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: 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!