Health & Body
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As a mental-health advocate working in dance, I have the honor of speaking with teachers all over the world. Recently, I have been receiving more frequent inquiries on noticing self-harm in dancers.

"Self-harm" refers to anytime someone hurts themselves on purpose, and it can include cutting, punching, bruising, pulling hair, burning or even breaking bones. According to the National Center for Health Research, self-harm is increasing among teenage girls. The Center cites a 2018 study that found that 18 percent of teens had purposely injured themselves over the past year.

The increase in incidents of self-harm that dance teachers have expressed to me makes sense given these statistics. And anecdotally, dancers may be even more likely to engage in self-harming behavior because of the rigor of training and the prevalence of perfectionism and low self-esteem among dancers.

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Health & Body
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Touch has been a hallmark of dance teaching for as long as most of us can remember. But even before COVID-19, many in the dance community were reconsidering their use of touch, both because of its questionable effectiveness and the historical lack of consent around it.

This year, many dance educators have been successfully teaching without touch for months on end, finding creative new ways to give corrections they'd normally make hands-on. So now that we've learned to teach without touch, is it time to abandon it altogether?

Dance Teacher spoke to Donna Krasnow, PhD, a dancer/choreographer, dance teacher, researcher, and co-author of the book Motor Learning and Control for Dance, about whether we need touch in dance training—and how to use it more effectively.

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Health & Body
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As you've continued to keep your students connected to dance throughout the COVID-19 crisis, you may have noticed that some of their faces—whether on your laptop screen or back in the studio—look different. They may be less vibrant, or more emotional. Some students may simply not show up.

We are experiencing a collective loss. And in addition to the loss of physical closeness, time in the studio and performances, some students are dealing with the loss of a loved one.

When your dancers are grieving, it is easy to feel powerless. Leading your students through a global pandemic was not on the dance pedagogy syllabus. But by being flexible, knowing the signs of distress and asking the right questions, you can help your students manage their grief and get back to dancing.

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Health & Body
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As dance studios all over the world began to close, teachers scrambled to support their students and transition dance education—seemingly overnight—online. You've likely spent some sleepless nights worrying about your students, stressing over how to make their living-room barre impactful, or staring bleary-eyed at Zoom trying to prepare for class the next day.

Much concern has been directed at the well-being of dancers as they navigate the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, and rightfully so. But as a teacher you also are living in a time of great stress and grief, with the eyes of your students trained on you for leadership. Like your students, you have lost your final performance, or the chance to hug your seniors goodbye.

But instead of giving yourself space to grieve, you may have pivoted to creating virtual recitals and summer intensives. In all of the worrying about your students, you may have forgotten to take care of yourself.

It's essential to invest in your own wellness, for your sake and your students'. By taking the time to grieve what you've lost, and establishing good self-care practices, you will be better able to support your students.

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Health & Body
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Chances are, there is at least one student you interact with daily who is dealing with trauma in their life. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a massive study on childhood trauma and elevated it to an official public health issue. They measured adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which include things like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, poverty and absence of a caregiver, either physically or emotionally.

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Teaching Tips
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

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Teaching Tips
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While the days of slapping students' legs with a cane have become part of (recent) history in dance training, a "leave it at the door" mentality persists in many studio settings. But when a student enters the studio, they come as an entire person, with all the shades of complexity that entails—especially in their years developing into an adult.

In a 2017 survey of 1,000 dancers by Dance Magazine, only 10 percent of students said they would definitely feel comfortable talking to a teacher if they had a mental health issue. And while it is not the role of dance teachers to play therapist, you may be one of few adults who interacts with a student on a regular basis, and ultimately their success and well-being are tied to your investment.

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Health & Body
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If you are like your students, you get in at least a few stretches before class. Perhaps you prop your foot on the barre and stretch out over your leg. You may even try the splits. The typical pre-class warm-up has changed little over the years, but our attempts to achieve length before the first plié may be missing the point.

The exercises mentioned above are static, or passive, stretches and, according to Deborah Vogel, should be saved for after class, when you're finished dancing. “If you hold a stretch like that for 60 seconds or a little more, you will achieve longer length in the muscle, so it is increasing flexibility," says Vogel, co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine and lecturer in dance at Oberlin College. “But it's also inhibiting the muscle's ability to fire." In other words, by focusing solely on length with no strength, you leave muscles loose and languid, with their strength temporarily decreased. Overstretching is a real concern, as well. Vogel warns that pushing too far in a passive stretch, especially for young dancers, can damage the structure of a joint and line the dancer up for serious injury down the road.

On the other hand, dynamic, or active, stretching lengthens some muscles while strongly engaging others. This helps prepare the whole body for movement, making it a great choice for before class. Vogel says the approach emphasizes control in the stretches, instead of how far you push yourself. It requires the dancer to move slowly through her range of motion rather than bouncing or physically pushing her body into place. This also reduces the risk of overstretching.

Beyond safety considerations, dynamic stretches can also effectively pinpoint and release tight muscles better than static stretches. If you just sit in a stretch, you may be missing the real hurdle to your greatest flexibility. “In dynamic stretching, you're stretching the whole length of a muscle group, not just one muscle," Vogel says. “Oftentimes, there's some place besides the muscle you're working on that might be limiting your flexibility."

Dynamic hamstring stretch on the barre

Photos by Emily Giacalone, modeled by Dia Dearstyne

Vogel recommends these active adjustments to the classic hamstring stretch on the barre. "If you are just hanging out, you will feel that in the back of the leg," she says. But you could be feeling more.

1. Contract the quad muscle of the leg on the barre. This action helps release the hamstring for a deeper stretch at the back of the leg.

2. Slowly tilt the pelvis forward by drawing the sitz bone of the working leg back. Gently rotate the pelvis toward the working leg. Vogel says some dancers will feel a stretch in the quad while others feel it in their calf. "Now we're working at mobilizing a line of flexibility," she says.

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