March Matness

March Matness is an online celebration, spearheaded by Pilates legend Benjamin Genhardt in 2013.

For the first year ever, we'll be joining in the festival at Clifford Studios! To kick off the party, we're offering 10% off our adult classes on 1st March only. That way you'll be all set to attend Pilates throughout the month. The discount is applicable to passes of 6 hours or more and the code to enter at the checkout is : marchmatness.

The aim is to pay respect to the traditional Mat exercises as documented by Joseph Pilates in his book 'Return to Life through Contrology'; first published in 1945.

It consists of a series of bodyweight movements that are invigorating and effective in conditioning the body. Mr Pilates left strict instructions as to the order the exercises should be performed and how quickly. The sequence was designed to allow the body to experience a balance of movement encompassing all planes, utilising all joints and muscles and equalising strength with mobility.

In our Saturday classes we will be spending part of each lesson on the series of exercises, culminating in doing the whole series as a group on Saturday 25th March. Here's the plan:

Saturday 4th March:

  • The Hundred
  • Roll Ups
  • Roll Overs
  • Leg Circles
  • Rolling Like a Ball
  • Single Leg Stretch
  • Double Leg Stretch
  • Spine Stretch
  • Open Leg Rocker
  • Corkscrew
  • Saw

Saturday 11th March:

  • Swan Dive
  • Singe Leg Kick
  • Double Leg Kick
  • Neck Pull
  • Scissors
  • Bicycle
  • Shoulder Bridge
  • Spine Twist
  • Jack Knife
  • Side Kick
  • Teaser

Saturday 18th March

  • Hip Circles
  • Swimming
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Leg Pull Back
  • Kneeling Side Kicks
  • Side Planks
  • Boomerang
  • The Seal
  • The Crab
  • Rocking
  • Control + Balance
  • Push Up

I am both excited and daunted at the prospect as some of these exercises I definitely skim over as they are seriously challenging! Safety will be the first and foremost and as always I will give modifications.

See you on the mat!

Further info on March Matness :
http://www.marchmatness.com/about-mach-matness/
https://www.verywell.com/ways-to-get-ready-for-march-matness-2704858
http://pilatesbridge.com/pilates-to-the-test-with-mat/

What Exams mean to Clifford Studios

First of all I want to congratulate all pupils, teachers + parents for the results achieved in Ballet, Tap + Modern in July 2016. Of 34 exams, 23 were marked as Distinction and 11 as Merit.

But what do these labels really mean? 

For Tap + Modern (ISTD), pupils that achieve 80 + out of 100 are awarded a 'Distinction' and those that achieve 60-79 out of 100 are awarded a Merit.

For Ballet (RAD), pupils that achieve 75 + out of 100 are awarded a 'Distinction' and those that achieve 55 - 74 are awarded a 'Merit'.

Why is there a difference?

Grade 1 Ballet

Grade 1 Ballet

The mere fact that there is, and that a 'Distinction' or a 'Merit' can mean different things in different genres is why I was motivated to write this post. Measuring and quantifying achievement when it comes to creative endeavour is, in my opinion, a very tricky area. If too much store is set by marks and results I fear the point of exams is missed, hence why I both love and loathe the exams we offer at Clifford Studios.

LOVE:

I love them because they give pupils and teachers a goal and a structure for classes. From the moment they first see the new steps, to when they perform their dance solo in the exam, pupils learn a lot more than just the syllabus.

  • They learn that they find some things difficult that their peers find easy. They then learn how to get over that and recognise their own strengths and weaknesses. 
  • They learn patience as it takes months of practise to get something right - something I think is increasingly valuable in today's insta-world.
  • They learn the value of commitment - especially when they miss a class and feel behind.
  • They learn not to give up when this happens and to work extra hard in order to catch up.
  • They learn that they sometimes have to do things they don't like - i.e. stretch - in order to be able to do the things they do like i.e. splits.
  • They learn to watch and listen - not only to their teachers but to their fellow pupils. They are required to work together in a small group and respect their partners/friends when they are dancing solo.
  • They learn to overcome fear - especially when they have to dance solo for the first time. They learn that nothing will happen if they get a step wrong - that they can just try harder next time and learn from their mistakes.
  • They learn to LOVE to dance solo and show off the skills they have spent months practising.
  • They learn empathy and to encourage others who are feeling less confident than themselves.
  • They learn to love non verbal expression and music.

And we hope that, on the day, the examiner sees all this. But of course, there are times when they can't or don't.

