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Access Dance for Life!

April 2012: Pressures of Performance Access Dance for Life! is an online resource promoting health and wellness in dance for students, parents, and teachers.

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


` WELCOME SPRING! Spring brings us a taste of summer with its warm, sunny days, conjuring up thoughts of the end of the dance season, the anticipation of summer, and the winding down of the performance and competition season. How will you/your child get through it all PLUS manage home life and school?! What I love about our suggestions is that each is applicable to absolutely any situation and any individual: Dancers, teachers (classroom and dance), administrators, CEOs, and even young children! I hope that you’ll use these ideas to help your child/students, but to help you to get through these last few high intensity months as well. If you enjoy this newsletter, I invite you to go to www. and view our blog posts – and consider subscribing to this (free) newsletter. Come join the conversation!

Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!

Founder, AD4L

In this issue… Page 2-4 Page 5 Page 6-7 Page 7 Page 8

You and Pressure: The optimal performance pas de deux! Take along snacks for performance. Pilates and the power of breath Breathing Tutorial Translating the Anatomy

Please note that the articles and opinions in this newsletter are intended to inform students, teachers, and parents, and should not replace consultation with your family doctor, sports medicine doctor, dietitian, or other health professionals.

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


You and Pressure: The optimal performance pas de deux! By Chantale Lussier-Ley, PhD (c) “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for” Grace Murray Hopper

This is a friend of mine’s favorite saying, and rightly so. Fear is a natural response to perceived threats, but it need not keep us immobilized and anchored from the seas of life. In fact, when we start to understand that sometimes fear is a reaction to pressure, and when we examine pressure just a little bit longer, we come to realize the full meaning of Roosevelt’s famous words “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” As the plane rises thanks to wind resistance, so can your ability to dance at your best when the pressure increases. Indeed ‘tis the season of competition, audition, and recital season. A time we look forward to with GLEE! (pun playfully intended) yet on occasion, this time may also coincide with feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. Pressure is defined in physics as the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. When we think of how pressure feels to us physically, this makes perfect sense. We may feel pressure on our temples, as the pressure to figure out complex math solutions are worked on. We may feel the pressure on our chest/thorax, making it feel like a heavy weight has been placed on us, challenging our breath as we are about to open our mouth during a public speech. Sometimes, we may feel the pressure expressing itself in the deep, dark, pit of our stomach as our guts tighten itself into a knot yet somehow expanding too, exerting pressure against the walls of our stomachs, making us feel as if we might be sick, right when we ought to be ready to perform at our best. What to do! Pressure as a PHYSICAL gauge The first thing to do is breathe: Deeply, generously, allowing your body to recalibrate itself. Try to let the breath be as rich and full as possible, yet as smooth and natural, letting it flow unobstructed in and out of your body, clearing your inner landscape from mental and physical tension. Try it now… Good! You are now recognizing that the feeling of pressure is a gauge to your mind and body’s experience of this moment. Feeling your heart rate accelerate? Feeling your body respond to its environment? Experiencing your thoughts racing? Once we acknowledge pressure as the symbolic “weather patterns” of our mind and body, we are once again empowered to respond and self regulate with care. Awareness and conscious use of mindful breathing is one way to help you selfregulate the pressure you are feeling, at any given moment. You can even count the breath, ensuring you are exhaling twice as long as you are inhaling (3-6, 4-8), and in this way, narrowing your focus, clearing the mental junk, nurturing a relaxing response amidst the experience of pressure. If the boost of mental and physical energy you are experiencing as pressure is too much, or higher/more intense than you would like it to be, another way to reset your physiological and mental “gauge” is by moving gently or explosively; go for a little walk, stretch a little bit longer, do a few more

