Monday, January 31, 2011

Random Dancing Challenge

I know I have been rather horrible about blogging this past week.  I promise exciting things are in store including our FOSSE special, ZUMBA with Danielle, a HIPHOP section with Matt, and a very special Yoga with Jean-Paul entry!  Quality not quantity.

In the mean time, I challenge everyone who reads this blog to put on music, your favorite music, and dance wildly and crazily in your living room for the entire duration of the song.  (For those not used to random dancing - I would strongly suggest choosing a selection SHORTER than Ravel's Bolero)

People forget that dance is supposed to be FUN and is about using your body in crazy exotic ways to express an emotion!  I was recently reminded of this when my roommate put on the final movement of Sibelius' violin concerto and we both began wildly dancing around the apartment.   Yes, I know this makes us the world's biggest nerds, but it was fun.  My roommate, who does not dance (ever), said you HAVE to blog about this.  It is so much fun and is inspiring me to take dance class now.  So there you have it - random dancing the MOST FUN work out you can have - and will inspire you to take class - and learn about your body's range of motion!

ALSO - after Sibelius, continuing with our nerdiest household ever trend,  I put on Verdi's "Anvil Chorus" from IL TROVATORE, and tried to do push-ups.  You should know, I have the weakest most anorexic arms on the planet and usually just crumble on the floor or feign an injury during the "push-up/plank" section of any pilates or dance class.  But - when I put on a piece of music that I truly loved and got me all riled up, I felt as though I could do anything, and did my push-ups for the entire chorus.  They were horrible push-ups, my nose definitely did NOT touch the floor, my elbows barely bent, and despite my best efforts, my core was not engaged, but that's not the point.  The point is I was at least TRYING, something I wasn't willing to do sans awesome music.  The next day in pilates class, I actually held my plank position for the full minute and did all the push-ups to the best of my ability.  The Anvil Chorus was definitely going through my head the entire time.  So if you have a challenging dance step or fitness exercise you dread, I high urge you to put on most motivating music and just GO FOR IT!

That is my challenge to you!  Dance randomly to your favorite music, and do some push-ups!

I leave you some "official" RANDOM DANCING from Nickelodeon's "iCarly."  (Yes - to ADD to my dorkdom, I do in fact watch iCarly.  And so should you - those kids know how to randomly dance!)











Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tips for picking up choreography in an audition

I've gotten a lot of questions about how to pick up choreography quickly in an audition, and feel that I need to address the issue.  I've been avoiding it because, all truths be told, I am HORRIBLE at picking up choreography quickly.   Teachers and choreographers are always yelling at me, saying it is such a shame that I have such great technique but am so slow at picking up choreography.  It is my *hope* that I will be able to interview some teachers, choreographers, and dancers who are AWESOME at picking up choreography and share their advice with you.  Until then, I thought I would share some tips that have helped me on my long climb towards being a quick choreography picker-up-er.

The first thing is, I think it is important that you know how YOU learn.  Every person is completely different.  Most of the dancers I observe learn by doing the choreography full-out with the teacher, as the teacher is doing it.  It then gets locked into their muscles memory, and they are able do the choreography brilliantly the first time with the music.  If this is how your brain works, that is amazing and you are a very lucky duck.  My advice would be get up close where you can see the teacher/choreographer, and mimic what they do as they do it, get it ingrained in your muscles memory, and be fierce.

This is NOT how my brain works.  My brain seems to work two different ways - depending on the choreography.

The first way my brain works, is to SEE the choreography so I know what it looks like, and then try and make my body do it.  This means, I do NOT do the choreography with the teacher the first time through.  It means I stand to the side and watch, almost like an audience member.  After I see what the final product looks like, I can process the steps in my brain, and tell my body to do them.  I will then "mark" the choreography (not do it full out), and then each time we go over it, commit to the steps more and more until I reach the final product.  This is the *best* way for *me* to learn.   I have also discovered that choreographers HATE this.  I have been told I look "dead" while the choreographer is teaching, and accused of not paying attention, not caring, and daydreaming.  So if you do this, make sure you look alive, alert, and enthusiastic whilst doing so.

The second way my brain works is by creating stories.  I name the different sections in my head and give it motivation and create and abstract thought pattern for the choreography.  There can be the "slow section," "drunk section," "skippy section," "section where I seduce person X," "section where I reject person X," "section where I change my mind and tease person X."  (So in my head I might think, I'm tired, so I take a drink, then I get hyper, oh hot guy!,  oh come hither hot guy, oh never mind you actually aren't that cool, or maybe you are.")  Since my memory is really good with WORDS and STORIES, it helps if I give WORDS and STORIES to the dance steps.

I took a master class with Ann Reinking, who told the everyone to figure out which part of choreography we were WEAKEST on.  Then, during our breaks, while we were waiting for our number to be called, etc..., just go over that specific bit of choreography in our heads.  I have found that is incredible helpful if there truly is one spot where you are constantly getting tripped up.

I have also found concentrating solely on my feet is helpful.  For some reason, I have a really hard time "walking" in choreography.  Give me triple pirouettes into a layout, let me kick my face, but don't ask me to walk!  So really giving each steps a lot of attention and weight helps a lot.  Knowing there are 4 steps instead of 3, and you start on your right and end on your left, is remarkably helpful.  So - think about your feet!  They are important.  Your arms will follow.

A lot of choreographers are also really impressed if you pay attention to where you "focus" is - or which way your head is facing/your eyes are looking.  It's a minor detail that may not help you learn the choreography per se, but will impress the choreographer!

Another option, which I take advantage of as often as possible, it to learn the choreography ahead of time.  Several shows such as A CHORUS LINE, have set choreography and a set audition that will pretty much be the same wherever it is presented.  Broadway shows usually have set audition choreography as well.  If I know someone who knows the choreography to a show, I will often write them a very nice e-mail asking if they would be willing to teach me the choreography if I rent a studio and offer to pay them.  Playbill.com often advertises (in their "job listings" section)  special workshops where representatives from a show will teach the choreography and work with dancers on perfecting it.  A company that offers several good choreography learning workshops is "Stage Door Connections."     Keep checking their website for workshops and dance classes being offered.  I took a "Wicked" audition class there and found it tremendously helpful.

