The Real Dance Moms Blog

Confession Time: I love a good reality show. I'm obsessed with the Real Housewives franchise, and... wait for it... even loved Dance Moms when it first came out. I know, I cringe writing that, but it's the truth. I think for me, reality shows are a fascinating look into human behavior and psychology, but I hit my limit with Dance Moms when I felt it became little more than a vehicle for exploiting young dancer's talents and lives, a cliche of the 'stage mom' role, and don't even get me started on Abby Miller's antics. But, I will give the show credit for giving me an idea for a new blog series, The Real Dance Moms, which is starting today!

For each blog, I'll interview a parent who's had/has a child in dance. I'm just as curious as you are about what their experience as a parent has been, and to hear what they think the highs and lows, benefits, and long-term value of a dance life is. For this first post, I was thrilled to interview a longtime friend, Jocelyn Cuesta-Siu, who's daughter, Deneka, was one of my first students at Community Youth Center in Concord, Ca. Thank you Jocelyn, for taking the time to let me interview you, and for raising such a wonderful human! (I'm proud to report that Deneka is still dancing, and is already an amazing human being; I can't wait to see what her future holds!) So, without further ado, please enjoy the first installment of The Real Dance Moms!

1.              What was your child’s first experience of dance?

The lovely Deneka!

The lovely Deneka!

Deneka’s very first experience in dance was at home just being silly. We come from a performing family-music and dance – so it came natural to her. In pre-school, she did rhymes and movement. Later In a formal setting, it was ballet and movement.

 

2.              In your words, what does your daughter love most about dance?

Deneka is an artistic and social being. She loves being able to express emotion and tell a story through the art of dance. Deneka danced all through grade school and now is a double minor in dance and theatre.

 

3.              What do you love about dance, and what dance has done for your daughter?

I have grown up around dance all of my life, though not through formal technique. Our culture (Filipino) is one that celebrates life through dance. We find any reason to dance, a gathering, party, special event – anything!

Dance has given so much to Deneka. As a child, we started out trying to figure out what she enjoyed most and found a connection to. Gymnastics, soccer, and then dance. She flourished in her connection to the art, made lifelong friends with other dances and coaches, something to call her own, and most of all, a strong sense of self-confidence.

 

4.              What does she dislike (if anything) about it?

When Deneka began to dance, she enjoyed it. As she grew as a dancer (and an individual), she began to feel restricted. It wasn’t until she began to dance in college that she truly found her true love of dance and a full understanding that of her technical training. She began to explore different styles of dancing, primarily contemporary which she enjoys most.

 

5.              What age did she start dancing, and is she still currently dancing?

Deneka formally began dancing around the age of 7. She still dances today and if she isn’t dancing, gets restless and feels out of shape. She enjoys learning different styles and loves choreography. Her love of dance has even extended an invitation to become the artistic director at the campus production. In addition, she is in the beginning stages of planning the choreography for the student production next Spring.

 

6.              Favorite role she danced?

Deneka performing in one of her college dance shows

Deneka performing in one of her college dance shows

Deneka is still exploring her life in dance and has yet to discover her favorite. Her most memorable thus far has been the role of the Spanish lead in the Nutcracker and Ursula in the Little Mermaid. These roles allowed her to express her artistic and theatrical persona.

 

7.              Did your dancer make any life-long friendships with any of her dance friends or teachers? (I’m not asking this to fish for answers, I promise!)

Life-long friends, definitely! Like sports, the arts allow you to spend many hours with your dance-mates and coaches. However, life does take everyone on different paths and interests, so those friends have grown apart and  time spent together is not as often as they would like.

 

8.              What’s your take on the Dance Moms show?

I enjoy watching the show for the dancers and talent, but not so much the Moms! I found them to be too catty; but I guess sometimes that is what gets ratings? We tried to stay away from while Deneka was a young dancer and were pretty successful as our program was family oriented. Thanks to her coach (Katrena!), we were in an environment that was family friendly, motivating, healthy, and non-competitive. Competition is great, but not for all children, sports, or arts. Deneka thrives on performing, sharing, building relationships, and learning technique versus the need to be number 1.

 

9.              What do you think the most common misconception about dancers is?

Dancers are one size: 0, skinny, with curves in all the right places. Dancers (and athletes) come in all sizes. I’ve seen them all! It is amazing to see what the body can do when trained and using the proper technique, regardless your size. With practice, it’s beautiful!

 

10.           What’s the one thing you would tell a fellow mom about dance if she was on the fence about enrolling her child in a class?

I have two kids – a dancer andan athlete. Both started in dance, but followed their own paths. Allow your child to find their passion. Allow them to be creative, adventurous, and to find themselves. Dance is not black and white, it is an art-form.  It is about movement, storytelling, building relationships, confidence, strength, and finding beauty in all things. Though dance is not in everyone’s future, everyone can learn something from it, and it can aid in the development in whatever path they choose to pursue. 

Myself, LeeAnn (a fellow CYC dance student) and Deneka :)

Myself, LeeAnn (a fellow CYC dance student) and Deneka :)

The Book Report - Pumpkin Soup

I'm super excited to have my first fall in upstate NY. The leaves are already changing and the air is crisp, and soon I'll get to eat one of my favorite flavors - pumpkin! This month's Book Report embraces all things fall, and is the perfect companion for kids who're back at school.

