Muscle Memory… What is it?

The path of movement is well established. A message is sent from the brain through the nervous system to the muscles to create movement. The more you practice a movement, the easier (and hopefully more skilled) you become at doing the movement because you have carved a neurological pattern in the brain.

The muscles also respond to the repeated practice of a movement. You build muscle by asking it to do a little bit more than what it currently can – by doing more repetitions or increasing the difficulty or load.

It used to be thought that it was just the repetition and the hardwiring in the brain that was the source for muscle memory… the ability to bring back a skill not practice for a while. But that didn’t explain why most people condition and strengthen much more quickly after taking time off, whether because life got in the way or you had an injury. After all, when you stop training you start de-conditioning.

When you build muscle the number of myonuclei increase which are known as the muscle stem cells. It was in 2010 that research first showed that even if you stop training for a significant period of time the number of myonuclei present in the cell remains even as the muscle atrophies.

When you start training again you don’t need to go through the process of building up the number of myonuclei and so conditioning and strengthening happens much more quickly.

In 2018, there was a study on humans (the 2010 research was done on mice) that had participants training at the gym for 7 weeks, then off for 7 weeks, and then back on for 7 weeks. This research showed that the changes to the DNA that occurred during the training session stayed even when not training. Cool! This means that our skeletal muscles have epigenetic memory!

Stay with me… I’ve got one more study to tell you about and then we’ll talk about why this is important. There was a study by Ogasawara that compared the results of strengthening a muscle continuously versus periodic strength training. In a nutshell it showed that over a 24-week period the two groups ended up with the same strength gains whether they were training continuously or having 6 weeks on, 3 weeks off.


I’ve always been a proponent of cross training. When you take a break from class and do something else… like swimming or pilates or even playing on a playground… it broadens your movement patterns. This is a very good idea for the fascia by keeping it conditioned and moving easily in all directions by varying your movement. It is also beneficial for injury prevention as overuse injuries are so common in dancers.

Now we have the research saying gains won’t be totally lost if you take a break of a few days or even a few weeks – and there might be some physical, mental and emotional benefits! You’ve got muscle memory on your side, and coming back refreshed and feeling physically ready to start a new school year is a good thing!

So let’s not let our students feel guilty for taking time off. Of course, they have to start training by rebuilding some of those patterns that are unique to dance, but the more advanced the dancer, the more quickly it will happen. Let’s just make sure they remember that sleep, nutrition & hydration and staying mentally resilient are all a part of their training.

To your success,


Fascia and Brain Functioning

Exploring fascia is fascinating and I keep learning more relationships between the health of our fascia and the health of our bodies.

This post will summarize some ways it influences our brains. If these posts are interesting to you please consider attending the Texas June 21-23 workshop – where the exploration of fascia will be woven into many of the classes.

Understanding the intellectual properties of fascia is the first step – but how do we actually weave that information into technique is even more valuable – and that will be covered in this intimate workshop among other topics.

Now onto fascia and brain health. I watched Dr. Mark Hyman’s Broken Brain 2 episode on Optimizing Brain Health (no longer available for free, but series can be bought) In that episode Dr. Shalini Bhat talked about fascia’s influence on brain health.

One of the main take-aways was how poor posture (visualize sitting in front of the computer slightly slumped) can negatively influence the circulation to the brain. There is an artery that runs through the vertebra and it is compressed when there is a forward head posture which compromises the blood flow to the brain.

What’s important and yet challenging about this information is that often we don’t know that the circulation to our brain may be slightly compromised. How many people will admit to having a little brain fog – or feeling more tired than usual – but simply chalk it up to less than optimal sleep. Perhaps optimizing our spinal alignment may help. (I am much more aware of lengthening my spine and looking forward instead of down as I write this on my desktop computer)

The other way that chronically poor posture will influence the fascia is with the Golgi tendon organs. These are connected between the muscle fibers and tendons and senses changes of muscle tendons. (This is different from the Golgi tendon reflex, which is when swelling or pressure on the tendon will cause the muscle to release to prevent further damage)

When we change our posture and alignment the Golgi tendon organ tells the joint where it is in space. But… When poor posture becomes habitual – think about kids always looking down at their phone – the Golgi tendon resets where ‘normal’ is and that person’s proprioception is being influenced.

