AFL: Can I have a minute of your unpaid time?

I won’t beat a dead horse because lots of really great points have already been made as to why the AFL is exploiting the dance industry. However, one thing I haven’t seen anywhere is that it’s not their job to determine if a performance opportunity is a good opportunity; because that job belongs to us!

My job, and for hundreds of thousands of dance professionals around the world, is to literally prepare dancers for performance opportunities. That’s literally my job. Do I need to say that again?! And I know it might be hard to believe, but the dance industry has created its very own dance appropriate training opportunities that expose dancers to the experience they need to gain actual work :O From that training they get work. That’s how jobs work. So although I’m sure the AFL thought long and hard about how to help our dancers gain performance experiences we surprisingly have performance exposure opportunities covered as part of our daily training activities.

From the second a dancer starts learning dance they are learning to perform. And, since I’ve spent over 3 decades learning how and when to offer certain performance opportunities based on the physical and mental development of each and every dancer in order to build a HEALTHY RESUME; I’d like to take this moment to educate you, the AFL, as to why your ‘opportunity’ for non-professionals is no opportunity at all:

  1. A massive crowd that is there for footy will not be supportive in the ways a non-professional dancer is use to in a dance only environment. Lack of audience support can crush a non-professional dancers’ spirit which can cause long term training issues. Therefore, we as educators need to prepare students for those types of responses and this doesn’t happen overnight.
  2. They are developing dancers. So responses to making mistakes, which is already difficult enough, will be exaggerated. Simply taking dance classes or winning awards doesn’t mean they are automatically ready to potentially fail in front of thousands of people.
  3. Professionalism in even the most focused students can become scarce when under these conditions making the experience less than enjoyable. I have been a paid cheerleader for the NFL and know how much practice and waiting comes with this type of job.
  4. Imagine hearing how your friend made $150 for a day of serving fries at the footy while you spent upwards of 20 hours training and performing for free. What message does that send?

You see, we carefully create performance opportunities that are going to support development and push boundaries safely. Not crush spirits and thrust children and young adults in to situations that they aren’t ready for.

If you have made it this far then I commend you for staying with me. Now is the time to add that I have a son who just finished working full time for a year as a professional dancer. He is 12 years old. I’m not only an expert in the field of dance but I’m a mum who has experienced what it’s like to tour the country with a working dancer. Preparing him for this opportunity took 6 years of 20 hours plus a week of training; not exactly everyone is right for your ‘opportunity’; and those who are should probably be paid regardless of age because they are at a level that required serious training and commitment. So, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge Louise Withers, her team and Universal for treating not only the 21 strong child cast of Billy Elliot the Australian Musical like absolute superstars but for treating the parents like we mattered. They set a prescedent that my son will remember and he knows from a young age his true worth. If I ever received an invite like the one by the AFL or the management company’s involved I would know not to get involved because we have been treated with the utmost respect for what we do and wouldn’t accept anything less than fair and legal work conditions. This kind of ‘opportunity’ would belittle my dancer and erase the confidence that so many have worked to instil in him. So AFL, as an educator I know that your opportunity is not an opportunity at all. And since exposure in our industry is actually called training I would like to inform you that dancers don’t need non-dance professionals to provide more training. So news anchors, tv personalities and AFL organisers I will not attempt to educate your up and coming AFL talent as to what will help their futures and you can stop telling our dancers what will help theirs . In light of all this I would suggest one of two courses of action: Hire professional dancers; or hire first time professional dancers; because I am pretty sure McDonalds or Coles don’t get people to work for free just because it’s their first job.

So unless you guys would like to come play at my 40th birthday party for free, I’d suggest reconsidering your gross request for free entertainment.


Prosthetic Limbs and Acro/Dance

Teaching students with challenging physical attributes is something I take a lot of pride in. I have taught many many children with prosthetic limbs and wanted to share some tips on how to get them achieveing their absolute best.

Start on the floor and stay there for as long as you can.

Thankfully there are hundreds of really fun skills and training exercises that are on or low to the floor. Finding balance, flexibility and strength in this manner is quite safe and motivating for the student as they will be able to confidently achieve so many skills before the really challenging skills begin.

Focus on strength

Balance in your training is so vital but in this case the priority and focus should be on strength building, especially in the beginning. Having prosthetic limbs means the body’s muscles naturally develop unevenely. This happens differently depending on the limb so make sure to assess this prior to developing a training program. For example, you may give extra sets on the weaker side at first to create balance and stability.

Mentally prepare them to be treated differently. Its not what you think:)

I have had many conversations with children who have challenges physically about what their classes will look like compared to others and it sets them up for tremendous success.

  • Highlight your excitement to work with them.
  • Let them know that they can reach the same point as everyone else but that journey might look a little different.
  • Focus on the fact that they get special execrises and ways to do them because they are special.
  • Frustration is part of everyone’s journey, prosthetic or not, so they are not alone.
  • They may not try skills as quicky as others because it’s important that they stay safe. This may mean always being their spotter or beside them when trying skills. I always let them know they will be getting extra attention and that’s a good thing.

Place them in the appropriate class like you would anyone else.

Having a prosthetic limb doesn’t change who they are. If they are naturally sporty and hardworking then pair them with those children. If they want to have fun then place them in that type of class. A prosthetic limb does not equal recreational so make sure you get to know the student and their goals properly so that you can add appropriate points to the above conversation that are goal specific. You can refer to any conversation you have with parents when they sign up for different programs and simply reference the expectations for those programs. But make sure this happens after the above conversation.

Take note of their favourite side and focus on that.

I can make suggestions on what leg to start with or how to develop all tricks for one hand but most of you have the knowledge to do this. As they train on the floor take lots of notes on the leg they use to kick in certain situations or how they naturally modify and run with that. The amount problem solving these students do on their own is astounding. They have had to modify their whole lives so learn their modifications before you impose your own.

Be honest with yourself and the student.

