NDEO Offers “Mosaic Of Possibilities” In Chicago



The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) held its yearly conference in Chicago earlier this month (November 5-9) and 4dancers attended for the first time. We wanted to learn more about the offerings this organization extends to the community of dance educators, connect with other dance writers and bloggers from across the country, and share our conference experience with readers here on the site.

photoThe theme for 2014 was “Collaborations–A Mosaic of Possibilities” and the first thing you noticed when browsing all of the sessions available is that there were a staggering variety of them to choose from. Here is just a brief sampling of some of the titles:

  • Collaborating Between Dance and Illustration Students
  • Deep Core Stabilizer Muscles and Global Movers; Finding Collaboration in Movement
  • Technique Class for the Mature Mover
  • Common Core & Dance: Let’s put it together!
  • Mambo to Hip-Hop
  • Preserving dance in collaboration with photographers and filmmakers, past and present
  • Moon Phases: A Collaboration Between Dance and Science Education
  • Dance, Pilates and PT: A Collaboration for Dancer Health
  • Community Collaborations: How to Create and Fund Partnerships with Performing Arts Organizations

And that’s just a small taste of all that was offered.

photo[1]Both a hard copy of the schedule and an app were available to help conference attendees navigate their choices. We used both to fine-tune what we were going to see/experience. The sessions that we attended were well thought out and informative, and Q&A time brought some great perspectives to light as well.

In addition to our “learning time” we also browsed the tables that were set up for sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers and talked with people in the halls about their conference experience along the way. The overwhelming majority were excited and energized–thankful for this “time-out” to talk with other educators and people in their field. Many remarked on how busy they are and how this type of event allows them some much-needed time to re-fuel and remember why they went down this path in the first place.

We met up with other writers and bloggers and had some time to talk about everything from what they were getting out of the conference to how we were all connected on the web, and how exciting the possibilities are for extending education in various forms online through blogs and other platforms. We bonded. Big time.

Sometimes there is just no substitute for face-to-face communication. As a dance writer on the web, all too often I am alone. I have this in common with many dance educators in classrooms everywhere. It’s easy to lose perspective. It’s hard to stay connected to others who can help inspire you, guide you–and sometimes–just walk beside you along the way.

But don’t just take my word for it. Below you’ll find some thoughts from two other “first timers” at the NDEO Conference this year. And you can read more thoughts from dance educators about their experience over on Dance Advantage as well.

Lucy Vurusic-Riner

Lucy Vurusic Riner, photo by Shelby Kroeger

Lucy Vurusic Riner, photo by Shelby Kroeger

I was a “first timer” at the 2014 NDEO Conference in Chicago this past weekend.

I was happy to be involved in the Conference in a number of ways. Thursday morning, my New Trier MENZ dance students performed a work I choreographed for them at a two-hour session led by my colleague Christopher Rutt. I started Friday morning by presenting at my own paper session with my artistic partner, Michael Estanich. Our session, Long Distance Collaboration: Thriving Artistically Across State Lines was well attended and well received. Michael and I look forward to returning to future NDEO Conferences to present on other topics that are pertinent to our classrooms and our artistic work.

I had the opportunity to take a great movement class with good friend Rebecca Bryant. Her session on using the Number Score to assist in Embodied Collaboration was creative and got a lot of laughs. Other notable sessions I attended were Elizabeth Lentz’s paper, Beyond Dancer and Actor and the awesome trio of artists known as AGA Collaborative whose panel on The Collaborative Voice was the perfect way to end the Conference.

The main reason I’ll be back though is for the invaluable amount of networking that took place for me. I had lunch with dance bloggers from across the country and saw some face-to-face for the first time. I spoke on behalf of RE|Dance Group and got us some future performance opportunities. And most importantly, I connected with a lot of teachers from across the globe who share a collective desire to bring dance to our students’ lives.


Cassandra Dara-Abrams

Cassandra Dara-Abrams

This was the first NDEO Conference I attended and I am already writing my proposal for a movement workshop for the 2015 Conference.

Arriving on the first day of the conference in my “proper” Pendleton blazer and stretchy red velvet leggings, I felt too formally dressed. What? Me–too formally dressed in a blazer and leggings? The following days I came more suitably dressed in my teaching clothes—yoga leggings and layers of shirt and sweater to take off as I warmed up.

