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8 Tips

8 Tips For A Healthier Holiday

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

During this busy season of crazy schedules—holiday shopping, baking, decorating, family gatherings and celebratory meals—I have a tough time sticking to my healthy eating habits. In fact, eating healthy during the holidays sometimes seems like an impossible challenge. All around me I’m faced with delicious sweets, gift baskets filled with yummy cheeses and meats, rich egg nog drinks, and platters overflowing with fattening foods. Can you blame me when faced with these temptations? Chances are you can’t blame me. In fact, you probably join me!

Most of us utter some form of “I’ll start eating healthy again in the New Year,” and then we proceed to stuff ourselves from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. We’re uncomfortably full. Most of us don’t pile our plate like that on a regular day, but during the holidays it would be rude not to try every dish, so pass the pie please!

Blame The Brain?

Research has shown that our brains can easily override our bodies’ signals to stop eating, even when we know the consequences will be unpleasant. While one incredibly heavy meal won’t make us fat, it can make us terribly uncomfortable. It’s harder to breath, we’re drowsy, bloated and gassy, irritable, and even sick. Blame the brain? Maybe. When we’re stuffed with comforting food our brain triggers a warm feeling inside. It’s actually comes from a primal instinct to eat a lot as often as we can, preparing us for hard times when food might not be as easily available: like the squirrels storing up for the winter. The real bummer is that our brain rewards us for it by releasing pleasure chemicals. A recent study suggested that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin!

So now that we know all of this, how can we fight against our body and brain taking over our eating habits during this holiday season? First off, simply knowing this will help. Be aware of not only the challenge of more parties and extra food, but also how the brain and body respond to it all.

Tips For A Healthier Holiday

Besides paying attention the brain body responses, follow some of these tips:

Don't skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning!

Don’t skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning!

  1. You don’t have to quit “cold turkey” all the savory holiday foods. Remind yourself that you don’t have to overindulge everyday. Decide to eat as healthy as possible on most days, and then give yourself the “go-ahead” to enjoy a few of your favorite foods throughout the month… guilt-free!
  2. Now is probably not a good time to go on a diet. Instead of trying to shed extra pounds during the holiday season, focus on maintaining your current weight.
  3. Stop making food your number one thought. There are some yummy foods we wait all year to consume, but instead of focusing on what’s going to be part of the spread, think about the company you keep, the conversations, the traditions, and the good times. Don’t make it only about the food, make it about the people.
  4. Grill, roast, and bake as often as you can. Go light on the creams and gravies.
  5. Don’t put all the food on the table. When we have to get up for a serving we traditionally eat less.
  6. Eat before you eat! Seriously! Maybe not right before, but the tendency on holidays is to starve in preparation for the big feast. Don’t deprive yourself before your Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch (unless your feast is at noon), enjoy your usual in-between snacks throughout the day, and come to the table like you would on any other day. If you show up at dinner starving, you’ll be more likely to overeat and your body will have a harder time digesting the heavy meal.
  7. Take time to savor your food on your days to indulge. Pace yourself, chew slowly, and enjoy each bite. Make each bite smaller and put your fork down once in a while to chew and talk with the other people at the table. It actually takes time for your body to realize it’s full, so the slower you eat, the more likely you will be to stop before you are over full.
  8. Continue to stay active during the holiday season. Not only does physical activity relieve the added stress of the holidays, it will give you the motivation to eat healthy when it’s not party time. Even if you’re significantly busier this month, don’t skip your workouts. Beyond burning calories, a workout can boost your mood for up to 12 hours; a much-needed perk during this hectic season. Get creative to keep moving your body. Walk the Trail of Lights, walk through a decorated neighborhood, bundle up for a fun game of Frizbee, or take the dog for a walk!



Stay Active

Enjoy the months ahead, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals when you can, watch portion sizes, don’t restrict yourself from enjoying some of your favorite holiday foods, and stay as active as you can. Most importantly, don’t forget that the holidays are for celebrating with family and friends.

And if you totally blow it? Join us January 10 for our Annual GetFit! Day.

Happy Holiday’s From Ballet Austin!

The Clara Diaries

By Jessica Pino, Senior Manager of Audience Engagement & Marketing

Ballet Austin has a total of 186 dancers performing The Nutcracker every year. This includes 44 professional, apprentice & training dancers, and 142 student dancers from the Ballet Austin Academy. A role that many little girls dream of dancing is that of Clara. Meet Madeline Casas, a Ballet Austin Academy student, who is dancing the role for the second year in a row as she talks about what it’s like dancing this role alongside Ballet Austin company dancers.

