Lovable Stefanie, “Biggest Girl in the Ballroom”

Last year, Stefanie walked away the Editor’s Choice winner and a Top 10 finalist in our Top Dance Blog contest for her blog, “Biggest Girl in the Ballroom.”

I chose Stefanie for my pick because, despite my lack of ballroom dancing experience, I always find her insights as a student, performer, and human being valuable and completely relatable.

Stefanie and partner, IvanShe shares anecdotes about her partner and teachers, and frequently shares technique guidance they’ve given to her. Her stories about her Bulgarian pro instructor are funny and endearing. The blog includes information about pro/am competitive ballroom that can be difficult to find elsewhere: pointers on first competitions, buying shoes, choosing an instructor and more.

Writing openly about her journey to lose weight and to become the best dancer she can be, Stefanie has also built a community of support among other dancers, women, bloggers, and anyone working toward their goals.

Her most recent community-building effort is the Ballroom Village, a growing list of blogs about ballroom dancing. Stefanie says there are so few blogs with this focus, she wants to band together to connect and “play.” So, if you aren’t blogging about ballroom, Stefanie wants you to get going! If you already blog about ballroom, she wants you to join the village.

If you aren’t familiar with Stefanie’s blog yet, you should at least get to know to her.

Theme song

Watch this video on YouTube.

Honestly, the video above may tell all you need to know about lovable Stefanie. However, she stopped lip-syncing and gliding around the ballroom for a moment to answer some of my questions, too, and her answers are worth the read!

On Dance Blogging:

Dance Advantage: When someone asks you what your blog is all about, how do you answer?

Stefanie: My blog is about a real person doing competitive pro/am ballroom dancing, and all the struggles, triumphs, and insights that happen during the process.

When it comes down to it, the blog is where I basically share me, my journey, my experiences in life from the gym to the ballet barre to ballroom lessons to competitions.

My tagline is “Ballroom dancing, Weight loss, Inspiration, Community,” and I think that pretty much sums it up!

DA: Please share with readers what 2 things have most helped you develop an audience for your blog.

S: One, being authentic and interacting with others on my blog, via their blogs, and via other social media outlets.

Two, sticking with it. People find me, I don’t even know how most of the time. I keep writing and tagging posts and the more I write, the more tags I put on the blog, the easier it is to find me on a web search.

DA: Sticking with it, is a BIG one! Speaking of, what’s the hardest thing about keeping a blog active?

S: Creating the time to write. My blog posts are way, way longer than the average post so they take a big chunk of time to complete. I usually have so much to say and life moves at a fast past so keeping up with all I experience in a week is quite a challenge, but so worth it!

DA: What’s so great about blogging about dance, anyway?

S: Blogging about my dancing has been another way I have found, reclaimed, strengthened and developed my voice. I bottled up so much when I was dancing as a kid with self-esteem and body image issues, but now as an adult, the blog is a place where I can process all I experience while dancing.

I’m just doing what I’m doing and people seem to connect with my experience. So, the best part is that not only am I working out my own stuff, but I’ve found a community of like-minded people, other dancers, others who inspire me and who are inspired by me.

DA: What experience in your dance study best prepared you for your dance blogging experience?

S: Honestly, there was no preparation for this! I just started writing thinking that my mom and maybe, if I was lucky, my best friend would read the blog, while knowing that my husband had already fulfilled his quota listening to me blather on about dance.

All I do is share from my heart. That’s all the preparation needed. Well, that and a (somewhat) firm grasp on the English language.

It is kind of like dancing – you need a base of technique, but what moves people is the heart you put in it.

On Dancing:

Stefanie "Biggest Girl in the Ballroom"DA: You’ve talked candidly about weight and body issues. Have you ever felt judged by fellow students or even teachers when you begin a new class?

S: I am blessed that in the environments I dance in now, I am encouraged and supported.

As a kid, I certainly felt more judged, and the honest truth is we are all judged, and judging others, and judging ourselves, all the time. Of course I am being judged when I compete. In fact, I am deliberately putting myself in a position to be judged.

More than anything, I think it has to do with the attitude I bring to the situation. Over the years I have gained a modicum of confidence in myself and my dancing, which at some moments can be fragile, but most times I trust in it and figure that those who have the eyes to see, will see.

Those who can’t see beyond their judgments of my outward appearance, well, I have no power over that, so I don’t put too much thought into it. It is a larger problem the judgment I place on myself, when I reject myself for not being as I think I should be or wish I were.

I do not actively seek to please others but rather focus on fully expressing myself as best as I am able, which means dancing as I am. Dance, being a subjective art form, will always involve a level of judgment – that is part of the game I have chosen to play. So I accept that and seek to please myself, and my instructor/pro dance partner. As long as we feel we do our best, feel the dance, tune into the connection, and stay present in the moment, I am satisfied with that.

On Perceived Shortcomings:

DA: Amen. If you had only a few lines to convince someone afraid of beginning a dance class because of their perceived shortcomings, what would you write?

S: I would say if you have a desire in your heart to dance (or anything else in this world for that matter) then do it! Life is a journey and we all have to start somewhere. Dancing, especially, is a process of self-discovery, experimentation, and a practice.

I think it is incredibly sad when we limit ourselves or deny ourselves experiences due to perceived shortcomings and it is really a matter of choosing to engage in life, to say yes and risk it, or to say no, and slowly waste away. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather getting on with it anyway in the face of it. And that is where the growth is, outside our comfort zone.

It is amazing what one choice to step out into a new experience like taking a dance class for the first time can blossom into. It is worth the 45 minutes of courage. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

On Being Awesome:

DA: What’s the most wonderful, exciting, or inspiring thing a reader of your blog has ever said to you?

S: My readers inspire me all the time. It is difficult to pinpoint one particular example because I have been blessed and surprised by the many kind words sent to me.

However, I was most surprised to receive a letter in the mail once. The author mentioned things she admired about me – that in her eyes I am a warrior, an athlete, someone who could write a book or speak about my experiences, that I have mental strength and determination. That she took the time to write that letter this day and age is so incredibly special.

Even so, I value and appreciate all the interactions I have been fortunate enough to experience along the way, and sometimes the encouragement is what gets me through. Just to know people care, that they are even rooting for me as I take on my life, like no kidding, is a gift beyond measure.

This article wouldn’t be complete without sharing Stefanie’s fantastic dancing with you.

Check out her sexy, showcase Cha Cha!

Showcase cha cha

Watch this video on YouTube.

If that doesn’t inspire you to leave your comfort zone, nothing will!

Congratulations Top Dance Blogs of 2013!

Nearly 3000 votes were counted!

Here are the Top 20 Dance Blogs of 2013:

Top Dance Blog 2013

UnlikelySalsero

Top Dance Blog 2013 – 26% of votes

2. The T.D.O.T. Blog

3. Dancing With Stefanie

4. Rince go Bragh

5. Odette’s Ordeal

6. On My Toes

7. Maria’s Movers

8. Jade Belly Dance

9. Tamara Bally Dance AND

Albany Dance Fitness

[Read more…]

Time To Vote! Top Dance Blogs 2013

It’s time, ladies and gents!

You choose the Top Dance Blogs of 2013

Dance Advantage Top Dance Blog Contest 2013

Here are the blogs that entered with a blog post about the contest:

2Pointe Social
Adult Ballerina Project
Albany Dance Fitness
Art Intercepts
Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins
Ballet Class With Leigh
Dance Commentary
Dancing With Stefanie
Inside Ballet Technique
Jade Belly Dance
Life of a Freelance Dancer
Maria’s Movers
My Son Can Dance
Odette’s Ordeal
On My Toes
Rince go Bragh
Tamara Bally Dance
The 109th Bead
The Dance Buzz
The Dance Training Project
The Healthy Dancer
The T.D.O.T. Blog
The Unlikely Salsero
Tippy Toes Ballet Blog
Your Daily Dance

Each did such a great job and received fabulous endorsements from their dedicated readers.

Now it’s time to vote for your favorites! [Read more…]

Enter Your Site In Our Top Dance Blog Contest

Dance bloggers, are you ready to start the year with a bang?

Participate in our contest and let your readers choose you as a 2013 Top Dance Blog.

Dance Advantage Top Dance Blog Contest 2013

Round ONE — Enter

Step 1 — Decide which of the following categories is the best fit for your blog:

  • Career Dancer (Pre-Pro/College/Professional) – Pros or pros-to-be discuss the dance lifestyle
  • Recreational Dancer – Teen or adult dancers discuss classes, making time for dance, and more
  • Dance Organization/Artist – Companies or choreographers talk performance, process, production
  • Teacher Talk (Education/Training/Instruction) – Dance class topics; teacher to teacher OR teacher to dancer
  • Speaking Dance (Dance News/Review/Criticism/Audience Education) – Covering the dance world for audiences
  • Industry Support – Business to business, marketing for dancers, and other dance industry shop talk.

