A Pre-Teen Book: Train Your Brain!

I wrote a children’s book in 2007 called Train Your Brain: A Teens Guide to Wellbeing. I hadn’t read it in a while and decided to today as I was deciding if there were products that I wanted to drop from my store. I was delighted that this little downloadable pdf has withstood the test of time. (Although the one change I would make is to take Teens out of the title – it’s more for younger children.) Instead of pulling it from the store I decided to change the price to $4.95 to make it affordable to all.

This 48-page book is packed with wonderful ideas and strategies for pre-teens as well as younger children to feel more empowered in their life told in short story format. I’d like to share Chelsea’s section. She is 10 years old and loves ballet. She is the only ballet dancer out of the 8 characters – there are boys who play basketball and topics such as school, family and friends that are touched upon. Any of the chapters would be appropriate to read and discuss with your pre-teen and younger children. Or simply take the concept from each chapter and discuss it in your own way.

I hope you enjoy… It’s never too early to start teaching our students they have some agency over their thoughts, feelings and actions!


Name: Chelsea
Age: 13
Likes: ballet, baking, talking on the phone, and eating cookies
Dislikes: big dogs and the dark

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl. For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous-everyone was improving it seemed, except for her. Chelsea’s body started feeling stiff and her feet felt like lead. She was clumsy and her dancing wasn’t smooth at all. Even stretching was hard for her…she felt as if her muscles were too short for her body. Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. Was it time to quit doing something she loved?

Ahhhh, another perfect example of a situation that needs help from the brain. Chelsea needs something that can help her to calm down and focus her attention back on the fun of dancing. This brings us to

Brain Fact #2: Create a Feeling.

This may sound confusing but it’s really easy. Before I tell you how to do, let me share a little brain secret. Your brain if full of little paths, like roads, that are formed whenever you do something or think something. So, let’s say you eat 10 hot dogs and then you throw up. Well, you created a path. So then, the next time you eat a hot dog, your brain will return to the path that goes with hot dogs. Along that path is also throwing up. So, now, when you think hot dogs you also think throwing up. And when you think throwing up, you think hot dogs. And each time you think those thoughts, the path becomes stronger…kind of like putting new cement on the road so it’s stronger.

The cool thing about these paths is that we can purposely create paths that help us. That is what Create a Feeling is all about. We’re going to connect a simple action (like making a fist or curling your toes) with positive, confident thoughts. That way, you’ve created a path. And you know that positive, confident thoughts create positive, confident feelings. So, when you need those positive, confident feelings, you’ll be able to do a simple action that is connected to those good thoughts and BAM, positive, confident feelings come along.

Let’s Rewind and Replay Chelsea’s dance problem and see if Create a Feeling can help her out…

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl. For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous in class that she could barely move. Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. She needed to find a way to start enjoying dance class again. She decided to get her brain to help her find a way to get her confidence and joy back. She decided to create a path. First, she came up with a small action. She decided she would take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. At the same time she thought of her past dance recitals. She remembered how comfortable her body felt dancing, how loud the clapping was when she bowed, how her legs moved to the music. She practiced taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling while thinking these positive thoughts a few times everyday. By the time dance class rolled around, Chelsea was ready. When she felt her body start to freeze up at the dance studio doors, Chelsea took a deep breath. Automatically, her body relaxed and the confident, positive feelings of past recitals flooded her body. Chelsea smiled; she’d created a path that would help her look forward to dancing again!

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being!

To your success,


Training Arabesque

This clip demonstrates how to help your students achieve beautiful arabesque lines by working in the quadruped position. Often students don’t understand the spiraling action of the spine as well as how to track the back leg correctly. It becomes much clearer when working from this kneeling position.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gillaspy who is an amazing teacher and very clear demonstrator!

To your success,


Patterns of a Longer Leg

It’s not unusual to have small differences in leg length. It’s often hard to know whether to balance out the difference with a heel lift. If you have questions about whether to use a lift I would encourage you to start with an assessment by a PT or sports physician. They will look at the spinal curves in relationship to the hips and legs. Sometimes the spinal curves even out with a heel lift – other times it might make the spinal curves worse, in which case you would not correct the leg length difference and focus first on balancing out the spinal curves and rotations.


There are some common patterns with uneven leg lengths. When you look at the picture on the left you see the dancer has a pelvic shift right, torso shift left. The common pattern is to stand on the long leg, because to stand with more weight on the short leg would require you bend the long leg. You can see her left leg is the shorter leg.

