Category Archives: Dance Magazine

Your Body: Salt

Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance in Salt. Photo by Simon Gentry

Update:  Jane Weiner’s Salt cracks me up every time, then hits me hard on the head with its message, which has really nothing to do with salt, that mysterious substance that keeps us alive while trying to kill us.  At one point, it was a currency. To dive deep into salt’s lore read Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A  World History.  Remember to get your yearly check up, because they don’t call high blood pressure the silent killer for nothing.  Keep up with Weiner and Hope Stone dance as well.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

In her pithy story dance Salt, choreographer Jane Weiner spins a funny tale of a bewitched village that falls under an evil spell when all the salt disappears and suddenly the villagers start dropping like flies. Weiner’s dance draws a parallel between all the unsuspected things that sustain us like dance, art…. and salt. I found out the hard way when a series of fainting spells sent me to my own version of Dr. House. “Do you ever use the salt shaker?” asked my internist. As someone with low blood pressure, to stay conscious I needed to stop my avoidence of salt. And trade water in for a sports drink whenever I felt dizzy.

Dancers rarely worry about getting enough salt. Trained to avoid bloating and apt to skip high-calorie salt-saturated processed foods, most dancers view salt as an enemy. What few realize is how essential a role salt—and salt intake or loss—plays in basic body functions, like muscle contractions. Dietitian Marie Elena Scioscia, who works with dance students at The Ailey School, notes that some dancers’ extremities get cold easily. While there can be many causes, sometimes low blood pressure can be the culprit, since dancers tend to be very fit, lean and eat healthil. These dancers will be able to tolerate, and may even need, a little more salt in their diet.

When we sweat—and dancers are prone to sweating as an occupational hazard—we loose precious sodium. Sodium gets a bad rap, mainly because the over-consumption of salt has been linked to some 74.5 million people who suffer from high blood pressure. But omitting salt altogether creates equally serious problems. Salt regulates our body’s fluid balance. The body needs salt to maintain blood pressure. Without enough salt, we become dehydrated and easily lose focus. Since dancers lead active lives where they frequently sweat during the day, just how much salt does a dancer need to stay healthy and moving?

Since 600 BC, salt has been used to preserve food, making just about everything taste better. “You never want to totally eliminate sodium,” says Scioscia. “Salt helps the body move nutrients in and out of the blood vessels and regulates your electrolyte balance.” It’s that balance—or the loss of it—that can lay a dancer low. Electrolytes—sodium, potassium, and magnesium ions among others—help cells in your body maintain their voltage and carry electrical messages to the rest of the body. “Electrolytes regulate nerve and muscle function, blood PH, blood pressure, and the rebuilding of damaged tissues,” says Scioscia. “Since body fluids like sweat contain a high concentration of sodium chloride, a sudden fluid loss through sweat can throw a dancer’s electrolytes, and so their body, out of balance.”

Some dancers are prone to this kind of problem. BalletMet’s Jackson Sarver has often triumphed as the lead in Dracula, David Nixon’s physically grueling ballet. A heavy sweater, Sarver finds he needs an extra sodium and potassium boost via an athletic drink like Gatorade to keep himself properly hydrated during the ballet. “There’s a joke in the company that if you dance with me you, will end up with more of my sweat than your own,” he quips.

Plain water does not—in fact, cannot—sustain Sarver’s electrolyte balance. He learned the dangers of fluid loss, particularly the muscle fatigue that can come from electrolyte imbalance, as a high school cross country and track and field athlete. Sarver’s coaches and dance teachers explained that water further diluted sodium levels, leading to a compromised performance. Athletic drinks like Gatorade and its rivals blend water, sugar, salt, potassium and other essential elements lost through sweating.

Dancers can avoid processed foods and still get enough sodium and other minerals to modulate their blood pressure. There’s sodium in just about everything, including yogurt and broccoli. Even an apple contains 1mg of sodium. Most Americans consume about 6,000 milligrams of salt daily, about twice as much as they need. “If you keep to about 3,000 milligrams daily, you will be doing fantastic,” says Scioscia “Most dancers can replace the salt they lose through sweat with a daily diet of fruits, vegetables and lean protein, all of which contain trace amounts of sodium.”

