Interview by Laura Donnelly
Monika Volkmar, is the creator of the Dance Stronger multi-media strength training resource for dancers. She is a graduate of the Ryerson University dance program and certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). She is also a level 2 NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner, Functional Movement Screen (FMS) certified, and a Thai massage therapist and teacher. Most recently Monika completed Anatomy in Motion training with Gary Ward.
After a series of injuries forced Monika to stop dancing, she became immersed in strength and conditioning, injury prevention, movement training, and Thai massage. As she studied then explored and incorporated new knowledge into her body, she healed herself. Realizing how much this information would have helped her “dance stronger” and avoid injuries when she was studying dance, Monika created this program to help dancers who want to enhance their technique and physical performance while minimizing soreness and injuries.
I met Monika online. I was searching for information on the necessity of building strength simultaneously with flexibility for my dance students. I found Monika’s article Stretches You Need to Stop Doing. It contained information I used that day in class. It worked so well that I bookmarked her blog and signed up to receive new articles from her.
In the summer of 2015, Monika issued a call for beta-testers for her Dance Stronger Program. She wanted a diverse group of people from current students and dancers, to older dancers, and dance teachers who would document their process as they went through the program. I volunteered and was excited to be part of the group. I’m no longer performing but need to stay strong and healthy to teach well. More importantly, I feel this work allows me to give my dancers information that helps them dance better, longer and with fewer injuries.
I interviewed Monika on Feb. 2, 2016.
LD: On your blog you often share your learning adventures, when you attend a new training, read a good book, or discover something in your own body through your personal movement practice. Please share some of your thoughts about life-long learning.
MV: Personally, what motivates me is always learning something new. Attending seminars reignites passion for what I’m doing. When I’m not learning anything I’m not as motivated by what I’m doing. Also, I think it’s good to keep up with what is on the “cutting edge”, learning what others in the industry are studying to best experiment with what works and what doesn’t.
I first got into this field (strength and conditioning, movement training and injury prevention) to learn how to help myself. Teaching what you’ve learned is a great way to solidify it in yourself. Seeing what I’ve learned applied in other people’s bodies, helps me to understand it for myself and for other people.
If you haven’t experienced something you don’t really know it, you only know what you can feel, and you can only see what you know, which makes it extremely important to first feel in your body what you wish to teach–try to understand it from the inside out to avoid conveying “corrupted” information. You can read all the research on something, and have the theoretical understanding, but you don’t really know that thing until you’ve felt it happen in your own body, and then have applied that to others and seen how it works in their bodies. I like when evidence and scientific research backs up experience.
LD: Will you speak about your commitment to help dancers be stronger and healthier?
MV: What inspired me to create Dance Stronger is that I’ve experienced so many injuries myself.
If I had known “then” what I know now, I think I could have minimized the stuff that I went through. If I had known important concepts like breathing and how it supports your strength, and recovery from injuries it would have been very helpful.
If I had known about how to manage my stress levels and how to recover, and if I had had a teacher that really promoted more biomechanically sound practices and was a bit more encouraging, I think that might have helped.
The biggest issue wasn’t that I was doing things in dance that were unsafe, because generally I didn’t try to do crazy tricks, like some other dancers who do a lot of excessive stretching and risky moves. I was definitely stretching more than I should have been, as many of my injuries were overstretching based, but even with all that, I truly feel that if I’d been in a bit better place mentally, and was a bit more grounded in who I was … I don’t know, there are so many factors correlating to injury in dance.
Definitely, if I’d been wiser in my practices, both in and out of class, it would have minimized my injuries.
LD: I saw from a recent blog post that you have just completed the Anatomy in Motion Immersion course. Please share how you think the AiM work will influence your work.
MV: In both the book portion and the Dance Stronger movement program there are things I want to update. I’d like to find a better way to convey this new information.
For example, I have learned things about foot function and I want to include those.
I hope to add some of the AiM exercises that have the potential to create some impressive differences in your body into the Dance Stronger program.
It’s challenging to figure out how to communicate the Anatomy in Motion concepts in detail without being there in person to ensure that people understand how the movements should feel.