Helen Cooper's Pumpkin Soup is about three friends who always make their soup the same way; everyone has a role in making the perfect dish. But one day, Duck wants to try something different, and omgeee, heaven forbid that the friends stray from their usual routine! The friends will have to figure out a way to make things right if they're going to still have their friendship and pumpkin soup too!

The illustrations are rich and beautiful, and will make you feel like you've fallen into the colorful world of autumn, and the friendship woes that the characters have to overcome may resonate with kiddos who are fresh back at school, making new friends and forging new relationships. Plus, the imagery and concepts are great jumping off points in dance class to explore slicing, stirring, sprinkling and the like.

You can buy Pumpkin Soup here, and you can always holla at me to let me know how you enjoyed this month's read, or let me know what your favorite books for fall are! Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using the links in this post.*

September Brain Dance - Adulting Is Hard

Ah September. 'Tis the season for new backpacks and shiny new school materials, changing leaves and temperatures, and.... well, a bunch of other new stuff that can make us (and our kiddos) tired, grumpy, emotional and meh. It's actually in the spirit of adulting that I bring you this month's brain dance. It's a silly way to refresh, renew, and bring the giggles. Feel free to adapt it for your current mood, and as always, share and let me know what you think!

An Open Letter To Dance Teachers Heading Into Fall

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Hey you,

I see you. I know you’re there. Working hard, plugging along. Doing the good work. You love it, but it’s not always easy. I know. You’re heading into back to school and back to dance season; there’s a lot coming up and I know anticipating it is like watching a Tweet war unfold between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift – you love it, hate it, and can’t look away. So before you dive in, there are a few things I want to tell you:

This work is right for you. It’s meaningful, and you are the one that should be doing it. This work is a siren call from your soul. It’d be easier to walk away and find a 9-5, but you’d hate it. There’s all the time, space, money, and resources out there for you to do your dream.

There will be moments ahead when you feel stuck, backed into a corner, and basically, when you’ll be hating life. Those moments, that transition between ‘wtf is going on’ and ‘omg that was awesome’, that’s where the marrow lives. The good stuff that fills you up and sets you up for the next big thing. When you find yourself in those transitions, remember this:

You said yes to your dreams because you’re a badass. Because you’re brave, and because you knew that ignoring that siren call would mean a life less lived. Accept that your dreams are yours and see them in a new light. These goals and dreams, they’re not a burden, they’re a gift! This work may be hard at times, but you can do hard things. You always have and you always will.

Give doubt the boot and get to work. Offer the classes, book the space, write the ad, and make the phone call. Just like in ballet class, you start with the plies and make your way to grand allegro. Not in one fell swoop, but one step at a time.

Your life is a dance, and every step will teach you something. It’s all information to learn from. Reframe the setbacks and disappointments as learning opportunities. Apply and correct. Just like in ballet class. Then get up and go again.

Of all the people doing all the things, God/The Universe/whatever deity you subscribe to chose you to do this. That’s amazing! Say thank you. Every damn day.

Flavor comes with the simmer. Slow down and let things unfold.  The hardest part isn’t starting; it’s letting go of control once momentum can take over. Enjoy the ride. Remember you do this for love, passion, and because it’s fun!

Breathe, smile, and tell that damn mermaid that she can shut up because you’ve got this. Have a great year. Merde!

XOXO,

Katrena

One Simple Trick To Double Dance Class Enrollment!

Today I'm talking to YOU - dance teachers and dance studio owners! Fall is almost here, and no doubt you're already enrolling for the new season of classes. I know it can be a chaotic time with lots to check off your to-do lists, which is why I want to share one simple trick I use to generate more traffic to my website and increase enrollment. One year this was the only form of promotion/marketing I did, and it doubled my enrollment! And while I've made this post with dance teachers and studio owners in mind, it can really be applied to any creative business, so if you like, it share it! Now let's get to it!

In the video above, I explain making a press kit of sorts to keep with you in your car while you're out and about. You never know when the opportunity will arise to chat with someone who's looking for dance classes, or where a community board will pop up with fliers for local businesses to display their offerings and happenings. So the moral of this story is be prepared! Here's what I keep in my own kit...

PR KIT ESSENTIALS

  • Fliers (duh), or your brochures, performance program, whatever it is you're promoting
  • Business cards
  • Pen, pencil, markers
  • Push pins
  • Tape
  • Plastic baggies (in case its raining and you need to leave/drop off materials for someone outdoors)
  • Stapler & staples
  • Scissors 
  • Post Its

Don't count on any boards having extra tape, pushpins, or whatever for you to use. Some other general rules of thumb: ask before you post. If you're at a business, do be a doll and make sure it's ok to post your stuff. Some places (like Starbucks) will only let non-profits post, so be aware before you put your materials up. If a board you're trying to post on is crowded, get creative; don't cover another businesses' stuff up, but make room, and if a flier is out of date, ask an employee if it's ok to take it down.