Although high blood pressure may be a rare finding in dancers, it’s important to remember it can be hereditary and unrelated to weight. Get your blood pressure taken at your annual checkup, particularly if you come from a family with high blood pressure history. Dancers, though fit, still need to be concerned with salt over-consumption. “Too much sodium in your daily diet also causes the body to excrete calcium,” says Scioscia. “That affects bone health. I am most concerned about young dancers’ bones.” This is one reason that Scioscia does not recommend salt tablets. “

For Sarver, his body chemistry links directly to his dancing. Understanding it, and accommodating to it, has made him a stronger performer. “I’m fascinated by how the body works, it’s an incredible machine,” he says. “I can tell a big difference in my body when my electrolyte balance is in order.”

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Your Body: Magic Touch

Former Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Martha Chamberlain with Principal Dancer Zachary Hench in Who Cares?, choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Update:  Both Patrick  Simoniello and Martha Chamberlain have retired.  Chamberlain has continued her interest in costume design and also teaches.  My fascination with the power of touch is as strong as ever.  The wonders of both the strongest forms, like Rolfing and the lightest forms, like lymph and Feldenkrais’ Functional Integration,  hold the most interest.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

During a rehearsal of a lightning-fast section in Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variation, Joffrey dancer Patrick Simoniello pulled his adductor muscle in his left leg. After a neuromuscular massage, which uses trigger-point therapy to ease up seized muscles, Simoniello found he could dance that night. A short, specific massage immediately after the injury was just the thing he needed to get back on his feet. “I thought it was amazing stuff,” remembers Simoniello, who has since trained as a massage therapist.

Massage has been well documented as a healing agent, but getting the type and timing right makes all the difference. Short and vigorous types like the neuromuscular kind get you ready to move. Slower, deeper ones are ideal for down time, not for when you have to perform or learn new work, because the massage can create  changes in muscle length.

However, deep work can help the body recover in a range of ways. During his stint with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from 2002–2006, Simoniello found a weekly massage essential in helping his body repair and prepare for the next week’s demands. “I was dancing work by Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, and Jirí Kylián while on tour,” says Simoniello. “That takes a toll. If I missed a week’s massage, it became much harder to get back on track.”

There are several types of massage that can be particularly helpful to dancers:

• Swedish/traditional uses light to medium pressure. It’s excellent for general restoration and stress-reduction.

• Sports massage is a deep-tissue form that is more vigorous than Swedish and works on muscle and fascia (the outer layer of muscles and organs). It’s not recommended prior to intense activity.

• Neuromuscular uses sustained static pressure on trigger points to relieve pain and increase range of motion. It can release muscle spasms.

 Lymph massage offers a light touch at skin level and helps flush the lymph system of waste products from injury. It aids with swelling and inflammation.

• Myofascial Release and Structural Integration each address both muscle and fascial tissue. Structural Integration involves 10 consecutive sessions, and is best performed when dancers are off since the body needs time to adjust.

Many companies’ massage schedules reflect performance and rehearsal schedules. At Pennsylvania Ballet, physical therapist Julie Green schedules the massage therapist for Fridays so dancers can let the massage settle in their bodies for a day or two before taking class or rehearsing. “I always ask a dancer what’s on their plate that day,” says Green. “When you make a muscle longer, it can temporarily weaken it and make it cramp. I want to know if dancers will be jumping a lot. If so, then I stay away from the power muscles.”

PAB principal Martha Chamberlain adjusts the timing of her appointments to her performances. “I never want my feet or calves worked on before a show,” she says. “Beside the fact the oil makes my feet slip in my shoes, if you get worked on and run into a rehearsal, it can throw things out of whack.”

Many dancers note that iliotibial (IT) bands are an exception. These connect the pelvis to the knee, so a tight IT band can actually pull the knee cap out of alignment. “My IT bands are a different story,” Chamberlain says. “You can pound on those anytime.” Many dancers use foam rollers to loosen up between classes or rehearsals. “IT are more like ligaments than muscle tissue,” says Green. “Because they don’t have the contractile properties of a muscle, it’s usually fine to massage them before dancing.”