It’s difficult doing this online. I want to give everyone as much information as possible so they can make the best-informed choices, but realize there are limits and challenges working with this medium.
LD: When did you start Dance Stronger?
Aloha to All –
We are very pleased to have as our next Dance Wellness guest contributor Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD. Dr. Hanna is a longtime dancer and anthropologist whose work spans many years. Reading reviews of her recently published book, “Learning to Dance: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement”, spurred me to contact her to see if she would write an article for us concerning the new research on dancers’ brains, and how growing up in dance really does change us. The new science of Neuroplasticity (also called brain plasticity, is the process in which your brain’s neural synapses and pathways are altered as an effect of environmental, behavioral, and neural changes) is fascinating – and there are now more than 400 studies related to interdisciplinary neuroscience that reveal the hidden value of dance.
Many of us in the dance world have grown up feeling / knowing that we were somehow “different” from non-dancers, but only recently has science been learning how and why. I found Dr. Hanna’s article to be a clear explanation of all this new research, and am so pleased to share it with you.
Enjoy! (and don’t stop dancing–ever!)
Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor
by Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD
At times during their careers, dancers may want to explain what dance is about to family, friends, students, schools, spectators, and the media. After all, knowledge about dance is new and limited compared to the other arts.
My journey toward understanding dance began as a child in 1946, and the odyssey hasn’t stopped. A pediatrician told my parents that ballet would make my feet strong. So I studied ballet. Dancing didn’t do much for my feet, but dancing has made me stronger physically and mentally. Alicia Markova’s experience with flat feet was different than mine. Critic Clement Crisp reports, “The sublime artist Alicia Markova was taken to ballet as a child because her flat little feet left sad imprints in the sand during a seaside holiday. Ballet, said a doctor, would cure that. And it did. She grew into an astounding artist whose ‘intelligent’ feet and legs were the envy of the ballet world.”
Fascination with dance led me beyond ballet to explore other dance genres (e.g., modern, Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, African, flamenco, Middle East, jazz, hip-hop, swing, ballroom, and folk). Curiosity led me to conduct dance research in villages and cities in Africa and then in theaters, school playgrounds and classrooms, and cabarets in the United States.
As an applied anthropologist I study human behavior, including many forms of dance and culture, past and present, and draw upon the work of different disciplines. I was surprised that at the 2008 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, more than 6,800 attendees paid rapt attention to renowned choreographer Mark Morris as he answered questions about the relationship between creativity and dance. Neuroscientists interested in dance? I wanted to know why.
The Attraction of Dance
Scientists are turning to dance because it is a multifaceted activity that can help them demystify how the brain coordinates the body to perform complex, precise movements that express emotion and convey meaning. Dancers possess an extraordinary skill set—coordination of limbs, posture, balance, gesture, facial expression, perception, and action in sequences that create meaning in time and space and with effort. Dancers deal with the relationship between experience and observation.
The brain hides from our sight the wondrously complex operations that underlie the feat of dance. Although there are many secrets to unravel about the power of the brain and dance, advances in technology—29 at my last count, such as brain scanning techniques and the experiments using dancers, dance makers, and dance viewers–reveal to us the unexpected.
Misconceptions that dancers shouldn’t think, just dance, or that dance is merely physical or emotional expression, are challenged by reality. Research shows that dance activity also strongly registers in regions of the brain responsible for cognition. Hidden processes reveal that the brain is choreographer, dancer, and spectator. Dance is what the brain does.
The Choreographing Brain
If it’s one thing dancers are always thinking about it’s their feet, and with the many hours spent in class and rehearsal, it can help to have a little something that freshens them up a bit.
This 4 oz all-natural foot spray by Aurorae makes for a great addition to your dance bag. Whether you are trying to revitalize some old technique shoes, or you want to deodorize your feet a bit before slipping on some sandals, this little product is a good choice. Made with essential oils such as peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus and thyme, it has a delightful scent, and because of its size, it is super portable.
The thing I was most impressed with was the pump for this product. Instead of a harsh stream of liquid or a heavy spray, it delivered a light mist which keeps your feet from getting soaked with it. Also, a little bit goes a long way, so you can use a light hand when applying.
