Dancing can do great things for your body. But science is increasingly exploring the many ways it's also good for your brain. A recent study showed that dancers' brains react to music even faster than trained musicians or other people. The author of the dissertation, Hanna Poikonen, observed brain activity in all three groups while they watched dances and found that expert dancers were the quickest to respond to rhythmic changes. She believes creating movement to sound could affect how your brain hears music.

Even among dancers, however, there is wide variation in musicality. Some of your students might be naturally musical, while others might struggle a bit more. But whether or not a dance student possesses this mysterious quality, musicality is an essential skill that can help any dancer perform their best and move forward in their training and career.


There are many definitions of musicality, but teachers know it when they see it. A musical dancer gives the audience "more to look at in the same amount of music," says master teacher Finis Jhung. "That's one of the tricks of musicality – using your entire body at every moment to make the most of the music."

His own career as a dancer, performer and teacher spans more than 60 years, and includes appearances on Broadway and dancing in major companies like the San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. Nowadays Jhung is a renowned dance instructor, teaching professionals and adult beginners in New York City. He has also created dozens of instructional videos to inspire dancers of all levels.

So can you teach musicality? "Absolutely," he says. "Whether it's to learn to pirouette or learn to jump or learn to be musical or learn artistry—it can all be taught. All you need is a passion to learn and a brain and a body."

In his view, students often haven't been exposed to different types of music. "Especially today, a lot of people never listen to classical music so they don't hear it," says Jhung. But dance students can train their ears outside of class. Those who play an instrument can apply what they learn in the dance studio, for instance. Even listening to music during the rest of their non-dance day can help your students.

In the classroom, Jhung wants his students to think about the music as well as the steps. "The music has to guide them, but it also challenges them," he says. Together with composer Scott Killian, he created a series of CDs specifically to help students hear the subtleties of sound. "They like the music because it's slow and quiet and it's orchestrated, so it's not just piano."

He also uses clapping, counting, even visualization. "I'll give them images. I'll say, 'when we do this exercise you have to imagine you're swimming in the water.'"

It may not all come in a 90-minute class, however. It takes patience to develop the strength, balance and control required to create beautiful movement.

The secret to musicality really comes down to solid technique, says Jhung. "You have to show the music. It's the way you phrase the movement to it," he says. "That's what allows you to play with the music. That's the magic."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Tade Biesinger and Kandee Allen, photo courtesy of Biesinger

It's officially the one month out of the year that's exclusively about gratitude, and there's nothing dance enthusiasts are more thankful for than our dance teachers. They're everything to us!

Case in point: we reached out to Marymount Manhattan freshman and former Billy Elliot: The Musical star, Tade Biesinger, and asked him to write a thank-you letter to his hometown studio owner/teacher Kandee Allen. The result brought tears to our eyes! How Biesinger feels about Allen is how all of us feel about our teachers.

Allen and Biesinger. Photo courtesy of Biesinger

Check out what he had to say, and then write a thank-you message to your dance teachers in the comments of our Facebook page.

Trust us: It will be well worth it! —Haley Hilton

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Just for fun

Happy National Princess Day, people! This is a day you were all BORN to celebrate (because you're all princesses obviously). Enjoy this blessed day by watching two of our favorite ballerina princesses light up the stage!

We know this dream was a wish your hearts have made, so you're welcome! Oh, and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!

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Dancer Health

We've compiled a list of healthy Thanksgiving foods that are sure to satisfy both your cravings and your desire to eat well. Try them out this holiday season and you'll be able to enjoy the best meal of the year guilt-free!

YOU'RE WELCOME!

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Dancer Health
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The human head weighs somewhere between 8 and 12 pounds. For many of us, our youngest students included, that comparatively large weight spends on average at least a couple hours a day hunched over a screen. While you may not consider your students as average, there is no denying we spend more hours than ever looking down at handheld mobile devices. "I think of it as 'tech posture,'" says Blossom Leilani Crawford of Bridge Pilates, "when the head is forward and the shoulders are forward. People don't know where their heads are anymore, and you certainly can't turn well with the weight of your head forward."

Forward head posture seems to be the very antithesis of the open chest, lifted spine and presentational sensibility of most classical dance training. But beyond the aesthetics, this misalignment can affect balance and coordination in developing dancers and, at the extreme end, can be associated with nerve damage and pain down the arm.

According to Dr. Marshall Hagins, physical therapist for the Mark Morris Dance Group, there are really two things going on when you see forward head posture. First, the skull is projected forward in front of the body (as in when we look down at a phone). But then, because we are social creatures who want to see and interact with the world in front of us, the head rotates backward on the spine, thrusting the chin up and out. "The muscles in the front of the neck are short and relaxed," he explains, "while the muscles in the back, which are keeping the head from falling further, are lengthened and overworking." The neck muscles have a very high density of proprioceptors and the nervous system feedback is working to fight gravity all of the time, all of which can result in a levator scapulae that is overused and painful.

Hagins offers a tent analogy for balancing the head in three dimensions without simply resorting to a military posture. "All the surrounding neck muscles need to have just the right amount of tension to keep a heavy object, such as the head, balanced atop the tent pole of your spine," he says. "When it leans one way, the corresponding wire becomes loose and the other wires have to pull harder." He notes that it can still be possible for dancers to move in and out of the proper positions even if the resting posture is slouched. However, assuming such a posture for most of the day can lead to injury.

