For dancing in heels, Quigley (right) prefers high boots.
Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.
You’d think a “Stiletto Heels” class would be excruciatingly painful. Surely spending an hour or more in a pair of sky-high heels, performing Beyoncé-esque choreography full-out can’t feel good. And yet, New York City–based instructor Shirlene Quigley says her classes are all about comfort.
Quigley, who has danced for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Missy Elliott and Chris Brown, wants her students at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance—mostly females 16 or older—to feel good physically and emotionally during her classes. That means not just finding shoes that will help them dance their best (Quigley recommends tight, thigh-high boots for ankle support and stability), but also creating a classroom environment where the dancers aren’t worried about performing overly sexual or suggestive choreography just because they’re dancing in high heels.
Quigley telling students they are “all created for greatness”
“We start class with a warm-up filled with core strength, leg exercises and stretching,” says Quigley. “Then we circle up for a quick chat to bring unity into the room and to create a safe environment for people to grow and take risks.” From there, she leads the students in across-the-floor drills, followed by a combination in her girly, feminine style. “At the end, everyone performs the routine in small groups while we cheer each other on,” she says. “My rule in class is to treat each other with kindness, love and respect at all times. Dancing in heels is scary, but it’s such a mental thing, like, ‘You want me to do what?!’ Women can give birth, but it’s scary to dance in a high heel. I want to help my students be less scared.” DT
What she wears to teach: “I always dress the part. If I’m going for a more hip-hop street stiletto vibe, I’ll wear leggings with a flannel shirt tied around my waist and a loose crop top. If I’m teaching a combo that’s more about precise lines and movements, I’ll go for something tight and black so the students can see my body.”
High heels of choice: For her preferred thigh-high boots, Quigley isn’t picky about brand or style as long as she can move in them. She says she likes to visit DSW or Payless and dance around in them to see what she likes best.
Her ideal day off: “I either want to spend an entire day taking classes, or the opposite: a day of watching movies in bed with my journal or being pampered, then heading to the park with a good book.”
What she never leaves home without: heels, water, body spray and lip gloss.
What she wants her students to watch: “I always suggest studying the greats—Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner—to learn from the true stars who paved the way for dance.”
Class photos courtesy of Quigley (2); boot and book: Thinkstock
Steph Lee, a dancer with Renegade Performance Group in New York City, spent more than 10 years of her dance career fighting recurring injuries. It wasn't until she added CrossFit—the heavy-lifting, loud-grunting, specialized gym workout that has taken the world by storm—to her cross-training routine of Pilates and yoga that she found some relief. “Nothing helped my injuries more quickly than starting a strength-training routine," Lee says. “I did 10 to 12 hours of strength and mobility work every week for almost five months to focus on getting stronger and overcoming my injuries."
Tips for training your students to dance in heels
In the commercial world, anything goes when it comes to dancing in heels. From simple strutting and posing to leaps, turns, floor work and tilts, dancers are performing in heels all the time—and making it look easy. Shirlene Quigley’s first job was dancing in Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” music video and following promo tour, and she’ll be the first to tell you the preparation was anything but painless. “Beyoncé never takes her heels off when she’s rehearsing,” she says. “And since she never takes them off, we never took ours off, even when our feet were bleeding. The only way to perform well in heels is to practice in heels.”
If your students dream of touring with pop stars or performing in music videos, they likely already know that dancing in heels is a must. But waiting until that first audition to slip into a pair of stilettos is a recipe for disaster—and injury. Practicing on a carpet or wood floor at home isn’t much safer, either. Hosting a heels class is a great way to help your students master the technique. Here’s how you can prepare dancers to confidently pursue their commercial aspirations.
Putting the Right Foot(wear) Forward
While there are plenty of dance shoe styles with heels, the pros agree that if you want to make it as a commercial dancer, you have to be able to dance in high-fashion, nondance shoes. Dana Foglia, who teaches a seven-day high-heel intensive in L.A. and New York City, opts for a classic pump, no more than four inches high, without straps or a platform. “This style is feminine and sexy and gives the best line of your body,” she says. Quigley, who teaches Stiletto Heels classes at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance in New York City, prefers a tight, thigh-high boot. “In my classes, we do a lot of floor work—plus the boots keep my legs warm and can hide a kneepad if needed.” Quigley also appreciates the added ankle support you get from a boot.