All in all, this foot spray makes a nice addition to any dancer’s bag.
New dance medicine book to share! “Safe Dance Practice” is written by three British colleagues of mine in the dance medicine world, Edel Quin / Sonia Rafferty / Charlotte Tomlinson. All three are involved with IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine and Science), Safe in Dance International (SIDI), and are all MSc graduates of the Dance Science program at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (London UK). They have been long-involved in dance medicine and science, aka Dance Wellness, aka Safe Dance Practice (a British term), and have put together their invaluable knowledge and experience in writing this book – giving teachers and dancers a solid grounding for training healthy dancers who will be better equipped to dance many long years, in the best possible condition. The book is a great addition to your dance medicine and science library – Please pass it on!
by Sonia Rafferty, Charlotte Tomlinson and Edel Quin
What It Isn’t!
The term “safe dance practice” often conjures up the vision of a checklist of boring, restrictive, and often unnecessary health and safety regulations. As dancers, choreographers, and teachers, we certainly don’t want to be held back in our artistic endeavours by recommendations that we think will limit our creative risk-taking capacity.
Fortunately, the upsurge of interest and increasing knowledge in safe dance practice will help us to do exactly the opposite. We can support artistic challenge by helping dancers to train and work at their best, but also heed the potential reasons for the high injury rate that has been observed in a wide variety of different dance styles.
Who Is It For?
Safe dance practice is important for dancers of any age and any ability. It is not simply for the elite “racehorse” of a dancer, at risk because of high-level demands, or the dancer who perhaps could be seen to be more prone to injury because of lack of technicality or physical ability.
Knowing how to work safely and effectively is relevant for everyone – for dancers themselves who can take responsibility for protecting and maintaining their readiness to dance, and for teachers who are trusted with instructing the dancing bodies. Add to that list the choreographers who use the expertise and abilities of dancers to create innovative and challenging works, and the artistic directors and managers who rehearse those dancers and organise their schedules.0
by Selina Shah, MD, FACP
Our bones are important because they serve as the foundation on which we are built. Bone is living tissue that contains blood vessels; proteins, including collagen; and cells that are actively maintaining healthy bone. Bone also contains many minerals, the most important of which is calcium.
Building Strong Bones
We have the best chance of building our strongest bones when we are young — because the rate at which we form bone is higher than that of losing bone up until about the age of 30, when peak bone mass is reached. After peak bone mass is reached, we starting losing bone at a higher rate than we form it. The majority of the mass of our bones forms between the ages of 11 – 14 in girls and 13 – 17 in boys. The more bone mass you have by the time you reach peak bone mass, the less of a chance of you have of breaking your bones, especially later in life as bone loss occurs.
Bone Health And Your Diet
As dancers, we place a lot of stress on our bones. This stress can lead to damage of bone tissue. However, luckily our body is designed to repair itself, so bones maintain their healthy structure by containing cells that remove damaged bone and replace it with healthy bone, also known as bone turnover.
In order to achieve the highest bone mass possible and to ensure healthy bone turnover, it is important for our bones to have the right ingredients. Dancers need have enough nutritional intake based on activity level, adequate calcium, and adequate Vitamin D. Without these, a decrease in bone density can occur, making a dancer susceptible to fractures and stress fractures.
Dance is a form of exercise which uses energy. This energy needs to be replaced by consuming enough healthy carbohydrates and fats so that your body can continue to function normally. Having adequate fuel is especially important for girls to ensure normal, regular menstruation. The hormones that regulate menstruation directly affect bone mass. If a dancer does not consume enough calories and fats to adequately re-fuel the body, then the hormone balance gets thrown off – which can result in a decrease in bone density.
It is not unusual to experience irregular periods (meaning periods that do not come monthly) during the first year of menstruation. However, missing your periods for months at a time or getting your period too late, may also be a sign that you are not consuming enough calories. Genetics and other medical issues could also be playing a role in abnormal menstrual cycles or later onset of menstruation. It is best to consult a physician if you do miss your period for more than 2 months, especially if this occurs on a regular basis, or if you are 15 years old and have not gotten your period. Males are also susceptible to bone loss due to inadequate energy consumption. All dancers need to consume enough calories to re-fuel the body.
