Motivation and Inspiration, Part Two: Loving the Process

You, and everyone around you, have be trained since children to be unhappy. You've been taught it by your well-meaning parents, encouraged by your peers, had it presented in structured format by your schools.

They didn't mean to. They were simply trying to instil a desire to reach for bigger and better things. They taught us: This what success looks like, what wealth and abundance look like. This is what pleasure and happiness look like.

The problem is, they tied all those awesome feelings to some future ideal... And left none of it for the present. And now we live in a society caught in a rat-race, determined to be rich and successful, with a Mr./Ms. Right on one arm and the keys to a mansion in the other. Because everything before that point feels like failure.

What does this have to do with ballroom dancing? Let me explain:

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

In any undertaking we make - dancing included - 99% of that time is going to be spent learning; in other words, making mistakes and learning how to do better.

Yet, we've been trained since childhood to hyper-focus on the end result: The grades we get, the pay check we receive, and the ballroom dance competition that we win.

The problem with that is when we focus on the end goal, everything up until that point starts feeling like failure. So today we're going to look at how to learn to love the process of reaching towards those goals.

An important part of that, is coming to make peace with your situation right now, rather than resisting it.

Sometimes our life can feel a bit like we're being asked to dance to a song that we really hate, when deep down inside we're frustratedly saying "I don't like that song! I can't wait until the song that I do like comes on! When is that song I like going to come on?!"

Ironically, the more we put our attention into the future, the less joy we can take from the present.

So for example, a lot of the joy of ballroom dancing has nothing to do with the song that's playing at all. It comes from the thrill of the unknown: Not knowing how your partner's going to respond to you, and feeling the movement evolve in response to your unique dance styles.

It's also really awesome when you feel your dancing has improved from the previous dance, and the one before that.

Also, sometimes you're going to get bored - I mean, sometimes we get bored when we're drilling the same step over and over again. But that does not mean that the activity is boring. It just means that we have lost our focus with the parts of that activity which we might enjoy.

For example, if I am having trouble with a specific dance technique and I start to get bored, I might ask myself: "Why am I getting bored?" I may come to the conclusion that I don't feel like I'm progressing - I feel like I'm stuck in place. Or maybe I'm not progressing as fast as I want to.

So that allows me to start looking more closely in my body so I can start learning where I'm going wrong and maybe notice those incremental improvements so I can start to take pleasure in it again. Or I may need to get my expectations of how fast I'm going to improve out of the way.

When we ruminate about the past or worry about the future, these things both keep us from enjoying what's happening right now. Instead, we want to find ways to bring ourselves into what's happening right now, so that we can look at what's happening more objectively.

A good way to do that is by asking yourself the question: What at this very moment is lacking? When I ask myself that, the only thing that's really lacking right now, is it's a very warm day out and we don't have air-conditioning.

But if I think about what I have to do in a couple of hours, or throughout the rest of the day - I've got to put together choreography that I'm going to teach to seniors at Chester Village in a couple hours, I have some lessons to do, a social to go to in the evening...

There's lots of things that I could stress myself out about if I gave too much of my attention to those things; asking this question can remind us that 1) what's happening right now usually isn't that bad, and 2) there's only so much you can do about the past or future.

We can prepare for the future sure, but we still have to prepare by taking actions right now: Worrying about the future does not solve anything.

Also, when we are procrastinating or if we suffer from perfectionism, these are both opposite sides of the same coin - that is, fear of failing, or fear that the process is not going to give us the payoff that we want.

Procrastination says "I'm afraid of failure so I won't start", and perfectionism says "I'm afraid of failure, so if I start it's all got to be perfect from the beginning, and nothing can surprise me"

Since that's really unrealistic to expect, we have to learn to rephrase our mistakes as learning opportunities. I like to think of our goals as lying across a field: A field that is full of mistakes - literally every step we take through that field is a mistake. And that's a GOOD thing.

Because the mistakes are teaching you how to take the next step, and a step after that - it's part of the process, the shots are part of the program.

Also, sometimes when we make mistakes, we feel like it's our fault. You know when we mess up in front of our instructor, what's the first thing we often say? "I'm sorry."

Sometimes I let my students know, when they've been messing up a step that they're trying for the first time: "you don't need to apologize. You've never done this step before, and I know you didn't get this morning, saying 'hey! I think I'm going to mess with my instructors day' and then start screwing up on purpose."

This is not really something that's in your control; it's not about fault at all. It's part of the process.

Finally, it's worth remembering that when we reach our end goal, there's nowhere to go but reaching for the next. So be okay with setting some goals that you may never reach.

The important part is that when you're reaching for them, they help you develop and grow as a person; and that is where much of the joy of learning comes from.

So I hope you enjoyed this talk, and it gives you some interesting food for thought. If you have any questions or comments about it, please message me on my Facebook fan page Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance. 