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Volia! I keep my kit in my car, and re-stock it whenever I notice I'm getting low on supplies. If you've got two cars, I'd suggest keeping a kit in both cars, because, you really do never know when an opportunity to connect with your audience will present itself, and as they say, there's no time like the present (to talk your business up, reach out to a new business, and put your posters front and center where they can be seen). Will you be trying this trick for your back-to-school season? Or do you have another trick that you use to get yo'self out there? Let me know, and remember, you can always check out my Services for more help with copywriting, curriculum, and video classes!

The Book Report - Dance Is For Everyone

Inclusivity. It's kind of my jam. So when a friend showed me a new picture book called Dance Is For Everyone, I maaaaaay have done a little happy dance in the aisle of a Barnes & Noble. (I did. Fully and completely.) Dance Is For Everyone, by Andrea Zuill is a heartwarming, inclusive, and silly tale of what happens to ballet class when an alligator shows up.

In an interesting twist, the alligator (named Tanya) can't communicate with her fellow dancers, she simply mimics the dance moves and pours her big reptile heart into dancing so much that the other dancers and teachers can't help but welcome her into class. The teacher even creates a special role for Tanya in the upcoming performance. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens to Tanya, the performance, and her new dance friends, but suffice it say, this happy ending has a lesson that the whole world could use right about now: compassion is key, and when we band together, beautiful things can happen.

What's on your bookshelves this month readers? Will you be picking up a copy of Dance Is For Everyone? If so, let me know what you think! Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

Totally Into - Dance Totems

This week marked an exciting start for me (I've been having so many of those lately! #rockstar), I began dance camps in my new studio space in Speculator, NY! I've been having tons of fun getting my new space in order, and one of the things I wanted to try was having a totem - an object or symbol that's used to pay heritage to family or beliefs. You may recognize them as a horseshoe, a cross, or a mezuzah; whatever purpose they serve for individuals, they have the wonderful effect of making us pause and bringing us into the moment and into focus. That was my idea for bringing a totem above the doorway where my dancers enter into the classroom. I wanted a way to remind them that we would be stepping into a special place, where there are a different set of rules and behaviors that we've all agreed upon. That way, when and if I need to use a gentle reminder of the rules of dance class, I can just point to, or mention our totem and it brings us all back into the zone, so to speak. Here's a little video I did, talking about it more and showing you what I mean. Let me know if you'll be trying this out! 

August Brain Dance - Have A Seat!

Welcome to August ya'll! The Brain Dance exercises this month have a little different feel to them, because they're all done either sitting, or with the support of a chair. I tell you all about why I chose to choreograph it this way in this Intro video, but here's the quickie version: recently my Mom had an accident and was in the hospital for a few days. While she was resting, I was thinking about how the Brain Dance would be beneficial for her (and anyone, really), to do while she was sitting and recuperating. The Brain Dance isn't just for kids, it's healing for adults as well - it fills in gaps in the neurological system due to stress or trauma, and since my Mom was pretty much confined to a chair while she was healing, that became my inspiration for creating this sitting Brain Dance. I hope you'll take a look and share it with anyone who could find it useful! So, take a seat, and enjoy!

Intro

Breath

Tactile

Core/Distal

Head/Tail


Upper/Lower

Body Side

Cross Lateral

Vestibular

Different Drummer Dance Has a Studio!

You know those dreams that whisper in your ear? The crazy ones that you say 'pshhhh' to and don't speak out loud, like you'd be summoning Lord Voldemort if you actually put the words out into the Universe? The dreams that still come back to you in sparks and signs, in dreams and among good conversation? The ones that just won't leave you alone, no matter how hard you try? Those are the dreams I'm talking about today, because I just took a huge step towards making mine real. 

hooray you're here

I came back to Speculator after a month of doing summer dance camps in June in St. Helena, CA, with the goal of getting my own physical location to hold Different Drummer Dance classes in, up and running (I blame Jen Sincero and You Are A Badass At Making Money). I've been hemming and hawing over renting/owning/finding a physical location for years you guys. YEARS. I've worked for many organizations over the years, and rented spaces and done independent contracting, and knew, deep down, that I needed my own space to really flourish, and make DDD everything I want it to be, but had a litany of reasons why that just wouldn't work. But I finally got real with myself this month and started taking steps to making it happen. I walked to the realtors office in town and asked about a specific building I'd been interested in..... aaaaaand, it'd just been rented. But instead of taking this as a sign to back off, or getting discouraged, I thought about what else could work, and I knew right away, I already had a space available to me I could start using right away.

different drummer dance studio new york

My fiancé and I have been renting a house in town, which we have yet to move into, but this awesome house has several rooms, one of which is pretty perfect for a dance studio. Why the hell, I reasoned, would I pay to rent another space, when I had one already at my disposal? Guys, the room is even painted in one of my brand colors. If that's not the Universe yelling at me "GET ON IT, YO!" I don't know what is. Granted, the space isn't perfect - it's got carpet and I'd really prefer hardwood, but for little dancers and little feet, it's really ok for now, which brings me to my next point: those dreams, those little whispers that come to visit you in the middle of the night that you know will make your heart sing? Find a way to do them! Forget the reasons why they won't work and stop nitpicking over the details - those things are just distracting you and taking you further away from your goals. I know the goals are big and scary and freaky, but they keep whispering to you because you are the one that's meant to turn them into something great, and you have everything you need right now to take yourself one step closer to your dream.

