Tag Archives: dance

Keep on Movin’, Don’t Stop

Yesterday I spent most of my waking hours carrying boxes up several flights of stairs for friends who had recently moved back to Pittsburgh (yay!). It was wonderful to catch up on each others’ lives, but I got just as much out of the lifting and climbing as I did out of the intellectual camaraderie. There’s something wonderful about collapsing on your couch at the end of the day with the sense of a job well-done, muscles pleasantly aching because darn it, you put your back into it.

It’s strange to think that, once upon a time, you didn’t really need to make time for exercise because our society depended so much more on manual labor, both at home and at paying jobs. Now those of us in the service and information economies have to carve out space in our busy schedules to run, swim, stretch, climb, and all the other things that used to come to us naturally (and that so many other people still do for a living). Given that I can’t help someone move every day, it’s worth the schedule-shuffling if it keeps me from turning into a slack-jawed couch potato.

The Library collection has been really helpful in terms of finding new workouts and activities to try. Because I already walk all over the city, I’ve pretty much got cardio fitness under control. Books about strength training and flexibility, however, are always coming home with me from the Library for a test-drive. Here are a few of the books that have made it to my permanent home collection.

You say "ripped" like it's a bad thing.

You say “ripped” like it’s a bad thing. Image taken from Marvel Database – click through for source page.

The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health, Linda Sparrowe.

This book contains three long practices and a wide variety of short sequences that women can use through the various stages their life, from young adulthood through post-menopause. The instructions are clear, the illustrations are helpful, and the advice is comprehensive: Sparrowe covers modifications and suggested poses for pregnancy, osteoporosis, arthritis, and back pain, and she has a lot of helpful advice on topics like eating disorders, depression, and perimenopausal symptoms. If you need a serving of stretching with some heaping sides of emotional support, this is the yoga omnibus for you.

Ballet Beautiful, Mary Helen Bowers.

Always wanted to work at the barre, but can’t bring yourself to join an actual dance class? Bowers, who helped train Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan, offers a butt-kicking workout that will leave your muscles aching, your posture taller, and your face grinning from the sense of achievement you’ll feel after that last set of swan arms (tougher than they sound, I assure you). Because of my visual impairment, I’d rather learn this sort of thing from a book; however, Bowers has created a series of companion DVDs for those of you who learn better from a live instructor. Respect the ballerinas, my friend, for they are made of pure steel under those tutus, and this workout proves it.

The Abs Diet, David Zinczenko.

Normally I avoid any book with the word “diet” in it, mostly because of the “die” part (moderation in all things is more my style). The gold in this book, however, comes from the actual workout, which combines ab exercises and weight training for an all-over body buzz that will make you feel strong and confident. I like this workout because it doesn’t require a lot of special gym equipment; if you have it, that’s great, but modifications are provided for those of us who rely on free weights around the house. There’s also The Abs Diet for Women, but here’s a little secret: it’s the same workout. So don’t be fooled by gendered marketing; just get your hands on either of these books, or the companion DVDs, and get crunching.

Smart Girls Do Dumbbells, Judith Sherman-Wolin.

One of the biggest myths out there is that women who lift weights become She-Hulks; while I can think of worse things than looking like Jennifer Walters, it’s just not true, and Sherman-Wolin’s book explains why, in great detail. Once you’re convinced, you can flip to the back section where she outlines a 30-day program that alternates upper and lower body weight training with incrementally increasing weights and reps.

These workouts are great when you’re crunched for time; they’re over so fast, you think you’re not really doing anything, but as the days go by, you’ll feel stronger, healthier, and happier. By the time you’re ready to level up the weights, you’ll be feeling a lot more confident, too. This is one of my favorite workout books.

The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, Bernie Clark. 

Yin yoga uses many of the same poses you may already know from other forms of yoga; what’s different is that you hold them for long periods of time, so that when you finally release them, your whole body weeps with gratitude. At least, that’s what it feels like! This is much more pleasant than it sounds; often I do not realize how tense I am until I practice one of Clark’s sequences and feel so much better afterwards.

