Straddle Stretch Forever

In an effort to keep my digital content focused on what my audience wants to see and to encourage myself to keep to routines that make me feel great physically, I’ll be focusing on stretching for a while!

When it comes to stretching, you should know that I like to keep it simple. There are a few stretches that I’ve been doing since childhood that still serve me well. One of these is the straddle stretch. This is my go-to stretch when I’m at home and feeling a bit antsy in the evening or after I’ve just entered a dance class and want to stake my claim to some space in the studio (typically a place at the barre where I can see myself dancing from more than 1 angle, or where I’m at the end so I can follow someone if needed, then challenge myself and use my good ol’ memory skills the rest of the time.)

To perform a straddle stretch, sit down on the floor in an open space, with your legs spread apart so that you can feel a stretch in your inner thigh. Be sure that your knees are facing up toward the ceiling and not rolling inward.

While sitting in the straddle stretch position, I like to point and flex my feet, focusing especially on holding the flexed position so that I get a good stretch behind my knees.

I also like to reach my arms forward, to deepen the stretch of my inner thighs. I then relax my head and neck and hold that position for several seconds.

To focus on one leg at a time, I like to tilt my torso all the way to one side, either touching the side of my torso to my leg or by lifting my arms (into a ballet high fifth position) and twisting my torso so that my chest goes toward my knee.

Should we do a straddle stretch every day for the next week?

Let’s do it.

Saumirah

The Importance of Flexibility

I recently posted a few polls on the Dance Daze Dance Boards™ Instagram account asking which kind of dance education content my audience there would be most interested in seeing. One of the top-voted content choices, receiving 88% of votes, was information about improving flexibility.

As a dance educator and as a former pre-professional dancer, I know that many benefits come with improving flexibility. I’ve listed some below!

  1. Makes Dancing Easier

When our flexibility improves, so does our range of motion. Simply put, having a greater range of motion allows dancers to do more movements with greater ease (as long as our strength and muscular development progresses along with our flexibility). For dance and other forms of movement (such as gymnastics) that require a variety of movements with different body parts, having more flexibility and the ability to move more easily in a variety of ways makes it simpler for us to perform different movements.

2. Reduces Risk of Injury

If we are working on improving our flexibility, it is likely that we will begin stretching more regularly, thus keeping our joints fluid. When our joints are fluid, not only does this slow joint degeneration and improve our posture, it also makes it less likely that we will be injured when we are dancing. Flexible joints and muscles are looser and require less energy to perform moves. This means, we are less likely to strain when performing movements repeatedly or when attempting a new movement for the first time. We do not have to fight our body in order to achieve the desired look of a certain movement, and our bodies are able to withstand greater physical stress when our flexibility improves.

3. Improves Overall Health

One reason that yoga is so popular is that stretching gives us a more positive and relaxed state of mind. We tend to feel really good after stretching. Also, even when we are not dancing, greater flexibility in general allows us to better perform all physical movements.

In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits of increasing flexibility, I personally know that I tend to feel 100% better in my body every single time I stretch.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be aiming to focus my video content on simple stretching exercises that I personally believe help to increase flexibility and also help keep me going throughout the day!

You can catch my video content on the following channels:

Talk soon!

Saumirah

Dance Classroom Management: Make Compliance Visible

Hello dance friends!

Today’s behavior management technique modified for the dance classroom setting is called Make Compliance Visible. As always, this technique comes from Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like A Champion 2.0 (paid link), and it is part of most classroom teacher training programs today. As a former classroom teacher, as the founder and director of several dance programs, and as someone who hires and trains dance teachers to better prepare them to teach, I am happy to organize these techniques and make them accessible for you, the dance educator. My hope is that these brief, weekly tips will help dance educators who find this information have more successful classes with more engaged students.

So what does Make Compliance Visible mean? Here is the definition: “Ensure that students follow through on a request in an immediate and visible way by setting a standard that’s more demanding than marginal compliance. Be judicious in what you ask for, specifically because it will uphold the standard of compliance” (p. 393).

This technique is in the section called high behavioral expectations, which I think is so extremely important in the dance classroom, especially when we are working with children. We, as the educators in the room, set the standard for what will happen during our learning time.

The text explains, “As a rule of thumb, the more visible the action you ask students to execute, the easier it is for you to see what students do, and the more that students implicitly recognize that you can clearly see what they do. This makes them more likely to do what you’ve asked and makes it easier for you to hold them accountable” (p. 393).

