What to do for Shin Splints?

I have been pushing my boundaries a little bit this summer however I have noticed that when I push myself harder, I start to get shin pain. Any suggestion for strengthening up the shins and reducing shin pain?

Shalora,  from Oregon

Dear Shalora,

SHIN SPLINTS, A dreaded word for any athlete!  I am so sorry that you are experiencing this pain.  Shin Splints are a horrible feeling.

Shin Splints refer to the deep pain that you feel behind the tibia or shinbone.   It is really common among dancers actually.  It typically can be caused by environment:  i.e. bad floors, poor shoes, hard surfaces etc… Dancing, jumping, or changing directions quickly with any of these environmental factors will cause the shinbone to have to absorb a lot of impact and they can quickly become overly fatigued.  Shin Splints can also be caused by a physical imbalance within the body.  If you are flat-footed, roll inwards with your feet, have tight calves, lean forwards or backwards or even tightness in the hips, back, hamstrings or gluts, then this imbalance can cause stress on the shin and leave you at risk for Shin Splints.  Eek! So its important to look at multiple factors as the possible cause of your Shin Splints.   Of course prevention is the key and there are many easy exercises that can help drastically!

Here is how you can prevent Shin Splints:


Picture A: Toe Spread

  • Improve the Strength of Your Feet:
    • Foot Press – Standing with feet flat on the floor, press the toes downwards into the ground. Keep the ankle still and try not to let the toes curl or scrunch.
    • Toe Spread – Spread the toes apart as far as you can then return to normal. See Picture A.
    • Toe Wave – Lift the toes and place down one at a time starting with the pinky toes. See Picture B.
Picture B: Toe Wave

Picture B: Toe Wave

    • Toe Lifts – Try to lift each toe up one at a time.
    • Object Lifts – Try to lift a pencil up with the toes… or pull a towel towards you with your toes scrunching repeatedly.
    • The Worm with your Foot-  Scrunch the toes, see picture C,  and roll through the foot like a worm backwards and repeat forwards.
Picture C: Toe Scrunch

Picture C: Toe Scrunch

Many of these are great to do next time you are stuck waiting in line, sitting at your desk, on a long phone call or while you are watching TV.  Making an effort to incorporate these strengthening exercises into your everyday life will make a huge difference!

  • Improve the Strength of Your Shins: 
    • Toe Taps – Slow floor taps with intense focus on flexing the foot slowly and as high as you can.
    • The Alphabet – Draw the Alphabet with your big toe.  Start with all caps… move to adding cursive eventually!
    • Heel Walks – As easy as walking on your heels.
    • Flexion with Resistance– Tie a thera-band or resistance band around a secure and stable anchor. Tie the other end around your foot at the ball of the foot.  Slowly flex the foot with conscious effort to keep leg and foot aligned. See Picture D.
Picture D: Flexion with Resistance

Picture D: Flexion with Resistance

  • Try a Wiggle Board, Wobble Disc or Balance Disc.  There are a variety of products on the market that help you strengthen the muscles of the foot, ankle, calf and shin by creating an unstable surface that you stand on to wobble all your little muscles strong!
  • Tap Dance! I once had a teacher that used to joke that tap dancers never get shin splints. Wish that was always the case, as you can also overload the shins with too much tapping! But it does make a lot of sense!  Most of the actions that you are performing to make your tap steps and sounds are strengthening and stretching the shins, calf and ankle. If you have a great tap teacher that warms the class up properly and always includes strengthening exercises in the tap warm-up then you will definitely reap the benefits. Keeping the Shins strong yet not over worked is key!  I have to admit, in my entire life, I have only ever had Shin Splints once, there might be some truth to that Tap Dance statement!

Once you develop Shin Splints, honestly the best thing to do is cut out dancing until it heals. As a dancer, I understand that is not always an option.  So the best plan is to be really proactive!

Here is how to treat Shin Splints:

  1. RICE- Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. (As much as possible)
  2. Take ibuprofen or another over the counter pain reliever to reduce swelling.
  3. Wear quality footwear at all times.  Put away the Ballet flats, flip-flops and Uggs for a few weeks and focus on wearing shoes with quality support.
  4. Massage and stretching.
  5. Consider shoe insoles or arch supports.

I knew a friend in high school that would freeze little Dixie Cups filled with water.  Then would peel the paper away and the shape would be the perfect curve to roll up and down the shin.  The deep ice treatment would help get deep into the leg muscles and bones.

Here is a link to some great additional informational sites:



How to tape your Shin Splints:


Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, injuries can happen, especially when you are pushing yourself.  Remember that it is essential to always listen to your body and warm-up properly before you dance. If your pain consistently gets worse even with the above efforts,  it is important to consult a doctor.  Hope this helps!

Happy dancing!


“Love your body. Be kind to it, nourish it, tender it. It is the pure instrument of expression that allows you to experience life on this plane.”

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!


The Ballet Class Question?

How many ballet classes should you or your young dancer take per week?


The Amazing Autumn
© Contemporary Images

This is a great question. I could actually write an entire book on the subject, but will spare you all the long-winded answer and give you a summary!  I am here to set the record straight!

Parents and dancers, you must take ballet to progress as a dancer.  No, your teachers aren’t trying to torture you and/or test your focus. No, your studio isn’t just trying to get you to take more classes and give them more money!  Your teachers and studio owners know that ballet is the foundation of all dance and should be taken more than once a week in order to progress.  Ballet and dance in general, like sports, learning to speak Italian or playing an instrument, requires quality time devoted to your study multiple times a week.

