04/01/20 How Can We Help?
It’s devastating on a national scale. The fires that are raging across Australia have spread with terrifying speed and we grow more and more concerned with every news report.
Yesterday - although far from danger - our studio in Ashwood experienced an influx of smoke haze for the first time, really cementing the notion that we are all affected by these tragedies.
But a little smoke haze is not what’s making me write today. It’s the voice inside my head that keeps screaming at me: “What can I do to help?”
One of BDCs three core values is our dream of promoting sustainable practices for ourselves and the world we inhabit. We do this in many ways, such as teaching students the difference between warm-up and flexibility training to avoid injury, providing recycling bins and using environmentally friendly cleaning materials. These are small things, though they add up.
Now is a time of nationwide disaster, and we need to take action. It is vital that we give our children hope. It is vital that we give each other hope. But hope without action is futile. Hope plus hundreds of small actions can build to make a huge difference, and I believe this is where the change we so desperately need will come from.
The most effective thing that individuals can do right now is to donate funds to the CFA to aid in supporting their efforts in this awful time. These heroes desperately need financial support to keep fighting the flames.
BDC Dance Studios will be donating $1 from every student enrolled for term one, and I will personally match BDCs contribution dollar for dollar from my own personal finances.
I have a relatively small audience of students and their families. The most effective thing I can think to do is to amplify this message, as so many Australians are currently doing. My request for you is simply to talk with your family and friends. Teach the value of small, effective contributions and the ripple effect they can cause. Teach people the value of how good it feels to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
Don’t let them be crushed by thinking they can do nothing to help. The small things all add up.
27/12/19 Sleep is a Superpower
Exhaustion is at its peak in December as the school year comes to a close and Christmas festivities ramp up. Kids are drooping, teens are drained and parents are overworked. What’s more distressing is that it’s not just happening at the end of the year.
In my role as director of BDC Dance Studios, I see widespread exhaustion in students, teachers and parents throughout the year because we’re all just so BUSY. Busy is a bad word. If someone says they’re busy, it means they’re doing a truck load of stuff with very little focus which means that barely anything is getting done. But that’s a story for another time.
As I write this, I laugh and shake my head at the irony that I am about to offer advice on something I struggle with on a regular basis. All of us need to SLEEP!
Why is it that you’re praised for going to bed early but labeled lazy if you sleep in? Does it really matter? If you’re meeting responsibilities, surely any sleep that you can get at any time should be praised, right?
Now that Christmas has passed, it’s a perfect time for everyone to catch up on sleep debt. Yes, you heard me, sleep debt. It’s real. Those late night study sessions, the super early morning swim starts and the stress induced insomnia all need to be paid back.
Here’s how it works, in a nutshell. When you’re awake, your body is in a constant catabolic state. Catabolic means things are breaking down and being used. You’re wearing down yourself physically, mentally and emotionally the longer you stay awake. That’s great for a while but if you keep it up too long, things start malfunctioning.
Here’s the cool thing about sleep. You switch to an anabolic state, your body’s inbuilt healing and rebuilding mechanism. Once you’re asleep, your body starts to recharge. The food you’ve digested gets used to create new cells, damage starts to heal, weaknesses are strengthened, even your mind is bolstered as your dreams help your subconscious mind process problems and decisions that you need to work on it (there’s a reason you’re told to ‘sleep on it’ if you have a big problem to solve).
So if you’ve spent weeks or even months spending way too much time awake, you’re going to need to put some extra time into your pillow to catch up on your health.
1. Check that your bed is actually the most comfortable it can be.
Are your sheets scratchy? Is the blanket too heavy? Is your mattress as hard as a board? Noone is going to get excited about sleep if they don’t enjoy being in their bed.
Solution: Get a mattress topper to soften a hard mattress. Buy sheets that feel good (hint: not everyone in your family is going to like fluffy sheets). Match your pillow to your sleep style: Side sleepers need a different pillow to tummy sleepers. Make your bed a haven that you can’t wait to jump into.
2. Dim the lights and lose the blue
Before electricity existed, your brain woke you up at sunrise and made you sleepy at sunset. It’s all thanks to a tiny part of your brain called the pineal gland. Now that we have artificial light and hundreds of screens glaring at us, our brains are confused and don’t know when it’s bedtime.
Solution: When the sun goes down, turn of all blue based light (Blue light mimics daylight). Have warm/orange based lamps of low wattage to light the rooms you’re in, and turn on night filters on any screens you’re using. Bright and blue will keep you awake, dim and warm will allow you to get sleepy.
4. Ditch the screens entirely
Even with the dimness down and night filter at its warmest, it’s still a bad idea to be staring at your phone before bed. The light confuses your brain. And let’s face it, you’re probably on an app which requires some kind of interaction that’s stimulating you cognitively and emotionally (don’t get me started on the psychological ramifications of social media for kids and teens).
Solution: Switch off! Read a book with a little book light. Listen to some calm music. Have a bath! But do it at least 30 minutes before you want to go to bed. It’s hard to get to sleep when your core body temperature has been raised.