Other than that, the best advice I can give is to take class, and lots of it!  And switch up the classes you take.  I find I will often get into ruts where I take the same class every day, so I recognize and am comfortable with that specific teacher's choreography.  When I take a new class or go to an audition with a different choreographer, I feel completely lost.  So, it is important to take a wide variety of classes and styles to always keeps yourself on your toes!  The more styles, steps, and choreography you already know, the easier it will be to pick up choreography in and audition.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Liberated Movement

I have a wonderful friend named Alena who told me about a dance studio I had never even heard about!  It's called LIBERATED MOVEMENT.  I have never been - but Alena says:  "They have lots of beginner-friendly classes and all classes are pay-what-you-can (with a $5 suggested donation).  I have been to a couple of classes and have enjoyed them a lot!"


Based on their website they appear to be like a dance version of Yoga to the People!  (Yoga to the People's mission statement:  Yoga to the People is a unique yoga studio with the goal of recapturing what we consider to be the essence of yoga… simply put, yoga made available to everyone.)


At any rate - Liberated Movement's schedule looks as though it offers some really interesting classes that aren't offered elsewhere - such as West African, GLEE Themed, super stretch, and Masala Bhangra Indian Dance, as well a more traditional offerings such as theatre, contemporary, and hip-hop.  I'm definitely going to be checking it out!  It seems like a great way to be able to afford class here and there without being on a full work study program.  


Also, I was glancing at the class offerings and I realized I have a friend who is teaching one of the theatre classes - so if you see a class taught by Avi Asuleen (I believe she teaches every other Sunday 1-2p.m. - her next class is January 30th) - she is a great gal and a wonderful theatre dancer!  (And for anyone who needs audition advice - she is the gal!  She can AUDITION!)  Her class is described:


A great class for actors, singers who move, or dancers looking to brush up on their acting! This class will begin with a high energy show tune warm up that will stretch, align, and tone the body. We will then move across the floor, working our kicks, turns, and jumps, and will culminate each week with an original center combination. Combinations will range stylistically from traditional theater through Fosse and Bennett, and will always help you dance with more confidence and style! Open to dancers of any level, although some previous dance experience is suggested but not required.  Please wear comfortable clothes, and character shoes, jazz shoes, or jazz sneakers if you have them. Otherwise, bring a pair of socks!




THANK YOU ALENA for the great dance and fitness tip!  This looks like a fabulous comfortable setting to get your movement on!:)



Sunday, January 23, 2011

Breathing and Abdominal Strength!

During my Friday night pilates class, it occurred to me that several pilates exercises would also make fabulous breathing exercises for singers!  Even better, while improving my breath support for singing, I can also help get my abs bathing suit ready!  Wahoo!  Two for one!  I would like to share a few pilates breathing exercises with you.

If you are feeling particularly creative, you can incorporate more of your singing exercises into the breathing exercises.  For example, on the exhales sing notes, trill your lips, do an "open mouth hum" (also known as singing "hungggggg") or practice a section of an aria.  Have fun!  

The first exercise is the Double Leg Stretch.  To make it easier, extend your legs straight up to the sky.  To make it more challenging, extend your legs to 70 degrees, 30 degrees, or even two inches above the ground!  




The second exercise is the Roll Up.  No not the fruit roll up!  The abdominal roll up!  Make sure if the full roll up is too challenging that you watch the second video for the HALF roll up!:)












The last breathing exercise is called (morbidly) The Saw.  If you need to make it a little easier, you can bend your knees OR sit on a slightly elevated object such as a pillow, block, or folded mat.  If you are feeling extremely bendy and flexible, try increasing the distance between your legs a little, but make sure you always keep BOTH HIPS anchored to the floor!









Enjoy breathing and increasing your abdominal strength!





Friday, January 21, 2011

GET EXERCISED!

Once upon a time, when I was directing shows not performing in them, I met a wonderful girl named Dina.  She played a magical talking orangutan in a very interesting (interesting can be taken many ways) outdoor one act play I directed.  Dina is a yogi and fully utilized all of her yogi moves to embody the physicality of an orangutan.  The physicality she was able to incorporate is what made the show.  Without her daily exercise routines, she wouldn't have had such a wealth of movements to tap into.  (She was doing handstand, it was amazing.)

At any rate, she has since moved to California, lucky state, and decided to help share her love of exercise with others.  She has a website called Get Exercised  where she posts yoga poses other other fitness tips you can do at home in a fun and interesting way!  Her goal is: 

Get Exercised began with my desire to teach anyone around the world with web access the most beneficial exercises I know while making it fun and entertaining to watch.


Until I am able to get my camera up and running and post new exercises and choreography ideas, I highly suggest checking out her website.  It's amazing!  If you are IN California, check out one of her classes!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SPOTLIGHT ON JOE! (Recommendations from an Adult Beginner)

My next spotlight is on my friend Joe.  I met Joe doing a production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with a wonderful company called The Village Light Opera.    He played an incredibly dashing and compassionate Fyedka.  He is a very talented musician excelling at voice and piano.  I can't wait until GLEE discovers his overabundant talent and casts him!    

I have so much admiration for him because he tackling dance full force as an adult beginner.  He has put physical fitness, movement, and dance as a top priority in his life.  So many adults get frustrated and give up.  Not Joe!  He makes a commitment and keeps it!  His movement is definitely paying off!  Recently, he was one of the top dancers (and singers!) in the House of Peers in The Village Light Opera's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's IOLANTHE.  He has been kind enough to share his experiences and favorite classes with this blog!  I hope everyone is as inspired as I am!

NOW INTRODUCING JOE!





