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By Tonya Goodwillie, Jan 31 2017 03:30PM

What is your relationship with fear? Do you allow it trap you? Or does it fuel you? It is easy to allow opportunities to pass you by out of fear, but what lies on the other side of that fear can be life changing. Fear now is never greater than regret later. This blog series will chronicle the stories of a group of teenagers who are standing on the other side of fear and what they have learned a long the way. These students began dancing as teenagers (a late start by today’s standards). They will share with us why they dance and what they’ve learned.

We start our series, not with a teenager, but with Allegro instructor Rebecca Rosales who shares the story of how dance entered her life and what it has meant to her:

I have always loved dance. Whether it was for a talent show, church performance, or just dancing around the house, I’ve always had a desire to dance. However, it wasn’t until I was about 14 that I decided I wanted to take formal classes. I had never really thought about taking classes until my younger sister decided she wanted to take dance classes. When I saw her perform in Allegro’s annual June Showcase and watched all the amazing performances, I immediately decided that I wanted to take classes as well. So, I enrolled in a Hip-Hop class and a Jazz class.

On my first day, I remember being very nervous because I had never had any formal training for Jazz or Hip-Hop. There were about 15 people in my classes and I knew no one. It was pretty terrifying at first. However, once classes began, it just felt right to be there. I learned so much and I looked forward to class every week because I was learning how to do something I love.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m a dance teacher now! I never thought I’d be here but I’m incredibly happy that I have been able to continue dancing. Most importantly, I get the chance to share my love for dance with other people. Who knew that going to dance classes at age 14 would turn into something so wonderful? I always thought I had to have started dancing at a really young age, but it doesn’t matter what age you start dancing, if you have a desire to dance, DO IT!

Rebecca Rosales

Allegro Instructor and Alumna

By Tonya Goodwillie, Aug 30 2016 06:31PM

Our Responsibilities to Youth Dancers

Chapter Two- Protecting their Bodies

I have been quiet for far too long and I would like to start spreading the word about youth dancers and how we, as educators, need to be more accountable for their training as well as keeping them safe; both their bodies and their spirits.

This series will touch on many different aspects about youth dancers in our dance world; mostly today’s competition world. It is my hope that it opens eyes to many dance instructors everywhere as well as the parents of these youth dancers.

All dancers look to their teachers for guidance as far as education, direction and as role models for so much more than just dance. Parents of dancers also look to their teachers for these things especially if they have had no prior experience with dance, they will trust the teacher to lead them to success. Sometimes the success is only seen as immediate competition success instead of thinking of long term success with the dancer, not only as a dancer but as a happy, healthy young human being.

Youth dancers, ages 12 and under, are of special importance as we are creating their foundations as dancers and young people. Our job is to train them as dancers while also preserving their childhood. Young dancers should be allowed to be young and we, as adults in their lives, are the ones responsible for maintaining that status for them.

Protecting their Bodies

The fads of dance are consistently changing and the trends have led us to a place where we expect dancers to be more and more flexible as well as doing insane tricks that put so much pressure on their little bodies.

I have seen too many online videos of teachers that are forcing kid’s bodies into poses and pushing flexibility in an unhealthy way. I am worried that many teachers, sometimes it seems like mostly young teachers, do not have the education about anatomy and injury prevention. We need to understand their bodies and know that things that we do to their bodies now for short term success can lead to long term issues with their muscles and joints.

Injury prevention is really important to me and all the teachers at my studio and it should be important to ALL teachers everywhere. Please take the time to learn about the proper way to warm up your dancers, the proper way to stretch and knowing each individuals limits. Some bodies are never going to be able to a scorpion and some rare bodies are able to do it naturally. A lot of flexibility, especially in the joints, has to do with our skeleton and we can’t change our bones! We can only lengthen muscles and it’s a very cautious thing to do as we need to not stretch the ligaments!! Speaking of a scorpion move… ask any professional dancer how often they have to do that move. Most will say NEVER!! It’s really just a move that is mostly used in competitive dance. Is that really worth sacrificing their bodies for the future?

I don’t know about you, but I want my young dancers to fall in love with dance and to dance forever! I don’t want them to have a major injury at 12 years old because of what their body was forced to do since they were 7 years old. I want them to dance until they choose not to, not because they were forced to quit because of an injury. Let’s really think of their longevity, learn about their bodies (teach THEM about their bodies) and do the right thing for them in the long run.

The major fad right now is overstretching and we have not yet seen a generation, until now, that has obsessed this much with overstretching at such a young age!! I am honestly scared for generation that we are producing and their safety in the future. Yes, there will be some very flexible dancers at competition and some might even beat my dancers who are not doing crazy flexible things (instead they are actually dancing rather than just showing poses and doing tricks… but this topic is for another future blog LOL.) However, will the really flexible young dancers be dancing into their teen years and better yet will they be walking and moving without pain as an adult?? We, as dance educators, need to ask these questions of ourselves when we are making choices about what we are asking them to force their bodies to do.

Micro injuries are real! Young dancers seem and feel invincible! A young dancer can do a knee drop to the floor and not have any immediate pain. The lack of feeling pain does not mean that it’s an safe choice for their bodies. Little injuries occur every time we do something for our body that is not safe. Micro injuries will add up over time, become more and more noticeable and eventually turn into a major injury if we continue putting the same pressure on our bodies. So the moral is to not use your young dancer’s pain threshold as a monitor, instead use your knowledge. Knowledge is power!