Practicing ballet once a week is appropriate for the beginning dancer.  This first year will help introduce them to the study and you will see some gradual progression and strength building.  Once you have studied ballet for one year your studies will plateau with just a once a week class.  It is time to look at your goals and decide if you would like to progress your dancing.  Staying at once a week classes, a ballet student will see little to zero progress and therefore lack the strength and control to progress to the intermediate and advanced levels.  An intermediate or younger advanced dance student (ages 7-11) should plan to be in Ballet class at least twice a week.  It is here where they will start to see progress in their strength and control.  Dance study truly requires a mastery of so many of the tiny and connective muscles in the body.  The more that you can connect young dancers with this strength, the better.  The advanced level or teen/adult dancer should plan to take ballet at least three days a week.  This is what I would consider to be the bare minimum in order to progress at a satisfactory pace and see the wonderful benefits of your study.  Truly advanced and professional level dancers will study up to five or six days a week.

Parents you can relate it to your own fitness based workouts.   If you were to tell your personal trainer or fitness advisor, “I would like to resistance train in order to gain strength and tone up,” they would  explain to you that frequency of your workouts matters.  Working out once a week with your resistance training will give you little to no progress and at most will help you keep the strength you have already.  Three times a week seems to be where the magic starts to happen.  Strength will increase and you will start to notice an increase in your muscle tone as well as ability to push yourself.  Those who wish to improve their strength dramatically would be advised to train four to five times a week.

Same is true for ballet.  Ballet requires an extreme amount of strength in the smaller muscles of the foot, ankle, achilles and calf muscles as well as development of the muscles in the back, shoulders, gluts, hips, quads and hamstrings.  These can take years to develop properly and it is best to develop the turn-out muscles from the hips  gradually and not push your turn-out beyond your range. Remember frequency and quality matter.  Once a week, maintains.  Twice a week, some benefits and strength improvements are noticeable.  Three times a week equals magic!

As a ballet student it is crucial that you concentrate during class to work your muscles and push them with each exercise! Also remember that you can lose strength when you don’t use it!  Especially those tiny muscles.  Advanced students, it’s important to make sure that you don’t let more than two weeks pass without a ballet class!   So many students make the mistake of thinking that ballet is easy or boring and go through the motions without the effort!  Another bad habit is repeatedly missing classes!

To my young dancers, wise up my friends and learn to love ballet! It can truly be your greatest asset in growth!  Even if  ballet isn’t your thing… maybe SUTUCD is more up your alley?  Let me just tell you that the stand-outs from the show, like Melanie, spent as many hours as they could in ballet class! Parents, encourage your young dancers to love the detail and discipline of ballet early.  Even if they don’t want to be a professional ballerina, one day, they will be so very happy that they took ballet.  I also love the life lessons it teaches…  that will have to be another blog on another day!
I will leave you with this great dance quote:

“In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet.”
~ Alice Abrams

Happy dancing!


Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!

I Wish I Knew

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was a Young Dancer…

  1. Ballet is essential!  The more you take and the harder you work at your ballet training, the better you will become at all your dancing styles. Learn to love it.  Ballet will keep your body strong and injury free, which in turn will keep you dancing longer.  Even the simple plié in first should be hard work.  Doing a tendu correctly helps your feet vastly improve their strength.  So concentrate in class, work hard at the details… and love ballet!  A little hard work goes a long way.
  2. Confidence counts.  Judges often look for the most confident and focused girl in the room.  Something that I have always struggled with is my natural shyness as well as a polite humility that was part of my upbringing.  I had no idea that my body language at an audition often communicated a lack of confidence. I believe that this inhibited my progress into the dance world tremendously!  Remember that you are on stage the moment that you walk in that classroom or audition room. Radiating a certain confidence with eye contact, demeanor, and smiles goes along way.   It doesn’t always matter what you are wearing, how cool your hair is, how high your jumps are or if you nail every count perfectly.  Many times if you walk onto the floor with complete confidence and presence from the beginning the judges will not take their eyes of you!  You have to believe in yourself and just go out there and “OWN IT”!
  3. Dance is subjective. Yes that’s right; it is both a sport and an art.  Which means that everyone comes to the table with their own preset ideals about what dance is, what it should look like, what is considered great and what elements have the most value. There are no black and white textbook answers or winners. As a young competing dancer,  I often struggled with the inconsistency  of the results.   In sports there are winners and losers.  In school you are graded regularly and you are very aware of your talents and weaknesses. Beyond the beginning levels where learning the steps are black and white, the rest of the dance world has a large area of grey. It was hard for me to understand that every set of judges will value dance elements differently. I would get so disappointed and discouraged about my dancing when I received a negative critique at a dance competition or didn’t get a call back at an audition. Every time you dance at a competition you have a new set of dance judges with different ideals about what is great. You may attend an audition where one director can’t stand the way you put a little extra bounce in your step and the next day attend an audition where the director loves your energy and can’t wait to work with you. It is such an important lesson as a young dancer to remember that dance is subjective. You are the judge that matters.  So use the critiques, feedback, and scores to push yourself and your dancing in a positive way. Remember to stay confident, keep your head high and refer to number 2!
  4. Learn how to strengthen your muscles!  We can all do those grand tricks, leaps and tumbling passes with some strength training and a little dedication!  If I really wanted to do a tumbling pass, I could train in gymnastics.  If I really wanted to execute the perfect switch leap, I could strengthen my muscles to get there. If I really wanted to stall on one arm, I could!   So many times when I was a young dancer, I discounted myself from these things as an inability of my body to be able to do them well! I would say to myself I’m not strong enough to do that… It wasn’t until I started teaching and learning about the body that I realized that I could train my body to achieve these goals.  Any athletes can remind you  of the importance,  if you have a goal, train hard and you will achieve it.  Many times in dance a little strength training goes a long way.  Sometimes you can make a big difference by adding some strengthening exercises into your daily routines.  Next time you are watching TV, use those commercial breaks to do some strengthening exercises. Stretch your feet or press to first position relevé while brushing your teeth. Multitask and get stronger!
  5. “I can’t I have dance…” This phrase is the story of my life, and is often followed by a series of sentences justifying to my friends or family why I am missing out on another social event. Guess what everyone; it’s far from OK to miss some of these things and actually is quite awesome that you are passionate about your dancing.  You don’t have to justify your dancing to anyone! It is amazing that you are working hard and that you sometimes miss social or family events for your dance training. Cutting your Friday night activities short because you have early morning ballet class on Saturdays is admirable!  Shortly after high school, a friend opened up and shared with me that she was always quite envious of my dancing.  It shocked me to hear that she admired my passion for dancing and was desperately trying to find what she was passionate about.  She had nothing that she “loved to do” and that made her feel empty.  This conversation hit me and it has stayed with me as a constant reminder that I didn’t need to justify my dancing, training, teaching to anyone.  I love it!  Of course, I am not suggesting that you miss your cousin’s wedding or grandma’s 70th birthday party, but sometimes it’s good to remember this as your friends hit a movie or head out to a concert. Remember that nothing worth doing is easy, sometimes you have to make sacrifices for what you love and life is all about balance.
  6. Eating healthy and intelligent food is crucial!  Good nutrition assures that you can keep your energy levels high, your stamina going strong, your muscles working efficiently and most importantly keeps you injury free! The experts say that you need to make sure that you have a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, vitamins and minerals.  Balance is key.  Especially making sure that you eat enough Carbohydrates to keep your energy up throughout long rehearsals or classes. Carbohydrates should be 50-60% of your diet! It is also vital to consume an adequate amount of protein to help repair and build your muscles. Look forward to a blog on this subject soon.
  7. Take Gymnastics, Singing and Music Lessons!
    Just do it! Gymnastics gives you an edge above the rest as well as a vast amount of strength.  Singing is vital if you wish to go into Broadway or the entertainment business.  Which also goes along with Music.  Study music and understand how a well-developed musicality will help you refine your dancing!
  8. The Competitive Dance world is not for everyone and there are plenty of other ways to dance or showcase your talents.  Don’t let a lack of interest in the competitive dance world keep you from training at what you love!  There are many ways to share your dance talents.  Concert dance, performance companies, musicals, dance groups and dance teams.
  9. Take care of your feet!  I will say that one again and again!  Dancers have to remember that their feet are their most important asset.  Keeping them healthy and free from blisters, tears, ingrown toe-nails, fungus etc is so important. I bet you are saying gross… but it is a fact of life as a dancer!  Look forward to a blog on this subject very soon!   My biggest problem has always been making the choice to not wear those super fun extra high heels.  Every time I did, I would end paying for it with blisters or aching feet for the next few days.  Many podiatrists will also share with you that Uggs and flip-flops are the worst shoes that you can wear, not just for your feet but for your knees and ankles too.  Quality footwear is the way to go, think about your feet and give them lots of TLC!
  10. To become an amazing dancer… one must master the ability to transition seamlessly!  What happens in between the steps is essential to success and can often be over looked.  Next time you take class or learn a new combination, I challenge you to think more about the transitions then the pictures.  How you get to the beautiful arabesque is just as important as the technique when you arrive.  Remember it’s about the “in-betweens” not the tricks!

