Our Plane Has Landed….What Now?

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As I wrap-up my blog I wanted to share another post that doesn’t focus on dance but more about my future as a public health advocate. We have taken trips to various countries around the world exploring the different dances and cultures that some may have seen and others may have not seen. However, as a written professional communication class I feel that it is equally important to show where I want to be in the professional world.  I have had the pleasure of being accepted to the University of Michigan Future Public Health Leaders Summer scholar program for the summer of 2013. I wanted to share an excerpt of my essay that I wrote (while taking this class). While my blog primarily focused on dancing and health I hope this gives you better insight as to how my passion for health is incorporated both inside and outside of the classroom!

Essayist, novelist, and philosopher George Santayana once said “even the wisest man has something yet to learn.”  There are men and women who are currently doing what it is I want to do in my career and I want the chance to learn from them and gain my own hands on experience. I want to know all there is about public health, become an active advocate and yet still have room for more learning. This is no ordinary internship, it’s one that recognizes and produces potential leaders in the health field. A leader is something that I always strive to be no matter the circumstance. We live in a society that is forever changing and by embodying the ability to be versatile allows for smooth transitions from one phase to the next.  Leader should be culturally competent.  Working together with people of many different backgrounds, it’s imperative to be able to continually learn. In the words of President John F. Kennedy “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  The health disparities that create gaps in the urban community need to be recognized and addressed. This internship allows those who want to make a difference to find and use their voice and put words into action. Health issues concerning prevention, poverty, insurance should not only be brought to the forefront, but acted upon. My goal, no matter what I pursue is to be a vehicle of change.  As with many of my professors who have aided I in pursing my knowledge of the public health field, having an opportunity to be involved in this internship would help me to become a colorful advocate and candidate on my canvas for change in public health.

Good luck on finals and have a great summer !

H(ealth) 2P!

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This week I want to take a traveling break at come back home to the University of Pittsburgh. Just like any other culture, the collegiate culture is one that many of us can identify with. The many stressors of scholarship, financial aid, personal lives all seem to bare down the heaviest during these four years. The great thing about attending such an awesome school is that we don’t have to look very far to satisfy of health needs. As a dance minor, one of the reasons why I love to dance is the opportunity to incorporate stress a class relieving class into my curriculum. Although dance is not easy it is fun! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ran to my dance class after having sat in a lecture for an hour and a half. It feels good to be able to move my body, stimulate my mind, and exercise all at the same time. A number of classes dance classes are taught here at Pitt including, Modern (I and II) Ballet (I and II), Choreography, Jazz (I and II), and Introduction to Dance (which is a lecture based history class of dance). These classes are incorporated into the dance minor curriculum; however, any one can enroll in the classes. Another number of classes aren’t featured within the School of Education but are great classes to take such as West African Dance, Creative Dance Expression (both of which are a part of Africana studies) as well as ballroom dancing and party dance! Yes, students it is true, you can enroll in a party dance class and learn popular line dancing and other forms FOR A GRADE!

Here are a number of extracurricular clubs that I have stumbled upon here at the university over the past few years:

For those that may not want to actually participate in dancing but may find watching it aesthetically pleasing and stress relieving there is also Pitt Arts. This program allows Pitt undergraduate students to seen hundreds of dance shows, operas, plays, and other performing arts for free. The dance performances that I have attended included free transportation, a FREE MEAL and a post talk with the choreographer. I’d say it doesn’t get much better that that! They also offer what is called Cheap Seats so that when popular shows come into town such as The Nutcracker every December, Pitt buys a good number of tickets and sells them through the Pitt Arts programs to us for a discounted price. You never know how many useful resources the university has to offer unless you go out and look for them! Make the most of your collegiate career and I guarantee the more you learn to venture out (you may not see it) but your overall well-being –which is a component of your daily health—increases as well! So get started!

