Sunday, January 31, 2016

A nice bellydance post

Like any exercise, dance offers the benefits of stress reduction, but dance is particularly helpful because of the mindfulness component.   It is hard to be looping on negative thoughts and feelings when listening to music, counting in your head, and trying new choreography.  Dance combines the important healing tools of exercise, breath work, and music with a sense of community.
You can reprogram your mind out of self-destructive patterns.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Dancing to Learn" by Judith Hanna

Now I have to read the book! This is just an article I already shared on facebook.

Dance. Is it merely art?  Is it just recreation?  Think again.
Dance is now being studied as a pathway to enhance learning.  And, scientists say, educators and parents should take note of the movement.
Recently at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, more than 6,800 attendees paid rapt attention to renowned choreographer Mark Morris as he answered questions about the relationship between creativity and dance.
Scientists are turning to dance because it is a multifaceted activity that can help them—and ultimately educators and even parents– demystify how the brain coordinates the body to perform complex, precise movements that express emotion and convey meaning. Dancers possess an extraordinary skill set—coordination of limbs, posture, balance, gesture, facial expression, perception, and action in sequences that create meaning in time and space. Dancers deal with the relationship between experience and observation.
The brain hides from our sight the wondrously complex operations that underlie this feat. Although there are many secrets to unravel about the power of the brain and dance, advances in technology– such as brain scanning techniques and the experiments of dancers, dance makers, and dance viewers– reveal to us the unexpected.  Research shows that dance activity registers in regions of the brain responsible for cognition.
More than 400 studies related to interdisciplinary neuroscience reveal the hidden value of dance.  For instance, we acquire knowledge and develop cognitively because dance bulks up the brain. Consequently, the brain that “dances” is changed by it. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio points out, “Learning and creating memory are simply the process of chiseling, modeling, shaping, doing, and redoing our individual brain wiring diagrams.”
Dance is a language of physical exercise that sparks new brain cells (neurogenesis) and their connections. These connections are responsible for acquiring knowledge and thinking. Dancing stimulates the release of the brain-derived protein neurotropic factor that promotes the growth, maintenance, and plasticity of neurons necessary for learning and memory. Plus, dancing makes some neurons nimble so that they readily wire into the neural network. Neural plasticity is the brain’s remarkable abil­ity to change through­out life. (As a septuagenarian, I’m dancingflamenco, belly dance, jazz, and salsa!)    As a method of conveying ideas and emotions with or without recourse to sound, the language of dance draws upon similar places and thought processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance feeds the brain in various kinds of communication.
Through dance, students can learn about academics—and themselves–including sexual, gender, ethnic, regional, national, and career identities. Moreover, dance is a means to help us improve mood and cope with stress that can motivate or interfere with concentration and learning. Influenced by body senses, environment, and culture, the brain “choreographs” dance and more.

Fodder for the Brain

The brain is comprised of about 100 billion electrically active neurons (cells), each connected to tens of thousands of its neighbors at perhaps 100 trillion synapses (the spaces between neurons where information transfers can occur). These atoms of thought relay information through voltage spikes that convert into chemical signals to bridge the gap to other neurons.
All thought, movement, and sensation emanate from electrical impulses coursing through the brain’s interconnected neurons. When they fire together they connect and reconnect, and the connections between them grow stronger in impacting our perception, our comprehension, and different kinds of memory.
If a pattern is repeated, the associ­ated group of neurons fire together resulting in a new memory, its consolidation, and ease of retrieving it. Neurons can improve intellect, memory, and certain kinds of learning if they join the existing neural networks instead of rattling aimlessly around in the brain for a while before dying.
Brain research has given us many insights for dance and other kinds of knowledge. Illustratively, we can apply what psycholinguists have found about learning a second or third verbal language to learning more than one nonverbal language—that is, another dance vocabulary (gesture and locomotion) and grammar (ways movements are put together), and meaning. Children who grow up multilingual have greater brain plasticity, and they multitask more easily. Learning a second or third language uses parts of the brain that knowing only one’s mother tongue doesn’t. Students who learn more than one dance language not only are giving their brains and bodies a workout; they are also increasing their resources for creative dance-making.