Tell students to shop around to find the shoes they’ll be most comfortable dancing in. You’ll be able to tell a dancer is in a heel that’s too high if she’s unable to straighten her knees while walking or if she’s extra wobbly. “The entire foot should lay flat on the inside of the shoe without a struggle,” says Kamilah Barrett, commercial dancer and founder of Heel Hop, a course that prepares dancers to perform in heels. She suggests younger dancers start in a small heel, one-inch or lower, and work up to a three- to five-inch heel as their strength and confidence develop. From there, dancers can opt for a character shoe for added support before graduating to stilettos.
Add a Little Prep to Your Step
Moving comfortably in heels requires serious balance and a whole lot of core strength. “Dancers have to be able to hold their relevé and keep their core tight,” says Quigley. “You have to be able to stand in a heel before you can dance in a heel.”
When Quigley was learning to dance in heels, her teacher had her stand in her heels with one foot on the ground and the other balancing on top of a piano for up to 15 minutes. “It got me used to standing on a heel,” she says. “After that I could try to walk, and then turn.” She suggests lots of plank exercises to start readying dancers’ cores for heel work.
Work the Warm-Up
Warm-up should be done before putting heels on. Foglia’s classes begin with a full-body warm-up, plus drills where the dancers do all their movements in relevé, shoes off. “It’s extremely difficult, but it helps the dancers understand how important it is to pull up in their core and keep their weight on the balls of their feet,” she says. Quigley begins her classes with barefoot lunges, sit-ups and a series of balancing exercises, followed by a full-body stretch, focusing on the neck and calves. Sometimes she’ll also include across-the-floor work in heels, such as battements, sassy jazz walks or other technical work. Beware that the pace of class doesn’t go too fast, which can encourage dancers to rush through the movements—making them more likely to turn an ankle or fall. The pace should be significantly slower than in a typical jazz or hip-hop class.
Barrett pays extra attention to students’ body alignment during class. “You don’t want their ribs pushing forward or their butts arching back,” she says.
Choreography: Keep It Simple
Once you start the combination, dancers are probably going to love full-out dancing in heels for the first time. But make it clear to them that fooling around or trying to do impressive-looking moves could end up sidelining them. That “Single Ladies” side tilt looks great in the music video, but the last thing dancers want is to sit out their next competition because they sprained an ankle.
When selling yourself in heels, confidence is key, but it can take a while to build. “It’s hard to take that first step in heels,” Quigley says. “It’s important to let each student take his or her own step in their growth. Don’t push them. You may have a dancer who wants to do her entire first heels class in bare feet on relevé, and then the next class she’ll work her way up to a character shoe.” Ensure that your dancers feel comfortable and strong—both physically and emotionally—as they prepare to dance in heels for the first time. DT
Alison Feller is the former editor in chief of Dance Spirit.
Men can strut their stuff, too.
Yanis Marshall took the world (and “Britain’s Got Talent”) by storm last year with his routines to Beyoncé’s hit songs. With nearly 20 million YouTube views—per video—Marshall makes a clear statement that dancing in heels isn’t just for the ladies.
From top: photo by Alphonso Chan/Getty Images; courtesy of Shirlene Quigley
How three choreographers use video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo to go viral—and book gigs
In the world of freelance teaching and choreography, the best way to get your work seen used to be to create a reel and host it on your website, or have your agent do the job sourcing for you. And while those are still valuable resources, welcome to 2015, where social media and video-sharing sites are the ultimate power tools for teachers and choreographers looking to expand their careers.
We spoke with three of the internet’s most viral choreographers—Tricia Miranda, WilldaBeast Adams and Matt Steffanina—to find out how you can make video-sharing platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and DanceMedia work for you.
Where to find him in person: Teaching weekly classes at Millennium Dance Complex and International Dance Academy in Los Angeles. He also spends about four months a year teaching workshops around the world, and he uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@MattSteffanina) to share his schedule.
New posts: Every one or two weeks—across his three YouTube channels. “I have two dance channels and one tutorial channel,” says Steffanina, who is a working dancer and choreographer. “Sometimes it’s tough to keep up.” He publicizes his videos on social media—he has huge followings on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—and he makes time to share and respond to fans’ videos.
Most popular: “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo, a class video with more than 20 million views. “This was from a beginner class, and I almost didn’t post it because it was on the easy side,” Steffanina says. “But I think people liked that it was a feel-good, fun routine. I loved watching as so many people learned it and then posted their own videos.”
