On The Marley Floor…


Maria Chapman of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Photo by Angela Sterling Photography.

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

 Her deafening scream reverberated through the studio.

Remembering it and my stomach still curdles. One moment she was doing petit allegro, the next writhing on the Marley floor in animalistic agony.

There are just some moments you never forget.

Moments you wish you could.

And yet these terrifying incidents are ones rarely thought of, let alone mentioned. It must be human nature to sweep the scary under the rug. Like those cheesy ceramic monkeys I often see in vintage shops, we choose to “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” superstitiously (and aren’t we dancers the worst?) believing that if we don’t speak it, acknowledge it, then it doesn’t exist. Injury won’t happen to us. We keep the lights on and those monsters “safely” under the bed.

But sometimes, no matter our diligence – how often we ice, how much we stretch or see the P.T., no matter how many “Zzz’s” we get, the monsters rear their frightening faces. And sometimes we end up on the Marley floor.

My “Marley moment” came May 15th, 2015. And I actually was on the floor.

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Setting Specific And Successful Goals For The New Dance Season

by Karen Musey

September is here! The back to school vibe is high in the air and your dance year is about to begin! It is an exciting time and now is the perfect time to figure out your goals for this dancing season.

I define a goal as something that is specific and measurable, for ex. having clean triple pirouettes on both sides in all of my disciplines; not something vague like I want to be a better turner.

Stating your goal allows you to feel empowered with your progress as a dancer. It is good to stick to one goal at a time, so you can really zero in and complete it. Having too many goals splits focus and often less is accomplished. When youʼve fully integrated a goal into your technique, then you can choose a new one to work towards.

So – where do you want to see yourself a year from now?

Look back

Before you race forward, it is helpful to remember your accomplishments and challenges from the previous year. When you take stock of what happened and how you felt about it, you can make informed choices and set realistic goals for the year.

If you had an easy season where your hard work allowed you to easily achieve your intentions, it is important to take a moment and acknowledge your success! Your future goals will build off of the confidence of your last achievements, and you will get a sense of which challenges you are ready to tackle next.

What if you had a challenging year? Maybe you were working through an injury or other obstacles came up. It is important to take a moment to honor your persistence and dedication through that difficult time. You can build great confidence from a challenging year because adversity builds character and hopefully, stronger self care habits. Many (if not most) well known professional dancers had to work through obstacles to be where they are today. Through patience and their determination to succeed, they eventually met their goals.

Your journey may follow a slightly different path than those around you, but if you can trust yourself and your coaches, you will often surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

Branch out

How do you want to grow as a dancer this year? Is it mastering a new style of dancing, taking on your first solo, or joining a class as a teacherʼs assistant?

Maybe this is the year that YOU

choose to be self reliant and remember every step without shadowing another.

learn the french translation of the steps in your ballet class so you develop a new understanding of the material.

memorize and accurately pick up the combination the first time it is shown to you.

be THE cheerleader for yourself and your team – own your success, pump up a friend who feels down, and acknowledge anotherʼs triumph.

…. stand in the front during classes and workshops and really absorb the information given.

…. plan and pack healthier snacks for yourself, to have the energy to carry you through.

…. slow down each technical element to articulate each one 100% correctly, even if you think youʼve already mastered them.


see yourself as a powerful artist who has something important to offer, every time you look in the mirror.

If your goal feels a little challenging and a bit uncomfortable or scary, and you are still excited to take it on – Congratulations! Youʼve found an awesome way to grow for the year.

Move forward with clarity and confidence

Having a support system is key in accomplishing your goals! Sharing your goals with your fellow dancers and coaches will help you be accountable and stay on track.
Journaling is a popular way to keep tabs on goal progress. Many professional performers keep regular audition and class journals by marking the date and their thoughts of their experience of each performance. This way, they can review their notes and make good decisions moving forward.

For you, setting aside a quick 5 or 10 minutes to write in a short daily or weekly journal is great; just enough time has passed for you to still remember the details of the weekʼs events. Reading your notes can give you clues in how you are moving forward, or if you could approach the goal from a different angle. At the end of the semester when you reread your notes, you will feel fantastic about all of your progress.

All of these small steps will lead you forward to the new challenges you will be rocking later this year. Have an awesome September!


Karen Musey

Karen Musey

Contributor Karen Musey is a dynamic Canadian born, New York based performer, teacher and dance adjudicator. Her training includes study at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division, The Banff Centre, EDGE PAC (LA), Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The Barrow Group, Kimball Studio, Canada’s National Voice Intensive, Comic Strip Live and more.

