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Photo by Dyson Campbell, Courtesy of Adrenaline

Adrenaline Dance Convention Is Bringing Its Dance Family to You

Is your heart racing? We know why. Adrenaline Dance is returning for its 19th season, and it's ready to bring the excitement of its live dance convention/competition experience to a city near you.

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Michelle Cordero, Courtesy VXN

Janet Jones’ VXN Workout Gets Your Heart Pumping and Booty Rolling

Dance, fitness and fierceness. When former Miami HEAT dancer Janet Jones found herself missing the magic of movement while working at her corporate job, she created VXN, a hip-hop cardio workout class. With lights dimmed low and the latest pop anthems on full volume, VXN classes reimagine the often-tedious experience of hitting the gym as an empowering and calorie-torching performance. Chanting "Yes, I'm sexy!" and "Yes, I'm fierce!" may feel intimidating at first, but according to Jones, the joy of VXN is in releasing your inhibitions and feeling the sweat on your skin. (Request for Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten" for the cooldown, please!)

Dance Spirit spoke with Jones and college VXN instructors Addie Jasica and Mikayla McGee about how they've incorporated the thrill of performing and booty-rolling into a 50-minute class.

Dance Spirit: Can you share some of your dancing background, growing up and professionally?

Janet Jones: I started dancing at age 3, and I only did ballet until 16. I then got into jazz and lyrical—hip hop wasn't as widely popular at the time. I got a BFA in dance at Florida State University, where I was introduced to African dance classes. Then, I joined an outside dance team called Flava, which was my first experience with hip hop! Later on, I came back home and auditioned for the Miami HEAT dance team, which was a whole new experience. I had to learn choreography super quickly and perform it that week. It was also my first experience as a brand ambassador and being responsible for my persona.

While I was on the HEAT, I got to know choreographer Darrin Henson, which led to the opportunity to assist on tour with him and be in his instructional video Darrin's Dance Grooves. I fell in love with the business and creative processes of artist development and putting shows together.

DS: What was your inspiration behind VXN?

JJ: I loved the industry, but eventually I wanted to settle down. I got a job in the corporate world before becoming a mom. Once I completely left the dance industry, I quickly realized how much dance contributed to keeping me emotionally healthy. I wanted to fill the holes of everything I desperately needed in my life. Dance can be exclusionary; you or your parents have to be able to invest a lot of time and money. I wanted to give the magic of performing to everyone.

DS: How has COVID-19 impacted VXN classes and certification training?

JJ: I had to pivot quickly. We had already planned to do a virtual studio and an online certification, but COVID-19 put those plans front and center. No one could help me during quarantine, and I set up the virtual studio myself as the only instructor. It was really challenging, but, luckily, we saw a huge success with online certifications, because it gave people the opportunity to invest in themselves and benefit their physical, mental and emotional health during that time. They can pay it forward within the community, too.

VXN founder Janet Jones leading class

Tony Tarin, Courtesy VXN

DS: What are your goals for VXN moving forward?

JJ: We're in eight different countries now, and I want to continue expanding. We're launching a platform to improve education for instructors. It will consist of accessible marketing, branding, community building and business education––everything that I've learned over the years.

DS: Any advice for dancers wanting to make a career in fitness?

JJ: As a dancer, it's so different being a fitness instructor and getting what I used to love from dance. There are so many things that make dance magic that are missing from fitness. Add that! Bring your unique perspective to the job.

Creating Confidence and Community on Campus

VXN classes have gained momentum at college campuses across the country. Addie Jasica is a former VXN instructor at Tulane University, and Mikayla McGee teaches at Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and around the Atlanta area. Both brought the virtual VXN heat throughout quarantine.

"When I was in third grade, I saw the hip-hop classes from my studio perform," Jasica says of her dance experiences growing up. "I knew that was what I wanted to do. I joined my dance academy's hip-hop performance and competition companies, and, later, the jazz, contemporary and ballet company in high school. When I came to Tulane, I wanted to dance more casually, and a senior instructor introduced me to VXN."

To start her campus classes, McGee contacted group fitness directors at nearby universities. "I let them know what I wanted to do and what the program was like. It helped to have success at Atlanta studios already, and I set up an audition to take them through a warm-up, the meat of the class and a cooldown."

Both Jasica and McGee have gained more confidence, opportunities and even better friendships from their classes. McGee shares, "Many of my friends I've met through VXN, and we've done some cool things together, like choreograph and perform for 'Weird Al' Yankovic's 'Smells Like Nirvana' at The Fox, a famous theater here in Georgia. We've also done the Wigwam: Wellness Festival, Home Depot Backyard, and I'm running the ATL Summer Fit Fest this year."

Jasica adds, "I learned to command a room. There's a kind of trust and confidence you develop in yourself, having to speak without a script."