Next week, we're going to be talking to a life coach, somebody who has been very helpful for me, and we're going to be looking at self-sabotage: How we end up holding ourselves back from achieving our full potential.

So happy dancing, and I will see you next time!

Motivation and Inspiration, Part One: The Right Mindset

Have you ever noticed how some people always seem to get things done? Achieving success is simple and straightforward for them, and mastering ballroom dancing is no exception - once they decide where they want to go, they stop at nothing to get there.

Then there are others who go in with good intentions, but never seem to reach the dance goals they set for themselves. They hit a patch where the learning becomes frustrating, their motivation goes down, and before long, they decide ballroom dance just isn't for them.

This isn't about blame or fault - In my experience, a certain mindset is needed to become the dancer you've always wanted to be. Let me explain:

Transcript

Hi guys my name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

We're starting into a theme this month! Something that's near and dear to my heart: Motivation and inspiration in ballroom dancing.

Specifically, we're looking at the mindset for a successful ballroom dancer,  what causes dancers to succeed and continue with their craft for years, while others might give up after only a few weeks or months.

I'm not talking about people who consciously decide to put their energy into another pursuit - there is going to be of course people who try ballroom dancing and decide "you know what? Ballroom dancing music; not my thing. I'd rather do something else."

Or maybe they decide they'd rather dance by themselves, and they end up going into ballet, or hip-hop, or contemporary, or just dancing alone in their living room - and power to them. That's beautiful.

We're looking at the people who believe that ballroom dancing has something to offer them, but for some reason they stop themselves. So why is it that some people are able to continue and others seem to just give up?

Now, in my experience I've seen that there's five essential ingredients that every ballroom dancer absolutely needs, if they're going to succeed and get what they want from dancing, and I'd like to introduce you to two different mindsets on this. A static mindset versus the active mindset

Now, these are broad definitions, but just to give you a way of comparing two different approaches. We'll start with the first ingredient, which is self-knowledge.

The static mindset makes a lot of their actions on impulse: they haven't taken the time to really think about why they do what they do, so it's very difficult for them to reliably devote themselves to an unfamiliar cause.

I say unfamiliar because when we are trying to do something that's out of our comfort zone, it often brings up parts of ourselves that we don't know very well, and that can be a scary experience for some people. But we'll talk more about that in a couple of weeks.

On the other hand the active mindset has taken that time to look through or explore that mental landscape. They have taken time to reflect on why they do the things they do, and they have a strong emotional connection to the principles that guide them.

This allows them to be much more consistent when they decide to pursue something, because they already know whatever internal demons they're going to have to face, and how to overcome them.

Then we have motivation. The static mindset will approach motivation from the standpoint of "well, I've seen ballroom dancing, and there's something in there that I like." 

Maybe they saw Dancing with the Stars, or they went to a dance club and they saw this really cool dancer, and there was this sense of "there's something here that I want", and they want to explore it.

But they haven't thought very deeply about what's specifically that thing is, so they go into the lessons with more of a vague sense of what they want, rather than a specific idea.

Meanwhile, the more active mindset have taken that time to reflect on what exactly about ballroom dancing moves them. And when they go in for their lessons, they're going to be able to convey that; which will help guide the lessons towards that goal.

Then we have persistence, which the first two help build into. The static mindset encounters something that's difficult for them and they say "well, maybe I'm just not cut out for this", and they don't really have a lot of reason to keep pushing through.

The active mindset, because they've taken that time to reflect on why they dance; they have drive to continue that is stronger than the temptation to quit.

These are closely connected with belief, which is the fourth ingredient. If the static mindset tends to not put in a hundred percent of their effort, because there's this underlying feeling that "well I don't know if I'm going to ever be the dancer that I want to be, so I'm not going to waste 100% of my energy trying to get there. Because why would I bother if I'm not going to succeed?"

Meanwhile, the active mindset believes that they can have their dancing dream, so they're going to push themselves that much harder; they're going to give a 100% of their energy in order to achieve that.

This all feeds into the final and fifth agreement, which is inspiration. See, a static mindset will look at a fabulous dancer and they will say, "wow! I wish I could do something like that... but I know I can't."

An active mindset looks at a fabulous dancer and says "wow! What are they doing and how can I learn that and incorporate it into my own dancing, so I can look just as good or better??" They let the vision of what's to come inspire them rather than discourage them.

So broadly speaking, the static mind tends to be more safety-based; it's found this comfortable area that it wants to stay in and because it wants to stay there, it comes up with excuses that validate its inaction.

Meanwhile the active mindset takes a more growth-based approach; it believes that there is something better out there, and that that it can have it. So it's looking to stretch, and expand, and take new skills in order to achieve that thing that it wants.

Now this isn't to say that if you have a static mindset on one of these ingredients that you MUST be static throughout your whole life. We can often have a static mindset on one ingredients but be very active on another.