Karen Musey judges national and regional dance competitions and festivals across the United States and Canada. She was a Director/Choreographer Observership Candidate during the 2011/12 season with Stage Directors and Choreographers Union and has served as a rehearsal director and dance captain for KOBA Family Entertainment. Karen Musey is an ABT® Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT® Teacher Training Intensive in Pre-Primary through Level 5 of the ABT® National Training Curriculum. She is a U.S. Member of the International Dance Council CID, recognized by UNESCO.

Performing highlights – PHISH at Madison Square Garden; World Premiere of the Canadian Opera Company’s Das Rheingold (Wagner Ring Cycle); National Artist Program Gala for the 2003 Canada Winter Games; for HRH Queen Elizabeth II during the Golden Jubliee Tour; Chicago (Rainbow Stage); comedy short Foreign Exchange (72 Hour Asian American Film Shootout); music videos for The Guards and Malynda Hale; international tours and performances with The Young Americans, J.A.R. Productions and KOBA Family Entertainment; stand up and sketch comedy around New York; Bravo! documentaries, films and more. She is currently co-writing a play. www.karenmusey.com


Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part III

by Jan Dunn, MS

Welcome to part three of our “core control series”! If you’ve missed the others, you’ll find part one here, and part two here. Enjoy!

(Readers!  Please know that in the Foam Roller Leg Lift Series, the correct photos, showing Sarah’s hands OFF THE FLOOR, did not make the transition from my computer to the 4dancers.org computer–and I am now away from my home computer for two weeks, so can’t correct that error !

My apologies to all–and please know that after the first try at a leg lift, with hands ON the floor, all others are done with hands OFF !  -i.,e, the simple leg lift, then with extension (Step Two), and then with battement / leg lowering and raising (Step Three).)

Core Exercises

Now we are ready to actually do some “core” exercises! This one actively involves the TA (transverse abdominal) that we discussed in Part 1 – but remember that “core” really means back stabilization, and these kinds of exercises utilize all of the muscles we discussed in Part 1, even if we’re consciously focusing on only one of them, as in this next exercise.

Lying on your back, in NP, place your hands on your lower belly, as in the photo here:

Core NP

As you inhale (remembering all your cues above for a nice full breath), feel your belly rise slightly. Now, as you exhale, let your belly fall inwards, away from your hands. Don’t lose your NP as you do this–the whole point of the exercise is to use the TA in a NP position, where it is working to best help stabilize your back. Many dancers (and non-dancers) want to flatten their back / lose NP when they first try this – so watch out for that!

Core NP2

It’s also important not to “suck your belly to your spine”. The TA doesn’t need to work on 100% contraction (which that cue tends to do) to be effective (in a healthy back, it’s working at only about 30% of it’s full capacity).

This simple exercise is just initial awareness / training for how to activate the TA in a neutral position. If it’s easy for you, great. If not, and you find yourself wanting to “tuck” / flatten your back, then this would be a good one to practice daily, until that habit of “tucking” is no longer there.

Now we’re going to do some back stabilization exercises that may be more challenging (or maybe not!):

But before we do, a few words on the breathing pattern that will best help you with these:

Generally speaking, we stabilize our back best when we exhale with exertion –in other words, the hard part of the exercise. So for example, on the first exercise below, you exhale as you lift your leg.

Another thing to realize about breath use is that a forced exhale actually overuses the oblique abdominals, and does not allow the TA to fully engage. I’ve actually seen this on diagnostic ultrasound, and it was fascinating–when the dancer forcibly exhaled, you could actually see, on the screen, how the TA was not working, but the oblique abdominals were working way too hard (“hypertrophying” in scientific language). So just taking a normal inhale / exhale will serve you best.

Leg Lift Core Exercise

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Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part II

by Jan Dunn, MS

Aloha everyone!

A couple weeks ago we posted Dancers: Let’s Talk “Core Control” – Part 1, and I promised you a second part with some specific suggestions on exercises, to help you work on this important aspect of your dancing and everyday lives. Most of what I want to share in this (and the next) segment are exercises you would do outside of class (although if you’re a teacher, you can work them into the class you teach, as I’ve always done), along with the alignment tips and cues I’ve already given you – plus a few more here!

FYI, much of what I’m sharing in this segment I learned over the years working in physical therapy clinics, as well as in the Pilates world – plus a few that I came up with myself!

