Working with Kids

It’s been an agonizingly long week with very little sleep, even without blogging. Amongst other things, I’ve been working on figuring out how to take my site to the next level, so in the next few weeks there will hopefully start to be some changes in a good way. Despite still having some work left to be done, I wanted to at least get one blog in for this week, so here it goes.

IMG_2843.PNGI haven’t been a competitive gymnasts for years- about six to be exact. I was in denial for a few years, as anyone would be after leaving behind something that had been a part of them since birth. During those few years I would occasionally create a few routines for myself a week or so before an in house or out-of-state meet that I was going to be at anyway since my sister is a gymnasts and my mom is a coach. The routines were nothing special, but they satisfied my homesickness for gymnastics.

Who knows why I would miss sandpaper leotards, sailboat tight knotted hair, and four hours of waiting for no more than four minutes of performing. It’s like when you travel out of town for several weeks: no matter how much fun you are having a way from home, it always feels nice to sleep in your own bed again. I have always enjoyed gymnastics, but eventually I knew I was no longer progressing and other things started to take priority in my life; so I “quit.” Though when your family owns a gym, you can never truly “quit” gymnastics as my siblings and I have all realized at different points in our lives. However, I slowly realized that there were other ways I could be involved in gymnastics.

Apparently those routines that I made up for myself were actually pretty good. Good enough for me to start getting asked to create more routines for other gymnasts. I’ve now created and taught over 20 routines in the past three years between group routines, gymnastics routines, and acrobatics routines; I’ve edited at least as many gymnastics songs. I’ve even gotten my junior coach certifications so I’m able to go on the floor and coach at any gymnastics competition that we have kids competing in- which isn’t something that just any coach can do.

I know every single girl on team by name and level, and have gotten to know them well enough to know their specific style. Some people like to think that a gymnast is just a gymnast, but each girl is very different and when I decide on music and routines for our girls, I consider lots of different factors: how good a kid is at learning choreography, if a girl has a tendency to mix up left and right, if the kid is good at timing with music, flexibility, maturity, power, artistry. These kids are like my extended family. Half of them have spent the night at my house, or traveled with my family to meets, or shared a hotel with us, or done activities with us while we weren’t at the gym.

This weekend was the Sandy Springs festival and every year we do a performance. This year my mom thought we would be nice if we did a dance rather than just tumbling, so I was in charge of teaching kids an old routine we did in the spring. Problem is that kids cancel on me an hour before the show, and other kids show up. So I had to teach multiple kids new routines in a limited amount of time, which was very stressful, and yet somehow we pulled it off really well. Despite the stress they put me through, I was still proud of the girls and it made me realize how weird it’s going to be next year without my gym family.

Even if I don’t compete personally, the gymnastics world has been my world since I’ve been born. I’ve watched these girls grow up in the gym- literally I’ve known some of them since they were babies. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from an 11 year old girl said, “Aw what am I supposed to do next year when Anya’s in college. How will I get a cool routine?” Her comment made all of the sass and backtalk I’ve received over the years from some of her teammates entirely worth it. To inspire younger kids is something that I find more rewarding than any letter grade in a grade book. I hope that wherever life takes me in these next few years, I’m still able to work with kids because they have so much to share and give me such joy.

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Opening Doors

Today was our first Family Fun Day of the year at the Jump Start. We have a big open gym free to the public for a few hours where we also have snacks, smoothies, games, and exhibitions through out the event. My job is always to make smoothies in the back-which are pretty delicious if I do say so myself. 

While making smoothies this time, I accidentally cut my finger a little while trying to cut a lemon. I’m fine, but I realized that I think this is the first time I’ve ever cut myself with a knife. It seems weird that I’ve lasted this long, but I’m pretty sure it’s my first time.

Last night I posted about how senior year brings a lot of “last times,” but my accident today reminded me that there are also still a myriad of “first times” that I’ve yet to experiance: My first time at a high school dance; my first time co-writing and directing a play; my first time traveling with school internationally (hopefully…); my first time competing in the one act play against different schools; my first college application submission; the list goes on with things just in this year alone that I know will be a “first time” experiance.

When some doors close, others are just waiting to be opened.

Critics Make Me Better

Image result for danceMy sister is one of my biggest critics, especially when it comes to choreography. The funny thing is, I know she makes me better for it. 

Sometimes we need a critic around to tell us that are work isn’t the best and needs work, because that can often be the motivator for us to do better. I know that my work has immensely grown over the years I’ve spent choreographing routines, but I also know it can be so much better. I mean I’m not even a dancer, nor do I have any dance background officially so half the time I don’t even know the real terms for moves I’m asking kids to do.

And as I start to create more routines this year than ever before, my sister has been so kind to point out that some of the routines are repetitive when compared to other routines. Basically meaning that I use a lot of the same poses and similar combinations from one routine to the next, which is something I need to work on.