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


explosive sautés, do a few grand battements/leg kicks and imagine that you are literally letting pressure and tension ooze out of your toes, letting go of all the extra energy you do not need. Keep only the empowering energy that will allow you to perform with great power, speed, and ability, and also with a calm sense of inner balance, center, and freedom of movement. In this way, pressure becomes the thermometer to your mind and body, and you decide at what “degree” you wish to set your optimal performance to. How you feel, thus becomes a powerful source of data, neither good nor bad, just one that requires you to notice, and respond accordingly. Pressure as a MENTAL challenge Practically speaking, when pressure is mounting, is it important to identify where it comes from: is it an internal pressure, one that you are putting on yourself in terms of how you feel, think, and behave in relation to the situation? Or is it an external pressure, one that others, whether consciously or not are placing upon you? If the pressure is one you are creating for yourself, then it also means it is entirely within your control to reframe it, deconstruct it, and reshape it in a way that serve you best. If the pressure however is external, then we have to ask ourselves if it is within or beyond our control. For example, sometimes we mistakenly identify parents, family, and friends as “putting pressure on us” when perhaps they are merely asking questions about the upcoming competition or audition to show they care. In such a case, how you reframe the meaning of their behavior may completely transform the experience of pressure, into one of support. However, if you feel that the pressure is external, and not one that is within your control to transform or remove, you then have to look at why you are in this situation in the first place. Important to recognize when we are feeling “under pressure” is that a) more often than not, we have actually chosen this particular challenge, and b) being challenged to discover the best in us is often a big part of why we chose that challenge in the first place! How very empowering to remember that! Did you register for a dance competition, a dance exam, or an audition? And today is The Day, the day where your intentions now have to translate into positive action? You feel pressure, of course. But perhaps you are also feeling a lot of other things too that are being temporarily named negatively. After all, this is not a HAVE-TO situation, but really, most probably, a WANT-TO experience! I suspect that if you think about it long enough, you are probably feeling really excited for this day, perhaps also really hopeful. Maybe you are experiencing some gratitude to be here, able to experience this moment. How lucky, how great and cool is it that you get to be here, now! Connect with those moments of deeper gratitude, stay in this moment, dance from this feeling. With pressure, it is easy to get mentally ahead of ourselves or to stay anchored to a moment past. You can’t dance the “should have, could have, would have” dance, nor can you live in the moment that is not yet here. So be here now, and notice that the pressure you feel is a smorgasbord of energizing, positive feelings reminding you that you chose this, because you care about this. This moment is special to you, so treat it (and yourself!) with great care and honor.

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


Pressure as a privilege Billie Jean King, a champion tennis player, famously said that Pressure is a Privilege. She even wrote a fantastic book on the subject, one that I would highly recommend. I think shifting from a fearful view of pressure to one that expects it, welcomes it, and even learns to embrace it, is the key to performing optimally under pressure. After all, when a hockey team wins during playoffs series, it means they go on to play yet another game. The pressure continues, and in fact increases the more successful the team. The same could be said in dance. The more success we share with the world on stage, the more opportunities to continue sharing our gifts will be manifested. Can we rise to the challenge each time, by receiving the pressure as the wonderful opportunity that it is? This is what I learned from Billie Jean King, to recognize the great gifts that always accompany pressure! The more we are willing to place ourselves in challenging situations, the more we will be discovering our very own talents, skills, and abilities. Without the challenge, without the resistance, without the pressure, we do not discover what we are truly made of. This is why the best sailing is done in partnership with strong winds, and the best surfing is done when dancing with the strongest waves. Can you welcome pressure as your ultimate pas de deux partner? Can you begin to dance with, instead of against, this powerfully positive force in your life – on and off stage? It’s not about being fearless, it’s about being purposeful. Sometimes, we just need to entirely rename the thing itself. I know for me, I have often decided to simply not engage with the fear though it’s there, and to entirely refocus my attention and all that extra energy on something else. Instead of trying to reduce fear, I have found that increasing my sense of purpose and staying connected to that has had a significant impact in my ability to draw the best of myself, when under pressure. Repeating the following mantra has often helped me nurture this perspective in myself: It’s not about being fearless, it’s about being purposeful. When you dance, dance with purpose! Let your own unique purpose (why you dance and are here in the first place!) free your mind and body from the imaginary and/or self-imposed pressures of outcomes and results. Return with GLEE to the moment, the crafting of your work, the process and pure glorious feeling of your movements. This is where the joy of dancing lives, this is where the meaning of your art breathes, and this is where the purpose of your life soars! “When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall

Don’t miss the breathing tutorial on page 7!