Maybe I believe that I can be a great dancer but on a subconscious level, because I don't have that self-knowledge, I haven't taken that time to understand how my past experiences have affected me - I have these other beliefs deep down inside that are pulling in the opposite direction.

Or you might have somebody who has the motivation - they really want to have this thing, but they find it's hard for them to develop the persistence. They try, but it's very difficult for them to push through these  more difficult periods because there's there's something there that's blocking them.

We can spot the ingredients that give us the most trouble, and we can train our mind to change from a static to an active mindset. We're not stuck in any one placeI have always believed that and I always will.

A big part of getting there is learning to love the process of improving ourselves. Because we get so often focused on a destination, and we forget to appreciate and enjoy all the growth that's required to get there. And THEN we get there and often we end up reaching for the next thing and the next thing.

We keep thinking "well, once I have that, I'm going to be happy." But we've trained ourselves to be constantly looking for the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.

We're going to go deeper into that for next week. So I look forward to seeing you then! If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance.

I look forward to seeing you next week and until then, happy dancing!

Dancing for Life, Part Five: Recovering from Injury

Sprained ankles, twisted hips, accidental elbow to the face (seriously, it happens)... When you learn to move your body in a new way, the occasional injury is inevitable. What's far more important however, is how you treat the injuries that occur.

In university, I had many friends who loved sports - soccer, hockey, running, etc. - but had been told by their doctor they could never play again. We're talking 20-year olds here. And why? Because they'd ignored the injuries they sustained while playing, until it became too serious for them to continue.

On the other hand, we've all seen those videos on Youtube - incredible dancers that know how to move it well into their nineties... or later. How do they do it?

We've covered most of those reasons already, but the one, may the MOST important thing, is that they know how to take care of their bodies when they get injured.

Like I said, injuries are going to happen - but taking control of the recovery process helps ensure our body stays healthy and strong, well into our senior years. And what better way to test your knowledge... Than with a little game?

Missed the previous articles? I've included links at the bottom!

Transcript

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance, where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

Regardless of whether or not you're dancing, playing sports, or doing some other kind of physical activity (wink), the occasional injury is virtually inevitable. But what can we do to speed up our recovery time, and what can we do to prevent those injuries from reoccurring in the future?

It's time to play a game of TRUE or FALSE.

Question number one: When you injure yourself, if you can still move the injured part around, you can get right back to dancing - true or false?

FALSE. If you don't spend the time to understand how serious that injury is, you run the risk of making it more serious and turning it into something that will make you have to stop dancing for longer. So always take some time and get to know what's going on.

Question number two: If you get injured, it's a good idea to gingerly move the injured area around to get a sense of what movements are painful, and how serious the injury is - true or false?

TRUE! You want to get a sense of how bad the injury is, whether this is something you can just slap a bandaid on, walk off, or need to consult a professional, as well as an idea of what types of movements to avoid while you're waiting for the injury to heal.

Question number three: Swelling around the injured area is always a bad thing - true or false?

FALSE. Swelling is actually a positive sign. It's a sign from the immune system that is trying to heal the injured part of the body. A lot of swelling CAN cause more harm than good, and that's why we usually try and keep the swelling down through things like Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE).

Question number four: If you don't feel pain after a day or two, there's no need to consult a professional true or false?

FALSE. While not all injuries become chronic injuries, there's a lot of things that we've sustained when we were younger that gradually accumulate, and start affecting things like our balance, our posture, and our flexibility.

So when in doubt, it's always a good idea to consult a professional - just to make sure that we haven't created some imbalance that needs to be corrected.

Question number five: You may need to take a week or two off or even longer from dancing in order to completely recover - true or false?

TRUE. Much as I hate to say it (or hear it), taking some time for complete rest is the safest and best way to make sure that injury won't reoccur later on.

Question number six: Stretching an injured area is a good way to relieve some of the pain of that injury - true or false?

FALSE. While it might help the injury, it might also tear it and cause it to get worse - so again, it's a better idea to wait and talk to a professional to make sure that you're following the best practice to help this part of your body heal.

Question number seven: If a doctor tells you that you can never dance again, it's time to hang up those dance shoes for good - true or false?

FALSE. While not everyone will agree with me on this, I believe it's better to get a second opinion. Even the experts mess up sometimes and it's best not to shut a door that you might not have to.

Question number eight: Physical therapy, when recommended by your doctor, is a good way to help recover from an injury - true or false?

TRUE. Physical or movement therapy allows your body to get stronger so it can be prepared to dance again, and that increased strength helps to make sure that same injury does not reoccur in the future.

Finally, question number nine: When you fully recover, it's a good idea to go over the pattern or the technique that caused the injury in the first place, but more slowly to understand what went wrong - true or false?

TRUE! As we talked about last week, good technique is an important part of making sure that you don't get injured, so take the injury as a lesson - a way of changing how you're dancing so you're less likely to get injured in the future.

And that concludes our game of TRUE or FALSE!

