dancexclusive Blog - For Dancers and Dance Parents

Setting Goals for the new dance year.

Setting Goals for the new dance year.

Guest Blogger Rosina Andrews advises on setting smart goals for the new school year.

It’s time for ‘Back to school’ which only means one thing, back to dancing too! Time to set some new goals for the next school and dancing year. I always remember going back to school and being told to fill out the goal table in the back of our planners, but I can’t remember writing anything about my dance goals. Instead they were always right there in the front of my mind, I found it much easier to motivate myself to practise my stretching than I did improve my handwriting. (It’s still utterly terrible, I blame it on the fact my brain moves faster than my hand!) 

For dance parents and young dancers alike, I think it is important to remember that dance is a little different to anything your child will be doing at school and it is invaluable to help your dancer reach their own personal goals. I don’t own a dance school, but my mother does and we’ve found in the last few years the comparing and contrasting of peer groups within classes has massively increased. Where at school the answer to a maths equation is one answer, right or wrong, in dance the answer doesn’t fall into just one category. Dance is creative and doesn’t follow rules, patterns or limits. What your dancer can do will be completely different to the dancer standing next to them; the examiner you had last year will like different things to the one that you have this year; the competition results this weekend will be completely different to next weekend. That’s what makes dance so awesome, or dare I say it absolute hell for the insecure elite dance level teenager and their desperate for success supportive yet emotionally attached parents. (That’s not a bad thing that’s what parents are for!)  Therefore, I believe it is so important to nurture young dancers and personally help them find their path within dance. Setting realistic goals and having a dance teacher or mentor alongside to help re-inspire them when things go a little pear-shaped is completely priceless to any young dancer’s career. Sometimes we forget that when so many opportunities get thrown our way, the path gets a little foggy.

Now, I’m a little outspoken on my Facebook page. I’m rather passionate about changing how dance is perceived and taught in this country having lived in the USA. It seems that most of the rants I post get a crazy amount of likes and shares which makes me think it’s not only me that feels that way! (Be sure to give my Facebook page a like RosinaAndrewsDancerChoreographerTeacher  I don’t really like to follow trends, I very much like to be ‘outside of the box’ and I worry that trends are taking over the dance industry faster than Autumn is currently setting in! Some of these dance trends are fabulous, but others I think are perhaps throwing our dancers off course from their goals. So, for my back to school blog post for the awesome dancexclusive, I wanted to share some ways that I think dancers can smash their goals, without being knocked off course by trends and ultimately learn how to #DanceSmarter.

I have a selection of products on the market that can help dancers move forward with their training but this blog post isn’t about me, if it however leads you to my website…. then that’s awesome!

Three steps to smashing your dance goals; 

  1. Don’t expect things to happen overnight!

I am impatient but I have learnt that you cannot actually change the speed in which certain things happen. If you’re trying to get more flexible then you’re going to need at least three months of focused stretching to see the difference. If it’s a six pack you want (which doesn’t actually mean you have a strong core, but more about that another time) it will be about eight weeks until you see the difference. It’s so important to set a time frame for your goals and commit to them.  

(If you are wanting to become more flexible and you feel a little lost, my husband Samuel Downing offers bespoke Safe Stretch plans for dancers. Head to my website

IGNORE THE TREND: Don’t be knocked off course by comparing yourself to social media posts or Youtube clips…remember Maddie Ziegler didn’t wake up looking that awesome and Sophia Lucia didn’t just do 55 pirouettes one day! (In fact if you’re interested in learning about how Sophia Lucia managed to break the world record attempt there’s an exclusive interview in my book Pirouette Surgery®

  1. Break down what you actually need to do

A lot of dancers come to me with the goal ‘I want to win gold for my solo’ and I then ask them how and then they just sort of look at me! So I say; do you need to improve your performance skills, your extensions, your leaps, your turns, your flexibility, your confidence, work on nerves or stage fright, remember the routine, practise in the costume….the list goes on!  It’s important to choose goals that you can develop bit by bit to then hit that ‘super goal’. Break down the path to accomplish your goals with small steps. This makes anything achievable. 

IGNORE THE TREND: It seems like the only things you can post online are those that are perfect. Break the mould and post the works in progress, then as you see your steps take shape and make an improvement you can go back and see the difference. Document your progress, your friends and family will be even more proud of you as they see you improve!

  1. Be YOU!

It seems that every dancer has to do everything and surely that would be the case if every dancer had exactly the same goals and dreams but I’m pretty sure they don’t.  In order to become exactly what you want to be you have to focus on what you’re passionate about. Yes, sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like but there are so many options now for young dancers it’s absolutely possible to focus your extra time on things that you’re really obsessive about.

IGNORE THE TREND: Parents’ purse strings will like this one too! You don’t have to do every single workshop, masterclass, convention or competition just because your friend is. Why spend £100 doing a hip hop workshop, if deep down you really don’t like hip hop and wish that day you had spent it in your garden perfecting that acrobatics move that you have in your solo. It’s about finding what’s best for your development, that as a teenager is trial and error, definitely, but once you’ve found something that you can’t live without, invest your time in your specific passion. It will 100% make you more successful in the long run!

Leap Surgery

 About Rosina

Rosina Andrews Rosina’s publication Pirouette Surgery® has been greatly received worldwide and Leap Surgery is due to be launched December 2017. These are now under the umbrella of the Rosina Andrews Method which incorporates Rosina’s ‘5 formulas’ to develop your teaching. She is an advocate of moving forward with the times as well as making sure correct importance is placed on technique, movement patterns and skill development with biomechanical principals.  

Rosina would like to think she is making technique cool again, but her students may not think she is that cool! Rosina holds teachers’ seminars to share her ideas as well as continuing to tour the country with Sam and their Dancer Development Day Masterclasses, regular classes and holiday intensives. She will be presenting her methods at some of the world’s largest dance conventions and collaborating with some huge social media influences in 2018, highlighting how social media can be used as a positive.

Rosina will be launching a young dancers’ mentoring scheme in the following year as she is passionate about the state of mental health within teenagers and graduate dancers as well as a bursary scheme to help those dancers less fortunate. There is one more thing too, but we can’t put it in print yet! All information can be found on Rosina’s website and on social media; Facebook: Rosina Andrews Dancer Choreographer Teacher and also on Twitter/Instagram: @rosiniballerini.


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Dance Photography…and why your mum has a mantlepiece full of dance photos

I confess – my mum still has a shelf full of photos of me in my younger years, kitted out in various costumes from my time doing the dance festival rounds.  Sadly, (or not!) I have none of those to share here, but I can tell you that there is definitely one of me in full Polish regalia, and more than a couple of me in a variety of leotards (one that is dubiously see-through), full stage make-up and in a somewhat strange selection of poses.  It was the thing back then you see, you danced at your competition, and, if you did well, your parents treated you to a professional photo.  The extent of our photoshoots in the mid-eighties were a man with a roll-down back-drop, the big photo umbrella (there’s probably a technical term for that, but not my area of expertise, sorry), and about five goes at getting a good shot, WITHOUT BLINKING.

Things are a bit different these days.  The digital age has revolutionised the area of dance photography, and Boomf!, there is a huge plethora of beautiful, beautiful things to see out there in the dance world.  Our Instagram feeds are awash with stunningly created artistic dance shots, ranging from abstract to cultural, from moody to showy, and so on.  Our eyes have been opened to not only the sheer numbers of dancers out there doing their thing, but also to the astonishing amount of hugely talented dancers there are, too.  I very rarely see a posed, still, dance photo these days – our photographers are now in the auditorium amongst it with us…capturing our dances move by move.  These days you are hard-pushed to have a performance photographed WITHOUT getting at least one amazing shot out of it.

It’s big business.  With more great shots, there are certainly more sales to be had…who can let that perfectly-timed photo of a grand jeté slip through their fingers?  How will my friends see that brilliant penché I pulled out the bag, or that magnificent aerial I landed, unless I have a shot to prove it?!  And of course, Nan and Grandad will want a copy, too.  My friends have to take my word for it that I was half decent at dancing – well, unless they want to dig out that VHS recording I had done in my latter competing years.  And play it on their …video-recorder?…remember those?

The digital element of it all now means that not only professional photos are shared and spread like wildfire across the internet, but inspiringly I see younger dancers taking and sharing many photos of their studio time, evidencing the hours of hard work it takes to excel in their art.  Before and after shots of improved arabesques and splits, a “Here’s me looking dead after a 5 hour practice” shot and a “look how battered my feet are after pointe class” shot.  Yes, I like seeing the ugly side of dance, too, because I think it’s important to not only see the glory of the competition, but to document the sheer hard work it takes to get there.

You can go whole hog these days and book to have a professional shoot – shoots outdoors, shoots in exotic locations, shoots in water, shoots chucking flour about (yes, it’s a thing).  There’s no doubt that these are stunning and a fabulous showcase of the talents of both the dancers and the photographers.  Many youngsters are latching onto this, and they in turn are getting experimental with their own photos – on a trampoline, in the garden, against a mirror…and yes, sometimes a slightly misguided photo down the local park on a cold British Spring day - after all their friend has the latest iPhone and can ‘Boomerang’ a mean tilt.  I can imagine many parents looking with horror at the ruined pointe shoes from a misjudged and muddy attempt at a ballet shoot in the woods.

Mind you, your mum would have a story to tell about that one “I spent £60 on those ballet shoes, and look at the state of them!”  And I think that’s the whole point still – the photos tell a story, capture a memory, keep a moment in time forever.  She’s proud despite the expense, she loves that you love what you do.  My old photos at home all have their own story which my mum and I often recall with fondness.  The beads on the Polish outfit had to be sewn down to the blouse because the first time I performed it they nearly strangled me, AND the boots always slipped dangerously off my heels on the pivot turns.  The poses I’m pulling in the others were carefully thought through with my duet and trio partners, who incidentally were some of my best friends for life, and there is always a story or two to be remembered there.  And the see-through leotard was just a complete misjudgement.  But it’s even good to have a giggle about that in hindsight.

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Pins, Bows and Hairspray Overload….and why we do it to ourselves

I find something almost ironic about the fact that most female dancers have luscious, long and beautiful locks, only to pull them back, pin them and glue them out of the way for the most part whilst dancing. Perhaps it’s something to do with really letting loose when outside of the studio, I don’t know. But whatever it is, us dancers have a thing about hair.

Most teachers will insist on a neat bun for ballet class (and even if they don’t, they will be secretly wishing you had one). You’ve probably heard many times that a small, flat bun either nestled neatly in the nape of the neck, or on the crown of the head will elongate that elegant neck and shoulder line you’ve been trying to perfect, as well as proving practical in staying put and symmetrical whilst turning and jumping. But, particularly for ballet, there’s something a little more ritualistic about the ballet bun – the very term ‘bunhead’ has been coined by dancers, and they use it with pride to mark themselves out as being in the ballet gang.

On average, girls start trying to do their own hair for dance around the age of 10. Not least because at 11 some may be heading off to full time ballet school and they really need to have that task covered. My own daughter was proud of her first attempt that actually made it to the studio without me having to re-do or touch up. We were in the car on the way to dance – she nearly gassed us both on gel-spray, required two bun nets and used 24 pins. But it stayed in (“even after doing chaînés!”) and it was worthy of a photo to mark the occasion.

Now, the fact I felt slightly twitchy about having to relinquish my dance mum role in the hair department is another matter. I can’t stand straggly bits, or the fact a child has to keep fiddling with their hair after every exercise because it’s drooping/sprouting/otherwise. This has a lot to do with the sheer discipline of growing up on serious ballet classes; lacquer it to the hilt for fear of it moving an inch, and your teacher pulling you up on it. I’ve also always liked to play with a variation or two on the bun.


Inspiration also comes from the likes of ‘trendy’ professional ballerinas, such as Dusty Button, who often rocks a mean bunhawk on her Instagram posts. I personally draw the line at a ‘donut’. I know many a classical ballet teacher that would rather the darn things didn’t exist. But I guess in many ways, better a donut-bun than no bun at all.

Ballet aside, most dancers appreciate the need for a ‘hair tied neatly back’ policy. Have a long ponytail or plait at your peril in jazz class when it comes to the pirouette exercise #whiplash #you’llhaveaneyeoutwiththat.   The advent of commercial dance has relaxed this somewhat (personally I wouldn’t be able to stand my long hair wafting about, getting in my eyes and sticking to my sweaty back, but I guess that says more about my age than anything).   I think maybe the snapback is just a different way to keep it all under control!

Hairspray usage is at its peak at dance competitions. The hairstyle and accessories are all given plenty of thought as part and parcel of the costume, and woe betide anyone whose hair budges during a performance. Lose a hair accessory and your fellow group dancers will be pretending they haven’t seen it lying there on stage, but honestly, that’s all the audience will be transfixed on; “who’s going to slip on it? Will it ruin that patterning they’ve worked so hard on?” And your teacher will almost certainly be thinking “WHO DIDN’T ATTACH THAT SECURELY?!?!”   So the dressing rooms are usually thick with hairspray fumes, along with fraught parents pulling their girls’ hair to near facelift proportions.

I get a sense that you have to have ‘done your time’ in the neat hair department to allow a relaxing of the rules – I see plenty of pros with messy buns and fringes in the studio – having said that, when it comes to a performance it’s back to military precision, or even beautiful pre-coiffed wigs for roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy – not a chance of a stray hair with that!

I’ll finish this blog by giving a quick shout-out to JoJo Siwa (of Dance Moms fame) – thanks for the bows….if they start to get much bigger though I think Claire’s Accessories will have to re-think their small-store-space format, and we’ll have a whole host of dancers growing up having to permanently incline their head to get round a double pirouette.

Katie is a director at dancexclusive, dance teacher, Fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and a devoted dance mum!

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Starting Out......

An insight into choosing dance classes and how it involves the whole family.

Dance, ballet in particular, is one of the most popular hobbies that children (sadly still mainly girls...but that's a whole other blog!) in the UK are signed up for.   Although there has been a recent insurgence of 'toddler' dance from as young as 18 months, most dance schools offer classes from around the age of 3.  At this age I often doubt whether it is the child who has been the instigator to starting ballet - rather more usual a parent who thinks it may be a nice idea, or their child has friends who dance, or they are looking for some extra-curricular social activities for their little one outside of school; and ballet seems like a great option. 

It is due to these many differing reasons for starting dance, that not every dance class/school will suit every child AND THEIR FAMILY. I stress that in capitals, as very young dancers are not lone little islands, rather part of a family unit which has many pulls on its time, resources, energy and many differing priorities. More often than not (save for parents that have a history/background of dance), the local school is the first choice. Let's face it, it's easy. Dottie in her class goes, Dottie's mum can lift share, and we can nip home to put dinner on, or take little brother to the park whilst big sister is in class. Or we can have a well-earned sit-down and natter with the other parents (who are often friends, too) whilst class is on.

For some families, this will always be the best option. There are, however a couple of things I'd stress to check out before signing up to ANY class. Are the teachers qualified? Are they DBS checked? You'd be amazed how many teachers out there are neither of these things (and more worryingly have no legal requirement to be!). Those basics aside, after a few months you will already have a feel for whether the class is suitable for the family needs. Monetary cost, teaching style and personality of the teachers, and level of commitment (time or otherwise) demanded by the school will all affect decisions on whether it is the right place for a young dancer and their family. Exam results and personal achievements will quite often take a back seat to those factors I listed first, purely because, well, the reality of most people's lives!

After a couple of years there will be a stronger sense of how dance features in a child's life. It may be that the local school offers all they need - a safe environment in which to have fun, develop their dance skills, socialise with friends, and help mum or dad out of a childcare pickle on a Thursday evening! It could however be that the child is developing a thirst for more than this dance-wise, or a real talent has been spotted. Now you may be lucky in that the local school offers classes which support, develop and even push the boundaries of this thirst and potential. You may have to look further afield to find it. And likewise the family situation may or indeed may not be such that this can be supported from home too. It will eventually get to a stage where both of these angles have to be fulfilled for a young, talented dancer to really fly. The commitment will magnify, the scales of balance of family time/work/dance will shift.

It's not for the faint-hearted! But dance is a funny thing... for some children it suddenly becomes more than a desire, it's a NEED. Starting out is easy, it's in the excelling that the hard graft, for THE WHOLE FAMILY, begins.


Katie is a director at dancexclusive, dance teacher, Fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and a devoted dance mum!

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