Categorizing is never perfect but do your best to choose just ONE of these categories.

Editor’s Choice

From our participants, Nichelle will choose a blog she feels is noteworthy or up and coming, regardless of comment count or readership. This blog will receive the Editor’s Choice award.

Step 2: Publish a blog post about the contest.

In YOUR post, ask readers to show support of YOUR blog with a comment on YOUR post.

You have until Tuesday, January 22 to round up as much comment support as you can.

Step 3: Enter with a comment on this blog post (the one you’re reading now) and tell me…

  1. Which category you are entering under.
  2. The permalink to your blog post about the contest.

Round TWO — Finalists

As soon as you publish your post, start promoting it and encouraging comments!

Though any blog can enter, only blogs with the most comments on their post will be finalists in the voting round.

Comment support will be compared in all participating blogs. The 20 blogs with the most support will qualify as finalists and compete for the Top Dance Blog title.

The blogs that receive the most comments will also be eligible to compete for the top spot in their category.

Round THREE — Voting

On January 24, I will open the Top 20 and category finalist polls.

Even if your blog does not make it to this final round, you will be given special mention as a participant in the contest with a link to your blog.

From Jan 24 – 31, if you are a finalist, send as many people as possible to vote in our polls and secure your ranking.

Voting ends at 10pm EST on Jan 31st. Readers’ votes will be tallied and the results posted on February 2.

Dance Advantage Top Dance Blog Contest 2013

Dos and Don’ts (The Rules)

DO add our contest logo. (Right-click/Save-as the image above)

DO link back to this post. Here’s the URL: http://www.danceadvantage.net/2013/01/07/be-a-top-dance-blog

DO make it clear to readers that they should show their support by commenting on YOUR post about the competition (not mine).

DO encourage your commenters to share why they read your blog, what makes it special, or which are their favorite posts.

DO monitor and delete any duplicate comments from your readers.

DON’T be sneaky about comments. Please, do not offer incentives to commenters or pad your comment count in any way. Your blog will be disqualified.

DON’T mention competing blogs (positively or negatively) in your entry. Keep your post about you.

What do I get if I’m a Top Dance Blog winner?
  1. Engagement: Winner or not, every blog is noted as a participant and each is given an opportunity to engage their readers.

  2. A Badge: Winners receive a badge to display on their site. Those in the Top 20 receive a badge with their rank. Those with the most votes in their category receive a badge also.

  3. A Feature: Category winners will be highlighted together in an article on Dance Advantage. The Top 20 winner will receive their own dedicated feature.

Top Dance Blog #1 category_org

Got Questions?

A list of frequently asked questions can be found here.

If you have questions that aren’t answered on that page, feel free to comment below.

Enforced Arch: Dancers As A Force For Change

You’ve met Carla and read more about her blog, Ballet To The People which was chosen as THE Top Dance Blog of 2011.

Readers vote in our contest and the race for that top slot was very, very close. Less than 20 votes separated the top two, and both blew the rest of the competition out of the water with over 700 votes each!

Generous spirit that she is, Carla offered to share her spotlight article with Enforced Arch, a blog and project spearheaded by James Koroni. But when each of these unique Top Dance Blogs deserves its own feature, why make ‘em share the spotlight?

IMAGE James Koroni - Photo by Joshua Katcher IMAGE

James Koroni - Photo by Joshua Katcher

So without further ado, James Koroni talks about the unique community he launched in November of 2010.

DA: What is Enforced Arch?

James Koroni: Enforced Arch is a dance and performance community of intelligent communicators who use their unique talents to bring life to environmental and social issues.

Each member of the community takes it upon themselves to stand against current injustices. They utilize transmedia and performance art to shed light on crucial issues. Its members are called compassionate ‘Movers.’ This title means that they focus much of their creative energy producing effective and unique ways to express their vision, gain community support and create awareness for various topics.

DA: Tell us a little about your dance background.

JK: I began dancing at The Edge in Los Angeles. My mentors there were Kitty McnNamee, Ryan Heffington, Erica Sobel, Bobby Newberry, Dante, Anes, Tovaris Williams, Bill Prudich, Denise Leitner Terri Best and Frank Williams.

I started at Santa Monica College where I studied ballet with Cati Jean and Charlotte Richards. Then, later I moved to New York to train at Broadway Dance Center. My mentors were, and still are, Luam, Sheryl Murakami, Derek Mitchell, Shaik, Brice Mousset, La Jon, Dana Foglia, Josh Bergasse, David Marquez, Shelia Barker, Joshua Pelatzky and Ginger Cox.

I have always been a performing artist. Prior to my adult life I was a singer. I was president of the High School choir and in a band in High School named Sway, at which point I had never taken a dance class. This was absurd, considering I couldn’t keep still when music was playing!

I began dancing at 19 only after I auditioned for Disney and they asked me to do a double pirouette. I thought, what’s that?

 

I obviously didn’t get the call back and immediately I could be found in Frank Williams’ Jazz class three times a week and in ballet classes five times a week for the next 6 months until I was ready to progress. I just couldn’t stop and here I am now.

DA: Why did you create the Enforced Arch community?

JK: All my life I have had a strong desire to sing, dance and entertain everyone. All of which was an attempt to brighten someones day.

As an adult I went through two devastating losses – each breathing new life into my love of performance art – – the death of my brother and later the loss of my father who both died of cancer.

It wasn’t until I felt the severity of my fathers illness that I knew I needed to change my own life. After he died I sought the truth behind the causes for cancer and I found an abundance of resources, including The China Study, linking many causes of cancer to our diets. This sent me on a a course of research that changed my life forever. The first step I took was adopting a vegan lifestyle, not only for my brother & father, but also for my health, the environment, and all of the animals suffering for our dinners. This discovery has filled my life with great intention.

Every moment following that day has contained yet another opportunity to inspire change through my lifestyle and as a dancer/choreographer. Dancers have a unique ability to speak to others and I value those who use this talent to create awareness.

I felt that there must be others out there with similar stories and interests that could use a supportive community of like-minded individuals. This is why I created the Enforced Arch community. It lives as a platform for compassionate performing artists to express themselves and promote their cause.

DA: What are some ways dancers are using their position as artists to make a difference?

JK: I could go through them all one by one because I have found a profound group of compassionate ‘Movers’ but I’ll try to mention just a few.

In 2008 Nicole Johnson, a dancer and choreographer, launched her production company, Javanna Productions, and presented an effort entitled M.O.V.E which stands for Motivation Opportunity Vision Entertainment. Javanna Productions’ M.O.V.E. is raising funds and awareness for the need for education in rural parts of the world. Nicole is working with the Bernie Krisher Rural School Project Foundation to build a school in rural Cambodia within the next two years. Since 2008 M.O.V.E. has raised money and awareness for organizations like Autism Speaks, QSAC, Children of Uganda, Church Of Christ in Ghana and the Fivers Foundation.

Tonya Kay owns two green businesses, Happy Mandible, Inc and Solid Hollywood, LLC, and believes that creating the world you wish to live in starts with the individual, but does not stop there. Sshe is a philanthropist, generously donating to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, NORML, The Serengeti Foundation, The Tree People, The Witch’s Voice, Center for Biological Diversity and reforestation projects via CarbonFund.org. She has traveled 18 countries to volunteer her physical body to the preservation and protection of endangered species including the Asian elephant at Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park and the sea turtle at Costa Rica’s PETROMA.

Lastly, I’d like to mention Tracey Katof who has recently become the PR Director of Enforced Arch. Tracey has contributed choreography and performed for both stage and video productions. She has collaborated as a dancer and choreographer with HBO award-winning comedian Rebecca Drysdale for her video contribution to the It Gets Better Project. She contributed her choreography to an Anti-Fur performance piece that was featured in Paris at La Bellevilloise, at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward Art gallery, and in a fashion magazine called PINNACLE Reinvent the Icon. Tracey is also the choreographer for the upcoming Off-Broadway production of Lemon Meringue which tells the story of one mans recovery from Childhood sexual abuse.

As you can see these individuals all deserve their own spotlight and this is why Enforced Arch lives and breathes. I admire, am inspired, and look forward to sharing the efforts of these compassionate artists day after day!

DA: How do dance and ethics align?

JK: Dance is a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding lifestyle. It seems overwhelming at times giving way to cultural disconnect. Without occasionally tapping into a larger reality we allow those in power to justify things that we as individuals would not be okay with. They thrive on our apathy which is why it is extremely important to be aware and become an effective catalyst for action.