Special thanks to my “two Sarahs” – Sarah Carrasco, my Pilates colleague and former Broadway gypsy, who did the modeling, and Sarah Graham, PT, from Denver Dance Medicine Associates, who provided input on the medical / research pieces.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Sitting / Standing

I gave you the image / cue of the pelvis / rib cage / head balanced one on top of another, and the “sternum (breastbone) to pubic bone” cue. An easy way to make sure these ideas make sense before you stand up is to sit on a firm seat (not a cushy couch), feet flat on the floor. Sit firmly on your two “sit-bones” (ischial tuberosities in anatomical language). If you are firmly grounded on those two bony points, you are in a neutral pelvis.

Sarah sitting

Another way to find sitting NP, is to sit tall and slowly rock in between arching your back (lumbar spine hyperextension) and slouching forward (flexion in the lumbar spine) — and stop somewhere in the middle, where there is a moderate natural curve in the low back.

Suggested images to think of here could be:

  • Your pelvis is a full bowl of water that doesn’t tilt / splash either forward (meaning you would be arching your back – “swayback”) or backward (meaning you would be slouching).
  • Put a finger on your two hip bones in front (your ASIS – anterior superior iliac spine) and your pubic bone. Those 3 bony points should form a triangle that is perpendicular to the floor, with the public bone pointing straight down.

Once you feel firmly anchored on those sit-bones, use some images that lengthen your spine upwards. Some of my favorites are:

A spiral of energy going upward


A water fountain from the base of the pelvis, going up and out the top of the head.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

Courtesy of Eric Franklin.

The Eric Franklin drawing of the “bobble boy”, that I used in Part 1

Bobble body

Drawing courtesy of Eric Franklin

A magnet on the top of the head reaching up to a magnet on the ceiling (that particular one seems to appeal more to men – more mechanical, I guess!).

And last but not least, that image we used in Part 1, of the sternum directly vertical with the pubic bone. That applies to sitting as well as standing!

sternum to pubic boneOnce you have gone through those various cues sitting, you can apply the same images / thoughts to standing. All of those are going to help kick in the back stabilization muscles that we’ve been discussing

One last important thing to remember when sitting – most couches / chairs / car seats almost force you to “slouch”, to rock the pelvis under. Can you see where that compresses the discs and vertebrae in your lumbar spine (low back)? Always try to sit so that you can really be upright, in a NS.

Neutral pelvis (NP) / Neutral spine (NS) – Supine (on your back)

OK, so we’ve got NP / NS sitting and standing. Let’s now talk about lying down (supine – meaning on your back, in medical /anatomical terms)….because most of the exercises I’m discussing here are done in a lying down position. That’s because when you’re upright, gravity is pulling on you and you are more likely to go into your old / maybe-not-so-healthy-alignment patterns. When we lie down to do this kind of “neuromuscular repatterning” (because that’s what it is), to introduce new concepts into our body, it takes us out of our normal relationship with gravity and makes it easier for these new patterns to get started. Make sense?

Many times people say, when they are lying down, “how do I know for sure if I’m in NP or not?”. You would be surprised at how even dancers don’t quite get this when first lying down / trying to find a NP! They are almost always flattening their back unconsciously.

I use a physical therapy trick that I was taught long ago, working in Pilates rehab programs in PT environments. It’ called “the Plop”. Seriously! That’s what the PT’s I worked with called it, and I still use the term. It works like this:

Lying down, with your legs bent / feet on the floor, lift your hips just slightly off the floor – like this:

Plop 1

Drop your hips down. Don’t carefully place them down, literally let them “plop” (but never do that if it causes pain in the lumbar spine).

Plop 2

The plop gets you into your own neutral pelvis–it allows muscular holding patterns (like unconsciously wanting to flatten your back) to release for just a few seconds, before those patterns might want to take over again. Think of the plop as your “set point” or “home base” – i.e, “Am I in neutral? I’ll plop and see”.

Another way to get into NP lying down is to slowly rock your pelvis back and forth, from an arched back to a flat back, and then find the place in the middle where you have a natural lumbar curve.

As soon as you do find a neutral pelvis, whether you use the Plop or the rocking method–notice immediately how much pressure is on your sacrum (the broad flat part of your lower back). If you stay in NP, that pressure should stay the same – i.e., if you either arch or flatten your back, it will change.

