Audiences Were Dazzled

This past Sunday, some 70 local students from various schools including Ballet Academy, were privileged to perform with The Moscow Ballet in “The Great Russian Nutcracker”. 

Audiences were dazzled by this spectacular showpiece performed twice on Sunday at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.

 This singular take on the classic tale includes unique characters and aspects such as “The Dove of Peace” (a striking, feather-winged acrobatic duo gliding across the stage with angelic-like poise)  and a large matryoshka (Russian nesting doll) gracing the stage.  These cultural and visionary additions, however, did not overshadow the traditional aspects and feel-good nature of this beloved ballet classic. This tasteful combination of new and old left audiences awestruck and full of all the “warm fuzzies” that accompany watching a performance of the “Nutcracker”.

A big “Thank You” and congratulations to all of our students and parents who participated in this rare and memorable event!  And great thanks goes to the Moscow Ballet for providing this unique opportunity to local students.  We are eagerly anticipating next years’ performance!

How Many Classes Should I Take?


Parents often ask, “How many classes a week should my child take?” The answer to this question depends largely on the age and interest of the child. Someone as young as three will not necessarily have the desire or the physical conditioning necessary for more than one class a week, while a more mature five or six-year-old might enjoy taking classes twice weekly.  A more dedicated pre-teen or teen may choose to do a minimum of 3-4 classes per week.  All of this, of course, is dependent on the child’s level of interest, dedication, and maturity.

Particularly as a child gets older and becomes more serious about dance, multiple classes a week really begin to make sense.  This is not an unusual concept. If someone joins a sports team, they can expect to be practicing several hours a week, even daily. To illustrate, imagine if a person only did math in school an hour a week. How much would they retain? How long do you think it would take them to improve? Dance is no different. If a person wants to become skillful in any field or area of study, they have to practice regularly and often!

The real question for the student is: What are your goals?  Are you looking for an occasional diversion or a true hobby in which you can see a marked improvement? Or perhaps are you on the path to becoming a professional?  How a person answers will very well determine the amount of time they should spend in the studio. It would be prudent to have a frank discussion with the teacher about their goals and to ask what steps they recommend be taken in order to reach them.

In the meantime, consider three reasons why more than one class a week is beneficial:

 

  1. Exposure to different teachers/methods. Every teacher has a unique style, methodology, and viewpoint. One teacher may notice a weakness or a problem another does not, or may explain something in a way that you understand better. The point is: We can all benefit from a variety of teachers and teaching styles.
  2. Learning other dance genres. If you take at a studio which offers a variety of genres, taking more than one class can give you the opportunity to try out different styles and benefit from the unique movements and skills offed in each. In short, it can make you a well-rounded dancer and strengthen your overall technique. *
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice! Again, the more often you dance, the better you will become as you build muscle memory and gain new skills.

In the end, a student and their parents must decide which course is best. But certainly, if a child loves to dance, and has the ability to take several classes a week, there is no reason why they shouldn’t explore the added benefits of multiple classes per week. Ballet Academy offers discounts for multiple classes taken per month. For more information visit the tuition page here.


*  Ballet Academy’s sister studio, Dance Academy of Charleston, located in Mt. Pleasant, offers multiple genres of dance for ages 3-17, including tap, hip-hop, and acrobatics.  For more information on this studio please visit our website here or at www.dancecharleston.com

Combating the Holiday Food Craze (Part 1)

It’s that time of year again! Candy, baked goods and sugary drinks are plentiful, and comfort food is a hallmark of the season.


It seems from the months of October to December, we are bombarded with appetizing temptations everywhere we go. For the health conscious dancer, this can be especially frustrating, since we associate these delights with family, friends and memorable activities.

However, life is to be enjoyed! And indulging a bit during the holidays is not only normal but can contribute to a balanced social and mental state.

Nevertheless, since we understand a dancer’s need to remain healthy in order to dance their best, we have compiled a list of suggestions, from alternative foods to mental exercises in order to help combat the foils of the season.