If you are not confident teaching a student with different abilities than you need to let that parent know privately. It doesn’t make you any less of a teacher. But this kind of teaching requires a master teacher for many reasons and so directing the student to someone who can provide what they need is paramount for their confidence and long-term success.

All students have their own challenges. Having someone with a prosthetic or amputation is yet another incredibly rewarding experience; not just for myself or the student but for the other students in the class. Even though artists have a tendency to think outside the box it is so important that we are challenged to be our best and this is achieved by bringing dance to everyone and working outside of our comfort zone. Teaching someone with different capabilities to our own is what makes teaching just that. Bringing the best out in someone that may present particular training challenges only makes us better and morally as an industry it’s our job to teach everyone who wants to dance. And quite frankly, the joy I have expereinced when watching a student with challenges achieve is unexplainable; you simply have to try it to know for yourself.

Live Love Dance

The dance floor: The forgotten tool in todays training.

Whenever I walk into a studio space the first thing I do is look down while I walk around the room. Not because I’m sad; it isn’t some weird prep ritual before class; no, it is because I want to assess and absorb the feel and effect the floor has on my body. Paired with gravity, the dance floor is usually the only tool I use to train my dancers. Simply a room that already provides everything I need to do my job properly and safely. My classes can be difficult. By even the most well-trained dancers I have been told my classes are “the hardest classes they have ever taken”. Producing results, in my opinion, can only come from training that provides the closest environment to their performance environment. We can’t drag mats on stage. Dancers can’t stop and grab a yoga ball to correct their alignment.  No – they have to rely on their senses and training to create the best performance outcomes. The sooner you provide them the training that emulates this, the sooner they become the masters of their own body. I will discuss why this type of training is among the safest, fastest and most effective way to train a dancer.


Our body has a keen sense of knowing how far to go and what is safe and comfortable for it if it is allowed to concentrate on the messages being sent to the brain during training. To illustrate how gadgets/props may interfere with these messages I will discuss overusing mats. Mats have a purpose – to help facilitate the initial attempt of skills after basic progressions are executed on the floor that have the hips above the head. However I see dancers training on them for entire classes and are used during warm-ups. Exercises that you would safely give them on the floor like skips and rock and rolls should be executed on the floor. If they aren’t, these dancers are over developing and under developing certain muscles and coping skills because of the spring and boost in confidence provided by the mat. We jump on a floor. We roll on a floor. We even aerial on a floor. When we do primary progressions of these things on the floor the dancers have a really neat way of employing their own safe practice by trying things more slowly, taking note of the subtle ways their body responds to the floor and develops their dancer’s utility for the dance floor right from the start. The amount of times I have seen a dancer slam themselves on the floor in skills in a dance is astounding because teachers have allowed their students to develop that skill on a mat without the lessons provided by the hard floor. They simply say “It’s ok! You only have to do it once in your dance.” And that one time can be the time they develop an injury because that dancer was not given proper training based on the effects of gravity paired with the hard dance floor and how that would impact their skills. Is it as fun as bouncing around on a mat all day? To a kid, probably not. Will it take them longer to get high-level skills? Sure will. Will it almost completely eliminate terrible acro and damaging knee drops? Definitely. Will the students understand their TRUE ability to execute skills safely? You bet your career it will. So, I don’t take into consideration a child’s need to rush through their dance journey when I am training them. I take extra steps to educate them on how their body ACTUALLY functions on a dance floor. My students will thank me when they are 30 and 40 years old. Most already do!

Muscle Memory

We hear a lot about muscle memory but I feel as though many don’t actually understand its true role in dance training. It is basically the same as memory recall in that it only takes a couple times to form a memory.  Your muscles will learn the process of a motion quite quickly, but the coordination to be able to execute it more quickly, more precisely, with more force and to various tempos takes time to develop as you have many muscles working together. Rarely do you do the exact same motion twice, so your muscles are gaining a sense of minor differences in the circumstances of the motion as well, like a tennis player adjusting for wind, which takes time to perfect. By changing the floor and utilizing tools like yoga blocks you are essentially creating great variances in change as opposed to the more gentle alignment changes that come with teaching techniques like pedagogy or trial and error. Take rises for example. Many use yoga blocks to fix ankle alignment however, for many students that shift in alignment is quite large compared to their natural anatomy. So although it appears that their alignment is fixed you will often see greater instability due to a lack of actual change in the supporting muscles. What I’m trying to say is that even though you have created memory in the way of alignment, you haven’t created a memory in every muscle that supports that change hence why the rate of injury in dancers has increased at such alarming rates. So, unless you plan to keep that block between their ankles class after class until every muscle working together is ready to support that alignment than you really need to think about why you are employing such techniques.  No matter what ability your dancer has for establishing muscle memory, the main influence for creating muscle memory is repetition. I can’t make this up people. It’s the science that tells us that every time you change the environment to such great degrees you have to start all over again.


Speed of training

As mentioned before, everything feels different on a mat then it would on a floor. The first way this interferes with their senses is by their sense of security. They are more confident on a mat and therefore will often try things they are not ready for while on a mat. So, when learning the progressions of a front roll they are doing things like rock and rolls on a mat and are less likely to understand the rounding of the back because they haven’t had the opportunity to feel the floor. I often see front rolls that are dangerous because they have learned the front roll in an environment that was far too comfortable. This is an example of when the speed of their training progresses far faster than their body’s and mind. We tend to forget about the role the mind plays in training and how perception is everything. When we are not realistic about our bodies we tend to skip steps which can have disastrous outcomes.

Perception VS Reality:

But Ashley, look at the skill level of children today?! How can you deny that these programs work if they are producing such fantastic results? Well,  I simply look at the turned in knees, lifted shoulder, lifted hips, weight distribution on hands or feet, placement and legs bouncing off their heads as indicators of partial skills development. What we don’t know is whether that child is in pain? Whether they are consistent in the execution of their skill? If they can competently do the progressions that come before the skill (turns are a great example of this)? What their joints look like on the inside?  How their landings are effecting their bones, ligaments and tendons? So as you can see, what I see is very different from what so many others see and I cringe when I witness the online adoration of millions of overstretched, overworked and underdeveloped artists.