It’s in this kind of work that I take the book “Steal Like an Artist” to heart. I don’t have the dance background that most choreographers have, so in order to learn I’m constantly watching dance and gymnastics routine searching for new material to mimic. We do what we know, and we know what we’ve been exposed to, so if we hope to do more we must expose ourselves to more.

Next year’s spring showcase may be my last chance for my big choreographed group routines. I hope not, but I want to go out with a bang so I’m already preparing by searching for music and trying to think of new ideas and new techniques I can attempt like involving set pieces and trying to actually tell a story with the dance. I can’t wait to start testing my ideas! So I’m glad for my sister’s criticism because it inspires me to strive for something better.

Mingling Ages

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Gymnastics has 10 levels and then if you are really good you can qualify for elite in specific level 10 meets and elite is like Olympic level with more people. However, just because you are 13 years old and competing, does not mean you are more advanced than a 9 year old. We have 9 year olds training level 9 and that isn’t unusual.

Now the reason I find this so interesting is because we often forget how old kids are when we coach them because we 6 year olds as tall as 10 year olds, and 9 year olds more mature than 11 year olds, and 12 year olds crying as much as the 4 year olds. (Yup we have 4 year olds that just joined team which is crazy to think about but not while in the gym.)

However, sometimes it’s easy to remember how old kids are when you have a group that doesn’t yet know what the word “vocabulary” means while trying to tell them that they need to learn their gymnastics vocabulary. Or when you hear about texting drama between the pre teens. Or when you have the teens trying to talk about boys quietly during stretches.

I also love watching the girls interacting with each other because the older girls help the younger ones learn new things and give them tips that they’ve learned due to experiance, and the younger girls remind the older ones that gymnastics at the end of the day should still be fun and they all push each other to work harder.

Something magical happens when you mix together a group of people of different ages and have them work along side and with each other. The different perspectives mingle in a way that creates a great learning environment. Everyone has something different to offer to a team whether you’re the youngest or the oldest, the new bee or the gym rat, the teacher or the student. I wish school had more moments where kids of different ages worked together, because in most cases everyone benefits from the situation in just the right ways.

Physical and Mental Practice

imgres.jpgIt’s amazing how you can be out of shape from playing the flute. I haven’t played in a few weeks because I’ve been at the gym more than I’ve been at home, but I plan on playing in a talent show next week so I was practicing today. I played some a few days ago as well, and after the two practices I can physically notice how I haven’t practiced in a while; my arms and mouth just can’t hold out for as long as usual without feeling funny. I lost some of my flute stamina that I was so proud of building up during this last school year.

Really everything is like this, where if we don’t practice for a while than it takes longer to get back to where we were, it’s just that some activities we notice it more than others.

For example we have a young gymnast on team who is a really hard worked, but she was highly considering quitting because after having a few weeks off we think she was pretty sore and noticeably wasn’t where she use to be which was making her feel bad physically and mentally. However, between her mom and the coaches we’ve convinced her to keep coming to practice at least for the summer and have started to notice her enjoying herself again since she’s been practicing.

Now in this case, even more than my flute incident, the effects of time off are quite obvious, but they aren’t always. The mind is another muscle that can get sore after too much time off, but when properly exercised you find yourself enjoying using the muscle.

I’ve read more books so far this summer than I have for pleasure in a long time. I was walking through Barnes and Nobel the other day and was helping my brother look for books when I started seeing all of these old books I remember reading. Some I really liked, and others I really didn’t, but all of them brought back found memories of being young and having time to just read.

My brother is not so found of reading, but we keep trying to get him to read. We had a challenge last week to see which of the two of us could finish our book first, but he tried complaining that I was a better reader. (Funny thing being that I’m not too fast of a reader I just actually take time to read.) So my mom pointed out to him how you only become a better reader by reading more. Then he ended up finishing his book last week  despite thinking he couldn’t (though I did beat him), and in fact he really enjoyed it and felt good about finishing so he started another.

It’s rare that you see so immediately a cause and effect situation like that, but playing the flute, our young gymnast, and my family reading challenge reminded me of the importance of constantly practicing our skills if we hope to maintain and improve them; both the physical and mental.

Documenting My Work

Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!

So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):

Performance Bonanza

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Level 4 and up group routine to “We Built This City” ending pose. (video of full routine coming soon)

9 SUCCESSFUL ROUTINES IN ONE DAY!!!!

This past week was endless. All of last week I was working like crazy to prepare over 50 kids for various routines to perform at our spring showcase yesterday. Then Saturday was crunch time, trying to get in last minute practices, but only up until one of the girls had her Bat Mitzvah. And if you’ve ever been to a Bat Mitzvah then you would know they last all night long… Then Sunday was the big day and I was at the gym working for 12 hours straight, but it was worth it to see all of the smiling faces of kids and impressed parents.