There are times to be cautious about massage. If you suspect a fracture, or if you have an open wound, deep work can exacerbate it. “If you are injured, get a diagnosis first,” says Green. “If you have an infection, a massage could spread it.” Though lymph massage, Green notes, can flush the tissues and relieve swelling.

Massage can also help in ways that go beyond a dancer’s mobility. Simoniello noticed he had more confidence performing after he added massage to his health regime. “Dance is not solely an art of physicality,” he says. “Mind and spirit are involved as well.  Massage provides a non-judgmental place for treatment, allowing us not only to physically heal, but to take a breath and and care for ourselves.”

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Your Body: Aerobics

Keigwin + Company; photo Christopher Duggan

Update:  I got to see for myself the kind of athletes of God who make up KEIGWIN + COMPANY this summer while a scholar in residence at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  Kristina Hanna, shown above in the orange two-piece, is truly a force to be reckoned with.  Larry Keigwin heads to Houston later this month to set Air on The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and HSPVA will be dancing Caffeinated. I expect both will tucker out the dancers.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

Kristina Hanna bolts through choreographer Larry Keigwin’s buzzy new dance, Caffeinated, with ease. She thinks she knows why: Her weekly 12-mile runs through New York’s Central Park are a good prep for getting through Keigwin’s kinetic work. “I love running because I get to propel myself through space,” says Hanna. “You don’t get that on a treadmill.”

Whether it’s for conditioning, weight loss, or staying in shape while injured, many dancers use aerobics as a cross-training tool. But should they, or are they adding unneeded stress on joints and muscles, leading to deeper fatigue? Most research indicates that a combination of strength and aerobic training delivers the best cardiovascular health, and that strength training actually contributes more than all that pavement pounding. Does that mean you should cut back on the cardio and focus on weights? Not necessarily, say experts who work with dancers. Instead, many now recommend tailoring your aerobic workout to reflect your dance repertory.

Houston exercise physiologist James Harren makes sure his dancer clients receive conditioning geared to the demands of what they perform. “You get what you train for,” says Harren, who works with Houston Ballet. “I want to make whatever cardiovascular training we do be as similar to dance as possible. Often, we work on the core board so I can add balance training in the mix.”

Many dancers gear their workouts to what they dance without ever seeing an exercise physiologist. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater dancer Felicia McBride swims three mornings a week and hops on the elliptical a few days a week after rehearsal. “Swimming relaxes my mind,” says McBride, who recently danced the role of Juliet in Walsh’s own version of the classic tale. “I feel clearer, fresher, focused, and ready for the day. I also get out of the water ache-free.” McBride says swimming has made a difference in her dancing. “Juliet was a big role for me, and I needed physical and emotional stamina for it. I’m more aware of my breathing and I love the definition I get in my arms and back from swimming.”

Shaw Bronner, a New York physical therapist who works with dancers, isn’t surprised by McBride’s experience. The well-being gained from a new form of exercise, combined with the endorphin release, can be a boon to any dancer. Bronner helps dancers from Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She finds their aerobic needs vary, and it’s best to pay attention to each individual experience. “We have bikes on either side of the stage at Cedar Lake and they get used a lot, but I don’t push any one kind of exercise,” says Bronner. “Some of the dancers came from track and field and they simply love to run. Also, since most dance happens in the vertical plane, running may make more sense than biking. But if you are tired of being on your feet, swimming and biking are better choices.” Bronner finds that aerobic training cuts down on her clients’ performance fatigue, a leading cause of injury. She points out that aerobic conditioning has been included in the Dance/USA task force health screen, now used by 30 companies.

Aerobic training is not for everyone or every season. Harren cautions against too much extra conditioning during peak rehearsal and performance times. “I don’t recommend anything extra during Nutcracker,” says Harren. “When you add more pounding you are upping the risk of an injury.” Any injury that prevents weight bearing or requires dancers to wear a boot, and back or neck injuries, can be aggravated by additional exercise. “Although if they can tolerate the bike, it can be good for a dancer’s head and help ease the depression that often comes with an injury,” he says.