The flat line

The flat line is the ideal dance line, When in a split on the floor the body creates a flat line. Why is there such a need to grind a child’s hips in order to create strange, un dance like shape that goes beyond this?Seriously, why? Flat jetes..beautiful; flat ponches…beautiful; L shaped side layovers…WHY? The floor teaches a dancer where to stop. You can’t go further than the floor.  When dancers are overly flexible we compromise so many things including strength, development and control. By maintaining ideal alignment using the floor our body is able to teach our muscles to remember that alignment and will thus be able to achieve the ideal line faster.

My job is centered around producing a dancer with even muscle development, right and left utility, a strong understanding of foundation dance concepts, multi-discipline dance ability and competency to execute choreography in each genre with the intended feeling and quality while always ensuring balanced training in strength and flexibility. So instead of prolonging progress, which can be like watching hair grow, I prefer to create and maintain the environment that makes dance….dance. When students are focused on foundation training and safe progressions they avoid spending time on skills that are total time wasters. Why are we trying to kick things in the air while jumping? Has anyone looked at their bodies when they are doing that? Not very attractive if you ask me. Where are the beautiful lines and strong upper bodies??? Learning skills before body development and foundation concepts means dancers are riddled with bad habits that take even more time to correct. I have spent more time fixing students than teaching new skills because of all the time wasted on the skill using unrealistic settings instead of training the dancer to develop the body to execute skills with ease. I have heard more injury stories then I’d like to admit. And, I’ve consoled way too many mothers who are dealing with children in pain out of vanity, lack of education and or the need for acceptance from the dance community by ‘keeping up’ with the very dangerous trends. I know this blog will be controversial to some but I implore you to think about what I’m saying and what it means to prepare children for not only the working world of dance, where not a single scorpion will be found, but also a body that is healthy and a mind that is ready to be trainable.

Live Love Dance

Dear dance families,

Dear dance families,

Stay where are if you know what’s good for you; and most importantly your children. Your dance teachers need you, but what’s interesting is that you and your children will need them far more during this time and especially once this is all over.  “But it’s only dance they said. The kids can do without it can’t they?” I’m here to tell you that if you want your children to make it through this time well adjusted and sane then its probably a good idea that you continue training with your current dance school.

I am a mother of two, one is a professional dancer, a dance teacher and former studio owner so my perspective comes from many angles. So let me explain to you why sticking with your current dance school is essential to your children’s mental health, well being and future self:

  1. Consistency – Anyone expecting anything to make any change of any kind will need to make sure they are consistently doing that thing. This could be helping a child learn to take instruction all the way to helping them get their first job. Positive change can only occur when you do the same thing over and over. So stopping for a month or six means you will be starting from scratch when you get back. Don’t believe me? let’s see how your abs hold up after a few months hiatus from the gym.. Same goes for your physical and mental abilities in dance class. It’s unmotivating and demoralising to go backwards with anything. Can you imagine how terrible your child will feel going back to a class (if there is a class to go back to) they once felt confident in but no longer can keep up with? Do you want too add that to their mental load when this is all over?
  2. Familiarity – No matter where you are your child’s world has been flipped upside down. Maintaining activities that offer familiarity will provide qualities that are necessary for their mental health. The friendliness and intimacy that is provided by their dance teacher is often unmatched by other aspects of their lives,  even within their own family.  Is this something you really think they can do without? I think not!
  3. Regularity – Maintaining a healthy routine while at home is something I can’t stress enough.  Children are like sponges and it doesn’t take long for them to develop habits that are detrimental to themselves and their future selves. Actively maintaining a schedule that is representative of their former lives will prepare them for the day that it all goes back to “normal”. I often see high levels of anxiety when students return from extended vacations due to this fact and think it would be so overwhelming for parents and educators alike to have boat loads of children falling asleep at 10 am because they slept in for the last 3 months.
  4. Integrity – Your children are mirrors of you. Maintaining strong morals and ethics in such a tumultuous time will help them develop their own moral compass that will dictate future decisions. So ditching your dance school because things have changed ie. online classes, isn’t the most moral of decisions in my opinion as they are offering a valuable service.
  5. Don’t be a hypocrit – Everyone wants/needs help right now. And absolutely you have every right to feel terrible about your situation: whether its losing your job (hi there I just lost my job and my son lost his dream job so we can relate), getting sick or worse or just simply having to be stuck in the house day in and day out…..we get it. It’s awful! So, when you reach out for help, isn’t it nice to actually get it. How about not forgetting to help the studio that gave and is still willing to give your child a safe space, friendly ear, greater confidence or simply a new step to learn. Teach your children to give and not just take. Although giving takes sacrifices, it is worth it. My dad lost his job, we were a single income household, and it was rough. But, my mom created miracles out of pennies and managed to maintain our dance training despite barely being able to keep a roof over our head. Because of this sacrifice I learned how to give even when at first I didn’t think I had anything to give. So although many of us are doing it tough, don’t forget to pay it forward to the people and businesses that you want to be there when this is all over.
  6. Discipline – Without strong outside influences for our children, our job as parents is infinitely harder. If I had a dollar for every parent that said “but Miss Ashley they listen to you” I wouldn’t worry so much about losing my job! Your children’s behaviour can easily waver and with the discipline provided in a dance a class you are sure to keep your child’s code of conduct sound and their mind trainable. This is by far the most important quality sought out by teachers and employers.

As you can see the reasons you enrolled your child in dance are more prevalent than ever!

My list can go on but honestly who has the time to listen to me babble on? Kidding, we all have time to read my very long, very necessary rant about an industry I love, my family loves and so many people around the world love. Now I’m not one to mince words so the fact of the matter is if you don’t support your dance studio then they probably won’t be there when this ordeal is over. Do you really want your child entering a world that is so vastly different than the one they left behind? I know for the stability of my child being part of something has been integral to his success and in my opinion appears to be the number one factor that I found was present in successful children and adults. The second you decide your child’s passion, safe place or escape from the world we live in isn’t worth the time, money or effort you might just invoke a change that you cant undo.