Six months ago, I had never taken a Dance class in my life. Sure, I’d done a grapevine in Annie in High School and I’d done about ten thousand Jazz squares in other shows, but I’d never had a need or desire to take Dance beyond that. Six months ago also marked the time that I decided to get serious about pursuing Musical Theater performance, and I knew that meant the inevitable: time to start taking the Dance classes that I’d put off for years. I, like many, had no idea where to start, so I began by picking the brains of every dancer I knew.

Early in my search, I happened on the gem that is Roy Arias studios. Located at 43rd and 8th, they are part of the Times Square Art Center. The studios themselves are not the most aesthetically pleasing, but what they lack in facilities, they make up in excellent teachers and friendly students. I’ve never once felt looked-down on or out-of-place, as I have on occasion at the bigger studios. The classes are very affordable, at $14 for a single class or $13 per class if you buy the 10 class card. They also do a workstudy program like the one at Steps; workstudy students work in the office for a few hours per week in exchange for discounted classes.

New York is a wonderful place because there are so many studios and teachers. However, I found that it is often daunting to know where to start when faced with so many options. Here’s the secret I found: you don’t need to know. You just need to do SOMETHING. Have an open mind and be ready to step out of your comfort zone a little. Don’t worry about looking foolish or having the right clothing or shoes (refer to the earlier article if you have questions). Just jump into a beginner class anywhere. Some studios even offer classes at the “Basic” level which are designed for people who have no real dance experience.



Joe dancing in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF



Here are the classes that I take regularly, which you should definitely check out if you are new to the world of Dance:

I love Hitomi. She is about 5 foot nothing and has the best sense of humor in the world. The Basic Slow Beginner class is great because she designs it for people, like me, who’ve had no dance training. She spends the bulk of the time on basic fundamentals, usually at the barre. She will end with a simple step across the floor.
7pm on Fridays at Roy Arias.

Shelley is great. She is friendly and helpful, but serious and will correct you when you’re wrong. She is demanding, yet affectionate. She spends the first half the class on warm-up, barre work, stretches, and isolations. The other half is dedicated to learning a Jazz combination she’s choreographed for that day. It is always challenging but approachable.
7:30pm on Wednesdays at Roy Arias. She offers the same class Mondays and Fridays during the afternoon.

Another class of Shelley’s which directly precedes her Jazz class. Think of this class as Aerobics taught by a dancer and designed for dancers. It’s a very energetic hour-and-a-half. Take the two back-to-back and really kick your butt!
6pm on Wednesdays at Roy Arias. She offers the same class Mondays and Fridays during the afternoon.

Jeff’s class at STEPs is a lot of fun. While Jazz and Ballet are great for technique, Jeff’s class is really about using that technique in the context of Musical Theater. He does warm-up and stretching, work across the floor, and then a combination with a lot of Broadway flair.
7:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays at Steps.

Very similar to Jeff Shade’s class and technique.
1:00pm on Saturdays at Steps. He also teaches Wednesdays during the afternoon.

Okay, I’ll admit that I am way over my head in this one. However, Rachel is out of this world. She just has this energy and sass about her that is infectious. It’s impossible to not love every moment of her class, even if you are falling over yourself.
Rachel is not on faculty at Roy Arias, but teaches “In Residence”. Check the website for when she is teaching.




***M4M note --- Rachel subs at many dance studios in the city.  Here schedule is updated on her website.  



Me and Joe backstage during IOLANTHE



Monday, January 17, 2011

SPOTLIGHT ON JEN!

This is the week of spotlights!  Today I would like to spotlight an incredible woman named Jen!  She has a supernatural talent for finding the ridiculous in every situation - including DANCE CALLS!  She is the consummate non-dancer, but boy is she funny with fabulous singing chops!  No one has more fun than her in dance calls - which she will explain after I finish rambling about how amazing she is.



I first met Jen doing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with The Village Light Opera where she played the greatest Grandma Tzeitel the world has ever seen.  One day we were both waiting for an audition together.  Since we had a few hours to wait, we left to eat dumplings (one of my many obsessions) and she told me about HER blog! http://www.jen365.blogspot.com/     HER blog is so awesome it was featured on CNN and in Cosmo Magazine!   The purpose of this blog is to try something new everyday - and her new things were usually crazy such as brushing her teeth in an elevator, wearing a mustache for a day, adopting a blue-footed boobie, and castrating a calf!  Check out her blog!  It's inspiring!  She has changed it this year to "trying things she is bad at" - and this week it's all about DANCE!  Keep checking it for updates on her progress!

I have learned so much from Jen about comedy and living life to its fullest!   I have also learned about patience and how to truly see the good in every single person and in every single situation.  A kinder heart has never existed.  She decided to channel this kindness towards helping me with my own blog.

So without further ado - let me introduce JEN!




M4M: What is your pursued career?  

Jen: Writer of books who auditions for low-pressure shows.

M4M: What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  

Jen: Free dance. The kind where there's no choreography, no instructor, no elitists, no judgments. Just loud music and legwarmers. 

M4M: What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them? 

Jen: Dance Dance Party Party, which is all of the above and more. You wear whatever you want, dance however you feel and participate as much as you feel comfortable. Last time I went I wore a tutu and hot-pink Chucks.

***M4M note - you can see a video of Jen dancing at Dance Dance Party Party here on her blog!  



M4M: What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can't get to a class or the gym? 

Jen: Rejoice in having such a lovely excuse! But I do travel a lot, and since I fear DVT almost as much as I fear dance auditions, I try to walk and stretch my legs in the galley during long flights. This usually means that a coffee pot gets knocked over, or a flight attendant has to clear her throat kinda loudly, but I have yet to accidentally open the emergency hatch with my foot. 

M4M: How do you approach a dance/movement audition? 


