Author Archives: John Melson

5,6,7,8! Counting in Dance Class


Counting in Dance Class

By Lynn Bobzin

Dance teachers use music to support a variety of exercises in class. Whether it is during warm-up, center, across the floor, or the final dance combination, music plays a vital role in dance class! Dance and music share a close relationship with one another since both art forms can express emotion, evoke a certain mood, and inherently use devices like rhythm, tempo, duration and dynamics. Oftentimes, dance teachers will use numbers to count the movements and require you to dance these movements on their exact counts. However, if you have not had experience learning how to count music in a music class or through music lessons, this element of the dance class can become confusing.

Why do we count in dance?

Counts help dancers:

  • Move with correct timing and rhythm to match the music.
  • Execute the same movements at the same time as a group. This is also called unison.
  • Know their stage entrances and exits, and also when to begin or end class exercises and combinations.
  • Rehearse and perform choreography that may use multiple groups, entrances, exits, canons, or other devices. 

Counts in Music and Dance

  • In music there are typically 4 counts, or beats, per measure.
  • In dance, a measure is usually “musically paired” with a second measure. These two measures equal a total of 8 counts, which is why dancers count in sets of 8.
  • 8 counts keep track of the beat and tempo, but break up the song into manageable sections. One set of 8 is like a sentence.
  • After every 8 count, another 8 count begins, then another, and another.
  • Dancers can find the beginning of an 8 count by identifying the downbeat, (the strongest accent of the measure).

Ways to Practice:

  • Find the drum or bass instrument in the music if there is one. It helps creates a pulse that repeats throughout the song. Think of it like a heartbeat.
  • Try clapping at the same time as the steady beat.
  • Listen for the downbeat. Begin counting at 1 on the downbeat.
  • Listen to a wide variety of music when practicing your counting. Classical music can be a great challenge!

Tune up your turnout!

Understanding turnout

A common term teachers use in dance classes (especially ballet), is the word turnout. Turnout is achieved by outward (lateral/external) rotation of the leg. It originates from the hip socket while engaging the deep six lateral rotator muscles. Using proper turnout is a technical staple in many genres of dance, but the concept of turnout is rooted deep in the history of ballet.

Why do we use turnout?

Ballet was born out of the Italian Renaissance and was introduced to France by Catherine de Medici in the mid 1500’s who infused early concepts of ballet into the opulence of court life. Later in the 17th century, King Louis XIV established the first dance school, Académie Royale de Danse. Under its director, Pierre Beauchamp, the five basic positions of the feet were solidified and ballet became a codified language. 

Understanding Turnout

Turnout was initially used by King Louis XIV himself to display his opulent shoes and also in court fencing duels and demonstrations which then influenced the aesthetic of ballet. The degree of turnout has evolved over the centuries, and today we use turnout not only as a preservation of the history and custom of ballet tradition, but also to facilitate greater range and ease of motion with sideways movements. Turning out also showcases a longer leg line by displaying a sideways view of the arch of the foot when pointed and make the elongation through the back of knee more visible.

The truth about turnout

In ballet today, the “ideal” rotation in turnout is 180 degrees. Since this maximum turnout is  unnatural for the body, dancers must train, develop and strengthen the turnout muscles over the course of time to be able to achieve this position. However, this is not mandatory to be able to dance ballet with proper technique. Certain anatomical and physiological factors can actually make it difficult or impossible to achieve this maximum level of turnout. Remember that it is more important to correctly use and work your turnout than to improperly force your body into a greater turnout. Forcing your turnout or improperly using your turnout can lead to injury. The good news is that it is possible to improve your turnout with mindful training!

Watch out for:

  • Rolling inward on the feet or gripping the toes
  • Pain/strain in the knee joints
  • Knees tracking inward/forward instead of outward over the second toes
  • Leaning forward with the chest
  • Sway back/Hyper extending the lumbar spine (lower back)

These may indicate you need to strengthen your turnout muscles to maintain the rotation, you may be forcing your turnout, or that you may not be activating the turnout muscles enough. When using your turnout, you want to make sure it is functional. Turnout should be able to be maintained with proper balance, alignment, support and without pain. Forcing a maximum turnout is unsafe and can lead to injury. If you want to strengthen your turnout muscles and increase your rotation, start a daily routine of exercises and stretches geared specifically towards those muscles. Be careful not to overdo it!