Don’t like what I said? It won’t matter because we will all have bigger problems to deal with if we don’t proactively support each other today!

Stay safe! Sending love and positive energy your way:)

YOU NEED THIS IN YOUR LIFE: Training Choreography

It’s very strange to me how a large portion of teachers separate skills and quality of dance training as if they are two seperate entities. Kicks and jumps are taught and executed but not often danced. So how do I marry skills and dance quality in a way that will prepare students to use their skills gracefully and consistently: I use training choreography.

What is training choreography?

It is choreography that carefully combines different tempos, levels, skills, change of directions and qualities that are taught in a way that gives the dancer TIME and ABILITY to develop their bodies and apply their skills SAFELY and CONSISTENTLY. Ideally, training choreography is preparation for a particular dance or performance and will set the foundation for more difficult skills and choreography.

Below is an example of training choreography I gave to an amazing group of dancers at Centre Stage

I believe that many choreographers and teachers are teaching too quickly and introducing skills in to dances before safely interjecting them in to safe scenarios that include down the floor and class choreography as one’s centre of balance changes with even the slightest angle.

A jete forward with a long or standardised prep is one thing; A jete from another direction after a particular type of choreography becomes something else and a body needs time to adjust through choreography training techniques.

Don’t find fault: Find a remedy

I was always taught that criticism is best served with a heaping side of solution.  This is a paramount life lesson that has become one of the corner stones of my teaching philosophy. Now I know that time and experience is my friend when it comes to my ability to find remedies for most if not all the issues my students have encountered; so with a little change in perspective and some helpful hints, you too can learn to problem solve your way through almost any class issue.

Factors that help transition you from being a fault finder to a remedy maker:

  1. Does your actual experience and ability allow for your students to meet their actual goals.
  2. Assess why you are choosing to teach dance. Money, ego, learning, talent/skill, love of dance or any combination of reasons. Whatever the truthful answer it will dictate the types of students you should responsibly take on.
  3. What is your track record regarding ALL your students? Think about what the actual results have been for even the most difficult of students.

By thinking about these simple factors each dance teacher can align their teaching abilities and style to the right students in order to have the right perspective for finding remedies.  Sometimes its not even about what you WANT to provide for your students but what you can ACTUALLY provide for them that makes the difference between being a fault finder or a remedy maker.

Once you and your class are aligned as gracefully as a solar eclipse you can start to think about how to best provide remedies:

  1. Face to face encounters for initial corrections. No yelling across the room over music… not yet any way…lol.
  2. Each correction should be paired with at least 2 helpful exercises that are employed  immediately. Each are explained and should be noted and if possible added to warm ups.
  3. Never give a correction you don’t yet know how to fix or that is outside the scope of your position ie. medical advice.
  4. Don’t move on to the next issue until the first one is applied. Although this may be a slow process at first, your students will learn to listen, absorb and apply their corrections and complimentary training exercises faster because they, just like you, want to move on to the next great skill.
  5. Try to conduct one or two classes a term where you don’t find fault or try to fix anything. Just enjoy having them BE DANCERS once and a while.

It would be so great if educators got in the habit of seeing their students as being glorious just the way they are. Appreciating them in the moment and having the appropriate knowledge and experience to help on the most fundamental level. Students don’t need to be fixed; What they need is to be given a better understanding of themselves and how they can best develop in to the dancers that THEY WANT TO BE!




Dance moms don’t exist! Let me tell you why?

There is an article circulating about dance moms and how the experience of a dancer and their family is bound by mean spirited encounters laced with disappointment and hurt. I am here to say that this is such crap! The only thing that exists are bad people…and the truth is that they are everywhere. There is ….AGAIN …. a lack of understanding as to why certain dynamics exist and how we can develop better communication habits and coping mechanisms in order to either avoid or defuse certain situations as well as educate ourselves on how to create a meaningful and positive dance experience. In this blog I will shed some light as to why dance moms do NOT exist and how to create or take back your power as a parent of a dancer in order to have the experience your child has always wanted.

I think it is so ridiculous to use reality TV shows as an example of how ANYONE behaves. Heck, those parents would most likely not behave that way under normal circumstances. There are several things people need to keep in mind when watching a TV show:

  1. It is always semi scripted regardless of how real you may think it is.
  2. These people are paid actors. And I use the term ‘actors’ loosely, but nonetheless they are being paid to create ratings.
  3. Drama is big business.
  4. No one would watch it if it reflected the actual experience of the vast majority of dancers and dance families.

I am a mother of a dancer as well as a dance professional.  Calling me a dance mom in the context of these shows is like calling a detective Sherlock Holmes. How many times has a real life detective had to solve mysteries that involve mystical plots and far fetched outcomes? Never! So using dance moms as an educational tool is as useful as watching Lord of the Rings to help solve our current world problems; Just find that ring and we will save humanity..Right?!

Obviously something helped to create this stereotype so lets have a look at why this term and the situations surrounding it exist:

  • In any situation where people are looking to succeed you will get a natural tendency towards competition. This is, again, natural. There is healthy competition and there is unhealthy competition. Good people with good parents handle this competition in ways that include supporting their team mates and celebrating other peoples’ achievements. Just because someone wants to be the best does not mean they are bad people. It is how they deal with others wanting the same things that defines them.
  • Parents that treat their dance school and peers with disrespect most likely treat other businesses and people with disrespect. It is simply that you don’t tend to see them in other situations that leads one to believe that it is only the dance environment that brings this out in people.
  • Any sport performed at an elite level will attract a certain personality type and so clashes are more likely to happen. It is proven that if you do not like something about someone it is almost always because that is the trait you dislike about yourself. So all the type A personalities that would otherwise not be friends may have a hard time dealing with THEMSELVES on a daily basis.
  • Dance has many uses and not everyone has an appreciation for that. Some children with disabilities uses it as therapy. Some children use it for fitness. Some children use it to make friends. Some use it for something to do. Some use it to be good at something now. Some use it as a means to a future in dance. I think depending on your use of dance you will place expectations around it and see all others as potentially wrong uses of dance. For example, I have heard moms say “I can’t believe so and so dances 4 nights a week. She is only 5!” Just because a fairy ballet class once a week works for them it does not mean that they are an authority as to how others should incorporate dance in their lives.

