Archive of ‘Because We Can’ category

Dance Memory Study

How do dancers recall which movement comes next in their repertoire? When we perform is the experience we’re having the same as what our audience sees? The Duke Memory for Movement Lab is conducting an interesting research study to assess perception of movement from several perspectives. The Lab has created an online Dance Perception Quiz, which takes about 15 minutes – you could take it for fun or take it to help further their research. The quiz studies how a dancer learns to remember the steps to a dance and also how an audience perceives a dance. It focuses on memory.

This reminds me of what I learned in my Brain & Behavior class about mirror neurons and how they can imitate actions and help you remember sequences of actions and processes. Mirror neurons are located within the movement and memory areas of the brain so it would be logical that they play a role in the creation of learning movements. So the application of this study is to look at how memory performance works. It also ties into how replication is so successful. As a dancer, the saying goes practice, practice, practice. Or practice makes you perfect. The more repetition and practice you get going through a routine, a dance or an action – the easier it becomes. The moves actually become ingrained in your brain. Your movement center develops pathways to improve accuracy and memory of movement.

Here is the link to the online study: http://dukedpn.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_1RAoI3qtWj5RNIw. You’ll view some brief dance videos, report what you saw, and then answer some questions. You might even find out ways to improve your own memory skills!

The study is coordinated through Duke University, the American Dance Festival and the Memory for Movement Project. Ruth Day, the project director, is a Duke University professor whose work in cognition helps dancers learn and audiences appreciate. This application of psychological processes like memory, attention, perception and representation provides cues that make dance more accessible. Find out more at http://www.duke.edu/~ruthday/

Line Dancing?

I’ve now become one of THOSE people who wait outside a store, lined up, ready for the store to open and allow the throngs to come inside for a good deal or special item. This past Friday, I was standing in a line outside the Apple Store at 8am waiting to be allowed inside for the Tax Free Weekend to buy my graduation present of a new laptop. How does this relate to dance you might wonder? I wasn’t kidding about the line dancing…well, maybe the obvious dancing part.

As I waited with my mom for over three hours I looked around at my fellow line waiters. Everyone, it seemed, had the same idea to come early in the morning hoping to beat the crowds, and thus there was an eclectic mix of people. The store was on the second floor of the mall, which had been roped off to create a long line next to the balcony railing. As the time passed, I noticed people using different movements while they waited. There were the ones who weren’t used to standing for that long so they sat down on the ground. There were the ones who leaned on the railing for support. There were the couples who were balancing on each other and even the people who were doing stretches.

It occurred to me that, as a dancer, life is easier when it involves standing for long periods of time. Dancers need to have good balance so it isn’t as necessary to shift your feet and worry about cramping because of your position. Dancers have good posture so standing upright isn’t uncomfortable. Dancers are used to working out so standing is actually like a rest position. Dancers are used to possibly waiting in a performance for their cue or part, so staying alert isn’t as much of a challenge.

Then I began to think of more energizing ways the time could be passed. Wouldn’t it be cool if the line that snaked all the way down the mall could turn into a flash mob and break out in a line dance? Or if it became like a ballet class and the railing was used as a barre for practice. Needless to say I got creative as I stood there – hmm, dancers do have good imaginations.

Dance Romance

It’s almost the first of the month and we’re only 2 weeks from celebrating Valentine’s day this February 14th. If you’re someone who enjoys thinking ahead, you have just enough time to practice your moves or get reservations at the place to be.

Whether you are single or involved – love is in the air. Either it is everywhere around you but excluding you, or you’re infatuated with that special someone. If you’re single, don’t despair; this is the year to take Valentine’s Day into your own hands: read below. If you’re taken, learn what music might help set the mood, and how you could encourage your shy partner to try some dance moves.

Tolerating, or even enjoying, all the romantic hype if you’re single can be a challenge. Take a moment to think back to the awkward middle school dance. You didn’t have a date but you possibly had a crush, you enjoyed getting ready and felt giddy. You had a great time dancing the night away. Flash forward to present day – you can still treat yourself. Do you love to dress up? Get some of your single girlfriends together to have a dance party with some of your old school favorites. Go to a dance studio in your area to learn a new form, or find a dance club that hosts dance evenings. There are places where you can go, dance, and meet people without having a partner. Think line dancing, swing dancing or going to a club! Consider finding a mirror and practice your bachata with your phantom partner or watch an old Fred Astaire movie or a current flick like Step Up 3D to learn some new moves.