Connection for Education

So, what is the relevance of dance for educators and for parents? First, if one of the goals of education is to enhance procedural learning, then dance certainly helps. In traditional (blocked) approaches, the learner is encouraged to focus on mastering a particular dance movement before moving on to new problems. By comparison, varied practice (interleaving) that includes frequent changes of task so that the performer is constantly confronting novel components of the to-be-learned information is more effective.
Second, dance can be offered in multiple venues to promote cognitive growth, including arts magnet schools and academies, regular secondary schools, universities, and community and recreation centers. Venues may have their own dance faculty. Performing arts organizations, nonprofit operations, and dance companies offer dance education, often as partners with academic schools. Illustrative dance programs, some established in the last century but continuing to develop, show how dance education promotes skills for academe, citizenship, and the workplace. Principals can reach out to those offering dance classes and establish invaluable partnerships.
DanceToLearnBookObviously curricula and assessment vary in school settings. Dance may be a distinct per­forming art discipline with in-depth sequential exploration of a coherent body of knowledge guided by highly qualified dance teachers. Or dance may also be a liberal art, complimentary to or part of another subject. Brief introductions to dance may fill gaps in school curricula. Historical serendipity, leadership, teacher interest, parent involvement, and economic resources affect how youngsters experience dance.
Society privileges mental capacity—mind over matter and emotion. Talking, writing, and numbers are the media of knowledge. However, we now know that dance is a language, brain-driven art, and also, a fuel for learning subjects other than dance. In short, dance is an avenue to thinking, translating, interpreting, communicating, feeling, and creat­ing. As a multimedia communication that generates new brain cells and their connections, dance at any age enriches our cognitive, emotional, and physical development beyond the exercise itself and extends to most facets of life.
JudithLynneHannaJudith Lynne Hanna, PhD, is author of Dancing to Learn: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement and a former California-certified social studies and English teacher who has taught dance.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Cancelled - hopefully not every week like last February!

Yeah, it was a bad snowstorm. Maybe even a blizzard. Yeah, I can stay in and do projects all day.
Okay that we cancel Ron Gursky's classes for Sunday afternoon.
But then I couldn't get out of the driveway Sunday. Dance Teachers Club of Boston workshops with Mark Nocera that I already paid for were scheduled for 9 in Wakefield.  I left a message to see if they cancelled. I was shoveling when they called back at 8 AM to say yes.
I helped Joe fix the plow. By 10 AM, I could have left and gotten there at 11:30.
Philosophical, that's me. Lost 8 hours of dancing. Luckily, I get to teach 2 hours tonight, two hours tomorrow and two hours Wednesday. Almost make it up. Plus a plan to drive to the Berkshires Thursday, that's the 3 hours driving that I missed yesterday
I went to the beginning of the Patriot's game at the Cinema Pub. Fans were hopeful and appreciative of their team's efforts, with cheers and boos as plays progressed. I had a beer.  The enormous screen was interesting. The ads were ok. In Denver, they administer oxygen to players during breaks in the action. The other team, Broncos, scored, and play got rougher, so I finished my beer and went shopping.
Lots of mark-downs this time of year at TJ Max and Home Goods.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bikram Yoga and other explorations

Saturday at 4 PM I went with a friend to "Bring a guest day" at Bikram Yoga, Falmouth. Joe was off watching the Patriots at the Cinema Pub giant screen. What a work out! We got there early to acclimate to the heat, and I think it was 90 minutes long. Seemed to go on forever. My heart rate was as high as if I were running, which I never do.
The target muscles were legs and back, my strengths, so I did well, accomplishing all but one of the exercises, near the end, a back bend when I felt dizziness coming on. Rather than embarrassing myself by possibly fainting, I chose a bit of extra savasana ( lying flat on my back).
The next day I was moderately sore in the low back, not pain, but the tenderness of overwork. On Monday, the legs told me they had done more than usual as well. (The usual is 15 squats, 15 wide squats, 15 plie/lean to the side, and 30 lunge pulses per side.)
The abs were not sore at all. I do Pilates 100s every day. Or maybe it was the Tabata interval training a couple of weeks ago that put my stomach muscles in a mild cramp for 5 days.
Glad to have tried it, but yoga is still not for me.
Joe had enjoyed an exciting game. I was exhausted. Saturday night at home.

A shoulder weakness seems to show up occasionally, so I was looking at the personal trainer options, thinking my daily routine could include something that would help balance my musculature. Blast! is cheap but too loud and far away. Fitness Company is closer and not too expensive, especially since my health insurance wants me to join, i.e. pays for $150/year.
However, remembering my brilliant daughter-in-law is an exercise physiologist/anatomy teacher, I asked Ali for an evaluation yesterday. I get to train my serratus muscles, supports for the arm as well as connecting to the ribcage. No weights needed.