*Disclaimer* This article is intended to offer helpful suggestions for maintaining a healthy lifestyle (not a weight loss diet) based on data compiled from various nutrition-based articles and is intended for those who are old enough to control their own diet. These suggestions should be used in a balanced way and we are in no way advocating a “diet plan” for anyone. Particularly for the active young person, adequate caloric intake is a must!

Below is a chart of the recommended daily caloric intake needed to maintain a healthy weight according to age, gender, and physical activity level:

 https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/estimated-calorie-requirement


  1. Drink plenty of water. Ok, you’ve probably heard this one so many times, it’s become a  cliché. But it’s true!  The body is composed of anywhere between 50-78% water, depending on age and gender, and it is required in order for the body to function properly and efficiently and flushes out unwanted toxins from the body.
  • What if you don’t like water?  Fortunately, there are a number of naturally flavored waters, and of course, there is always fruit and herbs which can add a lovely hint of flavor to your regular water. Here’s a list of suggestions: https://deliciouslyorganic.net/flavored-water-recipes/
  • How much should you drink? For a table of the recommended amount of water to drink per day, follow this link:

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-much-water-should-I-drink#recommendations

  1. Learn to enjoy alternatives. Finding healthy alternatives to certain foods has become easier as increasingly more options are available in stores and abundant information is provided on the internet.  Many find that once they develop a taste for these alternatives, they taste just as good to them if not better than the unhealthy version.

For a list of examples, follow this link:

https://www.swansonvitamins.com/blog/lindsey/food-replacement-hacks

  1. Watch your sugar! It’s become common knowledge that sugar is a major contributor to a slew of health issues both small and large. It’s hidden in a lot of the everyday foods and condiments, (even “healthy” or “organic” versions), often under alternative names (e.g. anything ending in –OSE). Taking the time to read the ingredients on a label can open your eyes to hidden sugars, and help you to make better choices. Natural sugar substitutes (e.g. stevia, monk fruit) are now used in many products or even no sweeteners at all. Just by being aware of your sugar intake and lessening it in your regular food items, you can alleviate the “guilt” you might feel when you do decide to indulge in that dessert! Speaking of that…

For a list of healthy sugar substitutes visit this site:

 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/natural-sugar-substitutes#section6

  1. Indulge! Yes, sometimes it’s ok to just enjoy the food you’re craving. In fact, mentally this can be healthy as it can help you to stop obsessing over a certain food, nix the craving and move on!  Not only that, you may find that the thing you were reluctant to give up wasn’t all that good to start with, making it easier to reject next time.  Also, try just having a small portion of the thing you’re craving since…

Here is a great article from the Huffington Post on why indulging occasionally is good for you (you’re welcome!):

 https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/06/23/this-is-why-treating-yourself-to-bad-foods-is-totally-okay_a_21400471/

  1. A little goes a long way. Portion control is key if you want to have a balanced and healthy diet. If you are typically a big eater, going back for seconds or thirds, try drinking a glass of water, having a salad or an apple before a meal, to help you feel full on less. Eating slowly and really enjoying your food is also important since it takes an estimated 20 minutes after eating for the brain to register that you are full. If you find after waiting this time you are still hungry, help yourself to another portion, filling at least half of the plate with vegetables or salad.

Below is a link to a government-funded website which gives suggestions on portion sizes for all the food groups as well as their respective nutritional facts:

https://www.choosemyplate.gov


These are just a few recommendations to help balance out the indulgences of the season. We hope you have enjoyed them. Stay tuned for a future article completing the list!

Why Take Adult Ballet?

In ballet, physical might and grace are harmoniously combined, employing both delicate and vigorous movement with great control. Ballet can equip you with tremendous strength, poise, flexibility, as well as contribute to improved cognitive function and physical coordination.


Since its dawn in the 15thcentury royal courts of Europe, ballet has been revered as a stunning art form requiring exceptional power and agility.  As it has evolved, greater emphasis has been placed on the athleticism necessary to achieve the more precise lines and immaculate turns and balances for which ballet is widely known.  The long, lean muscles developed through practicing proper technique are a hallmark of ballet and have become the inspiration for creating this coveted physique outside of the dance studio through alternative exercise programs.