Mind Blowing Dance

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The popular television series ‘Dancing with the Stars’ has brought the dance floor to millions of viewers at home. Each week people watch as celebrities battle their way to the title of the champion. While some celebrities have a natural born marriage to movement others look…well…stressed. One of my favorite types of dancing that is aesthetically pleasing to me is the Tango. This week we will be taking our talents to Buenos Aires, Argentina! The word tango derives from African origins meaning “closed place” or “reserved ground”. The dance was a form of expression from working-class immigrants. To others in society the dance was originally looked down upon for being a dance for the poor.  The dance started to spread to Paris and during the 1900’s by the 1920’s and 1930’s tango was becoming more and more popular. In present day society tango is one of the romantic and intense dance forms I have ever seen.

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You may be asking yourself “Angela what does this have to do with my health”. As I was researching the topic I found that recently the tango has been linked to mental health. When we refer to health many people once see either our physical bodies, but often times people overlook the up keep of our mental health. As college students we can relate to the many stressors of academic life and as working class adults the between family, and work can be a lot to handle. According to some new Australian research suggests that those who may suffer from depression or stress can benefit from taking tango lessons.

Psychologist Rosa Pinniger conducted a study that tested whether a group of 66 people who were reported to have high anxiety and stress levels. Over the course of a 6-week period one third of the group took weekly tango lessons, another third took meditation classes and the other third became the control group. The study (which was found in the Complementary Theories in Medicine Journal) showed that both the mediation and tango class participants showed a decrease in their stress levels. However, those that took the tango class improved the most. After refection the results made sense being that in order to participate one has to be completely engaged in both concentration of the body and the mind in order to learn the rigorous dance moves.

Dance not only stimulates the body, but it can also stimulate the mind. Drawing from my own experiences, when I’m in dance class and we are taught a combination beginning with one side of the body (i.e. starting everything with our right foot) we often have to be able to switch and perform by starting everything on the left foot. Susan Gillis (one of the dance teachers at the University of Pittsburgh) often tell us that by doing the dance on both sides activates both sides of our brain.

Click here to see actress World Champion Tango stars Vincent and Flavia dance on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing!

 

 

Mama Africa

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African-Health

We are now going to take our passports and travel back to the motherland, Africa. The rich African dances date back to the earliest of times and have been used for a number of reasons. Harvesting, expression, religion, and celebration are to name a few of the reasons why Africans dance. Ritualistic dancing is certainly common in areas of Africa where the body is a vessel of communication. Unfortunately, Africa has also experienced grave issues concerning health.

According to the Commonwealth Health Online one of the most dangerous diseases has a significant presence within the global African community.  The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among individuals between the ages of aged 15-49, with a number of countries having a prevalence of over 20%. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among those aged 15-49 is 25.9% in Swaziland, 24.8% in Botswana and 23.9% in Lesotho. For more information on Africa and global health statistics visit the World Health Organization Regional Office in Africa webpage.

As an aspiring public health advocate it is important to research and recognize the current health issues that are developing or continuing today. You may be asking yourself, “how does this relate to me (a college student” or “what could this possibly to with dance?”

I would’ve hoped that by now, you have learned the expression of dance can be used to maintain and supplement one’s health. Most times you may pay a small fee to participate in a particular class or you could incorporate a dance class within your coursework. Many others around the world, however, are less fortunate—sometimes making the significance of dance that much greater.

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Today we will explore a center that bridges the gap between the arts and health. The Sankofa Center is located in Ghana, Africa. The mission of The Sankofa Center is to “utilize traditional African dance, music, and drama to preventively educate youths and adults about HIV/AIDS and provide free counseling, rapid HIV/AIDS testing, and links to treatment and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS.”  What is particularly special about this program is the use of the performing arts as a vehicle for open communication and accurate knowledge. Additionally, the promotion of healthy behavior change is sought to protect, empower, and unite the African family in the face of this world-wide disease.

The Sankofa is an ancient African proverb characterized by a bird looking back on its past. It asks people to revisit their past in order to correct the mistakes that may affect their future. The Sankofa Center uses the dance and music of Africa’s past to foster health and understanding of HIV/AIDS in the current generation in hopes of preventing the destruction of their future.