Your “pelvic triangle” that we talked about earlier, in sitting / standing, is now parallel with the floor / ceiling, with the pubic bone neither pointed up or down.

You can use the water bowl image as well, only this time the water bowl is resting on your belly, and completely level / not spilling either way.

An image I learned recently that I had never heard, and I love, is to imagine a plate on your belly with a marble in the center–and the marble can’t move. That image really refines working in neutral, at least for me. That comes courtesy of my Pilates / dancer colleague here on Kauai, Sarah Carrasco, the model for our photos!


We haven’t really talked about breath, and as with many of these topics, it’s one that could have an article all to itself–but for now, let’s just go over a few important points:

When we take a breath, we want a full expansion of our rib cage, not only to the front, but also to the sides and back. Many of us are “frontal breathers”, not really expanding the rib cage in all directions. That’s not healthy, because:

  • Where each rib meets the spinal vertebrae, in back, is a joint, and joints are designed to move – to remain healthy and avoid arthritis as we get older. A breathing pattern that only expands to the front, not to the sides and back as well, does not involve much movement at that joint – so we want to fully expand our rib cage each time we take a breath.
  • In-between each rib are small muscles called the intercostals, and like all muscles, they are designed to move – but with a rib cage that is more “held”, not moving much except to the front, they don’t move a lot. Again, not a good thing.
  • And last but not least, if the rib cage is expanding in all directions, as it is designed to, we can more easily access that important abdominal muscle, the TA (transverse abdominus).

So for all those reasons, learning to fully expand the ribs is really good for you. I’ve met many dancers who do great with that, but others who don’t. Here are a couple imagery cues to think of:

imagine that your ribs on the sides and back are beautiful sails on a sailboat, and with each breath they are billowing outward.

  • Imagine that your lungs are balloons that are expanding in all directions with each breath. (Make the balloons colored or with beautiful patterns if that works better for you.)
  • Use a theraband to help get the idea of a full ribcage breath. Tie it around your chest, and with every breath, feel the ribs expanding side and back.

I often use a toy to demonstrate full use of the breath / rib cage – it starts out compact and small, and then it expands wide in all directions (just as your rib cage should).


ball 2

OK! In the interest of keeping things to a reasonable length, we’re going to stop here for today and pick things up tomorrow with specific core exercises. Don’t miss our Part III then!

Jan Dunn

Jan Dunn

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.


Inside My Dance Bag: Alabama Ballet’s Tricia Bianco

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Emily Orcutt Photography.

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Emily Orcutt Photography.

How many years have you been doing ballet?

I began training when I was two and half, so I’ve been dancing almost nineteen years.

What are some roles you’ve danced with Alabama Ballet?

My favorite was the Cowgirl in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo. I also loved performing Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as a Blue Girl in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs.

What’s your favorite thing about ballet?

My favorite part about dancing is working hard and seeing the results. It’s so gratifying and there’s always something to work on and perfect even further. And there will always be another goal ahead of me to tackle. I also love the feeling when I’m onstage. We spend so much time in the studio for maybe three minutes on the stage, but when I’m up there I feel so alive.

What’s in your dance bag?

Bloch Heritage pointe shoes, jumper, cover-ups, leg warmers, Tiger Balm – a dancer’s best friend for achy muscles, sewing materials and new pointe shoes – to sew on breaks, Abigail Mentzer and Bulletpointe skirts, bobby pins, hair elastics, hairbrush, supportive athletic tape, and Kenesio Tape – I had a Deltiod sprain last season, so it supports my arches on long days, and, for snacks, I usually keep an apple and some seasoned almonds in my bag for sustainable energy, and, of course, H2O to keep hydrated!



Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Melissa Dooley Photography.

Tricia Bianco. Photograph by Melissa Dooley Photography.

Tricia Bianco began dancing when she was two and a half years old at Alabama Dance Academy under the direction of Pamela Merkel, Michael Vernon, Jamie Hinton, and Tammi Carr. She has received and accepted scholarships to summer programs with Boston Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Alabama Ballet. In 2011, Tricia competed in Youth American Grand Prix and was Top Twelve in the Southeast region. Tricia was offered an apprenticeship when she was seventeen with the Alabama Ballet in 2012, and is excited to be returning for her fourth season and first year as a Company Member.