“The heart of the dance is the heart of the dancer.”
~ Ghazallah al-Badriyyah

Happy dancing!


Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!

Finding Your Path

“Everybody has their own path. I just believe that with conviction and discipline you can make anything happen.” – Sonya Tayeh

Hands down, Sonya Tayeh is one of my favorite choreographers.  Not just because we share the same awesome name but because she is a remarkable choreographer that always pushes the boundaries of dance and inspires me to think outside the box. I admire her creativity and ability to draw you into her story immediately,  taking you on a journey. That is a true gift of a choreographer! Her dance pieces are full of technical mastery and true connection to the movement, musicality and phrasing. Talent that takes years of hard work to finesse. She has a true gift.

Recently, I have been working too hard to feel inspired and ventured into the world of google search to find a needed creative spark. Instead, I discovered a life changing article.

The article, listed below, interviews Sonya Tayeh. She shares that she just completed a project choreographing the musical, Spring Awakening, at the San Jose Repertory Theater in California. I had heard her choreography for this production was amazing, so opened the link with enthusiasm. I read the first paragraph and stopped…. frozen.  I read that she was only 18 when she first studied dance seriously.  I was shocked. With all her mastery and technical perfection, I had always assumed that she had trained her entire childhood life to be a dancer.  This information took me by surprise.  In a great way. It was inspiring news that brought a giant smile to my face from ear to ear!

Why?  This is a fantastic reminder that it is never too late to follow your dreams.  The dance world tends to place intense pressure on dancers to achieve technical perfection in their teen years.  It is often whispered that you have limited years to be a dancer and your youth is it.  During my years as a dance teacher and mentor, I often share the speech with my students that it is never too late to push yourself, work harder, set new goals, take care of your body or advance yourself to the technical level that you dream about. With a little hard work and dedication, anything is possible. BUT, you have to want it and be willing to work hard for it.

I often come across talented dancers who have that magical dance gift and passion for the art of dance but never believe in themselves.  I see dancers discredit their dreams or get discouraged when they see more talented dancers. I see parents placing unreasonable pressures on their young dancers to be the best at thirteen. I see our lovely dance world lose great talents when the journey gets too difficult.

I want to empower dancers.  I want them to push past those negative thoughts.  I want to inspire them to know what they want and work hard to achieve it!  I truly believe that you can achieve anything with a little hard work. Simply said… might be a little cheesy, yet holds a wealth of inspiration. I’m willing to be cheesy to prove a point.  Especially this one.

I have been thinking in-depth lately about my own dreams and goals, and this article helped me stop and think.  Reevaluate my mind-set. Give myself a needed pep talk. So I share with you today these words of inspiration and hope that it helps you stop for a few minutes and think.  What is holding you back from your dreams?