I am sure you can think of many others reasons why the term dance moms exists but I thought these were the most important ones to discuss.

I think what was most annoying about the article is that it spoke about dance being only for the elite. People are making assumptions that because we can afford to dance at a very high level that all of the sudden it’s because we have money.  I have been in this industry for 30 years. I never danced with a rich person. I have very very rarely taught a child from a rich family. It’s called priorities. When you prioritise something it normally means you have to sacrifice other things to obtain the thing you want. Ultimately, anything you do will almost always have the same qualities:

  • Time VS Investment
  • Quality VS Cost
  • Input VS Outcome

It is beyond frustrating when people believe that they should have access to dance at whatever investment level that suits them. The less you do something the less it costs. The less you do something the more likely you are not to be very good at it. The less you do something the more freedom you have to whatever it is that suits you. On the other hand, the more you do something the more it costs. The more you do something the better you are at it. The more you do something the more sacrifices you have to make in other aspects of your life. Apologies to anyone who already understands this but I think a lot of problems would be avoided if commonsense prevailed.  If you can’t afford dance than don’t get your hair done, like my mom. If you can’t afford dance than don’t go for coffee, like my dad.  If you can’t afford dance than don’t ask for new ANYTHING, like me. My parents even through losing their jobs in the early 90’s were able to pay for elite dance for both my sister and I. We gave up a lot to be great at dance. And when I won Miss Dance of America, 1998, in New York city in the seniors division against studios like Abby Lee’s than all of the sacrifices were worth it. Now, any parent that got mad that I won is a reflection of them. Any parent that wants to crap on my parent’s dedication and sacrifices which we made as a family is also a reflection of them.  Where the conflict arrises is that people judging from the outside will ASSUME that I have a silver spoon in my mouth. My cousins use to say this all the time to me. Little did they know that my parents sacrificed EVERY COMFORT so that they could keep us out of trouble and in dance. There are people who are really good with money and lots who aren’t. We live in a first world country. If you honestly can’t afford to do the things you want than, with the exception of some serious circumstances, there is a strong possibility that you are terrible with money. 47% of Australians are over debted. This means that lots and lots of people believe they can’t afford stuff and complain that everything is too expensive when in reality almost half of the population clearly don’t know how to manage their money. So knowing that there are two types of people in this world: those who are great with money and those that are not, it might be that those who simply can’t manage their money are complaining that only the elite can dance. I was never upper middle class. I was barely middle class. We did it and never complained. We did it and never expected people to lower their rates. We did it and never ever thought that our lives were more important than the collective dance community. So to anyone who thinks dance is for the elite you really need to stop making assumptions about those who manage to pay their bills for their children’s training, because its more likely they gave up that vacation like the one you actually took last summer that allowed them to pay for their year of dance.

Now, how can you avoid the bad apples in the dance industry? I think you need to ask yourself how you avoid bad apples in every other aspect of your life? Here are some things you can do or look for in order to ensure a better dance environment for you and your child:

  • A studio’s policies will tell you a lot about them. Look for studios that stick to their policies no matter what. This means they have integrity. So the parents that want special rules for them because their children are super special and their family is so much more important than everyone else’s won’t go there or won’t last very long.
  • Look for studios where the majority of teachers are slightly older. There are some great twenty something teachers but they lack experience and general knowledge simply based on their limited time in the industry. There needs to be understanding authority figures that can relate to life as a parent. That way you can effectively speak with them about your personal needs and will have the confidence to tackle problem children and parents head on.
  • Don’t get overly involved. Try not to create a parent committee or start fundraising or give class ideas or costume ideas unless you are explicitly asked. You are not on the pay role so enjoy dropping off and picking up in all its glory.
  • As a mom I have never felt like I know best . The whole point of trusting an educator is because I know they will do a better job at whatever it is than I will. So allowing the studio to do their job in its entirety is incredibly important. This means never b*&%^&*** about the teacher in front of your child. The second you undermine their authority you are teaching your child how to behave in their classroom. If a child is unruly in class it is almost always because their parents are knowingly or unknowingly disrespectful people. So parents take note of your child’s behaviour in a class setting because it is incredibly telling about our own.
  • Pair yourself with a studio that matches your goals. If your goal is to be the best dancer in the world than you need to surround yourself with other parents, children and teachers that will help you achieve that goal. When your results don’t meet your expectations you will be setting yourself up for failure and drama.
  • You don’t have be around each other all the time. My mom and I never stayed with my dance team at competitions. We couldn’t afford to stay at certain hotels. We didn’t eat out with everyone at the competitions because we couldn’t afford it. Also, it doesn’t make sense to force social situations when in any other circumstance we wouldn’t hang out. We limited our interactions to dance events only and it worked like a charm.

You will probably have many more strategies for creating a stress free dance environment. Like I said, make dance decisions based on your morals and values like you would in any other aspect of your life.

I think people really need to understand why they are dancing in order to set realistic expectations. If your goal is to make friends and within the first 6 months no friends have been made than it’s time to move on. I believe that when expectations do not match the experience is when a lot of drama occurs. Clearly stated goals however can help parents and children make better decisions that will allow them to have an overall better outcome.

I would like to end on the idea that you aren’t stuck anywhere. Be respectful of your commitments however once the year is done you should absolutely look for an institution that will help you have a great experience. If a school or group of people are pressuring you to stay than they do not have your best intentions at heart. The same goes for those pressuring you to leave. If you are happy somewhere than do not allow someone else’s drama to dictate your decisions.