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The Sankofa Center’s programming is two-fold: touring dance-dramas are aimed at educating marginalized villagers with little access to resources and information; after-school programs target youth between the ages of 13-19+.The center also conducts classroom educational seminars, provides free on-the spot rapid testing, and links women, men, and youths to treatment – serving thousands in Africa.

It is just as important to recognize the world around you and their current state of health. In hindsight, the United States is better off than majority of the countries that make up Africa. Many health issues go beyond national borders and are more prevalent and dangerous in other countries (due to the lack of resources and preventative measures that are taken).

Be aware, be concerned, and be active!

What Does Dance and Public Health Have In Common?

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As a dance minor it is critical to learning how to write a dance review. Much like the public health arena it is important to learn how to write reports and findings from various observations. One of the requirements in my dance classes is to attend a performance and write-up a review that critiques various aspects of the performance. This week I wanted to share an example of my recent write-up on a Russian ballet performance entitled ‘Giselle’. Hope you enjoy!

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I attended the ballet performance Giselle performed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at the Benedum Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA. This was my first time attending a ballet performance in a while. My expectations going into the performance was high, because of exciting reviews from my ballet teacher. I was anxious to see the show yet I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As I was reading the program I then realized that what I was about to experience was an ancient story of love, tragedy, and forgiveness. Some of the background research I did on the PBT performance was a true eye opener. Marianna Tcherkassy—ballet mistress for the performance as well as PBT and ABT’s coveted Giselle’s of all-time. In one of the videos on the PBT website it goes behind the scenes of the performance. The story of love is brought to life by the real-life married couples; artistic director Terrence S. Orr and ballet mistress Marianna Tcherkassy as well as principle dancers Alexandra Kochis (Giselle) and Christopher Budzynski (Count Albrecht).

One of the first things I noticed was the exquisite background. It looked multi-dimensional and I almost thought that there were actual houses alongside the stage. The forest looked very real and I was immediately drawn into the story. In terms of the lighting, it was very bright and gave a realistic feel. Sometimes I feel as though people can take the scenery and costume designs for granted. They are both essential parts that connect the realism of the story. If the environment isn’t positively connected to the story then you won’t believe it—which can make sitting through two hours of technical dance with no music extremely difficult.

In terms of the costumes there weren’t the traditional ballerina costumes. The dancers wore brown skirts that were very droopy. The style of the performance was focused around the era 19th century Romantic Movement in Europe. During the Harvest Festival scene, the king and queen come out in their dazzling costumes and add to the complete recreation of the time period. However, Act II took on a complete different atmosphere. The scene was no longer pleasantly lit but rather depressingly dark. It was as if one was traveling through a much darker side of the forest. The costuming of Myrtha and the Wilis had the same droopy skirts yet in a white color. I could understand why they would choose the color that is symbolically used in joyous occasions such as weddings, celebrations, and not death. It was as if they illuminated the stage with the combination of their movement and their white skirts they reminded me (in some strange way) of lighting bugs.

The choreography was something that I had never seen before in a ballet performance. The first difference was the pantomiming of the actors. Although there were no words being said an audience member could very well follow along with the gestures of the dancers as if it was some form of sign language. In order to be able to execute the role of Giselle properly the dancer had to be graceful, fragile, and vulnerable in all of her movement. However, the strength of the technicality call for nothing less than complete execution of every tendu, port de bras, and pirouette. One male dancer that stood out the most to me was Nicholas Coppula (the male Peasant Pas De Deux). He could turn for days and get such amazing speed and then quickly stop himself. I thought this was fascinating because of the practice and diligence it takes to be able to halt at such a rapid speed facing the audience when ending each time. All of the solo dancers brought life to the story. One of the things that set the Wilis apart from the Court dancers in Act I was that did a lot of cannons. This emphasized the significance of the uniform—almost robotic-like manners of the dead maidens—. There was one particular moment that was my favorite: all the Wilis lined up in about three or four line and leg and are horizontally outward and hopped on one foot. I think that movement stuck with me the most because the lines were going opposite of each other yet all did the same move at same time and pace. They truly embodied ballerina zombies.