If you’re in a relationship you want your night to be special. Maybe you’ve been left to do all the planning and you  found a restaurant that will have a live band and dancing afterwards. How do you get your less than enthusiastic partner to dance and be comfortable? Think ahead! Suggest going to a few lessons together, low-key, no pressure drop-in at studios in your area. Go to a club and practice your moves together. Really shy? Clear out some space in your apartment and put on some dance tunes and teach your loved one how to move in the safety of your own space so his/her confidence can build before they are in public. Want to set the mood for more dancing after your date? R&B, rhythm and blues, has mood setting music as its forte. There are plenty of artists out there to set whatever tone you desire: slow dance, quick stepping, or sensual touchy-feely. iTunes has a genre search and suggestions for making your dream play list.

Now that you’ve planned ahead, you can relax and just start figuring out what to wear.

Dancing Through 2010 and Towards 2011: Reflecting On A Year Of Dance

This has been quite a year! Just last January, I danced while creating Zumba classes to teach at my college and created enthusiastic Zumba students and faculty. I danced too much without adequate protection and got injured. I studied the benefits of physical activity in a research seminar and I began studying anatomy. I applied to graduate school in movement science and got accepted. It has certainly been a whirlwind. But like every twirl and twist, the year has been a great one and I’ve landed on my feet.

Looking back, this year has been nerve wracking at times and dancing helped get me through it. The pleasure from exercising and, more specifically, the ability for dance to erase or ease my stress has been tremendous in affecting my performance. The benefits of dance can never be overstated, for the impact dance has lasts well beyond just the moment of doing it.

My resolution for the coming year is to continue to dance up a storm. My goal is to finally muster all of my courage and attempt to teach samba. I’ve learned it but I haven’t yet felt confident in teaching it to others knowing they will watch my every movement. I feel it – this will be the year of samba. This is fitting – samba is a tough dance to learn and to do. You have to feel the rhythm and go with the flow. It requires pace, practice, speed and flexibility. These are all things that I will need in the year ahead. Since I will be transitioning to a new educational atmosphere, a new place to teach, a new city to live in, I will rely on these skills that samba requires.

The second part of my dance resolution is to also teach tango for the first time. At my Zumba Basics II workshop, tango was broken down into a step, cross step, step, glide – they made it look so easy. The challenge with this movement is it is a serious expression of feeling, it needs to have power and strength, it should be forceful yet graceful. This can be applied to life – it is vital to live one’s life with grace and poise as every dancer knows. Yet, a dancer must have strength and endurance to put on a good performance.

This last year was the year of the shimmy – I felt like I was mamboing under a limbo pole uncertain of how far I would make it, constantly sliding around. It was fun and exciting but not possible to keep myself steady. Now I’m ready to firmly plant my feet on the ground but still keep them moving, as I intensely, with the sway of my hips and the strength of my toes, kick my way to this upcoming New Year.

Embellish with Fall/Winter Make Up Trends

With neutrals making a comeback in this year’s fall and winter fashions, it’s the perfect time to try some bold new make up looks. With the cold weather also forcing you into neutrals and dark colors in an effort to keep warm as well, it’s important that you don’t let the weather feel like its dampening your style spirit. You can be cold from the neck down – but wear some hot looks from the neck up, keep your personal sizzle going. Drawing inspiration from decades past, here are three retro ideas for the face, and a bonus two to potentially try out in the hair.

1. Red Lip. This classic bold move brings attention to the face, and lights you up for a youthful, fun yet sophisticated look. It’s easy and especially with neutral and lower-frequency colors, it brings a pop and energy to the way you look. Old Hollywood was on to something – and you can be too.

2. Winged Eyeliner. This very sixties element is again, a bit beyond the typical. Like the red lip, it is an exaggeration of a natural look, designed to compliment and extend the natural curve of the upper lids and lashes. There’s something Egyptian about it, exotic even – so it can take your eyes from plain jane, everyday liner to instantly-more-interesting. People will be more inclined to notice your careful eye shadow and mascara application as well, and everyone is likely to look at your eyes a bit longer. It’s more creative looking – so many  artsy types, singers and performers back in the day enjoyed this extra oomph. You can try it on yourself too.

