stamina you’ll need when you go back to dance class.

5. Work your body and brain out  with some Dance Homework

The Dance Advantage team has some great ideas in the archives for simple exercises and activities you can do at home.  Work out your arms and legs with some dance homework, and check out the Youtube channel for tips, exercises, and inspiration.  Don’t be afraid to work out your brain, too!  There are some great books for readers of all ages to enjoy exploring dance technique, history, and biographies of famous dancers.  Not to mention all the other wonderful dance blogs out there!

6. Move more!

Simply following the philosophy of moving more and sitting less will help get your muscles moving again, and little things like riding your bike, running up the stairs, and playing with the dog add up to create a big payoff when you go back to class.  You can make your daily dose of activity a little more dance-specific by stretching while watching TV, or balancing on one foot brushing your teeth.  After all, Billy Elliot perfected his pirouettes in his bedroom, not at the barre!

Billy Elliot (3/12) Movie CLIP – Pirouette Practice (2000) HD

Watch this video on YouTube.

However you choose to prepare, going back to dance in the fall is not something to be nervous about.  Teachers know that you’ve likely taken time off, and as they get older many dancers crave the sore and achy muscles you can only get from attending a great dance class.

How do you prepare for going back to dance classes?