In order to do this we need to ask ourselves: Is this society ideal for every member contributing and am I in a position to help those who suffer? Where does my food come from and at what cost? What are my clothes made of and who made them? With this knowledge you will learn what part you play and discover what powers you have to give back respectively.

Dancers will find great value for their talent, technique and tools when they understand the power it holds. Dance is an energy, a life force, a discipline and a focus. When we channel this, we turn heads and call attention to specific ideas.

In a world of social media distractions there is very little that will cause a rumble in our society but dance compels others to take action because dance is action.

DA: So dance can communicate in ways that other artistic forms cannot?

JK: Yes! Rather than people being lectured, dance communicates raw emotions and allows those witnessing its power to have a visceral experience – specifically with ambassadors to the individuals to which its content is committed.

Dance is a universal language that transcends words and becomes a form of expression available to everyone present to experience it’s grandeur.

IMAGE: Image of community members in front of the tree -- Photo by Joshua Katcher IMAGE

Photo by Joshua Katcher

DA: How can dancers help animals?

JK: There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world and, while it might seem overwhelming to solve these problems, one effective way to help is to be aware of what we eat and what we wear on our bodies.

Many of the Enforced Arch members have adopted a plant based diet and vegan lifestyle to avoid cruelty, improve their health and reduce green house gas emissions.

Animals that our society have deemed to be food or clothing are 99% of the time coming from factory farms. With a growing demand for animal commodities we have institutionalized agriculture with no consideration for any sentient beings who have a will to live or at what carbon footprint this kind of farming creates.

Agriculture is the basis for human development but our path towards a more intensive farming system has run rampant in developed nations. It’s growth has lead to increased risk of global warming to which the United Nations has called for a worldwide shift to a plant based diet. Their findings state that livestock is the leading cause of green house gas emissions which inevitably causes global warming. In fact if you combined every form of transportation into one, livestock would still be the single greatest cause of global warming.

IMAGE Please Don't Touch -- Break Free From Fur || ARTIST CREDIT: Julie Gueraseva IMAGE

"Please, Don't Touch" ARTIST CREDIT: Julie Gueraseva

In addition, many of Enforced Arch’s ‘Movers’ avoid purchasing animal textiles such as leather or fur. On average it takes 100 chinchillas to make one fur coat.

It’s remarkable to see people still purchasing it with so many warm and cruelty free alternatives available to us.

An example of the Enforced Arch community efforts is its performance piece called Please, Don’t Touch which depicts the unfortunate lives of animals caught up in the fur trade.

When it was invited to be performed in Paris during Fashion week of Fall 2011, I rejoiced in the fact that so much time and effort was finally beginning to pay off.

 

PLEASE, DON'T TOUCH by James Koroni

Watch this video on YouTube.

To make these cruelty-free alternatives more accessible for compassionate ‘Movers’  the Enforced Arch community has created a resource for dancers who wish to avoid animal textiles and seek plant based nutrition. These resource pages can be found on the Enforced Arch website under the titles: Fuel and Essentials.

DA: At Enforced Arch, artists can submit video and events to be featured. What are some other ways dancers or dance-makers can get involved (online or off)?

JK: Being involved often requires understanding and confronting complex issues that many people often find overwhelming or upsetting. We’re aware that Enforced Arch is not for everyone. It’s only for dancers who are prepared to channel concepts that require emotional security and strength of character. At the same time, dancers are capable, if only they had the right motivation.

We welcome involvement from writers, dancers, choreographers, video artists, costume designers, makeup artists, non-profit organizations, dance companies, etc. We encourage all professional, creative and ambitious artists, to step forward and introduce themselves to our community. Our creative team is inspired by its members and we support them as their media platform.

The one thing all of it’s members or ‘Movers’ have in common, is the belief that performance art has great potential to make change.

Contact us at EnforcedArch@gmail.com. Tell us about yourself, share your story.

If you regularly dancing to create awareness you might be asked to become a ‘Mover’ at which point you would keep us up to date on your upcoming projects and we’ll write about them.

We receive invitations from all over the U.S., and more recently around the world, asking for choreographers and dancers. When these opportunities arise we hold auditions or seek talent from within our community.

http://www.enforcedarch.com

Enforced Arch

The possibilities are endless.

DA: Any final thoughts, James?

JK: Sometimes no words can speak the language of atrocity. Dancers are fluent in a dialect that is crucial to communicating emotional experiences that are necessary for making social change. Enforced Arch is dedicated to inspiring and supporting dancers that explore this talent.

Upcoming Performance!

Enforced Arch will present a two-night limited engagement April 6th & 7that Manhattan Movement & Arts Center where they will be presenting their latest work, ‘ALLIANCE’ Art & Activism. A collection of past and new works honoring the ‘ALLIANCE’ of art and activism, these performances mark the first presentation of works by creative directors, James Koroni and Tracey Katof. For ticket information visit http://www.enforcedarch.com/tickets/ or to interview James Koroni and Tracey Katof, please contact them at (323) 376-0050 or email them at EnforcedArch@gmail.com.

Carla Escoda Brings Ballet To The People

Now that the hectic first weeks of a new year and our February giveaways are through, I’d like to formally introduce you to Carla Escoda, the blogger and ballet instructor behind Ballet To The People, voted the Top Dance Blog of 2011.

Carla’s site is a feast for ballet-lovers everywhere. Learn more about her training and 20-year hiatus from dance, her teaching, her writing, and how she successfully battled her most severe arthritis symptoms with an active, rigorous ballet program.

DA: Tell us about your early training as a dancer. Did you train with sights on a professional career or was your focus more recreational?

IMAGE Carla and her sister when starting ballet in Kuala Lumpur IMAGE

A 5 or 6-year-old Carla and her younger sister in their RAD uniforms.

Carla Escoda: My sister and I started ballet at an RAD school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then we trained in Manila at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP) Dance School, founded by the visionary Alice Reyes, who brought modern dance to the Philippines in the 1970’s and who worked with ballet teacher Eddie Elejar to build Asia’s first world-class dance company, now known as Ballet Philippines. Alice’s brilliant choreography melded Graham technique with indigenous traditions, music and narratives, a kind of fusion has since been replicated in a few dance companies around Asia. Many dancers trained at the CCP filtered into ballet and modern dance companies around the world.

I loved ballet but was never destined for a career in the big leagues, unlike my younger sister Tina, who was truly gifted and who went to the Royal Ballet School in London and later danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and ABT.

I remember our first week of pointe class at CCP, when Eddie scolded us for wrapping our aching toes in lambswool; he said that true professionals would never pad their pointe shoes because then you couldn’t feel the floor properly. I think there were 10 of us girls in the class who went on pointe at the same time, and 9 of us ignored him. My sister was the 10th.  I don’t think she was being stoic about the pain – she just took to pointe like she was born to it. Teachers dream about students like this.

I ended up at a government high school for the sciences — what you would call a ‘magnet’ school in the U.S. except this was a national rather than a local school — and then came to the United States where I studied Engineering and French literature at Yale. I had to choose between piano and ballet – I did not have time for both – and I chose to join the dance company, which at the time was under the artistic supervision of the Connecticut Ballet. I ended up dancing with the Yaledancers for six years. The company changes character, of course, with every new wave of Yale students, but in my time it was composed of ex-professionals from companies like Chicago Ballet, as well as students who went on to performing careers in dance companies and on Broadway.

The most illustrious member of the Yaledancers of my generation was probably Eliza Gaynor who went on to found Gaynor Minden, the innovative pointe shoe maker. I admire what she’s done tremendously, making life easier for countless dancers, opening up new possibilities for many girls who thought they were never going to be able to get on pointe.

Our company advisor and principal teacher from Connecticut Ballet, Noble Barker, was an inspiration. It was under him that I really advanced my pointework, and he spent hours with me after class one-on-one, pushing me and encouraging me, and teaching me a number of classical variations. He was the most reassuring partner, and we were a good match height-wise (he was on the short side). He would say “you may not be perfect, but you must always have STYLE, especially when falling out of a pirouette.” He had a dry sense of humour, never took himself too seriously, though he was gifted in many ways, not just as a dancer but as a teacher, mentor, director and organizer.

Sadly, he died a little over a year ago, from cancer. At the time he was Artistic Director of the New Haven Ballet, a company he had founded.

DA: After Yale, you took a 20-year ballet hiatus. What did you do during that time?

CE: While getting my graduate degree in Engineering, I was seconded to Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, where I conducted experiments in a laser lab. The main attraction that Engineering held for me was the excitement: we got to play with very powerful and expensive toys – including lasers that could vaporize stone walls. That was a time when a great deal of money was being thrown into defense-related research, during the period under Reagan known as ‘Star Wars,’ so there was a lot of opportunity for research scientists. At Livermore I got my first taste of what working in the real world of engineering would be like: there was no dance company, very little art, music and culture, and I went on dates with guys who wanted to spend the whole time talking about their lab experiments and who wouldn’t know a grand jeté en tournant if they fell out of one. I knew at that point that my days as a scientist were numbered.