I hope you found that helpful. If you have any questions or comments you can message me on my Facebook fan page "Ballroom Dancers Anonymous or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, and next week we're beginning a new theme.

We're going to be looking at dance and motivation - specifically, how to stay motivated through both the good times and the bad, and how to build some positive dance habits so that we can make the most of our dancing experience.

I look forward to seeing you then. Until next week - happy dancing!

Previous Articles on 'Dancing for Life'
Part One: Body Awareness
Part Two: Getting to Know our Bodies
Part Three: Stretchin' Away the Pain
Part Four: Sustainable Dancing

 

Dancing for Life, Part Four: Sustainable Dancing

One of my favourite things about ballroom dancing is that the better you understand it, the easier and more effortless it gets. And since effort - or at least uncontrolled, forced effort - can be damaging to our bodies, there's some serious health pluses as well.

I've talked a lot about keeping ourselves healthy, but not yet about how dancing BETTER means dancing LONGER into life. Let's explore how to improve our dancing and our body health - at the same time.

Transcript:

Hi guys my name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor the Joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance at your place on your schedule.

What allows us to move effectively, in a way that's low-impact for our body, while still following correct dance technique? A lot of it comes down to moving efficiently: Getting the best results with the least amount of effort.

When you think about your favourite dancers, what are some words that you'd use to describe them? Likely you'll come up with things like "effortless", "elegant" and "powerful" - in other words, they make what they do look easy.

By comparison, beginner dancers are going to look more forced and stiff in their movements. If you're one of these dancers yourself, you might notice that the bigger, more obvious movements are easier, but the movements that require more fine muscle control; not so much.

These little muscles are very important in preventing you from overextending and perhaps hurting yourself, so strengthen these muscles by dancing through your patterns more slowly, while keeping an eye on any places where you're tempted to rush through or lose your balance.

It's very easy to get impatient with this process, so I encourage you to dance a practice with an instructor or another dancer nearby.

Know your technique: Most good ballroom dance technique is just healthy dancing - it's following the natural movements of your body. Here's four examples of good technique or good things to be aware of when you're dancing.

First of all you want to always move from your core. Your core, if you don't know, is generally defined as like a fist-sized area that's nestled just under your solar plexus, around your navel area.

When we move from here, it keeps us balanced and in control so that our muscles are not straining to hold us up. Our bones and joints keep us where we need to be, and our muscles are free to make the rest of our dancing look that much better.

Focus on rolling through your movements: I like to say "if we stop moving we stop dancing." So even if it's a staccato style dance like say a tango, (CORRECTION: Tango does sometimes stop) we're really just slowing down and then we speed up.

We never want to move and stop; move and stop. It's going to take you more energy to have to constantly stop and start yourself, so we want to have that fluidity.

Focus on good partner connection. Yes, the leader goes first and yes, the follower goes just afterwards, but through that pressure, through our contact points, we are constantly letting each other know what we're doing.

And this allows us to move more as one: We have less "bumper cars" on the dance floor, and again it's much less strain on your muscles.

Finally, be aware that certain movements are always going to be a little easier for you, and certain movements are going to be a little bit harder, compared to somebody else with a different body type.

For example, I am going to have more difficulty dancing salsa because of how tall I am; how long my legs are, than somebody who's a little bit shorter, because I just have more to move - it's harder for me to keep up with the speed of some of the more advanced movements.

If I try to be like somebody else with shorter legs and shorter arms, I'm more likely to just end up frustrating myself, and I might even run the risk of hurting myself.

On the other hand, I can make tango look better because I have longer limbs that can create nice lines, so I can I can make nicer shapes while I'm dancing something like tango.

So just make peace of this awareness that - you know, this doesn't mean that you can only dance the styles that show off these things the best, but just be aware that there are going to be certain dance styles or certain moves that will give you a little bit more of a challenge, and that is okay.

Be aware that when you're dancing on floors that are harder and don't "give" as much, like concrete, you're going to want to dance lower impact moves, especially if you're doing something like East Coast Swing or jive.

By comparison, when you're dancing on a proper ballroom floor - which is usually a sprung hardwood floor - you can get away with your full complement of dance moves.

But if you try and push it on a harder floor you run the risk of injuring your ankles, your knees, your hips - it can be very bad for your body in the long run, so just take it easy there.

These are the main things that you need to be able to dance efficiently, and to and be able to enjoy dancing for your whole life. 

I hope you found this helpful - if you have any questions or comments, as always you can message me on my Facebook fan page: Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again that's ian@socialballroom.dance.

I know that I said last week that this would be our final topic on this theme, but I've decided  to add one more. It's one I feel is very important, about how we can take good care of ourselves and maximize our recovery if we do end up injuring ourselves.

Because injuries are at least somewhat inevitable if you're going to dance for any period of time, but as long as you take care of yourself, you can keep that injury just a short-term blip, and you can be back on the dance floor in a way that has you healthy - maybe even healthier than you were before you got injured.

