Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Supporting your child to grow from Eisteddfods

Eisteddfods can be an amazingly heart-warming experience seeing our children up on stage under those lights being their brilliant selves. It can also be one of disappointment and potential heartbreak. Having run my own school for over 15 years, and being a mother of an eisteddfod goer and coaching groups and soloists for competitions, I know all about eisteddfods from the perspective of being a student, being a daughter of a dance mum,  being a teacher and a parent, the happy times and the sad times.

A huge element of eisteddfods is the mother daughter relationship and will be before and after the dance. The way we as mothers filter the world of competition to our children will affect the way they see themselves in relation to the world for life. I know that as a parent it can be frustrating when you see your child not perform to their best when they have demonstrated countless times how well they can dance. On the other hand it is also very moving when you see your children shine and perform their best on stage. Your reaction and communication to your child after and before their performance is important to be aware of. Playing a positive supportive role for your child in competition work is essential. 

It’s great to win, we all want to, but only one person will every time; that does not mean that the rest are not worthy, talented dancers. Developing a healthy competitive drive in our children is important. As much as they want to place, they also need to learn how to manage emotions when they don’t. This is where parents can help.  This journey is about their development long term, not about short term results. There will always be an ebb and flow in progress and in their life of dance. Here are some tips that I would recommend using to help manage emotions in competitive dancing;

Do Not
• Try not to focus solely on winning or placing– the goal of any performer should be to simply perform to their best and to measure themselves in comparison to their last performance. Comparing your child to other performers is only useful to ensure your child is up to that standard. However, conversations with your child should be more about enjoying the performance, reinforcing the specific corrections that their teacher has given and simply performing to their best.
• Avoid teaching your child. Leave this to the teachers. Believe me! Your teacher knows what they are talking about and what your child is capable of. If you have any suggestions or questions by all means raise them with your teacher. Your child needs you to be their loving supporter (not their teacher).  
• Do not compare your child to their peers. They will do that enough for themselves. If your child discusses their friends ability, shift focus by encouraging your child to focus on their own strengths and weaknesses and teachers corrections. Not on their friends journey of dance.

• Encourage and expect your child to practise regularly at home. Dance is also a financial investment for you and if they are an eisteddfod student they should want to practise at home to better themselves and perfect their routines. If they lack the motivation, then really, they should not be attempting to dance at competition level. Help your child create a home practise roster and like their school work, make them accountable by ensuring they stick to it.
• Be honest with your child in a constructive non emotional way. You will learn more about dance and technique by becoming an eisteddfod mum (attending comps), so by all means give your feedback but please refrain from overstepping your role and relationship with your child in relation to dancing. It is never worth it and can be damaging in the long run.
• If your teachers cannot make it to watch your child perform always let them know how your child danced after.  We teachers want to know how your child danced more so than how they placed. We are focused on the long term development, not the short term.

Helping your child become a responsible performer
After your child dances the first thing they are going to want to do is ask you how they went. Before you reply I want you to firstly ask your child how they think they went and how they feel. It is important that they self-assess before they see their competitors and before they see your face. Please work with them in developing this process as a lifelong habit - self assess as objectively as possible after they get off stage and before they see your face. They should be able to answer the following;
Where did I feel strong?
Where did I feel not so strong?
Where did I excel?
Where could I have done better?
What mark out of 10 do I give myself?
After they tell you how they felt and how they think they went in comparison to their last performance, then you can give them feedback on how they looked. Keep your feedback constructive, light and positive. Always remember that your long term relationship with your child is more important than an isolated measurement of their performance.

Eisteddfods can be an empowering experience. It’s all in your perception and approach. Have fun, work hard remember why we dance in the first place… for the love of it!

Photo of Kate with her daughter

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Progressing Ballet Technique

I am a dancer.  I believe that we learn by practice.  Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living.... In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit.  One becomes in some area an athlete of God.  ~Martha Graham, c.1953

When I was fifteen years old I had the pleasure of training full-time under Marie Walton- Mahon. Marie's classical coaching is world class and it is an honour to share her new program Progressing Ballet Technique.  

Progressing Ballet Technique is an amazing tool that you can use at home or in the studio, enabling you to integrate and strengthen muscle memory, increase improvement rate and strength.

Progressing Ballet Technique: By Marie Walton-Mahon
A program developed for students 11 years and above to understand the depth of training muscle memory in achieving their personal best in ballet training.