An athlete all her life, Hanna finds that running adds balance to her schedule. It also works well with Keigwin’s hard-hitting style and its running, jumping, and quick lifts. “Dance is so focused. I want a time to be physical and not be analyzing everything,” she says. “Running helps me experience my body in a different way and all I need is a pair of shoes. I get such a sense of liberation from it and I know I use that onstage.”

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Your Body: Tension

Doug Varone and Dancers in Chapters from a Broken Novel (2011)” Credit: Photo by Bill Hebert

 

Update: I remain deeply interested in how dancers modulate what we call “tension” and how that does or does not draw our eye.  There’s seems to be a magic proportion of tension to movement.  Of course,  choreography matters.  Watching Trisha Brown Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow, I  found a perfect example of the absolute minimum amount of tension needed to hold shape.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

When Ryan Corriston catapults across the stage for his dramatic entrance in Doug Varone’s Lux, the audience responds to his sheer abandon. Varone’s work demands flowing movement, so if a dancer has excess tension, the dance can lose its luster. “I tend to tense my shoulders and arms when a piece is new to me,” says Corriston, who is in his sixth season with Doug Varone and Dancers. “I need to move from my core, making use of my whole body, not just my arms.”

 

Tension often gathers first in the shoulders and neck. Even a dancer in top condition with strong technique cannot disguise the tension that builds up from overworking and imbalances. The solution does not lie simply in trying to “relax.” There are some quick remedies, however, as well as long-term ones. Armed with increased body awareness, somatic modalities, and on-the-spot fixes like a roller, ball, or massage, dancers can deal with tension in a way that does not interfere with their ability to learn and perform.

 

Tension refers to the action of muscles contracting. Dancing would be impossible without a certain amount of it. “We would be a puddle on the floor,” says Tom Welch, a professor of dance kinesiology at Florida State University. Peggy Gould, an associate professor at Sarah Lawrence College who teaches dance conditioning and kinesiology, defines it further. “Tension is muscle work that does not produce motion, but rather helps to maintain a stable or static situation. There is no change in muscle length, no change in relationship between the bones the muscle attaches to, no joint motion, no movement.”

 
Excess tension, which can make you look stiff, derives from the relationship between muscles and bones. “When we don’t make good use of our bony support structures, it’s often our muscles that wind up playing key roles in holding us up against gravity,” Gould says. “Treating a muscle like a bone generally leads to that muscle behaving more like bone, becoming stiffer and more resistant.”

 
Here’s the good news: There are numerous ways to relieve excess tension. Moving, stretching, massage, rest, or heat can help, suggests Gould. For Welch, the way you prepare your body for the job of dance can help. “Muscles have to be strong and long,” he says. He teaches a special Pilates class devoted to reducing tension. “It’s a two-stage process involving activation and strengthening, then releasing and stretching,” he says.

 
There are other ways to achieve similar results. Jennifer Williams, of Chaddick Dance Company in Austin, Texas, has struggled with excess tension all her dancing life due to structural imbalances from scoliosis. Technique class alone does not help. “I’m a firm believer in rolling out muscles, whether it’s a tennis ball or a foam roller,” says Williams. These provide feedback to the neuromuscular system—a dancer can sense her body against it, and become more aware of where she is holding extra tension. Massage can also play a vital role in releasing tightness. “I see a massage therapist every other week,” Williams says.

 
Though all of these methods can relieve tension, somatics training helps dancers get to the bottom of the tension cycle. “We must understand the origins of a tension pattern in order to let go of it,” says Gould. “I encourage students to think of this work as refinement in order to advance their technical capabilities.”

 
Many somatic systems aim at freer movement. Methods like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, and Ideokinesis allow students to slow down, make small changes, and dis­cover the difference these somatic practices can make in their posture apart from the demands of dancing. Feldenkrais focuses on skeletal balance; Alexander, on the position of the skull; Ideokinesis enlists visualization and imagery to foster physical change. The ease, length, balance, and efficiency that these systems help dancers develop all lead to a reduction of unnecessary tension. Welch finds a multifaceted approach works best, one where a dancer can spend time exploring tension in a separate class. Then it can be useful to have the concepts reinforced in dance class through the verbal cues explored in somatic classes.