Posture can shift slowly over time. Looking at the image to the left most people would way his posture is pretty good but unfortunately, if you are a people watcher as I am, you’ll see a LOT of people standing in a forward head posture such as this.

We have to encourage our students, and ourselves, to be more self aware of our alignment – outside of dance class! (alignment assessment is another topic in the June workshop!)

One other key suggestion for healthy fascia offered in the program was stretching and moving our body in all directions and keeping it hydrated. Dancing does a good job with the first suggestion and I see lots of water bottles these days instead of soda, yay!

Take care of your fascia!

To your success,


Adding Brain Cells

This post is not dance specific but is interesting new info (to me) about brain health and helping ourselves stay happy and mentally sharp!

There is a term called neurogenesis. That term describes the growth and development of new nerve cells. I remember learning that whatever brain cells you were born with – you better take care of because that’s all you were going to get. Not true.

In a nutshell, we produce about 700 new neurons (nerve cells) a day. While that may not sound like a lot, by the time we are 50 we will have exchanged all the neurons we had at birth with adult-created neurons. Why is that important?

The neurons in the hippocampus are really important for memory capacity and mood. Research shows there are ways to increase (and decrease) neurogenesis which may have direct effects on depression and memory.

We can increase the number of new neurons by: Learning, exercise such as running (and dancing:), intermittent fasting, eating chewy, crunchy food, getting lots of omega 3’s (salmon), blueberries, dark chocolate and resveratrol (glass of wine anyone?)

The things that decrease neurogenesis make sense to me. Stress, sleep deprivation, aging (slows down neurogenesis, but still occurs), high saturated fatty foods, alcohol, soft foods.

The items on these two lists aren’t new by any means, but it is the first time I have heard them connected with the brain’s ability to create new nerve cells. And if one is depressed or dealing with memory challenges it wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to both your food and activity.

So here’s to growing more brain cells – especially if you are over 50!!

If you’d like to watch the Ted Talk this information came from here’s the link.

To your success!

Stretching Tip!

Today we are going to talk about fascia and flexibility and what one simple action you can take to increase your flexibility.   Fascia-150x150

First… what is fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that wraps and surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve and organ in the body.  It gives separation between these structures and creates a 3-dimensional, interconnected web of tissue through the body.  

Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-3.56.49-PM-150x150Imagine an orange or grapefruit that you’ve taken the outmost skin off of.  If you could magically make the juice disappear from inside white fibrous webbing that’s left is the fascia.  It’s almost impossible to separate the fascia and muscle, for example.  That is why a lot of practitioners talk about the myofascia.  Myo for muscle and fascia for … well fascia.  Some of you may have experience a myofascial massage that focuses on releasing fascial pulls.  

What most people don’t know is that fascia is composed primarily of water – approximately 70%. The other 30% is compoased of collagen and elastin and proteoglycans, which are proteins and carbohydrates.  

Read more

Weak Muscles?

Thank you for providing such a wealth of information as it pertains to dance and the human body.  I have a daughter, soon to be 12, that has been dancing since around the age of 4. She is quick to learn and quite coordinated.   Ballet class is a challenge for her.  She is not nearly where she needs to be in the areas of strength and endurance.  She is very slender and although has a “dancer’s body” with well defined muscles, her muscles are weak.  Is there anything that can be done outside of dance class to assist with muscle strength and endurance – last year she danced 4 hours per week, this year she will be dancing 6 hours per week. Outside of dance, she doesn’t do anything athletic.