So I look forward to talking with you about that next week, and until then, happy dancing!

 

Dancing for Life, Part Three: Stretchin’ Away the Pain

Injuries are a super-bummer for anyone - and for a dancer, it could limit how long they can enjoy dancing. Since most dance-related injuries occur from a tight area being over-extended, we need to stretch these areas to improve our 'range of motion'.

From our conversation with Noel Miller, we learned that stretching is the best thing we can do as individuals to protect ourselves, and developing our body awareness helps us identify where we need it the most. But the journey doesn't end there.

In today's video, we cover the various kinds of stretches out there, so you can choose the best ones for you. We also look at some general tips you may not have thought of, which help improve your stretching enormously.

CAVEAT: I'm talking about stretching areas which are tight and at risk of injury. I'm NOT talking about areas that are already injured - stretching these areas could aggravate the problem. Consult a health professional for any chronic or acute pain.

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance, where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

If we accept that range of motion is referring to how far we can move different parts of our body without hurting ourselves, then it becomes a little easier to understand why taking up a more physical activity like dancing can make us more prone to injury.

We are moving our body in a way that we're not used to, and we may be overextending or rolling beyond that range of motion for certain muscle groups.

Fortunately using what we've learned from body awareness or the last two videos we can begin to spot these tight or painful areas and stretch them out before they become a bigger problem.

There's a lot of great material online about different kinds of stretches you can use, but a very good idea is to sort out all the information there, so we can get a sense of what kinds of stretches we want to use and which ones we'd rather avoid.

Breaking it down into about six basic types of stretches the first one that I want to talk about is ballistic stretching.

This is one where we're using momentum to send parts of our body beyond their normal range of motion. You might see certain athletes do this kind of action with their arms for their stretching (swings arms in front of body, then out to side).

This is NOT a recommended form of stretching, because we don't really get an opportunity to relax into the stretch, so it's not as effective, and there's quite a bit of risk for injury with all that motion beyond your body's normal range.

Next you have what's called dynamic movement. This is using more slow controlled movements that gradually increase the speed and flexibility of different movements.

This is better because it's more low-impact, though it's still not recommended for anyone who is coming out of a very tired day and when they're they've been overworked.

Then you have your active or static active. These kinds of stretches involve using the muscles of one part of your body, to hold that part in a position that will stretch an opposing group of muscles.

Let me explain that a little better. If I was to lift up my leg (in front of me) here, I'm basically using the muscles on the tops of my legs like the quads and my hip flexors to lift the leg.

I'm using this to stretch the muscles along the backs of my leg - in this case the calves and the hamstrings. Because they are on the opposing side of that limb, this would be an example of an active stretch.

Then you have your passive or static stretches. This is a similar idea, except we're using muscles to stretch a non-opposing group of muscles.

Going back to that leg analogy, if I then held this leg up with my arms, I'm now using my arm muscles to stretch my leg, not my leg muscles to stretch my leg. Because I'm using different muscles it becomes more of a static or passive stretch.

The active stretches can be a little more difficult, so it's not recommended that you try and hold those for longer than about 10 to 15 seconds per set.

The static or passive stretches because of their lower impact, are great for people who are a little bit more prone to injury, if you're a little bit older, or if you're just coming down from a particularly intense bit of dancing. Those are all good options for that latter type of stretch.

Next there's isometric stretches. These are when we hold our body in a passive stretch and we have a controlled tightening of the muscle.  So this isn't like we use our muscles to move our body - we're toning or tightening up our muscles in place.

This will help to increase your strength and flexibility. However it's not recommended for children or for adolescents whose bones are still forming; there's a risk that there can be damage to the tendons if you do that at that age.

And finally we have, and I'm going to try and say this correctly: proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (applause), also called PNF stretching for short.

This is a more advanced form of stretching by which we hold our body in a passive stretch, and we resist the gentle pressure of someone else who's pushing on that area.

Because this is a more advanced form of stretch, it's recommended that you have a fitness coach or somebody help you with this, somebody who has that experience. But it is considered one of the best stretches to help you increase your range of motion.

Now that we have an idea of some of the different kinds of stretches that are out there, what are some general tips that we can apply, no matter what kind of stretching we're using?

First of all it's always a good idea to warm up your body with some light exercise before you begin any stretching. Your muscles are able to stretch further and they're less likely to get damaged throughout a stretch. 

Make sure that you're holding a neutral position. A good example would be if I was stretching my back, I would want to check in the mirror to make sure that I'm not subconsciously slouching or arching my back. I'm keeping what's called a "neutral spine", and that way I can get more out of this stretch and again, I'm less prone to injury.

When you're stretching, make sure that you're breathing slowly and that you're relaxing into the stretch. Imagine your muscles are softening or melting into the stretch.