When I graduated, my husband and I moved to New York, and I ended up working for an investment bank. Peter was a dancer, too, and after work he and I would take class with legendary teachers like Finis Jhung, David Howard, Igal Perry. After seven years in New York, Peter and I both took banking jobs in Asia and that is where we spent most of our professional careers.

That is also where our three daughters were born and raised. (They are now 21, 19 and 15.) I stopped dancing altogether as I had my hands full managing a full-time job with lots of international travel, and a household with three kids.

It was an exciting time to be working in Asia: multinational banks were still establishing themselves in the region, and I lived through several cycles of mergers and acquisitions, expansion and downsizing. It was also very stressful at times. There were very few women in the industry in those days – it was very much of an ‘old boys club’. Not much has changed since then, but it is marginally better now for women.

But I got to work on a number of very interesting, pioneering projects, like the financing for the first chemical waste treatment plant in the region, which addressed a huge environmental pollution problem, and the building of the new Hong Kong airport. Before I left banking, I was J.P.Morgan’s Chief Operating Officer for Investment Banking in Asia, ex-Japan.

I spent a few years after that working for a non-profit in Asia, then my husband and I moved to San Francisco.

One of our daughters had already flown the coop – she chose to go to boarding school on the East Coast, then later to university in the U.K. And just this year our second daughter left for college in New York. I am only two years away from being an empty-nester!

DA: Oh is that all? Geez, no wonder ballet took a back seat!

Did I read correctly that you’ve battled symptoms of a severe case of arthritis with ballet?

CE: At age 42, I developed osteoarthritis. It is in my family, but I was surprised to get it so young. I thought it was one of those illnesses that gradually crept up on you, as I had noticed with my mother, but it hit me very fast and hard. Pain and stiffness in all my joints, particularly my hands, feet, ankles and hips were so severe that I had to stop driving for a while; it was difficult to sit still for any stretch of time, and I could no longer stand completely straight because of the stiffness in my hips. I was told I would soon be a candidate for a double hip replacement.

Having been a dancer probably made me more conscious of, and distressed by, my rapidly growing physical limitations. Maybe non-dancers tend to more easily accept their body’s deterioration.

My doctor advised me to adopt a vigorous daily exercise program to improve my circulation and nurture the cartilage around my joints. I learned then that exercise can strengthen and replenish cartilage; previously I had thought that exercise just creates wear and tear and permanently erodes cartilage.

I embarked on a series of exercise programs that all ended tragicomically:

  • My running coach fired me, told me I had the worst coordination he’d ever seen. (I didn’t know you needed to be coordinated to run.)
  • I hurt my back swimming.
  • I tore my rotator cuff in yoga (Downward dog to plank to upward-facing dog).
  • I fell off my bike repeatedly. (Embarrassing for someone who used to toss off double – and even the occasional triple – pirouettes en pointe.)
  • I enjoyed hiking but found that it aggravated the swelling in my joints.
  • I liked Pilates and Gyrotonics, found them a challenge, but got bored without music and having to stare at the ceiling for so long. (They really should put TV screens up on the ceilings of Pilates and Gyro studios.)
  • I took a boxing lesson. Bad idea. And I don’t look good in those shorts.
  • I heard about something called Tae-Bo and rented a video. The movements were very repetitive and I got bored, though truthfully it was that terrible throbbing electronic remix music that drove me away.
  • I worked out at the gym. More throbbing electronic music. Machines epically boring. Too many beefy sweaty guys, none of whom were the least bit interested in promenades, and I couldn’t convince any of them that shoulder sits are a more fun way to strengthen a man’s triceps than push-ups. Very lonely experience.
  • I took pretty well to cross-country skiing but I hate the cold, and I’m certainly not going to jet around the world finding snow year round.
  • I tried paragliding – and loved it! But it is not easy to make this your everyday exercise routine. And the risk of death or serious injury kind of put me off.

So you see, I was running out of options… ballet was practically the ONLY THING LEFT!

DA: At what point did you realize ballet was helping you?

CE: When I started back in ballet, I could not even manage a beginner class. I had almost no mobility in my feet and ankles, very little range of motion in my hips, and my hamstrings and back were very tight. I did my own floor barre, which I could only sustain for about 10 minutes. Then I graduated to tendus and ronds de jambe holding on to the kitchen counter.

Within 18 months I was back in Intermediate level classes, and off all my arthritis meds — I had been on continuous painkillers and anti-inflammatories up to that point. I was told hip replacement could be put off indefinitely.

My doctor was very surprised at my progress. I think I was the first patient she had seen with such dramatic improvement through exercise alone. Then again, maybe she had never had a ballet dancer for a patient.

Along with exercise, I had been told to go on an anti-inflammatory diet. I tried this off and on but I really have no willpower when it comes to diet – I love good food too much, and that includes lots of fat and sugar! But I do avoid processed food as much as possible, and I buy organic when I can. So all the benefit has come from ballet five or six days a week, and supplements including glucosamine and omega-3’s which I continue to take, but which I understand have not been scientifically proven to work.

IMAGE Carla in the studio IMAGE

Carla, looking A-ma-zing at 52. Photo by Charlie Homo

I should make it clear that I am NOT symptom-free. At age 52, ten years after being diagnosed with arthritis, I wake up every morning with joint pain and stiffness, but it has been completely manageable for the past six years.

I have to be very careful about injury prevention, and it seems like I always have something going on (don’t all dancers?) – bursitis in my shoulder, meniscal tear in my knee, Achilles tendonitis… you name it. I keep our local sports medicine clinic in business. I try to do my P.T. regularly, I take an occasional Aleve, and have had occasional cortisone shots. I use heat and ice everyday on whichever joints are stiff.

I do Pilates (reformer only) once a week. And on days when I teach, I do not take class myself, to ease the wear and tear on my body. I try not to jump very much, though allegro has always been my favorite part of class. I almost never attempt beats anymore except on the Pilates jump board. The few times I’ve put pointe shoes on, I’ve been very conservative with my movement.

DA: You are currently teaching ballet but this isn’t your first gig as an instructor.

CE: Noble Barker encouraged me to start teaching. I would watch his classes at Connecticut Ballet, after which he would explain his thinking behind some of the exercises, and I eventually covered a few classes for him. It was a good way for a college student on a tight budget to earn a little. Noble had no formal curriculum to pass on to me, but I learned a lot from his patient, minimalist approach to teaching – he held back a lot, deliberately chose not to give a lot of corrections but the ones he did give were always vital to the mechanics of execution, rather than just aesthetic. His combinations were always very fluid, very musical without being overly ornamental.

From him, as well as from my teachers in the Philippines, from master classes with teachers like Richard Glasstone, and from my teacher training at ABT, I developed a strong distaste for the excessive, quirky ornamentation that many teachers like to throw into their combinations – they may think of it as a signature style, but I think it obscures technique.

DA: How do you approach teaching differently this time around after all you’ve been through?

CE: Today I think I bring greater empathy for the older students, and for those battling injury. This is not surprising given my experience. I try to find a way for people with limitations to participate in the movement at some level. I think I’m also tougher with the younger girls who are begging to go on pointe – I don’t want to see them set themselves up for injury later in life by starting too early.

With many students taking class only once or twice a week, I want to help them get the most out of their time in class – many of them will never actually be on stage for more than a few minutes of their lives, so I want them to feel some of the glory of performing while they’re in the studio with only their classmates and the mirror for an audience. This influences my choice of music for class as well — when I don’t have an accompanist, which I usually don’t today.

IMAGE Carla wearing headphones... and a tutu. IMAGE

Carla wearing headphones... and a tutu. Photo by Charlie Homo

I am much more adventurous with music in class now than I was as a young college student. I go for drama as much as possible – whether it’s a Beethoven symphony, Freddie Mercury’s theatrics, Herb Alpert’s virtuoso trumpet, Dave Brubeck’s high jinks with time signatures, the soundtrack from the Twilight series, or tribal drumming.

I know many ballet teachers look on this as heresy. I do use ballet classics in every class – Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia, Don Q, etc. – but usually the full orchestral versions, not just piano arrangements, and I especially make sure the kids get more of this, since I think they don’t have enough exposure to classical music in general and to great ballet music in particular.

I would also like to see ballet being used more as cross-training not just for dancers in other genres, but for athletes as well. The clean, stripped-down technique that I learned to teach at ABT is well-suited for non-dancer athletes who want to increase their body awareness, core and back strength, flexibility and coordination. And because ballet focuses so much on alignment, placement, jump mechanics, correct takeoffs and landings, it can also be an excellent injury prevention regimen.

