September 19, 2008

Dancing Smart Newsletter

Hello all!

I am including information about Lisa Howell's workshops that will be happening this October! She is a wonderful resource to dancers, dance teachers and dance medicine specialist. She is a physiotherapist who resides in Australia and is coming to the US for a visit. She will be at Oberlin College on October 18th and 19th. That's listed as the Cleveland workshop. I have included her email in this post after our question.

Question of the week...
I am 13 yrs. old and i have been having problems with my knee. I have pain under my knee cap and sometimes it get to the point where it hurts to walk. (It also hurts to walk up and down stairs and especially if I go into a deep pliƩ or a grand pliƩ) I am a very very active dancer and I would like to know what is wrong with my knee. I just went to the doctor two days ago and they said I should stay take about 5 days off of dance and take the anti-inflammatory medicine they prescribed for me, but as the days go on it doesn't seem to be getting any better. I really hope you can tell me a way to help heal my knee so I can start dancing again. Thank you so much for all your help.

Dear Mariah,
I would first say to follow your doctor's advice, and take the time off from dance - and take the medication to reduce any swelling. If you are having pain while walking or climbing stairs, you certainly shouldn't be in dance class until you can do daily movements without pain.

That being said, once your pain is better you've got to figure out why it started hurting. Have you gone through a recent growth spurt? Bones grow faster than muscles, and knees are often a place that feel those 'growing pains'.

Was their a change in activity prior to your knee hurting? Did you start a new technique class, or start with a new teacher, or just come off summer vacation? It can be a real shock to the body when you are off from dance for a while, and then jump in and start taking daily classes.

What's your turnout like? Is the knee that hurts on the side that has less turnout? Often our turnout is unequal and we compensate by rotating the foot out farther on the side that has less turnout at the hip, and then we put a twist at the knee.

It's also possible that a piece of cartilage got irritated for some reason that will remain unknown - and - by taking care of it, you will be back to dancing in no time at all. Best wishes for a speedy recovery. Continue to ice, rest it, and follow your doctor's suggestions. It's possible that he will put you in physical therapy next so you will be guided in correcting any imbalances of muscle strength and flexibility.


Email from Lisa Howell.......

I am delighted to announce that I will be commencing a short series of workshops designed for young dancers and dance teachers in Cincinnati, Cleveland and New York City this Fall. I am in America to present at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) Conference in Cleveland, after winning an award for "The Greatest Contribution to Dance Medicine" at the 2007 Conference.

This is an experience not to be missed, as it provides a different approach to many of the ways dance students are trained in class. Workshops are limited to just 20 participants to allow maximum contact with each student, so get in early to secure your place. Courses run from 13th -16th October in Cincinnati, 18th and 19th October in Cleveland, and 29th and 30th of October in New York City.

I am passionate about the education of dancers; not only to prevent injury, but to extend the boundaries of what each dancer believes is possible. I have done this in some way with our site however, the information that I share online is merely the tip of the iceberg.

I have developed several other programs that are changing the way that dance is taught in many centers. My unique way of combining medical knowledge into a usable form in the studio has allowed teachers all over the world to increase the safely of their classes, while young dancers improve their technique and performance quality. I have run these workshops many times throughout Australia and feel that they are a wonderful way to spread my knowledge further.

The workshops give a fresh approach for young dancers to really learn about their own bodies. They incorporate basic anatomy, safe dance techniques, self treatment strategies and special exercises not normally taught in class. Students leave inspired and empowered, eager to get back into class to use all of their new skills! Teachers often comment that the students are much more focused after attending these sessions, and are much easier to work with in class.

In this series of workshops I also introduce my unique "Front Splits Fast Flexibility Program". This system is like no other program currently in dance schools, as it employs concepts and techniques based on mobilizing the nerves and fascia in the body, rather than stretching muscles. Every student and teacher alike who has participated in this workshop has been astounded at the ease of releasing tension in their body with simple to use techniques, and excited at the possibilities this opens up for them in their training. This program is not available for purchase online at present, and is only available at the courses, with each attendee receiving a dvd as well as a full instruction manual.

The Original 'Perfect Pointe Book' has been developed into a two hour workshop, and again each participant receives a manual and dvd of the program. It takes the girls systematically though a series of tests and exercises, organized into four easy stages, and is rapidly changing the way that the worldwide dance community approaches pointe work. The sequel, "Advanced Foot Control For Dancers" is a progression from the initial resource, and begins to teach older students more detailed anatomy of their feet, along with specific strengthening and massage techniques to accelerate their dancing, and allow optimum recovery from injury.

