Thursday, April 22, 2010

"My Same"

This past weekend I got a call on Sunday morning from my mother telling me to meet her in Mississauga in exactly 1 hour to watch my sister's basketball game. Luckily for her I was actually up and dressed, so making the 45 minute hike out there was within reason. Normally I would have no interest in going and watching a kid's basketball game on my only day off in 3 months, but I figured I better fulfill my big sister role and go and support!

Now this wasn't just an ordinary game, or else I'm sure I would not have received a phone call about it. My sister coaches an OBA (Ontario Basketball Association) team in Cambridge for girls in grades 7-8, and they had made it to the Gold medal game of the Provincial tournament. This was sort of like their "dance-off at Nationals" game, as I have to equate everything to dance for it to make sense!

My sister is one of those jack-of-all-traits people, which is the complete opposite of me! She seems to be good at everything she does whereas I'm only good at dance and anything related to dance, so I'll just stick with that. My sister danced competitive when she was younger, but then her vast interest in many activities made her stop when she was in high school. She played basketball, volleyball, and every other sport in school. She was an avid horseback rider, she sang in several choirs and even dabbled in wrestling for a while! She's had many professions and I'm actually just convinced once she's good at something she just gets bored of it and moves on.

This year she started coaching this specific team of girls who had not had much success in winning games over the past few years. When they first started going to tournaments this season winning was a surprise for them, but my sister and I are related, so losing is not something she is accustom to! For those girls basketball is the most important thing they do, as to my competitive students, dancing is what they live for. I was actually informed during the game that my sister had even been sick earlier that morning from her nerves, which was a shock to me. I thought my sister could handle her nervous energy better than that, but then I remembered how long it took me to really take a less aggressive approach with myself when it came to dance competitions. It was of major importance to her, and all the girls on the team, to win that game and I have to respect that in the end.

There were so many similar things going on at this game in comparison to my weekends at a dance competition, which I guess I should have expected. I actually found myself chuckling a lot at these 'stage parents' yelling instructions from the bleachers to their kids on the court. "Eye on the ball", which I assumed was an obvious thing as they are playing basketball. There was a lot of team bonding going on, and of course refs making poor calls, or at least poor calls when it was against the team you were cheering for. Much like a judge at a dance competition who obviously under scored your kid!

For that kind of game, much like it is at a dance competition, as a coach you kind of just have to step back and let them do what they're going to do. You can't change anything at that point, or teach them things you should have earlier on in the year. Now I might not have any basketball skills myself, but I do know that defence is what wins basketball games. Luckily my sister had an aggressive defensive strategy that day for her team and it ended up winning the game for them. It was a low scoring game, which didn't help much for my attentiveness through four periods, but I do have to appreciate how hard both teams played. It's much like when my sister comes to watch dance competitions that my students are in. She may have been away from the inner workings of the dance industry for a long time, but she can still respect good dancing and quality choreography.

During the medal presentation one of the parent's from my sister's team yelled out "3 cheers for coach Randy" as they were presenting her with her medal. One of the kids presented her with flowers and they all flocked to her in admiration of what she had helped them achieve. I felt really proud in that moment that my sister was having the same positive effect on these kids that I feel I do at my studio. It was like a deja vu moment for me, as I remember at our first competition this year being given flowers from a parents thanking me for the work I had done with her daughter. My sister was then awarded the tournament champions plaque and my mom leaned over to me and said, "it's just like when you will all those choreography awards!"

My sister got slightly emotional when congratulating her team and they all gathered together for a group picture with their awards. It's funny how basketball and dance can be so different, yet still have the same affect on kids and the competitive spirit...

If you look really closely, it's exactly like a picture I took at our competition only 2 weeks ago...

Looks like being #1 kind of runs in the family!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Blah Blah Blah"

Just wanted to share some exciting news with everyone today!

I got a really great email this morning from a lady named Carol who wanted to let me know that her website has featured my blog as one of the 50 Best Blogs for Dance Students.

I am kind of shocked, but totally honored about it, so now I'm feeling a little more motivated to write more frequently while in the midst of this competition season! I really appreciate that you all take the time to read my little blog, and I'm glad I can be of help to my fellow dance teachers, studio owners, and now more dance students and parents. I don't ever write with just dance studio owners in mind, but I know that what I'm generally saying can resonate with all people in the dance industry.