Jen: With abject fear and a deep desire to run.  I usually avoid auditions with a dance call. In the rare case I actually go through with it, the only option left is to just sell the hell out of it. If I can't show that I can dance, I can show them how funny I am. I've had to learn how to commit to the gist of the choreography, since I'm too clunky to make the technical parts look good. What I lack in grace I make up for in enthusiasm. This has yielded desired results only once ever. 

M4M: What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  (or what has been the most helpful bit of advice you've received regarding dance and movement auditions.) 

Jen: SELL IT! If you know you're going for a non-dancing role, do the dance audition in character. It's better to have them notice your exuberance than your terrible extension. 

Jen backstage FIDDLER ON THE ROOF


SPOTLIGHT ON DANIELLE!

Next in our SPOTLIGHT series is the gorgeous, talented, and infinitely generous Danielle!



I first met Danielle in ballet class at STEPS where her long legs were the envy of everyone in the class and her cheery hard working personality inspired all!   Though she hadn't chosen teaching as her profession at the time, she was already working as a teacher at the "School at Steps."  She asked me to be her teaching assistant for a class of three year olds.  This task seemed incredibly daunting to me, but I was soo gobsmacked by how Danielle made ballet fun and appropriately challenging each of her students, from the one who would rather be coloring outside to the one who would be future prima ballerina.  They were truly lucky students.  (Her students today continue to be lucky students!)

She also has a super power that I can only dream of - she is a FABULOUS TAPPER!  (I am quite possibly the world's most horrendous tapper.  I have virtually zero sense of rhythm, I'm a ballerina so my feet always want to point and be above my head instead of relaxed and tapping near the ground, and to make matters worse, I'm actually allergic to the metal the taps are made out!  Now if that isn't a sign!)  At any rate, Ms. Danielle generously offered to help me learn to tap, and I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for the patience and humor she brought to each of our sessions.   Knowing my unwavering love of THE LITTLE MERMAID, she would even bring in arrangements of UNDER THE SEA knowing that if any song was gonna get me tapping, that was it!

THE BEST NEWS OF ALL is that YOU TOO can take class with Ms. Danielle!  She teaches both Zumba (at Steps Wed. at 8 p.m. and Ballet Hispanico Thursday at 7 p.m.) and Pilates (at Pilates on Fifth!)


Here's a description of her Zumba class:

The Zumba® program fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away. Our goal is simple: We want you to want to work out, to love working out, to get hooked. Zumba® Fanatics achieve long-term benefits while experiencing an absolute blast in one exciting hour of calorie-burning, body-energizing, awe-inspiring movements meant to engage and captivate for life!

***(M4M note - Zumba is a FABULOUS way to get into dance, even if you have never danced a day in your life!  We will hopefully be doing a Zumba special in the future featuring Danielle!)

I NOW WITHOUT FURTHER ADO - I INTRODUCE YOU DANIELLE!





What is your pursued career?  (Singer, dancer, actor, lawyer?) 
I refer to myself as a "Movement Educator". I primarily teach dance to kids, but I am also a licensed ZUMBA Instructor and Certified to teach Pilates (Mat and Machines)

What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  
I love to move so I try to mix it up regularly! I did a lot of Pilates before I started teaching it but I am trying to rekindle my love for it. I am currently loving Yoga and Gyrotonic. Of course, there's also dance class- ballet, tap, jazz, modern....Since I started teaching Zumba I have no interest in Cardio equipment except the rebounder.

What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them?
Classes at Sonic Yoga, especially those taught by Johanna Aldrich (she is AMAZING- you will think about your life in ways you might not usually- while you have your shoulder tucked under your elbow and your other knee by your ear-it's everything yoga shoud be- contemplative, yet hot and sweaty, and flowing and a kick tush workout!)  They also do 6 week beginner workshops regularly for people who have no yoga experience at all.

Barre Sculpt and Cardiolates at Pilates on Fifth- These classes take pilates ideas and meld them with ballet barre work and weights and the rebounder, respectively, and they are fun ways to mix up your routine.

ZUMBA (is it too self serving if I say taught by ME) I teach at Steps on Broadway and Ballet Hispanico, but you can find amazing classes all over! http://38595.zumba.com/ It's FUN and it is a non monotonous way of doing cardio!
What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can't get to a class or the gym?The flexband is your best friend. It's tiny and portable and makes doing mat work or just toning and stretching exercises more interesting on the road. I also like www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com. Its a free service if you want to use it on your laptop, or you can pay to download workout videos to your mobile device. Katherine and Kimberly Corp lead a whole slew of awesome Pilates workouts to suit every need and level.

How do you approach a dance/movement audition and what advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  
I don't (audition) anymore, because I'm an amazing teacher and a mediocre auditioner. However, I had the most success at auditions when I was wearing something that I felt good about my body in. (Leotards, goodbye. Hello, Lululemon tank and Skort). I also found that I performed best when I was really relaxed and didn't get over invested in any specific call. If you put forth all of your energy when you take dance class, treating an audition "like class" in your head really helps. If you take class regularly and give it your all and take risks in class (It's great to fall on your but in class), you have a stronger arsenal of things to help you in auditions.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Grapevine and Three Step Turn

Two basic steps you will see a lot at movement calls are the "grapevine" and "three step turn." You will see many variations of the steps at different speeds, with different arms, different "buttons" or endings, and different moods.  (They can be made "peppy," "sexy," "western," "graceful," etc.  Play around with them.  See how quickly you can get your feet moving.  See if you can put your arms on your hips, above your head, waving around.  Put on different music and see how Beyonce informs the movement differently than "Grease Lightening," or a Strauss Waltz.    They are super easy to practice at home!  It's Sunday!  Have fun!:)

THE GRAPEVINE


***


THE THREE STEP TURN



Friday, January 14, 2011

Spotlight on Cara!

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who is following this blog for following this blog!  Secondly I would like to thanks several of my friends who offered to contribute their expertise to help make this blog more informative.  I sent out a questionnaire, and they kindly filled out their answers.  The first person I would like to spotlight is Cara.