I am astonished at how many young people in America are injuring themselves in sports today; training and competition have become so much more intense and narrowly specialized at younger and younger ages, and there seems to be less cross-training and less downtime for recovery. It seems quite mad to me. As if we are training hundreds of thousands of kids for future Olympic teams, when the reality is that sports are recreational for all except a very select few. I would like to convince athletic directors at middle schools, high schools and colleges that ballet should be part of their overall athletic program for health and skill development reasons.

I have also been approached by dancers seeking counsel on how to plan for their lives after dancing.

Having been a businessperson for so many years, and having watched dancers struggle with their finances and career decisions, I am happy to offer my perspective and advice.

DA: Skills with which too few dancers enter the professional dance world, for sure!

Describe your current students and teaching environment.

CE: They’re a mix of beginners and intermediate students, mostly adults, but I have a handful of younger students as well. And I coach a few advanced students, particularly around audition time. I haven’t been teaching here very long – we only moved to the U.S. a few years ago, and as you can see from my background I’ve been distracted for the past 20 years!

My first teaching gig here in San Francisco was at a wonderful studio called Shoebox, owned and run by an inimitably talented dancer-choreographer named Cera Byer. I am still not sure what to call her style of dance – she brings several different techniques and traditions into her choreography – but I suppose a good description might be “contemporary fusion bellydance.” She attracted a passionate and eclectic tribe of dance teachers, and believed strongly in the value of ballet and modern training for bellydancers. So many of my students there were – and still are – either bellydancers or dancers from other genres.

Unfortunately Shoebox was forced to close due to conflicts with neighboring businesses (a perennial problem for urban dance studios – we hate being asked to turn our music down!)

I’m now teaching at City Dance Studios in the Mission, and at the Metronome Dance Collective in Potrero Hill.

I would love to be part of a pre-professional program that teaches the ABT National Training Curriculum, but that doesn’t exist yet in San Francisco. I hope it will one day.

DA: Ok, I want to talk more about your eclectic music choices. Which CD would you not want to teach a ballet class without?

CE: I couldn’t possibly teach ballet from ONE album alone! Though I was once challenged to teach an all-Frank Sinatra class, which I did; it was actually pretty easy to come up with a playlist as Frank covered an amazing range of musical styles in his long career, unmatched by any other vocalist that I know of.

But if you twisted my arm I would have to say Snakes & Ladders by Bay Area-based Australian Bebop Ragas, featuring didgeridu maestro Stephen Kent, touchstyle fretboard pioneer Teed Rockwell and jazz/world fusion drummer and tabla player Sameer Gupta.

It brings a wonderful energy into class, cool and stripped down but richly evocative nonetheless, a nice contrast to the flowery and dramatic orchestral ballet music we also use.

DA: A friend of Dance Advantage, Deb Young, has appeared here as a guest, writing about ABT’s National Training Curriculum program.

As a certified teacher yourself, can you tell us your thoughts on the program – what it was like to go through the program and its value to you as a teacher?

CE: I just read Deb’s piece and it hit all the high points, and the challenges, of the teacher training program.

I was most impressed by the wealth of historic knowledge and modern scientific principles that have been filtered into this curriculum.

There is nothing that seems arbitrary or artificial in the architecture of the technique, no attitude of “we do it this way because that’s how it’s been done for 300 years,” “if it worked for Vestris, it should work for you,” etc. There was always a sound anatomical or aesthetic principle behind every “rule,” and I left the program with a stronger understanding of what makes technique essentially organic.

Teachers expecting iconoclasm from this program will be disappointed. Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens, who designed the curriculum with input from ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and dance medicine specialists, have a reverence for many of the traditions from the Italian, French and Russian schools, which are incorporated in their teachings. I am still poring through copies of two fascinating documents we were given to study: a manual of Exercices de Danse Théâtrale handwritten by Enrico Cecchetti in 1894, and an 1861 volume of Etudes Chorégraphiques by Auguste Bournonville.

The way the program is delivered is very constructive, designed to support our learning experience rather than simply challenge us. Class demonstrations reinforced what we learned during the lectures, and being obliged to get up and present enchaînements and have them critiqued by everyone else, even though nerve-wracking, was exceedingly useful. By the time we had to face the adjudicators in our oral exams at the end of each phase, we were well-prepped for the grilling that we got on how to break down and teach a particular step, and how to correct a specific fault.

Every class that I teach now, no matter at what level, and though I am still far from being an expert, I feel that I am supported by a strong scaffolding. When constructing exercises I go through the discipline taught us in the program, using the framework of progressions that we learned.

DA: I love your Manifesto, which appears on Ballet To The People’s front page.

CE: The manifesto was partly inspired by that film “Black Swan,” which I detested – I thought it was an exploitative, misinformed package of cheap thrills. And how sad that they made this B horror flick against the backdrop of one of the grandest pieces of music and choreography. However, I digress.

DA: The film certainly did get the ballet world talking… and writing! If you had to pick ONE, which statement in your Manifesto means the most to you and why?

IMAGE Carla posing in front of some fantastic, blue, street art. IMAGE

Ballet to the People takes balet to the street! Photo by Charlie Homo

CE:The line in the manifesto that most resonates with me is probably “no descent into madness as you struggle to wring out one more fouetté turn.”

Dance should be uplifting and liberating, and it should make you a better person – clichéd as that sounds – a more generous person. This won’t happen if you are constantly beating yourself up for not nailing that double pirouette, for yanking the girl off her balance in promenade, for looking fat in the mirror.

Teachers and ballet masters set the tone in the studio by the feedback they give, but it is up to the dancer to receive every class, every rehearsal, every performance as a gift, which they can embellish and give to their audience.

As I write this, I think of dancers like Tiler Peck, who radiate generosity in their dancing.

DA: I’m almost ashamed to say that I knew very little (if anything) about your blog before the Top Dance Blog contest. My loss, especially since your thorough essays on the inner workings and historical fascinations of ballet are just my cup of tea. But clearly, you have an active following!

When did you begin blogging? And why?

CE: I am not surprised you hadn’t heard of my blog. I only started writing last July and my audience at the time consisted of my students (about 20 of them). At first it was meant to be instructive (though not overly serious) and to showcase my students’ photos, writing and artwork. I also thought I would use it to alert dance-lovers to upcoming performances and events that might be fun and worthwhile. But as my blog posts started to be forwarded, I gained a larger and larger readership worldwide.

Many of my readers are not dancers; one of my aims is to entertain the larger community of potential theatre-goers, on whom we rely to keep the art alive.

DA: Which has so far been your favorite post to write?

CE: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I don’t have one, is the right answer.

I did enjoy preparing for the tutu post – both the photo shoot and interviewing costumer Jared Aswegan – that was more complicated to orchestrate than anything I’d written before, and I was privileged to work with an extraordinarily gifted photographer, Charlie Homo.

I also enjoy my summer stints in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, working with a community of amateur dancers with whom I improvise in this beautiful natural setting. (I admit one of the attractions is the food – our ballet-master happens to be a gourmet chef – so my posts and tweets sometimes incorporate his menus and recipes.)

IMAGE Illustration by Joie Brown IMAGE

This gorgeous image is by Carla's student, illustrator Joie Brown -- more on Joie below!

DA: Where do new ideas for your posts come from?

CE: Sometimes I end up writing because I see or read something that annoys me. Like the scare-mongering New York Times article on yoga.

Inspiration also comes from the photos that my students, friends, and sometimes complete strangers send me from their travels around the world. I think it’s wonderful that people, whether professionals or students, will take ballet into the streets – Sarah in her cycling gear, or Vicki who literally stops traffic whenever she gets inspired.

And, remembering Noble’s words, I think these photos are worth posting when they show style or attitude, not just technique.

Or I find myself struggling with a step when I take class, and I find a way to weave that into a blog post.

Or a student will ask a question in class that I don’t feel I adequately addressed at the time. (In class, you know, we try to keep things moving and not deliver an entire state-of-the-union speech on the evils of pressing the gesturing foot against the knee in retiré.)

DA: I can relate to that — Dance Advantage was born from many undelivered speeches. Well, mostly undelivered — I still talk too much when teaching sometimes.

But I’m getting off the subject — I enjoy the detailed but varied way you cover ballet.

CE: Usually I start writing about one thing and I end up zigzagging around, touching on several other seemingly unrelated topics. I don’t start with a clear destination or framework in my mind. If I were in a college freshman writing class, most of my blog posts would get an “F” for forgoing traditional elements like a topic sentence, and for excessive meandering.

DA: Ah, but you get an A for drawing your numerous readers in with passionate, intelligent, and interesting storytelling. That’s why they chose you as the Top Dance Blog of 2011!

