Thursday’s Thoughts: The Bus of Life

Empower (v) make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

This dance season has consisted of many growing experiences for me.  This past year I was empowered to believe in myself and not to let others’ opinions dictate my choices, well-being, purpose, or self-worth.  I have been a people pleaser my entire life.  I believe at times this trait has been a strength and in certain moments my biggest weakness.  I recently came to grips with the fact that I cannot please everyone.  Trying to make everyone happy is impossible and exhausting, especially if you have steadfast beliefs, goals and missions.  However, not pleasing one person or even a group of people does not make you a failure.  Realizing this was a game changer for me!  There will always be a few loud voices (sometimes, even your own) telling you that you will not succeed, that you are not worthy, or that you will never live up to a societal norm.  If you mute those voices and listen very carefully you will hear the sounds of those cheering you on as you make your way up that hill.  Those are the voices that deserve a VIP space in your brain.  Those are the people that you should welcome on the proverbial ‘bus’ that is transporting you through your life journey.  

This season’s recital is about empowering the youth in our community to mute all those negative voices and to choose their ‘bus passengers’ wisely.  Toxic social media messages, bullying, and peer pressure are taking a front seat in so many of our children’s lives. I speak to many parents and students that are feeling the burden of this passenger.  I hope Exhale gives our students a safe space to quiet all these negative influences, dance, and just be themselves!  I hope the friendships, mentors, and lessons gained during their dance education gives them the strength to choose the right passengers to ride on their bus and unload those that are slowing them down.  I also hope they learn to be compassionate and pick-up any hitch hikers along the way that simply are in need of a little dose of kindness. 

I would like to take a moment and thank my staff, faculty, students, and families in our program for riding on this bus with me.  The trip over the last six years has led us uphill, downhill, into storms and into sunshine.  However, we have joyously danced every step of the way!  

Live, Love, Dance
Mrs. Jen

Live, Love, Dance: “Sorry, not today, I am too busy!” ;)

When I was a sophomore in high school I went on a few dates with a senior boy that was oh so cute!  (Now I am sure I have caught the attention of all my teenage students…LOL)  He seemed wonderful on paper… captain of the football team, a cute smile, blue eyes.  But, I quickly learned he was far from perfect!  On our second date he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told him that I wanted to study dance in college and either perform professionally or become a dance teacher.  He laughed at me and said, “Oh… what are you going to study sweetheart?  How to tie your pointe shoes?”  He proceeded to tell me how ‘stupid’ that career path was and that I needed to get in touch with reality.  I was quiet the rest of the date and didn’t say much.  The next day I was so mad at myself for allowing him to call my dreams worthless and unimportant.  

The following week my totally awesome light up landline phone rang. (I know I was so cool… not!) It was ‘Mr. Dreamy’ (or so he thought) trying to find another time we could ‘hang out’.  I was busy with dance classes and he wanted me to skip them.  “It’s useless anyways…”  He kept saying to me.  Useless?  All my hardwork and countless hours studying something I loved was NOT worthless and neither was I.  He finally stopped calling and trying to make plans because I was ‘too busy for him’.  

He was right, I was too busy for him.  I was too busy surrounding myself with supportive teachers and friends that believed in me.  A few summers ago I passed him on the street and we muttered a brief hello to each other.  He had a weird tan line on his face  because he had fallen asleep on the beach with his sunglasses on and, honestly, he smelled a little funny.  (LOL…. hmmm)  He never graduated from college and did not have a fulfilling career or family to care for.  Which is a bit ironic considering how ‘stupid’ he thought my career path was back in high school…Now who needed to get in touch with reality?  

I left our conversation thinking how very sad it would have been if I listened to him.  If I skipped dance.  If I quit everything I loved because one boy, friend or person thought my dreams were ‘stupid’.  How different my life would be today if I chose to give into peer pressure.  There would be no Exhale, no Mrs. Jen, maybe no Mr. Paul or Sophia and Rosie…. Imagine that!  