But ask any dancer, and they will tell you that only by taking a ballet class can this desired aesthetic truly be achieved. It is by combining both isotonic (tension while muscle length is changed) and isometric (tension without muscle length change) movements in the proper way, that long, incredibly strong muscles are created.

What if you aren’t looking for a “dancer’s body”?  Many professional athletes have long used ballet for cross training.  Jean-Claude Van Damme, the famed martial artist, said of ballet: “Ballet is an art, but it’s also one of the most difficult sports. If you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport.”

But, is ballet just an incredible workout for the trained athlete?  Or can it provide notable health benefits for anyone?  Just what are the benefits of a traditional ballet class? Consider some compelling examples:

  • Greater core strength, spinal health, balance, and flexibility- From the toddler learning to master gross motor skills to the elderly adult, we all can appreciate the contribution of a strong center and more flexible spine and body to increased mobility and injury prevention. Balance, exercised throughout class with varying levels of difficulty, is emphasized and imperative for effective presentation. With virtually all exercises requiring the engagement of the entire core (abdominals and back) while keeping the muscles surrounding the spine limber, you can see why ballet is one of the best forms of exercise for creating a healthy core and spine. And since ballet incorporates both dynamic and static stretching, you can rest assured you’re receiving all potential benefits of stretching.

 

  • Improved cognitive function and body mechanics- With various choreographed sequences (i.e. “combinations”) in each class, requiring immediate memorization and presentation, ballet is as much a workout for the brain as it is for the body. This simultaneous exercise for mind and body can form new neural pathways in the brain resulting in greater mental sharpness, spatial awareness and can aid in the prevention and treatment of certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Various researchers have reported significant improvements to neurobiological health in elderly patients who regularly partook in dance.  Not only was mental enhancement noted, but balance, posture and gait mobility were also improved.

 

  • Greater social connection/decreased stress- According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, 12 weeks of dance training proved effective in combating depression in all participants to a “meaningful” degree (Akandere M1Demir B.. 2011 Sep)And while dance alone is not a cure for depression, it is well documented that exercise is a huge mood lifter and stress reliever since it releases feel-good chemicals and mood-regulating hormones in the brain, such as endorphins and serotonin.  Adding music and dancing to your work-out routine can only increase these benefits since it makes exercise that much more enjoyable! Additionally, students of ballet can find friendship and bonding between themselves and their teacher as they work together in class.

These are just a few of the main noted benefits of ballet.  To learn more why not try a class? Ballet Academy is the only school in the area which offers several adult ballet classes per week ranging in levels from Beginner to Advanced. While our instructors have years of training and experience, Ballet Academy fosters an environment of warmth, encouragement, and safety.  Additionally, we do not allow our regular students to attend these classes, which creates a more comfortable atmosphere for our adult students.


For a list of our classes and fees, please visit our home page and select “Adult Classes”, or click on the link below.

Adult Classes

10 Tips for Memorizing Choreography

We have all been there:  Struggling to memorize new choreography.  This happens for a number of reasons but let’s review some helpful tips, presented in no particular order, that may aid in the learning process.

1. Take it “one step at a time”.  “Chunking”, a term coined in cognitive science, refers to combining a few items that go together naturally.  In other words, taking the choreography one piece, or “chunk” at a time.  Often, instructors will teach this way; grouping the steps into “bite-size” pieces, reviewing them until the students feel they have it down, then adding on.  But, students can develop their own internal “chunking”, or memorization process, to help them learn the steps.  Additionally, you can use verbal or visual cues, whether it’s a word or phrase the teacher uses or something you come up with which you can relate easily to the movement.

2. Notes & Diagrams.  If you still find you are having difficulty committing the steps to memory you can try this technique:  Write the steps down in order, using words or phrases which make sense to you (or those given by the instructor), or even drawing diagrams using stick figures (you don’t have to be an artist!).  Multiple studies have proven that writing something down, as opposed to just trying to memorize it or even typing it, aids in memory retention and learning.  So, pick up that old-fashioned pen and paper and get to work!