Cara is an inspiration to everyone she meets.  A multi-talented, intelligent, kind, beautiful young lady who truly embodies the "never give up" attitude. You would be hard pressed to find someone who genuinely loves performing as much as she does.  She is also a true role model on how to always be supportive of friends and cast mates.  She has performed with several ballet companies, in a production of Cabaret, and as a solo dancer at the Met Opera!   You can see her in "Great Performances" production of Thais starring Renee Fleming!    She is currently performing in the Vegas Spectacular JUBILEE! much to the dismay of all who miss her presence in New York.  Vegas is a lucky city!

Without further ado - here is her advice for dancers who are just beginning to discover the art form in which she is building her career.


M4M: What is your pursued career?:

Cara: Musical theatre performer (singer, dancer, actor,) dance focus, currently a female dancer in Jubilee! (Las Vegas)

M4M: What are your favorite forms and exercise and why?

Cara: Well, nothing can compare with a good dance class. If I'm having a rough day, class always perks me up. It's a great workout for mind and body, not to mention your creative side! I'm also addicted to pilates! I can feel the difference in my body when I'm out of pilates for too long. It just makes me feel centered and fit and prepared for my class or performance. Pilates is a great workout that is easy to adjust based on your fitness level or just how you're feeling that day.

M4M: What are you favorite classes in New York?

Cara: My fav classes in the city are:

 For Pilates, definitely Robin Powell's class at Steps! She is such a great and supportive teacher (as well as person, she helped me get the job I have now!) and her class will work you're whole body.

 Diana Laurenson's Musical Theatre Performance class at Steps and BDC (Broadway Dance Center) You actually learn Fosse rep from a true Fosse dancer. She works on your whole performance, even encouraging students to sing! She is super nice and takes a personal interest in all her students. Plus it's a joy just to watch her demonstrate!

 Dana Moore's Theatre Dance class at Steps. No one is more just plain cool than Dana, and her combos reflect that. She uses her own choreography, but it's in the Fosse style. I also love her warm up, it gets you all warmed up and feeling good for class (with great music).

 Crystal Chapman's Tap class She goes through everything step by step and it's amazing how much she can fit into one class. She's one of the best pull-back teachers in the city. She gives every student individual attention so even beginning tappers can make real progress.

Debbie Roshe's Jazz class She tought me to dance to counts (no small feat!) which is a very important skill for dance auditions. Her class is a mix of jazz , hip hop, and balroom, and she focuses on precision.***

Martha Chapman's ballet class at Dance New Amsterdam lot's of fun, great for beginning or intermediate ballet students, or more advanced dancers who want to focus on technique.

James Kinney's Theatre Dance class (subs at Steps and BDC) upbeat and fun with a great combo!

M4M: What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can't get to a gym?

Cara: I often give myself a little pilates mat at home. It's easy to do in a small space and a great workout.



(M4M note: Pilates will help you get an awesome bathing suit body like Cara's!)



M4M:  How do you approach a dance or movement audition?

Cara: First I always make sure that I look the part, so I wear something form fitting that somewhat reflects the show, but not over the top. I also make sure my hair and make-up look polished and nice. I also try to know what the style of choreography is going to be, so research the show or choreographer.

M4M: What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?


Cara: I think the most important thing to remember at a dance audition is not to overthink yourself. Don't be afraid or stressed. Stay calm and just think about learning the combo and performing it as taught. Also, don't have a Chorus Line moment of "Please God, I need this job!" There was an audition yesterday and there will be another tomorrow. This audition will not make or break you. Also, I swear casting teams can smell desperation! Last year, I had a job coming up but kept auditioning, and I got kept twice as much as I normally do! Why? I think because I wasn't psyching myself out thinking "I have to get this". Which is not to say act like you don't care. Have a nice smile and warm personality, but don't cram it down people's throats.


****

We are hoping to feature Cara again in our blog in a FOSSE special!  She is truly amazing at FOSSE choreography and will be able to give you some amazing Fosse poses to work on at home.  She was recently features in a production of Cabaret where she stole the show!:)





***Muscles for Musicians note.  Debbie Roshe's class is amazing, but will probably be a little more than appropriately challenging for a beginner.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Learning Choreography During Rehearsals

When you memorize lines you have a script, when learning music you have a score, when learning dance you have...

Well - there is specific dance notation called Labanotation , but it is both difficult to learn and read.  In fact, most professional dancers have never learned labanotation.   In ballet, you have a language, every step has a specific name, so you can write it down "tombe pas de bourree glisade grande jete," but most musical theatre/stage choreography uses movements without names.  So what to do?  Well, here are some ideas of what I do.

The BEST suggestion I can give you is to VIDEO your rehearsals.  (or at least the final "run" of a piece of choreography in a rehearsal.)  This allows you to go back and reference movements and counts similar to a score or a script.  It also gives you an opportunity to evaluate yourself and see where you can improve.  I will just bring my canon point and shoot camera to rehearsal and use the video function.  I"ve seen people with flip recorders, cell phones, and video cameras.  Whatever floats your boat.  Two words of advice, sometimes the best angle you get is to record your reflection in the mirror rather than trying to record straight on, and most importantly, always always *ALWAYS*  ask permission of everyone involved with the rehearsal.  Sometimes people, for a variety of reasons, don't want to do video-ed and you need to respect their wishes.

With the video, I will often rent a studio, bring my laptop with the video on it, and rehearse alone.  You can also rehearse in your living room, or the park, or a hidden corner of the rehearsal studio.  If you start reviewing during rehearsal or on a break, you'll be pleasantly surprised how many people are in your same boat, and will join you to review.