Why you should tune in: Steffanina, who didn’t start dancing until he was 18, is the ultimate pro when it comes to sharing choreography videos. “I grew up on a farm in Virginia, and there were no studios around,” he says. “I always wished there were some cool hip-hop routines online I could learn. After years of buying instructional dance DVDs that were impossible to learn from, I got a camera and started making my own videos. I don’t claim to be the best dancer in the world or have the toughest choreography, but I can teach anyone to dance, and we’re going to have a good time.”
Big online break: When Will.I.Am and Justin Bieber shared his “#thatPOWER” video, and it was shown on several TV programs. “That was when I realized how powerful YouTube really is,” Steffanina says.
How his online presence has brought him jobs: “I get calls from artists and companies who have seen my choreography and want me to choreograph their commercial or feature their products in my videos,” Steffanina says. Some students travel to L.A. to take his class after seeing his work on YouTube.
Setup: A Canon T3i and a Tokina wide-angle lens for shooting, and Final Cut Pro X for editing. “If you come from an iMovie background, Final Cut is a great way to transition into more professional editing,” Steffanina says. Most of his class videos are shot by a parent watching his class.
Tips for shooting: “Have the person shooting sit or kneel, so the camera is slightly lower than the dancers,” Steffanina says. “You always want light shining onto the front of your dancers, so make sure there’s no backlighting unless you’re going for a silhouette effect. Personally, I hate videos into the mirror. Do yourself a favor and get a wide-angle lens and just shoot straight-on.”
Where to find her in person: Miranda is a choreographer for recording artist Demi Lovato and is on faculty with The PULSE On Tour.
New posts: When she was starting out, Miranda uploaded new videos every week. Now, she posts less frequently (but her videos are still followed closely by her 100,000+ YouTube subscribers).
Most popular: “Anaconda,” with 6.7 million views; “Banji,” with more than 1 million views; and a video of 8-year-old Aidan Prince dancing to Major Lazer’s “Jet Blue Jet,” which has more than 3 million views. “My choreography is super full-out, so it tends to get people hyped in class,” Miranda says. “I think people love these videos because of that energy, and all these crazy-talented kids. I call them aliens.”
Why you should tune in: “My choreography doesn’t look like a lot of the choreography today,” says Miranda. “I describe it as new-school choreography with an old-school feel. I came up in the ’90s, so I’m used to that high-energy dancing. Combine that with some talented dancers, a packed class and a dope song, and you have a pretty entertaining video.”
Big online break: It helps to be timely. Miranda posted a video of a routine to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” shortly after the song peaked on the charts and its official music video was getting shared a lot online. “It went viral pretty much overnight,” she says. “We hit one million views within the first five days, and it was going up between 100,000 and 300,000 views a day. It was shared on a number of blogs, The Huffington Post, VIBE magazine and KIIS FM, and Perez Hilton tweeted it.”
How her online presence has brought her jobs: “Having a channel makes it easy—and common—for studio owners to find me and have me come in and teach workshops or set pieces. I’ve also booked two artists through my channel,” Miranda says.
Setup: “I hire Tim Milgram, a director, to do everything from lighting and filming to editing,” she says. “I trust him to deliver a great product, and he sends it to me for approval. But many of my videos have also been organic and on the spot; I shot them with my cell phone and uploaded the raw footage without any editing. Those have gone viral as well.”
Tips for shooting: “I don’t like too much editing or too many effects. The audience wants to see the choreography. But I do like when the camera moves with the choreography and gives it some texture. It makes the video more entertaining,” Miranda says. “Most important, make sure your video isn’t too dark.”
Where to find him in person: Millennium Dance Complex and Movement Lifestyle in North Hollywood, CA.
New posts: Every three weeks. He shares them on Twitter and almost always retweets anyone who shares the video.
Most popular: Adams’ routine to “Upgrade U” by Beyoncé, with more than 40 million views, features tons of different groups of dancers performing his choreography. “It’s a feel-good, hype routine,” Adams says. “There were so many amazing characters dancing in the video. I think people liked being able to relate to someone they were watching.”
How his online presence has brought him jobs: “I book jobs every single day from my channel,” says Adams. “I make hood dances, sexy dances, weird dances, acoustic love pieces. It helps that some of the most popular dancers in the world are in some of my videos.”
Setup: Directors Helton Brazil Siqueira and Tim Milgram shoot everything on a Sony, Canon or RED camera and edit the footage using Final Cut and Premiere. “They kill me when I try to use iMovie!” Adams says.