All of the images above have or will be featured at Ballet To The People. Credit for images of Carla, created for her post The Never-Ending Scandal of the Tutu go to Jared Aswegan (Head Costumer and former owner of Barbara Matera, Ltd.), Charlie Homo (photographer), Hilarie Jenkins and Caryn Wells (Wardrobe Mistresses, American Ballet Theatre), Maria Lee (hair and makeup), Veronica Sooley (stylist), Paloma Brooks and Sarah Small (dressers), Mary Sano (studio).

Illustrator, Joie Brown grew up in Atlanta, GA and has been drawing since an early age. Her undergraduate degree is a BFA in Drawing and Painting from Kennesaw State University. A few years after graduating, she moved to San Francisco to pursue an MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University. She has been dancing ballet for six years, and did not start until the age of 21. “I decided to start ballet as an adult because it’s something I never got the chance to do as a child, and I absolutely love it,” she exclaims. “Dance inspires my art, and my art inspires my dance. It’s a wonderful cycle.”

Congrats to the Top Dance Blogs of 2011!

Once again, a group of fabulous dance bloggers turned up for our contest.

Once again, readers turned up to vote for their favorites and found new blogs to follow.

Once again, I saw bloggers out supporting each other, illustrating that the dance blogosphere is thriving and teeming with people passionate about dance.

Mission Accomplished!

What a way to start a year. Here are your Top Dance Blogs, everyone:

IMAGE Top Dance Blogs 2011 IMAGETop 20

Nearly 3000 votes were counted and our top two blogs walked away with about 26% of the votes… each! Woa!

But one blog pulled ahead by nearly 20 votes:

#1 — Ballet to the People

  1. Enforced Arch
  2. Dance Commentary by Heather Desaulniers
  3. Rogue Ballerina
  4. Tendus Under a Palm Tree
  5. Tutus & Tea
  6. Adult Beginner
  7. My Son Can Dance
  8. Odette’s Ordeal
  9. Ballet Pages
  10. The Body Series
  11. Maria’s Movers
  12. Born Again Dancer
  13. Frame Dance
  14. Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins (by Sheena Jeffers)
  15. Picture Books & Pirouettes
  16. Dave Tries Ballet
  17. –TIED– Contemporary Dancing (by Melissa)
  18. Noa Blogs Ballet
  19. Leotards and the Buns in Them

Category Winners

Speaking Dance
http://ballettothepeople.com/

Ballet To The People by Carla Escoda

62% of votes

Adult Dancer
http://adultbeginner.wordpress.com/

Adult Beginner

58% of votes

Teen Dancer
http://blog.contemporarydancing.co.uk

Contemporary Dancing by Melissa, Lover of Dance

39% of votes. The three blogs were separated by only 2 votes – a close race!

Teacher Talk
http://balletpages.blogspot.com

Ballet Pages (by Melanie Doskocil)

48% of votes

Dancer Musings
http://tendusunderapalmtree.com

Tendus Under a Palm Tree (by Rebecca King)

68% of votes

Dance Organization/Artist
http://blog.framedance.org

Frame Dance Blog

40% of votes. Another close race, separated by mere clicks of a button.

Business Blog
http://kinerenterprisesincblog.com/blog

Kiner Enterprises Inc. Blog

And, as always, Ashani Mfuko in a class by herself. ;)

I want to say thanks again to ALL who entered regardless of where they are in their blogging ‘career’.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to step up and be counted, so to speak. Please, if you haven’t already, visit the list of 32 blogs who participated (the significance of the number 32 is not lost on the bunheads out there).

Editor’s Choice

This proved very difficult for me because even I discovered new blogs through the contest this year. Plus some blogs are just very new.

In the end, I went with a blog that I feel has consistently shown a clear focus, delivering material that is valuable to its readers in a fun but thoughtful way. I’ve enjoyed watching this blog develop and wish for its longevity.

Though ALL 32 blogs show great promise, I chose…

http://thedancebuzz.blogspot.com

The Dance Buzz

Congrats to All!

I’ll be contacting winners with badges to put on their sites and with questions for your feature!

Our Top 20 winner, Ballet to the People will be highlighted individually. Meanwhile our category winners and Editor’s choice will be featured together.

We’d love your feedback on the contest in the comments.

I know that with the holidays, the end of the year is a tough time for the contest. I’ve been thinking about moving it up to early December. Knowing that there’s never a perfect time for everyone, feel free to weigh in on this, or other details of the contest.

Have suggestions? Ways to improve? I’ll take ‘em!

Want to congratulate the winners? Compare to last year? Do it!

Thanks so much for helping to make the 2011 Top Dance Blog contest a success!

Who Inspires You?

By rough count, I have over 300 dance-related blogs contributing to My Own Dance “Magazine”, otherwise known as my Google Reader.

These display varying levels of activity, of course, but what matters is that people of all ages, abilities, experiences, and walks of life are excited enough about dance to want to write about it.

Inspirational Blogger Award

Recently a young blogger named Melissa created her first blog award, naming 11 of her favorite blogs/bloggers and encouraging them to pass it on. Not all are dance-related but you can see her Top 11 at contemporarydancing.co.uk.

Among these recipients was Jean, of 52 Weeks of Ballet, a relatively new blog which chronicles Jean’s journey as an adult ballet dancer in Sydney, Australia. She’s about 32 weeks in but I encourage you to catch up at www.52weeksofballet.com.

Jean was kind enough to include me in her Top 5 favorite dance blogs and I’m in good company. Check out the others here.

With A Twist and Shout Out

Now, you may know Dance Advantage hosts its own little award showdown, wherein we name Top Dance Blogs based upon your votes. News of our 2011 awards is coming soon so get ready!

Since Melissa’s Inspirational Blogger awards can go out to any type of blog, I’ll be naming my Top 10 inspirational NON-Dance blogs later. I hope you’ll find at least one new blog on the list that will inspire you too.

But first, because I can’t seem to do anything strictly by the book, I wanted to use this opportunity to feature Jean and Melissa, and their respective blogs with an interview. And, because Melissa’s blog award rules originally calls for recipients to give some tidbits about themselves, I’ve added a little twist and asked these two ladies to interview me with 3 questions each of their choosing. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

First a little background:
IMAGE Melissa in a split IMAGE

Melissa splits her time between dance, blogging, and friends.

Melissa is a teenager who loves dance so much she signs off on all her posts as ‘Lover of Dance’. She’s been dancing for roughly 10 years and has been exploring different schools and genres. When she’s not dancing or blogging, she’s socializing with friends, going shopping, or to the cinema. “Friends and family are really important and I love that they are so supportive of me.”

As you might expect, Jean has a contrasting answer when asked what she does outside the studio and the blogosphere. “Previously I would have said – working too hard!” She runs a Procurement Consultancy with her husband but ballet actually seems to improve her work/life balance. “I have found myself more focused at work so I can get out of the office in time for my evening dance classes. I used to play squash, tennis and do lots of bush and harbourside walks around Sydney, but unsurprisingly I’m finding a lot less time for these lately!”

You can bet that like most adult dancers, Jean has a story regarding her path to ballet. She started ballet as a 9 year old and continued until her late teens. She describes it as her greatest passion. “Growing up in a country without full-time ballet schools, it remained an after-school activity for me,” she explains. “Unfortunately, ballet eventually faded into the background as academic opportunities presented themselves and the general distractions of life as a university student took over. For many years, I did very little dancing, always remembering how much I loved it, but I believe I also sub-consciously suppressed my passion for it because I felt I had somehow left things unfinished.”

She threw herself back into ballet 10 years ago, obtaining her RAD Intermediate certification but afterward felt that maybe ballet was too technical and that there was nothing more she would gain. She expected to find joy through other forms of dance. So, for the past few years Jean has been attending Lyrical and Contemporary open classes on a weekly basis. She has enjoyed them, but notices that many teachers view adult dancers as seeking recreation only, rather than continuous improvement.

IMAGE Jean of 52 Weeks of Ballet blog IMAGE

Jean got hooked on ballet all over again at age 40.

Earlier this year, she was persuaded to join a ballet class ‘just for fun’.  “I thought I’d give it a go for a week or two,” Jean says. “I didn’t expect to be hooked again before the first class was over.”

She credits her teacher, Tibor, for this. “He paid a lot of attention to technique, pushed us to our individual limits, worked us very hard but also took time to acknowledge it when we did something well. In that short time, I was reminded of how addictive the quest for perfection and the thrill of achievement can be.”

Within her first few weeks, Jean decided that if she was going to improve, she’d need to do more than one class per week. Before long she’d worked up to five classes each week, mostly with Tibor. “Unlike other forms of exercise like going to the gym or doing yoga,” she remarks, “I look forward to every class and the sessions never seem long enough. Besides getting very fit and toned, dancing ballet nourishes my soul. My passion for ballet has certainly been re-ignited!”