Since joining Alabama Ballet, her favorite roles have included Showgirl in Roger Van Fleteren’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Juliet’s Friend in Van Fleteren’s Romeo and Juliet, the title role in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo as Cowgirl, Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, and Blue Girl in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs. She also teaches at Alabama Ballet, and is a teacher for the Ballet’s outreach program, City Dance. Tricia also teaches at Westwood Ballet. Tricia feels very blessed to be a member with the Alabama Ballet, and is looking forward to her first season as a company member.


Interview: Matthew Powell Of “Find Your Fifth”

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of "Find Your Fifth". Photograph by Shane Ohmer

Matthew Powell (center) and the cast of “Find Your Fifth”. Photograph by Shane Ohmer

What drew you to the profession of teaching dance?

To be honest, it was at first for very selfish reasons! As a young dancer, I was given some advice from my Artistic Directors to begin teaching as a means of improving upon my own technique. As a dancer, it is sometimes difficult to feel what exactly your body is doing. Teaching provided me with the opportunity to take the role of the onlooker, see corrections that needed to be made on my students, and apply them to myself. I started teaching at a very young age, and I really think it enriched my dancing on the whole.

What does your average work day look like? Give us a little snapshot of your life…

I’m freelancing a good bit these days, so my schedule is a bit all over the map. At the moment, I’m in Carlisle, PA teaching for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s summer program and having a blast, but there is always a long list of ‘to do’s’ to keep my life running back in New York. Here’s what today looks like:

7:00am – 9:00am – Answer questions for this interview over coffee and a bagel.

9:00am – 10:30am – Teach my morning class at CPYB

10:30am – 1:30pm – Head to Staples to print, sign, scan and email a contract for a new ballet I’m creating for Point Park University in Spring of 2016. Then I head to the Post Office to ship two orders of ‘Find Your Fifth.’ We are a small start-up, so orders are processed not through a company, but from my apartment in Queens (or wherever I happen to be). You should see my living room. It’s a ‘Find Your Fifth’ extravaganza in there!

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Inside My Dance Bag: Miami City Ballet’s Samantha Hope Galler

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s  "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker". Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Miami City Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

How many years have you been doing ballet? 

I began ballet at the age of five, so twenty years now. 

What are some roles you’ve danced with Miami City Ballet?

I joined Miami City Ballet in 2014. Since then, I have performed roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as the Harp Soloist in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations.

What’s your favorite thing about ballet?

Being completely swallowed by light on stage.

What’s inside your dance bag?

I usually have about 6-7 pairs of Capezio Arias to rotate, gel toe pads, second skin, toe spacers, Sansha ballet slippers, two rollers, stretching stick, headphones, iPad, grey theraband, shoe scraper, fashionable duct tape, band-aids, Oragel, scissors, towel, hand cream, alcohol wipes to clean my feet at the end of the day, alcohol spray for pointe shoes, extra rosin, perfume, garbage bag pants, purity face wash, wine holder for my pointe shoes, Salonpas deep relief roll on, pliers, sewing kit, red stretch strap, and, for snacks, I always have Gu Brew and Quest bars to get me through my day if needed, plus tic tacs or mints.

Samantha Hope Galler Dance Bag Contents 1


Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler. Photograph by Daniel Azoulay.

Samantha Hope Galler, a Bedford, Massachusetts native, spent 13 years training with The Ballet Academy, Inc., under the direction of Frances Kotelly in the Cecchetti Method. She performed six seasons with The Northeast Youth Ballet under the direction of Denise Cecere. She continued training, on scholarship, with Boston Ballet School and received the PAO Merit Trainee Scholarship. She received the NFAA Honorable Mention Award in Ballet. Galler spent summers training at Boston Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Boston Conservatory. She danced with Cincinnati Ballet in their 2008-2009 season under the direction of Victoria Morgan.

Samantha spent five seasons with Alabama Ballet under the direction of Tracey Alvey and Roger Van Fleteren. During her tenure there, she was promoted to principal dancer. She had the honor of performing some of her dream roles including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, The Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, The Sylph and Effie in La Sylphide, Myrtha and Moyna in Giselle, Dryad Queen and Mercedes in Don Quixote, and the Rancher’s Daughter in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo. Her Balanchine roles included Dark Angel in Serenade; The Sugarplum Fairy, Arabian and Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™; and the principal roles in Allegro Brillante and Tarantella. She has also performed in Jiří Kylian’s Sechs Tanze, and Van Fleteren’s Shostakovich and Romancing Rachmaninov, both world premieres. Samantha joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2014.

Follow Samantha on her website and blog.


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