To all my students, I hope you always have the strength to believe in your dreams.  I hope you do not skip dance or any activity you love simply because your friends want you to.  I hope you go to college to be a dancer, doctor, lawyer, singer, teacher, veterinarian, ventriloquist…. Because that is what YOU want.  Mostly, I hope you choose to fill your life with people who believe in you and your dreams.  That you build an inner circle of people who love you for YOU.  I hope you chose to live your life happy and fulfilled because everyday you wake up and do what you love surrounded by people you love.  I hope you have the strength to tell that cute boy, popular girl or even bully… sorry, not today, I am too busy.  🙂

Live Love Dance: Age Appropriate Costuming and Dress Code

“Children are like cement.  Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”  ~ Dr. Haim Ginnot

I remember when the show Dance Moms first aired on TV.  As I watched it several emotions flooded over me:  sadness, disgust and disbelief to name a few.  In so many ways the show portrayed an ‘evil’ dance teacher that belittled dancers, pushed young students to unhealthy levels physically and costumed them to look like ‘mini-sexy-adults’.  I still hope that this show was either scripted or overdramatized for entertainment.  The show put the dance world into a tailspin and not in a good way.  As a young teacher I witnessed a shift in the dance scene after the show aired.  Parents either were looking to join in on the Dance Moms craze.  Or, were hesitant to allow their child to join a dance class in fear that Abby Lee was lurking around the corner.  After watching this shift occur, I vowed that age appropriate choreography, education and costuming would always be at the forefront of my dance pedagogy methods.  I promised myself that I would never give into the ‘hype’ and would always be true to my core values.  Today I will discuss why age appropriate costuming and dress code are an integral part of our mission here at Exhale.  (Age appropriate syllabi and choreography are a topic for another day…)   

I had just finished hanging costumes to prepare for an upcoming performance.  A parent came in to take a tour of the studio.  Her eyes lit up immediately and I thought she was in awe of how they sparkled and shined.  Instead she looked at me with pure joy in her eyes and said, “It is so refreshing to see WHOLE costumes hanging there!”  What did she mean by that?  A WHOLE costume?  She meant just what she said!  Hanging up were tutus, dresses and costumes with full coverage…. No crop tops and booty shorts at Exhale.  She smiled and said, “This is the studio for us.”  I often get asked by parents, “Is this studio like Dance Moms?”  One of my personal goals is to debunk this myth that all successful dance studios have a competitive environment filled with dancers dressed in crop tops and booty shorts.  This simply is not true! 

*Side note:  I want to be clear that I am not judging dance studios that do not follow a full coverage dress code.  I am hoping that this blog will start an educational conversation and not a disagreement.  In the following paragraphs I will discuss the reasons why we believe so strongly in our full coverage dress code.  These are my beliefs and values that I have adopted over the years based on my personal experiences.  Everyone’s experiences and values are different.  I don’t believe one is better than the other, they are simply different.  🙂  There are many reasons we created our dress code.  These reasons include:  body love, uniformity and development.*  

Dance education should assist in creating body love and not body shame.  I have noticed over my years of teaching that young children spend so much of their time comparing themselves to others.  This child is a better reader, this child is a better runner, this child is a better singer, etc.  I don’t want there to be a clear reason for students to compare in Exhale’s classrooms.  If everyone is in the same outfit there is less reason to compare.  How do you think a child feels when some students are showing their midriffs, but they are one of (or worse the only one!) that is placed in a full coverage costume.  I know it would make me feel awful!  I cannot see how this practice would  build confidence or body love.  We have dancers of all shapes, sizes and colors that dance with us.  I would not want to deter them from dancing with us because crop tops are plastered all over our social media.  It would be so easy for a student to think, “I’ll never be able to wear that, so I won’t even bother.”  At Exhale the education and want to succeed supersedes costuming, performances and trophies.  Our goal is to make sure everyone feels comfortable, confident and beautiful.  🙂  

This idea of uniformity not only helps alleviate body comparison but also the dancers need to keep up with trends.  Recently new lines of super trendy leotards and dancewear can be found all over social media.  These clothing lines are often expensive and skimpy.  Allowing the dancers to wear an outfit they chose can create more anxiety around keeping up with the current trends and ‘hypes’.  I tell my dancers to leave their worries at the door and dance away the stressors of the day/week in class.  It’s hard for a dancer to do so while noticing they are the only one not wearing that trendy, new $100+ leotard.    

Arriving to class in the proper dress code also assists with the students technical development and feeling comfortable to perform the athletic movements.  I have always found it difficult to correct alignment if a student is wearing a baggy t-shirt or sweatshirt.  Dressing in a leotard and tights allows the instructor to view and correct any alignment problems to defray injuries and build proper technique while still allowing the dancers to be covered. One way to correct technique issues is physical manipulation.  A teacher may need to manipulate the leg, back, hips, etc into the correct position.  Doing this type of manipulation when a student is not covered by clothing in certain areas can be awkward for both the teacher and the student.   For example, if a student is not engaging their core muscles correctly a teacher may choose not to manipulate the trunk of the body if the student is wearing a crop top instead of a leotard.  This also tends to happen with students that are not wearing tights, as well.  A teacher may stray away from manipulating the hip flexors or knee joint if the dancer is not wearing tights.  Wearing proper dance tights also gives the students extra support for their developing muscles.  The elastic material compresses the muscles and keeps them warm, similar to a pair of athletic leggings.  Finally, I have noticed over the years that tights give extra coverage when young students have to perform large grande battements or leaps.  It keeps the leotard in place to ensure private areas are not seen and dancers are comfortable.  😉    

