Irish Sean-nós Dance Workshop with Kieran Jordan and Brian Cunningham!

 Irish Sean-nós Dance Workshop

With the creators of Atlantic Steps!


 Atlantic Steps


What: Irish sean-nós dance workshop with Kieran Jordan and Brian Cunningham

When: Thursday, March 20, 2014

Time: 6-7pm Beginners; 7-8pm Continuing or Experienced Dancers

Where: Express Yourself Madison (401 N Lake St, Lower Level)

Cost: $15 for 1 hour; $20 for both hours

Who: Dancers of all levels and styles who want to try this fun and exciting dance form.

Registration: Please EMAIL to reserve your spot – Payment will be collected at the workshop.


Kieran Jordan and Brian Cunningham, Co-Directors of Atlantic Steps, are coming to Madison! And they’re going to teach us some sean-nós dance!  Ms. Jordan is a well-respected dancer, choreographer and teacher, and we are honored to have her. Mr. Cunningham will be familiar to Milwaukee Irish Fest attendees where he has taught classes and delighted audiences with his sean-nós dance performances for many years. Click on their names to read more about these incredible dancers.

What the heck is sean-nós dance? Sean-nós literally translates to “old style.” It is akin to clogging, tap dancing, and is the forerunner of modern Irish dance. It’s fast and exciting, but far less rigid than the modern stuff. Here, check out this video of the Atlantic Steps show:


This event is made possible through the support of the Madison Celtic Cultural Center (


*Get your tickets for Atlantic Steps coming to the Overture Center March 21st! For more show info and some great dance clips:

Do You Have a Plum?

In teaching ballet to adults, I don’t expect the new beginners to know any terminology or basic concepts. They are, after all, new. However, I am surprised with the former dancers who are not even a little bit familiar with them. I chalk this up to the American dance studio style of teaching ballet, which has a lot of demonstration and individual correction, but not much explanation of the concepts behind the dance. One of most important concepts (if not THE most important) is aplomb. Are you dancing with aplomb?

This is a plum.

This is a plum.

When I say this to my students they smile uncomfortably and blink at at me. I’m fairly certain they think I’m talking about a plum.

In English, we are most familiar with the word aplomb meaning to have confidence, composure or self-assurance. Certainly ballet dancers need that. But that’s pretty vague. How do you teach self-assurance? And that’s not really what we’re getting at when we talk about aplomb in ballet anyway.

It’s not?!

ballet-alignment-2Nope. Because ballet terminology isn’t English. It’s French! And aplomb comes from the Middle French “a plomb,” which means “perpendicularity” ( Focusing on this notion of aplomb as perpendicular is going to help you stack your anatomy correctly; instead of having to muscle your way into maintaining a pose or position you simply line it up perpendicular to the floor and gravity works for you instead of against you.


building-blocksThink of it this way: If you are stacking blocks and one or more of them are just a little off the center line, it’s going to be hard to keep them from tipping. But if all the blocks are lined up so that the stack is perpendicular to the floor it’s much less likely to topple.


Ballet First PositionThis concept applies to standing on two feet, one foot, on the ball of the foot or tips of the toes. There is a line, perpendicular to the floor, that goes from the crown of your head down your sternum and then ends up in the middle of whatever your foundation on the floor is (e.g., between your heels in 1st position, the middle of your instep standing on 1 flat foot, etc.). When you understand this concept you can self-correct a whole host of errors. You cannot sit into the hip of your supporting leg because your line will no longer be perpendicular to the floor. Your balance will improve greatly for anything that requires you to stand on one foot. That means cleaner arabesques and more solid pirouettes. Interestingly, once you start mastering finding your aplomb on one foot, it won’t really matter what your other leg or arms are doing. You will feel solid and secure in your stance, and that will give a lot more freedom to what you can do with your other limbs.