Marie has been known for her innovative teaching skills for well over past 3 decades, she first experimented with the use of “muscle memory” to improve the students understanding of core stability, weight placement and alignment for the past 10 years. After continual success in monitoring the students’ progress in these integral areas of ballet training she decided to record her program to share with teachers and students.

Chapter 1 - In depth technique of the ‘how’ and “why” for these exercises demonstrated by students at the National College of Dance

Chapter 2 - Class students at Teresa Johnson School of Ballet – with Grant Kennedy.

Marie Walton - Mahon
Former Principal of the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy
Founder and former Artistic Director of the National College of Dance
Royal Academy of Dance Dual Vocational Examiner
Registered Teacher and Life Member
Continuing Professional Development Tutor for the Faculty of Education
Freelance Faculty for Student Courses, Classes and Events

Please click on the dancer above or this link to purchase this amazing DVD

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Human beings have always been taken with the idea of understanding how our relationships with each other work and how we can improve them. That’s why, when I was asked earlier this year to choreograph movements for ‘PatternDynamics’, I was drawn to the task.

So what’s PatternDynamics? Good question – I wondered that myself. And so I spoke at length with Tim Winton, the creator of the concept, and did a lot of reading on the subject. Here’s my (very brief) summary.

Tim created PatternDynamics as a way of helping us to understand and improve the way we relate to and work with each other based on patterns in nature. Let’s go back a step.
The way we interact with our friends, families and colleagues is informed by the dynamic (that is, always shifting) relationships we have with those people. In other words, every relationship has a certain energy (or dynamism) about it. This energy is created by our personal and social expectations of that relationship, as well as our history within that relationship. Not only that, but if we observe our relationships for long enough we can see that there are very definite patterns of behaviour that we engage in within our relationships.

Patterns are always occurring in the natural environment. Their repetitive nature means that they often become engrained. The same happens in human relationships, with the difference being that while patterns in nature tend to evolve over time and have clear benefits; patterns in human relationships can sometimes work against us. For example, we can become entrenched in our opposition to certain people or possibilities without clearly understanding why and often to our own detriment. In developing PatternDynamics, Tim was keen to explore why this happened, as well as to discover ways of identifying these patterns and then assessing whether or not they were productive or counterproductive. He also wanted to create a symbolic language that would, through pictures, represent what was happening within relationships at any given time. By developing these symbols, Tim hoped to give people not only a pictorial representation of where they were currently at, but also a symbol that helped them understand how best to move forward.

When Tim asked me to develop a way of implementing the movement aspect of PatternDynamics, I was excited. I was especially intrigued by the possibilities of using PatternDynamics to help resolve conflict and to help build unity and creativity.Tim had already thought about the fact that each movement needed to flow from one aspect of PatternDynamics to the next; the trick was that the movements needed to be simple enough so that they were accessible to everyone while at the same time incorporating breathing techniques anda musical beat.

Tim has a strong background in martial arts, but (and I know he won’t mind me saying this) he is not the most naturally rhythmical of people (which I soon discovered). Being a dancer myself, and choreographing on a daily basis, I was challenged by the need to develop an accessible series of movements to music without straying into overly creative territory; that is, I had to fight the urge to choreograph something artistically and creatively complex and focus more on making it accessible to all people, especially non-dancers. The focus had to be on the creation of a sequence of movements and breaths that would embody the flows identified in PatternDynamics and be accessible to everyone. Clearly an elaborate movement sequence would miss the point of the principals that Tim and his team were teaching. Likewise, the use of complex music would risk overwhelming participants, leaving them despondent and disconnected from the principals they had learned.

In the end, I created a movement sequence made up of 4 x 8 beats per pattern. Movements were very simple and incorporated mainly arms (to make it as accessible as possible to the majority of people) and breathing patterns. The final pattern, which represented ‘Source’ and is a crucial central element in PatternDynamics, simply focuses on the breathing and is about the participant being silent, still and connecting to the whole.

I knew that the movement aspect of PatternDynamics could be a little confronting for some participants (especially those who already have an aversion to dance), and so I was keen to make those movements as non-threatening as possible while still being representative of the dynamics identified in PatternDynamics. I was also aware that Tim would be in the perfect position to explain and teach the movement aspect in a way that participants would really enjoy this relaxing yet energising ending to a thought provoking and empowering day.

In all, I found this experience to be an exciting, challenging and informative one, and one that certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities in terms of improving human relationships and organisational processes.

If you’re at all interested in finding out more about PatternDynamics, I would encourage you to visit Tim’s website at http://www.patterndynamics.com.au