Iconic Thriller Re-awakens “The Dancing” Dead

By Guest Blogger, Laura Bond Williams, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness member

In 2008, and Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance & Fitness had re-awakened me to the possibilities of becoming a dancer—at age 38. That fall I took a thrilling step forward as a dancer and performer when I joined 800+ other local dancers to participate in “Thrill the World” at the Long Center, joining tens of thousands of movers worldwide to set a Guinness World Record for simultaneously dancing Thriller. That experience—and several more over the last seven years—are why I appreciate and celebrate Thriller as a way for people to connect with their bodies, channel their creativity and claim dance for themselves.


Image from 2008’s Thrill the World at the Long Center. Photo Credit tibbygirl via Flickr CC.

That day, lying flat and “playing dead” on the warm concrete plaza of our city’s performing arts center, we waited for the opening notes and footsteps that mark the beginning of Michael Jackson’s legendary song. Together—women and men of all ages and races—we slowly rose to life, our bodies play-fighting against gravity. Acting our roles as stumbling, bumbling living dead, rising from our graves and ready to…dance. Thriller’s famous fanfare brings us to our feet, and we stare straight ahead, enlivened by the music. The beat drops, and we walk, slowly. Right. Pause. Left. Pause. Right. Pause. Left. Pause.

One of my favorite Broadway dance teachers often quips “if you can walk, you can dance.” (Please note: walking is not even a prerequisite for dancing, as beautiful dance troupes such as Austin’s Body Shift dancers demonstrate.) As we stumbled right-left-right-left across the Long Center plaza, I realized this truth: when we are moved by music, we are dancing.

If you were alive and young in 1984, then Thriller connects your present body to your past. Perhaps you watched Friday night music videos while sitting next to your VCR, waiting for the Thriller video to air so you could tape it and watch it over and over. Thirty-one years later, Thriller still stirs the same reactions.

But you don’t have to be middle-aged to be excited by Thriller. This year, I taught Thriller to a group of young dancers, and we performed it at as a flash mob at an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre. I gave them only two pieces of advice on costumes: Find some mud and some blood, and if your costume is too clean or too cute, it’s not a zombie.

People of all ages dressing as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit

People of all ages at Ballet Austin dressed as zombies for Thriller. Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

These 9–13-year-olds—and many of their parents—channeled ghastly princess and cheerleader zombies and night-of-the-living-dead zombies in white t-shirts, flannel and jeans, drizzled in dirt, leaves, mud and fake blood.

For adults, learning and performing Thriller is a way for us to claim our identity as dancers. For most of us “flash mobbers,” our identity as dancer may fall behind our roles as spouses, parents, and/or professionals. But the identity is no less dear. Last month I met a successful nonprofit executive whose career is a model and inspiration for many. Our conversation spanned many personal and professional subjects, and when we touched on the topic of dance, we went to a whole new shared space and she shared with me that she was starting Ballet Austin’s Thriller workshop. Her enthusiasm and excitement for tackling this iconic dance was palpable.

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

Photo Credit Laura Bond Williams

In less than six minutes—from a creaky door to an evil cackle—Thriller brings us back to life, living in our bodies, channeling our creativity and declaring our love of dance. As Vincent Price reminds us in rap: “For whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down, may stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse’s shell.”

Ballet Austin offers Thriller workshops every year! And with Halloween around the corner… Go ahead dancers. Thrill the world.

Creative Ballet at the Ballet Austin Academy

by Joan Wolfe, Creative Ballet Curriculum Director

Creative Movement

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

What is creative movement? I get asked this question often. With 30 years of teaching experience I have many thoughts on the subject and I’ll get to those in a minute. But recently I’ve been asking parents what they think creative movement is, and what it does for their child.

Parents mention the physical benefits—coordination, balance, and strength. Some feel classes help their child get a head start on becoming a dancer. But what I hear most often is that they are unsure what creative movement is. They simply know their child loves to move and they love Creative Ballet. And by the look on their faces during class, they do!

To this list add social and emotional benefits, children learn best in groups. They connect, interact, learn to share, respect others and respond to what they see. They experience the boost in confidence that comes with, “What a fun idea—I’ll try that again!” and, “I did it!”