Male Ballet Dancers – Power AND Grace?

filipov[1]I recently got into a discussion with a student about male ballet dancers. My student said he didn’t want to pursue ballet because he didn’t particularly care for the way male ballet dancers have to dance. Now what follows is not what you’re probably expecting. The complaint was not that they are too effeminate or have to wear very tight tights or any of the things that sometimes turn boys off to ballet. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite. My student clearly has an appreciation for the athleticism and power of male ballet dance. But he seemed to be getting at the notion that choreography for male dancers lacks the grace, artistry and dare I say beauty, of the choreography put on female dancers. This got me thinking – are there male ballet dancers that we love to watch specifically when they are not doing some mega-leap, multi-turn tour de force? Or are they only good for acrobatic tricks?

Who are your favorite male ballet dancers, and why?

Of course, there’s Rudolph Nuryev (for many the greatest male dancer of the 20th century). Here he is in Swan Lake:

We have David Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty:

If you’ve ever had the privilege to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform live, you know he is one of the most engaging and graceful dancers there is. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the internet is full of videos of Baryshnikov at his most powerful, massive tours en l’air and entrechats where you’d think his head might hit the overhead light fixtures they’re so high. Very few videos are circulating of him doing the more subtle choreography. If you have a 3-hour long ballet, you know he wasn’t leaping for the full 180 minutes. You’re not getting a full picture of his artistry. Certainly he danced Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty same as the gentlemen above, but I have yet to find clips of him doing those slower bits.

I will give you this from Les Sylphides. Kindly fast-forward to 11:39. Baryshnikov still has some wonderful jumps, but they are done in the way a female dancer would perform them. That is, they do not go anywhere near as high as they could if he was focusing on power instead of grace.

Here is lesser-known but very talented Yosvani Ramos in Romeo and Juliet:

Here’s Frederico Bonelli in a lovely passage from Alice in Wonderland:

Easily this blog could go on and on as an endless collection of male ballet dancer videos, so I’ll stop foraging for clips now. Trying to find examples that males are not all just about jumping and nothing else has raised other questions for me. Do we under-value male dancers performances as just a bunch of jumping tricks? Ballets reflect the times in which they are written, and as such can we expect newly written ballets to have more power-house moves from females and more expressiveness from males to sort of equal out the balance?

What do you think?

Everybody Pliés

Everybody Pliés


Heidi Hakseth


Everybody Pliés.Group plie 2

Ballet dancers plié an awful lot. plie

Jazz dancers plié in a way that’s really hot.fosse

Hip hop dancers especially need plié.Beat Freaks

Even Highland dancers plié in their own special way.highland

Modern dancers plié in a way that’s deep.Deep Plie

Irish dancers plié only just a peep.Riverdance

Plie when you’re young and hale.Kids ballet

Plié when you’re old to keep from getting frail.senior ballet

You guessed it, tap dancers need to plié too.bojangles portrait 2

Everybody pliés.Group plie

And so should you!



Barre Fitness Classes – Legit or the Next Sham?

It seems everywhere I look lately, barre fitness classes are springing up all over town. They are pretty much an outcropping of yoga and Pilates studios, which makes sense as there is plenty of anatomical cross-over between moves done in yoga, Pilates and ballet. But I can’t help feeling a large bit of skepticism and maybe even resentment toward these classes.

If you want a “dancer’s body” as so many of these fitness classes promise, you need to do more than an hour a week of fitness moves very loosely based on ballet. If you want to look and move just like a dancer, you need to live just like a dancer. And that means hours of physical training every day and a meticulously planned diet based much more on fuel than flavor. Even professional dancers lose their dancer’s body if they slack on their routine. So my first issue is that, like many other fitness programs, there’s just no way the promise can be delivered.

Fitness Plie

This, my friends, is not a plie.

Next, there’s the issue of not actually teaching ballet. Look at this photo above. That’s what I call a Fitness Plie. Many magazines are guilty of putting “plies” in their workout spreads. They are not plies. They are modified squats. To the uninitiated, a plie and a squat may appear to be the same thing – knees bending, person moving up and down, etc. The gal in this photo looks like her knees are together. This would never happen in ballet. Ever.


Properly executed demi-plie (male dancer) and grand plie (female dancer). Notice the hips opening as wide as possible.