 
Dancing with the ideal amount of tension may be a career changer. “What we see when we watch a spectacular performer is the precise application of effort,” says Gould. “Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount to fulfill the technical and aesthetic requirements of the performance.”

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Your Body: Too Loud

The Houston Met; Photo by Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions LLC

Update: What did you say? Turn it down people.  Chances are you are listening to music at too high a volume or too close to the speakers.  Since it’s really hard get a new set of ears it’s best to take care of those babies.  Sure, we want dance to have a buzz, but not in our ears.

Should you find yourself in Portland, Oregon, you can walk though a giant ear at Oregon Museum of  Science & Industry’s Dangerous Decibels exhibit or learn everything you need to know at the Dangerous Decibels web site.

You can watch The Houston MET, who inspired this article,  perform at Dance Source Houston’s Weekend of  Texas Contemporary Dance on Sept. 23 & 24 at Miller Outdoor Theatre.  The dancing may be loud but the music will be just right. And remember, never leave home without a pair of ear plugs.  You never know when loudness will strike.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

A rehearsal of Braham Logan Crane’s History, set to Angela Ai’s pulsing music, makes an impact. The sheer intensity of the dancing at Houston Metropolitan Dance seems to reflect Crane’s high-octane choreography and the music’s blasting volume. “We wanted it loud so we could feel Ai’s emotions,” says Marlana Walsh, the company’s managing director. The volume helps the dancers mirror the music’s vitality. Few realize that prolonged exposure to high decibels may jeopardize their hearing.

Unlike knees and hips, ears are not replaceable. Exposure to high volumes over time will cause hearing loss, something dancers need to think about before turning up their iPods or rehearsal volume. Recent research at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary suggests that damage to hearing continues long after the noise has stopped. The sooner you protect your ears, the better chance you have of avoiding cumulative damage.

William Hal Martin, Ph.D., a professor of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) at Oregon Health & Science University, isn’t surprised that dancers like to pump up the volume during rehearsal. “The vibrations caused by sound creates a tremendously sensual experience,” he says. “Our bodies are covered with touch receptors that let the brain know when something is in contact with our skin. Sound waves from high decibel levels stimulate those same sensors all over our bodies. We not only hear loud music, we feel it all over. That’s why it’s so hard to sit still when the music is blasting—it drives us all to dance.”

Volume and duration make the greatest impact on hearing loss; the type of earphone you use makes no difference. The higher the decibels, the less safely you can listen. Be wary of sounds over 85 decibels. Sure, you can go to RadioShack and get yourself a decibel meter to check the safety of your rehearsal volume, but you don’t have to. There’s a simple way of telling if the music is too loud: if you have to raise your voice to be heard. To get a sense of the decibels around you, normal speech is about 65. Rock concerts run at about 110 to 120 decibels, and a gunshot is 160 decibels. “Sounds above 130 decibels cause immediate and permanent damage, typically starting in the high-frequency area of the ear,” says Martin.

With personal listening devices like iPods and cell phones, people don’t realize how far up they have turned the volume. Ackland Jones, an audiologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, points to research suggesting that prolonged use of these devices poses a hearing risk. “Your iPod is capable of 110 decibels,” says Jones. “Use common sense.  If the sound is shaking the whole car, it’s too loud. Keep in mind that sounds don’t have to be painful to do damage.” If you have to remove your earbud to hear someone, you are over the line.

Audiologists recommend that if you can’t turn it down, move away from the sound source or use hearing protection. Dancer and percussionist Stephanie Marshall can’t escape the booming percussion when she’s onstage in the off-Broadway hit Stomp. After Marshall noticed a sensitivity in her ears with high frequencies, she had her hearing tested. “The audiologist suggested earplugs, which I now wear during the second half of the show, especially during the number when we are smashing metallic trash cans,” says Marshall.