The workshop series also presents, for the first time, "The Perfect Pointe System," a four hour workshop just for dance teachers, allowing them to learn the finer details of assessing exactly when young students are ready for the progression to toe shoes. It is one thing to know how to teach girls to dance. It is completely something else to know exactly how to test for specific weaknesses that may limit a child en pointe and what to do about those weaknesses. I was devastated when I learnt that dance teachers were not taught this in their formal training, as it is imperative to the health and longevity of their feet, and therefore, their career. I simply had to create these resources to get this kind of specialist information out where it is needed most.

For further information on any of the courses please visit the site at or click here to go directly to the page:

Courses run from 13th -16th October in Cincinnati, 18th and 19th October in Cleveland, and 29th and 30th of October in New York City. All enrollments must be processed by 1st October 2008 to allow printing of all course manuals and dvd's.

This is an experience not to be missed! It is a great chance for your daughter or son to get inspired and educated in a really fun way!

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions, and I look forward to seeing you and yours at the workshops!

Kindest Regards,

Lisa Howell

September 12, 2008

Dancing Smart Newsletter: arabesque

Exciting announcement! Lisa Howell, the wonderful physiotherapist from Australia, who wrote the Perfect Point System – is coming to the US for the IADMS conference!

This conference is being held in Cleveland, OH, and Lisa is going to present a weekend workshop at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. I am so excited to meet her in person and learn from her!

Listen to these workshop topics….Advanced Foot Control, Front Splits Fast (I'm really looking forward to that one☺) Core Control, The Perfect Pointe System – to name a few.

I don't know when Lisa will be back on our shores so if you are within flying/driving distance you'll want to really think about coming to Oberlin the weekend of October 18th -19th.

You want to go to

Lisa is going to cap each workshop at 20 participants in order to give personal attention. Please join me the weekend of Oct. 18-19 when Lisa shares her very valuable information.

An extra bonus – if any of the readers of my Dancing Smart Newsletter come – you can pump me full of questions on Saturday night – maybe we can all go out to dinner together at my favorite Oberlin restaurant.

Don't delay in signing up, though, in order to be one of the 20 participants for Lisa Howell's US weekend workshop! (Definitely cheaper than going 'down under')

No onto the question of the week….

I've got a question about arabesque. Many of my students open their hips more than is necessary as they approach 90 degrees, which makes squaring their shoulders a problem, as well as turning out their base leg and aligning their ribs over their hips, leading to a lack of balance. This year, one of my goals with them is to instill a better sense of squareness. However, as soon as they start to really try to square their hips, their working leg turns in, drops, and the back of the knee softens. Grrr! I understand the meaning of turning out within the hip joint as much as possible, and we do work that, of course, but how exactly do you square your hips and still get any height on a back extension? I'm starting to think I need to concentrate more on the base leg turnout, because they'll be less able to open that working hip if the standing leg is rotated more, right? Sigh........Thanks for any reply........

Delicious question, Jennifer! You have discovered one of the 'myths' of ballet – that you can keep your hips square as you do an arabesque. It's why I created the DVD Analyzing Arabesque!

When you are taking a leg into a back tendu, you can keep your hips square for a short period of time. How long you can keep your hips square has to do with the range of motion of the hip flexors and your own personal boney hip structure. A few dancers can stay totally square for the whole back tendu – more often than not – most dancers have already opened the working hip by the time they reach the end of the tendu.

For an arabesque – I have never seen a dancer stay totally square in an arabesque. It is anatomically impossible. That being said the concept of squareness is one that we should strive for. But how?

You have hit the most important nail on the head and it has to do with the standing leg. The better a dancer gets at maintaining the turnout of the standing leg while doing a back tendu or arabesque, the squarer the hips will appear.

As you know the spine will rotate and spiral away from the leg in arabesque (right leg in arabesque, the spine spirals to the left) in order to keep the upper body focused forward. This also helps to keep the dancer on her standing leg.

The most important areas to work on if your students aren't staying square are
1. flexibility of the hip flexors, especially the iliopsoas (this will help to give them a higher arabesque and an easier time staying up on their standing leg)
2. flexibility and strength of the rotators (this will help them rotate both legs more evenly – instead of focusing on one of the legs more than the other)
3. ability of the standing leg to maintain turnout (to keep the hips square)
4. range of motion of the spine to allow that easy spiral and to keep the upper spine upright (which makes the leg look higher)

Bottom line – the hips will open some – and the pelvis will rotate – effectively 'turning in' the standing leg. And – by focusing on countering that tendency by keeping the weight balanced on the standing foot (not dropping back into the heels as is so common) and thinking stabilizing and rotating the standing leg – you've got your best chance for that elegant line of the arabesque.

Your thinking is on the right track!

Warm regards,

"Education is the key to injury prevention"