Being surrounded by women and men as passionate as I am about dance, the wisdom of the body, and the art and craft of the teaching of both, was an honor. I engaged in dialogue with many professors, teachers, and emerging artists who are creating and honing genuine, authentic, and educationally sound methods of dance education.

One such dialogue was with California State University Professor Rebecca Bryant who led a movement workshop that inspired creative collaboration through a structure that lessens the “preciousness” of being on stage. Her workshop was centered on the Number Score from Ensemble Thinking. I brought the Score to Brave and Barefoot Dance Troupe’s practice session with great success just a day after Professor Bryant’s workshop.

Thanks for an inspiring conference, NDEO!

NDEO Conference 2015

NDEO’s next conference will be in Phoenix, AZ in 2015 and it will run from October 7-11. They will be accepting proposals until February 1, 2015, and the theme will be: “Engaging in the Artistic Processes: Creating, Performing, Responding, Connecting“.

4dancers received free admission to the NDEO annual conference for review and promotional services.


My “Last” Nutcracker

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Jessika Anspach (center) with company dancers in Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s Nutcracker. Photo © Angela Sterling.

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

The brisk fall air accosts my face as I push through the Phelps Center doors, home of Pacific Northwest Ballet. I scurry down the steps toward Mercer Street. I only have an hour. I only have a month, and some change…

An hour for lunch; a month till I have to say goodbye.

Read more


CD Review: “More Sounds of Christmas”

More Sounds of Christmas
Christopher Hobson

by Rachel Hellwig

‘Tis the season to frappé to Jingle Bells.

Hobson CD coverChristopher Hobson’s “More Sounds of Christmas” is full of familiar favorites like “Frosty the Snowman”, “Feliz Navidad”, “Sleigh Ride”, “White Christmas”, and “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”. It also includes some less-well-known pieces like Nat King Cole’s “Take Me Back to Toyland” and the Irish-themed “Christmas in Killarney”.

Hobson’s arrangements show taste and sensitivity to the musical needs of different ballet exercises. “O Christmas Tree” is perfectly adapted for pirouettes. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is lyrically channeled for pliés. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” becomes a buoyant piece for grand battement en cloche. “The Chipmunk Song” is tamed into a peaceful melody for rond de jombe. And, throughout the collection, Hobson finds the balance between arranging a song and changing it into a different piece.

“More Sounds of Christmas” features 24 tracks and is sure to bring holiday cheer to any ballet class.

Disclosure: 4dancers accepts compensation for promoting More Sounds of Christmas


Turnout And The Dancer: A Closer Look


Jan Dunn, MS

Jan Dunn, MS

This month I’m offering you some thoughts on turn-out, that often-debated subject in dance (especially ballet) that we all worry over / strive for / get obsessed with.  I am especially indebted to long-time dance medicine colleague and researcher, Dr. James Garrick, MD, for his insightful comments on this article–and a special “thank you” also to Dr. Matthew Wyon, PhD – Research Centre for Sport Exercise and Performance @ University of Wolverhampton (UK) / Vice President of IADMS, for his input as well.

Enjoy–and Pass It On

- Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor

OK, so let’s talk about turn-out…that elusive external rotation of the legs in the hip socket that dancers (especially ballet dancers) all strive for.

This post is going to be just a brief foray into that (often thorny) discussion. I’m not going to give you detailed anatomical information–there are various online resources (as well as books) especially written for dancers that can give you excellent, very specific anatomical detail (I’ve provided a partial resource list at the end).

What I do want is to share with you what I feel is important for every dancer / teacher (and parent) to know–gleaned from 40 years of teaching dance / 35 years in the dance medicine field / 32 years of teaching Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Injury Prevention to dancers in university dance departments.

Just the Basic Facts, Ma’am

Turn–out, as every dancer and teacher knows, involves rotating the legs outward from the hip socket. It enables us to be able to have full range of movement in dance, especially in sideways directions.

A Brief History of Turnout

Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV of France

Turn-out has historical beginnings going back to the French and Italian courts, evolving from a combination of different things–such as fencing / having to move sideways or back your way out of the king’s presence (so that you wouldn’t ever turn your back on him) / and (my particular favorite) – in court, turning one’s leg out to show the intricate designs on the heels of one’s shoes (France’s King Louis XIV – “The Sun King”, who founded the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661 – was actually one of the first to do this, to show off his elaborately decorated shoes to the court!).