Foam and flange earplugs are readily available at drugstores. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. “The best earplug is the one that is comfortable and easy to use so you will actually use it,” says Martin. “Size is important.  If they don’t fit, they will work as well as a screen door on a submarine.”

Most ears experience some temporary hearing loss periodically. That’s why after a rock concert, sounds may seem dull, like you are underwater. Permanent hearing loss tends to be gradual. Martin describes the permanent damage to the ear cell hairs as akin to a lawn. “If a crowd walks across the lawn once, it may flatten the grass, but much of it will recover. But if a person walks back and forth on the same stretch day after day, the grass will die and not grow back.  An extra layer of safety like earplugs is worth the investment.”

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Your Body: Power ZZZZs

Paul Taylor Dance Company; Michael Apuzzo in Brief Encounters; Photo by Paul B. Goode

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

Update: This piece was originally inspired by my time with Houston-based artist Emily Sloan,  originator of Napping Affects Performance.  After her first successful Southern Napstist Convention,  she opens  ShadeCloud at Art League Houston this week.  Expect some napping under the ShadeCloud. ” Bring on the Napture”  is my favorite  Sloan-ism.  Amy Ell and her company Vault perform at DiverseWorks in Houston on Sept. 29-Oct. 1.  Apuzzo has a busy season with PTDC as well.  I continue to marvel at the benefits of the 20-minute nap. I wish all my fellow nappers some quality shuteye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Apuzzo manages the leaps, jumps, and lightning-quick changes of direction in Paul Taylor’s Brandenburgs without a hitch, thanks to his extraordinary abilities—and, according to him, to the 20-minute snooze he takes between tech run-through and the performance. “It’s such a bonus to get a nap in because this piece is so intense. I really need to get to my power,” says Apuzzo, now in his third season with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. “A nap re-centers my body and mind so I feel completely refreshed for the show.”

Sleep may have more to do with your performance than you realize. Without enough of it, just about every human function is compromised: memory, concentration, learning, coordination, immune system, metabolism, and more. While not a replacement for a good night’s sleep, a nap can refuel your energy battery, buff up your mental faculties, and even boost creativity. There is considerable evidence that short naps improve mental ability in certain areas. Some dancers feel napping indicates weakness or seems childish, but many find a brief snooze makes a marked difference in their energy and focus.

The term “power nap” was coined by social psychologist and leading sleep scientist Dr. James B. Maas, author of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. His research brought new validity to adult napping, tying a brief period of sleep into improved perfor­mance. Sleep happens in stages throughout the night, with REM (rapid eye movement) occurring in the later, deeper stages. In contrast, a power nap averages between 15 and 30 minutes, stopping before the cycle completes itself.

“In a nap, we go into non-REM sleep stages I or II,” says Dr. Makoto Kawai, a sleep neurologist at Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston “A nap can help us catch up on mild sleep deprivation. Most people working in the modern world are somewhat sleep deprived. We still don’t know why this short period of time gives us refreshment. But we do know that a shallower stage of sleep makes it easier to return to an awake state, giving us a boost.”

News_Nancy_training_Amy Ell of Vault in Torn

Amy Ell of Vault in Torn; Photo by Lynn Lane

Amy Ell, an aerial dancer and artistic director of Vault Dance Company, manages a busy schedule of teaching at her Houston studio as well as performing and dance making. Aerial dance doesn’t go well with sleeplessness. There are just too many life-or-death details when it comes to rigging and apparatus. “The power nap is my lifeline to the second half of my very long day,” says Ell. She has a handy room in her studio where she will not be disturbed. “My body wakes me up on its own,” she says.
Although there is no ideal power nap duration, most agree that shorter is better. If you sleep longer than 30 minutes, you may wake up feeling lethargic. This is because your body has entered a normal sleep cycle, and ending it abruptly causes a condition called sleep inertia, where the napper can feel even groggier than before. “You enter REM sleep where you actually lose muscle tone,” says Kawai.

