My dance background

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As I peruse the Irish dance message boards, I inevitably run across questions that pertain to how the body works, how specific steps are performed, how to do toe stands, how to gain more turn-out, how to recover from injuries, etc, etc, etc… At the beginning of my involvement in this dance sub-culture, I would offer my opinion and try to pass on information that was correct, helpful, and above all would not add further injury or fuel to the rampant ignorance.

Ooohh, is this another rant? No, not really.

Brief resume: I was initially trained as a classical ballerina. At 16, I had to make a choice – quit school to pursue ballet or go to college. I was raised knowing that I was going to college, so when my choice was made, I was invisible in class. A sad time for me. Had a great guidance counselor who discovered I could get a degree in dance, so off I went to college to be a dancing doctor (I am not kidding). After a couple of years, I made a choice to pursue the dance only, get my Master’s degree and be a university dance professor. I got my first full-time university position when I was 25 in Memphis. Started my dance company there with my partner Judith Tribo Wombwell when I was 27.

I taught many things during my university career, but my loves were teaching modern dance and dance science/the science of movement. Each informed the other. What we learned in technique class, we took apart in kinesiology. The bio mechanics and physics of movement that we explored in kinesiology were put to use in technique class. Watching my students soar with this information was such a fantastic thing. I was always excited about class. I believe that I lived to teach.

I was on disability for a while after I got sick in 2000 and was unable to teach, but it never occurred to me that I would ever stop teaching. I just needed time to recover. I finally went back and continued doing what I had always done, but before long, I had to face the fact that my illness had made many changes at very fundamental levels. I retired.

I was still invited to be a master teacher at various workshops. I did a few, but there were obstacles to continuing even in that vein that I found insurmountable because of the particular way that I wanted to teach students. I could not perform that way any more, so I stopped accepting the invitations (except for the occasional one for my BIL’s Stage Combat workshops).

As I said above, I used to try to answer anatomy and technique questions posted on the various message boards, but I finally stopped doing that because for every correct answer given by me or someone else, there were 10 ridiculous ones. I retreated once it became clear to me that so many TCs did not actually know much about how the body works which meant that they and their students were responsible for the silliness that was (and still is) being posted on the boards as fact. I stopped really even reading the questions when I started reading “fairy tales” about how to do the many steps that have been borrowed from ballet.

Tonight on the main Voy board, a mother got on to ask for help in addressing her daughter’s hip rotation problem. I thought about it and decided not to tell her what to do but gave her a suggestion about where to go for help. So far, that seems to be the gist of the replies. But there were a couple that contained some “ideas” that brought on the twitching tics: “hip rotation with foot turnout” & “hips cannot achieve turn out so it has to come from ankles and knees.” Erg…

One poster was obviously well-educated in correct movement training and started her longish post by writing, “As far as I can tell, 10 years into it, ID teachers generally appear to know very little about anatomy, physiology, kinetics and how to move and train to avoid injury. As much as I respect my DDs current teacher, the general approach they mostly seem to have is based on what they learned from their teachers and is focused on the art and how it looks…not the science and how it is best done…” This is also how I see it. Yes, the art form is extremely important, but better awareness of the dancing instrument (the body) and how it actually works would only elevate the art.

When the teachers at my daughters’ first ID school found out about my background, they used me as a source of information. They went on to change some things and seemed to seek out workshops for themselves that furthered their education in these matters. And many times they sent students to me to talk about posture, jump elevation, turns, etc. They always told me what my kids needed help on and the lucky little monsters were always so appreciative when I would work with them at home!!!!

We are with a new school now, and the teacher is a very smart young woman. I have not asked her about her actual anatomy knowledge base, but I have also not heard or seen anything incorrect. She is a very good teacher. I have not told our new TC about my background. I am content to be the divas’ mom and the dressmaker. But I do watch and give the divas those lovely corrections they love so much.

I have thought about posting links to informative dance technique, anatomy and kinesiology sites…but I have not done it. Tonight, I thought about writing about the anatomy of the hip and the exercises that can be done to identify and strengthen the six deep external rotators. But that thought turned into this post.

Maybe I do not want to write about these things because I cannot see the people who ask these questions. There are so many, many factors that affect posture, incorrect muscle use, and injuries, and there is no way at all to take stock of these things fully without having the body in front of you. All who answer these questions on the boards as if they have the definitive answer should perhaps keep that in mind.

Susan has told me many times that I need to write about faulty dance postures that affect the way ID dresses fit, how incorrect alignment, over-developed muscles, and faulty notions of what good dance posture is can screw up the hang of the best made dress! She and I have discussed this at great length as we figure out fitting issues. But, although I am drawn to the idea of starting to write about these things, especially since we dressmakers have to deal with this all the time, I have yet to do it. I really am not sure why.

But after this thought process, maybe I will start working on it. It interests me because it is for a different audience. It is not for young movers who may misunderstand and incorrectly use what I write. I do not want to be responsible for dancers injuring themselves. But, we dressmakers are used to looking at dancers and making the dresses look right on each one. Maybe understanding what is causing a particular body lump will help us fit them that much better.

A bit more about my past dancer/teacher life here and here.

More kinesiology here: Dance Kinesiology

Dress Observations

(Disclaimer: I love making Irish dance dresses, I love making Irish dance dresses, I love making Irish dance dresses,I love making Irish dance dresses…)

In order to meet & fit a new client, I went to the Nation’s Capital Feis yesterday. I had made the mock-bodice from measurements Susan had taken a few weeks ago…the client lives in southern Virginia and was here, obviously, for the feis. Very nice people. Good bodice, if I do say so myself…only have to make it smaller in the bust.

