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

If You Write, You’re A Writer

So I’m currently reading Seth Godin’s book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. In it, he says that if you write, you’re a writer. The point is doing the work and getting the work out there.

So, here I am blogging and being a blogger and all, but it’s not just so that I can update my IG bio (which ya know, I do love to do!). I’m working on changing my habits to develop multiple daily practices because I, like Seth, believe that we are what we regularly do.

I used to teach dance all the time (in person, to actual humans). I watched videos about how to teach dance. I read articles about concepts to teach and ways to teach them. I chose music that would best enhance my dance classes. I wrote lesson plans for my dance classes. I was a dance teacher. It’s what I did. It’s what I was. (To be clear: I am still a dance teacher, but I’m re-developing the way in which I deliver information and engage in the process of educating through the medium of dance.)

You may or may not know that I have a professional background in education. I have a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Clear Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. I taught kindergarten through second grade for 6 years. I’m currently earning a Doctor of Education degree. So yeah–professional background in education.

You may or may not know that I love creating – creating digital content, Reels, TikToks, blogs, social media plans, dance boards, etc. I’m a maker. And I once heard a poet at some event I attended in New York City say something like “My best days are when my art and my life are one in the same. I’m trying to have more of those good days.”

So, in an effort to live the life that I love, have as many good days as possible, and to get my creative work out into the world as the homie Seth is recommending to me, I’ll now be developing my creative and professional practice as an educational content creator for Dance Daze, Inc.

To start, I’ll be focusing on two topics that I absolutely love: Ballet and Creativity.

To catch my latest deep dives into living my best life as an educational content creator, check out the Dance Daze, Inc. Instagram page. I have some cool stuff shipping out!

More to come.

Saumirah

Why We’re Going Fully Virtual in 2021

Dance Daze, Inc. will be offering LIVE online dance classes beginning in April of 2021! Stay tuned as the journey begins….

As we all know, 2020 was an intense and crazy year. It was sometimes devastating, sometimes infuriating, but still–there were moments of joy found last year.

I taught my final in-person dance classes for Dance Daze, Inc. on March 14, 2020, almost exactly one year ago. I remember the date because it was a “Dance Daze Demo Day,” a special day on which we had small, informal in-studio observation for parents and family members. Dance Daze Demo Day acted as a small performance opportunity for all of our studio students, who may or may not have been able to participate in the other performance opportunities I was working to increase over the past 2 years.

Like everyone, I thought we would be back for classes in a few weeks, right after our scheduled break between our Winter Session ending and our Spring Session beginning. Of course, the Coronavirus had other plans, and I was wrong.

Throughout 2020, I offered a number of online dance classes and worked to create tons of dance-related content for kids. Besides a few very casual Instagram Live ballet barre classes for adults that I did on my personal Instagram, I never taught any live classes for Dance Daze, Inc. over the past year. I wasn’t interested in teaching live dance classes for a number of reasons.

First, like everyone, I was pretty burned out on all the mandatory meetings I’d been having on Zoom. I was already meeting remotely for online classes for my Doctor of Education program, for a remote social media and communications job I had last year, and also for monthly board meetings with a non-profit dance organization for which I am the Marketing Associate. I didn’t feel that adding on dance classes would spark joy for me.

Second, I really saw creating a digital library of dance classes for kids as a fun and challenging opportunity. Because of Dance Daze Online and the Dance Daze, Inc. YouTube Channel, I was able to develop my video creating and editing skills (minimal though they may be…) for the past year and explore creativity in this new way. I enjoyed having the responsibility of recording 2 to 3 dance classes per week in a variety of styles and the self-created obligation of getting each of those classes edited and uploaded within about a week for a full year. I wanted to keep focusing on this.

Third, I feel pretty awkward and shy on camera and I didn’t feel that the “magic” I can create easily with in-person dance classes would translate well on screen. I felt that I’d be shy and awkward and my insecurities would show. I knew parents would be watching and judging, not just my dance students, and I didn’t want to feel that awkwardness while teaching. It took me years (years!) to feel comfortable teaching my in-person dance classes with parents watching. Even today, I simply have to pretend they’re not there when a parent (or school administrator, when I’m teaching in a classroom setting) comes to observe or sits through entire classes. I often forget to make eye contact when speaking to parents who are watching class and make a comment to me and I respond. In fact, the idea of “performing” and being “on” is what saves me most of the time when I’m teaching and parents are watching classes. I didn’t know how I’d be able to perform in this way if I was dancing from my kitchen.

Finally, I wanted a break. I work really hard, and I have more obligations and responsibilities than most people are aware. I always want to create a life that I love each day, and I felt that forcing myself to create a program that I didn’t feel 100% certain about might be too much. I’m in a doctoral program, I’ve been working at other jobs, and I was really focused on creating the on-demand library of dance classes. I allowed this to be enough for myself to focus on while the entire world dealt with a pandemic.

And it was enough for me.

However, the creative person that I am, I’m easily inspired.

I’ve been spending tons of time following fellow creators, influencers, and innovators on social media who have started, grown, or catapulted their online dance programs over the past year. While I’ve obviously always known that live dance online dance classes are an option, what really inspired me is the opportunity to create a “work from anywhere” life for myself, while still working within my own business and developing educational dance programs in the way that I see fit and in a way that blends with my business and personal mission and vision.

So, next month, in April of 2021, I’ll be launching live classes for my business and brand, Dance Daze, Inc.