I have seen full coverage attire aid a dancer’s physical development, but can it also affect their emotional and mental development as well?  I think it can. I personally have made a decision not to place a student under the age of eighteen in a costume that is baring too much skin.  I do not want to make that personal decision for them.  Cognitively, their brains are not developed enough to make these types of choices when it comes to performance attire.  A personal choice to show off your belly button in public seems different than a mandatory or recommended spotlight on the stage.  I am sure we have all seen the episode of Dance Moms where the young stars of the show are asked to dress in a blue outfit that has a similar feel to lingerie.  Characters on the show described the outfit and choreography as ‘scandalous’ and ‘sexy’.  Are those really words we want to use to describe a young dance student?  Are you ready to define these words for your young, growing students?  

I know this is a hot topic in the dance industry.  These are simply my personal beliefs and decisions when it comes to costuming and dress code.  I also want to ask a simple question, do you feel a dance piece will be less successful, entertaining or meaningful if the dancer wore a full coverage costume?  Would the gymnasts at the Olympics not be able to perform their final revolution in the air if they were covered a little more?  I don’t think so… Maybe we have to start asking WHY?!?!  Why are young dancers asked to wear clothes that are skin-baring on stage and in the studio?  Does it have an educational or developmental value?  We have to ask these important questions, after all as Dr. Haim Ginnot said, “Children are like cement.  Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”  ~ 

Live, Love, Dance!
Mrs. Jen     

Tuesday’s Thoughts: Mom guilt, it’s a real thing!

I am often asked (as I am sure so many moms are!), “How do you do it all?”  I wear so many hats it often gets overwhelming:  business owner, coach, teacher, volunteer, friend, sister, daughter, wife and mom.  A day doesn’t go by that I don’t have to make a decision to hang a hat on the coat rack and leave it to wear on another day.  It is really difficult for me to hang up my mom hat.  I am often riddled with guilt when I have to do this.  Due to my work schedule I don’t often get to eat dinner with my girls, help them with their homework or put them to bed.  My biggest worry is that everyone else gets the best of me and my family only gets tired, grumpy mommy.  

I was talking to my husband about this just the other day.  In my exhaustion preparing for the upcoming competition this weekend I arrogantly told him I was worried the girls are not getting the best care when I cannot be home. That if I don’t help Rosie study for her spelling test she doesn’t perform as well.  That if I don’t help Sophia with her weekly sentences they are simply not done right.  That if I am not able to focus all my attention on the girls’ important papers don’t get signed, tests are not studied for and homework assignments aren’t fully finished.  You know what my amazing husband said to me, “Absolutely!  No one does the job as good as you.  We try our best but it isn’t the same when you can’t be home.  Ultimately, everything that needs to get done does… it just isn’t done the way you would.”  Oh man, here came the waterworks as the massive feeling of guilt engulfed all the hats I was wearing that day!  

What he said next really astonished me.  He said, “Jen, I know that we are just one piece to this puzzle you are trying to create.  If you only work on one piece of the puzzle the whole thing won’t get built.”  Then he told me that a human being can only really do five tasks each day effectively.  That I had to choose five tasks to accomplish each day to build the puzzle right.  One of those tasks should be self-care such as exercise, doctor appointments or simply taking a break.  Then all these hats may not seem so heavy.  

Moving forward I am going to try my best to schedule my time and be fully present in the task I am accomplishing.  I have made myself a few promises that I hope to keep:

  1. When I have a night off to be with the girls I will not be texting or emailing the studio at the same time I am helping Rosie and Sophia with homework.  Sorry Rosie…I promise not to call you Miss Shannen or Kristin by accident and that the phone is being turned off.
  2. I will not be quickly trying to read an email from the school while the dancers grab water or change their shoes.  Sorry school… when I do this I half read things and miss so much information!  You wanted a gallon of hot chocolate, not hot dogs?!
  3. Finally, I will not be mapping out the recital on my date nights!!! Sorry, Paul… I know you could care less which teachers will be available to help out backstage five months from now.  

I am learning that being present takes practice.  Information and communication are literally at the tips of our fingers.  However,  that does not mean you have to take care of a task that pops up on your phone while trying to accomplish another.  I think the most important lesson I am learning is that I need to trust others to finish their pieces to the puzzle as well.  They may not choose to use the same materials to create the puzzle piece, but it always fits just the same! 

Business owner guilt, coach guilt, teacher guilt, volunteer guilt, friend guilt, sister guilt, daughter guilt, wife guilt and mother guilt happen when you try to wear too many hats at once.  Your head gets too heavy and your hair gets all messed up!  Moving forward, I am hoping to only wear one hat at a time and not worry about the ones that are hanging on the coat rack for later.  More importantly, I plan to gladly allow people in my circle to borrow my hats so we can build a strong puzzle together one piece at a time.  

Live, Love, Dance

Mrs. Jen

Tuesday’s Thoughts: Whys is ballet so darn hard?!?!

“Plie is the first thing you learn and the last thing you master.”  (Suzanne Farrell)

So why is ballet so darn hard for students in today’s day and age?  I believe it’s because ballet technique does not come overnight in an Amazon box.  In a world where everything is so instantaneous, ballet training is a lifetime journey.  There is no Instacart for ballet.  I have been dancing for thirty-three years and still find new, interesting ways to move that allow me to grow as an artist.  There is no ‘winning moment’ when you score a goal or come home with a trophy.  Ballet is an art where you learn to master moving your body by ultimately gaining control of intricate muscle groups.  Placing your bones in a way that allows you to float, spin and move across space in a magical blur.  Even after a performance there is still more to learn and master.  You must find the thrill in small wins, new lessons and enjoying the journey.     

Also, similar to a student learning math and reading the outcome is either correct or incorrect. 1+1 is always 2, if a student answers 3 on a test it is incorrect.  The feedback given in a dance classroom can be difficult for a young student to decipher.  It is ultimately constructive criticism about their own body; not words on a paper or pages in a book.  Many dance teachers choose to make corrections in a ‘compliment sandwich’ form of positive reinforcement, constructive criticism, positive reinforcement.  For example a teacher may say, “Suzy your tendu looks better, make sure not to sickle your foot, you are doing a great job, keep working on it.”  Even in this format a correction can feel so personal and hard to take in the moment.  Even as an adult when we receive constructive criticism our first human response is to be defensive or blame others.  Hey, we all do it sometimes but I think we all know that choice stunts our growth.

Finally, dance technique is extremely difficult to master.  Oftentimes I have to work with students for as long as a year before they master a correction.  A year can feel like a lifetime when trying to master a skill set.  But, like I said there is no instacart for Ballet… just hard work, sweat and maybe a bloody toe or two.  Afterall, “anything worth doing is worth doing right!”  Even if the ‘right’ does take a year-or-so!      

Until I was twelve years old I was simply ambivalent about ballet.  I had to do it to be part of the dance team, so I lived with it.  I LOVED jazz due to its sharp movements and theatrics. What isn’t there to love?   Tap allowed me to make loud noises so that was ‘cool’.  But, ballet?  BORING, DULL… but, it was so pretty so I could deal with it.  As a young student I found ballet exercises to be tedious and did not fully understand or enjoy the slow, methodical movements.  Then one day it all clicked.  I smiled internally because I suddenly realized how to engage my rotation muscles properly while executing  a plie!  I had an epiphany.  All this time I thought I was doing it right, but I wasn’t.  I suddenly was hungry to learn more and ready to do the actual hard work.  I understood how this ‘ballet stuff’ could make me better.  Doing a plie correctly allowed me to float off the floor like a butterfly and pirouette with ease.  Mrs. Renea was my teacher at the time.  She spent so much time dissecting each movement for us.  Teaching us exactly which muscles we were trying to engage and where each movement should initiate from.  She was patient and kind, telling us that we might not understand now but that we would someday. Man, was she right!  She never gave up and kept correcting me even though I may have seemed ambivalent.  I will always appreciate her for that.  

Now I find that I simply cannot live without ballet.  On March 13th of 2019 the whole world shutdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.  It was also the day I decided to close my doors for in-person dance classes indefinitely.  You know what I did after I sent the email informing all my budding ballerinas that we would not be holding classes that evening?!?!  I closed my computer and slowly walked over to the ballet barre.  I turned on my classical music and executed a full ballet barre: plies, tendus, degages, rond de jambes, frappes, adagio, barre stretch and battements with such purpose.  As I did the work at the barre everything else disappeared.  Sweat and tears were dripping down my face.  I found peace for that forty-five minutes.  Ballet continues to give me purpose, discipline, reassurance and peace.  The barre over the years has become my second home!  🙂

So why is ballet so darn hard?  Honestly, it isn’t.  🙂  Young dancers have to be patient and trust that the foundation of ballet will create the stepping stones needed to float, spin and move across space in a magical blur.  They must understand that in time they will find joy in the work, in the journey.  Sometimes you just gotta have faith!  Do not give up! The proverbial Amazon packages you tried ordering from Instacart with all the advanced leaps and pirouttes are waiting for you on the other side.  😉  Let me tell you a little secret, it will totally be worth the wait!  