We are given an example of a school principal who, in an effort to help a classroom teacher who struggled to keep students focused, recommended having 3 scripted points into the lesson plan when the teacher would intentionally bring the class “back to orderliness” (p. 393). The principal, David McBride, asked the teacher on his staff to do the following:

  • Given an observable direction
  • Use “Radar” (intentionally scan and strategically see whether something is done)
  • Narrate the follow-through of at least two students who have demonstrated the desired behavior (and correct at least one student if they did not comply, in order to set higher expectations)

It is important for us to use the Make Compliance Visible technique because when students see other students following directions, accountability is increased for all students in the class. Additionally, the normality of compliance is increased.

I talk about this a bit more and give additional examples in my audio clips in the Dance Classroom Management section of my website for dance educators and dance studio owners, DanceEdStartup.com. Please go there to listen and learn more!

If you enjoyed this post, please be sure to share it so that it reaches more dance educators and helps improve more dance classrooms!

Dance Classroom Management: Do Now

Happy Monday!

Today’s dance classroom Behavior Management Monday tip is Technique #20 in Teach Like A Champion 2.0–Do Now. It falls under the larger category of lesson structure, and it reminds us that our dance lesson plan begins as soon as the students arrive at our studio/stage/dance room door.

If you’ve spent time in a traditional academic classroom environment and have been there at the beginning of the day, you may be familiar with the idea of a “Do Now” activity. I have personally used this technique and seen this technique used for students of all ages, ranging from kindergarten through high school-aged students. When I was teaching in K-2 classrooms, we called this “Morning Seatwork” and I either kept the activities near my desk and distributed them each morning or (for older students), I created the packets by Friday and passed them out Monday morning for the students to keep in their Morning Seatwork folder for an entire week.

So, what is a Do Now actually, and what can it look like in a dance classroom environment? A Do Now is “a short warm-up activity that students can complete without instruction or direction from you to start class every day. This lets the learning start even before you begin teaching” (p. 161).

When the Dance Ed Lab visited Los Angeles in February of 2019, and I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in their introductory workshop for a weekend, we had a simple Do Now on the first or second day of our session. The instructions were written on a piece of sticky paper, and all program participants were told to grab a free DEL shirt and introduce ourselves to someone whom we had not yet met. This activity took only a few minutes, but it was a great way for us to acclimate to the dance classroom space, facilitate developing relationships among students in the class, and it required no teacher assistance or instruction.

While I got to the point of being super comfortable with my Morning Seatwork when I was teaching K-2 academics, I feel that this is an area where I would like to continue developing with my dance classes.

Typically, I instruct my students to come into the dance space, put on their dance shoes, and stretch quietly in the center of the floor until I tell them we are ready to begin class. With my youngest students, I encourage them to do exactly the same thing, though I add that they may, instead, sit quietly with their parents before class begins.

It fills me with joy when I see my 5 and 6 year-old dancers doing their straddle stretch or butterfly stretch before class. (They will usually say, “Hey, look at me! I’m stretching before we start!”) I love that they are taking ownership of their learning, setting the tone for their sacred dance class time, and focusing themselves before beginning this important time in their day.

In Teach Like A Champion 2.0, we learn that “An effective Do Now should conform to four critical criteria to ensure that it remains focused, efficient, and effective.” These criteria are listed below:

  1. The instructions should be in the same place every day.
  2. Students should be able to complete the Do Now activity without any direction from the teacher and without any discussion with their classmates. They should also not need any additional materials to complete the activity.
  3. The activity should take no more than 5 minutes to complete and no more than 5 minutes to correct/debrief.
  4. The activity should typically preview the day’s lesson/focus or review a recent lesson/skill that was taught.

I know that having an activity such as this is not the norm for a studio dance class space. Also, even when teaching dance in schools, there are typically very limited blocks of time during which the dance class can occur, so every minute is so valuable.

I think that if I was going to challenge myself to incorporate a Do Now into my dance classes, I would do this by having a small portable white board (or a tablet of some kind) that would have a specific stretch listed for the beginning of each class. For example, in very large font, I might write/type: “Put on your dance shoes, then do a straddle stretch while pointing and flexing your toes for 3 minutes.” For my youngest dancers who might not be able to read, I could explain this to them verbally and maybe even model the stretch to the earliest students before the rest of the class arrived.