I always say the most exciting part of a show is what happens backstage, but it’s typically not viewed as entertaining until after the show is over. I’m glad the audience mostly though everything ran smoothly because in the back room it was crazy. There were girls changing leos and getting hair done while some people were stretching and warming up skills. Then there were last minute order changes in the program. And what was most stressful was that I had to change all 4 of the huge routines about 20-1 minute before each show because so many people just didn’t show up… I had to re-block two routines slightly, teach a level 4 boy a routine to fill in for someone, and I even ended up having to be in one routine because I was the only other person that knew it and could do the acro skill with a girl.

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Level 4 and 5 team pose.

However, thankfully everything went still went surprisingly well and I was so proud of all of the girls. I even had a couple people say they were close to tears during some of the routines because the choreography was so good, which of course made me want to do a little happy dance!

I’m sure there were some mistakes, and I know there were more last minute “oops” moments, but the show must go on and I was very happy with all of the team and acro kids.

Then today my acro tops started asking “what are we going to do now in acro; are we going level 9?” We aren’t ready for level 9 yet, and I told them how we still need to work on improving and advancing our level 8 skills first. However, we did start working on learning new skills today which everyone was excited for. It made me think about how in school it’s also the end of the year, but in school if you repeat a level that’s like taboo even if you are

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Hot Shots (ages 4-6 soon to be on team) final pose after their group routine to “Little Bitty Pretty One.”
working on more advanced skills. Furthermore, in school there isn’t the same excitement about it being summer time and that meaning you get to work on a bunch of new skills and try different things than normal.

I wonder how we can bring the excitement of getting to learning something new back into school.

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.

Choreographing Through Life

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It was far over a year ago that I took the Gallup Strengths Finder test, but every day I’m finding new connections to how I use my strengths in different situations. One of my strengths is “individualization”:

 

Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.

Most recently I’ve realized that this skill has allowed me to really grow as a choreographer. I’m currently in the middle of choreographing and coaching 5 different 2:15-5min long routines for an average of about 20 people in each group, plus I have 5 acro routines of my own (but only one of those is still being choreographed/taught). It’s been a lot to keep up with, but it’s also been really fun and I’ve been challenging myself this year to try several new things. Specifically I’ve been working on having people do different things at once but still making it look clean and having a sense of togetherness.

 

My ability to see the different things that individuals are good at has really bled into my choreographing and so far I think the routines are coming along rather nicely.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a multipotentialite, so I get involved with lots of different things and can make good connections between the topics, however, I don’t believe myself to really be an expert in any particular area. Dance/gymnastics is one of those areas that I’m interested in, but I’m not very flexible and haven’t even done much tumbling since hurting my wrist a year ago. The neat thing about choreographing though, is that I don’t have to be amazing at dance myself, but I can see the lines and patterns and teach them to individuals who have the talents that I don’t.

I think I’m a choreographer in most of my life, because I often am not the one on a team with a very particular skill. (I mean I consider myself to be good at storytelling/pitching, but I more mean roles on a team to actual design x like a CAD master, artist, web designer, engineer, etc.)  However, I am good at the more manager like role of being able to see the full picture of what needs to be done, what steps need to be taken to get there, and being able to find the person who could best lead that step. I’m able to see how all of the little parts fit together, which is why I can coach a routine with 20 people in it without ever having the full group there except maybe once or twice before the show.

I love choreographing and wish I could do more of it through out the year to be honest. I just find it interesting how our skills seem to really connect between everything we do.

Disaster Plan

85b8117b-ebb5-4470-8d4c-74063446e9ea.jpgToday was preview night for our winter show The 39 Steps and it went superbly!!! The entire cast was really happy with tonight’s performance and can’t wait to keep up the energy and fix those last few tweaks for our shows for the rest of this week.

You know you’ve put on a good comedy show when the audience is cracking up the whole time, and that’s exactly what happened tonight! Everyone said they loved it and it was a hilarious joy to watch.

This ensemble has been working so hard (and for only a month at most) to put on this show, and I’m so happy to be a part of the process because it’s just been such a pleasure!

Between theater and the gymnastics competition season starting up, I’ve made a recent observation about myself: I’m pretty decent at pre planning disaster plans. When ever I choreograph a routine or memorize for a new show, I always try to memorize everything correctly, but then I also think about a few scenarios about what could potentially go wrong to try and figure out what I would do in those situations. In both cases that means how can you best make up for what ever you missed by tweaking your normal flow a little.

So, maybe add a little more dance, or tweak a later line to make up for something important that was missed (by you or another stage mate), or shoving a prop into someone’s pocket in order to get it to the other side of the stage.

This is one of those random skills that I wouldn’t normally think of when thinking about  skills, but I’ve realized that this can be applied to other situations as well. Mainly when you give any presentation because you need to make sure you hit on everything that’s really important, so even if things don’t go in your exact planed order, make it happen; the show must go on!

Clearly you want to try to memorize and do things the intended way, but it’s kind of nice to practice some disaster plans because that way you are more prepared to think and act quick for when something inevitably doesn’t go exactly as planned.

It’s just a funny fail-up skill I’ve noticed this past week that I thought was worth sharing.