3. Mini-Marking.  Going over the steps repeatedly in your head can be helpful, but involving a certain level of muscle memory can increase the effectiveness of these mental reviews.  If you’re wondering what “mini-marking” is then just recall the last time a teacher gave a combination or a bit of choreography.  Were you just standing by idly watching or were you mimicking the movement with either your hands or feet as you watched closely?  Likely, you were doing the latter.  The beauty of mini-marking is that it can be done anywhere and at any time:  at home, in the car or even while you’re waiting in line at the store!  Additionally, there is a theory called, “the mirror neuron theory”, which states that our brain cells respond equally to performing an action ourselves as they do when we watch another perform it.  So, watching and marking at the same time could theoretically double your intake rate, right?

4. Practice makes perfect. Repeating the steps, again and again, is obviously the most effective method.  Start by doing the steps slowly until you have them down and then gradually pick up the pace, eventually practicing with the music.  Music has become very accessible and can be downloaded in seconds.  You can even ask the instructor for the precise name and version of the music they’re using.  If you practice with the intended score, you will be more likely to be practicing the timing correctly.  And once you’ve begun practicing, don’t stop when you feel you’ve gotten it right, but keep going until you can’t get it wrong.

5. Play games.  Whether you generally have issues with memory, or it’s choreography specific, memory aid games can help your overall memory to improve and teach you to think “on your toes”!

6. Be in the moment.  This is an important one.  We all have a lot on our minds and can often allow our minds to wander during class or even when the teacher is giving instruction or choreography.  Don’t do this!  It’s very important that you be mentally “present” and focus on what is happening at the moment, minimizing all distractions.

7. Ask for help!  It may seem obvious, but many of us are too embarrassed to ask for help or clarification on a step or count we find difficult or confusing.  If you are too shy to do this during a rehearsal or class, (or the timing is inappropriate), you can ask the instructor afterward or even a friend who already has the movement down.  Adding to this, you can always invite a friend to practice with you! The social connection you feel along with the immediate feedback you get from a friend (who may know a step better than you) can go a long way in improving your understanding of the steps.  A famous proverb states:   “As iron sharpens iron; so one person sharpens the face of another.”  The point being that we can help each other to improve using our unique abilities, so why not take advantage of such an opportunity?

8. Focus on the music.  Sometimes I find that I’m getting too caught up in the choreography and am missing the connection between the choreography and the music.  Most choreography is very musical; meaning it complements or harmonizes with the music.  Sometimes just taking a moment to observe the connection between the two can help clear up any confusion you may have about when to do a step-because the music tells you!

9. Don’t linger over a moment.  If you’re getting stuck on one or two particularly difficult parts, don’t allow these to become your focal point.  Imagine a driver who centers their attention on only one thing on the road:   How would their driving fair?  Would they make much progress?  Often the approach of taking the choreography in as a whole can help clear up any trouble spots you’re struggling with.  For the time, just allow that to be a “problem area” and focus on getting the rest of the choreography down.  You can return to the problem area later.  You may find that after class when you have more time to work on it in a relaxed environment, or even after a good night’s sleep (oh so important!) that something just “clicks”.  If this does not happen, however, don’t despair!  Refer to tip number 7.

10. Tackle the feet first.  Your feet being what propel you across the floor, they are generally considered the “more important” part of the dancing process.  Of course, both the upper and lower body in dance is critical, including épaulement and facial expressions.  But when we are learning something new it can be helpful to apply the “chunking” principle to our bodies:  focus on one part at a time.  Once you have one part down, you can add from there.

These are just a few suggestions you can try out.  The process of learning choreography is very individual, so just try some of these and find what works best for you.  And remember to try to relax!  The more anxious you feel, the more difficult it will be.  Merde!

 

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

Last month, for the fourth consecutive year, Ballet Academy hosted an open audition for the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker”!

Ballet Academy is privileged to be the official host studio for this prestigious ballet company and to assist in bringing to Charleston area families this extraordinary, heartwarming performance.