In addition to focusing your students and allowing them to work with you to set the tone of the class before it begins, I think a Do Now is a great way to teach a specific skill (e.g., I said I would focus on teaching different developmentally-appropriate stretches each week) without taking away class time because it can begin before your “actual” lesson starts. Besides that it could create too much uncontrolled chaos before starting class, I suppose a dance teacher might also add some high-activity movements such as skipping, running in place, or jumping jacks as a Do Now activity before class begins. I think it would be fun to experiment with a variety of movement activities that the students can complete independently as a Do Now.

What are some ways you would incorporate a Do Now into your dance classes? Leave a comment below or email me at saumirah@dancedaze.org and let me know!

But, what’s a hobby?

Okay, so the title of this blog might seem a bit ridiculous to some people. But, in the same way that I’ve always hated answering questions about what kinds of music I like (and, yes, I’m saving those juicy deets for another blog),  I’ve always hated answering the questions “What are your hobbies?” or “What do you like to do for fun?”

I strongly dislike answering questions about my hobbies because, quite frankly, it makes me feel like I’m not doing anything with my life. But, of course, anyone who knows me (or maybe even you, because you’re reading my blog, maybe follow me online, or at least know that blogging is a THING that takes time and effort) knows that I’m always, always working on something. And when I’m not working on something directly, I’m making plans for how to complete a project.

Still though, I can’t help but wonder if all the somethings I do are legitimate hobbies. I mean, really, what’s a hobby?! (I just feel like I’m a hard-working, type-A, ambitious, relentless hustler!)

Google tells me that a hobby is “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” Wikepedia tells me that a hobby is “a regular activity done for enjoyment, typically during one’s leisure time, not professionally and not for pay. Hobbies include collecting themed items and objects, engaging in creative and artistic pursuits, playing sports, or pursuing other amusements.”

Okay, so then there’s me. I spend my waking hours doing only things that give me pleasure in some way. I explained this in Episode #7 of The Happy Dance Podcast. I honestly feel like every single thing in my daily life (when I have complete control over my time) I’m doing either because it makes me instantly happy or because I believe it will make me long-term happy.

So, let’s take this blog for instance. Is blogging a “HOBBY?” Or am I working as I type these words? Sure, writing is fun for me. Writing is something I enjoy. It gives me great pleasure to craft words, communicate ideas, perhaps spark new insights, and maybe even engage in the occasional online conversation with a fellow blogger/digital-entrepreneur type. But, I’m also working. I’m also creating content. I’m also trying to build an audience. I’m also keeping this blog up-to-date as part of a carefully planned mini-project that is as part of a larger business-growth plan of mine.

And, while I suppose I’m not a professional blogger (I can tell you right now: I’m not making a dime directly from this blog….), I definitely spend some of my time reading about how to become a better blogger or writer.

I’m in no way a professional podcaster, but I’m constantly consuming information about how to manage, grow, and monetize a podcast.

In fact, I’ve gotten paid for many activities (e.g., posting sponsored tweets, editing resumes, managing social media accounts, etc.) that I’ve never considered my professions.

So, are these things hobbies? Simply because I’m not getting paid any big bucks to do them? Because, personally, I view everything on which I regularly spend my time as sort of a low-key startup.

I mean, as I recently said in my Instastories: In the age of influencers, isn’t any hobby a potential business? Isn’t any leisure activity a potential means of income?

When people are getting paid to make sounds into expensive microphones, the possibilities are endless, right?

So, all of the above to say this: I’m not sure where the line blurs or the boundary ends between doing something strictly for fun or doing something because it’s fun and because it could potentially make some financial income.

Maybe I don’t know what a hobby is. Or maybe I’m so wonderfully fortunate because I am spending a large portion of my life doing the things that I love, so much to the point that my work feels like fun and leisurely activities. Or maybe I’m living with such a high functioning level of anxiety that I can’t even tell that I’m a workaholic with restless mind syndrome who has to literally schedule in social activities, otherwise I’ll forget to make friends or to talk to humans IRL.

Maybe I’m super ahead of my time and the word hobby should be eliminated from our vocabulary.

Maybe the word “hobby” is only relevant for people who haven’t found the magical blend of taking every single opportunity as a learning experience, being a student of life, observing human behavior, and using what they observe to better govern themselves and their daily decisions.

Maybe we need to expand the definition of hobby to include a space for us internet entrepreneurs, nay, born hustlers who are living each day casually mixing what we love with making money and making the world better.

Until next time, I’ll be working on my hobbies (or hardly working???)!