Are there exercises that can be done at home to increase her muscle strength and endurance? Any dietary recommendations that can help with building muscle? She has fallen behind her classmates (in ballet only) and her teachers are very surprised that, despite her years of training, she has not developed the strength and endurance typical of girls her age. 

Thanks for your help!

Great question, Kathleen!

I love it that you are thinking about all the markers of health instead of just the physical ways to go about increasing muscle strength. I have a daughter with Hashimoto disease (a very common form of thyroid problems) that was discovered when she was 12 – and only because I knew something was off in her health. Now, I’m not suggesting that your daughter has a thyroid or another metabolic syndrome, rather I’m encouraging all of us to look at the intricate balance of nutrition and physiological health to our physical strength and health.

Read more

Guided Visualizations

With the holiday countdown, Nutcracker performances, increased social engagements – stress levels can easily increase.  Dancers and dance teachers need recovery time and ways they can train (or retrain) their bodies into more efficient patterns.

I created a mp3 file of guided imagery for my students.  As I talk about in the Train Your Brain ebook for children – your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. I first learned about ideokinesis (using imagery to change neuromuscular pathways) from Irene Dowd and it has guided my rehab work with clients since then. In order to make a real physical change you have to go back to the cortical or brain level and change the message that is being sent out.

The focus of this mp3 file is to simply release all unnecessary tension and to increase your physical state of well-being. When you listen to it you can either be in constructive rest position which is lying on your back with your legs supported over pillows or on a chair – or sitting easily upright, supported comfortably in a chair. (note: it is 26 minutes)

I hope you’ll take a break over your busy week and click below to listen to this!


To your success,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

The Skinny… on Fats…

It is a scary thought when “the Center for Disease Control predicts that our children’s generation could be the first in history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.”  Yikes!  But on the other hand with my own studies into health and nutrition I’m not surprised.  We have to change our relationship with food!

I am so delighted to be able to offer this wonderful article by Lisa Greene, a wonderful woman and mother who is passionate about feeding our children to enhance health.  Check out her free blog and wonderful book!


Just to add a comment to when she is talking about coconut oil for cooking – I’ve been using it for over a year as my moisturizer that I put on my face.  It’s inexpensive… works really well… natural… I figure all of those beautiful Polynesian, Filipino and Indian women who have such beautiful skin and eat/use coconuts daily are onto something:)

Enjoy Lisa’s article!

The Skinny…. on Fats…..

We hear a lot about ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats, but who can make sense of it all?

First, the ‘bad’ fats. These include trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are the deadly trans fatty acids that have become popular in the media these last few years. Trans fats are man made fats created by adding hydrogen to an oil to increase it’s shelf life. Unfortunately, this process makes the oil very unhealthy to eat. According to the American Heart Association, consuming trans fats lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol while raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increases your risk for heart disease. They also say that there is no amount of trans fat that is healthy to have in your diet.

Typically, processed and fast foods contain trans fats, or hydrogenated oil. Staying away from these types foods can improve your health dramatically, both inside and out. Not only are these foods bad for your cholesterol and cardiovascular system, they contain many chemicals that contribute to obesity as well. To stay away from trans fats, always read the package ingredients. The FDA requires food manufacturers to label the number of grams of trans fat, but allows them to round down. So even if your food item says zero trans fats, look at the label  for the words ‘partially hydrogenated’. If you see these words, don’t buy it.

Next on the ‘bad’ list is saturated fat. We have always heard that we should consume a diet that is low in saturated fats. However, all saturated fats are not created equal. It depends on the source. A diet high in saturated fat from conventionally raised meats and dairy products will absolutely contribute to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

However, there is one saturated fat that has amazing health benefits – coconut oil. Coconut oil has been proven to boost the immune system, promotes heart health and weight loss, has antiviral and antifungal effects on the body, and keeps the skin healthy and young looking. In studies done in humans and animals, those with diets high in coconut oil, even with their high fat concentration, were thinner and more heart healthy than those with diets without coconut oil.