I'd love to continue this conversation with you more, but first I want to show off my new space! Take the tour with me in my video, and then tell me what you think! And if you're in the Speculator/Lake Pleasant area, I'M OFFICIALLY OPEN! So, swing by and say hello! And classes are starting this week!!! :) I'd love to see you here! 

Christmas in July - A Sugar Plum Ballerina Party!

Since the weather in upstate NY has been more December like than July like lately, it feels extra appropriate that I'm flashing back to the winter months in today's blog. Last year I started offering Sugar Plum Parties in the spirit of holiday magic, and everyone's favorite ballet, The Nutcracker. The parties were such a hit that I'm totally planning on bringing them back in 2017, but maybe with a few fun changes.... TBA, so stay tuned! Until the hap-hap-iest season of all, remember, you can always dance on the daily with me, enroll in a camp, or book a birthday dance party; there's so many options to get your dose of dance, I make it that easy for you! ;)

It is extra fun when I get to party with people who love to decorate and get into a theme as much as I do, and that was definitely the case for this particular Sugar Plum Party. I mean, look at these adorable decorations! Banners and cupcakes and hats were all on hand to get the dancers in the mood to have sugar plums dancing in their heads!

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After reading the story of The Nutcracker, the dancers and I marched like toy soldiers, sprinkled sugar plum fairy dust around the room, and galloped through the Land of Snow. Oh, and everyone got their very own tutu to wear for our party, which just makes everything more awesome, dontcha think? 

All my parties include a craft to tie our theme together and provide some hands on sensory time, so for this Sugar Plum party, the guests made their own crowns. Stickers, sparkly gems, and markers were all on hand for the kiddos, and man, did they let their creative juices flow! It's always so fun to see their creations and hear them talk about their work!

So. Fun. Right?! Ah, I just get all warm and fuzzy remember all the fun I had with these kiddos! Will you be partying with me come December? Holla at me and let me know!

July Book Review - Of Thee I Sing

It's July! That means not only is it America's birthday month, but it's time for a new Book Review! I was so thrilled with the response of last month's book review (Chelsea Clinton herself responded to my tweet letting her know her book was up on my blog! Hi Chelsea!) that I figured I'd continue the trend, and bring you another beautiful book by another hero of mine, Barack Obama.

Though written for his daughters, Obama's book is wonderful to read with both sons and daughters, and perfect for the month of 4th of July. It's tender and sweet, but empowering and encouraging, and I LOVE the diversity of the individuals featured, brought to life by Loren Long's extraordinary illustrations. We see trail blazers like Albert Einstein, Georgia O'Keefe, Ceaser Chavez and Jackie Robinson, all diverse and different, but common in that they each have qualities that we want to see and encourage in our kids: courage, curiosity, integrity, and kindness. Look at the cutest First Family, getting their read on - love it!

Don't be surprised if you start tearing up while reading this with your Littles; it's just the book for them to know you value, and more than likely, just the words that you need to hear as well. Check it out, add it to your collection, and then holla at me and tell me what you think! Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

Consulting Packages & Video Subscriptions Are Here!

Hay Haaaaaay Friends! Big news today! I've got some sweet new offerings up on my menu, and I want to give you the DL on what's what and why I'm pumped about it!

Consulting Packages

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Sometimes I think we forget that in addition to being an art, dance (and teaching dance) is also a business. And like all businesses, it's work. A lot of work. Especially with creative businesses like dance, our work can feel isolating. So many dance teachers and studio owners go it alone, and are left to their own devices to figure everything out, or simply get burned out and overwhelmed with everything on their to-do list. That's where my new consulting packages come in! You'll get the one-on-one support you need to identify what's working in your biz and what's not, as well as tools, tips, and training on how to keep your work manageable, and all of your hair from going grey. I wish these consulting packages had been around when I was first stepping out on my own as an independent teacher, and I'm super stoked to be reaching out to my dance community to offer my experience and expertise in crafting a unique and profitable dance business!

Video Subscriptions

I've set a new goal for myself to reach more people through my videos. I've been posting my monthly Brain Dances for several months now, and love sharing them with you, so I'm upping the ante! Very soon, you'll be able subscribe to a 4 month video service and have customized dance lessons delivered to your inbox every month! A great option for moms, nannys, or school educators, these videos include all the bright, fresh, and big-hearted experiences that make my classes the best (#humblebrag). AND each subscription includes a delivery of fun props and tools, as well as music suggestions and a private FB group to meet up and connect with other dance lovers!

YAY! Can I get a what-what for taking big, bold steps, hand raising, and general bad-assery ya'll?! I can't wait to meet you, my new clients and subscribers (I know you're out there!) Let's Do This!

July Brain Dance - Stars & Stripes Foreva!

Summa, summa, summa-time! YES. I'm so pumped it's here! I'm just about to finish up a marathon of summer dance camps over in St. Helena, CA, but with 4th of July around the corner, summer is really just getting started! Here's your July Brain Dance featuring all things patriotic - grab some streamers, your favorite jams, and happy dancing!

Intro

Breath

Tactile

Core/Distal

Head/Tail

Upper/Lower

Body Side

Cross Lateral

Vestibular

Did you dig our theme this month? Have something you want to see next month? Let me know!