Maybe I should also remind you of a few others with inspirational stories! Cris Judd, became interested in dance at the age of 21, and a few years later was hired to back up dance for Michael Jackson. Two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion, Kurt Warner, entered the NFL at age 28. An age that many retire. Dara Torres, at the age of 41, was not only the oldest swimmer to ever to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team, but also inspired a nation as she won three silver medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

This inspirational advice lends itself beyond the dance world too.

So I leave you with this article of inspiration today and a reminder that:

It is never too late to follow your dreams…



A few of my all time favorite Sonya Tayeh pieces created for So You Think You Can Dance:

Happy dancing!


Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!


Here is a big secret.  The dancers warm-up is ESSENTIAL!

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents or students complain about their class spending way too much time at the ballet barre or too much time “just stretching”. To the untrained eye, it may just look like your dancer is stretching for 40 minutes or spending the majority of ballet class standing at the barre.  But the dancers warm-up is so much more than stretches!

There is a method to our madness!  As teachers we understand that the secret to a dancers progress, advancement and eventually success with their dance goals lies in that warm-up time!  This is why many teachers often create a set warm-up,  that is always the same quick-moving progression.  This way students can memorize the sequence and then be able to focus deeper on the technique involved.  This warm-up time should be used to connect with, isolate and strengthen each muscle needed for your particular dance style.  Professional and advanced level dancers often refer to their warm-up time as their chance to “find their muscles”!

Students warming-up at Elite Dance Studio

Students warming-up at Elite Dance Studio

The warm-up should be a combination of strengthening exercises, isolations of specific muscle groups, the development of the small muscles needed to advance as a dancer in that specific style.  Today’s dancer must master a balance of strength and flexibility, with a keen ability to connect with and isolate every single muscle with grace and ease. It takes time to develop those small muscles and deep connections in the body.  Some dancers can develop these quickly and some may require years and years to build. But even once they are strong… you must keep them strong or they can go away! As they say, “use it or lose it!”

I often share with my students that dancers like musicians must be dedicated to practicing their scales.  For dancers instruments are their bodies and you can’t play the piano without practicing perfect scales, right?  These exercises, although seemingly boring to a young dancer, are essential for your advancement as a dancer.  In a few years, you will thank me!  Ballet dancers from beginning to professional levels start ballet class the same way and often with the same basic Plie combinations. Tap teachers often begin every tap class with a series of toe taps, flaps and shuffles,  even in an advanced level class. Jazz and Modern classes always go back to the basics of isolations and moving through the spine.

The warm-up should begin by getting the large muscles moving, arms and legs moving together and the heart rate elevated to help the joints become lubricated and prepared for the impact of the dance steps. This may be achieved with calisthenic style exercises like jumping jacks, plies with arm movements, swings or large movements through the spine. In a modern class you should expect to see movement through the spine with contractions and arm swings.  In tap and ballet the focus is more on the feet, ankle, shin and calf strength. In ballet, you should expect to be at the barre completing these exercises to strengthen the feet and learning an awareness of how to work through, articulate and point the foot correctly. In Jazz, Modern or Contemporary class you should see isolations of the smaller muscle groups such as the neck, shoulders, rib cage and back.  Many times these teachers will use Ballet strengthening fundamentals, but put a twist on the exercise by taking the dancer off-center or working through parallel.  As these style require extreme flexibility you should also expect to see a large amount of stretching.  In addition to exercises to help strengthen the Gluts, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Calves, Piriformis, Psoas, Adductors and Abductors are all essential. You might recognize elements of Yoga and Pilates, this is so helpful to a dancer.  A dancer’s core is their biggest asset, therefore many sit-ups and core exercises should be completed!

Pure Dance Company’s Katie, stretching during warm-ups!

As a teacher this warm-up time is a crucial element in your dancers education.  I feel proud that dancers leave my classes with a well-developed knowledge base of warm-up exercises and could perform them on their own if necessary. Done regularly and with focus on quality muscular connect,  a dancer can progress their skills on the dance floor quickly as well as their strength and flexibility!

Parents, If you notice that your dancer just walks in the classroom and starts learning choreography immediately, I would be worried!  Would you want to pay for a year of violin lessons, only to find out that your child only knows how to play one song?  I would expect that your expectations are that they have learned the foundations of music, the notes and the instrument and can then look at other sheet music at the same level and play that particular song as well, Right?  Well the same expectations should apply to your child’s dance education.

So parents,  next time your dancer gets in the car and says, “class was boring today mom,  we just stretched for most of the class and my legs hurt”  you will then know how to refocus their energy in a positive direction… and you can smile to yourself.  They have a great teacher!

So dancers,  next time you are feeling lazy and want to walk into the classroom and ask your teacher to skip the warm-ups… think again my friend!   Remember that it’s in your best interest to always spend time on yourself and your technique. Strong, connected and stretched muscles are the secret to a long dance career!

I will leave you today with this well-known quote:

“The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.”
– Thomas Edison

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA,  I want to help!

Dance Class Etiquette

Lets talk about dance class etiquette…

Once you enter the dance classroom there are certain codes of conduct and etiquette that should be followed.  These are commonly accepted as a sign of respect for both your teacher and the art form of dance.  Many are often unspoken rules or little signs of respect. I find that in my teaching and travels, many dancers just are not aware of what these rules of etiquette exist.

Even if dance etiquette is not discussed at your dance studio or with your team, it is still essential to familiarize yourself with these general rules if you ever plan to take class somewhere new or with a new instructor!  I have often seen dancers asked to leave class or cut from an audition for making some of these little etiquette mistakes. For many teachers, breaking one of these rules can either categorize you as an “untrained” dancer immediately or in some cases result in a request for you to leave class.