Overall, the performance was one of the best I have seen so far. Not only was it engaging but it also had a lot of symbolism and meaning. This wasn’t a predictable performance and that’s what I liked about it. All the elements of the performance (lighting, costumes, actual dancer background histories, music, etc.) all came together to pull the audience into another world. This experience was one that I will never forget and I look forward to attending more of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s performances.

Drivers, Start Your Engines!

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How to Conduct an Effective Warm-Up

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As we embark on this journey across the globe by exploring cultures and their dances it’s important that we pay close attention to our bodies at all times. Focusing on the class itself is not nearly as important as the preparation that comes before. The “warm-up” is the most essential part of a dance class (or workout in general). It allows the body to prepare itself for the stress that it is about to endure. The term is self-explanatory in regards to what is generally occurring; the body is warming up. The question “why do we need to warm-up” comes up frequently for those who do not incorporate a routine exercise schedule within their lives. When the body is warming up it’s much like the engine of a car when it’s started during the winter season. The muscles and tissue within our body become softened which helps to prevent injury and aids with flexibility. The heart rate is also very important during this time because it will increase; it’s as if the body is preparing for a special occasion that it grabs the attention of the brain and begins to start recognizing the stress. This post will teach one how to conduct a short but effective warm-up!

I personally like to start from the head working our way down. So the first movement is to rotate the head. Facing the front you will turn the head to the left, bring it back to the center, and then turn it to the right.

The next movement is similar to the first except you will now move you head up, center, and down. Rotating the head will activate the neck joints.

Next, we move onto the shoulders. The shoulders will move up and down. You can do this movement with both shoulders going the same direction or you can do the left and right shoulders separately. An additional exercise to the muscles would be to circle the shoulders toward and backward.

Now that we have gotten to activate the upper body it is now time to activate the mid-section. One of my favorite moves is what I like to call “rib shifts”. This exercise requires both hands resting gently on the hips and ONLY the upper body moves from the left to the right. Everything below the waist stands completely still. Much like the shoulder exercises an additional routine would be to move the ribs forward, backward and then move the upper body in the form of a circle to smooth everything out.

Finally, we will move onto our lower body. Many exercises can be down in order to fulfill warming up our leg muscles. One popular movement is to simply roll the head down towards the floor and touching the ground with your fingertips. Slowly bend one knee and then the other. Alternate the shifts between the left and right leg. The muscles that should be getting activated are the hamstrings. Additional exercises that are extremely helpful are lunges and scissor legs. Scissor legs are when the left or right leg is placed out front and the individual is leaning over and holding onto the back of whichever leg is in front. The side view of this exercise should look like a pair of scissors.

Warm-ups usually occur between 10-15 minutes each time before the class or workout begins. The intensity of the warm-up varies by skill level and ability. However, EVERYONE should warm-up because it allows the muscles in the body to become more flexible and it prevents the risk of injury. As we continue onto different countries before attempting to try any of the routines and dances remember that your body is your engine. It needs to be started up before it heads out into drive!

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What Is Not Commonly Referred To As A Dance Form and Rhymes With Toga?

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Hello to all,

I would like to first begin by asking a simple question how was your first Bhangra lesson? I hope that you week has included some Indian traditional dance folk dancing and a full body workout. If you did actually participate in a Bhangra class I hope you enjoyed it!

This week our style of dance embodies a certain mystery as to exactly where it originates from (although through further research this plane may be staying in India). What I may consider as a form of dancing to millions of people practice this form of dancing. What‘s interesting is that what I may consider a form of dancing others may have been introduced to the practice as mediation or an exercise form. If you haven’t guessed “Yoga” yet then I am here to make your day!

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For this post would like to do something a little different. As I was researching the history and health effects of yoga I became increasing enticed by this form of dance, so much so that I want to make this a two-part post. Post one (which you are currently reading right now) brushes briefly on the origins of the practice and how its versatility can adapt to all body types. The second part of the post will dive into the health effects hat yoga has on an individuals’ physical body and mental health.