4. Increase the darkness
Street lights shining through windows can cause sleeplessness, and flashing TV lights under the door are a distraction. Unwelcome sunlight at dawn when you desperately need to sleep in can be a nightmare itself.
Solution: Make sure your blind is thick and cover the frame of your window. Hang a towel or blanket over any gaps until you can sort out a permanent solution. Use a draft stopper to stop lights shining under the door. If there are gaps around your door, you can get adhesive draft stopper strips from any hardware store. This has the added benefit of muffling sounds, too.
5. Don’t let your alarm clock put on a show
Yes, you may need help waking up at the right time but after reducing all other light don’t ruin it by letting a bright alarm clock take centre stage. It’s also a terrible idea to be able to see the time while you’re sleeping. Insomnia’s best partner in crime is anxiety, and seeing that it’s 2am is not going to settle your nerves.
Solution 1: Get an alarm clock that’s either mechanical or super dim, and make sure the display isn’t blue based (red or black, for example).
Solution 2: Use the alarm clock app in an old phone, one that doesn’t have all your social media on it. Switch that brightness down to minimum, and turn it face down. Don’t look at it until it goes off in the morning, even if you really want to.
We’re all born with the superpower of sleep. We just forget how to use it. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to access yours and get yourself some supercharged sleep credit.
* Bonus for the overthinkers out there!
Get yourself a meditation or audiobook app and put it on that old phone you’re using as an alarm clock. It means you can distract that overactive brain of yours when everything is dark and quiet. My favourite app is Calm. A year’s subscription costs about US$70, and it has heaps of sleep stories and thousands of meditations, soundscapes and music options.
5/12/19 Aussie Dance Moms?
It has just been announced that Australia is getting its own version of the controversial US show Dance Moms.
As the director of a recreational dance school that prides itself on nurturing our students as humans before dancers I feel compelled to start a conversation within our community that will safeguard our kids as they navigate this time.
What is Dance Moms?
In a nutshell it’s a sensationalist reality tv program that follows the lives of a group of elite competitive dancers and their mothers. It’s certainly done a lot to raise awareness of dance training however many would argue that it has done more harm than good.
The Australian version will be Hosted by Sydney 2000 Olympic sweetheart Nikki Webster who runs three NSW based dance studios. We can only hope that our version will be kinder than the US counter part.
Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks kids are going to watch it. It’s going to be entertaining, it’s going to be popular, there’s no way around it. We can’t and shouldn’t be trying to stop anyone from watching it.
What we can do is arm our kids with the right tools and mindset to be able to assess what they’re seeing.
Here are a few conversation starters that could help:
“How long do you think she trained before she was able to do that trick?“
There are phenomenal dancers everywhere on social media. What we don’t see is the years of dedicated, professional training that goes into creating one instagram picture. We also don’t see the 20 takes that were deleted before the video of that amazing pirouette was posted.
“Does that look safe?”
Dance requires a fine balance between extreme flexibility and strength. The job of a professional dancer is to make these extreme movements look effortless - hint, they’re not! - Look at a stretch from an anatomical point of view. What shape does the skeleton need to make to do that move? Is it something most skeletons aren’t capable of? What soft tissues might be damaged in trying to reach that standard?
“Was that a kind thing to say?”
I hope that this won’t be an issue with our Aussie version as it certainly is in the US show. No matter what you are trying to communicate to someone there is ALWAYS a kind option. Did that teacher insult the student or simply express disappointment in their behaviour? Did that girl offer feedback with helpful solutions to her friend or tell her she looked fat?
“What do you think is going on behind the scenes that we don’t see?”
TV shows, even the ‘reality’ kind are highly curated. Their directors and producers have a specific look they want to create, they want to be able to portray their vision. This show is dealing with individual humans. The footage we see will be edited to fit within that overarching vision. Anything that might change the context will be taken out. Further to that, what about the lives of these people outside of dance? How are they being affected by this? How are their families coping? Remind your kids that reality tv is only semi-real.
What if your dance says “I wanna do that, I’m gonna youtube it right now!”?
Here’s one we get all the time. Yes, Youtube can be a great learning tool, I get my students to look up their ballet syllabus work to help them remember the choreography (My rules: Don’t read the comments. Don’t write any comments! Don’t trust that it’s all correct. Check with your teacher in your next class if you’ve learnt it correctly.)
The problem with kinds learning things from a digital source is they have no feedback whatsoever. It’s simply not safe. The best feedback comes from the dance teacher who knows them best. Who has spent years working with an individual and know their movement patterns, their restrictions, their weaknesses and their strengths, even their personality and emotional state. If you’re desperate to do something, tell your teacher and they’ll help set up a plan to get there, or convince you that it’s not worth it if it’s unsafe.
Noone knows what this show will bring, but if we’re looking at it from a point of view that educates our kids to be mindful of what they’re seeing we can harness the excitement without the fall out.