Dancing is awesome. Most parents are great. We all love our children. Overall the world is filled with great people.

Happy dancing!



Finishing on success: When is it important; and why is it necessary?

Finishing on success – Although I have absolutely done this, I haven’t actually recognised it explicitly nor have I always applied it when I should have.

This lesson is curtesy of my partner who I watched for over an hour teach my son how to play basketball. And, as my son became frustrated at the prospect of not just being allowed to aimlessly hurl the ball at the net I witnessed some serious teaching excellence occur.

Once my son decided to sit down out of his sheer unwillingness to continue his losing streak I took the opportunity to learn how to shoot a basketball properly. After about 20 minutes I was hitting some amazing shots and it felt great. Not only did it feel great to get better but it felt so nice to learn from someone who wanted to invest their time to teach me something. As it was getting dark I decided it was time to call it a night, but first I offered a few more opportunities for my son to try to work on his shot. I said he could have 3 more turns. After 3 failed attempts I commended him on his effort and started to head towards the car. Then, my partner stepped in and said “we are not leaving until you (River) get in a basket.” I thought “well ok lets do that” without giving this tactic the consideration or credit it deserved. My son tried and tried until he finally hit a shot. Then he asked if he could have a few more goes. Of course I let him. As we were walking back to the car my partner said to me “River really needed to finish on success.” In that moment I had a lightbulb not only go off but scream at me “this is so important to remember, so don’t you forget it!”

Why did this lesson seem so profound? Getting the best out of my class doesn’t just happen during the class. Every single class sets us up for the next. I have always asked myself what the last class taught my students; not only physically but mentally and how I should start the class in a away that will compliment the week before. Thus it is so important that as teachers we are organised in advance so that there is a mental preparedness from us and our students in order to create or maintain the fine balance between being confident and understanding that there is so much to learn; that we should celebrate our small wins but also have a grasp that the journey is long in order to reach our major goals.

I find defining tactics a useful tool as a teacher so that I can begin to do the following:

  • Have a repertoire of useful and effective tactics.
  • Identify when a particular tactics or set of tactics should be used.
  • Understand how to employ the tactic consistently.
  • How to follow through with the tactic to get the best long term result.

After analysing my class plans from the last few years I realised that roughly 3 out of every 5 classes ended on success. Not particularly in any order but just that although success was necessary, it was important for students to return home with the intent of reflecting on how they could be better students. So, I realised that roughly 3 out of 5 classes were designed to ” finish on success.” From now on I will use this phrase in my class plans.

As I delved further into my notes it became clear that I employed this tactic in the following circumstances:

  • Teaching beginners
  • Introducing new concepts, steps or skills
  • After a difficult class or set of classes
  • After a positive failure that occurred inside or outside the class (ie. competition or exam)

Referring to the above circumstances I’ll give one example of how I used the tactic “finishing on success” (although there are many ways you can employ this in each of these circumstances):

Teaching beginners:

I would sit down with the class and ask them what they felt really good doing throughout the lesson. If they felt comfortable enough to show us then we would all clap for them after their successful display of confidence and skill.

Introducing new concepts:

When giving feedback on the class lesson I would make sure that the aspect to work on is stated first and the aspect that was done well is stated as the final comment.

After a difficult class or set of classes:

If the students have, in my experience, reached their emotional and physical limitations I make sure to have a final exercise that includes a skill that they are collectively great at.

After a positive failure that occurred inside or outside the class room:

Speaking to the class about how difficult it is to try new things, enter in to new situations and set more difficult goals and how this is very commendable. That in and of itself this an achievement. That I am proud of them and could not reasonably expect more than their best effort.

Follow through is important because students need repetition and consistency in order to thrive. So, for example, whenever I have beginners I know the goal is to build confidence and a love for dance. Therefore I will make sure that finishing on success happens throughout the class, not just at the end. Whereas, competitive students require positive failure as well as successful outcomes in order to make significant improvements. So, I will create more comprehensive tools that take more effort to achieve that success like achievement charts; as opposed to the beginners who will receive praise for smaller goals like applying one correction.

Why is this necessary? Last night it became apparent that when my son wanted to leave the court because he was not prepared for the level of failure he was experiencing that finishing on success was important to ensure that he was willing to try at a later date and prepared to do his best when that date arrives. And since my partner wanted to achieve the goal of my son ‘wanting’ to come back and try again I would say this tactic worked nicely. Whereas after a few lessons River may need to finish a lesson on a correction that is really important for further progress meaning that finishing on success will hinder his growth in the sport and therefore finishing on success is not an appropriate tactic.

It’s amazing what we can learn when we least expect it. I would say keeping my student hate on as often as I can has really helped me pick up on some amazing things that I might otherwise miss.

Happy teaching !!






The science behind hip joints: Why over stretching is not just unattractive and uncontrolled dance.

I am so lucky that my child hood dance training was appropriate and safe while still very much capable of producing impressive results. Not only do I feel that dance lines have been completely contorted but certain types of dance training has become dangerous and unnecessary. There is a general lack of understanding as to what is acceptable, pleasing and safe for today’s dancers. This blog will discuss the science behind the most talked about and most overused joint in this generation of dancer: The hip joint.

The straight line

One of the most sought after skills throughout dance history is a straight line. Square shoulders and hips are the vegetables of dance. They are completely and totally necessary for the functional execution of a large portion of dance based skills. Once that is mastered a dancer aims to achieve flat lines. This is the pinnacle of dance excellence. Some are born more or less flexible than others. It is not impressive to be on either side of that ideal flat line. It is when an entire group of dancers are trained to have control in order to collectively produce the flat line that true dance skill is achieved. So, to all those dancers, teachers and parents that get excited when their student or child has a line that goes past a flat line, it is important to understand that this simply means that they are not being taught control; and this my friends is one of the staples of good dance training.