There’s also cognitive development, the relationship of movement to intellectual growth. Movement can provide the connection between an idea or problem, and the outcome or solution. This is often referred to as kinesthetic learning and is being modeled in educational settings around the country.

There is another area of movement research that’s in its infancy—the study of movement on neural patterning or brain-compatible dance. The BrainDance developed by Anne Green Gilbert is one such approach. I have included the BrainDance in my curriculum since I was introduced to Anne several summers ago. Ballet Austin has supported me in attending her workshops where I continue to receive information about the mind/body connection. I’d like to share with you what brain-compatible dance education is and how we use it in your child’s class.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

The 8 BrainDance Patterns

  1. Breath
  2. Tactile
  3. Core-Distal
  4. Head-Tail
  5. Upper-Lower
  6. Body Side
  7. Cross Lateral
  8. Vestibular

The 8 activities in the BrainDance are based on the 8 movement patterns all humans will experience in the first year of life. These movement patterns develop the foundation of all human movement and hardwire the brain for future learning. Moving through these patterns on a daily basis after the first year of life continues to support brain and body development in the areas of:

  • Sensory-Motor Development; eye tracking, balance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, focus, sensory integration, and memory.
  • Increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
  • Increased core strength, postural strength, and coordination.

At the beginning of each class, we explore each pattern by integrating dance concepts and using a variety of movements, dance games, songs, and props. This allows for a balance of repetition and imagination that keeps children engaged.


How the Patterns Develop

  • Babies do their own BrainDance very naturally in the first twelve months of life, especially if placed on their tummies as much as possible during infancy.
  • Baby’s first breath starts the wires growing from the brain cells.
  • Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin and is essential for promoting appropriate behavior and emotional and social intelligence.
  • In the first two months of life, the baby will reach into space in order to connect with her environment and curl back into the womb position, demonstrating the core-distal.
  • At two months, the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head-tail pattern begun at birth.
  • Discovering the upper and lower body halves comes next as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees.
  • Between five and seven months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. As the baby crawls on her belly she will develop horizontal eye tracking.
  • Between seven and nine months, baby pushes herself up onto hands and knees and begins a cross lateral reach from the upper body. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal and vertical eye tracking is essential for reading. From one year onward cross lateral patterns appear in walking, running and eventually skipping.
  • The vestibular system begins developing in utero and continues to be very active through the first fifteen months as baby rolls, crawls, creeps, sits up, and walks. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps us know where we are in space and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when we read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move. Every movement stimulates the vestibular system which stimulates the brain.

I know firsthand the joy children experience when dancing. Now we can explore the fascinating science behind the dance.   If you would like to find out more, please visit:

Amazing Babies Moving
Creative Dance

Parent Watch Week

To see the BrainDance in action, as well as all the other amazing things your children do, mark your calendars for our first observation day during your child’s regular class time the week of October 19 – 24. Families welcome.

Join Ballet Austin In Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

Many in Austin may not realize the depth of Ballet Austin’s offerings. For example, The Pilates Pink Ribbon Program is something we take a lot of pride in. This post-operative exercise program is offered for women recovering from breast cancer surgery. Ballet Austin currently covers the entire cost of the program with the help of outside donations.

Post-Rehabilitative Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist Vlada Sheber working with a survivor.

Post-Rehabilitative Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist Vlada Sheber working with a survivor.

The program was started 6 years ago by certified Pilates instructor, Vlada Sheber for women such as Emily featured in the video below. Emily attends the workshop and says it’s been an integral part of her recovery. That it’s helped her regain her strength, energy and quality of life. Having practiced yoga for over 10 years, she knows what a difference movement makes in her general health and included it in her daily routine. Now, she calls it her “medicine.”

Other participants talk of Vlada’s compassion and sense of humor, in addition to her expertise, and tell about the sense of community the Pilates Pink Ribbon Program brings to them. Currently, we are able to offer this program during the lunchtime hours on Tuesday. But we can do more. More women can include this program as part of their recovery journey if evening classes were available.

Vlada Sheber

Post-Rehabilitative Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist Vlada Sheber during a Pilates Pink Ribbon Program class.

This is where you come in! As we move into the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, show your support for these special women and join us for Pink Tuesdays every Tuesday in October. Wear pink to Ballet Austin—whether you’re taking a class or dropping off a child—take a selfie and post to social media to let everyone that you support Breast Cancer Awareness month! Don’t forget to tag #PinkTuesdayATX and #BalletAustin. And, if you’re inclined, make a gift of support to help us expand our reach of the Pilates Pink Ribbon Program. Know that every single dollar makes a difference.