Tips for shooting in-class videos: “Shoot straight on so the choreography is completely captured,” Adams says. “Moving shots are fun, but don’t get too fancy or lose sight of why people are watching your videos in the first place. And don’t shoot into the mirror.” DT
Alison Feller is the former editor in chief of Dance Spirit.
Studio owner turned Facebook sage
YouTube isn’t the only way for choreographers to make a name for themselves online. Studio owner Emily Shock found her niche on Facebook, where she posts off-the-cuff status updates on hot-button issues and cultivates a thriving career as a freelance choreographer. Her online candor might not be appropriate for every teacher to imitate, but there’s no denying that the topics she tosses off strike a universal chord. Dance teachers everywhere are quick to nod—and comment—in agreement: “Yes, Emily!”
Shock, 40, owns Applause Studios, a small studio of 100 in Moore, Oklahoma. She initially created her personal Facebook page to share videos of her choreography. “But I like to write, too, so I started putting my thoughts in my Facebook statuses,” says Shock. “Then one day I noticed that my written posts were getting a lot more reaction than my videos.”
She quickly made a reputation for herself with fresh, unfiltered posts on her tough-love approach to discipline and parents who are perennially late with tuition payments, along with nuggets of choreographic advice. At last count, she had nearly 5,000 friends—she can’t accept any more requests because of Facebook’s limit—and just as many followers. Her statuses routinely earn hundreds of shares and thousands of likes. Sometimes, as when she’s musing about what makes a good dance, her observations are thoughtful and mellow. And other times, they’re pithy and cutting:
before you make your child quit an extracurricular activity because it is too expensive, please consider these creative ways to cut back on spending...
1. paint your own nails
2. clean your own house
3. make your own coffee.
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One thing her posts aren’t? Edited. Shock’s charm is in her casual style and frankness. Her statuses are absent of any let’s-make-this-go-viral doctoring. She voices issues that other teachers might hesitate to bring up in a forum as public as Facebook. “I can say what they are often thinking,” she says.
Her Facebook account has also been her main avenue for booking freelance choreography gigs. Every weekend from June through December, she’s on the road, creating solos, duets and group numbers for competition teams.
Between work and children (she has three—Eva, Marley and Mikella, ages 4, 14 and 20), her days are jam-packed, with little time for a social life. Writing her thoughts down helps keep things sane. “It’s my own girls’ night out,” Shock says. “My life is amusing to me. I like how things unfold, so I want to document them. I think of my Facebook statuses as blog posts.”
Occasionally, she gets some pushback. Facebookers aren’t afraid to engage in bitter comment battles. But Shock isn’t one to worry:
i just have opinions. and if i don’t blurt them out every morning then i don’t choreograph well...so i use Facebook for proclamations. i mean, i have to have my outbursts. they make me feel alive...there you have it.
off to choreograph now.
wish me luck.
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Photos from top: by Levi Walker, courtesy of Matt Steffanina; by Adam Gotsens, courtesy of Matt Steffanina; by Lee Cherry Photography, courtesy of The PULSE On Tour; courtesy of The PULSE On Tour/Platoon; courtesy of The PULSE On Tour (2); by Simon Hurst, courtesy of Shock
How Nick DeMoura went from “the little cute boy in the crew” to become one of the most sought-after choreographers in Hollywood.
"It can be a pretty glamorous life,” says 27-year-old Nick DeMoura, best known for his work with pop star Justin Bieber. “You’re on top of the world—being on tour, taking a private jet around the world with a huge artist—but then the tour ends. You can go weeks or months without work out here. The hardest part is staying on top of the world.” So far it looks like DeMoura has that part down. Known for his tireless work ethic and drive, he just signed on as creative director for 21-year-old hit vocal artist Ariana Grande.
The story of how a self-trained street dancer in Boston went on to become the choreographer and creative director for Justin Bieber sounds like a fairy tale, but DeMoura has worked hard for his professional success, starting when he was barely a teenager. “From the beginning I pursued choreography and posted tons of videos on YouTube to get my work out to the world. I always knew I wanted to choreograph, but I knew I needed to be a dancer first.”
Mentor Napoleon D’umo first saw him at a Monsters of Hip Hop convention. “His look wasn’t necessarily what the commercial world was all about,” D’umo says. “He was small, he didn’t have a cool haircut and didn’t really dress the part—but he was an awesome dancer. He was so compact, but his style was precise and yet totally smooth. He worked hard, and he went to every one of our classes. He wanted it so bad—he just needed someone to give him a chance.”