Finally, be aware that sometimes our bodies NEED to have tight muscles in certain places, in order to stabilize the bones and joints in the surrounding areas.

So if you are new to stretching, you probably want to err on the side of stretching less rather than more, and if you get any pain - especially if you feel like it's joint pain after stretching - you should consult a professional.

So these are the main things you need to know about stretching in a safe way, so that you can enjoy dancing for longer.

I hope you found this helpful and if you have any questions, as always please message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance.

Next week, we're going to wrap up this series with a look at how we can move in a way that's a little bit lower impact, still follows correct dance technique, but just adjusting it so that we're not forcing anything, so we can enjoy dancing and look good for that much longer.

look forward to seeing you then, and happy dancing!

Dancing for Life, Part Two: Getting to Know Our Bodies

Our interview with Noel Miller shed some light on the importance of paying attention to our bodies. But it got me thinking: How exactly can we develop this awareness inside of ourselves and apply it to dancing?

It's a question I attempt to answer in this video:

Video Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the joy of Dance Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of socialballroom.dance -Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

Last week we interviewed Noel Miller, a fitness expert who offered up some useful insights on how we can use the idea of body awareness - you know, being in touch of what's happening inside of ourselves - to dance for life, and to prevent ourselves from from getting injured along the way.

I'd like to get deeper into how we can train ourselves to become more aware of what's happening inside our bodies, but first I want to address a bit of an issue that some people find a little controversial.

I know that many ballroom dancers see "correct ballroom dancing" as adhering to a very specific precise standard of movement and posture and so on, and if it hurts your body to do that, then so be it - that's the cost of correct technique.

I personally tend to lean more towards a more flexible approach. The way I see it is that we all have different - like everybody's body is a little bit different from everybody else's, and we need to take that into account when we're learning to dance.

If you have more tight hips for example, you may not do as much Latin Hip action as somebody else might, or if your back is stiffer you may not have as open a chest when you're going into a Viennese Waltz or another Smooth/Standard dance. And I personally feel that's generally okay.

If this is a body imbalance or there's like an injury, or something that needs to be addressed through stretching, or through consulting a professional, that's one thing. But once you've ruled that out and you determine that this is a structural thing in your body, I always say that it's better to try and just dance within what your body is comfortably able to do. Because odds are that's what's going to look the most natural for you.

There are a number of exercises that can help us get more in touch with these sensations in our body, so that we can take preventative measures to prevent an injury from happening. These are generally called somatic exercises.

There's a number of different kinds of exercises out there from Feldenkrais, to the Alexander Technique, to Mindbody Centering and Continuum. All the spiritual sounding names, aside these are essentially different movements that you can use to build your coordination, your balance, and to reduce the muscle pain that you get throughout life, whether you're dancing or not.

They're potentially very helpful. I'm no expert on them, which is why I encourage you to check them out. But they all follow certain principles which we as ballroom dancers use as well.

For example, you don't want to force any of the movement. You want to flow naturally. You don't want to use a lot of unnecessary muscles in the movement, so it's better if you you turn them off. Some muscles might be tensing more as a result of overthinking it. You want to try and relax and just do it with a smallest amount of energy possible.

It's also good to make sure that your joints and your bones are what supports you.  We don't want to have shakiness in the muscles, which can be a sign that we're we're not quite balanced, or we're moving in a way that's causing our muscles to extend themselves.

But maybe you feel like you just don't have the time or energy to do research on these different methods, and figure out what works for you. I don't blame you - a lot of us are very busy. One way that I use is I simply spend 10-15 minutes a day meditating.

Because meditation is a excellent way of temporarily shutting out the world, and getting one in touch with our bodies. And when we're there it's a lot easier for us to to - sector-by-sector if you like - become aware of any discomfort, or any sensations in our body that stands out from the baseline.

Because in our society we tend to have very short attention spans. We're very outward focused. We're thinking about work, and kids, and family, and how we're going to pay the bills and so on, and we can very easily just ignore our bodies all the time. So we don't even notice if the body is screaming at us that "hey, you know you're not using me in a way that's that's respectful, and if you keep doing this, I'm going to break down in some way".

So to give you an idea of how easy it is to to do this and how quickly you can do it, we're going to do a fast version of a body scan now.

So what I'd like you to do is find a place where you know there's relatively little distractions. If you're if you're at work right now, save this part of the video until you get home, find a place where it's nice and comfortable for you to sit or lie down. And you're going to want to make yourself as comfortable as you can, and just relax and maybe even close your eyes.

The point of this initially is to try and relax your body, but even more important to relax your mind. Because we get so easily pulled away from our body with the struggles of daily life, and as a result we get into this habit of just ignoring our body, so we're going to do the opposite.

We're shutting out the outside world temporarily, and we want to just focus on breathing, and listen to my voice. And just take a few minutes or a few moments to gradually let your mind slow down, and just get prepared to to start focusing inwards rather than outwards. And once you feel like you're in a good place for that, take your attention and put it on your head and your neck.