For many years, the desired “perfect” turn-out meant (especially in ballet) that you had your feet completely turned out, straight side to side, in a 180 degree straight line. But unfortunately…

Very few people have a hip socket that is capable of rotating the femur (thigh bone) completely out to the side–so the extra slack instead gets transferred to the knee joint and foot (for a full detailed analysis of how this all works, see some of the resource articles mentioned at the end). This is called, as you probably know, “forcing” your turn-out–which means that you are using compensatory movements at the knee, foot (rotation / twisting), or lumbar spine (hyperextension, or “swayback”) to increase the apparent range of your turn-out.

The problem is–if dancers “force” their turn-out from the knees / ankles / lumbar spine, not-nice things can result, especially over time.

More Basics

The structure of our hip joint is something we are born with—different factors determine how much / how little turn-out we have at the actual joint. For example:

  • The shape of the bones
  • How deeply set into the hip socket the femur (thigh bone) is
  • How tight or loose the ligaments are

“Hueftgelenk-gesund”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

You will find some online sites that say you can possibly change your structural, inherited turn-out with early training (between ages 8-12), but this is still very much debated in the dance medicine and science field, and some of the people who are most knowledgeable about this, from a research perspective, do not think it is really possible.

What can be changed, however, is muscle imbalance–both strength and flexibility–around the hip joint, which can limit hip external rotation.

Interested? Read on!

The average person on the street usually has turn-out in the range of 40-45 degrees. We know that dancers usually average around 55 degrees, and occasionally slightly more–but very few people have that 90 degree turn-out in the hip socket that equals 180, when the heels are together in 1st position.

So when you see dancers standing at the barre in 180-degree first position, the chances are pretty good that they are “forcing” it, and taking the extra stress in the knees and feet.

Why Forcing Turnout Is Not Good

Première pointes.PNG

Example of forced turnout, resulting in “rolling” of the feet. Photo: “Première pointes”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Over time, forcing turn-out puts undesirable force and pressure on joints / body parts that were not designed to do that–in particular, the feet / knees / lower back.

Be aware that there are some dance blogs that will tell you that’s it OK to do this (force at the knee / foot / lumbar spine), but those sites are ignoring the majority of the dance medicine research–which tells us that it is potentially detrimental and injurious to those body parts, over time. To quote well-known dance science researcher / author, Karen Clippinger, MS, in her textbook “Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” (Human Kinetics, 2007):

Failure to maintain turnout at the hip and excessive twisting from the knee down are believed to be a contributing factor to many injuries of the knee, shin, ankle, and foot”.

Other prominent researchers in this area will all tell you the same thing–and add injuries of the lower back to the list as well.

Interesting Things To Know About Turnout

The front of the pelvis/hips need to be kept flat on the floor-rolling the hip up (of the tested leg) will distort the results. This can be done without a goniometer (the instrument the PT is using in the photo), to give an a fairly accurate “eyeball” ROM (range of motion) estimate of both external and internal rotation at the hip. Photo: Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology – Karen Clippinger (Human Kinetics, 2007)

Turn-out Tests

Testing how much turn-out you actually have at the hip socket should ideally be done by a dance-familiar physical therapist or trainer (or physician).

There is one prone (lying on your stomach) “eyeball” test that I like to use, which can give you / your teacher a fair idea of where your range falls–and while physical therapists would use a goniometer (the instrument used to measure joint angles) to give an exact reading, it is possible to use this same test to give an approximate estimate of the dancer’s hip external rotation.

Muscular Imbalance Issues

I mentioned above how muscle imbalance can affect your turn-out (remember our article on Causes of Injuries? – the importance of muscle balance….?). If the muscles on one side of the joint are stronger (or less flexible) than the other, it will limit full range-of-motion for that leg, in all directions–including turn-out.

It’s important to note that the hip internal rotator muscles are weak and tight in many dancers (especially ballet)—and that this will limit the amount of external rotation that can happen. Dancers can sometimes increase their measured degree of turn-out by as much as 20 degrees when they do have this imbalance situation and are put on a program for stretching and strengthening the internal rotators.

And sometimes, you aren’t actually using all the natural turn-out that you do have, simply because the external rotator muscles aren’t strong enough to hold it. So that principle of equal muscle strength and stretch is really important here…and remember that weak muscles = tight muscles.