DeMoura never formally trained in a studio, opting instead to start a crew called Movement Specialists. Often recognized as “the little cute boy in the crew,” DeMoura was younger than the rest of his dancer friends, and together they performed at local shows and school dances. After one performance, the owner of Artistic Dance Studio in Fall River, Massachusetts, asked two of the boys to start teaching hip hop to her students. DeMoura was 16 at the time. “That’s when I found out about dance studios. I could never afford to go to a studio growing up; it was never an option. It was me and my friends dancing in my living room or in the CVS parking lot.” Soon, he was teaching open classes two or three times a week and had saved up enough money to start attending conventions, including Monsters of Hip Hop and The PULSE On Tour.
He was taking the train to New York City a few times a month to take classes, and he received a scholarship from Monsters to travel to Los Angeles and train with big-name choreographers, including Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo and Marty Kudelka. “I went to L.A. with $500 in my pocket,” he says. “After the Monsters closing show, my friend convinced me to stay. So I didn’t take my flight home. I spent a year living on my friend’s couch, working at a restaurant and at RadioShack and taking the bus everywhere until I got on my feet.” Although he landed a few dance jobs, including a stint on “The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll,” a part in Walk Hard and a few music videos, booking one or two dance jobs a month wasn’t enough for DeMoura to call himself a full-time professional dancer. “Music videos are the worst jobs on earth, with the longest hours and the least amount of pay,” he says. “With commercials and films, you get a residual check a year later for no reason!”
After almost two years in L.A., DeMoura booked a four-month tour with R&B singer Keke Palmer and could finally ditch his side jobs. He also assisted the D’umos during several seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“I learned so much from Tabitha and Napoleon: choreographing, staging, preparing for a job, submitting for a job, how you even get the job. A lot of times, your presentation before the job is everything—how you speak to people and react to their challenges. It’s not just about making steps. It’s a business.”
Here’s what Napoleon D’umo has to say about it: “Some assistants show up and say, ‘Tell me what to do.’ But Nick would stand beside me, like a partner, helping me see my way through the movement. It’s not like in the convention world where assisting is just standing on the stage and looking good doing choreography. We had Nick doing 100 other things, helping us run the room and running a productive rehearsal.”
Then came his big break. A friend was embarking on the My World Tour with Justin Bieber and called to say they needed an alternate male dancer. DeMoura learned the choreography, and just two weeks later one of the dancers quit. He was in for the entire world tour.
“Justin would always ask me to show him moves,” DeMoura says. “He liked the way I danced and freestyled. During a stop in South America, Justin and his manager Scooter Braun came into my dressing room and said, ‘Yo, you choreograph?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why?’ and they said, ‘We watched all your YouTube videos last night! Why didn’t you tell us?!’ I said I was just there playing my position, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” A week later, Bieber and Braun asked him to choreograph Bieber’s performance for the MTV European Music Awards.
The transition from dancer to choreographer was a natural one for DeMoura, who learned from the D’umos that choreographing for an artist isn’t necessarily about having a specific style. “It’s about choreographing for the artist, not for yourself,” DeMoura says. “You have to know how he likes to move, what his strengths and weaknesses are. It’s not about making the best steps; it’s about what’s going to make the artist look the best. When I choreographed the New Kids on the Block tour, we didn’t do anything crazy. I just had to make these guys in their 40s look good.”
When asked if his young age poses a challenge to any of his working relationships, DeMoura replies it was challenging at first but that age doesn’t matter. This is particularly true in his teaching at Movement Lifestyle in L.A. and with Monsters of Hip Hop. “In L.A., everyone is here to be a professional dancer. They range from 5 years old to 40. I don’t think about whether the students are older than me or younger. I’m just teaching people who want to dance.”
And though he counts so many colleagues as friends—some of whom were friends before they worked together, others who became friends during the creative process—on set, he knows there’s a line between being buddies and working professionals.
“Justin and I are friends—we’ve known each other for years and have grown up together—but I don’t choreograph for him because I’m his friend. If I was whack, he never would have hired me to begin with. I love him and owe him a lot for believing in me. In the studio, we know it’s time to work. He’ll tell me what he likes or doesn’t like, or he’ll throw a move in and then I can help make it better. We always have the same end goal.”