There are a few caveats to consider. According to Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director at Sleep Disorders Center at Methodist Neurological Institute, what happens during a nap depends on who is doing the napping. “A sleep-deprived person can have REM sleep in a power nap,” she says. This can lull nappers into thinking that they have cured a serious sleep deficit in a brief break. “Adults require seven or eight hours per night to process information, for immune responses, memory consolidation, tissue repair, and to maintain hormonal balance,” warns Verma.

Timing makes as much difference to the benefits as length. “If the naps are especially close to a person’s normal bed time, they may interfere with a good night’s sleep,” Verma says. She also draws a distinction between an intentional rest like a nap and falling asleep frequently during the day. If you are chronically tired, you should consult a doctor.

And while a nap can indeed give a short-term energy boost, it does not carry the full benefits of deep sleep. “Consolidation of both long- and short-term memory happens in sleep, and our reaction time, concentration, and attention span are affected if we are sleep deprived,” says Verma. “All the new information that is learned is not processed well.”

Apuzzo says he notices a direct connection to his performing power, especially in Taylor’s challenging The Word. “The piece requires such a high level of focus,” he says. “I am always glad I got a nap in before I do those back flips.”

 

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Dancing in the Twittersphere

Gary Schaufeld, Jennifer Jones and Kristen Arnold in Sydney Skybetter's Temporary Matters; Photo by Christopher Duggan

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

Alex Wong got his cast off, New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan is heading to Prada, Houston Ballet’s Melissa Hough feels narcoleptic after the fall rep, and Miami City Ballet’s Rebecca King is taking five before a Bugaku rehearsal. How do I know all this? Simple, I follow them on Twitter.

I was born to chirp random thoughts over a noisy bed of chatter. I grew up in a loud, Italian-American family, where you had to fight to be heard. Twitter works for me as a way to keep informed, inform others, and just stay connected to my field. Dancers hopped on the micro-blogging network faster than they did Facebook. You can find high-profile ballet dancers intermission tweeting, choreographers broadcasting details about their next show or the So You Think You Can Dance clan updating their gaggles of followers. Twitter is a cross section of life as it dances by.

Founded in 2006 by Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey, and Evan Williams, Twitter was originally designed as a way for people to broadcast their whereabouts or status to friends. Users had other ideas. In fact, no other social media platform has been more shaped by its participants than Twitter. The popular “RT” (Retweet) is a perfect example of something first started by users, then adapted by Twitter.

Once individual ballet dancers like San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and ABT’s Daniil Simkin joined the tweetstream, dance companies like Ballet Austin and Houston Ballet followed. The Twitter voice of any dance company determines the effectiveness of its communication.Just broadcasting your show details rarely works here, while pithy inside comments or insights engage and tease your followers. Curiously, independent choreographers are less active on Twitter than individual dancers and companies.

For Drew Jacoby, of Jacoby & Pronk, Twitter mixes business and entertainment. “I am a freelancer, so it’s a necessity for me,” says Pronk. I hear her pain. Freelancing means seeking out more gigs, assignments, and a lively net presence. “I am sillier on my personal account,” says Jacoby. “The networking possibilities are great. I always mention where I am performing. I try to follow interesting organizations and people.”

Jacoby built her network by searching “ballet” and “dance.” I did the same thing to get started. I followed every name that popped up. I have since trimmed my twitter tree down from 1,400 to 700.

Jacoby, a dancelebrity herself, has broader interests in her follow choices. “I like that slice-of-life quality coming directly from that person. I get a glimpse of what’s inside their mind, what their personality is like,” she says. “I also like that we are in control. We have a voice. I love it when non-dance people follow me.”

Jacoby has since become a more discerning tweeter. “I unfollow people who hog the feed.” She has a point: Overtweet at your own risk. I have days when I manically tweet and retweet. Other days I’m missing in action. Don’t get too paranoid about it, advises choreographer and Design Brooklyn co-founder Sydney Skybetter. “Twitter is pure syntax. It’s 140 characters, do with it what you will,” says Skybetter, New York’s reigning dance social media geek. There are no guiding principles. It’s the wild west out there.”