The human body is designed to always have normal calcium levels – so if you do not consume enough calcium, it will take it from bone which again will lead to decreased bone density. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends consuming the amount of calcium based on age shown in Table 1 below. It is best not to exceed the amount of calcium shown at the upper limit column because this can increase the risk of forming kidney stones. It is best to get calcium from dietary sources such as dairy, almonds, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and dark leafy greens, to name a few. Check your food labels and calculate how much calcium you get in a day. If you do not reach the level recommended in Table 1, then buy a supplement. Do not take more than 500mg at a time to maximize effective absorption.
Table 1: Institute of Medicine Daily Adequate Intake of Calcium
|Age||Calcium (mg/day)||Calcium (mg/day) Upper Level Intake|
|4 – 8||1000||2500|
|9 – 18||1300||3000|
|19 – 50||1000||2500|
|51 – 70||1200||2000|
Bone Health And Vitamin D
In order for your body to absorb dietary calcium, you need to have an adequate amount of Vitamin D. The best source for Vitamin D is from the sun. Vitamin D is formed by cells in the skin layer. Sun exposure to form Vitamin D in the skin is inhibited by sunblock and decreased by clouds and pollution. Additionally, the darker the skin color, the longer daily exposure time to sun is needed for the cells in your skin layers to form adequate vitamin D. Generally speaking safe sun exposure (no sunblock for the time allotted as long as there is no risk of skin cancer by family or personal history of skin cancer) is best obtained between the hours of 10am – 3pm on the arms and legs for a minimum of 20 minutes per day depending on skin color and the latitude in which you live.
The further you are from the equator, the less Vitamin D is formed during winter months. It is difficult to adequately consume Vitamin D from foods fortified with Vitamin D. A few foods such as Cod Liver Oil, egg yolks, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and canned Tuna are natural sources of Vitamin D. One study found that more than 95% of dancers are deficient in Vitamin D. If you cannot get enough sun exposure, the Institute of Medicine recommends the supplementing Vitamin D at the levels based on age shown in Table 2 below. Your doctor may check a blood level and recommend a higher dosage of Vitamin D to boost your levels quickly. It is difficult to become toxic with Vitamin D supplementation. Follow your doctor’s advice.
Table 2: 2010 Institute of Medicine Daily Adequate Intake of Vitamin D
|Age||Vitamin D (IU)|
|0 – 1||600|
|1 – 70||600|
In summary, it is best to ensure adequate Vitamin D levels, calcium intake, and food intake to develop and maintain strong bones. The younger you begin, the better off you will be in the future.
Selina Shah, MD, FACP is a board certified sports medicine and internal medicine physician and the Director of Dance Medicine at the Center for Sports Medicine in San Francisco, CA and Walnut Creek, CA. She has lectured nationally and internationally on various dance medicine topics and has published papers in medical journals and books including her original research on dance injuries in contemporary professional dancers. She is the dance company physician for the San Francisco Ballet School, Liss Fain Dance Company and Diablo Ballet. She is a physician for Berkeley Repertory Theater, Mill’s College, St. Mary’s College, and Northgate High School. She takes care of the performers for Cirque du Soleil and various Broadway productions when they come to the San Francisco Bay Area. She has taken care of several Broadway performers (i.e. American Idiot, South Pacific, Lion King, Book of Mormon, MoTown, and Billy Elliot). She is a team physician for USA Synchronized Swimming, USA Weightlifting, USA Figure Skating and travels with the athletes internationally and nationally. She is also a member of the USA Gymnastics Referral Network. As a former professional Bollywood and salsa dancer,
Dr. Shah is passionate about caring for dancers. She continues taking ballet classes weekly and also enjoys running, yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, and plyometric exercise.0
Aloha! Nancy Wozny, our Somatics specialist on the 4dancers Dance Wellness Panel recently gave us Part I of “Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer” – here is Part II. This one is focused on what to do after a trauma, like a fall, or a disorienting movement experience (like a hectic, packed rehearsal day!). Thanks again to Nancy, and Happy Holidays to All! – Jan Dunn, Dance Wellness Editor
by Nancy Wozny
I scampered to the edge of my seat to watch Cassandre Joseph fall from a great height as part of the kinetic pyrotechnics of STREB FORCES. She falls (or flies) and crash lands unharmed, as all of the STREB’s super action heroes do during their recent show at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston. Part of Elizabeth Streb’s brilliance is her meticulous methodology of falling, flying and crash landing in a way that we feel the visceral excitement of the motion.