When asked to describe VXN in three words, McGee smiles. "'Sweaty,' 'fun' and 'community.'"

Jasica agrees. "'Empowering,' 'strong' and 'fun.' 'Fun' really is the best way to capture VXN! You know, flirty and a little silly, all in good fun."

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Photo by Dyson Campbell, Courtesy Revive

Revive Dance Competition's Biggest Season Yet Kicks Off November 5

Revive Dance Competition and Convention is returning for its sixth (and largest!) season yet with their "Discover the Difference" national tour. What started as an offshoot of Adrenaline Dance has firmly established itself as a unique dance competition/convention experience for dancers to grow as artists. Revive's mission is to connect up-and-coming teachers with the next generation of dancers, allowing these professional performers to continue to flourish in their dance careers, while also honing their skills as educators.

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Photo by Sam English, Courtesy of Louisville Ballet

The “Uncheat-able” Turns: How to Master Pirouettes From Fifth

While pirouettes from fifth position are not the flashiest turns in the ballet toolbox (we see you, fouettés), they are still one of the most technical. Turning from a tighter base—fifth position as opposed to fourth—makes it challenging to access and maintain momentum in the step, especially when the coordination is off. But when all the synapses are firing and the turns are done correctly, "it feels like floating," says Ashley Thursby, a company artist with Louisville Ballet whose colleagues marvel at her seemingly effortless double pirouettes from fifth.

To find that same free and easy feeling in your turns, remember these tips.

Lock In Your Position

"Pirouettes from fifth are hard because you can't really cheat," says Laura Byram, an adjunct professor of dance at Butler University and the department's ballet pedagogy instructor. Because the step has a very direct path from the prep to the position, you need to be precise about where you're going before you take off.

"Make sure that your toes hit retiré and your fingertips—whether you're turning with port de bra in first or fifth—quickly reach the peak of the position," says Thursby. "It's important to keep your shoulders over your hips to keep your ribs from flaring, as well."

Byram cautions dancers to keep the retiré position from getting sloppy in the turns. By engaging the hamstring under the working leg, the knee stays lifted and the hips stay level. She also warns dancers to watch out for sickled feet in passé. "It's a mistake I see even in professionals," she says.

Put Your Back Into It

Many dancers struggle to access and activate the muscles in the back, yet the sides of the back and the obliques are key to getting fully around in the tight spiral of a pirouette from fifth. In order to fire up those muscles, Thursby recommends engaging the arm in second position. "Whichever side I'm turning away from, I think of that arm in second position reaching toward something. That really connects me to my back."

Thursby performing the Lilac Fairy variation in Alun Jones' "Sleeping Beauty"

Photo by Sam English, Courtesy of Louisville Ballet

Go Down to Go Up

A physical awareness of the deepest point in your plié and the most lifted feeling at the height of the turn are also needed for successful pirouettes from fifth. In the prep for the turn, "you feel as if you're a wind-up toy and you get to that very last click of your deepest plié before you let it go," says Thursby.

The feeling at the depth of the plié is like a rubber band that's being pulled tight. The moment of pushing off is like releasing the rubber band, causing you to fly upward into a vertical spiral. "It's a bit abstract, but I like to think of a column of energy that's happening above the pirouette," says Thursby. "There's a continuous feeling of ascension and spiral upwards."

In order to achieve that vertical lift and spiral, be sure to push off from both feet evenly. It's a common mistake to pull the weight off the front foot preemptively, or to let that foot escape from fifth position. Keep the weight centered between both feet through the deepest point in the plié and into the push-off.

When All Else Fails, Balance!

No matter what level you're at or how naturally turning comes to you, we all have good turning days and bad turning days. On those bad days when the turns aren't coming, "go back to basics, set up retiré at the barre, and balance, balance, balance," says Byram. "Without that balance, nothing is going to happen."

After establishing the balance at the barre, she recommends breaking the turn down into quarters and then halves, and sustaining the balance at the finish of each partial rotation. "I often like to hold dancers' hands and get them in a retiré position," adds Byram. "I have them use their turnout muscles and their backs to pull the knee back and feel what it's like to make the turn happen with just their balance."

Once you achieve that strong, lifted balance, be careful not to anticipate the floor at the end of the turn. Particularly in continuous pirouettes from fifth, this can cause the foot to flex on the way down into fifth. "I never think about landing, because that always kills it for me," says Thursby. "I only come down when gravity makes me."

These Next-Generation Knee Pads Might Just Change Your Life

With all the intense floor work that dance demands, you'd think that knee pads would be in everyone's dance bag, on the daily. But Ailey II's Meagan King can't be the only serious dancer who, disappointed with the performance of every brand of knee pads she's tried, simply made the choice to go without.

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