LOATHE:

Examiners have 30 - 60 minutes with the pupils to give them their marks. They don't know that the pupils have rushed to classes each week from netball matches or play rehearsals, or that they have missed parties to attend extra coaching sessions. They don't know how hard one pupil has worked to improve their turns, pick ups, shuffles or split leaps. They also don't know how little some have had to work! 

If, on the day, the pupil doesn't perform to the best of their ability for some reason, does this mean that the past 3 - 4 terms of work is meaningless? I certainly don't think so. We aim to build a strong foundation of technique and practise so that nerves don't have too much of an effect but there are many other factors that can affect performance on the day.

THE MEANING OF RESULTS:

Exam results can be skewed - by age or length of time preparing - and are certainly not the only way to determine the progress of a pupil. Comparison is also a dangerous game, unlikely to be beneficial to anyone, because so many ingredients make up the end result. 

We take exam preparation seriously as you all know - with coaching and private sessions leading up to the exams. This is because we want the pupils to achieve the results they deserve and to ENJOY the experience of taking an exam. We always talk about the exams in class, explaining that they are an opportunity to show off the work they have been doing all year and get rewarded for it. Not a judgement process to indicate who is 'good' or 'bad' at dancing.

Grade 2 Modern

Grade 2 Modern

We know the pupils enjoy the exam day itself - getting their hair done and sharing an exciting experience with their class mates. They burst out of the hall to tell us what went wrong, when so-and-so fell over and whether the examiner was smiling during their dance. 99% of the time the general consensus is - can we do it again right now please? This kind of response is why Clifford Studios enters pupils for exams - the results themselves are great tools to build on - but whether it's a Pass, Merit or Distinction doesn't matter to us.

A good set of results to us is one that accurately reflects the pupils' abilities and on the whole this is what is given. However, there are times when examiners are appealed against and there is always the matter of personal style to contend with. 

WHEN THINGS GO WRONG...

Thankfully, I have not witnessed many occasions when pupils are upset at the end of an exam, or when the results are distributed. The few times they have been, it is usually because they know they weren't as prepared as they could have been and that the exam exposed this.

We would never enter a pupil who we thought was unprepared and sometimes have to make difficult decisions NOT to allow a pupil to take part. This is because a great deal of damage can be done with a negative exam experience or result. Though, having said this, EVERYTHING is a learning experience in my opinion! 

TALKING TO THE PUPILS:

Once all results have been distributed, we sit down with the students and discuss what each section means. We don't compare marks or force students to reveal what they were awarded unless appropriate. We hope this gives them a little more understanding of their marks and what they can build on the next time.

A PINCH OF SALT:

The exam marking criteria has already changed 3 times since I started dancing and is sure to do so again several times. I was given a hand written comments sheet, not marks out of 10, for the first few exams I took. In my teens this changed to A - E grades rather than Pass, Merit or Distinction. Now we are back to the old grading system but with no written comments. 

These changes reflect what is going on in wider society and you most likely know better than I about the way children are tested in 2016! It's great that dance and drama exams are now recognised by the national qualifications framework, but I'm sure at some point this will change as well. Which is why putting too much pressure on the results themselves is, in my opinion, dangerous.

We will continue to do exams at Clifford Studios, alternating these with performances and shows and perhaps even competitions. I believe the benefits outweigh the negatives, especially as the parameters themselves change so frequently. 

VISION:

My aim with Clifford Studios and my teaching is to instil a love of dance and music in our pupils. Through dance, I want to equip them with skills that will help them in their day to day lives, whether they choose to make performing their career or not.

Lastly, it may interest you to learn that my sister - who a lot of you now know - currently runs her own design + print agency; Pirrip Press. She has exhibited her work  and undertaken residencies all over Europe and been commissioned by clients such as Orange, The Guardian and Waitrose as an illustrator. She was awarded a 'D' for her A Level Art. 

Clifford Studios in NYC : Class #2 = SLT

4 days into our honeymoon and, having adjusted to the relocation from sleepy Red Hook, Brooklyn to Midtown, Manhattan, Tom + I fuelled up with the Ace Hotel's legendary cheese sandwich (perfect pre workout snack right?) before strolling down to the FlatIron studio of SLT.