Typically you come down heavier on the short leg side on each and every step. Many dancers prefer to stand on their short leg and use their longer leg as the gesture leg – although I have seen the opposite preference also. It certainly can influence the turnout too. More often I see the long leg side having more challenges with turnout. It is easy to understand that for fifth position this dance would prefer to stand on the longer right leg and put their shorter leg in front.

The dancer in this photo improved her spinal curves and standing alignment by putting a small lift under her left heel. It evened out her shoulder line as well as equalizing the amount of weight through both legs. She put a lift in her every day shoes – as well as in her soft slipper. No need to put a lift in a pointe shoe.

For modern dancers sometimes it is enough to have a lift in your street shoes – keeping the musculature working evenly for the majority of the time, then dancing barefoot without the lift. I worked with a Graham dancer back in the day that continued to perform by taping a lift to her heel every day for class and performance. That made all the difference to her knees and kept her from continually stressing them.

With a significant leg length difference it’s important to look at muscle imbalances. If you find the muscles around the right hip tighter, but weaker, then do more stretching and strengthening on that side. Don’t feel you need to do your workout exactly the same on both sides. It is very common to have one iliopsoas muscle tighter than the other and I tell people if you only have time to do one side – do your tighter side, as many times as you can throughout the day. Then as the two sides feel more even, you can reflect that with stretching more equally.

Leg length differences certainly do not need to be a deterrent to your dancing. Everyone has some spinal curves, some muscular imbalances, some postural habits that take us out of symmetry. The goal always is to bring ourselves back into center – to work as evenly as possible between the two sides of our body so the physical stresses from dance do not result in injury.

To your success,


Learning to Let Go & Start Over

Have you ever watched a student make a mistake on a combination, which quickly morphs into falling apart? Or have you ever been late driving to the studio and the person in front of you is driving below the speed limit and you get totally pissed off?  How about when a student feels down because they hear other students laughing and thinks it’s directed towards them?  These are all typical scenarios where something happens that creates an emotional reaction that influences how a person feels and ultimately performs.  

One of our goals as teachers is to help our students become better learners.  We try different training methods, suggest various visualizations and imagery, and help them understand how to improve their technique, which includes helping them traverse their emotions which can strongly influence learning. 

New Day New Possibilities

I’d like to talk about two ways to help students become more resilient and adaptable in their dance training.  Adaptability means being able to more rapidly learn new skills specifically in response to a changing environment. 

This is a good skill for a dancer to have!  The truth is every class is different from the day before, even if you do exactly the same movements in the same sequence.  How they slept, what they ate, their energy, what interactions they had that day can all influence their behavior in class.  This is the first important piece of information to share with your students.  They shouldn’t expect class to be the same from day to day.

Teaching from a somatic perspective can be very helpful for this.  How did your feet feel during the demi plié?  Did you shift your weight? Notice your spine’s response to pressing against the floor.  These are examples of cues a teacher may give to guide their student’s attention. 

In other words, you are helping them to be present and awake to what is happening in the moment.  Very important!  We want them to respond to what is happening in the present moment instead of being in their head about how they goofed up the class before or worrying about the triple pirouette that is coming up. They have agency over what is happening right now – not what might happen in the future or what has happened in the past.  

As they non-judgmentally check in with their body more often they will notice patterns in their sensations and feedback and learn to trust that feedback.  They will know when they are on their leg, without needing the teacher to point it out. They need to learn to listen to the feedback from their body and their movement.  I’m making a big deal out of this because many beginner students just ‘do’ or ‘copy’ the movement of the teacher without much awareness of what’s actually happening in their body. 

Ask simple questions – what did you notice? Jump loudly… now jump softly… what was different in your alignment between those two times? Teachers can help guide those students into increased awareness.  

That brings me to the next perspective I want students to understand. 

Learn to let go and start over!

Our students are not going to stop having emotional reactions to the world around them. (Nor us teachers:) The challenge is how long are those reactions going to influence your choices and behaviors.  

You notice that you have a few dancers getting frustrated as they are working out a new combination.  Acknowledge it then redirect their attention to shifting their focus. 

  • “I see frustration…that’s okay… let’s all shake it off… what could you do differently next time?”
  • “ Excellent – you figured out what didn’t work – before you go again can you visualize the combination in your head? Note where you can’t see it anymore and work on that part of the combination.” 
  • “You have to practice these skills over and over again – that’s how you become a better dancer – that’s right – let go of your disappointment, frustration, anger… and let’s start over!” 

In other words let’s decrease the time spent in emotional reactions by acknowledging them, making them okay, but then shifting their attention towards the present moment and starting again.  