Fats are imperative to our brains, heart, lungs, nerves, and digestion. They are essential to our eyes, add luster to our skin and hair, encourage hormonal and emotional balance, and lubricate our joints. Choosing the right types of fat for your diet is imperative to creating a healthy, lean body.

Next we have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Our bodies absolutely need these fats to function properly. Think about what would happen if you never changed the oil in your car. Eventually it would stop running. Just as your car needs that lubrication, so do our bodies and brains!

Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, but can turn solid when refrigerated. Olive, sunflower, and sesame oil are examples of monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados, peanut butter, and nuts. Don’t stay away from these because of their high fat content, they are so good for you.

Polyunsaturated fats stay liquid when refrigerated. These fats can further be broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Examples of omega-6 include vegetable, safflower, soybean, and corn oil, and some nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats are found in flax seeds and fish. Our bodies do not produce these essential fatty acids, so we must get them from our diets. We need a ratio of 1 to1 omega-6 and 3, but our modern processed diets typically contain 10 or 20 to 1. When this imbalance happens, many health problems can occur. Too much omega-6 without enough omega-3 to balance it can create inflammation in the body, causing problems with the immune system, cardiovascular system, and the brain. Many processed foods have omega-6, so it is easy to get out of balance by eating a typical western diet.

Unfortunately, our western diet has practically eliminated omega-3s. A diet low in omega-3s can cause children to be more impulsive, less able to pay attention, and higher risk for depression. Teenagers may be more prone to anger and violence. In adults, memory problems, higher risk for stroke, and dementia can occur. Creating a better balance by consuming more omega-3s could improve many health issues such as coronary artery disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and may ease the pain of Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The best way to add more omega-3s to your diet is with a high quality fish oil supplement. You can get them at your local health food store in liquid and capsule form. They are not cheap, but they are well worth it for the health benefits you will receive.  (Deborah’s note:  I’m partial to lemon-flavored Carlson’s cod liver oil.. put it in vanilla yogurt.. yummy!)

Not only choosing the right fats, but also choosing the correct balance of fats is so important to our health. By steering clear of trans fats and limiting animal fats, cooking with coconut oil, eliminating processed foods, and supplementing with an omega-3 fish oil, you can create the health and vitality you were meant to enjoy.

Lisa Greene

Penché Tips

Summer is right around the corner and I know that I need to continue dancing. I am going to take a few classes here and there but I won’t be able to take them everyday like I usually do at school. (performing arts) Is that OK? I mean I guess I could do a barre in my bedroom and it wouldn’t hurt anything right? I would really love to progress and gain more flexibility and strength but I am a little scared of pulling a muscle or something. Do you have any tips on how to keep your body warm? I know jumping jacks, a few lunges and things like that but how do you know when you’re REALLY warm. Especially when you have longer legs like I do.

Another thing do you have any advice on “six o clock” penchés and tilts?
Thanks, Angelise

Great questions, Angelise! Summers are a great time to cross train and work in ways that you can’t during the regular school year. If you have the access to a pool, you could increase your cardiovascular fitness through swimming or water walking (a form of jogging in the pool). Biking as hard as you can for a minute and then pulling back is a form of interval training. Biking instead of running is easier on the dancer’s body.

Doing a barre in your room is a good idea. You can work slowly and carefully, paying attention to the weight on your feet, keeping the weight evenly divided between the 3 points of the foot. It would be great to do a barre without holding onto ‘a barre’ or ‘dresser’. I wouldn’t worry so much about pulling a muscle because you’ll be paying close attention to what you are doing, how it feels.

You ask a good question about being warm. Usually in the summer it takes less time to warm the muscles up. A few jumping jacks or jogging in place, should get the body going unless you are working in an air-conditioned room, then it may take a bit longer. Some dancers will feel they are almost at a light sweat. That never happened for me… but there was a sense of inner warmness that I would feel. It’s hard to put into words, so I would simply pay attention to how your body feels and you will learn what is ‘warm’ for you.