Friday, January 15, 2016

First Look at Footage

Only took about a half hour to find the right cord to connect to my camera. I watched the footage from the fabulous fall dances: Celebration of Dance with the showcases by teenagers and the Mary French Memorial with Ron Gursky and Nancy Murphy, Adam Spencer and Ghislaine Lacerte. Speeches, door prize drawings and the Foxtrot mixer were also captured.
Camera faults were numerous, but luckily the newest version of Final Cut Pro has some terrific editing tools: adding light to poorly lit space and zooming in on waltzers who have drifted far, far away. This will take at least a week of editing at FCTV in Falmouth. I have to learn the new tools while I sit in front of a screen. I'm not good at sitting in front of a screen -two hours is my absolute limit!
The only way to see it is to catch it on cable TV broadcast or borrow a DVD copy from me. I will have a few besides the ones I make for the performers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dance for Parkinson's

I just completed the online course to prepare me for the workshop to teach classes to Parkinson's patients. Very satisfying material stressed the approach to the class as an aesthetic experience. Much better than getting certified to teach Zumba.
A unit on understanding the underlying problems the participants face reminded me why I looked into it. My father had neurological problems, Alzheimers and stroke, and he and my mother joined a Singing for Parkinson's group,
 I believe my background in ballroom dance will be very helpful since I see ordinary folks, some aging into those problems. As well, the partner dancing is suggested as part of the lesson plans.
Teachers quoted as part of the material had mostly had classes with young dancers. Their experience on stage expertise will enrich the class, and the Mark Morris dancers, initiators of  Dance for PD in this country, are a great company with a lot of narrative material to pull interest.
Brooklyn this summer for a workshop.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Guide to Better Posture by Berkely Wellness

Evaluate your posture on your own, or work with a partner.

From the side
Stand before a full-length mirror, naked or in tight clothing and flat shoes; use a hand mirror to see yourself in the long mirror. Assume your normal posture and do the following:

Imagine dots at the front of your earlobe and shoulder, at the center of your hip, just behind your kneecap, and just in front of your ankle bone. Connect these dots—they should form a straight vertical line.
  • Notice how your back curves. There should be a mild inward curve behind your neck and lower back. Your upper back should curve slightly outward.
  • Check your chin. It should normally be parallel to the floor but not thrust forward.
  • Sit in a straight armless chair. You should still be able to draw a straight vertical line from earlobe to hip, and the three natural curves of your back should be visible.
From the front
When standing, your hips, shoulders, and knees should be level—one side should not be higher than the other. The spaces between your arms and waist should be the same on each side. Your kneecaps should face straight ahead, your ankles should be straight (not rolling inward), and your head should also be straight.
  • When sitting, your shoulders should be at equal height, knees facing forward, and ankles straight.
Whether you seek professional evaluation or not, there’s a lot you can do on your own to improve poor posture and help maintain good posture, including the steps below. One important element: maintain a healthy weight. Being very overweight can cause or worsen poor posture. Regular exercise can help improve posture as well as weight control and overall health.

When you're standing or walking
  • Think about your feet, and evaluate your footwear. Foot pain—and the posture changes it causes—may simply mean that you’re wearing the wrong shoes. It may also mean that you need evaluation by a podiatrist. Avoid high heels and worn-out shoes.
  • Think tall. Imagine a wire attached to the top of your head, pulling it upward.
  • Avoid standing or walking swayback—that is, with an extreme curve in the lower back. Instead, lift your chest up, pull in your abdomen, and tuck in your buttocks.
  • Practice tightening your abdominal muscles and flattening your stomach. Hold the position for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat occasionally throughout the day.
  • When standing for long periods, try to stand evenly balanced on both feet. If you get tired, shift your weight from one foot to another. Occasionally rest one foot on a small stool, if available.
When you're sitting
  • For prolonged sitting, get an adjustable chair with good back support and armrests. Sit firmly back with your shoulders against the chair, your chest lifted, and upper back straight. Put a small lumbar roll against your lower back for additional support. Keep equal weight on your left and right buttocks. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your thighs horizontal. If the chair is too high for this, use a fat book or small stool as a foot rest. Take frequent breaks.
  • When working at a desk, lean forward at your hips, bringing your trunk forward, rather than bending at the waist or neck. Don’t look directly down at your work.
  • When driving, position your seat so you can easily reach the wheel, as well as the accelerator and brake. Change the seat position occasionally, tilting slightly forward or back, if possible. Try a lumbar roll for your lower back. During a long trip, stop every couple of hours to rest and stretch. Practice good sitting posture while driving—don’t slump. Remember the imaginary wire at the top of your head, pulling it upward.
When you're lying down
  • Make sure your mattress is comfortable—it need not be hard, but it shouldn’t sag. Back pain in the morning may be a sign that your bed or sleeping position is bad. Avoid pillows that are too thin or too fat.
When you're lifting, carrying
  • Beware of repetitive lifting or carrying objects that are too heavy for you. Long-term use of a heavy backpack or shoulder bag can cause posture problems.