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


Take Along Snacks for Performance by Stacey Nickol, BSc HNS RD Make snacks work for you by choosing nutrient dense foods from the four food groups - vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives. Snacks can boost your energy between meals and supply essential vitamins and minerals. Aim to include 2 to 3 of the 4 food groups when preparing a snack, and don’t forget fluids – especially water, low fat dairy products, 100% fruit juice and appropriate use of sport drinks. Here is a list of easy take along snack ideas for performance. Enjoy! • • • • • • • • • •

Fresh fruit and a low fat muffin Mix together dry cereal, dried fruit and nuts for a homemade trail mix Raw veggies or fruit with low fat yogurt dip, cottage cheese or hummus Celery, apple slices or banana with peanut butter Cheese and whole grain crackers Blend low fat milk, frozen berries and a banana for a delicious smoothie Hard-boiled egg and whole grain bun Canned tuna or salmon (packed in water with easy pull off tops) on a couple of whole grain crackers 6-inch whole wheat tortilla wrap with black beans and fresh salsa Cinnamon-raisin mini-bagel with peanut butter or almond butter

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot to avoid food poisoning. Insulated containers and cooler bags are a must when packing meals and snacks on the go.

For more snack ideas during performance check out

Share and share alike… If you find that you do wish to share this work with others, we trust that credit will be given to both the author/s and ‘Access Dance for Life!’

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


PILATES and the power of BREATH By Monique Lavoie, AISTD, STOTT PILATES® LEAD INSTRUCTOR TRAINER Joseph Pilates said, ‘Breathing is the first act of life. Our very life depends on it. Millions have never learned to master the art of correct breathing’ (Professional Fitness UK, Spring 2008).

Why do we need to breathe? All cells in your body require oxygen. Without it, they can't move, build, reproduce and turn food into energy. You get oxygen from breathing in air, which your blood then circulates to all parts of your body. Like fuel for your car, proper breathing ensures that enough oxygen flows to fuel muscle action. Breathing in Dance Dance is a discipline that requires a great deal of strength and stamina while making movement seem effortless. The dancer’s face must be relaxed and the body tension free even though the dancer needs to maintain body control through a stable core. Improper breathing is often an obstacle to achieving a strong performance. Chest breathers will show a rising and falling chest, belly breathers stomachs’ go in and out, breath holders’ faces will turn red or white, while non-breathers run out of energy. Proper breathing promotes effective oxygenation of the blood, focuses the mind, and helps to avoid tension in the neck, shoulders and mid-back during movement. Chest and belly breathers in particular need to pay attention to proper breathing as chest and belly movement pulls them out of neutral alignment, leading to overuse of prime movers and putting them at risk of injury. Proper breathing technique helps the dancer realize the full benefits of any movement, stay energized, and avoid injury. It is no accident that breathing is the first of 5 biomechanical principles of STOTT PILATES®. Breathing in Pilates (see page 8 for a visual on the anatomy mentioned) The STOTT PILATES® breath pattern involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth with slightly pursed lips. This technique facilitates full expiration and should allow the release of unnecessary tension in the body, particularly in the neck and shoulder areas. It encourages breathing into the lower ribs three dimensionally as though an umbrella (diaphragm muscle), lodged upside down in the ribs, opens (on inhaling) and closes (on exhaling). During inhalation, we focus on expanding the ribcage laterally (sideways) and posteriorly (backwards). This opening of the rib cage is particularly helpful for dancers who often become very rigid in the thoracic region due to poor breathing patterns and excessive muscular tension. During exhalation, we cue the activation of the deep support muscles by engaging the transverse abdominals first and then the oblique abdominals. The transverse abdominals is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles and wraps around the torso stabilizing the lumbo-pelvic region creating an effect similar to a back support belt. This deep layer of