Gymnastics Dancer in StudioExercises to help turnout

Floor exercises


  • Parallel eleves into a turned out first position
  • Lifting the leg into turned out Passe slowly (with or without resistance bands)

Helpful stretches

  • Figure 4 stretch seated or standing with support
  • Lunges

TIP: Core strengthening exercises will help your overall alignment when using your turnout.

Dance Tips and Techniques – Power of the plié: Improve the height and landing of your jumps!

Technique Tip Tuesday:

Power of the plié Improve the height and landing of your jumps!
by Lynn Bobzin

Have you heard of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion? The famous scientist’s Third Law of Motion states that every action will have a reaction that is both equal and opposite to the original action. Think about it this way: We know that if a dancer jumps into the air, they are going to come back down the same way and land on the ground. Thank gravity! This is the basic principle of the popular proverb, “what goes up must come down.”  This physics is active even in a simple action like a jump.

Female Dance Instructor Training PliéWhat does physics have to do with dance or jumps?

The answer is everything. Dance is an art form that requires physical motion in real time. Movement is physics! It is through acceleration and deceleration, force, momentum, gravity…and Newton’s Third Law that we are able to dance. Jumping into the air means coming back down, simple and automatic. The trickier bit can be taking off in a way that maximizes the power of your jump. Many dancers underestimate the power of a simple plié and how much it can increase the height of a jump.  

Taking flight

If you want to gain air time, you must think about Newton’s Third Law a little backwards every time you jump. To take off into the air, you must go down to go up. Therefore, you need your plié! Increasing the depth of your plié and the amount of force you use to push off the floor will help aid in jump height. Practicing proper pliés both in and out of class will help strengthen crucial leg muscles needed for more powerful jumps.

Dance Technique and StancePay attention to your plié

Proper positioning and alignment in your pliés will also help the accuracy and balance of your jumps during takeoffs and landings.  When practicing your plié, keep your heels grounded and your knees straight over your second and third toes. Your legs should resemble a diamond shape when open, with your shoulders stacked evenly over your hips. Think of your belly lifting in and upwards like an ice cream scooper at the same time your tailbone drops down, drawing an imaginary line down through your heels.  


The most supportive and cushioned way of landing a jump is to articulate through the foot, and, you guessed it, to plié through the landing! Land toes first, then ball, then heel. Picture rolling smoothly through the sole of the foot. Begin your plié once your feet contact the floor.

Additional tips:

  • Continue to work on your turnout and stretch your calves regularly to increase the depths of your plié.
  • A strong core will help keep posture and alignment correct in pliés and jumps.
  • Make sure you breathe! Holding your breath during jumps will create tension in your upper back and shoulders which makes you stiffer and heavier.
  • Strengthen your ankles and feet to improve the articulation and softness of your landing. Practice pointing, flexing, ankle circles, and of course practicing those relevés!
  • Jump through the top of your head! Visualize a string running through the top of your head down the center of your body and between your heels. Every time you jump into the air, imagine someone pulling up on the string.
  • Push the floor away with your feet. Imagine your feet are small rocket ships. When you launch into the air, shoot off the ground through the tips of your toes.

Gymnastics and Dance Technique Tips: Spotting

Technique Tip Tuesday:

How to practice spotting to improve your pirouettes, chaînés, and turns of all kinds!
By Lynn Bobzin

One of the first things many of my dance students beg to practice in dance classes is turns. Pirouettes, chaînés, piqué turns, fouetté…the list goes on and on. Dancers love the feeling of spinning. A whirling body in motion requires strength, control, balance and alignment in all the right places. However, one of the most important aspects of turning is also one of the most easily forgotten, and that is spotting.

So what exactly is spotting?

Young Woman Practicing Dance Moves SpottingSpotting is a term dancers use when turning to describe the focus of the eyes. Spotting is finding a fixed focal point in in front of the dancer for his/her eyes to lock onto in order to keep the dancer’s place. Effective spotting can help minimize dizziness after multiple turns.