From dancing to blogging

Jean’s return to ballet coincided with her 40th birthday. Though she wanted to share her experience with others traveling a similar path or thinking about beginning ballet, documenting the 52 weeks began as an exercise for herself. “The challenge is to rebuild my strength and technique in 52 weeks so that I’ll be able to stand beside all the other dancers in class and have the ability and vocabulary to dance well with them. I felt that blogging about my first year back in the ballet studio, as a 40-year old, would help keep me honest to my goal, motivate me to be timely with my journal entries,” she explains.

Melissa, on the other hand, set out to express her passion for dance to a much larger audience. She wanted to interact with people with similar interests and as a result has found a community of dance bloggers. “I am so grateful that I am now connecting with people and people are enjoying my blog,” she says.

Jean too has found a large, vibrant, and diverse community of dance bloggers from all around the world. “It has been very heart-warming to find that in general, the participants are very inclusive, dynamic, helpful and passionate individuals and, so far, all my online interactions have only been very positive experiences.”

In fact, Jean never anticipated the feedback she’s received or the bonds she’s formed with other dancers. She recently received a thank you: “…once again as this week i am hitting a high of 5 classes! And I am sure I would not have attempted that without knowing someone has gone before me…,” commented her reader.  “I am sure you can imagine how much it just blew me away,” exclaims Jean.

Melissa’s blog, Contemporary Dancing, is her first and only blog. “I started with a very basic knowledge of blogging and technical stuff, and looking back now I am a bit embarrassed of what I started off with in early 2011. Nevertheless, on August the 8th, I restarted my blog and am proud with my current progress.”

When asked what she felt her best post was so far, she thought a bit and then chose her 10 tip guide to achieving the splits. “Everybody contributed and participated and it was incredibly fun to write. The response was amazing and I hope to go on to do more posts like this in the future. Not only was it useful for me but also for my darling readers!”

Sharing what you know can definitely be useful for your blog audience but blogging can also affect your dancing. “I find that I have become more analytical as a dancer because of my blogging,” says Jean. “Just trying to find something to write about every week makes me look at everything more critically and be more conscious of things around me – whether it’s about a particular step, my feelings, the dynamics in the class, or how our teachers impact my motivation and confidence.”

 Dancing through life

Jean points out that there’s a cycle that dancers who are just starting out, or returning after a long hiatus, go through. “First we’re just glad to be dancing, then before long, the better we get, the higher the expectations of ourselves and soon, we are wanting too much, too soon. We look at dancers around us who are so much better, and we start feeling disheartened and feel like we’ll never get there.”

“Patience. Just be patient.” Jean says she went through that whole cycle in her first month, but her teacher Tibor’s words were very comforting and very powerful. He made me realize that if there can be significant improvement in just a month, imagine what can happen in a year and in 5 years, but I needed to be patient and to embrace the process.”

IMAGE Jean stretches at the barre. IMAGE

Jean tries to stretch daily

Like patience, practice also pays off. Melissa was more or less an inexperienced dancer when she was granted her first solo performance in ballet, an experience she calls magical. “When you get a main solo part for the first time, you try your best and find yourself practicing all the time – well, I know I did!” For Melissa the reward was the audience members’ applause. She also won a trophy for achieving so much that year.

But what if you’re not performing? Jean says she tries to take each class, one at a time, knowing that everything she does in class is a building block. “I try to stretch and do strength-building exercises once a day at home, without any immediate expectations. But every once in a while, something suddenly comes together unexpectedly – whether an improved balance, or a stronger jump or a higher extension – and it’s these moments that reinforce the need to just be patient and keep working at those building blocks.”

Like most teenagers, when asked about her future, Melissa has many plans. She wants to study dance in college, join a company and perform, go on to teaching, and open a school. “A new contemporary themed dancing school is my ultimate dream and I am hoping for the day where I can be a full time teacher who is teaching others her all time love.”

For Jean, it’s been only 9 months since she returned to class, but she feels she’ll soon be a better dancer than during her teenage years. “Probably due to the greater focus, determination and maturity I now have as an adult student, but mostly because of the amazing guidance I am getting. I feel that I have been gifted the opportunity to finish what I left unfinished, and if the body permits, there could be even more than 20 years of dancing left in me.”

On what the future holds for an adult student, Jean reflects, “I did wonder for a short while if I’d “missed the boat” and whether there was no longer something meaningful to pursue, but I have quickly learned that the pursuit of perfecting the art and enjoying it in itself is meaning enough. That the dreams may have faded but the passion is still fiercely alive.”

Jean and Melissa Interview Nichelle

IMAGE Nichelle dressed up for her very first dance recital IMAGE

That's me in my first recital costume.

Melissa: What did you want to be when you were younger?

Nichelle: Dance is the only thing I ever considered, that I recall. For a while, I thought I might double-major in education so that I’d have something to “fall back on.” But during a high school internship at an elementary (primary) school, I realized I was entertaining this out of fear, not because of a strong desire to teach in the educational system. So, my degree is in dance… period.

Jean: You seem to have found have a great balance in life, fueling your various passions through the different roles in your life – as mother, teacher, dancer, writer. Was there a piece of advice or a principle that you live by, that has helped you achieve this well?

Nichelle: I’m chuckling at the word balance because if you shadowed me for a day, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t use that word. Like most moms, most people for that matter, the day to day can be pretty precarious. But you’re right, I’m able to follow my interests, instincts, and passions, and for that I feel extremely fortunate. If there’s a principle behind it, I guess it might be “to thine own self, be true.” If there’s a rule to guide it, it’s the golden one. And if there are people who’ve made it possible, it’s those who never told me I couldn’t.

Melissa: Do you dance at this current time?

Nichelle: Yes and no. I’m by no means at peak performance level, ultimately since having my son 4 years ago, but I also just had my daughter 3 months ago. These days I’m doing a ton of writing and before kids I was doing mostly teaching. But, I have had the opportunity to participate creatively in some recent dance performance projects, primarily dance film,. Again, I’m very lucky to be able to keep a toe in several dance pools at once.

Jean: Has blogging delivered you an experience or outcome that you didn’t expect at all?

Nichelle: That I”m still blogging is itself unexpected! I had know idea when I began where it would go. I’m still going because, like dance, there’s always something new to discover.

Melissa: What do you love most about DA?

Nichelle: I could probably answer this in a dozen different ways, and I probably have in other features. I mentioned the online dance community in a recent interview at 4dancers.org, for example. (You can check that out for a bit of my own background and blogging story).

Today, what I love most about DA is that I’ve loved it, and watered it, and made it grow. Not without help from others and some lucky conditions. But, it gives me satisfaction to see it thrive and know that others appreciate it too.

Jean: What advice would you give adult dancers who feel regret that they will never become the dancers that they might have been, or disheartened that they haven’t a concrete goal to work towards?

Nichelle: I could say a lot but I’ll try to keep it very concise (and perhaps expound at a later date). The word dancer, is not limited to an occupation. Would you have pursued a dance career and loved it as much as you love it now? To quote a wise owl, “The world may never know.” And so, I think you said it really well, Jean: The pursuit of perfecting the art and enjoying it in itself is meaning enough. In fact, that belief is what makes a dancer in my opinion. Also, I’ll add that if, to you (as in anyone), becoming a dancer means only one thing, you’re not driven, you have tunnel vision. And you’re likely to always be disappointed.

Wow, thanks ladies. Great questions!

Don’t forget to visit Melissa at contemporarydancing.co.uk and Jean at www.52weeksofballet.com!

I love to encourage the practice of blogging about dance. I want to help people do it well and I want to highlight people who do. And I hope very much that Dance Advantage inspires good dance blogging – my columnists and I try very hard to lead by example.

But now, I want to know,

Who Inspires You?

A certain performer?

A family member?

A celebrity?

A blogger?

Tell us in the comments!

Congratulations to the Top Dance Blogs of 2010!

Top Dance Blogs of 2010

It was a fierce competition in many of the Top Dance Blog categories! You can view the final standings for yourself by clicking View on any of the voting polls here.

The closest race by far was in our Dance News and Criticism group with loveDancemore and Rogue Ballerina separated by only 1% of the votes. However it seemed until the end that it was just about anyone’s game in all of the groups. Below are your winners!