Behind The Scenes With Pointebrush

Happy Tuesday All! If you've been following me on social media (do you? if not, you should!), you'll know that I'm up to my elbows in dance camps, which is what's prompted me to repost an oldie, but a goodie from The Ballerina Birthday's blog. I love doing crafts in my dance camps, it's a pretty awesome (and integral) part of my brand, and that got me thinking to this interview I did with Margot, creator of Pointebrush. She creates stunning work, and every time I look at it I just sigh and fall in love all over again. Links to her website are in the images, so click away and get familiar with her gorg work!

Like many students, you started ballet at a young age, and continued your training with the RAD. What is it about the RAD method that spoke to you, and how would you describe your early impressions and experience of dance?

I started my ballet education at a small neighborhood dance studio so my RAD training started a little later, around 7 or so when I entered a more formal ballet school in Hong Kong. Entering an RAD based school came as a bit of a shock for me at the beginning because I was coming from a much smaller, recreational school that didn't have any formal training system. I remember having to audition to get in and at the beginning it all seemed quite austere and military (the headmaster even had a large wooden cane that she would rap against the floor!). To be quite honest, I don't know if the RAD system was best suited for me (or maybe it was the way my school was set up) because the focus seemed to be very heavily geared towards exclusively preparing for exams every year and let's face it, exams have never been my favorite thing in the world, dance or otherwise! I was always very much attracted to the romanticism and artistry of ballet but wasn't really able to reconcile what I saw on stage and on videotapes with what I was doing in class. That's probably one of the main reasons why I quit ballet as a teenager. What I did love however, was when some of my favorite teachers used various types of imagery to get us to understand the lines and positions in ballet. I remember one teacher showing us some basic épaulement and telling us to hold our shoulders and necks as if we were covered in diamond necklaces. Or another time, I remember the teacher showing us how to carry our arms as if we were carrying beautiful baskets filled with roses. Maybe it's because I'm a visual person at heart but those exercises always really worked for me!

Do you have a favorite early memory of dance? (rehearsing for a performance, seeing a particular dancer?)

One of my earliest memories of falling in love and being totally enchanted with ballet was receiving a videotape of Marcia Haydee's production of Sleeping Beauty with the Stuttgart Ballet. I remember being completely enamored with Tchaikovsky's music, especially the iconic rose adagio, which to me was just the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard! It's still one of my favorite ballets ever even though as I've grown older, I've become increasingly more passionate about Neoclassical ballet.

Who are your dance heroes and why?

n the professional/historical world of dance, I would say that my biggest all time heroes are Margot Fonteyn and George Balanchine. They're kind of opposites in a way, especially stylistically, but what they have in common is that they practiced their art in a way that I find to be incredibly soulful, honest and moving. Margot Fonteyn is a ballerina that no matter how many times I watch her in any particular role, I can always find something new and interesting about her interpretation. Her Juliet brings me to tears every single time and to me she's just the pinnacle of grace and what it means to be a prima ballerina. George Balanchine similarly, is someone who's choreography I can watch over and over again and still uncover more layers of understanding every time I watch it. Serenade, Symphony in C and Symphony in Three Movements are among my absolute favorites and I admire any artist who takes risks which he certainly did by reinventing and challenging the boundaries of classical ballet.

On a personal level, as an adult ballet student, I have to say that some of my biggest sources of inspiration are adult recreational dancers and adult beginners! Most of the adult ballet students I've come across, whether in person or on social media, exude so much joy and passion when they're dancing it's truly infectious! I find them so incredibly inspiring and there's something about seeing someone dance because they just love it, regardless of their age, gender, size, physical facility, etc... that is exciting to watch! I sincerely do believe that ballet is an artform that can and should be shared with many people of all ages and walks of life!

How did the idea for Pointebrush come about?

Pointebrush started out as just a small side project and hobby for me to get back to my pencils and paints. As a full time graphic designer, I spend a lot of time designing on the computer so I was looking for a creative outlet to get back to pencil and paper and make art just for me. Ballet is such a big thing in my life so I was naturally drawn to painting dancers. I came up with the name “Pointebrush” to express the combination of ballet and visual arts.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/art, and the most rewarding?

s my portfolio of Pointebrush work grows and I tackle different subjects in the world of ballet, it can sometimes be challenging finding a fresh perspective and creativity. It can be very easy to fall into routine or habit, especially when creating art. Sometimes, as an artist, you can get stuck in what feels safe, or comfortable and what everybody expects you to do. But the whole reason I created Pointebrush was to be able to find a safe place for me to experiment and try new things, so getting too comfortable or too much into a routine would be a disservice to why I started this project in the first place! Recently, I've been trying to challenge myself a little more stylistically and experimenting a little more with art techniques, creative styles and subject matter. I've found that painting more diversity in ballet really inspires me so I've been looking for imagery of ballet from across the world, as well as bodies and ethnicities that aren't seen as frequently. For a very long time, ballet had been primarily dominated by caucasian, affluent, thin dancers but by no means are those individuals the only ones that can dance!