On August 26th 2018, Ballet Academy welcomed 82 dancers, 6- 17 years old from various local dance studios to their ballet school in West Ashley. Each had an opportunity to audition in front of Ms. Maria Morari, current audition director and professional ballerina with the Moscow Ballet. Formerly with The National Theatre for Ballet and Opera in Chisinau, Moldova, and with experience in touring worldwide, Ms. Morari joined the Moscow Ballet’s North American touring company in 2017. With an additional background in gymnastics and teaching, she counts it a privilege to share her love of movement and artistry with young, aspiring dancers.

Some of the roles for which these young dancers auditioned were Mice, Party Kids, Snow Maidens and Snow Sprites, as well as some ACT II Variations.
This unique opportunity of auditioning, rehearsing and performing with an internationally acclaimed, professional ballet company is made possible to children all over the continent thanks to the “Dance with Us” program, conceptualized and underwritten solely by The Moscow Ballet.

Not only is this a marvelous opportunity for young, local performers, but is a must-see performance for all others! To sum this up, consider the words of Ballet Academy owner and director, Corina Fimian:

“The charm and artistry, together with the athletic ability of the dancers through sound technique, is unmatched. From the dancers to the sets, the entire performance is an unending and stunning display for the aesthetic senses. It is difficult to know where to look! If you have not yet experienced it, I highly recommend it as a wholesome and memorable holiday activity for the entire family.”

To purchase tickets for this event, please visit www.nutcracker.com/buy-tickets.

What is PBT?

PBT stands for Progressing Ballet Technique.

PBT is an innovative program designed to train dancers in muscle memory to improve technique, flexibility and longevity in dance, while gaining a greater awareness of their muscles and how to use them properly to achieve their goals in ballet.

Its original creator, Marie Walton-Mahon, is formerly of the Les Ballet de Marseilles, and since ending her own career has pursued teaching in her home country of Australia with great success and celebrity.  Seeing the need for an increased understanding of body mechanics and proprioception (awareness of one’s body spatially) in students, and feeling inspired by the immediate feedback of an unstable surface as found in a stability ball, Ms. Walton-Mahon began experimenting with various exercises on her students with demonstrable success.  Finally, in 2004 PBT was born!  She has since grown this technique into a veritable empire, spreading her knowledge through workshops held worldwide and a significant online reach.

Megan Berlint-Nicko is the Owner/Director of PBT U.S.®.  A former professional ballet and jazz dancer, trained in the Ceccechetti method, Ms. Berlint-Nicko began her teaching career at age fifteen.   She has obtained several teaching certificates, shaping her focus on training strong, healthy dancers.  Fascinated by how PBT can improve not only a dancer’s technique but contributes to their safe training and increased longevity, Ms. Berlint-Nicko began studying this method on her own.  Seeing its impact on her own body and accessing muscles she had not fully utilized even during her own dance career, she recognized the need to train young dancers from an early age to prevent injury.  After months of personal study, she traveled to Australia to train directly with Marie Walton-Mahon and was then granted the rights to brand PBT in the U.S.  She currently holds teacher workshops all over the U.S. and Canada.

Ms. Berlint-Nicko visited Charleston last month and trained two of our instructors, as well as our studio owner in this revolutionary method.  The workshop was held in our BAC studio and was one and half days of intense, yet fun, work!  Everyone who participated agrees that they came out with a greater understanding how to train students to achieve their best in ballet.

Ballet Academy of Charleston is the first and only studio in Charleston to receive this certification and licensure.  In addition to offering full PBT classes, we will soon include some of the exercises in our regular ballet classes in order to expose our students to the benefits of this incredible technique.  Furthermore, we hope to share this method with all students in the area who chose to take this class with us!

For more information:

http://www.pbtus.com/about

https://pbt.dance

Interview with Ms. Jessica on Bolshoi Teacher Certification

Ms. Jessica Lighthart just obtained her second certification with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Recently, we conducted a Q&A with her to learn more about her experience.

Q: What made you choose to obtain the Bolshoi certificate?