The science

There is something really special about our joints; They have specific functions that are inherent to their design that will determine their overall function. One of these very important designs is called articular cartilage. Articular cartilage lubricates all joints, including the hips, to allow for articulation of those joints without breaking down the bone matter within that region. What makes it particularly susceptible to damage is that it does not have blood vessels, lymphatics or nerves that can help with healing, removing debris or transmitting immediate signals to the brain during periods of damage. The one thing that keeps our hips moving is also one of the most delicate components of its structure as well as the most reported injury in dancers to date. Thus injury of the articular cartilage is a cause of significant musculoskeletal morbidity and makes treatment and repair or restoration of the defects challenging. Because of this the preservation and health of articular cartilage is paramount to hip joint health. Since the hips are one of the body’s largest joints and is covered with articular cartilage, it is critical that training methods employ safe, muscle force methods to ensure that hip function and health are maintained.

What are muscle force methods:
I have discussed in some of my other blogs how my dancers are all trained by using cross-discipline, multifunctional warm up methods to ensure that every exercise includes a stretching, strengthening and stabilising component. Muscle force methods are exercises that ensure the muscles surrounding the main stretching area as well as the key anatomical structures are being employed to ensure their protection and correct alignment.

Let me explain using a traditional split exercise. Below are pictures of beginners. In the first I asked everyone to move through to a gentle middle split. Then I asked them to reach forward. The first picture is the result. Some teachers will see that the knees are rolling and the legs are not engaged. But what about their spine? By rounding the back and hanging the head the children are shortening their neck muscles and straining their spine by fighting its natural curvature as well as creating a rounding in their shoulders. Why does this matter? When the children stand up they will not be able to achieve the correct anatomical positions that will allow joints like their hips to move freely. So, in order to preserve the hips we need to address the entire body. We need to teach them to use their muscles to create the desired placement within each position.

Picture #1



Picture #2


In the second picture they are asked to engage the following muscles in this order:

* Pointing over the toes to prevent shortening of the tibialis which will become prevalent when kicking and jumping with the inability to finish their lines properly. Note: pointing over the toes means that the top of the foot where the ankle and foot meet is the highest point of the leg line. Toes and knees should ideally be below this point. If the toes are higher then more metatarsal work is needed. If the knees are higher more low impact muscles development around the knee is needed.
* Squeezing their knees to protect the knee joint. Ideally the heels have subsequently lifted off the floor while maintaining their feet.

*Using their hip muscles to align their  knees and ankles with their hips.
* Sitting upright having their head lift to the ceiling.
* Engaging their hands in front by pressing out of the floor while lifting the chest and engaging the back muscles. If they are struggling to understand how to engage their shoulders you can describe it as a pinching between the two shoulder blades.
* Lastly, have them lift their chin to where the mirror and wall meet.

Now its time to push the boundaries – SAFELY! Have them walk out as far as they can leading with their chin. This should prevent the rounding in the lower spin.

Now you have a safe exercise that will stretch the appropriate tendons, ligaments and muscles without causing injury to the hips. It will create foundation technique that will eliminate A LOT of the issues that are experienced when learning certain skills. For example, middle split jumps will most likely have lifted upper bodies and correct placement due to key anatomical positions being achieved PRIOR to learning skills.

Drinking water can help
Water is the most abundant component of articular cartilage contributing up to 80%. This fluid maintains articular cartilage health by transporting nutrients and maintaining lubrication. Simply pulling the legs, sitting in splits or over stretching to achieve flexibility not only damages these delicate structures but it cuts off the flow of fluids to these regions. This is why it is so important to use muscular force to bring various body parts in to anatomical positions. We need to maintain the path ways through the joints and across the articular surface to allow the transport of these vital nutrients and to achieve optimal joint movement.

If limbs are constantly being pulled and thrown using a variety of unnecessary methods than what you will find is that the yin and yang of a dancer’s body has been greatly disturupted. We need muscle control to compliment the desired flexibility in order to not only create beautiful lines but also to maintain long term body health. It’s all about preservation folks; because once this delicate and highly necessary structure is damaged it will forever change the course of your students body function. And in dance hips are everything!

Loaded Terms: What are they and why are they ruining our students dance experience?

In this blog I will explain how the loaded term has crept its way in to dance instruction; creating a teaching philosophy that has slowly erased teaching as a scientific, experience based method to a regurgitation of words along with a transfer of responsibility from teacher to student.

It is so hard to put my finger on the exact moment that teaching took a back seat to the art of seeking only naturally gifted students and putting their name on them; but I would say it came as a result of the “soloist” era. Really wonderful shows that brought so many great things to our industry also began to erode the importance of building up an entire team to produce beautiful, meaningful and technically correct performances. I get it!! It is so much easier to teach certain children – and to have a whole room of those naturally gifted, focused, nearly problem free children is something we can’t help but want to experience. As a result of always seeking out the “chosen few” a large majority of dancers are overlooked. You see, if those children, who are not given absolutely everything straight out of the womb (which is 99.9% of children), want to be good at dance then they would have to find a studio that has talented, experienced, and knowledgable dance teachers. So as choreographers, teachers and studio owners get better at attracting talented children they have seemed to get worse at actually teaching and/or finding great staff. And hence the loaded term was born!

So what is a loaded term? Loaded terms are general expressions and corrections used in dance that are often thrown at children but have no real meaning to those children at that time. Loaded terms will change depending on the skill level of the student. Unfortunately for the students they are used at all levels and only those students with sheer luck or natural ability to “figure it out themselves” actually appear to improve while in the care of these kinds of teachers.

Pull up

Point your toes

Stretch your knees

Fix your posture


Jump higher

Use your feet

Deeper plie

Use your turn out

…And the list goes on. It’s important to note that these may not be loaded, although some are just bad, depending on the level of the student.

The principal is that if a student does not understand everything that encompasses that term regarding the step, their body and how it functions then it is a loaded term and ultimately incredibly ineffective and frustrating for the students to hear during their  training. In many cases it can actually create more problems for that student. Let’s look at a scenario and how the loaded term can create a stressful and regressive training process for the student.