One of the most rewarding things about this whole journey has been connecting with people from all over the world on social media. I've been very fortunate to receive a very warm response from both dancers and non-dancers alike on Instagram and I truly love connecting with all the people who follow me. I've made a ton of friends! It's also a joy to see my work inspire others to dance or to draw so that has been an unexpected, but incredibly rewarding aspect of my work.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

I love visiting museums, galleries and attending performances. There's something about experiencing other artist's creations in person that is really inspiring and gets me thinking about other perspectives and techniques and how I can apply what I learn there to my work. There are so many talented artists out there who have really unique points of view and tackle their work differently to me so it's always refreshing to take a step back from what I'm doing to see how others take different approaches to their craft. Living in New York City, I'm very fortunate to have access to some of the world's finest museums and galleries and there's never a shortage of new and exciting performances! Recently, I really enjoyed watching the Lion King on broadway and I'm always excited to see what's new and exciting at New York City Ballet. The energy and talent at that company is particularly exciting to me, especially given the fact that I hadn't had much exposure to neoclassical ballet growing up.

The Book Report: She Persisted

Summer! It's nearly here and this is like, the best season for reading. I mean, not that you need a reason or a season to read, but there's nothing like a big stack of books just waiting to be read with an iced tea and sunnies in hand, am I right? (Yes. Yes I am.) This month's Book Report is short but sweet; it's all about a book that you may have heard about, and without a doubt you've heard its title, and you know the phrase by heart. It has become a rallying cry for women around the world, lifting up voices and hands and the spirit of shared experience. It's a beautiful thing, and has become a beautiful book: She Persisted.

She Persisted is written by Chelsea Clinton, and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (who has illustrated some of my favorite dance books), and simply, but beautifully, teaches us about women from various times, cultures, and backgrounds, who just never took no for an answer.

Besides being timely, what I appreciate about this book is its diversity. These aren't all white privileged women; they represent a variety of experiences in the meaningful and profound way that children's books are so good at. Spoiler Alert: there's even a dancer among these wonderfully illustrated and written pages!

Will you be picking up a copy to read with your kiddos this summer? Let me know what you think! And I'd love to know what else is on your bookshelves this summer! Happy Reading!

4 Props for Awesome Summer Dance Fun

I start my first Summer Dance Camps this week, and I'm SO excited! I'm that nerd who totally geeked out on organizing her school supplies every year, so it's no surprise that I've been jamming away this past week getting all my supplies in a row. That's the inspiration for this week's post - 4 props that you can have on hand at home, or in your dance studio that can be used tons of different ways to encourage the kiddos to move, groove, shake, and bop it out. Click on the pics to purchase your own, and let me know how they work out for you!

1. Parachute

No surprises here. Kids are drawn to parachutes like moths to the flame. Like Baby to Johnny. Like President Trump to Twitter... But I digress. There are so many ways to have fun with a parachute besides just jumping around with it. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Guess the Shape/Body Part - one person goes under the parachute, makes a shape, or isolates a body part, and the others have to guess
  • Rhythm Master - find a song that has fast and slow beats, and try to pulse the parachute on time with the changing rhythms
  • Singing - pretty much all nursery rhymes can be sung with a parachute and you can come up with corresponding movements (skip to my lou, ants go marching), or let the kids come up with their own

2. Ball

Super basic, but not when it comes to use! Grab a few in different sizes, and try these out:

  • Bounce the Rhythm - similar to the parachute game above, choose some tunes and challenge students to bounce the ball to the rhythm of a song. This can be done solo, with a partner, or group
  • Hands Off - what if you used the ball with every body part other than your hands? Can you walk with it in between your knees, toes, elbows?
  • Hit a Move - write several different movements on pieces of paper and tape the to a wall, then let each kid throw the ball at the wall. Whatever movement the ball hits (or is close to), has to be performed by that person

3. Hoola Hoops

Aside from the most obvious way to use a hoola hoop, they are great tools for coordination and vestibular work.

  • Spins - practice spins and turns by holding the hoola hoop waist height and spinning in place, and through space
  • Through the Loop - have kids line up single file holding hands. See if they can pass the hoop from one person to another without letting go of hands
  • Skip It - you know you remember the original Skip Its, but try using a hoola hoop to hop on one foot, it's pretty challenging!

4. Tunes

Yes, I totally consider my tunes and speakers a prop and a tool! Nothing says 'dance party!' like a good playlist. Sometimes the best activities are ones that are child driven, where adults have little to no input about structure. Put on some jams and let the kids move it out however they want, it's a win win for you, and for them! If you need a little playlist inspo, check these out!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

Dino-mite June Brain Dance!

Hey hey friends! It's a new month, which means I've got a new Brain Dance to keep you moving and grooving all month long! I'm pretty excited about this month's exercises and theme. Since I'm doing a dance and story time event next month with Lake Pleasant Library in upstate NY, and we'll be reading We Are The Dinosaurs, I drew my inspiration from that, and June's Brain Dance is all things dinos! I've even got an awesome craft to go along with this month's theme. You can get instructions on that here, check out a dino themed playlist here, and keep scrolling to get the moves for this month rolling!

Introduction

Breath

Tactile

Core/Distal

Head/Tail

Upper/Lower

Body Side

Cross Lateral

Vestibular

Don't forget to holla at me and let me know your favorite moves from this month's exercises! Happy Dancing! 