The phenomenon has caused Crawford to modify the abdominal exercises in her mat class. "I sometimes ask for the head to stay on the floor for the single-leg stretch or double-leg stretch," she says. "I call it 'angry turtle' when you work to draw the back of your head into the floor. Once that is understood, it is easier to transfer into lifting the head off the ground properly."

However, both Hagins and Crawford caution that dancers are often hypermobile and prone to overcorrecting, so it is important to focus on good postural habits and incremental changes so they don't move from one misalignment of the head and neck to another. Here are three simple exercises Crawford uses to help students find and feel where proper head alignment is in different planes of movement. They are great on their own, in any warm-up, or can be easily sprinkled into a Pilates mat routine.

Supine Head Float​

Elena Prisco, age 17, student at Lake Tahoe Dance Collective. Photos courtesy of Thompson

1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet planted, with a yoga block, or prop of similar height, under the shoulder blades. Let your head rest back into this big, chest-opening stretch, with your fingers interlaced, hands behind your neck so that your pinky fingers are against the base of your skull.

2. Float your head up to spine level, chin tucked in, hands helping to
traction your neck long. Use exhales to activate the abdominals and keep ribs heavy and soft while your head is up. Hold for a few counts and then rest back into the stretch.

3. Repeat several times, being careful not to let the chin jut forward.

*If you are ready for more, float the pelvis up to spine level along with the head. Keep the pelvis in a neutral, untucked position.

Studio Owners
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Costumes are one of the most important parts of your annual recital and competition routines, yet the process of choosing what your dancers will wear, measuring them accurately and ordering your selections can be fraught with second-guessing. We compiled your questions and asked the experts—the costume companies, that is—for their frank advice and guidance.

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Just for fun
From left: Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Michael Curley, Courtesy Cincinnati Zoo.

Yesterday Cincinnati Ballet announced an exciting addition to this year's Nutcracker cast: a character based on Fiona, the world's most famous hippopotamus.

Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January 2017. Six weeks premature, she weighed only 29 pounds at birth as opposed to the standard 55-120, and required round-the-clock care from dedicated zoo staff. Cincinnati Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit even got involved. The zoo chronicled her progress on Facebook, creating the heart-warming Fiona Show (see the first episode below). The baby hippo's story went viral, winning hearts in Cincinnati and around the world.

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To Share With Students
Cheyenne Murillo and her partner Sasha Altukhov at Millennium Dancesport Championship. Photo courtesy of Murillo

It seems everyone is trying to break into the ballroom scene these days, and we don't blame them—it's ALL kinds of fabulous!

But getting started can seem overwhelming for everyone involved. Whether you're a studio owner looking to implement a new ballroom program or a student looking to get started, you're likely to have A LOT of questions.

To help, we've talked with Cheyenne Murillo, U.S. Open Pro Rising Star Champion and teacher at Strictly Ballroom in Orem, Utah, to answer five questions every aspiring professional is sure to have.

You're welcome!

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Dance Teachers Trending
"In part, I became a teacher because I felt the need to help others dance," says Slattery (center in all black). "Working on this project has been so fulfilling, and I look forward to it each week." Photo courtesy of Orlando Ballet

A year ago, Orlando Ballet School offered a weekend workshop called "Come Dance With Us." The pilot program was designed for children with physical special needs and disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, brittle bone disease and a variety of conditions that require children to wear braces or use walkers and wheelchairs.

The workshop was such a positive experience that the school expanded it to 10 weeks. Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach within the program. To my surprise, the students were capable of participating in ways I wouldn't have expected.

In a short time, I've been so impressed with the children's ability to modify movement, not to mention the joy and incredible spirit the students bring to class each week. It has been an extremely valuable experience for me as a teacher, and I have learned a great deal working with these inspiring kids.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jacqueline Connor, courtesy of Nowakowski

In 2015, Houston Ballet demi-soloist Jim Nowakowski made a shocking career about-face when he soared into the heart of pop culture and made Top 6 on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance." The commercial world was taken by his flawless technique and perfect lines, while at the same time classical dancers were surprised by his choice to leave a coveted position with Houston Ballet. He was an enigma—and now he's done it again. He has recently returned to ballet company life and is well into his second season with BalletMet.

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Dancer Health
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Last Wednesday was National Stress Awareness Day, and all day we couldn't stop thinking about dance teachers.

Whether it's helping your students cope with anxiety caused by the pressures of our industry, unpacking your own anxiety caused by a lifetime in this industry or simply just managing the day-to-day stresses that come with teaching, you are dealing with a lot of stress, and we want to help.

Dance Teacher caught up with a Pacific Northwest Ballet School consulting psychologist Toby Diamond to get some professional advice on how to deal with anxiety. She gave a teacher's seminar at PNB on this subject earlier this year.

Try out some of her tools, and see how they can benefit your health and the health of your students!

Good luck! We're rooting for you!

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Just for fun
Shelby Williams via @biscuitballerina

Fall is arguably the best season of the year, and "Falling Fridays" are arguably the best day of the week on the @biscuitballerina Instagram page. So, we thought it was only fitting that we combine the two "bests" for a fall-tastic post today!

Heaven bless @biscuitballerina for making us laugh day in and day out. SHE. IS. EVERYTHING.

Get ready to laugh 'til you cry, ladies and gentleman.

There's just nothing that can hit your funny bone like watching dancers eat it!

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