In ballet, the knees open out. In fact, getting legs that turn out for wide straddles and splits start with warming and opening the hips in plie. Fitness gal above is probably feeling the burn in her quads and calves, the same as any other kind of squat. You may feel it there in plies as well, but plies are actually a stretch. That’s right, I said stretch. You are stretching everything around the knees as well as the Achilles tendons. The strengthening of your quads and calves is just the bonus; it’s not the purpose of the exercise. Notice the ballet dancers in the photo. In plies, you go as low as you can keeping heels on the ground. In the deeper grand plie, you lift the heels as little as possible. It makes for a pretty intense stretch if you’ve never tried it.

Fitness instructors rubbed me the wrong way when they started making fitness versions of yoga a few years back. Yes, their classes are accessible to the average gym-goer, but they lose a lot of the heart of yoga. They are simply stretching and toning classes called “yoga.” Why not just own that fact and call it a stretching & toning class? Cashing in on a yoga fad – pretending to be something it’s really not. I fear that is the case now with ballet fitness. You can get certified to teach some of these ballet fitness classes without ever having taken an actual ballet class. That seems ridiculous to me, and disrespectful to practitioners of the art.

If you take a ballet fitness class or follow along with the numerous videos available, I have no doubt you’ll get a good workout complete with sweat and sore muscles the next day. But please do not be fooled into thinking you’ve learned anything that would be transferable to an actual ballet studio or that you will look like Polina Semionova by going to a ballet fitness class a couple even a couple times a week no matter how intense it is.

This is Polina Semionova - arguably the greatest ballerina of the 21st century. And she has great calves.

This is Polina Semionova – arguably the greatest ballerina of the 21st century. And she has great calves.

I’m Makin’ Fliers!

I made up this flier/flyer (how do you spell it?) for my jazz class. If you want to spread the word about how much fun we have in class, feel free to print it out and hang it up somewhere. 🙂

Download (DOCX, 22KB)

Introducing…NEW CLASSES!


Well, I may be crazy for doing this, but I’ve agreed to add more classes to my schedule!  Oh, who am I kidding?  I can’t get enough teaching dance.  Starting this September I’m going to be teaching more than ever before (and that’s saying a lot!).  I’ll be adding three classes for adults at a brand new studio downtown called Express Yourself Madison.*

All of my new Express Yourself Madison classes will be on Thursdays starting September 13th.  These are not drop-in classes.  You’ll need to sign up for a 15-week session.  And at the end of the 15 weeks you have the opportunity to perform in the recital!


The classes below are linked to pages with more detailed descriptions.

5:30pm – 6:30pm Adult Beginner Ballet

6:45pm – 7:45pm Adult Irish Step Dance – The Other Steps

8:00pm – 9:00pm Adult Beginner Tap Dance


*Express Yourself Madison is located at 401 N Lake St, Lower Level.  Many of you have known that space as Dance Fabulous.  I want to clarify that Express Yourself Madison is in no way affiliated with Dance Fabulous. It’s just a coincidence that my new studio moved into the previous location of my old studio.  Express Yourself Madison is not trying to copy or one-up Dance Fabulous in any way.  I would not have agreed to teach there if that was their M.O.  They are going to be offering kids classes and 15-week adult sessions in addition to drop-in classes.  But I hope you will find the staff and environment as warm, welcoming and free of judgment as Dance Fabulous was for so many dancers.




Giving Up or Going Beyond?

There is a blog post by Shawn Renee Lent that I just really love. Are you a dancer that gave up? In an art form that seems more and more focused on competition success followed by commercial success, it would be easy to think any dancer that doesn’t follow that path has given up on his or her dream. But what if the dream simply changes?

Check out the original blog post here:

Getting the Most out of Private Dance Lessons

“Heidi, can I pay you to give me private lessons?” I have been asked this more than once by students in my group classes, typically on a night when we’ve done some particularly tricky moves. The short answer is “sure.” But most of these students don’t really know what they’re asking.

Who Benefits from Private Lessons? Read more

Audition – Dancers for show in Oct-Nov

Download (PDF, Unknown)

I am choreographing a play! I’m pretty excited about it. I’ll be needing some dancers, so please consider auditioning. Click the link above to see the entire notice.