Sonya’s Top Ten Rules for Proper Dance Class Etiquette:

  1. No chewing gum.
  2. Dancers should always arrive early for class.  It is generally accepted that if you are more than 10 or 15 minutes late to class that you should not participate.  Missing the warm-up sections of class is very hazardous to your body and is a major distraction to the class, which is usually not appreciated by the teacher.
  3. No cell phones… at all.
  4. No talking in class.
  5. Always say “Thank You” to the teacher after class.
  6. Never walk through the middle of class.  Once class has begun, if you must move or leave for any reason, you should always walk around the perimeter of the room.
  7. Belongings, if they are brought into the classroom should always be placed to the back of the room.  It is never acceptable to place your water bottle, shoes or sweats in the front of the room.
  8. As a general rule, if you are entering a new class you should always start in the back of the room.  This is not always the case.  It is widely practiced throughout many studios, especially in Europe, that the front spots in the classroom are earned with time and are an honor.  I, personally, do not run my classes this way, but it is important as a new student to respect the traditions of the teacher or the dance studio. If you know before you attend a new class that the classroom is not run in this manner, then I would success finding a spot closer to the front so that you can see.  Of course this rule should NEVER be followed at auditions, masterclasses or dance conventions. For those situations, as a general rule, you should get yourself to the front and own it!
  9. Always watch other dancers in your class.  This is not meant to be a competitive glare, but instead a learning tool.  There is so much to learn from watching each other move and express to the music.
  10. Always apologize if you hit or bump into someone.  This is something that has often shocked me during my dance career.  I see this happen all the time, especially in the dance convention or audition world. It is my experience that the dance world is tiny.  You might not think that it matters that you just whacked the girl next to you in the face and ignored her existence… but it does! That disrespect for a fellow human might come back to haunt you later in life.  I realize that many dancers out there do not follow this rule.  I have seen first hand dancers who are horrible, push their way to the front and don’t care if they hit you.  It is always better to be the bigger person in this situation.  I have students ask me about this all the time.  “What should I do when someone hits me really hard and looks at me as if I should get out of her way?”  Again, be the bigger person and say, “excuse me.”   I can tell you that three, four or five years from now, you might be sharing a stage with that dancer, having to work alongside her or even audition for a job where she is the choreographer’s assistant!  Yes,  the dance world REALLY is that small!  As a teacher, if I see this behavior happen in my classroom, I am not happy! Remember your manners!

I will leave you today with one of my favorite quotes:
“I do not try to dance better than anyone else.  I only try to dance better than myself.”
–  Mikhail Baryshnikov
Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA,  I want to help!

Dance Homework!

“My daughter has been working so hard this year and really wants to move up to a higher level jazz class next fall.  She has been at the intermediate level now for a few years.  Is there anything that I can do to help her at home achieve her goal?  I am also concerned that over her long Christmas Break she will lose some of her strength? Is that true? What can I do to help?”
– Betsy,  dance parent from California

Two great questions, Betsy.  I think that I can answer them both with my top ten list of strengthening exercises for aspiring young dancers.

We are hitting the time of year when dance studios and school dance programs take a break for the holidays. So this is a great time to bring up this top ten list! As a dancer, often balancing packed schedules of rehearsals and classes takes a toll on the body, so  it is nice to have a break.  It is important to rest your body and take time to heal over-worked muscles.  But, only for a few days or a week at most.  What is equally important and often not discussed, is the importance of keeping your basic dance muscles active or you may lose valuable strength.

It is common knowledge in the fitness industry and among advanced athletes that it takes about two weeks for your muscles to start losing their strength and muscle tone when you take a break from your regular workouts.  That’s right,  muscles that you worked really hard to build over months can start to disappear that quickly!  You might remember the saying, “use it or lose it!”   This applies to your dance training too! If you wish to maintain the qualities and strength that you have developed  and worked so hard to achieve over the past few months then it is important to do some strength training over the holiday break.

Top ten muscle building
exercises to keep you fit and dancing strong
over your holiday break, into the new year and all year-long.

1. Crunches
I often tell my students that your abdominal muscles are your best friend as a dancer!  Treat them well, give them lots of attention and you can never do too many. They should feel very loved!  Ideally you should be able to complete 100 at the very least. Please work up from that and build up in multiples of 50 and adding in variety of positions.  Obliques, legs of the floor, reverse crunches etc… A great idea is to do full sit-ups with a buddy and hold each others feet.  Parents that means that you should take a turn too!

Plié Relevé in First Position.

Plié Relevé in First Position

2. Plié Relevé in First Position
Standing in First Position,  with your body aligned and tummy held nice and tight, Plié  and press through your legs and feet into Relevé. Use all your muscles making sure to not hop.  Please see the picture above of the correct position of the feet in a full demi-pointe.

What Not to Do, Sickling!

What Not to Do, Sickling!

Foot should be aligned, with ankles directly over the toes.  Notice how the heals are right in line with the ball of the foot.  Weight should be evenly distributed over all your toes.

It is really important to make sure that you are not sickling. This is when your ankles roll in or out and is often a sign of weak ankles. The picture to the right demonstrates, what not to do! As you complete the exercise, you should make certain that you are not sickling!

Ideally you should be able to complete the exercise at least 50 times. Nice and slow so that you are controlled with your movement. It is good practice to count very slowly to four as you press up.

3. Foot Circles
Simply draw circles with your entire foot, focusing on moving slowly through the entire foot. Making sure to move through full flexion and extension of your foot.    Start with 10 each direction.  Work your way up to 50 each direction!

Another great variation is to write the alphabet with your toes, exaggerating the letters and really working through the entire foot!

4. Second Position Grand Pliés
With the legs a little wider then shoulder distance apart and with legs and feet turned out, lower slowly through a grand plié.  Here is a video clip from the New York City Ballet Workout DVD that demonstrates the plié well.  Make sure that  you are thinking about your posture and keeping the knees from rolling inwards. It is important to move slowly and thoughtfully, engaging your muscles as you move.  Start with 25!