“Nick is stubborn, loving, energetic and honest,” says dancer Mykell Wilson, who has worked with DeMoura on several jobs and considers him his best friend. “He has these motivating characteristics that make you want to do your best.”
And just when you thought it may not get bigger and better than working with Justin Bieber, it did. At press time, DeMoura was preparing for Ariana Grande’s world tour, kicking off in early 2015. The Billboard Hot 100 music sensation is known for her wholesome look and four-octave vocal range. “I’ve been dying for a female artist,” DeMoura says. “With males, you have to be creative, but ultimately they have to be cool guys. With girls, you can be beautiful, flowery, edgy, sexy—there are so many more options. I can’t wait.” DT
Alison Feller is the former editor in chief of Dance Spirit.
Photos (from top) by Jino Abad; by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images; by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
How to safely incorporate running as a cross-training activity—and reap the benefits
When Amanda Lea LaVergne was performing eight shows a week in the adult ensemble of Broadway’s Annie, rehearsals, performances and press obligations took up most of her time. But when she wasn’t backstage or onstage in full hair and makeup, she was in spandex and sneakers, pursuing another goal: training for the New York City Marathon.
LaVergne is one of many dancers today embracing a growing trend: running. For years, dancers have been told not to run because it would rob them of their flexibility, make their hips tight or bulk up their quads. When done correctly, though, running can complement dancing. “Since my career involves singing while dancing, my stamina and strength are better, and that’s because I’m a runner,” says LaVergne.
You don’t need to train for a marathon to experience the health benefits of running. But if your dancers are thinking about adding running to their cross-training regimens, here’s what they need to know before hitting the road.
Before you even think about becoming friends with the gym treadmill, getting the proper footwear is crucial. “Go to a running specialty store and get fitted,” says Daphnie Yang, personal trainer and running coach, graduate of Tisch-NYU’s Collaborate Arts Project 21 (CAP21) and former member of Balasole Dance Company. “The shoe experts will be able to analyze your stride, gait and foot strike and can make sure you’re running in shoes that fit you and your body.” Young dancers may be tempted to pick the cutest pair in the brightest colors, but it’s more important to wear shoes that will support your body as you run, or that can help correct any imbalances, such as pronation (rolling your foot inward as you step on it) or supination (rolling the foot outward).
“A warm-up, just like in dance class, is critical,” says Yang. Before you begin running, do a few gentle exercises to bring oxygen and blood to your muscles and joints. Yang suggests doing a few jumping jacks and then jogging very slowly before you increase your pace.
Start Slow—Really Slow
A common mistake new runners make is doing too much too soon—either wanting to run too many miles right away, or wanting to run really fast right out of the gate. “As strong as your dancing self can be, running is a different beast,” says Holly Mendoza-Hendricks, professional dancer with Vissi Dance Theater and Amy Marshall Dance Company. “You want to make sure you’re working up to it.”
Yang adds, “Start slow, then gradually increase your pace as you warm up. The first five minutes of your run should be the slowest. Then work your way up to 10 minutes, then 15, then 20, then 30. Run at a pace where it feels like you’re loosening up the legs versus pushing the speed. You should feel slightly sweaty, a little out of breath and like your legs are gently striking the ground.”
Watch Your Form
“Don’t strike with your heels, keep your shoulders relaxed and keep your core engaged,” Yang says. “If you’re running correctly, you should feel like you’re floating.” Engage your hamstrings, glutes and core as much as you can. A tip for making sure your upper body stays relaxed: Shake it out. “Drop your arms and shake them out once in a while, and give your neck a good roll,” says dancer, fitness model and spin instructor Jessalyn Gliebe. “It’s amazing how tight you can get, because you’re not always thinking about your upper body when you run.”
Don’t stop your run abruptly. Spend the last three to five minutes backing off the pace until you’re walking. “A cooldown flushes out lactic acid and helps prevent soreness,” says Yang.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch…and Foam Roll
The easiest way to combat added tightness from running is by making stretching a “non-negotiable,” according to Yang. On top of running up to 10 miles a day when training, Gliebe also adds hot vinyasa yoga to her fitness regimen to aid her stretching and help with core strength. LaVergne carries a lacrosse ball with her at all times—“It’s perfect for rolling out my feet and getting into those tight little spots”—and she devotes ample time to easing into lunges and figure-four stretches (where you cross the ankle at the knee seated or lying down and pull legs toward torso or torso toward legs) to keep her hips open.