Live Love Dance,
Mrs. Jen 

Live Love Dance: Tuesday’s Thoughts :)

A little over a month ago I got into a car accident.  It has been challenging because the tasks I completed daily to run my small business were suddenly difficult.  Multitasking, writing emails, verbally communicating, remembering to go to an appointment… all difficult!  This process has taught me not only to give myself grace, but to understand that my personal best is different daily due to extraneous circumstances.  I had an epiphany during this process, since I opened the studio six years ago I have literally been running this crazy race with no finish line in sight.  I realized over this last month that I have been going against my own philosophies and how easy it was to fall into this endless competitive whole.  I have been pushing myself to be ‘the best’ and not ‘my best’.  That’s a heavy realization to process.  I took a deep breath and decided that this would be the topic of my next Tuesday’s thoughts; striving to be ‘your best’ and not ‘the best’.  

So, as we move into this joyous, exciting performance season I felt it was important to share that being ‘your best’ and not ‘the best’ is being taught in our dance space.  Some of our advanced students are preparing to participate in their first dance competition.  To ensure it is a positive, educational experience we have been reminding our dancers that success is not measured by trophies, the position we receive in choreography, or the features we are given in a dance. As we prepare for the spring performance season ahead please keep this in mind.  It is important to the faculty that our students understand that success is not measured by ‘wins’, ‘losses’, or ‘lead roles’.  We cannot always be the ‘winner’ however that does not mean we are the ‘loser’.  If our students have worked hard, done their best and chosen to persevere they have all won!     

As an adult, I do not remember the score I earned at competitions, the spot I stood in during the dance, or who received the solo in a group number.  I do, however, remember the way it felt when the stage lights hit my face, how tightly my friends and I embraced each other before a performance, and how fulfilled we felt as the music faded and we made our way off stage.  Ultimately, in between the battements, tendus and plies we hope to give our students the confidence and strength to understand their value cannot be determined by someone else’s opinion.  

I felt it was important to share this message with parents in our program so we can use the same verbiage if big emotions surface.  It is natural for a student to feel disappointed when they don’t receive the trophy, spot or role they were hoping for.  However, how we deal with that as a dance family will aid us in creating a community that trusts and believes in one another.  

Live ♥️ Love ♥️ Dance,
Mrs. Jen 
*I’ll be going live with this topic on FB and Instagram around 8pm this evening!

Technique Tuesday Tonight!

Hello everyone! Reminder that today is Technique Tuesday! Class tonight will be held from 5:00-6:30. If you are around we would love to have you in class! All returning EDC dancers are required to participate in at least 25 hours of dancing throughout the summer. Technique Tuesdays are strongly recommended, as it is very important to stay in shape and maintain your dance training during the summer! The class will be focused on posture, strength and moving in a technical, safe way. We will study several genres of dance throughout the series including Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Hip-Hop and Contemporary. It is a fun, high energy class that will prepare them for the dance season ahead.

All weekly classes will be held at the Holbrook St. studio.

EDC I-IV: 5:00-6:30

July 12th, 19th, 26th

August 2nd, 9th

Technique Tuesdays (1.5 hour long class): $180/drop in $35

Important: Car Wash

Dear Families:

Tomorrow is going to be terrible weather, so we are not going to have the dancers at the car wash.  (The fundraiser will still be held, so feel free to get your car washed or detailed to benefit the EDC… the dancers will just not be out front publicizing the event.)  If you signed up for tomorrow and are available Sunday or next weekend, please sign up for another shift.  🙂  The money raised will benefit the entire program, so I hope that everyone chooses at least one slot to help out at the car wash.  Parents, please remember that we need at least two adults with the dancers at all time.  (We would prefer four.)

Click HERE to sign up for a slot.

Dancers should wear their Exhale gear from last year, black leggings, and comfortable sneakers.  (I do have a few extra tank tops and jackets if anyone needs something to borrow.)

I am excited to bond with everyone during this event!

See you soon,
Mrs. Jen 🙂