A favorite book of mine on ballet vocabulary is the “Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet” by Gail Grant. According to Grant, spotting is “a term given to the movement of the head and focusing of the eyes in pirouettes, déboulés, fouetté, rond de jambe, en tournant and so on. In these turns the dancer chooses a spot in front and as the turn is made away from the spot, the head is the last to leave and the first to arrive as the body completes the turn. This rapid movement or snap of the head gives the impression that the face is always turned forward and prevents the dancer from becoming dizzy” (p 113).

Ways to Practice:

Place a small sticker or picture on the wall at your eye level or slightly above eye level. Face your spot marker stand a few feet away, and using small steps, slowly begin turning your body with your eyes focused on the spot. As your body continues to turn, keep looking at the spot over your shoulder. Before your body completes the turn, whip your head around to find the spot with your eyes again. Let your body complete the turn, once again facing forwards.

Gymnastics Dance Practice TipsTIP: Remember to keep your body turning at the same speed. Resist the urge to speed up your body during the turn when your head whips around. Your head must always make it back to the front first!

Check out the video tutorial that demonstrates this exercise here.

Once you feel comfortable with spotting, you can begin to use your plié, relevé and snap to your passé for beginning turns. Start with quarter turns, changing your focus with each new facing. For example, when practicing a quarter turn, place a spot on the wall you begin facing as well as the wall you finish facing, making sure you turn your head from one spot to the other without allowing your gaze to linger in between the two.  Work your way up to half turns, and before you know it you are on your way to singles, doubles, triples, and more!

Young girl practicing dance movesOf course practicing at home can never replace the benefits of regular technique classes. If you are interested in learning more about turns or improving your turning skills, a Ballet, Jazz, or Lyrical class would be great to try! Class descriptions can be found on our website and it’s never too late to register for the dance class that is right for you.

Keep practicing your spotting technique, and you will see great improvement in those turns!


Grant, Gail. Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet. Dover, 1982.

DanceTutorialsLIVE. “JAZZ DANCE TUTORIAL: Spotting A Turn | Beginner Pirouette Pt 1 Technique w/ Dana Alexa.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Mar. 2013,

Viking Gymnastics & Dance – Our History

The story of Viking Gymnastics dates back to the 1980s when our Director, Charlie Friedman, began her gymnastics career at the age of eight and quickly fell in love with the sport. What her parents thought would be a weekly activity, quickly became a passion resulting in a deeper commitment to the sport. Her training included traditional gymnastics, ballet, and acrobatic dance.

Young Girl on Balance Beam at Gym

Owner/Director Charlie Friedman

After competing in both club and high school gymnastics, throughout college Charlie performed with an acrobatic dance company. During her elementary education certification program, Charlie was hired by Niles North High School as a choreographer and assistant coach for the girls’ gymnastics team. Shortly thereafter, she became head coach and started an off-season feeder program for the high school and younger students in the area. That program grew into what is now Viking Gymnastics & Dance.

Gymnastics and Dance school

The early years at Niles North

With budding competitive teams registered through AAU/GIJO and then USA Gymnastics, and a growing recreational program, Viking needed to find a home outside of the high school’s second floor gym. In 2012, Viking opened a bright and dynamic 15,500 square foot gymnastics facility in Niles, Illinois. After successfully operating there for 5 years, it became apparent that a larger facility was needed. In 2017, Viking increased their space to 37,000 square feet and was able to grow areas like their Baby and Toddler program, which allowed for more appropriately sized equipment, trampolines, and exciting obstacles.

Time for Tots gymnastics and dance

Children enjoying themselves at Time For Tots and in a class in the expanded tot area

With the expansion of their space, Viking was also able to incorporate the dance studios that Charlie had always envisioned into their programming. Viking Dance offers Traditional Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Hip Hop, and a variety of classes for all ages.

Dance Lessons Niles IL

Dance has found a new home for all ages at Viking

Charlie and the entire Viking Staff believe that every child can benefit from gymnastics and dance, and they are committed to providing a positive and enriching experience to everyone who walks through their doors.