Thanks everyone for all the kind emails and notes regarding my blog and for passing it along to others!

If you ever have something you want me to write about, or give you my opinion about, just let me know. I'll be open and honest about my thoughts... so enter at your own risk!

"The Chain"

You know those 17 pages of rules you get from competitions every year? Do you read them?

I generally scan through them in search of key words, like "tricks" or "lifts", that will help me determine which category to put a dance in. How many "tricks" can we have in a Jazz routine at this competition versus this competition? The thought of reading that many rules makes me wish that all competitions had the same rules... but then what fun would that be for me!!!

Aside from the rules, I think there is a general stereotype or protocol we have all come to expect when we attend dance competitions, especially when it comes to dance categories. Hip-hop routines are to fast-paced booty-poppin' songs, ballet music can't have words, and putting a walkover in a jazz solo makes it an 'open' dance! Now, this whole new 'contemporary' category has really thrown every one for a loop! Most competitions this year define contemporary as a modern based dance style that includes improvisation and lyrical 'like' qualities. Perfect... thanks for clearing that up for me! I guess that's what we get when we have dance parents running competitions and writing their own category descriptions.

Now, when I go to competitions I don't see a lot of improvisation routines. A select few competitions offer a type of improv category, which I always enter my students in, but not very many other people do. I have stated in the past my sincere appreciation and love of improvisation as a learning and teaching tool in my classes, so why not take it to the next level!

I have a small group this year of 4 students, ages 11 & 12, who are doing a structured improvisation group. I actually came up with the idea one night while listening to a song at the studio. I tied an elastic chain around their waists on the fly and made them improv through the music. From there, I set some serious structure around the musical highlights and gave them a set beginning and ending... the rest, is up to them! It kind of worries me to let students of this age improv their way through a group on stage, but what's the worst that could seriously happen?

I entered this group in the 'contemporary' category, since I figured I was at least following some rules that way. It includes improv, and it is to a lyrical 'like' song! This might not be my group this year that is the best received by other studios or judges at competition, but maybe they don't share my appreciation of improvisational dancing. I did want to share some stage shots of this group from our first competition, to maybe inspire somebody else to do the same at their studio.

I don't think you should necessarily name the group "Improv", since those of us who are educated enough in dance, and open enough to accept the routine, will get it. And does it really matter if people know it's improv? Does that change how you or the kids feel about the dance itself? I sure hope not... cause then you might miss out on some amazing moments on stage that even a great choreographer can't mimic.

So take the chains off that limit you to following the descriptions that a competition sets. They aren't the knower-of-all-things!

Try something new, that maybe in turn helps give your students some creative freedom to parallel their technical training. Trust them... you have trained them!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Both Sides Now"

So I get to work with a lot of very talented kids on a weekly basis, but I sometimes forget what great people some of them are outside of the studio!
I have a Senior level competitive student, Carly, who is in her last year of high school and therefore, her last year of dancing competitively at my studio. Carly only started dancing a few years ago, so her dance experience at my studio has been very different than many others.

I know for a lot of 17/18 year old kids at studios that dance obviously plays a very important role in their lives or they wouldn't be there! By that age, kids can decide if they want to commit to competitive dance, or if there are other relevant things in their life that demand as much of their attention. Most kids that age also have part-time jobs in preparation for University, or find themselves very bogged down with school work and extra activities at school. I remember how hard it was at that age to balance my dance life, work, my social life, and school work... and all with a lot of pressure from my parents to succeed at everything in preparation for the "real world". It's hard to balance your life at this age, and do it with integrity, so I have no problem ever helping out these students with anything they need.

Carly has very recently started writing her own blog, which I think will be really great for her as she grows and learns about herself. She only wrote her second entry this week, but I had to share it with everyone. I knew she worked at a community centre several times a week with children, but I had no idea how much her experiences there were effecting her outlook on everything. My number one concern about kids her age is their inabilities to see beyond themselves and their actions and understand how it effects others. After reading her blog, I am confident to say that I know Carly will be leaving my studio after this year with a strong sense of self and others.

I think I will read this entry every week before I go to work and especially on the night when I teach my Recreational Junior Jazz Class... and realize that not only I am helping to shape their lives, but their helping to shape mine!

Check out Carly's Blog, titled Inspiration!

Nice to know that not only can we help to create really great dancers, but we are also helping to shape really great people.

Super proud dance teacher here!