5 Body Love Phrases To Add To Your Dance Class (& Life)!

Body Love. It's one of those phrases like 'self-care' that's being batted around and is popping up all over your newsfeed, notifications, and headlines. If you're like me, it might make you a little uncomfy, because, well, just what the hell is it, exactly? For starters, if you haven't seen Mary Lambert crushing it with her piece Body Love (Part 1 & 2), you should check that out. But here's my definition:

Body Love (verb) - the act of acceptance of your own body, and the bodies of others, and the practice of appreciating, praising, and loving those bodies just the way they are.

Easy? Hell to the no. Important? Very much so. I'll never forget the time I was in a dressing room at Macy's, trying clothes on, and overheard the conversation of a mother and daughter in the stall next to me. Mom was trying on clothes and making exclamations over how nothing fit and she hated the way she looked. Baby girl was asking why her momma wasn't happy, to which mama replied 'I just don't like the way I look'. And my heart fell on the floor. We can't teach our girls this. The epidemic of women hating their bodies and passing that legacy to their daughters has to stop. Like I said, it's not easy - I still look in the mirror some days and can hear the little voice start tearing me down, but that's where body love comes in: 'the practice of appreciating, praising, and loving'. It's a practice, which means it will evolve every day. So, in that mindset, today I'm sharing 5 phrases that encourage body love that I've made a commitment to bringing into my dance classes. Teachers, I hope you'll consider doing the same, but don't think you have to be a dance teacher to incorporate these; use them with yourself, with your kids, friends, coworkers, and let's be the change. Who knows what we're capable of when we start pulling ourselves and each other up from the dressing room floor, and refocusing how we see our reflections in the mirror -  I have a feeling it'd be pretty damn awesome.

body love

1. Look How Strong You Are!

There's so many opportunities to use this phrase in a dance class. I like to use it especially when I get a request from a student to 'Look at me!' (which is usually, every 3 seconds). These words refocus both members of the conversation to how things feel, rather than how they look. I also like to use this phrase when a student hasn't quite gotten the hang of a movement yet; for example, if we're working on leaps and the student hasn't quite mastered moving their weight from one leg to the other, and is still technically jumping, this is a perfect phrase to use because it acknowledges their effort and strength without giving false praise.

2. Show Me How You Can...

Again, this is a wonderful phrase to redirect a student when they haven't quite got it, or if they're feeling discouraged. If a child is telling me they 'can't' do something, I find it more effective to say 'show me how you can...' and lead them through a progression of what they CAN do, rather than right away responding with 'Yes you can!'. That's a canned response, and kids can smell it coming a mile away.

3. It's Amazing When You...

I love this affirmation for kids both when they've done something amazing, and when you're trying to guide them to do something amazing. 'It's amazing when you stretch your feet like that!' rather than 'look how pretty your feet are'. The second phrase doesn't emphasize that the student has anything to do with their body, the first phrase puts them in the driver's seat of their body, and abilities. Similarly, 'it's amazing when you're thoughtful with your partner' is a gentle reminder of the behavior you'd like to see.

4. How Do You Feel When You...

Are you sensing a theme yet? :) This is another good one for redirecting focus to feeling rather than looking, or appearance. Plus, it's a great conversation starter! I learn so much from my students (and usually get a good giggle) when I ask them open ended questions like this. 'How do you feel when you spin?' 'How does it feel to quickly move high and low?' Questions like this encourage communication, articulation, and engagement; the trifecta of powerful learning!

5. What Muscles Are You Using?

When I tell people that I'm a dancer, a common response is to hear something like 'wow, dancers are so graceful/pretty', or to see someone reach their arms overhead and spin around (if you've ever done this to a dancer, please stop. Like, now). And I get that dance is a visual thing, and people identify dancers by how they look onstage, but all of that grace and pretty-ness comes from muscle. Similar to question #4, asking a dancer what muscles they're using while they move asks them to stop and think, articulate, and absorb. I teach muscle groups to kids as young as 3, and they can tell me what big muscles they have (quadriceps, glutes), and what they use them for (jumps, leaps, getting up and down). Again, we're focusing on what the body can do, rather than what it looks like.

body love quote

Will you be incorporating any of these phrases into your life, or striking up a conversation with the kiddos using these tools? Let me know if you do, and what kind of response you get!

Book Premiere! What Dancers Look Like

OMGEEEEE. You Guys. Today is a big day. Why? Well, just because I'm sending my very first children's book out into the Universe!

HOOOOORAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!

It's now available through Kindle Direct Publishing, and word has it you can check it here, but wanted to show it off here first. If you've poked at all around my site, you know that I'm pretty darn passionate about making dance accessible for everyone. One of the obstacles that people often feel is a barrier to being a dancer is their body type (raising my hand here, I feel that often), so What Dancers Look Like is all about zooming out on that perspective and refocusing on the amazing dancers that have been different and paved the way for us, and zooming in on the realization that we can look exactly the way we do, and still do anything we want. It's that simple. Another really awesome thing about What Dancers Look Like is that one of my former ballet students from Sonoma Conservatory of Dance, Natalie Anderson has done a GORGEOUS job with the illustrations I asked her to make for the book. I'm in awe of her many talents, and so glad to have her handiwork accompany my story. As nervous as I am to put this little work of mine out into the world, I would still love for you to not only read it, but share it and let me know what you think! So, without further ado my friends, I present, What Dancers Look Like!