Reap the Benefits
There’s plenty of muscle to be gained from running. “I was always a graceful dancer,” says Gliebe. “Running gave me all that strength in my legs, though, which made me a powerful jumper.” Plus, dance can be a largely anaerobic activity, where you are extremely active in brief intervals. Going for a run gets the heart rate up and keeps it there for an extended period of time. “Running gave me the cardiovascular endurance of a beast,” says Yang.
For touring dancers, there’s convenience in being able to exercise anywhere, even if there’s no gym or studio nearby. All you need is a pair of sneakers to take a run outside. “It’s the most consistent way to stay in shape when I’m traveling,” says LaVergne. Plus, it gives her the opportunity to see the world beyond the auditorium. “Running is the best way to see the cities I’m traveling through.” DT
Alison Feller is a dancer-turned-runner and former editor in chief of Dance Spirit. She has completed three marathons and was training for her fourth at press time.
Photo by Coty Tarr, courtesy of Jessalyn Gliebe; courtesy of Holly Mendoza-Hendricks
Whether it's bad behavior during awards or lip-syncing onstage, it seems every competition judge has a pet peeve or two. DT talked to three competition insiders: Phyllis Balagna of Steppin' Out—The Studio; Lauren Adams, faculty member and judge with New York City Dance Alliance; and Noelle Pate from Starpower. Here's what drives them crazy, and what you can do to avoid making their "don't" lists.
Pet Peeve #1: Lip-syncing. "I can understand maybe mouthing a few words here and there, but to lip-sync an entire song—no, no, no," Phyllis Balagna says. "Dancers must learn to perform routines with natural, unforced facial expressions. As a judge, I find it distracting. I want to focus on the choreography, staging, dynamics, storytelling abilities and, of course, their talent."
Pet Peeve #2: Unexecuted movement. "Follow through and finish what you start," says Lauren Adams. "Make sure your dancers finish each movement. If they don't have enough time, it's OK to pull some phrases to make it more attainable. When you fully complete the movements, the work will be more connected, grounded and energetically charged."
Pet Peeve #3: Over-rehearsing. "Don't exhaust the kids before it's time to perform," Noelle Pate says. "It's smart to run through your dances before going onstage, but conducting full-on rehearsals in a hallway, on the grass or out on the street is just dangerous. Be confident in your rehearsals from the studio and trust your dancers."
Pet Peeve #4: Tricks. "It's hard to watch movement that can potentially harm the body," says Adams. "The dancers need to understand where each movement initiates, and to dance from a supported place. I become disengaged when there are too many elements separate from the expression of the piece. For example: The dancer is having an emotional experience in her lyrical solo and then suddenly starts throwing second turns or leg extensions into the piece with no expression in the eyes. As a choreographer, you need to find a way to make that phrase connected. Focus on the artistic details of the routine, so it doesn't feel like a compulsory skating competition filled with tricks."
Pet Peeve #5: Hovering teachers. "It's so distracting when I'm judging and I see teachers standing in the wings and peeking around the curtains to see what the judges' reactions are," Balagna says. "Part of our job as teachers is to trust our students, stand back and allow them to perform to their fullest. Once your dancers are assembled and ready for the stage, they need to bond as a group. They are capable of getting on and offstage alone. Don't be a distraction to them or the judges."
Dance Teacher asked Kristy Ulmer of KJ Dance Designs in Plano, Texas, to share her business and personal New Year’s resolutions.
In the Studio
1 Continue to offer continuing education to my staff. It’s important to motivate my instructors with a unified plan of progress.
2 Arrange more time for staff meetings with an emphasis on communication. As our studio has grown, it is essential that we stay on the same page with teaching styles and methods.
3 Expand our current off-campus physical education program. We have 75 students in our dance company, and many get a PE credit for dance. I think it would be ideal to utilize our studio space from 12 to 3 pm with more of our off-campus students if possible.
4 Find a great ballroom teacher and begin offering ballroom classes.
5 Last year we had all the studio teachers write cumulative notes for each student throughout the year. The parents loved the feedback, but I would really like to improve this system by presenting the feedback quarterly.
1 Get to know myself better outside the studio.
2 Reserve an hour a day for my personal development as a leader in my business.
3 Actually make it to yoga five days a week.
4 Travel at least once a year for pleasure—not for something work-related!
5 Keep a daily journal to document the small and large moments in the studio that make me feel so abundantly blessed.
Photo: Kristy Ulmer (right) and dancers (courtesy of KJ Dance)