Sean Boutilier Academy Of Dance


Boys Dance Too

Boys Dance Too

My 10-year-old son Luke loves dance—unapologetically. He has never shied away from saying it loud and proud. Unlike my husband and I, he has no fear that his social status will be affected or that he might be ostracized from groups of his Canadian peers. We have many examples of his confidence that make us laugh, inspire us, and fill us with awe and pride.

Luke plays competitive hockey and when he was 8 years-old he wanted to wear a t-shirt that said “Boys dance too” into the dressing room. In a misguided effort to save him any embarrassment, I suggested that it might get sweaty from his equipment. He told me strongly that it gets just as sweaty in dance and he wore it. After the game that day, I had a mom ask me about Luke’s t-shirt. His teammates became big supporters of Luke’s dance. A few years later, right after winning the championship game, the boys gathered around Luke in the dressing room to watch my daughter compete in ballet via live stream- 15 sweaty, half-dressed boys with crazy helmet hair watching a ballet dance while “We Are the Champions” blasts from the speaker. They were jostling each other in front of the tiny screen and asking, “which one is your sister Luke?” It is my fondest hockey memory. I had tears in my eyes and smile in my heart.

Luke’s unabashed passion for dance has led him to attend Canada’s National Ballet School fulltime this September while remaining on his competitive hockey team. His friends are thrilled for him and ask so many questions about this new dimension in their male friend’s life. I hear him talking about dance online during Fortnite battles- it’s a unique dialogue that I would never have predicted- “Sam go left! Behind you Carlos! Yeah, I had swimming then Nutcracker, I got him Julian!"

To anyone doubtful of the power of dance, I say that a boy’s love for dance can not only last a lifetime, it can have culture altering effects. Luke’s teammates have attended dance competitions and some plan to attend the Nutcracker to watch him this winter with NBOC. As a dance educator, my son is helping to fulfill my mission through his unapologetic presence in dance, hockey and society.

How to Avoid “Burnout”

How to Avoid “Burnout”

Child and adolescent athletes are experiencing increased overuse injuries, overtraining and burnout. How can this be prevented in young dancers? In the article “Burnout in Dance: The Psychological Viewpoint” Dr. Koutedakis explains burnout in young dancers consists of complaints including reduced performance without medical reasons, constant fatigue and emotional and behavioral changes. Multiple sources report that consistent fatigue is the most common symptom of burnout in dancers.

What might cause burnout and how can dancers avoid these situations? Increased demands on dancers’ performance can lead to an imbalance between activity and recovery, as well as dancers being required to train year-round. During the dance season, the optimal time for muscles to recover (rest) and adapt (increase performance) is 12-24 hours. Therefore, dancer needs to rest for 12-24 hours between sessions dependant on the individual. Also, experts suggest that at least 3-5 weeks of rest at the end of a dance season can lead to an increase in dance related fitness and prevention of burnout.

Other techniques that can help a dancer to resist burnout include reducing stresses outside of dance through sufficient sleep and proper nutrition focusing on adequate calorie, vitamin and iron levels. Also, increasing the dancers’ fitness levels will help reduce the risk of burnout and injury. Unlike sport, dance classes focus on developing technique (skills) to create an efficiency of movement, but technique classes do not necessarily focus on increasing physical fitness levels. Therefore, dancers can benefit from cross training such as running and swimming, paying particular attention to increasing aerobic capacity, which generally is not achieved in dance training alone.

Parents and teachers can support dancers’ health and well being by remaining mindful of the dancers’ need to rest and recover. Dancers also need sufficient sleep, proper diet and adequate physical fitness levels for optimal performance without risk of burnout.

Can Changing Focus Improve Dance Performance?

Can Changing Focus Improve Dance Performance?

Dancers often find that they are receiving the same advice in dance classes day after day, and week after week. When dancers are having trouble physically applying suggestions from a teacher, there are many ways for them to approach the situation. This article will address the issue of a dancer’s attentional focus.

Dancers are often asked to focus their attention one way or another, either internally (perhaps on a body part) or externally (perhaps on the space around them). However, the teacher’s suggested focus may need modification for individual dancers. This is something that the dancer can do for themselves by exploring how to modify their own focus of attention.

Studies show that performance is improved when dancers/athletes change their focus from their own body to an external factor. Focusing on an element beyond their own body causes dancers/athletes to use their bodies more efficiently and automatically.

How can a dancer apply this change of focus to their work? After attempting suggestions regarding focusing on their own body to master a skill, the dancer can then change their focus to an element in the space around them. For example, rather than the dancer focusing on stretching their knee in an extension, the dancer can instead focus on lengthening their leg out into space. This change of focus from the body to the external space has been proven to enhance performance. When a dancer is attempting to balance in a position, rather than focus on their body (such as holding abdominals or shaping their arms), the dancer can instead focus on feeling the floor under their foot and moving their head up into the space between them and the ceiling.

An integral part of well-rounded dance training is the individual dancer learning to work independently and the dancer developing successful strategies for learning without becoming frustrated or feeling stuck in a rut. Changing attentional focus is one way for a dancer to progress through challenging movement and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Safe Stretching

Safe Stretching

Today, young dancers are flooded with images of often unrealistically hypermobile (flexible) dancers. In the tradition of teaching as they were taught, many dance teachers stress the importance of stretching as much, and as often, as possible to achieve a desired aesthetic, increase range of motion (of joints) and to prevent injury. However, the amount and type of stretching a dancer requires to improve flexibility depends on the individual mobility of the dancer. Regardless of the amount of mobility a dancer displays, holding a stretch where a muscle is shaking is not necessary for improving flexibility and can be risky. This type of reaction to stretching indicates that the body is not sufficiently warmed up for flexibility training.

Expert fitness trainer Rhonda Roberts Smid explains that stretching is done to help increase range of motion and prepare the body for more dynamic movements, but also restore the body. In contrast, developing flexibility is a process where the sensations feel quite different for a dancer. There is more discomfort when you are developing flexibility. Roberts explains that contortionists, gymnasts, and dancers all work well beyond the normal range of motion. She suggests dancers should internally warm the body by using active movements then stretch before starting to train for flexibility. Flexibility takes time. Often the focus is on flexibility too soon and the muscle and the fascia (muscle casing) are just not ready to relax enough.

Roberts states: “So this is where the problems can arise. Children see other flexible kids on social media and they try to copy what they see, but their bodies are not prepared. Having proper alignment is key, but you also need to ‘play’ within your comfortable range to help loosen the muscle. For example, when attempting to do a forward fold to stretch hamstrings experiment with stretching forward in parallel positions as well as turned out and turned in. This just allows you to stretch all of the hamstrings. You need the muscle and fascia to relax in all different directions so that when you are training for flexibility you will have more success.”

Overall, I agree with Roberts. Additionally, I strongly believe that stretches should not cause pain or discomfort in joints (such as knees or ankles). If the dancer is feeling pain in their joints, they need to inform the teacher and the teacher can modify the stretch to relieve unnecessary pressure. Dancers need to understand that they are in charge of their own bodies and, especially in group classes, not all movements will work for all dancers. They should not be afraid to ask questions to become aware of the difference between the discomforts of stretching a muscle safely (with good alignment) and pain that maybe a result of improper stretching technique (such as joint pain). Discomfort is a dull ache that dancers can breath through easily, whereas pain is often sharp or alarming. Hypermobile (very flexible) dancers can reduce stretching and instead strengthen muscles to help stabilize their joints for better balance, better alignment, safer landings from jumps and injury prevention.

All dancers should have a healthy balance of stretch and strength to prevent injury.