Learning to let go more quickly from emotions such as frustration, disappointment, or jealousy doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t serious about their training. Far from it. Being able to decrease the time spent in emotional reactivity increases their adaptability and responsiveness to what’s happening. This allows for more rapid learning to occur. This is a skill that is useful for any dancer, both inside and outside of the studio.

To your success,


To Sleep… Perchance to Practice

Most everyone understands that sleep is a time for rest and recovery for the body – and the brain – and yet, somehow we continue to try to perform our best on less than adequate sleep.  I thought it would be interesting to share a few lesser known facts about sleep.

Studies have shown that a night of sleep in-between learning something new and being tested on it can significantly improve performance. In a study of motor skills, participants who were tested 12 hours after learning a new skill with a night of sleep in-between improved by 20.5%, compared to just 3.9% improvement for participants who were tested at 4-hour intervals during waking hours. Our brains use sleep to process the information it took in during the day.  

Love it when research can clearly connect the dots for our students (as well as ourselves) that their ability to learn combinations, new choreography, enhance their technique will improve with quality sleep.  If they can think about the combination or choreography before they go to sleep it will encourage the brain to review it during the deep sleep cycles.

I would always touch upon the power of sleep multiple times during the semester.  Sometimes it felt like it was going in one ear and out the other – but every now and then I was rewarded by a student saying “I took your advice and went to sleep at 9 and woke up at 5 to study and did well on my test!” 

Perhaps if we shared the fact that sleep deprivation can cut your brain’s ability to take in new information by almost 40% that would make more of an impact.  We know that pulling all-nighters doesn’t work – but having night after night of not enough sleep will also negatively influence your intellectual and motor learning.  (As well as your overall health and immune function) 

I learned something interesting from Professor Barbara Oakley that sleep flushes out toxins that are created from our normal daily awake state.  It is during sleep that these toxins are flushed out. Sleep is when the brain does its housecleaning, so to speak!  Here is a short 3-minute video where she discusses this. 

It’s accepted that little sleep will influence test-taking – but the negative consequences are even greater for dancers taking a class fatigued and overly tired.  After all the chances of physical injury is far greater during a dance class than when you are sitting at a desk taking a test.  Our bodies need recovery time along with our brains!

About a year ago I purchased an Oura ring that tracks sleep, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, activity, etc. I found it fascinating to learn over time my own patterns with sleeping, what seems to encourage a good nights sleep and also the deterrents. I’m not suggesting we all need to purchase sleep trackers (although they are fun for those of us who like to geek out on personal research) What I am suggesting is that as teachers we need to do whatever we can to help change the culture of devaluing sleep – and set a good example by getting proper sleep ourselves!

To your success, (and a good night’s sleep!)


Breathing Patterns

The short clip below talks about creating good breathing patterns that will help release tension in the ribcage. This is an important factor in maintaining mobility of the thoracic spine. Tightness and tension in the upper back can go hand in hand with a weak core.

Breath exploration

Working with Tibial Torsion

I just returned from teaching an intensive course at TCU after a 2-year hiatus, due to the pandemic. It was WONDERFUL to be back teaching in person… even with a mask. This course starts with individual assessments before delving into essential anatomy. Love love love teaching it!

Anyways, there were quite a few students with tibial torsion who didn’t know they had tibial torsion… but were aware of always being told to get their knees over their feet! They were aware that parallel was challenging because during demi pliés, their knees felt like they were going to knock into each other. In first position, they had to pull their knees out over their feet, and were often also lifting up their arches as they were doing so.

The students began to understand that they needed to focus in 2 places, their feet and their hips, to work with their tibial torsion.

They began to monitor the weight on the feet, noticing whether or not it was even between the 3 points of the feet. (The heel, pad of the big toe, pad of the little toe) When the knees are being pulled out over the feet you will notice the weight shifting to the outside of the foot.

They need to temporarily reduce their external rotation at the hip while they work to turn on the turnout muscles appropriately. It is a common pattern to underutilize the rotators on the side with more tibial torsion.

Some of them found that they caught themselves pronating the foot on the side with less tibial torsion. (Monitoring the weight on the feet is always a good idea!)

As they got better with monitoring their hips and feet, their pelvis was better aligned. Why? Because an anteriorly tipped pelvis often goes hand in hand with underutilizing the rotators (and hip extensors) If the pelvis is slightly tipped forward it is easier to turn out the feet without straining the knees.


Tibial torsion doesn’t have to get in the way of being an exquisite technician as long as students are smart about how they work with it. In fact – having the extra external rotation makes their first position look extra sweet, and won’t get in the way, as long as they work the rotators appropriately.