How I Mastered Pilates After Failed Attempts

By Vlada Sheber, Pilates Program Director


In 2000 I took my first Pilates reformer class. As a professional dancer, and member of Ballet Austin’s professional company at the time, I thought I was in such great shape and could easily do this apparatus workout. Was I ever wrong! I did everything incorrectly. I could not do Pilates. I could not get it right!

But my Ukrainian never-give-up blood kept me coming back. I wanted to get it right. What I discovered was that with proper instruction, I could do Pilates. What I learned through this experience is that one of the most important things about Pilates is learning to do it correctly.

15 years later I can truly say it was the best investment I made in myself, my dancing, and in my life. Not only did I notice major changes in my body, but I also just felt better all over.

Ballet Austin In

Master Instructor Private Pilates sessions are available for clients.

In 2002, after many hours of grueling training, I received my diploma as a Certified Core Connections® Pilates Instructor from the Core Connections® Comprehensive Teacher Training Program at the Pilates Center of Austin. In 2007, when the Ballet Austin Pilates Center was designed and opened, I was appointed as Pilates Program Director. Since then we have grown from just one certified Pilates instructor to 8. We also recently had a Grand Re-opening of our newly renovated space—now offer 12 reformers in 2 studios totaling 1500 square feet.

I think Pilates is for everyone. Whatever your age and physical condition, the Pilates practice will improve your quality of life. The greatest challenge is that, despite the fact that Pilates has been around for about 100 years, people still don’t know what it is and where it came from. They don’t know it can be for them.

So whenever I have a chance, I share with everyone this six-minute video by InfobytesTV that provides a complete history of Pilates. I love it! It’s a fun and informative animated history of Joseph Pilates and the beginning of the Pilates Method.

Ballet Austin Company Dancer Shares What It’s Like Working With New Choreographers

By Oliver Greene-Cramer, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Working with a new choreographer is often a very rewarding experience for a dancer. We get pushed and inspired in new ways while working in the familiarity of our own studio. As with many companies, at Ballet Austin we have the pleasure of working with multiple guest choreographers during the season. This season being no exception, Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg will be setting work on us for the Director’s Choice performance in February.

There are many different ways that choreographers choose to work with the company. From playing games to get to know us all the way, to just setting already choreographed steps. It’s always interesting to work in new ways. Even if you don’t end up being featured in the piece there are still opportunities to discover something new in the audition.

Working With Pam Tanowitz

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

One the most interesting processes came to us this week with Pam Tanowitz and her assistant Melissa Toogood. Based in New York, Pam is quite aesthetically similar to Merce Cunningham. Her almost pedestrian intention and love for chance echoes many of Cunningham’s methods. The piece that Pam set on us, Early that Summer, had already been created, but instead of merely giving us steps Pam wanted to work with us on changing and modifying the piece so it felt natural for our bodies. Both Pam and Melissa spoke to us about adhering to technical purity, while also fulfilling the steps in our own way. Any piece becomes far more interesting for the dancers with that kind of collaboration. Pam also spoke about how much she loves to discover new things in an old concept.

Another distinct aspect of this particular piece is that Pam didn’t choreograph to specific counts. Instead of adhering to a strict musicality, she instead encouraged the dancers to find the natural rhythm of the group, as well as our own individual movements. As a ballet company, this is a very foreign concept for many of us because so much of what we do is very defined with unison and formations. While being scary at points, it is very exciting and liberating to find such freedom, as well as making personal choices.

Limited Studio Time

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director's Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director’s Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

In the case of Pam we only had one week to put this piece together, and for most guest choreographers we only have a few weeks. Regardless of how brief the process is, it is really wonderful to connect with the new work.

Next up is Pontus Lidberg who we work with for three weeks in October before Ballet Austin travels to Florida to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project and before the fourteen performances of The Nutcracker.

We look forward to sharing all of these with you and hope you enjoy the works from Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg featured in Director’s Choice as much as we do.

The Inside Scoop On Fête and fête*ish 2015

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

Scene from Fête 2014

Fabulous table decor from Fête 2014

Fête and fête*ish 2015 are this Friday! Ballet Austin is excited to announce a new partnership with Fashion X Austin (otherwise known as Austin Fashion Week). They’re also one of our media partners for the event. They caught up with Laura Villagran Johnson of Austin Social Planner last week for some inside scoop on the event as it takes shape and prepares to be the best ever!