I’ve been spending lots of time considering different video-streaming platforms on which to host the classes. I’ve been looking at various ways to collect online payments. And, of course, the educator that I am, I’ve been considering the best ways to provide engaging classes to people of all ages and to create incredible educational experiences through movement, as I decided would be the mission of Dance Daze, Inc. when I first began this organization over a decade ago.

While I’m clearly an educator who loves teaching dance classes locally at schools and studios, I’m a big, big entrepreneur at heart who loves innovating. Also, I’ve never wanted to be location dependent. So, join me in my attempt to create a new learning opportunity for my students and a new teaching opportunity for me as I delve into the world of teaching dance classes online!

More to come. Stay tuned.

Saumirah

Thinking of Your Dancers As Learners and Not Only As Movers

In my research for my doctoral dissertation, I’ve been looking into the teaching for understanding framework, with the intention of studying this instructional model as it relates to dance education.

Earlier today I was re-reading part of a book from my graduate studies: Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. Below are some of my favorite points from the first chapter of the book.

The text states, “In effective classrooms, teachers consistently attend to at least four elements: whom they teach (students), where they teach (learning environment), what they teach (content), and how they teach (instruction). If teachers lose sight of any one of the elements and cease investing effort in it, the whole fabric of their work is damaged and the quality of learning impaired.” (p. 2)

I appreciate this statement because I feel that often, dance educators are taught to focus on transmitting content–information about how to perform specific dance movements–and they are not ever taught to also be equally and as deeply focused on their students, the environment in which they are teaching, and they way they are making information accessible to students in the dance classroom. Later, we come to learn that the concept of “understanding by design” or “UbD” “emphasizes how we teach, particularly ways of teaching for student understanding . . . the ‘what’ and ‘how'” (p. 2).

Many dance educators will likely walk into a studio or a space where they will teach dance feeling entirely comfortable with the “what” that they will be teaching. Not focusing on the “how” of teaching, I believe, can make teaching dance to diverse populations of students or teaching dance in non-traditional environments (e.g., in an elementary school cafeteria, on a middle school blacktop, or in the extra classroom that is typically reserved for visual arts classes) particularly challenging for dance educators, especially those who are in the first few years of their dance education practice.

We learn in the first chapter of this book that Understanding by Design is essentially a curriculum design model and that Differentiated Instruction is an instructional design model, with a focus on “whom we teach, where we teach, and how we teach” (p. 3) and ensuring “effective learning for varied individuals” (p. 3).

There are 7 “axioms” and “corollaries” presented that show how the two concepts are related:

Axiom 1: “The primary goal of quality curriculum design is to develop and deepen student understanding” (p. 4).

  • Students will grow at different rates and each student requires a different kind of support in order to develop their understanding of concepts.

Axiom 2: “Evidence of student understanding is revealed when students apply (transfer) knowledge in authentic contexts” (p. 5).

  • “The most effective teachers use the evidence of variance in student proficiency to provide opportunities and support to ensure that each student continues to develop and deepen knowledge, understanding, and skill from his or her current point of proficiency, interests, and learning preferences” (p. 5).

Axiom 3: “Effective curriculum development following the principles of backward design . . . helps avoid the twin problem of textbook coverage and activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent” (p. 6).

  • This point, and the phrase “activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent” causes me to think of how many dance teachers out there approach dance classes for our youngest students, between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Often, I see dance classes for this age group that are focused on activity facilitation, more so than the classes are focused on purposeful learning objectives and creating intentional educational experiences for the students.

Axiom 4: “Regular reviews of curriculum and assessment designs, based on design standards, provide quality control and inform needed adjustments. Regular reviews of “results” should be followed by needed adjustments to curriculum instruction” (p. 7).

Axiom 5: “Teachers provide opportunities for students to explore, interpret, apply, shift perspectives, empathize, and self-assess. These six facets provide conceptual lenses through which student understanding is assessed” (p. 8).

Axiom 6: “Teachers, students, and districts benefit by ‘working smarter’ and using technology and other vehicles to collaboratively design, share, and critique units of study” (p. 9).

  • “A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond effectively to those needs” (p. 9)
  • I feel that in typical studio-based dance programs or recreational dance programs, there is an assumption that the dance teacher is the expert; though this is not always the case. Early career dance teachers often do not have a significant amount of teaching experience, if any, and it is rare that these early-career dance teachers–unless they have gone through a classroom-focused teacher training program–have been trained in differentiated instruction. However, I understand the challenge of having expert educational specialists on-hand as a studio owner or dance education entrepreneur. I believe that the best way to solve this problem is to ensure that more dance educators who are teaching dance to children have a background that includes an understanding of the art and science of education itself, including fundamental theories about teaching and learning.

Axiom 7: “UbD is a way of thinking, not a program. Educators adapt its tools and materials with the goal of promoting better student understanding” (p. 10).

  • “Differentiated instruction is a way of thinking, not a formula or recipe. Educators draw on, apply, and adapt its tools with the goal of maximizing knowledge, understanding, and sill for the full range of learners” (p. 10).
  • Effective differentiation guides educators in thinking effectively about whom they teach, where they teach, and how they teach in order to ensure that what they teach provides each student with maximum power as a learner” (p. 10).
  • The above statements explain what my primary goal is for dance educators who are teaching elementary-school aged children. I believe that it is essential that dance educators are viewing each of their students as learners and that the responsibility of educating and facilitating understanding for those learners holds significant weight when planning and preparing for dance classes.

Remember, to read more about the ideas presented in this blog about Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction, check out Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe.