Archive for January, 2011

Robbie Burns night, also a celebration of dance

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Last night, five young Highland dancers and three Irish step dancers performed on a thin wood flooring (on a cement foundation – ouch!). We Scottish Country dancers had an easier time of it. In the small Irish dance group, there were two national champions – and all qualified for the world competition in Dublin this year. They all had amazing ankle and knee flexibility, and how they dance on their toes without a wood block, is a virtual mystery to me.

Robbie Burns, warming up for the Irish dancers

Robbie Burns, warming up for the Irish dancers

Black Swan (again) or a universal theory of everything: When Food is Toxic

Friday, January 28th, 2011

One of the recent film Black Swan’s many poignant moments is “the cake scene,” when ballerina Nina has just learned she’s landed the role of the Swan Queen (Odette/Odile) and Nina’s mother presents her with, well, a huge cake. There’s a lot of fear around (eating) the cake; this could be due to many things emotional, psychological — but also physical. According to some specialists, like MIT researcher Stephanie Seneff,* artists like Nina could well be starving themselves of fats and cholesterol, and staying very thin with little buffer of fats and cholesterol. It could, in fact, be quite difficult to digest any fats presented to them (there’s not enough cholesterol to be able to synthesize bile acids) – in a sense, you become allergic to food. Depriving the body of cholesterol leads to (oxidation-) damaged cells and fats can become dangerous. Phew! Best not to deprive the body in the first place.

This also explains how nutrient-dense foods can sometimes be toxic in therapeutic treatments as well. Hence, the nutrient-poor therapeutic treatments for cancer, may work, in part because the alternatives aren’t (literally) very appealing!

For more telling reviews of Black Swan: see Wendy Whelan’s work at

*See links in

Critic weighing in: Black Swan

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

One of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen recently is Black Swan. Reportedly ten years in gestation, the movie is provocative (on many counts) and is a strong statement on perfectionist tendencies that are utterly destructive. If there is any consistent theme in the movie, it has to do with the power we have to create environments of our own choosing. Clearly, in Black Swan, the young ballerina (Nina, played by Natalie Portman) who is cast as a “new” Swan Queen feels vulnerable and powerless. Nina’s attempts at transformation from the ephemeral white swan, Odette, to a cunning femme-fatale Odile is a main focus of the film.

Supposedly, Portman was in training for many months to achieve a sylph-like appearance; port-de-bras was perhaps achieved more easily (see young dancer Holly Lynn Fusco’s account of her work as a ballerina on the set ABT Soloists Sarah Lane and Maria Riccetto filled in for the two main leads, so every scene we hear had to be shot twice, once with the actors, and once with the dancing doubles, and then the multiple takes edited.

The movie is brilliantly directed by Darren Aronofsky. Still, at times, the movie can feel more like Shutter Island than The Red Shoes. For other critics’ takes see, (Marcia Siegel) and for dancers’ see Few feel it describes well their profession and its challenges — some say it may even damage ballet’s image, certainly Swan Lake’s position in audience-pleasing repertory – personally, I don’t think it will.

For me, infantile treatment (by mom Barbara Hershey) and the infantile-nature of the young ballerina, the self-mutilation, the psychotic fantasies, are horrifying. As is echoed repeatedly, perfection is not just about control, it’s also about letting go. Seems like there’d be more than the one (bloody, self-destructive) way presented in the movie to achieve this. But then this psychodrama wouldn’t be half as creepy as it is.

Several (more) important lessons from jazzercise (no less).

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I am struck by how something as simple as focus — during exercise — can actually increase caloric expenditure. It’s easy for eyes-to-glaze-over in technique class, sometimes we are barely present. True, dance can serve as a kind of meditation, but often, at least in classical ballet, the dance practice itself has direction and intent, certainly in the effort to improve technique. Just recently, I noticed untrained dancers (as in a jazzercise class) gradually learning to make bodily connections, which include good upper torso placement, deliberate and very active placement of arms (even during vigorous exercise), a well-aligned cervical spine, and yes, a gaze that is purposeful. When all of that happens, exercise for proprioceptive training (balance, coordination) – and increasing calorie expenditure – seem to go hand in hand.