3. Bold Brows. This is something very ‘old Hollywood’ as well. Think Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren. These women had bold brows that gave their beautiful faces more drama and more power around the eyes. Carefully outline your brows with pencil or brown-toned shadow/powder. Concentrate on symmetry, and keep your lines a bit soft at the ends of the brows (so to appear dramatic and not hard or angry). This even works with lighter-haired women, and you have some flexibility on color and shape. Maybe a bit of shimmer on the brow bone for greater emphasis, to catch the light more. Have fun with this, a subtle, understated boldness.

4. Softly Swept Up-do. On the cover of the current issue of Vogue Magazine, a princess-like Anne Hathaway sits demurely, her hair swept up perfectly, with rhinestone studded earrings to as a complimentary accessory. Go evening at any time of day – and sweep the hair up. There’s something elegant about a high up-do. You can be perfectly placed (unexpected for day to day, and thus more noticeable) or messy-yet-chic. Either way, bringing the hair up can easily make the dim clothing shades of autumn fall further into the category of sophistication.

5. Curled, flat bang. Think retro stars again (or Jessica Rabbit). The quintessential, recognizable thing about old Hollywood hair is always this curled bang, pushed forward to one side, adding some mystery to the eyes and face. A side part is probably quite necessary to complete it. And sometimes it’s voluminous, but it’s often flattened against the forehead, clipped in place in a lovely, soft way. Try it out and see for yourself – and put on a red lip while you’re at it.

The fall-winter season is a time for sophistication and subtlety, it seems. Consider the above options for your own interesting style season – and turn heads with understated boldness, which can be delightful to create and wear. Add a bit of extra elegance and polish with these easy tricks from time to time, and stay warm.

Dancer’s Beauty Tip: Dry Skin Brushing

 

“Dry skin brushing” is exactly what it sounds like – brushing one’s dry skin intentionally. There are many benefits that can be gained from this simple beauty tip! For example, dry skin brushing: 

-Stimulates lymphatic movement and detoxification 

-Increases circulation 

-Improves healing time and helps sore muscles recover faster 

-Exfoliates dry skin, leaving baby-soft, caressable skin behind 

-Prevents aging of the skin and encourages youthful skin quality. 

-Prevents spider veins and bruising 

-Improves the appearance of circulation abnormalities like spider veins, and helps heal bruises 

-Improves the appearance of and even eliminates the look of cellulite 

(This is a short list, find more information on the many great benefits online! There are many devotees who swear by it, and gladly share all about it – with good reason.) 

It’s also incredibly easy to do. To start, purchase a dry-skin brush. (I’ve heard it said that this habit will only cost you about $15/year –

Earth Therapeutics Tampico Vegetable Fiber Skin Brush

Earth Therapeutics Tampico Vegetable Fiber Skin Brush

 that’s the estimated cost of a good brush. You can find one for about $5 to $15, shopping online, or at drugstores or health food stores.)

You want it to have natural bristles, versus others that are too hard, often plastic-hybrids that aren’t gentle enough on your skin. 

In the bathroom – or more ideally, hear a HEPA air filter or some type of filtration system for all the dead skin cells to be circulated out of the air you primarily breathe – start brushing. Start with the arms or ankles and lower legs. Brush your entire body in long strokes towards your heart. 

Brush your back as best you can. Focus on quality strokes near the breasts and underarms, key areas of concentrated lymph nodes and drainage, for lymphatic stimulation.  I would also recommend you focus on quality brushing on the hips, or the side glute muscles, because the hip rotators tend to become very tight in most people, especially dancers and women (they tighten up when we wear heels). 

In areas where you have cellulite or would like to improve skin “tone” and texture, spend extra time (say, 30 seconds to two minutes) brushing in a circular motion. 

The entire process of dry skin brushing can be as quick as 3 to 6 minutes (or even up to 15 minutes). Feel free to add a bit of natural moisturizer – such as raw organic coconut oil, always great to keep in the bathroom – as needed afterward. (But you’ll probably find with your new well-exfoliated skin, you won’t need any.) 

This healthy, detoxifying habit is super easy and has so many benefits! (So, why not?) Add it in to your self-care practice whenever you can, or even make it part of your daily or weekly routine. Take note of the benefits you receive, and continue dry-skin brushing for continued youth through beautiful, supple skin, happy muscles, and a pampered, happy body. 