5. Push-ups
Traditional, push-ups!  Modify if you need, but 50 is the goal!

6. Jump Rope
That’s right, good ‘old fashioned jump rope, which can be performed with or without a real jump rope.  Just pretend if you must!  Especially if you are accident prone like me! The goal is to get your heart beating.  Start with 50.  Work your way to 500!


7. Tendus
A very important basic to practice religiously!  Tendu’s strengthen both the feet and the legs muscles.  Done correctly, they are a valuable tool to keep you strong and injury free!  Ideally a tendu uses the foot to press along the floor and peel the foot away from the floor starting with the heel, then through the ball of the foot to the toes.
Here is a video by Lisa Howell, Dance Physiotherapist, that is a fantastic breakdown of the key points I stressed above!  I love how she really breaks it down so that you can see it, and of course, I agree with her, break your bad habits now and it will save you lots of injuries later in your dance career!

Complete from first or fifth, en croix. (which means front, side, back, side)  Start with 10 each side.  Work your way to 20 each side!

8. Lunges
Lunges are vital to implement into a dancers cross-training.  These exercises help to strengthen and develop the  hamstrings, quadriceps and glute muscles, which in turn will help you jump higher and plié deeper! There are lots of  lunge exercise variations.   You are welcome to pick your favorite.  I prefer what is traditionally called the forward lunge. This is where you alternate legs and pressing back up to where to started.

Start with your legs together, body aligned, abdominal muscles pulled in tight and your arms at your sides. Step 2 to 3 feet forward with your right leg. Bend both of your knees to lower yourself down into a lunge. Both knees should create 90-degree angles. Keep your front knee directly over your ankles and behind your toes to avoid unnecessary strain on your knees. Push off with your right leg and return to the starting position. Repeat with your left foot stepping forward.

Lunging with proper technique ensures that your muscles will benefit and you also reduce the risk for any injuries. Please do these carefully and keep your abs pulled in nice and tight the entire time!

To see a good video demonstration and break down, please watch one here.  Start with 25.  Work your way to 50!

9. Plank
There are so many reasons to LOVE the Plank!  It is a fantastic exercise to quickly strengthen your core muscles, lower back, upper body, quadriceps as well as improve your posture.  Make sure that you are making a straight line with the body, from your head to heels, as pictured below.  It is essential to energized the muscles of the stomach up towards the ceiling,  right where the arrow is in the picture below.  It is also helpful to engage the glutes and slightly tuck the pelvis, which protects the lower back from arching and strain.  It is important to also  pull the front of your thighs upward towards the belly button and lengthening your legs as much as possible.   If you feel this in the lower back, then you are not using your abdominal muscles correctly.

Proper Plank Position

Proper Plank Position

Start with 30 seconds.  Work your way up to 3 minutes!

10. Stretching… and lots of it!
Stretch the entire body; quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, arms, back, hips, neck, core, ankles, wrists and feet.  I could write and write, and then write some more on this subject!  We will have to break down specifics another day, but in the mean time, STRETCH AWAY!

Remember that if you have a goal to achieve your splits, it is vital to stretch the entire body, not just your splits.  The body works together as an intricate team of muscles,  working in cohesive units and buddy systems.  Often just stretching your splits isn’t enough.   Paying special attention to stretch the entire body will help you to reach your goals much faster!


These top ten exercises are also great to bring into your daily/weekly routine throughout the year.  So many times strength is truly what holds dancers back from progressing to the next levels in their dancing.  I see it year after year and it is my hope that you will feel empowered to take your (or your child’s)  strength training into your own hands and apply the  “fun” dance homework!

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”
– Vincent “Vince” Lombardi,  football coach

Happy dancing and happy holidays!


***Special thanks to Ms. Erica from South Bay Dance Center for being my gracious “Plié Relevé in First Position” and “what not to do” foot model.

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!

Got Sore Muscles?

Behind every talented, seasoned, professional dancer is a bag of tricks they use to recuperate, recharge and care for their aching feet and muscles.  Dancers are so hard on their bodies.  We rarely have time to adequately heal and repair before we are back in the studio again. But there are tools and methods to help keep your muscles strong and injury free.  It wasn’t until my first major injury in college that my eyes were opened to an entire world of empowerment in  taking care of myself to prolong my dancing.  Wow, does it make the difference!  I so wish that I knew these things in my teen years!  So today I share a few of my favorite “bag of tricks”, as they say.  Some essentials necessary for every dancer’s quest for self-care and injury prevention. They would also make fabulous Christmas gifts for the dancers in your life!

Rolling Foot Massager

Rolling Foot Massager

1. Rolling Foot Massager

A favorite to have around always!  Roll this wooden roller along the bottom of your foot.  It stimulates the whole body by activating the pressure points on the foot, helping increase circulation and recharging the energy in the foot.  It is great to  help prevent injuries to the plantar fascia, which can be horribly painful to a dancer and hard to heal once you are burdened with it. It is especially helpful for foot cramps!

Porcupine Massage Ball

Porcupine Massage Ball

2.. Massage Ball or a Porcupine Ball

Roll this massage ball along the bottom of the foot and it really helps to get to all tightness out of the little areas of foot, especially the heel and toes.   What is also great about the massage ball  is that you can use it anywhere on the body.  It is especially helpful for the back and shoulders.  Place this between you and a wall and press your sore muscles into it!  Add a circular motion and you are quickly breaking up those hard to reach knots!  The spikes add an additional health benefits by activating the pressure points on the foot and really feel fantastic on your aching muscles.  You can purchase the Porcupine Ball on Amazon here!   J/fit.com also has a set of three sizes, which is a nice gift.