Penchés and tilts require the hardest type of contraction of a muscle, which is an eccentric contraction. The hamstrings on your supporting leg are stretching while you are slowly lowering.

My main tip is to practice keeping the weight placed between the front and back of the foot as you are lowering in your penché. Many dancers fall back too much onto their heel as they are lowering. Keeping even weight will help you keep the arabesque shape and the abdominals engaged as you lower.

The depth of the penché will be influenced by your hamstring flexibility. Once you have reached the range of the hamstrings you’ll start to bend the upper body forward – be aware of that and only go as far down as you can maintain your arabesque line. With repeated focused practice you will improve!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

What you say matters!

When teachers say, tuck under or pull in your bellybutton, what is happening to the body anatomically? What are better catch phrases to use?

You bring up a very important point that dance teachers need to be aware of. Our language should be as anatomically accurate as possible. As teachers, we should be aware of the tendency to teach our students using the phrases that worked for us. The problem is these phrases like the two you mentioned can create a wide variety of responses in the body and not all desirable ones. For example, I can imagine a teacher using the phrase tuck under when the student has a swayback and they are trying to get the student to bring the front of the pelvis more upright and in alignment with the torso. Another teacher might use the phrase “pull in your bellybutton” with that same end goal in mind. If you use the phrase tuck under, the student may look like they are standing in better alignment, but muscularly they are contracting their gluteals and shifting forward over their feet to
produce that command.

It’s important to note here that we all have a favorite perceptual mode that we work from. Mine is kinesthetic. I pepper my language with sentences that include the word I FEEL _____. When I listen to clients, others will say, I SEE what you mean, or, I HEAR you.

Let me use an example of describing little jumps to a group of beginning ballet students. I could describe an image of a merry go round horse, or jumping on a pogo stick to help them keep their alignment upright when they land. I could direct them to listen to how their feet land on the floor. Or I could ask them to monitor kinesthetic cues and have them describe what is happening in their knees and ankles.

Going back to the common phrase of tuck under I would encourage teachers to describe anatomically what the goal is, which is the middle of the hip, knee, and ankle joint stay in a vertical line if you look at the dancers from the side. Try putting the dancers against the wall with their heels a few inches away. In this position the buttocks/pelvis would lightly be touching the
wall, and the upper back would not touch at all. (Let’s face it; even with the skinniest of dancers, our pelvis should be farther back in space than our shoulders). Have the dancer soften in front of the hip joints and deepen into a demi plié. They will see right away if they stay in alignment over their feet.

Some of them will tuck under and their head/shoulder area will hit the wall as their pelvis moves away. Some of them may totally move away from the wall and shift forward over the front of their feet. The wall becomes a way for them to monitor their alignment in the demi plié.

Ideally, we should give different images to our students so they can chose the one that clicks with them. When I teach dance classes I use anatomy to describe what is happening in joints of the body as a way of introducing movement. I try not to demonstrate very much as I have found they end up watching me and not putting it in their bodies quickly enough, or
they have an unspoken goal of wanting to LOOK like the teacher.

Historically, the goal of teaching has been conformity, rather than efficiency. We build our movement vocabulary on our past movements whether or not they are efficient. The plié, relevé, and tendu are the base for a multitude of other more challenging movements, no matter what the style of dance. If your student overly tucks under their pelvis when they do a demi
plié, putting strain on the knees, then that is the base movement that they build their jumps on.

The body is so resilient that often the effects of the inefficient alignment are not felt until adolescence, or into our twenties, when the body finally says enough! That’s when you pick up the coffee cup and your back goes into spasm, or you wake up in the morning and your feet hurt when you start walking on them. You can’t figure out why your body is suddenly talking so painfully to you. Turning your head to back out of the driveway and going into spasm may be the straw that broke the camel’s back and not the sole reason why you are now in spasm.