Read full article on Fashion X.

Tips For Ballet Austin Academy Parents

By Bill Piner, Academy Director 

About Page

Ballet Austin Academy students (Photo Credit Travis Tank)

It’s finally here. After a long hot summer—okay it’s still really hot, but go with me on this—the first day of fall Academy classes has finally arrived! Don’t get me wrong, taking a little break is nice, but it’s always exciting to see everyone return with fresh new leotards, enthusiastic smiles and lots of energy. Old friends are reunited, new ones are introduced, and parents and students alike are surging through the building anxious to find their new studio and meet their new teacher. It’s truly a sight to behold.

What to Expect

The main thing parents should prepare for these first couple of weeks is a little anxiety. Getting to know your child’s new teacher(s), and getting comfortable with a new schedule and class dynamic, can be a little stressful for parents as much as children. So breathe and know that Ballet Austin staff is here to help and support you. We want everyone to feel comfortable so that the focused, hard work ahead can be accomplished to your child’s fullest ability. It will take some time for things to settle down, but after the first few weeks, everyone should be acclimated to the new rhythm of the school year, and the apprehension will be replaced with eagerness for the year of learning ahead.

Separation Anxiety

In addition to the usual start-of-year jitters, sometimes our youngest students can experience some separation anxiety. I want to share some valuable insight from Joan Wolfe (Miss Joan☺), our Creative Ballet Curriculum Director…

“On occasion, in my 3-year-old classes, children will have trouble separating from their parents for the first time. It can be traumatic to be apart from a parent, but an experienced teacher will know what to do. I have seen situations where teachers carry the crying child into the classroom with the hope that they will acclimate. I’ve also seen parents get angry and force their child into class. Neither scenario is acceptable. While there is no one correct response in dealing with this situation, there are several things a teacher can do to ease the transition.
1) Have the child sit near the teacher.
2) Have a cute puppet to divert their attention and engage them.
3) Suggest they arrive early to help set up the classroom.
4) If nothing else will work, invite the parent to come into the classroom, and even dance with the child if necessary.
It is amazing how soon a child will be ready to have their parent transition out of the classroom once they’ve gained the teacher’s trust.”

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

Group of Creative Ballet students ready for the new school year. (Photo Credit Jessica Pino)

This is just one example of the level of experience and professionalism that continues to make the Ballet Austin Academy a very special place for your child to grow and learn. I am so proud to work with this dedicated and talented group!

Traffic, Access, and Parking… Oh My!

The elephant in the room, the EVIL WORDS around town, the things we’d love to ignore… but can’t. As much as I, and everyone else connected with Ballet Austin, would like, we simply can’t make the construction on Mopac—or 3rd Street, or any other artery leading to Ballet Austin—go away. It’s just a part of living and working in one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and creative cities in Texas.

An important item I want to stress is to please try make every effort to be here on time. But if you are stuck in traffic, do not stress, or stress your child out about it. We are very aware of this challenge and we’ve instructed all our teachers to allow for late arrival and incorporate late attendees into class in the timeliest and safest way possible. My most sincere hope is that these inconveniences will not keep you from providing your child the quality instruction and professional environment that can only be found at Ballet Austin Academy.

The drop-off route for parents. All routes in red are open for through traffic ONLY.

The drop-off route for parents. All routes in red are open for through traffic ONLY.


For parents of students enrolled in Levels 2-8 of the Lower and Upper Schools, being able to audition for Ballet Austin’s professional production of The Nutcracker is a benefit that is available exclusively to you and your child(ren). It’s an exciting opportunity and prepares students to see first hand what it takes to perform on stage. As a parent, it’s important for you to not only be supportive as physically—by accompanying students to rehearsals—but also mentally as this should be a fun learning experience! Click here for more information about the audition process.


Ballet Austin Academy students can audition to play the role of angels in Ballet Austin’s production of the Nutcracker. (Photo Credit Tony Spielberg)

A Special Thank You to Parents

Our students are our most valuable resource and the dedication you as parents show on a daily basis allows us to continue on our mission to inspire the next generation to develop strong bodies, a sound sense of purpose and a passion to excel. Thank you for supporting your child in her or his training, and for supporting Ballet Austin in our effort to supply the best experience possible. Together, we will continue to get stronger, grow and improve. Here’s to another great year at Ballet Austin Academy!