Tibial torsion often is created during growth spurts when the student is turning their feet out more than what they can accurately and efficiently create at the hips. The tibia responds to the force by rotating. It is SO common to see one leg with more tibial torsion and it almost always connects with less access to proper turnout at that same hip. While the student can’t un-rotate that bone, they can correct the way they are using their turnout.

It’s so rewarding to teach students about how their body works. I watched the lightbulbs go off – as they connected their patterns with their technique and their teachers’ corrections. When they shared their insights I clapped my hands in delight and had a huge grin on my face. It’s the best feeling – as I’m sure my fellow teachers would agree!

Below is a clip talking about tibial torsion from some years ago (I miss my dark dark hair:)


External Tibial Torsion

Can You Release the IT Band?

I received a great question to start off our 2022 posts…

What are your thoughts about using the word “release” to explain how to treat a tightness in the lateral line of leg where the IT band lives. I I was taught that this connective tissue is never really released, we would just fall over!

I understand that it needs to be moved, mobilized, hydrated etc… am I just parsing words and being too nerdy?

Thank you, and all the best!


Love this question!  I always appreciate the opportunity to clean up my own verbiage when working with students.  Let me share with you my understanding.  

First let’s make sure we are all on the same page. The Iliotibial band (IT band) is a strong fibrous tissue (thickened fascia/connective tissue) that begins at the top of the pelvis called the iliac crest, traveling down the outside of the thigh, over the outside of the knee joint to connect to the top of the tibia.

For dancers a primary concern are the muscles that connect to and influence the IT Band. The gluteus maximus, medius and tensor fascia lata muscles (which includes their fascia) connect into the IT Band. Of particular importance to dancers is the TFL, the primary inward rotator of the hip. In my experience there often is a connection between overly tight TFL’s, and slight anterior tilt of the pelvis with increased tension and tenderness in the IT band area.

Fascia, which is dense connective tissue, keeps everything separated yet connected. Fascia surrounds all the bones, muscles and organs and ties these structures together. You are training the fascia of the muscles through your movement or lack of movement. The fascia that surrounds muscles isn’t as thick and dense as the fascia of the IT band. The fascia/connective tissue that is called the IT band is important for our gait and keeping the pelvis and leg connected and working well during walking.

The deep, thickened fascia of the IT band doesn’t release in the same way that we talk about releasing muscles. We talk about releasing muscles that are overly contracted or shortened in hopes of increasing their length. Frankly, you don’t want the IT band to release and change length, it needs to be VERY strong in order to stabilize and support the pelvis on the legs.

I found references to an article written in 1931 from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery by C.M. Gratz, MD about the fascia of the IT band. He wrote “The specific gravity of fascia lata is about 1.31 and the average ultimate tensile strength is approximately 7,000 pounds per square inch. Soft steel has a specific gravity of 7.83 and an ultimate strength of about 45,000 pounds per square inch. Thus fascia lata is nearly as strong as soft steel, weight for weight.”

Okay, so it needs to be (and is) very strong in order to stabilize and support. But what about foam rolling you ask? Aren’t you stretching or releasing the IT Band? Short answer…no. Can you release tension in the muscles that connect into that fascia? Yes. That’s where most dancers would do well to focus their attention, especially on the TFL, which inwardly rotates the femur at the hip. Are you working with myofascial triggerpoints when you are foam rolling out the lateral hip? Yes.

Perhaps we could more accurately suggest, let’s release any excessive tension in the IT band area – being clear it isn’t the IT band that is releasing, but rather they are working with triggerpoints from multiple muscle areas. Catch the front edge and roll on the lateral quadricep muscle, or a little further back and explore the hamstrings. Of course work with the glutes and the TFL also.

I foam roll often and actively stretch and mobilize. It’s a good way to keep me aware of what’s happening in my body and take care of imbalances before they become problems.

Tension and/or challenges in the IT band are a reflection of what’s happening in alignment and movement. So look more globally, figure out if there are stability or mobility issues at the hip and ankle, and many of the IT band issues will resolve themselves.

Getting back to Sarah’s initial questioning, instead of saying to release the IT Band (which we now know is impossible) focus instead on releasing any excessive muscular tension of the hip muscles while improving their mobility and stability.

To your success,


PS: Please send in YOUR question for an upcoming post!

Bent Knee in 5th position

I have a big problem standing in fifth position. More specifically, I can’t straighten both of my legs when my right leg is in front – which I found out is longer. My teacher keeps telling me to straighten my legs but I can’t figure out how to do that and keep a square and straight 5th position no matter how hard I grip my quads. She says to lift up and turnout more so I don’t grip – but that doesn’t work. What can I do?