To many yoga may be seen as a form of mediation and relaxation. However when you put together a combination of exercises the fluidity of the movements can become your own dance routine. Much like Thai Chi (hint hint to the next culture destination) the body may move very slowly from one exercise to the next. According to the Free Dictionary dance refers to the ability “to move rhythmically usually to music, using prescribed or improvised steps and gestures.” Although dancing does not have to always come with a piece of music attached to it the definition makes it clear that dancing is a series of gestures.

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The history of Yoga is increasing interesting. The practice can be traced from the gyms of Scandinavia to the rural areas of India. The common language and gestures used amongst most “yogis” originated from the ancient religious Hindu texts of the Vedas. The Indian culture was in need of a physical way to build strong bodies and relax the mind. Some of the positions in the yoga world may be focused on either the physical or spiritual being or a combination of both.

One thing that fascinated me when I transferred to the University of Pittsburgh was the significant amount of gym classes offered. In my opinion yoga is the most widely sought out physical activity class and I understand the reason for such a craze. The ability to section off a time in the day to stress relive and focus on the well-being of our body is something I feel every student should be a part of. Yoga not only appeals to various people, but it also appeals to various body types. Unlike other technical forms of dance yoga can meet an individual half-way on the level of skill he or she may have.  Yoga calls all types of people to join their dance. It’s one that keeps millions of people coming back to get more! Hopefully you tune in next time to see the actual effects that yoga has on the physical being and how it can also help with our mental health as well!

Welcome!

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Hey All!

Welcome to my first blog! I’m excited to share with you all the topics that I have in mind for this up and coming semester. However, I would first like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Angela Byrd and I am a senior here at the University of Pittsburgh. My major is Health Services (for those of you that may not know it’s a college located within the college of General Studies) with a minor in Dance.

The field that I am looking to pursue is one with the Public Health arena. I am fascinated am fascinated and passionate about helping and educating various populations about the importances of maintaining the health of the community.

The focus of this professional blog is a combination of my major and minor and how they can work together to promote a healthier enviornment. Dancing is an intricate part of pretty much every culture. The expression of dance allows an individual to go forth a number of tasks whether it be asking someone to join, a mating dance or a harvest dance. The movement of the body can positively benefit the body in a number of ways!

An example that most people should be familiar with is the recent trend Zumba. If you’ve ever attended a class you may agree that after an hour of constant movement your body may respond in ways that you may not have thought it could speak to you! The emphasis on this blog, however, is to also to increase one’s cultural awareness. Fortunately, we (the United States) are not the only ones that have traditions and rituals that are vehicles for expression and physical activity.

Today, I would like to take a trip over to the far east country of India. The type of dance that we will focus on is Bhangra. This traditional Indian folk dance is to celebrate the arrival of the harvest. I personally have had the opportunity to learn an Bhangra ountine and might I add, it is a workout. Not only are the arms and hands activated in the air 80% of the time, but the constant bouncing of the upperbody an torso allow your mid section to feel very important.

Places of the body that are getting the most workout are the stomach, the rib section, arms (with the full extension of both in the air), the fingers (due to the complex position of the fingers from one movement to the next, as well as the hip flexors and thighs. Much like Zumba, a Bhangra routine can last up to 15-20 minutes none stop. When members of the Steel City Bhangra team came to teach my Dance Production class I was truly fascinated (as well as extremely tired). One of the interesting things that I learned was that in a more contemporary Bhangra setting, such as, a college or local dance team you can also dance to current songs. The rountine that we completed was performed to a Indian remixed version of Usher’s hit single ‘OMG‘.

What can you take away from our trip to India? Bhangra activates the body in many ways that Zumba activates the body. The constant movement on a regualar basis can have a positive effect in terms of working out, staying fit, or an attempt to lose weight. It is very imprtant that you look at exercising in a creative light so that you would want to come back and try it again! Not only do you leanr how to keep maintain a healthy exercise regimen, but you can also explore the importance of the culture’s dance by taking a peek into their traditions, and values!