Can you sit your way to good posture?

Desk chairs have been blamed for many backaches. There are a number of alternative types of chairs currently available that claim to help your posture. These include the saddle seat (shaped like a saddle, usually backless, which you straddle while sitting) and the kneeling chair (on which you perch with legs bent at about 60°, with your knees and shins resting on supports). There is even a chair made of slings which you strap around your back and knees while sitting. All of these chairs have potential problems—sometimes relieving one ache only to create another—and can be quite expensive (up to $1,500 for some models). According to Dr. Gregory Thielman, assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, they are of no value in improving posture.On the other hand, Dr. Thielman is cautiously optimistic about using an exercise ball as a desk chair. These large inflatable balls (also called physioballs or fitness balls) require “active sitting,” and are often used by physical therapists to help strengthen core muscles and improve posture. One sure thing: it’s hard to slump while sitting on the ball.Still, there’s no solid evidence that sitting on an exercise ball for deskwork is beneficial, and it may be problematic. For instance, the space under your desk may be too small for a ball that’s the right size for you, in which case you’ll have to lean forward and may fall off the ball. Also, there are no armrests. Sitting on the ball may create problems with the position of the rest of your work station. And in one study, back discomfort initially increased after one hour of use in some subjects, probably because they were not used to sitting on a ball.
Best advice: For work, choose a chair with a good “ergonomic” design—that is, it should have an adjustable back, seat, and armrests. Wheels help, too. However, if you find an alternative chair appealing, don’t mind the expense, and are willing to modify your workstation to make the chair fit in, you may want to give one a try. If you work long hours at a desk or drawing board, you might even like to have more than one chair or else an adjustable desk (sit/stand workstation). And don’t forget to vary your position during the day: lean back frequently; stand up and move around.

20 minutes to better posture

These simple stretching and strengthening exercises target muscles (such as the hamstrings and abdominals) essential for good posture. Try to do them in the morning and again in the evening.
Lower back and abdominal workout: Lie on your back with arms out to your sides. Bend your knees and raise them toward your chest. Slowly lower both knees to the floor on one side. Hold for 15 seconds. Bring knees back to starting position, keeping arms and shoulder blades on floor, then lower to other side. Repeat five times on each side.
Thigh stretch: Lying flat on your stomach, grasp your left ankle with your left hand. Press the bent leg back against your hand’s resistance. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Then pull that leg upward to your buttocks. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower your leg part way. Repeat five times with each leg.
Hamstring stretch: Working with a partner, sit on the floor with legs straight and hands behind you for balance. Put one leg on your partner’s shoulder and press down 20 to 30 seconds. Then ask your partner to press down just above your knee while he rises slightly to create a passive stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat five times with each leg.
Neck stretch: Sitting on a stool or chair, and holding the seat with your right hand, put your left hand on the rear right side of your head. Gently pull your head down while rotating your chin to the right. Change hands and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat five times on each side. You can also stretch your neck by gently pulling your head down toward your shoulder. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds
Shoulder and upper back workout: Sit on a straight chair, but without touching the back. (1) With your hands clasped behind your head, raise your shoulders toward your ears, then press down. (2) Press the back of your head into your hands, so the muscles along your upper spine tighten; hold for five seconds. (3) Press your elbows back 10 times, so you feel the movement in your shoulder blades.
Back stretch: Hold the rim of a sink, with your arms straight but not locked. Place your feet hip-width apart, right under your shoulders, knees slightly bent. With neck muscles relaxed, let your hips sink back as if you were about to sit down. Feel the stretch down the length of your spine. Hold position for 10 seconds. Gradually stand up. Repeat five times.