We usually have one leg that naturally has more turn-out than the other–but be aware that muscle imbalance can also make that happen as well (here is where you need a PT to do some analysis / muscle testing). Assuming that there actually is a structural difference between R and L (there is with me, as with many dancers), you should never try to force the lesser-turned out leg to match the greater one. That will only lead to more problems down the road. Determine which of your legs is less–for example, R is 55 degrees, and L is 50–and then always match your legs to that lesser angle, to avoid stress and potential long-term injury.

Turnout In Performance?

Research in dance medicine has shown that in performance, we don’t use the same amount of turn-out as we do in class–we use less. This begs the question: If this is indeed the case, why do we insist on emphasizing extreme turn-out in class, when it does not transfer to performance?

Tibial Torsion Issues

child_rotational_def_causes01We are often told that in a well-aligned turn-out position (i.e not forcing), we should aim our “knees over toes” – specifically, the 2nd toe (or the joint space between the 2nd/3rd toe, which is the center of the forefoot).

This is indeed correct for a leg that has a straight tibia (shinbone) – but if you are among the dancers who have tibial torsion (where the tibia rotates inward slightly, with a slight curve to the outside of the leg), that knee / 2nd toe alignment doesn’t quite match up.

There is nothing wrong with tibial torsion–it is just a different structure than a straight-line tibia–but it is important to know about, as both a teacher and dancer. (In dance screenings that I’ve participated in, as many as 40-50% of students had this type of leg structure).

Dancers with this type of anatomy often need to line the knee up with the great toe, as opposed to the 2nd, or between 1st / 2nd toe joint–as opposed to 2nd / 3rd. Forcing the knee over to the 2nd toe can cause supination (rolling outwards) in the foot, and additional problems at the knee joint.

It’s best to work with a knowledgeable dance teacher / trainer / physical therapist, if you have this type of leg alignment so that you can find the optimum position for your own individual structure.

Last, But Not Least, Turn-In!

Having a lifetime in dance and preventing injury is what it’s all about, and in that light, listen up, folks:

Turning in is equally important for dancers–maybe more so than turning out. It’s the imbalance around the joint that leads to injury, remember? So if you’re only always turning out (as many ballet dancers do) and never doing exercises in parallel, or more importantly, turn-in, you aren’t really using some of the important muscles around both the hip and knee joints…and that pre-sets us up for injuries down the road.

Plus, an important thing to realize is that those turn-in movements are keeping our actual hip joint healthy, over long years of use. It is full range of motion in any joint that keeps it healthy, and works to avoid arthritis. By only doing turn-out movements, and never / rarely doing parallel / turn-in, we are ignoring a good segment of the joint capsule…and joints that don’t move fully develop arthritis way faster than joints that move all through their natural range of motion!

So if your dance environment doesn’t provide good opportunities to use turn-in, find outside activities like Pilates, that will help keep your body in good overall balanced strength and flexibility.

A better example of first position, with no "rolling" - not 180 degrees.

A better example of first position, with no “rolling” – notice that it isn’t 180 degrees!

And Remember–Turn-Out Doesn’t Make or Break You As A Dancer

There are so many things that all come together to make a good dancer. It’s not only the body we are born with, but the training, the artistry, the personality, the musicality…the list could go on and on.

Dr. James Garrick, MD, one of the pioneers of dance medicine, long-time physician for the San Francisco Ballet (among other companies), and researcher on turn-out, always counsels dancers to not get hung up on how much turn-out they do or don’t have. He reminds them that some of the world’s greatest dancers do not have that magical 180 degrees, and that working within your own natural turn-out, and focusing instead on all the many things that make us beautiful dancers–is what’s really important.

So – dance on – and don’t force your turn-out!

Resources for further reading

There are many sites that discuss turn-out online–here are some that I like:

The Truth About Turnout | Dance Spirit


Understanding True Turnout In Dance | Dance Advantage

Centerwork: Understanding Turnout – Dance Magazine – If …

Turnout for Dancers: Hip Anatomy and Factors Affecting …

(Editors Note: this is an extremely detailed anatomical description)


“Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” – Karen Clippinger –Human Kinetics, 2007

“Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health” – Judith R. Peterson, MD – Princeton Book Company, 2011

“Finding Balance” Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance” (2nd Edition) – Gigi Berardi – Routledge, 2005

Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance.  Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs

Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.  She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.

Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.