So, if you can't video what do you do?  If you can, assign every "section" a name and every step within a section a name.  For example, you could have the "opening hoe-down section" "the drunk section" "the rhumba section" "the cheesey finale section."  Within the "opening hoe-down section" you might assign names such as "thigh smacks, spit on hands, jump with heel clicks, 3 quick turns in place, clap, clap, clap, clap." The actual words don't matter so long as they make sense to YOU.   You can also draw fun stick figures to help to help you remember what positions are.  If the choreography goes along with words, you can write the steps/stick figures under the words in your score.  If it's instrumental, I like to notate them vertically on a white piece of paper.  If you are rhythmic, you can add counts to your image.  Here is an example.



You can also make a birds-eye view of the stage, (or ask the stage manager for a set outline, they often have many copies for their own records, and make many copies for yourself.) Using this outline as a base, document your place on stage during choreography.  You can write notations that make sense to you in the borders or on the opposite pages.  You can document everyone's choreography, just your own, or just you and your dance partners.  It's up to you.  I suggest you highlight your "track" with either a different color or highlighter so it's easy to find when glimpsing at the pages.   Also, find abbreviations for everyone's names or stage characters.  Initials, letters, numbers, colors, all help.  Here are five pages of documented choreography from THE WOMAN IN WHITE.  I hope the powers that be won't mind me sharing the information with you as a learning tool.  All of the choreography and staging is attributed to Trevor Nunn and Wayne McGregor.  








What you can hopefully see in the above pictures is that on the top line of the page there is either a lyric or cue such as "Lammastide Entrances" "Winds of the Winter" (which is a lyric) and "Lammastide Dance Starting Positions" (which started the first section of the dance proper.   There are letters that represent each character and where they stand, and arrows pointing the direction and course in which they move to their next position.  At the bottom of the page are further notes about what is happening.  (stage rotates, corn is passed to girl on "winds of the winter," "CDG and father break off,"  "Laura is now carrying Corn Dolly Doll," etc...  Notate what you need to notate to help your own brain.  You will notice one of the notations says "go to lines illustrated on page 3."  What that means is, I made another page with information that didn't fit onto that choreography sheet more, which will need to be referred to at that point.  Depending on what is needed, it could be a sheet like first one posted with stick figures and counts, or another birds eye view.

For the record, everyone develops their own style of writing track sheets.  For example, the London dance captain of the same show wrote his track sheets like this:  (which again I hope he doesn't mind me sharing as a learning tool.)




You know how your mind works, so embellish your notes where needed.  If you need visuals, use more drawings, if you need words, create words, write paragraphs, etc...  Your personal notations will develop with practice. There is no right or wrong, so you win no matter what you do!:)


Perhaps the most helpful thing to do is get together with your cast mates and review the choreography together before, after, and during rehearsals.  Everyone will have different strengths and remember different sections of choreography.  Your powers combined, you are expert sources of choreography.  Also, don't be afraid of asking your dance captain (if there is one), director, or choreographer to review choreography with you!  They are there to help and want you to succeed!


Pirouette Exercises

I've received many questions about pirouettes, which makes sense since audition season is upon us and the first question after "do you dance?" is often "can you show us a double pirouette."  It may strike fear into your hearts, but don't worry!  There are so many wonderful helpful exercises you can do at home that will quickly improve your pirouettes and make them a much beloved step.

There are many types of pirouettes, turned in, turned out, en dedans, en dehors, leg out to the side, in arabesque, arms every which way, but for today we will only address the classic turned out ballet pirouette en dehors.

This pirouette will be in a passe position with the arms out in front of you, turning towards the leg in passe. About.com has a wonderful step by step description of how to do this pirouette.

What I would like to share are some exercises that you can do at home that will help your pirouettes.  The first exercise is a "spotting" exercise.  Spotting is important because it will both keep you from getting dizzy whilst turning and also give you the momentum needed to complete a turn.  The video below demonstrates the spotting exercise.


The next exercise deals with the "passe" position.  To have consistent strong pirouettes, your "passe" must also be consistent and strong.  The most common problem (that even the greatest ballet dancers have) is leaning forward, backward, or even to the side in their passe position.  You want to have a strong center and keep your torso as straight as possible.  The correct position is demonstrated by Colleen here:




Of course having a teacher or outside eye can help you know which way you tend to lean, but you can also tell for yourself.  If you fall out of a pirouette, notice which direction you fall - that is most likely the direction your are leaning.  If fall backwards, you are leaning back.  If you fall forward, you are leaning forward.  If you fall to the right, you are leaning to the right, and if you fall to the left you are leaning towards the left.  To help compensate or "fix" the problem, think about leaning the opposite direction.  (I.e. if you fall back think about leaning forward.  If you get to a point where you are now falling forward, you took the correction just a little too far, so bring it back a bit.)  Don't get frustrated, it's a career long struggle that all those dancers at performing at Lincoln Center grapple with.  You are not alone!

Here is an exercise you can do at home to strengthen your passe position!









Lastly, you don't necessarily want to start out by working on a full pirouette.  If you looked at an aria or concerto you would break it down into sections.  You can do the same with a pirouette.  Here is how:









Happy twirling!:)*


*While "pirouette" means to "twirl" in French, if you think about "twirling" you will most likely have a really great time, but not a successful pirouette.  So, spot spot spot!:)



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Pilates Hundred

Hello lovely people out in blog world.

If you are stuck inside due to the great New York blizzard (or any of your local snowy weather - since there is now snow in 49 of the 50 states!)  you now have the PERFECT opportunity to sit in front of the television and work on your core muscles! But how?  And why?

If you are a singer, you of course know how important your diaphragm and core are since they support your breath and sound.  In dance, your core does exactly the same thing - it gives you support.  A strong center gives you the freedom to move your limbs about freely and effortlessly, just as a it gives you the freedom to hit long sustained high notes!  A strong core will also protect you from injury.

I am personally a huge fan of pilates to increase understanding of core strength, as well as your strength itself.  I recently was certified to teach beginning and intermediate mat through Power Pilates.    They have studios all over the U.S. and their system is incredibly effective and easy for a beginning students to understand and follow.  If you belong to a gym or dance studio, they usually offer fabulous classes as well.  At Steps on Broadway, I highly recommend Robin Powell's class, or Annie Russ and Danielle Pierce when they teach as subs.