Skybetter sees some central advantages with Twitter. “With Facebook, updating your status more than once a day annoys people. With Twitter, you can share info more quickly,” he says. “Posts tend to get lost on Facebook; on Twitter there’s a different shelf life as a tweet can re-circulate longer.” Skybetter is right, if you follow your mentions, you can watch a sassy tweet travel all over the place.

The choreographer also cleverly—with style and intrigue—enlists Twitter to build a buzz about his upcoming shows. I followed Skybetter’s every tweet leading up to his company’s performance on the Inside/Out series at Jacob’s Pillow last summer. His tweets reflected how honored they felt to perform at the Pillow. For those following him from afar, the emotion of the experience was palpable. “It was frackin awesome,” he remembers about performing at the Pillow, tweeting and all.

The creative possibilities inherent in limitations appeal to dancer and choreographer Lisa Niedermeyer. We connected while live tweeting using the hashtag #DUSA at the Dance/USA conference in Washington, DC. A hashtag designates a topic/idea/event with the # sign, which allows you to use the search function. During the conference, a live feed of tweets scrolled on the screen during some of the sessions and on the Dance/USA website. It’s one handy way of knowing what the guy behind you is thinking. By the time Niedermeyer and I grabbed lunch, we already had an idea of each other’s interests. It’s like starting a friendship in the middle.

“It’s fun composing a tweet. For me it’s more of a collaboration tool, less of a come-see-my-show tool,” says Niedermeyer, who has danced with Jane Comfort and Doug Elkins. “I come from a place of working with narrative and theatrical artists like Jane Comfortwho taught me to look for what story the structure or form of something can tell. The structure of a twitter feed tells a real-time and unedited story of the community that is self organizing. I find it fascinating.”

Once, Niedermeyer de-constructed a review in tweets. “I blew it apart into juicy bits,” she says. “Twitter is more nuanced than Facebook; it’s not just a place to blast information.” Not remotely interested in building her brand, developing hoards of followers, or moving into “twinfluential” (twitter slang for being influential) status we could say “a twitter star”, Neidermeyer’s “handle,” (username) “MsRemixt,” says it all.

It’s not unusual to tweet from a handle different than your name, as it gives you a chance to play with your persona. Your profile can inform followers of your real name, website, or blog. Niedermeyer sets her TweetDeck to search “redefine,” “remix,” “reimagine” and “repurpose” to connect to like-minded folk. Platforms like Tweetdeck and HootSuite help users track their mentions, follow lists of people, and search key words. (The new Twitter is pretty snazzy too.) “Regardless if those people are in dance, I want to know what they are thinking,” she says.

Twitter isn’t just all about you. It took me my first 600 “read my story” tweets to figure that out. These days, I am just as likely to retweet a cool article in, say, Dance Magazine, tell you about a great show I saw, or some random, possibly silly thought that’s floating across my mind.

Editing elevates all that we do. Twitterese pushes us into being succinct in a way that can be downright fun. As Niedermeyer says, “Who better than a choreographer to be creative within a structure?”

Update: Twitter endless tweaks itself, making it easier and easier to use. I continue to follow dance people on twitter because I don’t know a better way to keep up with the flurry of activity happening in my field all at once.  Yet, I also believe that not everyone needs to be on twitter, like my dear mom.  I’m one of the few who doesn’t mind if you tweet your lunch. I follow food writers, they know how tweet lunch with style.  Since this piece was published Martha Graham became a trending topic the day of the Graham Google doodle, I won best “arts tweeter” from Houston Press, Google + emerged as the new shiny social media thing, and I watched Lisa Niedermeyer get ready for 45 minutes as part of Jane Comfort’s Beauty at Jacob’s Pillow.  I often  know what airport Drew Jacoby is in at any given minute thanks to her tweets, while  Sydney Skybetter continues his double life as Artistic Director of Skybetter and Associates and Founding Partner of Edwards & Skybetter | Change Agency, along with Jennifer Edwards.  Skybetter is  still my go-to smart techno arts geek of choice.  Edwards & Skybetter land on Houston shores to consult with Fresh Arts Coalition this fall. I still hold out hopes to get a grant for my work as a hashtag artist #delusionalandlovingit.

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