Dance Competition: Thoughts From A Pro

Dance competition

Today we have Drew Vamosi with us to talk about dance competitions. Drew is one of the people behind Leap! National Dance Competition, and we asked him to share some thoughts on what Leap! judges look for, as well as his tips for preparing to compete…

How important do you feel overall appearance is in terms of competition? Does what the dancer is wearing matter, or is a nice, neat presentation enough?

​The dancer needs to wear a costume that fits the piece and the dancer’s body type. Often we see costumes that are not flattering on the dancer especially when weight is a factor. The dancer needs to feel confident and a costume that fits helps immensely!​

What is the biggest mistake you see dancers making at your competitions?

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CD Review: Music for Ballet Lovers Vol. 7 “Precious Holiday Moments”

Music for Ballet Lovers Vol. 7 “Precious Holiday Moments”
Yoshi Gurwell

by Rachel Hellwig

Precious Holiday Moments CD screenshot

Holiday music is always an enjoyable addition to November/December ballet classes. Yoshi Gurwell’s “Precious Holiday Moments” offers 28 tracks of Nutcracker melodies and traditional carols for intermediate+ center practice, in addition to 20 tracks of original music for barre. Some of the compositions for barre more engaging than others, but, overall, they are effective.

The Nutcracker selections are the highlight of the CD. They stand out for their creative arrangements and often cleverly combine pieces from Act I and Act II. If you want to add a little Nutcracker magic to everyday class, this suite should do the trick. Or, if you feel your students have grown tired of Nutcracker tunes from rehearsals, these arrangements may revive their interest in the music by showcasing it in a different light.

The traditional carol tracks are delightful as well. Gurwell adapts their speed and rhythms to suit different exercises, but, for the most part, they retain their easily recognizable melodies.

Overall, this collection makes a fun supplement  for the holiday season.


Process Focused Thinking In The Dance Classroom

PSM V26 D768 Brain of gauss
by Janet Rothwell

As a choreographer and dance educator, process is very important to me. It is through my creative process that I problem solve and create various products. My process can vary depending on the task at hand or even on how I feel in the moment. Any changes in my process are usually reflected in the product outcome as well. One example of how changing my process can be helpful is when I am choreographing a work and I do not want it to look or feel like the last piece I created. Changing my process can help me to create new movement and fresh ideas.

In order to teach my students about the value of process I give them many assignments where they have built in time to explore and play. I also have them reflect on their process answering questions like: How did you go about learning a movement sequence? How did you work within your group on a project? How did you approach the creation of your movement?

I often have students work in small groups on various choreography assignments. The most recent project I gave them was to create a short choreographic study based on initiating movement from certain bones in their body. The main goals were for students to learn the names of the bones, where they were located, and how it feels to move from those bones in their body.

The assignment included a rubric which required students to use specific choreography tools and a required length of counts for the whole dance. Often time when I give an assignment like this with a clear rubric of expectations, students look at the list of what the dance must include and work towards this end goal first instead of taking the time to experiment and play with movement ideas. I have to remind them that I’m giving them many days to work on the project to include the process of discovering the movement they want to use and they have time to change their minds and let the dance evolve. I use many analogies like when you create movement and choreography with your group you are writing in pencil not pen so as you go on if you don’t like something simply erase it and make a change.

The majority of the classes that my high school students take are very product focused and students can either be right or wrong with their product. It can be very challenging for students to shift their perspective in my class and linger in the process focused perspective as a means to create and problem solve. In dance class with a creative assignment there is not one way to do anything right so there are many right answers and what I try to teach my students is that I want them to discover what they feel is the best and right answer for them. They discover this through their process.

Having an emphasis on the process rather than the product does not mean that I do not care about the end product. On the contrary, I think that when the process is more fulfilled the end product is also more likely to be fulfilled and realized in a deeper way. The way we go about getting to an end product is through various paths and that we honor the paths we try out and discover what each one has to offer. Students edit and revise more while focusing on process in order to create the product.

As students embrace this mind set I see a shift in the quality of their work and their work ethic. In a world of instant gratification and product focused thinking it is becoming more and more important that we teach young people to value the process, the how we get to an end goal. Teaching students to be process focused can have great implications in many areas of their lives and help them to problem solve in creative ways. I hope to help my students become creative problem solvers and leaders in the world they live in.

dancer posing upside down

Janet Neidhardt

Contributor Janet Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.

Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.

When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.

Behind Barres
Hobson Xmas
dance class music
Fathom Nut

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