What Dancers Look Like

Lizzy loved to dance. She was excellent at chasses and plies, and her port de bras was much better than when she started dance lessons. Her teacher, Miss Louise even said so. Other things Lizzy was not so good at yet. Sautes were really hard, and it was difficult not to get dizzy when she practiced her turns. But Lizzy practiced every day, and she loved watching the older dancers at her school, imagining the day when she would look like them.

            One day, when watching the big girls, something began to nag at Lizzy. She started to notice that many of the big girls all looked.... the same. And Lizzy noticed that she practiced the same way as her classmates, and wore the same clothes as the older dancers, but she didn’t really look like any of her classmates. This worried Lizzy.

            Then Lizzy had an idea. Miss Ellen would surely be the person to talk to! Miss Ellen owned the ballet school, and was always very busy in her office, but when Lizzy went there with her mother the day before she started ballet, Miss Ellen made silly faces at Lizzy when her Mom wasn’t looking, so Lizzy immediately liked her. Lizzy had also loved the wonderful posters of all kinds of dancers Miss Ellen had in her office.

What Dancers Look Like

So the next day after ballet class, Lizzy stood outside Miss Ellen’s office for a while. Nothing happened, so Lizzy poked her head inside the office door.

            “Yes, Lizzy? You’ve been hanging outside my door for 5 minutes now, what do you need?” Miss Ellen said over her spectacles.

            “Miss Ellen, will you tell me about the dancers in your pictures?” Lizzy asked, feeling a bit nervous.

            “Why?” asked Miss Ellen, She put down the papers she was reading.

            “Well, all the dancers in your pictures, they all look so different,” said Lizzy, “and I look so different from anyone in my ballet class.”

            Miss Ellen looked at her, then said “Certainly,” and stood up.

            They walked to the first poster. It had a ballet dancer, standing in an arabesque en pointe, reaching for the sky.

            “You know what kind of dancer this is, don’t you?” asked Miss Ellen.

            Lizzy nodded. “It’s a ballet dancer.”

            “Correct.” Said Miss Ellen. “Ballet tries to defy gravity, the force that keeps our feet on the ground, but other types of dance try to stay close to the earth, like this one.” Miss Ellen pointed to the next poster, of an Indian dancer surrounded by trees. Her knees were bent in plie, and she looked like she could have been a part of the swaying branches behind her.

            Lizzy and Miss Ellen moved to the next picture. These dancers were barefoot, and one dancer was in a wheelchair, and stretched his body like the letter T, while another dancer reached her legs like the letter V, upside down and doing a cartwheel.

            “Some dancers dance in chairs, like this one.” Miss Ellen said.

            “Why?” Lizzy asked.

            “Because that is how they get around. Some dancers walk, some dancers use a wheelchair, or crutches. It does not matter how we move, only that we each find a way of moving that suits us.”

            The next poster showed hip-hop dancers on a basketball court. “Some dancers don’t perform on a stage like we do, some dancers dance on sidewalks, rooftops, or mountains, or deserts.”

            “Why?” asked Lizzy.

            “Because that is where they feel most at home.” And Miss Ellen moved to the next picture. It had a round shaped woman and man singing and dancing on a beach.

            “Dancers can be different shapes too. They can be men or women.”

            “But I’ve never seen a boy dance!” Lizzy giggled.

            “This boy started dancing when he was young and then made one of the greatest dance companies in the world.” Miss Ellen pointed to the next picture, which showed a strong black man soaring high in the air like a bird. Lizzy thought about how much she loved jumping, and that she’d like to be able to jump as high as this man.

What Dancers Look Like

“Sometimes dancing is for children.” Miss Ellen said, and stopped in front of a group of small boys and girls dancing inside of a long, twisting costume that looked like a dragon. “Other times adults dance, for an audience, or just for themselves.” And Miss Ellen struck a pose like the two tango dancers in the next picture, who were dancing all alone in an empty room.

            “Some dances tell a story, or are a way for people to ask for what they need, like rain, food, or protection.” Miss Ellen touched the corner of a poster of Navajo dancers, who wore large headdresses and had painted their bodies’ red and black.

            They had visited all the posters in the room, but Miss Ellen stopped in front of a long mirror by her door.

            “And I see two more dancers right in front of us, in this mirror. One old, and one young, but that doesn’t make us different from each other when we dance, does it?” asked Miss Ellen, putting her feet in first position.           

            Lizzy smiled and put her feet in first position to match Miss Ellen. “No, I don’t think so.” She thanked her teacher with a hug and grabbed her bag to leave.

            “Lizzy,” said Miss Ellen as she walked to the door. “Every body can dance. If you ever need a reminder that dancers come in all shapes, sizes, colors and from all around the world, you can always come back here.”

            “Thanks Miss Ellen” Lizzy grinned.

            “Or, you can always just look in the mirror.” Miss Ellen winked at her. So that’s exactly what Lizzy did the very next day back in her ballet class, and for many ballet classes for many years, until she too had a place on the wall in Miss Ellen’s office.

What Dancers Look Like