Tennis Ball

Tennis Ball

Of course, most dancers just use a tennis ball or a cheap rubber ball from a kids toy store.  A fabulous and much cheaper tool, most dancers keep one  in their dance bag to help roll on tight muscles or stubborn injuries. It is a great way to wake up the feet, it helps relieve stressed out muscles and it also helps to improve your arch.   They are also nice to keep close by for strengthening exercises, which is another blog entirely!

Rolling Massager

Rolling Massager

3. Rolling Massager

This massaging tool, is set up with handles that allow really effective deep tissue  and trigger point release.  It feels great and you can tell right away that your muscles are benefiting!   The ridges help to get a deeper myofascia release, as well as increase circulation and your muscles stretch reflex. It is ideal for your legs, as you get a better connection with both hands. I like the theraband brand, as some are really loud or squeaky.  Something to think about when you purchase, as you will want to use it at the dance studio.  You can read more about them here.

foam slant board

Slanted Foam Board

4. Slanted Foam Board

One of the more important items that your dancer should own. This tool essentially places your feet and ankles in the ideal dorsi flexion position,  which effectively stretches your calf muscles optimally.  This helps keep the Achilles tendon and shins happy as well.  I tell my students repeatedly that your calves require daily stretching, if not multiple times a day! As dancers, we really use and abuse this family of muscles and it is so important to take care of your calves, Achilles and shins!   This tool helps you do it correctly. Visit this helpful site for more information.


Foam Roller in use @ Ballet Austin's Butler Community School

Foam Roller in use @ Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School

5. Foam Roller

This tool is great for both stretching and releasing tight muscles but also for strengthening exercises.  It’s benefits are too long to name here.  In addition its fun to play on! Like the picture above, the idea is to roll your tight muscles along the roller, using your body weight.  This massages the muscles and you can quickly identify and relieve tight areas and muscular knots.   “The exercise physiology geeks refers to this concept as “Self-Myofascial Release Technique”.  A great quote taken from the “The Mighty Foam Roller” blog,  read it here. If you wish to learn more about technical side please visit the Wiki page here.  The Boston Sports Medicine Blog is particularly fantastic, as it illustrates some of the most important exercises for dancers.  The Piriformis and Iliotibial band need extra special care on a dancers body!

Neve Campbell dancing in her dream project, the Robert Altman ballet drama "The Company"

Neve Campbell dancing in her dream project, the Robert Altman ballet drama “The Company”

The Foam Roller  reminds me of the movie, “The Company” staring Neve Campbell.  She took a break from her successful Hollywood career and “Scream” franchise to train again intensively in ballet and get herself back to  the level of the Joffrey.  She only wanted to do the movie if she could perform all the dancing without a body double. That is pretty impressive!   She is often shown in the movie  walking around with her foam roller under her arm.  At times, it is almost comedic.   I am sure that her Foam Roller was attached to her hip in real life as well for the duration of the movie! I often laugh to myself and think, “I bet the director just threw it in there as she was truly walking around with it all the time for her multiple injuries.”   So I leave you with this quote from Neve Campbell, taken from an interview with her regarding the movie.  Catch the entire interview here.

“How did being a dancer help you to be an actress?

Dance is incredibly disciplined and incredibly challenging. I think it has helped me with challenges, to handle them and not be overwhelmed and attack them. I am daring, or I can be daring, because of dance. Dance can be daring. I also learned to take care of myself fairly well. As a dancer, you can’t afford not to.” – Neve Campbell

That’s right dancers, you can’t afford not to! Proactive self-care  and injury prevention is essential, so let’s get to work on getting the right tools!

Wishing everyone happy stretching!

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!

Fascinating Dance Facts

Well if you are like me, I am fascinated by everything dance!  Facts, history, science, personal achievements, records, etc, etc… I could read about it all for hours.  Here are a few fascinating facts and dance trivia that I have enjoyed reading about lately.  Enjoy!

There is a Guinness World Record holder for the “Most Consecutive Pirouettes” held by Alicia Clifton set on Dec 9, 2005!  That is a pretty amazing accomplishment!  Can you guess how many she did?
Read how many Pirouettes here.
  © Guinness World Records 2012. All rights reserved.

Which mega pop star do you think was a straight-A student, cheerleader, and disciplined dancer who graduated from high school a semester earlier than her peers?? Her hard work earned her the attentions of the University of Michigan, which offered her a full scholarship to their dance program. She was also awarded a six-week scholarship to study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, followed by a rare opportunity to perform with choreographer Pearl Lang in 1978. At the urging of her dance instructor, the budding star dropped out of college after only two years of study in order to move to New York and further her dance career.  (Information from Bio.com)

That star is Madonna! Read about her here.

A prima ballerina can complete 32 fouette turns, while staying in the exact same spot on the floor. After performing the turns, the tip of her pointe shoe will be hot to the touch! Other fun ballet facts here.  I also enjoyed discovering that, one tutu requires 60-90 hours of labor and over 100 yards of ruffle. It brings an entirely new level of respect  for their beauty!

The first ballet dancer to dance en pointe was Marie Taglioni in the ballet La Sylphide in 1832. Read more about Marie Taglioni  here.

“Fred Astaire has a great golf swing.  All great golfers and dancers have impeccable timing, balance and coordination.” Read the interesting article on Fred Astaire here. http://www.fredastaireredbank.com/freddiefacts.htm

There is a Guinness World Record holder for the “Most Taps in a Minute” held by Anthony Morigerato set on Jun 23, 2011!
Read how many Taps here.  © Guinness World Records 2012. All rights reserved.  Also fascinating were the results for “Most Dancers on Pointe”, can you stay on pointe for one minute?

