Health & Body

3 TheraBand Barre Exercises to Strengthen Your Dancers' Technique

With the physical demands required of dancers today, conditioning and injury-prevention are more important than ever. So it's no secret that dance teachers are constantly in search of new ways to challenge, strengthen and build upon their dancers' training—safely.

Cue The Hall Method.


Marlene Hall, who's now on faculty at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCSA), first noticed the benefits of Pilates and TheraBand conditioning—and how it strengthened her ballet and pointe work—while attending UC, Irvine. Eventually, she created her first Therabarre class in 1998, followed by the Foam Roller Barre, Ball Barre (on the wall) and the Disc Class, all to compliment her students' normal dance-training schedule. "The method is great for all dancers," says Hall. "We specialize in preparing dancers for college, working in collaboration with college dance programs and helping professional dancers extend their injury-free careers by working with companies and independent dancers."

Her current and former students, including Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Michael Montgomery and Asia Bonilla, a dancer at the Ailey School/Fordham University BFA program, incorporated the technique into their training. "The Hall Method gave me my dance career back after chronic pain and injury had sidelined me," says Kai Hazelwood, who is Hall's partner and the first teacher trained to teach the method.

Over the years, the technique has also sparked interest from the sports medicine community. Spine rehab specialist Dr. Jim Augustine endorsed the Therabarre class as very safe and effective. In 2011, the strengthening of Hall's pre-pointe students was noticed by the USA Gymnastics athlete care coordinator Dr. David Kruse, and by Dr. Jeff Russell, who specializes in keeping athletes and dancers healthy.

A Therabarre class follows the format of a classical ballet barre, but exercises are executed with both legs attached to either end of a TheraBand, the center of which is anchored on a barre behind the student to add resistance and allow for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).

Exercise #1: Therabarre Tendu Exercise

Two tendu Therabarre exercises youtube

"Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, an advanced stretching technique, based on the notion that muscles can achieve a greater range of motion after they have been fatigued, has been used for years by athletes, gymnasts, rehabilitation and conditioning professionals," says Russell, PhD, AT, FIADMS Ohio University. "Physical therapists and trainers use PNF by fatiguing a muscle or muscle group with an isometric contraction, then stretching that muscle with the resistance of a partner. In Therabarre, the TheraBand replaces the need for a partner, which allows for complete control by the dancer, eliminating any danger."

Exercise #2: Piqué and Balance With Rotator Disc

Piqué and balance exercise with rotator disc youtube

In 2014, while working closely with Kruse and Russell, Hall presented her work at the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS) in Basel, Switzerland, to a group of artistic directors, doctors and physical therapists from all over the world. Currently The Hall Method has three medical patent–pending classes in the U.S. and the European Union. A teacher-certification program is also in the works.

"My most proud accomplishment," says Hall, "has been helping two of my students straighten out their spines from scoliosis in four months and eliminating having to go into back braces. Helping people is my passion."

Exercise #3: Grand Battement on the Wall With Ball

Grand battement devant from sous-sus on the wall exercise with ball youtube

For more information about The Hall Method and the upcoming 2019 workshop, click here.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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