Falling, jumping, unusual landings and the like, are all part of the contemporary dance landscape now, as dancers need to be fluid movers on the ground and in the air. Even partnering has evolved to include fabulous eye candy lifts and maneuvers. But there are times when dancers take a tumble when it wasn’t in the choreography. Most often, you stand up without any apparent injury, just feeling little stunned. Whether one sustains injury or not, unintentional forces have entered our systems, and we may feel discombobulated for a while. We’ve taken a blow, and that has an impact whether or not there are any visible scars.
All of this leads us to the continuation of my Flash Feldenkrais for the Busy Dancer. During Part I, we focused on coming back to neutral in the joints. This next lesson addresses how we organize ourselves for action, and is especially aimed to help us regain a neutral organization after a tumble or trauma. Even a minor trip can have somatic repercussions and lead to unnecessary holding patterns. The lesson is also great at just calming us down, and who doesn’t need a little bit of that now and then in the dance biz?
Flash Feldenkrais Lesson #2: Organizing the Spine in Side Lying
When to do this lesson: After any form of trauma or disorientating movement experience.
Why do this lesson: The lesson will help you return to a more neutral organization, calm down, and improve well being, if you feel a bit shaken up from a minor fall or a hectic day of rehearsal. If post injury, check with your doctor first.
What you need to do this lesson: You will need about 20 minutes of uninterrupted time, a soft mat or blanket and a towel to support your head during this lesson.
Remember: Rest between each step and before you fatigue. Do each instruction just a few times. Make the movement as easy as possible.
Rest on your back and notice your contact. Determine your favorite side. You will be lying on that side during the lesson. Turn to the preferred side so that your arms and legs are at a right angle to your torso. Your knees are bent at right angles but your arms will be straight and not bent at the elbows. Your palms rest on top of each other.
Move your top arm forward in the direction of your fingers passed the lower hand and then back to your starting place, remembering to keep the top arm straight. Notice the shape of your back changing and your head rolling toward the floor in front of you. Rest on your side.
Now move your top shoulder backwards in the direction of the floor behind you. Your top hand will glide toward the elbow of your lower arm. Your top shoulder blade moves behind you toward the floor. Turn your head toward the ceiling as you roll backward. Rest on your side.
Combine both movements, so that your top hand is moving forward and back. Feel the movement go through your spine. Your head will also be rolling toward the floor in front of you and toward the ceiling. Rest on your back and notice the contact of the working side.
Return to your preferred side. Move your top knee further forward, so that it passes the lower knee. You should feel the top ribs articulating. It’s a small movement. Make sure to move the knee directly forward in the direction it is already pointing. Think of your knee as a headlight so keep the light going the same direction as you glide the knee forward in space. Rest.
Now move the knee backwards so that the top hip moves toward the floor behind you. Put both of these movements together so that the knee moves forward and backward in space. Rest on your back. Notice how the contact of the working side.
Return to your side. Move the hand and hip forward and backward. Notice the movement of your head. Make the movement as fluid as possible. Rest on your back and notice the difference between your sides.
Repeat the entire lesson on the other side.
Rest on your back and notice your contact. Come to standing and notice your posture.
Remember you can do these lessons any time, whether you’ve taken a tumble or just want to come back to a calm place. Enjoy the lesson and stay tuned for Flash Feldenkrais Part III.
Nancy Wozny is editor in chief of Arts + Culture Texas, reviews editor at Dance Source Houston and a contributor to Pointe Magazine, Dance Teacher and Dance Magazine, where she is also an contributing editor. She has taught and written about Feldenkrais and somatics in dance for two decades.