                             

e.K. at the Joyce Theater: MOMIX! A Moving, Delightful “reMIX”

Few dance companies create a constant sense of “Wow” for their audience, inducing continuous cheers, applause and laughter. Few companies cause one to ask “how are they DOING that!?” very often. Few can morph characters (becoming, say, glowing birds, floating shadows, or futuristic skiiers – to name a few) and bring you to their world (in this case perhaps another planet?) so easily. But MOMIX, a very special and memorable group of dancers, is that kind of company. They came to the Joyce Theater for an extended four-week engagement from May 11 – June 6, in celebration of their 30th Anniversary Season. I attended their “reMIX” performance, and they electrified with a compilation of some of their best works.

Based in Washington, CT, and under the guidance of Artistic Director Moses Pendleton, this company of “dancer-illusionists” has traveled around the world with their unique brand of modern dance. Their athletic bodies were also seen dancing in Hanes commercials a while back (“Look who we got our Hanes on now!”). Today they are internationally recognized for creating fascinating multimedia shows with both drama and humor. They for known for their use of staging elements such as lighting and shadow, and renowned for their exceptionally unique work with props.

The movement style is as impressive as advanced ashtanga yoga – although it’s still straight out of the modern dance studio, it’s beyond athletic (yet they made everything look easy). The muscularity and stability of these bodies, even in the oddest of positions and angles, displays absolutely amazing strength and power, the likes of which few can duplicate.

For example, after the show opened with a glow-in-the-dark, insect-like, ceiling-tall, skeletal creature prancing across the stage to eery music (“Discman”), the amazing male and female duet “TUU” (listen to the music here) mesmerized from beginning to end. One review characterized it as “a study in passionate entanglements.” The female dancer was absolutely equal in strength to her male partner, and they hit impressive pictures. The female strength was also visible in “Aqua Flora” (also known as “Orbit”). Nicole Loizides spun the entire time, about three minutes, while a circular Asian-like hat with chains hanging from it created an illusion of a spinning “plate” around her. In “Moon Beams,” four female dancers did amazing things supported by big exercise balls. (In part thanks to the Hanes commercials, they are known for this.) To more New-Age, eery music – something Pendleton has a penchant for – they playfully bounced and glided and traveled, while balancing and impressively, smoothly transitioning to every movement. And in “Baths of Caracalla,” the women entered as royally as elegant runway models, using their sheet-like dresses as both wardrobe and shimmying, fast-flying props.

Other memorable pieces included “Zaar,” in which a female dancer performed a strong solo with a red ribbon prop, moving it so rapidly that it almost looked like a spinning, whirring energetic force field flowing around her, so fast at times it looked like a ribbon of red light. “Millenium Skiva,” a male-female duet, was performed entirely on skis, in silver bodysuits, with intense, pumping music. During the second act performance of “Dream Catcher,” a male and female dancer rolled back and forth in see-saw fashion with a giant, spherical, metal prop, striking poses as it would role in either direction, and letting it role over them as they moved through it, letting it stop as they struck positions atop it… this back and forth play was so impressive and fluid, it was something I could have watched all day.

“Sputnik” was also exceptional. To this sensual, mystical song, a female dancer sat atop a bowl at center. Then three male dancers balanced poles in a a tripod shape into it, and as it spun so did she. The dancers then attached themselves to the poles and literally floated, as embracing couples. Atop the circling, angled supports, it appeared as though they were flying through space. This was one of their most creative pieces.

The finale, “E.C.,” is one of their most popular numbers, dating back to 1980. The entire company performed a non-stop 15 to 20-plus minutes of body-part puppetry, visual illusion, humor, and imagination, mostly through the use of shadows, symmetry and shape-shifting behind a big screen.

The audience erupted in cheers, applause, and standing ovations during the curtain call. It had been so exciting and mesmerizing! In fact – perhaps the mark of a good performance – it was actually hard to look away from the stage during the show, for fear one would miss something good.

MOMIX will be at the Joyce until June 6th for their second show, the earth-friendly themed “Botanica.” They will no doubt continue to blend gymnastics, acrobatics, dance, props, anti-gravity stunts, as well as puppetry and illusion to dazzle not only at the Joyce, but at future venues to come.

Note: This talented and attractive company included Samuel Beckman, Nicole Loizides, Heather Magee, Rebecca Rasmussen, Paula Rivera, Brian Simerson, Cassandra Taylor, and Jared Wootan. They’ll be at the Joyce performing “Botanica” until June 6. For more information, visit http://www.mosespendleton.com. For future show dates, click here, or visit the Joyce Theater online.

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