There is a simple solution to this problem. That is to get a lift to put in your soft slippers of the short leg. I have seen this problem before when the dancer comes to see me and is having some knee, hip, or ankle problems on the long leg side.

In fact, I just did a recent zoom assessment on a dancer with a chronic ankle injury and we think it is from an undiagnosed leg length difference. Time will tell – but I’m encouraged with the positive short term feedback from wearing a lift in ballet class. Working at the barre is most often where these undiagnosed leg length challenges happen.

If there is enough difference that you cannot easily cheat your 5th (I’m not encouraging anyone to cheat anything) that tells me you are standing unevenly between the two legs even in open positions.

There are only so many ways to try and make 5th look normal in a situation like this. Pronating the foot on the longer leg is one, standing on the shorter leg and shifting the the longer leg slightly forward, or bending the knee on the longer leg.

Stand in first position facing the mirror. Slowly lower into demi plié. Do you shift to the longer leg side at the bottom of the plié? Now put something small – less than a half inch in thickness under your short leg. Repeat your demi plié. Does it look more even? How does it feel?

If it feels significantly better it would be worth going to the drug store and purchasing a pair of heel cushions and place one of them in your soft shoe. It is an inexpensive fix. Take the other lift and put it in your walking shoes and notice if you feel more evenly balanced as you go through the day.

To your success,

Asymmetries and Higher Injury Rates

We are all asymmetrical. Look in a mirror… the 2 sides of your face aren’t even. It’s normal to have slight differences between the 2 hips and the range of turnout. I’ve never seen a perfectly straight spine. Bottom line – we all have some asymmetries in our alignment and muscle usage.

Dancers often will tell you their own asymmetries. ‘My right leg is my better standing leg. My left leg is much higher in in front and side extensions. My right leg is my better jumping leg and so on and so forth.

The challenge is with having uneven movement patterns and asymmetries is that they feel ‘normal’ and we come to accept the differences. We often don’t notice the imbalance or asymmetries increasing over time, unless we do something that makes us aware of how differently the two sides of the body are working.

I ask my students to complete an injury survey before I do a movement assessment. During the assessment I’m looking at the typical relationships between muscle groups. For instance, how much internal versus external rotation do they have at their hips? This simple test tells me something about the structure of the hip joint. I take special note when the ROM tests unevenly between the two sides.

For example, one dancer tests with more turnout than turn-in on both sides, but they aren’t using the turnout they have – they aren’t stable in passé, for example. The second dancer tests one hip with much more turnout and the other side has more turn-in than turnout.

With both dancers the goal will be to improve the balance between the mobility and stability of the hip joint. It is the second dancer, though, that has caught my attention because that type of imbalance is going to show up in other areas. Are they standing in an even first position? What’s happening in the lesser turned out side to make it ‘look’ even?

It is the type of movement detective work that I love so much. And… these types of imbalances and/or asymmetries more often lead to injuries. There was a study done on Division II collegiate athletes who were rowers, volleyball and soccer players. They were given a functional movement screen and the players with asymmetries and differences of movement patterns between the 2 sides of their body were 2.75 times more likely to have sustained an injury that would keep them from practice of competition. The asymmetries were more significant for injuries than having weakness or tightness on both sides.

This makes sense to me. I find those larger imbalances often correlating to past injuries that have been noted on the questionnaire. They may have passed the PT tests for being able to return to dancing – but their movement wasn’t organized or integrated back to pre-injury levels.

This is where doing easy assessments as I show in the mobility/stability online course comes in. Often, it’s motor control that needs to be focused upon.

In the video below, I was working on a simple functional movement of walking up the stairs wanting to keep my pelvis organized and working both legs evenly. I was working on ankle/hip connection and noticing how the decreased mobility in my right ankle was connected to less stability at my right hip (including under utilizing the rotators and gluteus medius)

This exercise could be useful for the dancer who has very different rotation at the 2 hips. No… it isn’t a rotator exercise per se, it is seeing how well the rotators are working within a movement. There are multiple variations on this one simple movement that could focus their attention in different areas.

How about standing in first position on the floor with the stairs on your right. Step slowly and easily with your right foot in turnout on that bottom step and stand. Once you have good balance slowly lower your left foot back down to the floor and into first position.

Balancing out asymmetries requires more than stretches and strengtheners. It requires integrating and organizing our movement efficiently.

If you are an experiential learner, consider coming to the Enhancing Technique with Mobility and Stability Training Dance Teacher Retreat In Tuscany, Italy, July 2022!

To your success,