SLT stands for Strengthen, Lengthen and Tone. It's a class performed not on the reformer we Brits are now familiar with, but the MEGAformer. At this point Tom certainly echoed fellow New Yorker Dorothy Parker's sentiment; what fresh hell is this? Especially when he saw how hard the previous class were working, how red their faces were and how high they were able to extend their legs while balanced precariously on the carriage...plus, this was his fist foray into a New York exercise class.

I however am no stranger to punishing workouts on what look like machines of torture; having started my Pilates career teaching reformer classes at pioneering Heartcore in London. In fact, I am one of those that are thrilled by yet new forms of exercise pain. Seeing the quote 'better sore than sorry' emblazoned on the wall meant I was chomping at the bit to get started - especially as I was sporting my new Outdoor Voices leggings purchased the previous day, in Clifford Studios colours no less!

Yet again we were treated to an instructor using a headset and Maria was extremely attentive; showing us the machines and offering words of advice. Tom was pleased to see another chap on a machine at the centre whilst we were safely tucked away at the end. Near the open window overlooking 5th Avenue...

The exercises given were similar to those performed on a reformer and followed the same basic theory as regular Pilates: one part of the body stays still/stable whilst another moves. For some exercises the moving part burns, for others the stable part. The difference on the megaformer is that not only is at least one part of your body moving, but the surface on which it is placed can also move! This forces you to engage every stabilising muscle at all times and increases the work ten fold! Props are available to assist if your balance/core strength is failing and Maria offered several modifications where necessary. 

There were also echoes of Barre training in Maria's class - fatiguing each part of the body in turn. She was excellent at correcting technique (even if that was sometimes unwelcome - cheating is usually easier no matter how damaging long term!) and I am always impressed when a teacher does not demonstrate, but simply explains so well that the class know exactly what to do. 

I was really enjoying the class - it was challenging and I was burning and sweating but essentially I had it covered. Until the obliques. Hands on the carriage, feet on the front platform, everything was firing. And it didn't stop. Just holding a plank in this position (where the legs are on a stable surface but the arms are not) is agony. Being asked to 'snake in + out' and lower one's hips towards the carriage in turn was not music to my ears. Cue collapsing onto carriage many times and cursing the previously adored Maria.

Thankfully this was at the end of the class and we were soon able to dismount and hobble off the carriage to debrief. Conclusion: the megaformer was not as frightening as it's name suggests but we were definitely going to be sore the next day. Luckily we had another class booked at Tone House to really burn off that lactic acid...

Clifford Studios in NYC : Class #1 = BARRE

During half term, I travelled to New York with my husband Tom for our honeymoon. Having visited in October 2014 for my 30th (you might have gathered I quite like the city!) the tourist list was already ticked off. So what else to do with our time than sample the fitness scene across the pond? Luckily Tom is as keen on exercise as I am and was game for giving the various classes a go.

First up was a barre class at Pure Barre, Cobble Hill (Brooklyn). Pure Barre is a franchise that has studios all over the USA and their classes are extremely popular. It was mid term break for schools in New York as well as here but the 9.30am Thursday class was still very popular.

We started with a warm up off the barre –  and I was lulled into a false sense of security with knee lifts and arm raises. Within seconds we were then straight into planks and crunches! In the warm up! Already it was very different from BarreConcept where we do a more cardio/dance warm up and then head straight to the barre. Next up at Pure Barre was a killer arm sequence, still in the centre, using weights. The formula/method here was the same as for BarreConcept – a series of moves changing very slightly after each 8-10 reps and finishing with very small movements that feel like agony having held the same position for so long!

It was after this we moved onto the barre for our calf, thigh and glute sequences. It felt like we spent relatively little time on the barre in comparison to the classes I teach however I was keen to get off when it was time! We used double loop bands throughout the barre section and again followed the 4 part movement, 2 part movement then 1 part movement formula.

The lights were then turned off as we stayed holding on to the barre but were sitting down for abs. This was the only part I found ‘easy’ – most likely due to my core strength from so much Pilates. Lastly we were in the centre doing more back and ab work before cooling down.

The 55 minute class went very fast – most likely because I was having a hard time adjusting to the American accent giving instructions! Kate – our teacher- did wear a microphone too which I found novel and am thinking about investing in to save the voice by the end of term!

I really enjoyed the class but think that it would definitely be something that I could only do once a week as the repertoire is limited and therefore the variety we have at BarreConcept would be missed. Karen is currently teaching our Thursday evening Barre classes and her training is more similar to this style – it is undeniably effective which I found to my cost when dragging my suitcase from Brooklyn to Manhattan as we were changing accommodation!