———————————————

Top Dance Blog 2010 - Dance Company or School WinnerWinner of the Dance Company or School category:

Uptown Dance

uptowndancenj.blogspot.com

Top Dance Blog of 2010 News and Criticism WinnerWinner of the Dance News and Criticism category:

loveDANCEmore

lovedancemore.org

Top Dance Blog of 2010 Student or Beginner winnerWinner of the Dance Student or Beginner category:

You Dance Funny

youdancefunny.wordpress.com

Top Dance Blog of 2010 Education and Training winnerWinner of the Dance Education and Training category:

Ballet For Me And You

balletformeandyou.com

Top Dance Blog of 2010 Dancer Musings winnerWinner of the Dancer Musings category:

Tights and Tiaras

tightsandtiaras.com

Top 20

Over 1000 votes were cast in the Top 20 poll! Here are the results:
Top 10 Dance Blogs 1. Tights and Tiaras
2. My Son Can Dance
3. Ballet For Me And You
4. Tendus Under a Palm Tree
5. Move. Create. Educate.
TIED Rogue Ballerina
6. Kiner Enterprises
7. Tutus and Tea
8. loveDANCEmore
9. InfiniteBody
10. Uptown Dance
Top 20 Dance Blogs 11. Off Center TIED You Dance Funny
12. Inside Ballet Technique
13. Adult Beginner
14. Thin and Dizzy
15. Ballet For Men
16. Footnotes
17. 4Dancers
18. Dave Tries Ballet

Thanks for voting!

Vote Now For the Top Dance Blogs of 2010!

UPDATE! The votes were cast and the winners named! Click the image below to see the final standings.

Top Dance Blogs of 2010

For our first ever contest, thirty dance blogs signed on to participate. All are sharing themselves, their knowledge, and their experience with the online dance community in their own unique way. Please take a moment to visit their sites. They’d all make great additions to your personal dance “magazine”.

Uptown Dance Footnotes – Boston Ballet Blog En Pointe with Houston Ballet
Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Rogue Ballerina loveDANCEmore InfiniteBody Adult Beginner
You Dance Funny Dave Tries Ballet Dance25 From Plies To Pirouettes
Maria’s Movers – Move. Create. Educate. Ballet For Me And You Ballet For Men My Son Can Dance
Kiner Enterprises Inc. Inside Ballet Technique The Dance Buzz Gail’s Blog – Albany Dance Fitness
BalletScoop by The Classical Ballet Teacher Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes Tights and Tiaras Tendus Under A Palm Tree
Off Center Tutus & Tea 4dancers Thin and Dizzy
Dancing Outside The Bun A Dancer’s Days

Thank you for voting!

Dance Advantage would like to thank all of the participants and YOU the readers!

I am thrilled to have hosted this event. I hope you found some new blogs to follow in the process.


Readers and the bloggers themselves came out to show support for all of their favorite blogs in the first round of our contest. Now, those blogs who rallied the most comments have made the cut for the final voting stage. The polls will close at 10AM EST on Thursday, December 30.

In each category we chose the 3 blogs that received the most comments. Now, it’s time to pick your favorites. You may cast your vote only ONCE in each of the five category polls below! Make sure you hit the Vote button when you’ve decided.

Dance Company or School
Uptown Dance NJ
En Pointe with Houston Ballet
Footnotes – Boston Ballet Blog
pollcode.com free polls
Dance News and Criticism
InfiniteBody
Rogue Ballerina
loveDANCEmore
pollcode.com free polls
Dance Student or Beginner
You Dance Funny
Dave Tries Ballet
Adult Beginner
pollcode.com free polls
Dance Education and Training
Ballet For Me And You
Move. Create. Educate. (Maria’s Movers)
Ballet For Men
pollcode.com free polls
Dancer Musings
Off Center
Tights and Tiaras
Tendus Under A Palm Tree
pollcode.com free polls

Top 20

The 20 blogs that received the most comments are listed below in random order. Once again, you must vote for your favorite among them: ONE vote ONE time. It will be a tough decision, I know.

Please look over the list carefully and choose the single blog you feel is your #1, your favorite of the 20.

Your Favorite Blog:
Thin and Dizzy
Footnotes – Boston Ballet
Tights and Tiaras
Rogue Ballerina
You Dance Funny
Dave Tries Ballet
InfiniteBody
Ballet For Men
Tendus Under A Palm Tree
Ballet For Me And You
loveDANCEmore
Kiner Enterprises Inc.
Tutus and Tea
Inside Ballet Technique
4Dancers
Marias Movers – Move. Create. Educate.
Adult Beginner
My Son Can Dance
Off Center
Uptown Dance
pollcode.com free polls

Will Your Site Be A Top Dance Blog of 2010?

Photo of female hands typing on a computer keyboard

Update! Winners of this year’s contest have been named. Check ‘em out here.

Over the last year I’ve been contacted by a handful of websites who have created lists of 50 Best Ballet Blogs, Best Blogs for Dancers, etc. Usually… well, always, they come from outside the online dance community and are designed to get links back from the blogs they list. No offense to the list-makers – it’s nice to be included, but it got me thinking that it’s high time readers of dance blogs voted on their own list.

So, I’m grabbing the bull by the horns, as we say (especially here in Texas ;) ) The number of dance-related blogs have certainly grown in 2010. No time like the present!

Here’s the plan:

  • If you have a blog and roughly more than 60% of your posts revolve around DANCE (any form or genre), you are eligible to participate.
  • Each blogger or blog owner will enter their own blog into the competition by publishing a blog post that links back to this one.
  • In your post, you will ask readers to show support of your blog with a comment on YOUR post. You will have until December 22 to round up as much comment support as you can.
  • Only blog posts with the most comments will qualify for the voting round.
  • Voting will take place between December 27 and 30.
  • The votes will be tallied and the results posted during the first week of the new year.

What to do first:

Decide which of the following categories is the best fit for your blog:

  • Dance News/Criticism
  • Artistic Process/Investigation
  • Dance Company/School
  • Dance Education/Training
  • Dancer Musings
  • Dance Student/Beginner

I know that these do not perfectly cover every unique voice in the dance blogosphere. In reality you may be in a category of your own but for this competition, you must choose the ONE category listed that suits you best. You may feel that you fit into multiple categories. You must choose only ONE.

The TEN most supported blogs (according to comments) will qualify for the voting round of each of the above categories.

All blogs entered will be eligible to compete for the Top Dance Blog of 2010 title. Comment support will be compared in all participating blogs and the 20 with the most support will qualify for the voting round. Readers’ votes will decide the winner and ranking.

How to enter your blog

Top Dance Blogs of 20101. Write a post on your blog about the Reader’s Choice Top Dance Blogs of 2010 competition.

DO link back to this post. Here’s the URL: http://danceadvantage.net/2010/12/08/top-dance-blog/

DO add the cute little button over there (right click, save as)

DO encourage your readers to rally their support by commenting on YOUR post about the competition.

DON’T be sneaky about comments. If it is discovered you are padding your comment count by encouraging your readers to make multiple comments, accepting or creating bogus comments, or offering incentives to commenters, you will be disqualified.

DON’T throw your support to any other blog and suggest that readers vote for them as well OR suggest that readers withhold votes for another blog OR even mention another competing blog (positively or negatively) in your post. This one is all about you, baby, or you’ll be disqualified.

2. Come back here and place in the comments below a link to your post about the competition AND the category under which you’d like to be considered.
3. Start promoting your post and drumming up your comment support.

Answers to questions you haven’t asked

Is Dance Advantage throwing its hat in the ring?

No,  I’m just the ringmaster for this circus. If Dance Advantage is your favorite dance blog, help out by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, in forums or statuses and encouraging worthy dance blogs to participate. You’ll also have a chance to show your love to DA later on.

Why should I enter my blog?

I’m delivering an opportunity for you to engage your readers and find out why they love you. This is valuable no matter your readership or chances. Even if you don’t qualify for the top ten or twenty, you’ll enter 2011 with encouragement to keep blogging!

What do I get for being a Top Dance Blog?

Read the above question… you’ll get that. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you were chosen by actual dance readers as a Top Dance Blog, and you’ll have the opportunity to display and leverage your ranking. Winners will also be announced and linked to from this site. Beyond this, 2010 is a trial year. Help me grow this community event and new developments like prizes for winners may be possible in the future.

What does Dance Advantage get out of it?

Like the list-makers I mentioned at the start, I get linked to by participants, reach new types of readers, and thereby grow my audience.

I get to be a connector. I connect readers with new blogs that suit their interests. Readers like that, so it is a win for me.

I get to give back and step up. New dance blogs pop up every day but enter a more crowded blogosphere than the one I stepped into nearly three years ago. In this environment, it is easier to miss the interdependent nature of blogging but blogs depend on each other to grow and survive. This contest is a chance to build a stronger sense of community. Yes, this is a competition. But a successful, positive, and friendly competition indicates that dance occupies a significant, healthy, and thriving corner of the blogosphere,

What didn’t I answer? Feel free to comment below or contact me with your question.