I am going to attach a video of me doing a basic pilates "hundred" which is the exercise that most pilates classes use to warm up the body, get the blood circulation moving, and oxygen moving to the muscles.  It is also a really wonderful ab strengthening exercise.  It is freezing outside now, but just you wait until bathing suit season!  You'll be happy you did it!






A modification is to lower the legs anywhere from 70 degrees to 2 inches above the mat.  The lower your legs the more challenging the exercise.  Make sure that as you do this you always engage your abdominals.  I think that I am "scooping" through the abdominals.  The imagine in my head is that my belly is a very large tub of ice cream (which knowing my love of ice cream may be accurate) and a giant ice cream scoop  is coming down making my abdominals create a "scooped out" shape.  

Well - that was a lovely insight into my overactive imagination.

Now - go get some abdominals!  

Monday, January 10, 2011

STRETCHING!

As you are probably aware, stretching is a very important part of physical fitness.  If you saw BLACK SWAN, you saw Natalie Portman's character  (Nina Sayers) stretching to warm up before she went to class and rehearsal.  You also see professional athletes stretching before they take the field, the court, run a marathon, etc...  So what's so magical about a stretch?

Stretching warms up the muscles so they are safely able to perform and complete an exercise routine.   Over time stretching increases flexibility and range of motion.  Having access to your maximum range of motion helps with coordination and posture!  (Posture also helps makes you appear more confident - which can help you book a job or just make you more attractive to the cute guy/girl sitting across the bar.)  Stretching also helps your blood flow!  Waking up those muscles and getting them moving helps/increases circulation and flushes out waste byproducts and toxins in your muscle tissue!  No one likes waste byproducts and toxins!  So - stretching is awesome.  You should do it.

A few things to remember about stretching.  You always want to start out gentle and slow.  You never want to "force" a position.  You wouldn't run a marathon 30 seconds after your morning alarm goes off.  Unless you are extremely hyper mobile, your muscles probably don't want to be doing full splits as your first physical activity of the day.  Ease into positions and hold the positions for approximately 30 seconds, return to neutral, then repeat.  Despite what you see in crazy 80's work out videos, you don't want to "bounce" in a stretch position.   It looks weird and does nothing for your muscles except potentially hurt them.  Instead, try to hold a position for 30 to 90 seconds and reach a little bit further with every repetition of the stretch.

About.com has a wonderful article on easy "morning stretches," which you can check out here. 

I would like to now share three of my favorite stretches to do in front of the television.  I always find my late night t.v. time to be the best time to really stretch myself out well.  Ideally you would do a full stretch session both before and after your work out, but if you are extremely busy (as most musicians are) - t.v. time works really most marvelously!

Here is a video of the delightful Colleen O'Brien (who I managed to bribe into being my stretch model) doing the "diamond stretch."  It is a wonderful stretch with which to start, and is excellent for stretching out your hamstrings, quads, and glutes.





Two other stretch ideas for the day:

THE SITTING DOWN TOE TOUCH:

Sit down with your legs zipped together straight out in front of you.  Start by sitting up as tall as you possibly can with your hands by your waist.  Slowly, walk your hands forward as you bend your torso forward.


The goal is to touch your toes with your torso as flat as a pancake on top of your legs.  If you aren't that flexible, don't worry.  Go as far as you can comfortably.  A modification to make the stretch easier is to bend your knees slightly.



STRADDLES:

While you are touching your toes, you can work our your straddles.    Again, sit up as straight as you can with your legs zipped together in front of you.  Move your legs to hip width apart.   Gently bend your torso forward to try and touch your toes.  As you continue practicing this stretch, you can put your legs further and further apart until your are a full straddle.  





ENJOY LENGTHENING YOUR MUSCLES!:)








Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interesting way to exercise.

Sorry to have been gone for a few days.  It's been a strange week.  A friend recently shared this video with me and I thought I'd share.  It's an at home exercise video designed to help you learn English. 





The phrases and exercises are quite comical in this context, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss multitasking whilst exercises.  If you are at the gym going to town on the elliptical, why not take a book?  I used to study French on the elliptical, and I've certainly seen people doing their biology homework!

If you're watching t.v., why not take a moment to stretch?  Do some lunches, a split (or as much of a split as you can do), try and touch your toes, or do some sit ups.  (I like to do reps of 25 or 50 sit-ups, but you can set your own pace.  If you aren't used to sit ups, start with reps at 10.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fitness Apps

I was perusing other fitness blogs to get ideas and came across a wonderful site called "trying fitness."  The site is currently featuring an article about the best fitness apps for your smart phones.  Here is a link to their site.

It also got me thinking that I should share some of my favorite apps!

When I was getting certified as a pilates instructor, I had to learn all of the different muscles in the body, their functions, and which muscles and bones they connected to.  At first I felt like I was back in 6th grade anatomy, but quickly realize truly understanding this anatomy helped me in reaching my dance goals.  Seeing how integral the core abdominal muscles were (and truly understanding the cue "abs in and up") was career changing knowledge.  Without knowing the muscles groups and their functions, this revelation may have never happened.  I found several wonderful apps that helped me learn the muscles and their functions.  3D4medical.com produces several applications about the skeletal and muscles systems.  They also have app games and quizzes so you can test your knowledge.  I enjoy Muscle System Pro (they also have a FREE version which is great!) and 3DQuiz.  It helps make those long subway rides feel productive!    I also love the Learn Muscles app! It is perhaps the most comprehensive and cost effective app I have found.

For those of you who are interested in pilates, there is an app simply called pilates interactive.  It gives you a long list of pilates moves accompanies by pictures and videos.  It's great if you are on the go and want a quick pilates fix.

If you are calorie counting - My Fitness Pal is a very helpful app.  It easily keeps track of your calories and exercise for you.