Bottom line – when a student isn’t getting what we are saying, sometimes we need to figure out a different way to communicate the goal, not just say it louder or more often. (All the teachers who are also parents will agree with that ) Good teaching sometimes means adapting the message so the student can get it. Most of them are trying hard, they are passionate
about dancing, as passionate as we are for helping them achieve their dreams.

Too old for pointe?

What is your feeling about adults (20’s and beyond) dancing on pointe?  Some people (dancers and teachers) feel that adults cannot be successful on pointe, and that, indeed, it is risky because of their “advanced age”.

I have a group of 30-45 year olds who do quite well, thank you very much.  They are strong, take many classes a week, and cross train with Pilates, etc. outside of ballet class.  These ladies are doing double pirouettes, some of them are doing fouetté turns, hops on pointe, etc.  They love dancing on pointe.

Are there any studies you know of that link additional risks associated with pointe work due solely to age?

I’d love to see the topic of myths and misconceptions about older dancers dealt with on your site, as well as tips for dancing safely as the years go by.

Thanks so much!


Great questions! Margot Fonteyn danced the role of Juliet at age 43.  Did she do it in her bare feet?  I think not☺ She did it in pointe shoes.

As is the case with most physical activities – how you do it  – is more important than what age you do it at.  I remember hearing when I was growing up that running will hurt your knees.  (tell that to the 69 year old woman who took up running and did her first marathon shortly after)

I also grew up with the idea that all dancers will get ugly feet and arthritis the longer they danced.

Why?  Because the majority of my teachers talked about their aching feet, I saw their huge bunions, and listened to their complaints of how their hips hurt!

Not a very pretty picture of aging dancers, is it?

Alignment and muscle balance are keys to optimal functioning in any chosen physical activity.  Your group of 30 – 45 year old dancers sound like smart dancers by cross training outside of dance class and maintaining a good relationship between strength and flexibility.

In fact, I would venture a guess that the older dancer is even more particular about their training over the late teen, early 20’s ballet dancer who feels more invincible and much less concerned about the physical effects of poor training – especially if they have accepted myths such as bunions are inevitable.  (Which they aren’t – sorry for my bluntness)

If your older dancers are paying attention to their alignment and proper training and conditioning for pointe work they can work as long as they choose to – or until other challenges such as osteoporosis might crop up.  On the other hand, continuing to dance is a great way to decrease the chances of osteoporosis along with good nutrition.

If they begin to have problems associated with doing pointe work they’ll handle it the same way as a younger dancer.  By checking out their alignment and technique first and then correcting any muscle weaknesses (Lisa Howell’s, The Perfect Pointe book is a fantastic resource for teachers and dancers.  You can purchase it through my website .

There are other interesting aspects to challenging yourself as you age.  The Berlin Aging Study looked at men and women over the age of 70.  This research was looking at how people feel about aging and comparing that to their vitality and resiliency.   Your older dancers (although not truly very old) are engaging in an activity that makes them feel younger and better about themselves!

In unpublished research based on the Berlin Aging Study, they found that people who feel younger are less likely to die than
those who don’t, given the same level of chronological age and equivalent physical health.

“Feeling positive about getting older may well be associated with remaining active and experiencing better health in old age.” “Thus, studies on self-perceptions of aging can contribute to our understanding of potential indicators of resilience in older adults and the aging self.”   (

Bottom line – continuing to dance is good for our bodies, mind and spirit!  Your dancers will know when to hang up their pointe shoes – and it doesn’t sound like it is quite yet!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

PS:  Remember any order this month will receive a FREE copy of Tune Up Your Turnout:  A Dancer’s Guide or if you order an ebook or downloadable product, I will see a FREE copy of the 440 page Dancing Smart:  Tips to Improve your Technique