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


abdominal muscles is the dancer’s best defense against lumbo-pelvic instability. While exhaling, we also cue the gentle contraction (lifting) of the deep pelvic floor muscles which help to fire the transverse abdominals. Anatomically, when you breathe out, the rib cage closes in and down while the spine flexes slightly. When you breathe in, the rib cage opens out and up while the spine extends. This is why an inhalation is suggested to encourage spinal extension, as in a back bend, and an exhalation is suggested for spinal flexion, as in a forward bend. However, sometimes an exhalation would be best during extensions of the spine as it helps maintain abdominal recruitment and supports the lumbar spine. For example, a grand battement is a challenging movement where dancers would be more stable on their supporting leg and would maintain good pelvic placement if they exhaled as the leg went up and inhaled on the way down. In other words, inhaling on the downbeat and exhaling on the upbeat would make the movement flow and easier to execute. Conscious breath is a powerful tool to accentuate a movement, to fuel the body for strength and stability, or even to calm anxious nerves before stepping onstage. Learning how to breathe properly at an early stage ensures that dancers will start with a better awareness of how their bodies function. This will enhance their skill level as well as their mind and body connection, allowing them to reap the full benefits of each movement they learn.

BREATHING TUTORIAL The following exercise demonstrates how proper breathing can easily be incorporated into any warm-up routine.


INHALE: Breathe in through the nose, expanding rib cage threedimensionally. EXHALE: Breathe out through pursed lips, focusing first on gentle pelvic floor and tranversus engagement. As you exhale more deeply, the obliques will be engaged to help press the air out. INHALE: Breathe in through the nose, maintaining engagement. Feel the lateral expansion of rib cage. EXHALE: As before.

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


Translating the Anatomy: Let’s clarify the muscles of the abdomen (your Abs). by Jacqui Davidson, ADCSC-CICB, B.A.

Your Abs: Multi-Directional Support In the diagram to the left, note the direction of the muscle fibers in each of the four layers of the abdominal muscles (the blue arrows). This indicates the direction of the action of each layer. The ‘Abs’ are multi directional in nature, when used effectively and efficiently they provide a ‘girdle’ of support for the lower back in all activities. Of course, each layer of the abdominals is also in charge of specific actions of the spine: rotation of the spine (some port de bras movements that incorporate a twist), side flexion and extension (side bend), as well as overall alignment used in both static (still) and dynamic (moving) dance movements. The popular visual of the ‘six pack’ of abs is really only the most superficial (top) layer – the Rectus Abdominus, which is in charge of the flexion (bending) of the spine. When thinking about using your ‘abs’ work to think beyond the six pack and think of this multi directional support and lift from the pubic bone through the waist, up into the bottom of the ribcage, in addition to the aligning of the ribcage with the pelvis (encouraging the use of the transverse abdominals).

Mechanics of Inhalation and Exhalation In the diagram to the right you can see the ‘parachute-like’ muscle of the diaphragm. This muscle is key to the action of breathing as it literally helps to pull air into our lungs and push the CO2 out. When we breathe in the diaphragm muscle pulls downward (the muscle contracts) towards the bottom of the ribcage (pulling air into our lungs). This contraction of the diaphragm facilitates the drawing in of oxygen to the lungs. On an exhalation (breathing out) the diaphragm relaxes and pushes upward to the position you see in the diagram. This relaxation of the diaphragm essentially pushes the air out of our lungs, facilitating the release of CO2 (a waste product.

April 2012: Pressures of Performance


AD4L: April 2012  
AD4L: April 2012  

AD4L is an online resource promoting health and wellness in dance. A bi-monthly newsletter is published as feature of the site. This mont...