Deeper plie

Here are some reasons why saying this to a student would be ineffective:

  • They don’t understand how “deep” to go. If they haven’t learned plie and grand plie for example then the student simply cant determine the appropriate depth to lower their hips.
  • Deeper plies may not be feasible based on the flexibility in the achilles; so achieving this physically may not actually be possible at the time. The actual correction would be correcting the lack of flexibility not the level of plie.

These are just two examples but I am sure you can think of so many other scenarios where using this loaded term would not actually produce the intended result.

Now let’s use the same example to demonstrate how using a loaded term could create bad habits that can even lead to injury. Using the short achilles example we can have the following outcomes by telling a student to deepen their plie:

  • Not landing their heels in sautés.
  • Rolling the ankle to compensate for the lack of flexibility in the achilles.
  • Leaning forward and throwing the body in order to get the needed power to jump due to inefficient use of feet and lack of alignment.

Having to learn all that stuff that makes up the loaded term would mean that teachers have to read and educate themselves in dance physiology, assist excellent teachers, teach beginners, or even attend PD throughout the year…And doesn’t that sound like way too much work when you can just take a dance class and open a studio…and make the same amount of money as someone who does all the right things?!

I hope the industry, parents and students can begin to recognise the teachers that spurt out loaded, ineffective terms and corrections that have no actual ability to educate the student. I don’t blame them for it though because they had to learn that from somewhere. And let’s be honest; there isn’t any regulation in our industry and studios that shouldn’t are still making money; so the first step in moving towards safer teaching practices that are experience and evidence based is doing two things: 1) educating parents and 2) educating teachers.

So, how can you determine whether a teacher is using a loaded term while teaching:

  • The term is being repeated over and over throughout the entire class to the majority of the students. Corrections need to be foundational or skill based as well as student specific. If foundation technique is missing then the teacher needs to re-evaluate their conditioning (stretching and strengthening) in order to develop that part of the body. If skill based functions are not there then the teacher needs to go back to earlier progressions and emphasise the proper use of their body throughout more basic skills to ensure physical efficiency and effectiveness are present before more difficult skills are introduced.
  • A large portion of the class is struggling to achieve the skill. This one is pretty self explanatory. However I still see 1 or 2 dancers doing the vast majority of hard skills in routines and that is very indicative of teachers who use loaded terms.
  • Students progress very quickly and then stop abruptly. I see this with very talented students. Beginner and mid level skills are easily achieved however vital habits and foundation technique are missing meaning that difficult skills performed consistently and safely are almost impossible to achieve.
  • Many students in a class have recurring lower body injuries. I am not talking one or two. I mean a noticeable amount of students are injured in the same class. Knee and ankle injuries are quite prevalent in students who attempt skills they are not ready for. Poor alignment and training on both sides of the body for example are overlooked when giving general corrections like “you need more height in your jump” type of corrections. Lots of throwing of the body makes for a very unsafe and unstable base which ultimately puts enormous pressure on the ankles and knees causing more than just ineffective dancers but a lifetime of physical problems.
  • They seem to work with the same individuals in class. If a child feels left out in class it may be because their teacher does’t know how to fix their issues. If they are using loaded terms and when a select few are fixing themselves the way the teacher wanted than they will gravitate to those students.
  • They skip warm ups. Warm ups determine the dancer. However if a student grew up on loaded terms then they most likely haven’t been taught the importance of developing the body through very necessary, carefully planned warm ups. That will translate in to their teaching and students will be expected to jete prior to learning the mounds of techniques that go in to that jete.
  • The teacher cannot explain how to specifically help a child with their body. Hip rotation is a great example of this. Yes, you can be born with poor hip rotation (raising my hand so high right now because my hips are naturally horrible), but that does not mean that I am doomed to suck at ballet and dance in general. It means that I need specific teaching techniques, exercises and explanations that will give me better turn out and the illusion to the audience that I have superb turnout. Blaming a child for their limitations is a reflection of a teacher and often not the ability of the student.

I think this is why I have such a massive problem with performers teaching and hosting workshops. Teaching takes a life time to master; Performing and mastering ones body also takes a lifetime. Doing both is very difficult. I know it can be done but I simply don’t see it very often. They teach with loaded terms because at the point in anyone’s life when they are dancing for a living it usually means that they have a strong grasp of foundation and skill based technique. Therefore the above terms make sense and are used as reminders not skill building. Professional skill building and maintenance requires very different teaching methods than foundation and progression based teaching. The result of hiring professional performers often means that they gravitate to the students “just like them” who most likely have the ability to decipher and apply loaded terms. This is not always the case of course, but it happens way to often in my opinion.

Teachers, if you didn’t know you were teaching this way then it’s not too late to fix it. Here are some suggestions as to how to work on removing loaded terms:

  • Pick a correction that seems to be affecting everyone in the class. Now its time for some good old fashioned problem solving. Put that pen to paper and write down all the possible issues it could be. You know more then you think!
  • Choose 1 student who seems to be falling behind in class. List 2 technical and/or skill issues that could be affecting them. Now list as many exercises and/or progressions as you can think of for those issues.
  • Go back to basics. If you aren’t prepared or able to think of progressions or exercises that will create meaningful change for whatever reason, than seek the help of a syllabus. Go right back to the beginning and work your way through. Since they all come with DVD’s your students will have the ability to see exactly what the skill should look like. Video them and let them witness the difference.
  • Spend an hour or 2 a week with a teacher that has proven results. Learn from others in the industry who have had a more comprehensive dance education than maybe you have had in order to gain experience based knowledge.

Dance teachers are educators like every other and need to remember the incredible responsibility we have to our students. If you have any questions and or would like someone to review your work then please do not hesitate to contact me: The first consult is free. I am always excited to pass my knowledge on to others the way others have graciously passed it on to me.


Support for each other is the best thing we can do for our students!