Otis Sallid

Otis Sallid choreographed for many well known movies and musicals such as Swing Kids, Malcolm X, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, etc… and one of my top favorite 80’s dance movies, “Girls Just Want  To Have Fun!” His talents go so much farther then choreography.  Check out his reels on his webpage.  http://www.creativeotis.com/

Debbie Allen is not only a Three-time Emmy Award winner for Choreography for the series Fame,  Golden Globe winner, Tony award nominee, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities BUT she is  also the younger sister of actress/singer Phylicia Rashād. Interesting!  Learn more about Debbie Allen and why she is amazing on her Wikipedia page.

Salary for a new dancer in the Boston Ballet, (pay per week) is $697.52 (lowest pay) and a 3rd year principal dancer makes $1300.56 per week (highest pay).  Also keep in mind that this is only for the “season,” which means that there are numerous weeks per year that dancers are not paid.  Great to think about and plan for if you are seriously considering ballet as a career.  NYCB makes much more, level A corps $956, principal $1743 (rehearsal week), principal $2060 (performance week).  (found this information on a great blog, thanks http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/19842-salaries/)
Also great to note that American Guild of Musical Artists is the union organization that represents ballet dancers and keeps them protected.  http://www.musicalartists.org/

If you are interested more in the Commercial Dance Career,  Answers4Dancers has a great informational page with salaries ranges to compare. http://www.answers4dancers.com/auditions/dancer-salaries.html

One of the many reasons that I love Tyce Diorio  is that his early years he spent dancing with Janet Jackson on her “Velvet Rope” World Tour as well as in her “If,” “Together Again,” and “You” videos.  Also on the American Music Awards, The Oprah Winfrey Show,  Saturday Night Live and throughout Europe with her. Information on Tyce, thanks to the Broadway Dance Center Faculty Bio http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com/faculty/bios/diorio_tyce_keith.shtml … and no he doesn’t have a brother named Keith.  He was born Keith Diorio.

Tyce Diorio in Chicago, Cell Block Tour, September 20, 2004

Hanya Holms labanotation score for Kiss Me, Kate (1948) was the first choreography to be copyrighted in the United States.  Read more about Hanya Holms on Wikipedia.

Did You Know? The dancing that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey do during the love scene was actually the same dance that they did for the screen tests. Dirty Dancing trivia rocks! www.imdb.com/title/tt0092890/trivia Share that fun fact at your next ROMCOM night!

Speaking of Dirty Dancing, it’s famous choreographer is Kenny Ortega.  He is most know for being Michael Jackson’s choreographer for the  Dangerous World Tour 1992-1993 and the HIStory World Tour 1996-1997 as well as This Is It concert tour, movie and memorial services.  In addition, Ortega has directed and choreographed High School Musical, High School Musical 2, and High School Musical 3: Senior Year . Also interesting is that he won an award for his choreography of  Madonna‘s “Material Girl“. Info from his wikipedia page.   Recently, Kenny is set to Direct ABC Family’s ‘Bunheads’ – Read the article from the Hollywood Reporter here.

In the USA, what day was proclaimed as National Tap Dance Day, by a vote of Congress in 1989?
May 25th. May 25th was chosen as it is the birth date of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. You should read more about him on his Wikipedia page!

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson & Shirley Temple

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson & Shirley Temple

The first Capezio Store opened in 1887 by Salvatore Capezio.  Read the Capezio Story here.

Yes folks, before Paula Abdul was on American Idol, she was a force in the dance world.  Paula won a Grammy for “Best Music Video – Short Form” for “Opposites Attract” which featured her tap dancing! Watch her video here.   She choreographed many of Janet Jackson’s most memorable videos and she was the choreographer for one of my favorite movies, “Can’t Buy Me Love!” She won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography for both Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” and her own “Straight Up” as well as an Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for The 17th Annual American Music Awards. Her six number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 tie her for fifth among the female solo performers who have reached #1 there. What I enjoyed reading the most was that Paula Abdul made it as a Los Angeles Lakers Girl when she was a freshman at California State University in Northridge.  After only three months on the team, Paula became head choreographer.   Read more on Paula’s Wikipedia page. 


“There were a couple of times when Michael stood at my side and we looked at the stage together and were just beaming with gladness that we had arrived at this place,” Ortega said. “And he was happy.”
Quote from Kenny Ortega… on  Michael’s last rehearsals, from LA Times

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!

Observing Your Child’s Dance Class?

“My daughter is very young, only 6 years old, should I sit and observe her dance class? Her dance studio advises against it?”
– Linda,  dance parent from Oregon

Thanks Linda, that is a great question.

My answer would be to watch only the last 5 minutes.  Here is why.  Often when you sit and watch dance class, you can be a disruptive distraction for your young dancer.  When they know that you are watching,  their focus can often move away from the teacher and the class.  This can lead to your dancer concentrating on your approval or what you are doing, wondering why you are looking away, asking to leave class to ask/give you something, or even acting out to see your reaction.  This can be a terrible problem for the teacher and the rest of the class. The frequency of dancers suddenly with shoes that are too tight, bathroom emergencies or hair crisis’ rises significantly when there are parents watching.  Years of experience has proven this theory repeatedly!

I find that the most productive dance class situation is one where the parents drop off their young dancers and return about 5 minutes before the end of class.  At this point,  dancers are often at the point in the class structure where they have worked on a combination or short routine.  They are very proud and excited for you to view it.  It helps the dancer put on their “best” performance instead of losing focus or steam in those last few minutes, which can often happen at the end of an hour class.

Now, if you are not ready to completely “drop off” and drive away yet, then I advise getting out of sight. i.e. wait outside, watch from the car and/or sit in a place that is out of your young dancers view.

Your dancer’s studio has a good policy, it truly is all for the best.

Happy dancing!

Well after a tremulous 6 months of working way to hard at way too many jobs, I’m back and excited to continue this blog.  Sorry I’ve been missing in action!

Lets further the art of dance together… ASK MS. SONYA, I want to help!