A: “ I chose the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (BBA) Teacher Certification Program (TCP) because our focus at Ballet Academy of Charleston is on the Russian style. The BBA curriculum is known around the world for their focus on strength, musicality, and classical technique. There is something so pure and beautiful about it. It was a no brainer for me – I wanted to learn more!”

Q: What is the difference between the Vaganova and Bolshoi techniques styles?

A: “The Vaganova Method is the foundation for the BBA curriculum. BBA grew and expanded from it, therefore becoming it’s own style focusing on individual progress.”

Q: Where did you go for the training and how long did it take?

A: “The training takes place in NYC, and is a very intensive, week-long program.”

Q: How is the curriculum (BBA teacher’s cert) taught?

A: “We spend half of the day in the classroom (taking LOTS of notes!), and the other half in the studio.”

Q: How is it altered (if at all) for American pupils?

A: “The curriculum we learn is the same which is taught at the Bolshoi Academy in Russia. BBA teachers from Moscow teach the entire program. It is all in Russian, but we have a translator.”

Q: You also obtained a level A Cert a couple years ago. How does the B compare?

A: “Last year, I completed the Level A certification, which is for years 1-3 at the BBA. This summer I completed Level B, which is years 4 and 5. Next year, I am hoping to complete my Level C certification, which is years 6-8. It obviously gets harder each year as the levels become more advanced.”

Q: How have you implemented what you learned in your teaching and with what effect on your students?

A: “I have been applying my new knowledge in every class that I teach. It has really made me focus more on the process of how and why we teach something. I can really tell a difference with my students!”

Does practice always make perfect?

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  But does it always?  Consider this quote by American scholar, Hamza Yusuf:  “Practice makes permanent, not perfect.  If you practice the wrong thing, you make the wrong act permanent.”  In other words, practice instills within us a permanent habit, for good or for bad.  It’s how we practice which largely affects how successful we will be, not merely the number of hours or repetitions spent on a given task.

The point is not that practice is unimportant, but that only when done correctly, can it lead to the results we desire. If you are attempting to drive a car forward while the gear shift is set in reverse and hit the gas 100 times, will the car eventually move forward?  The answer is obvious.  The point being, if you practice something incorrectly, you will learn it and perform it…You guessed it…incorrectly!  

So, how does one make sure they are practicing correctly?  The online education platform, TED-Ed states, “Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”  They offer the following suggestions:

  1. Focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions.  Avoid daydreaming or talking in class and listen to your teacher, even when the instruction seems unrelated to you.
  2. Start out slowly.  Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.  When learning a new exercise, practice it carefully and slowly under the watchful eye of your teacher, being sure to do it correctly before you increase your speed!  This is especially crucial in dance, since performing certain movements improperly can result in injury.
  3. Be balanced.  Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers.  Many top athletes, musicians and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft.  Many divide their time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.  Short practice sessions daily in between your weekly lessons can be immensely beneficial and will train your brain and body to treat the movement as second nature.
  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail.  A number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.  So, even when you can’t practice the steps with your body, you can “practice” them in your head!

In addition, a student may come to feel that their regular classes and at-home practice sessions are not quite enough to help them achieve the increased “edge” they are looking for.  Or they may be dealing with a discipline or movement which is particularly challenging for them.  If this is the case, a student should first approach their teacher and politely request specific feedback or exercises they can do on their own.  They may also consider speaking to their parents and teacher about additional classes and private lessons as a supplement to their training.  

Lastly, don’t expect perfection!  Sure, you want to try your best, but beating yourself up over a perceived flaw is neither productive or healthy.  

The conclusion?  Listen to your teacher, accept the correction and implement it to the best of your ability.  Practice as “perfectly” as you can, and the result will be a beautiful, healthy dancer, permanently.

 

A lot of fun at our Open House

May 27, 2017 was our annual Open House and we were thrilled with the number of attending students, parents, and visitors! Our studio was packed and it was wonderful to see all the happy faces !

All class levels were presented and parents and the public had a chance to see the progress our students made since last year. Plenty of food and refreshments made it a super fun day for everyone involved.