And just spend maybe 30 seconds just sensing if there's anything that feels different from the rest of your body. It could be a tightness or a sensation of warmth, any aching pain or soreness. Just make note of that, notice it, and you can move your attention on down to the tops of your shoulders, and the muscles around your shoulder joints.

And then further onwards to your upper arms, your lower arms, your hands, just taking a bit of time to be aware of the muscles and the joints, tendons that are connecting the muscles to the bone. And as you get more comfortable this will get easier for you. And bring your attention over to your chest. Thinking of the intercostal muscles - that's the little guys that are in between your ribs - and the larger pectoral muscles across the chest.

And as you're you know thinking of if there's anything that seems strange or uncomfortable, you may find that there's some sensations which you can't so easily describe. And if that happens I encourage you to spend a little more time on those sensations, and just see if you can find a way of describing them that that makes sense. To just throw some descriptors at the feeling and see what sticks. Because if you can find a word that feels right, it'll be easier to get back in touch with that feeling if it arises while you're dancing.

So you can say, "oh when I do this kind of movement it seems to be causing, this feeling of 'stiffness' or 'hardness' or or 'inflammation'". Or whatever word you end up deciding on.

So moving on to your upper back and your lower back, feeling the little muscles that crisscross around the spine, and a larger muscles that stretch across the back.

And downwards to the pelvis, feeling the muscles that come across the front and the back, which allow it to tilt forwards and backwards. And the hip flexors; the bands of muscle that run down the sides of the hips and the the glutes, and the IT band that runs down the outside of the sides of our legs, from our hips down to our knees

From there you might shift your attention over to your quadriceps, which are the big muscles at the front of your legs above the knee, and then the hamstrings, which are on the backs of your legs, then downwards to the knee joint. Being aware of any pain or discomfort where the tendons connect to the knee - it's a common place where we can feel discomfort. This is an easy place to injure as a ballroom dancer.

Continuing down to the calves, and the ankles, feeling any crunchiness or soreness or tenderness. And moving on to the tops of the seats, and the insteps the arch that separates the heel the foot from the balls, and then finally running out to the balls of the feet, and muscles that allow the toes to move around.

And a little reminder that as you complete the scan, just to make a little mental note of what you're feeling and where. Because these are all indicators of places we need to pay more attention to.

So we're going to come out of this now. Hopefully you haven't fallen asleep yet. So once we've developed this familiarity -

Actually before we go on I want to just say whether you're doing somatic exercises or meditation, it's a very good idea to practice this regularly - on a daily basis is ideal - because that allows you to build this familiarity, this connection between your mind and your body. And the stronger that gets the more quickly you'll be able to sense if something is amiss inside, so that you can kind of catch it right in the moment, or right in the MOVEMENT as it were.

So when you're practicing dance you might go into it by dancing your movements very slowly. And then maybe a little faster, maybe at half speed, and then three-quarters speed, and then FULL speed, and each time you're checking in with how the feelings in your body are changing moving around. And that gives you more information about whether there's something that you've done that's caused something unpleasant to be felt, and usually when that happens it means one of two things.

One is that your technique might need to be adjusted a little bit, so you can talk to your instructor about this. You can say, "hey, what's a way that I can do this differently because I'm noticing that this doesn't feel right when I do it this way". And they'll suggest different things for you and hopefully they'll be understanding if this is something that maybe is harder for you than it is for other people.

The other option that may have to do with a muscle tightness, or an imbalance in the body, or an old injury that you have. Something that that could cause more problems later on. In which case you want to either stretch that out, or if the sensation returns, or if it doesn't leave after stretching, seriously consider consulting a professional.

Because there's nothing worse than someone who loves dancing suddenly being able to not dance at all for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years in some cases. It's really hard - so spend that extra time spend that extra money if you need to. It is well worth it.

Next week we're going to get deeper into stretches, higher impact versus lower impact stretches and stretches that are safer for you and what experts today recommend. Because there's a lot of different kinds of stretches out there in the internet and better to go in knowing some basics, at least about what kinds of stretches are good for you and which ones you want to avoid because they'd run the risk of straining or causing things to tear.

I hope you found this article today helpful, and if you have any comments or questions you can as always message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancer's Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again it's ian@socialballroom.dance.

I hope you have yourself a lovely week and until next time, happy dancing!

Dancing for Life, Part One: Body Awareness

Most people, especially dancers, tend to treat their bodies like they can just trade them in for a newer model when they get older. We never learned, or simply forget to pay attention to what's happening in our bodies, and so miss warning signs that could prevent a serious injury.

Today I invited Noel Miller, a fitness expert who takes a more holistic approach to body health, to talk about how developing our body awareness can keep us dancing pain free - whether we're 18 or 80.