And of course - you need Pandora so you can have work out music!

I'll be back in NYC tomorrow night.  After all the unpacking, dance and fitness videos will follow!:)  Until then, learn your muscles!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What to wear to class and where to buy it.

We all saw the Black Swan and dread wearing pink tights.  The good news is - you NEVER HAVE TO WEAR PINK TIGHTS.  Or any tights if you don't want to.

The studios I listed below are "open class" studios, and with the exception of one teacher (David Marquez who requires you to wear all black form fitting cloths), you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.  I happen to wear booty shorts I made myself (by cutting off long black leggings to a length I am comfortable with) and a leotard to every class I take.   Other people wear sweat pants and baggy shirts, others wear a sports bra and uber short booty shorts, others wear pink tights and leotards, some wear fishnets, some wear black tights, one very well-known male ballet dancer is famous for wearing what is essentially a purple snuggie to class.   Yes - a Snuggie.  The most important thing when dressing for dance class is to make sure the cloths allow you to utilize your full range of motion (stretchy!) and that you feel comfortable and beautiful enough to walk into a room full of mirrors confidently.  You are pretty much always safe in tights,shorts (baggy or tight fitting), yoga pants (anything from lululemon works beautifully), a ballet skirt, a leotard, a sports bra with a form fitting t-shirt, or a yoga top.  For boys, you will NEED a dance belt.  (It protects vital equipment.)   It always seemed self explanatory to me, but one poor boy once wore his dance belt OVER his tights.  You should know, a dance belt goes UNDER your tights/pants/shorts.  Otherwise, you can wear just about anything you'd wear to work out in - t-shirt, sweat pants, tights, gym shorts, booty shorts, sweathshirt, and if you are a particularly fit guy, some teachers will let you go topless when it get starts getting steamy in the class room.   I promise you, no matter what your insecurities are, no one in the class is judging you based on what you are wearing.  They are all too busy feeling self-conscious about themselves.

The most IMPORTANT thing is to have the proper FOOT WEAR.  Teachers may ask you to leave the class if you don't have proper footwear.  So what IS proper footwear?  Well it changes based on the class.  Here is a basic set of guidelines.

Ballet - Flat ballet slippers.  Black, white, tan, or pink all work.  Canvas or Leather work equally well.   I would recommend a split sole shoe.  I use the "Sansha Pro" which is a canvas split sole, and is sized exactly the same as a street shoe.  Socks aren't typically considered acceptable, although a few teachers will let you take your first class with them in socks.  I HIGHLY encourage you to invest in a pair of flat ballet shoes.  They are inexpensive and you will use them.


Jazz/Theatre Dance - a typical jazz warm-up will be in bare feet or socks.  When you move into the "center" or start on the combination you will be asked to switch into "flats" or "heels."  This means - flat JAZZ shoes (ballet slippers can be used in a pinch if they are all you have, but you will feel "jazzier" in jazz flat) or for females - it may also mean character shoes with heels.  Most of the "fierce" dancers will be using a bran called La Duca, but Capezio makes equally solid shoes.  For beginners I recommend inch and a half to two inch heels.  Three inch heels are difficult to dance in, and not really necessary.  Lower than an inch and a half and you won't get the "dancing in heels" effect.  When trying on character heels, you should test if the arch allows you to pointe your foot.  This means the arch of the shoe is mobile and will bend a little like a flat shoe, making your lines longer and dancing for comfortable.


Tap:  You really need to wear tap shoes to properly tap.  Flat shoes are easier, but most auditions and shows will require girls to dance in heels.  I'd recommend getting an inexpensive pair of one and a half or two inch heels and attaching taps.  You do NOT want the center of these shoes to "pointe and flex."  It will make tapping far more difficult.


Contemporary/Modern:  These classes are usually barefoot or in socks.  There is a brand called Dance Paws which makes fun dance shoes that look like you are dancing barefoot but protects the soles of your feet if you are worried about blisters.


For specialty classes such as Flamenco and Belly Dancing check the course descriptions or call the studio ahead of time and ask what shoes and equipment they recommend.  (When I walk by Flamenco Classes they have special shoes and long skirts that flare out, and belly dance classes often have "jingle skirts," scarves, and finger cymbals.



Here are some of my favorite places to shop for dance clothing and equipment.

Discount Dance Supply
a great place for everything dance (shoes, cloths, bags, etc...) with great prices!



La Duca Shoes
The famed dance shoe maker.  They are pricey, but they have a more economical student line.


Yumiko
(they designed the leotards for Black Swan.)
These are my favorite leotards.  They have a pre-made line, but you can also custom order your own designs and colors.   Very flattering!  If you can, visit their boutique on 46th st. in Manhattan!



Capezio
Capezio makes great shoes and has a good selection of dance wear.

Sansha
Their store has lots of cute dance clothing, they also make my favorite ballet slippers

Dancer's Warehouse
If Discount Dance Supply doesn't have it...Dancer's Warehouse will.

Lulu Lemon
This is primarily a yoga/pilates store, but all of their clothing makes great dancewear.  They have very cute tops and bottoms which you can mix and match.  They also have fabulous cover-up, jackets, and bags.


Freed
Freed makes beautiful pointe shoes.  They have a store in Queens that specializes in personalized shoe fittings.  They also sell lovely leotards and cover-ups.

Class-In
Class-In is a secret shop on 72nd st and Amsterdam.  They custom make leotards and have a great array of ready to wear leotards.  They are known for their bright colors and fun prints.

Bloch
If you are lucky, you might have a Bloch store near you, or you might have to order on-line.  Their leotards and shoes are all fabulous and durable.  I highly recommend all of their products!

Mer Wear
A new line of leotards and cover-up.  They are all designed by a beautiful dancer named Merrin Trombka - so all of her creations are incredibly dancer friendly!


A lot of dance studios will also have boutiques where they sell dance friendly cloths and shoes!:)

Happy Dancing!