We are nearing the end of May, also known as Mental Awareness Month. Over the past few weeks, how much time have you really spent finding your own rhythm? If you're still not getting the endorphins flowing by starting to run like you promised, or if you feel the exhilaration of hitting a personal best at the gym because "life" keeps getting the better of you, then Tara Nicole Hughes may have the perfect solution for restoring harmony between mind, body and spirit: dance
M&F Hers sat down with the co-choreographer of Disney's new live-action spectacle The Little Mermaid to find out how those of us with two left feet should start and what benefits we can expect by keeping our feet on the ground let off steam We quickly learned that dancing is truly a gift, whether it's on the big screen or in a safe place at home.
Dance is for everyone
Just as we approach every other form of practice, each individual begins their dance journey from a different starting position. "I was born with dove-toed legs," says Hughes, who is now one of Hollywood's top dance choreographers and has worked on credits such as Chicago, The Terminal, Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid. "My mom and dad put casts on my legs to kind of straighten them out. So that I could walk more easily, my mother sent me to a ballet class when I was seven. I remember being at this long (ballet) bar in this huge studio and being just a little person but really getting carried away by the music and the dance and I never strayed from that path. That was the beginning for me and I just never really left the dance studio.” From humble beginnings, Hughes has now shared her love of dance with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Penelope Cruz and of course; Hall Bailey.
Dancing is a great way to burn calories
The benefits that dancing can have on your well being are seemingly endless as dancing gives you a full body workout. As a cardio activity, dancing builds endurance, builds muscle, and improves balance and coordination. Also, any aerobic activity like dancing is a great way to combat depression, and did you know that just 30 minutes of ballet dancing can burn 179 calories? If you're more into hip hop, you could burn 207 calories in the same amount of time!
Dance is a social affair
We'd never get through a story like this without grappling with the cliche, "It takes two to tango," and that's because truer words have never been spoken. Whether you're cutting a carpet at your local community center or working on a big-budget Disney film, dance is a social affair that rejuvenates us through the human bonds we form. And when you want to stage a showstopper like The Little Mermaid, teamwork is essential. Hughes would like to thank Rob Marshall and his creative partner John DeLuca and the entire team for collaborating on the stunning moves that will delight moviegoers in The Little Mermaid.
And here's some insider info: When you see Halle Bailey effortlessly gliding through the water, remember it took an entire crew to create the magic. “We used rigs for the underwater sequences,” explains the movement coach. "It's like 'dry for wet'. So it's a blue screen world and we used devices (that looked like) like a tuning fork that allow Halle and the sisters to swim in that horizontal position. And then the tail, we just had to frame it. We knew how long the story was (will be added later through CGI) and we had a mock story, almost like a sleeve that she would put on, because a feet-joined story the way you move and the shape of things changed.”
Hughes adds that crew members would move Halle Bailey's oil rig seamlessly, which meant not only did she have to appear effortless in her movements, but the crew around her had to work perfectly together to make everything look smooth.
Dancing is a great way to build confidence
"I'm always so proud at the end of a project when I see where they started, the work they put into it and where they end up," says Hughes, who loves working with people who find dance just as difficult to grasp at first like those with a natural rhythm like Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy. "A lot of actors will say, 'I can't dance, how am I supposed to learn it in such a short time,' but I always say you can 'learn a dance.'" (They probably won't dance professionally, but here it is dance that we're going to do and you can definitely learn it. It's really exciting and exciting to see them finding their confidence and the joy of it. Seeing where you start and where you end up can be a big leap at times, so that's really fun.”
Dance is great for mindfulness
Creating a movement masterpiece like The Little Mermaid requires a three-month rehearsal process. "We usually dance all day," explains Hughes, who loves to guide her clients through warm-ups, progressions (exercises across the dance floor) and small combinations so they can practice memorizing choreography.
While not everyone who wants to delve into dance finds themselves on the big screen, Hughes works with the rest of us too; People who are focused on improving their mind-muscle connection.
"Both my parents have Parkinson's disease," she says. "I created this program called 'Inside Out,' and I do workshops, master classes, and retreats, and I basically combine meditation and dance movement." Hughes says that through dance, she's seen firsthand the improvements her dance clients make in terms of cognition and balance and achieve better outcomes for those suffering from depression or other ailments. "I think we get into our heads too much," she says. “And dance immediately puts you into the body. So you can relax your mind, your worries and your stress. Then you are connected to your breath, you are connected to the music. I just feel like dance is an immediate connection.”
So if you're already humming "Under the Sea" to yourself while you're excitedly planning your trip to the movies, this dance meditation exercise for beginners, put together by The Little Mermaid co-choreographer, might lighten your mood even further for your readers . "This is for people who want to relieve tension and stress and feel a connection to their inner wisdom and peace," she says.
5-Step Dance Meditation by Tara Nicole Hughes, choreographer of Little Mermaid.
5 easy steps to dance happiness...
- take off your shoes
When you feel the ground beneath your feet, you feel the support that is always there for you. Allow your body weight, your energy, and any tension or worry to fall into the floor and melt away.
- Dim the lights to make this an inner experience
You want to be safe and secure in your own private world. It's not about perfect moves or looks, it's not about judging yourself and deciding if you're "good" at dancing or not. Closing your eyes helps you tune in to yourself and your journey.
- Begin your beautiful journey of discovery, reflection and expression
Set an intention for how you want to feel and what you want from this dance meditation. Maybe you want to let go of something, bring in something new, reframe a difficult situation. Or maybe you just want to feel good! Whatever it is, say it internally or out loud.
- Put on a song or an album you like
Pop music with lyrics can be fun, but an audio experience that's more about the mood and less about the words can help get your head around. Play it in repeat or with a continuous stream so you won't be interrupted by an abrupt end.
- let you go
Close your eyes, let the music move your body and don't be afraid to let yourself go. This is a wonderful practice of surrendering to "what is." Let the energy flow as your body warms up and let your instincts guide you, allowing your body to move in different ways, shapes and expressions. Let all worries and tensions go away.
Then, when you feel complete, stand still with your eyes closed and feel your body vibrate and tingle with energy. I often go to my journal afterward to write down any inspiration or insight that has come up. Dance is a gift. Enjoy it!
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