The closest thing that we can compare this overstretching trend to is rhythmic gymnastics. If you take the time to look for it, research exists about what overstretching has done to their joints over time as well as the injuries it creates. I think rhythmic gymnastics is awesome but their careers are short and they do have issues with their joints as young adults. Some of the most shocking research I have seen were of actual x-rays where the femoral head was forced to carve into the hip socket and deform the joint to allow for overstretching. While this might allow for short term outcomes, the long term pain and stress to the body is actually very serious.

I’m not saying to not work on flexibility at all as a dancer does need flexibility. I’m just saying to do it in a safe way, be educated about it and to maybe ask ourselves why we need to be so extreme about their flexibility? We, as their teachers, are who they are looking to for education and protection. They are trusting us. We need to take our responsibility seriously and do all we can to do right by them.

So dance teachers, please learn more about the body before you start doing insane stretches with our dancers. Don’t follow the trends because I assure you when lots of young dancers are needing to get major joint surgery in the future, many people will start re-thinking overstretching and this ‘trend’ will die… or at least I hope! Let’s educate ourselves and protect their bodies. Thank you for reading!!

By Tonya Goodwillie, Aug 19 2016 12:15AM

Chapter One- Appropriate music

I have been quiet for far too long and I would like to start spreading the word about youth dancers and how we, as educators, need to be more accountable for their training as well as keeping them safe; both their bodies and their spirits.

This series will touch on many different aspects about youth dancers in our dance world; mostly today’s competition world. It is my hope that it opens eyes to many dance instructors everywhere as well as the parents of these youth dancers.

All dancers look to their teachers for guidance as far as education, direction and as role models for so much more than just dance. Parents of dancers also look to their teachers for these things especially if they have had no prior experience with dance, they will trust the teacher to lead them to success. Sometimes the success is only seen as immediate competition success instead of thinking of long term success with the dancer, not only as a dancer but as a happy, healthy young human being.

Youth dancers, ages 12 and under, are of special importance as we are creating their foundations as dancers and young people. Our job is to train them as dancers while also preserving their childhood. Young dancers should be allowed to be young and we, as adults in their lives, are the ones responsible for maintaining that status for them.

APPROPRIATE MUSIC

Dance is a performing art. Dancers are expected to perform, tell stories and connect with their music on a personal level. When choosing music for youth dancers to dance to, we need to remember the following:

A young dancer has no experience with being ‘in love’, with being a woman/man or worse… anything related sexually! I am appalled at some of the song choices that we are expecting young dancers to dance to and connect with!!

Be cautious with lyrics… even if the audience cannot hear the exact words. The young dancer will be practicing to this song for months, they will know the words and they will be singing the lyrics as they practice. Our concern should be finding a song that we feel comfortable with the dancer knowing/understanding the words, instead of worrying about the language of the music only to avoid getting point deductions at competition, (which rarely happens anyways… but that is a whole different blog!)

When we take an 8 year old to a movie, we take them to 'The Secret Life of Pets’ not 'Fifty Shades of Gray’ or even something extremely violent! We give them age appropriate books to read instead of sexy romance novels! So why can’t we choose age appropriate music for them that they connect to that represents their age appropriately?

Examples below are not meant to point out any specific dance or studio, they are simply examples that I have seen many times over the past few years:

'Almost Lover’ A fine Frenzy- I love this song but what has a seven year old experienced that would allow them to connect to this song? Dancing to a song about a romantic relationship, or loss of, between a man and a woman is not appropriate. There are many songs about love that they can relate to when the lyrics are more general and not about romantic love. A young dancer can express love about their parent, friend, pet, their love of dance, etc…

'Anaconda’ Nicki Minaj - Anyone from Sir Mix-a-lot’s era knows what he means by 'Anaconda’ and this song is inspired by that. To have young dancers dance to a song that is about male genitals is beyond inappropriate and this is perfect example of a teacher needing to listen to the lyrics more and understanding what the song is about. If a teacher/choreographer still uses this song for youth dancers with that understanding, then the teacher should really take a look what I mentioned above about the need to preserve their childhood! (The same argument can be made for the song 'Milkshake’ Kelis)

'Camille, Collette, Fifi’ from the musical Seventh Heaven - This song sounds adorable and the urge to put the girls in cute little French outfits and do cutsy little movements while lip syncing is hard to resist. However if you do your research about the musical and listen to the lyrics, you will quickly learn that the song is about… PROSTITUTION! Need I say more? I don’t know about you but I want my young female dancers to grow up respecting themselves and their body and this song is a direct conflict with those ideals.

So dance teachers, let’s bond together and make a change! Studio owners, be cautious about what you allow your teachers to choreograph to as it represents your studio as well. Young teachers just starting out, please understand the impact that you have on young dancers and make sure to choose songs that represents them well instead of just choosing your favorite popular song.

We have a huge responsibility as dance teachers/choreographer and it can start with something simple as a better thought out song choice. It’s a small choice that will make a big difference in our youth dancers in the long run!

Thanks for listening and stand by for more thoughts about youth dancers and costuming!