Noel has been very helpful in my own training regime, and in spotting tell-tale signs of pain or tightness and correcting them before they become a larger problem. Here's the main points we covered:

  1. When we don't pay attention to little injuries we got when we were younger, they can effect elements like our posture and movement later in life.
  2. Tightness in one area of the body affects flexibility overall.
  3. If your body doesn't naturally settle into good ballroom posture (excepting the follower upper body stretch), it could be a sign of muscle tightness.
  4. Body awareness allows us to become more aware of what correct ballroom technique FEELS like.
  5. Pain is the body's LAST warning sign before injury - we can learn to spot earlier warnings, like tightness, or discomfort.
  6. Stretching areas that are tight is the single best thing we can do to protect our bodies as we grow older.
  7. Be prepared to consult a professional if what you find online doesn't correct the problem.
  8. You don't need to be in pain as you grow older, but maintaining your body becomes increasingly important.

You can find Noel on his website, www.designfitness.ca, or see him for a consultation at the Joy of Dance Centre. Next week, we'll delve deeper into body awareness, and how we can train ourselves to become more aware of what's happening inside. See you then!

Dance and Romance: Dating a Dancer

If you're been patient and put your best self out there, sooner or later you'll run into another dancer (hopefully not literally), who's interested in more than your dance moves. This final video on dance and romance is about what to expect when you date a dancer.

Don't get me wrong, dancers are pretty awesome people to be around. But we also present some unique challenges that you would be wise to prepare for. Here's the basic points I'm covering above:

  1. Dancers are busiest when most people get off work, so plan your date nights ahead.
  2. Prepare to vigorously defend your favourite dance champions in lively debates!
  3. Dating someone is NOT an excuse to criticize their technique. And if you feel intimidated by their dancing, remind yourself that hey, they knew how you danced before they started dating you, right?
  4. Dancing is a sweaty smelly business. Sometimes, either of you will smell a bit funky - get used to it.
  5. We tend to be a bit on the poor side, so be prepared to share the cost of dating.
  6. For a dancer, a body massage is NOT foreplay - it's some much-needed R&R for tired muscles.
  7. Sometimes, you'll have to humour your partner with a night of dancing when you'd rather Netflix and Chill.
  8. If you guys get married, prepare for an EPIC wedding dance!

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Dance and Romance, Part Three: Are they Interested?

It's ironic really - on one hand, ballroom dancing is a great way to meet the love of your life, while on the other, the dance itself makes it hard to tell if someone is genuinely interested.

Can YOU tell the difference? I created a short quiz in the video below to find out. Also, I include a few pointers on how to progress from that initial interest to serious romantic chemistry.

CAVEAT:  These answers don't apply to every situation, and I am not a relationship guru. Experts agree however, that if someone is giving you these signals it's generally a very good sign.

What you'll learn from this video:

  1. Why dance chemistry doesn't necessarily equal romantic chemistry.
  2. Key body language secrets that reveal how your dance partner really feels.
  3. What a dancer is really saying when they finish a dance by hugging you or kissing your check.
  4. An easy way to tell if your crush is single or not.
  5. The decision you have to make, that can make or break a romance.
  6. An easy way to gradually 'turn up the heat', without putting yourself in an embarrassing position.
  7. Why our bunny rabbit is just so darn cute.

I hope you find all of the above useful (except the last one ;)) and I'll see you next week, when we wrap up with a look at how to manage a long-term relationship with a dancer.

Dance and Romance, Part Two: Making Connections

Ballroom dancing provides an amazing opportunity for people to meet, mingle and flirt with each other. But that doesn't mean you can just start tossing out one-liners in the middle of a dance.

Much as I know you want to skip to the steamy stuff, we first have to know how to make a great first impression with our future sweetheart:

To summarize, the main points to remember are:

  1. Join a group class! It's the easiest way to start meeting potential partners, especially since they're at your level and you'll be seeing them regularly.
  2. Nobody judges us harder than we judge ourselves. Knowing and accepting that helps take our mind off needing to prove ourselves, so we can just be natural.
  3. Save conversation for before or after the dance or group class. Dancing is why most people are there after all, and it's a MAJOR turnoff if you look like you just want to pick up.
  4. Ask questions, and listen to the answers - people love it when the spotlight is on them.
  5. It's not a date (necessarily) if you invite someone out for a coffee after a class or social - people can get comfortable with you pretty quickly after dancing a while, and an evening drink can be as much in friendship as anything else.
  6. Remember their name! I know it sucks, but there's some tips to help you - like repeating it, rhyming it with another word, or connecting it to imagery.
  7. Watch for positive or negative body language: open body posture facing towards you with direct eye contact is a good sign, while turned away or closed body position with wandering eyes are red flags.
  8. Don't put all your hopes on one person. The more connections you make, the less painful it is if one of them doesn't work out.

Of course, all the tips above are great if you just want to make friends as well (and isn't that just a bonus?) Next time, we'll explore how to tell if someone might be interested in more than friendship - and how to respond.