The young lady has quite a beautiful dress now. Dancer said it was a second hand Siopa Rince. Nicely made except for that zipper…shows on the inside of the skirt, not covered at all. What is that?!!! Dress costs a fortune and no one can take the extra five minutes to tuck the zipper into the lining and whip-stitch it into place? Irritates the bejesus out of me. Had a nice visit with the new clients. Had some musical accompaniment as a dancer prepared to play her fiddle for the music competition. Just love that. Finished with the dress business, Meave and I began our slow trek back to the car.

It felt very odd walking through a feis after all this time. Molly’s last feis was the Oireachtas in December, and Maggie’s and Meave’s was earlier in the fall…it may be almost a year by the time we go to our first one this fall. Anyway, I was hit by a very odd feeling as Meave and I maneuvered our way through the crush of bodies…I felt my shoulders rising to my ears. I felt a twitch starting at the side of my mouth… No doubt that “competing” charges the air in a very specific way. It was a disconcerting feeling.

Of course I was compelled to study every dress I walked by…quickly because I was NOT compelled to stop (had to escape some of this mania. Note to self: remember what it is like before we go to our first feis this fall). There were so many made almost entirely of sequins! And not just any sequins…FISHSCALE sequins! For those unfamiliar with them or who might call them something different, this pic illustrates what I call fishscale sequins:

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Rather pretty, aren’t they? And they make a whole Irish dance dress something to behold. Very striking…and very expensive!!!

I saw every type of dress imaginable…even a bubble skirt bobbing down the hall in the distance. Little girl moved too fast for me to see much before she disappeared. So many ideas…just proves what many on the boards have said…there is no absolute style to these things, no standard to measure yourself against. If you like it, do it because anything goes!!!

I did manage to end up next to some dresses sporting the “newest” trend (translation: it will change in five minutes) of using mainly embroidery and very little applique. The satin-stitched lines are thick so the design can be seen, which is great. I for one am happy to see some knotwork making a comeback. But what I have noticed in pics as well as in person yesterday is that they all seem to look the same. Why? All of the knotwork designs from days gone by did not look the same, but these are all using the same sharp-pointed diamonds, curly Victorian scrolls, and flowers. Can we not be creative on our own?

And it does look as if computerized machine embroidery is close to the norm now. I do not have a problem with that since that is my expertise. It also means that folks have seen the value of what we digitizing artists can do…perhaps there will be no more of those moronic statements on the boards about how this kind of embroidery takes no skill.

Interestingly, there was recently a lamentation on the Celtic Flame dressmakers board that all the new embroidery was being done by machine and that perhaps the hand-guiding embroiderers were now behind the eight ball, that only those with computerized machines can pull this stuff off. I do not believe that to be so. I know that there are ID dressmakers who are capable of doing hand-guided embroidery of all kinds. My Feisdress partner, Susan Gowin, still does the embroidery by hand for the dresses she designed for Dudney and Maple. I am amazed by the clarity and neatness of the stitching. Don’t give this up, too, ladies!!!!

Here are pics of Susan’s gorgeous handiwork:

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Beautiful. You can see more in her Feisdress gallery.

Meave and I both said, “Whoa!” when we passed the for sale area. The rack set up for the sale of used dresses was packed, stuffed, and scarily overwhelming. Meave and I did stop briefly as I glanced over them, but there were so many, so precariously smashed together, that I did not want to really examine any too closely because I might have to pick them all up from the floor! But a couple of things struck me.

1) They all looked new…and beautiful. I could see “used” on many of the info signs attached to them, but the signs of wear were not immediately evident.

2) There were so many of them.

3) The use of fabrics of all kinds was fantastic! Visual feast!

4) The dresses that I could see were ALL 3 panels.

5) There were so many of them.

6) The prices for these “used” dresses were out of this world! From $1200 to $2500 for a used dress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Susan and I are about to put a used dress up for sale…it has been worn 5 times and we are thinking of asking $950, half the actual construction price…$1200 is a new dress!!!!

7) There were so many of them!!!!

Conclusions that one might draw…one must not keep a dress too long because you must keep up with the trends, so sell it when it is still technically new. Charge an arm and a leg so you can make up what you spent in the first place so you can buy another new dress that you will only wear 4 times so you can then repeat the process. 3 panels are old fashioned…so why would anyone want to buy it? At that PRICE?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel a twitchybitchy fit roiling…

There have been several “conversations” on the boards about the glut of dresses in the used dress market. It is a very interesting phenomenon, this mentality that a dancer must only wear a dress a few times, that staying “current” is SOOOO important. I am pretty sure that every solo client that I have had still owns the dress I made. They do not feel compelled to keep buying new dresses. Not sure I understand this aquisitive state of mind. I am interested to see what happens in the next year as folks are unable to sell their used dresses. Perhaps a change in attitude is a-comin’!!!

While I was at the feis for the fitting, Molly and Maggie were in Irish dance class. Meave and I went back to wait. Meave spent that time practicing her steps. Near the end of class, I went to watch for a little. Jordan was really putting Molly thru her paces. Loved it. Such interesting, wonderful choreography. After my short trip into La-la Land at the feis, it was nice to see just dancing. I will admit here that going to feiseanna can make me crazy. Competition was nowhere to be found in my classical dance training. I competed as a cheerleader…and that is what competing in the upper levels at a feis reminds me of. Made me crazy as a teenager… makes me very tense as an adult.

Good to have this reminder now. I am resolved to be as cool as a cucumber at our first feis back this fall. I will encourage the divas to be friendly, to talk to their fellow competitors. I resolve to keep all of this light and fun and social. I resolve to meet at least 2 new folks. Maybe I will go introduce myself to ZandB and get myself a MoonPie!