There’s a lot of information on the history, practice, and anatomy of yin yoga; depending on your level of interest, you can peruse it all or jump straight into the workouts, though a cursory reading of the introductory material is a good idea if you’ve never done yin style before. Each sequence is offered in two lengths: a reasonably short one (30 minutes) and a longer one (60-90 minutes), so you can modify your workout based on how much time you can make to practice. Clark says that even if you’ve only got time for one long pose, it’s better than nothing; having tested that theory myself, I agree 110%.

The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, Hanne Blank.

Consider this book a workout for your brain that will help you design a workout for your body. Sadly, a lot of women don’t enjoy exercise because they think of it as a chore, a duty, or a punishment for a body that doesn’t fit into society’s draconian cultures for what is “acceptable.” Blank calls shenanigans on all that, and argues that movement is supposed to be fun and joyful, something you do because it feels good, not because you’re not a size zero, or because you ate cake today.

A combination of practical advice, encouragement, and writing exercises designed to help you figure out what would work for you, Blank’s book emphasizes being fit over being thin, which is good, because they aren’t necessarily the same thing. A must-read for anyone struggling with body image issues, and don’t forget the resource list in the back, which is loaded with more useful gems.

It can be really difficult to feel at home in your body when your waking life relies so heavily on your brainpower, and when the culture you live in only values that body if it fits a certain mold. I’ve managed to take my power back by finding physical activities that not only make me stronger, but bring me joy. Do you like to exercise? Why or why not? What kinds of workouts do you do most often?  Do you have a favorite workout book / DVD / download? Share your thoughts and resources in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Soul II Soul




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At the Ballet

“Everything was beautiful at the ballet.
Graceful men lift lovely girls in white.
Everything was beautiful at the ballet.
I was happy… at the ballet.”
A Chorus Line, 1975

In 1973, when I was four years old, my mother enrolled me in ballet classes at Pamela’s School of Dance in Dearborn, Michigan. Little did I imagine that I would continue to study ballet for the next eleven years with classes twice a week, annual recitals, countless rehearsals, and membership in the local ballet company. During these years of training, I learned grace, practiced excellent posture, acquired a discipline for expressing and paying attention to my body, and gained a broad exposure to the performing arts of not only ballet but classical music as well. We even had a live pianist in the dance studio in those days long before MP3 players as we practiced our barre exercises!

Ballet was a big part of my world. The Turning Point was THE big ballet movie and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gelsey Kirkland  and the dancers of American Ballet Theatre were our inspirations.  I even read novels about ballet.

Julia Erickson & corps de ballet of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, photo by Rich Sofranko

Today I am an avid balletomane and frequent attendee of live ballet performances. I am very fortunate to now live in Pittsburgh, home of the professional ballet company, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Since moving here in 2010, I’ve enjoyed The Nutcracker, Coppelia, and Giselle and I’ve already got my tickets to next April’s Cinderella–can you tell I prefer the classics?

While I never achieved the perfect turnout required to become a great ballerina, I still fondly remember the lights hot on my face, the thick heavy makeup, and the scratchy costumes whose sparkly sequins fluttered across the stage. But all that faded once the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the music began…

The library has several ways for you to learn more about and enjoy ballet including books, DVDs, and magazines.



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Don’t Touch My Tomatoes

Today is Josephine Baker’s birthday. Most people only know her in this way:

But she was so much more. Born into poverty in racially divided St. Louis in 1906, Ms. Baker was homeless and living on the street by the time she was in her early teens. She was discovered dancing on a street corner, which lead to her roles in New York and Paris musical revues. In addition to being a talented dancer, Ms. Baker was an actress, singer and muse to several artists and authors, World War II spy for the French Resistance, mother who adopted children from other countries (before it was fashionable), friend to dictators and princes alike, civil rights activist, and recipient of the Legion d’Honneur. She was elegant and graceful until the very end.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating woman, the library has these to offer:

And I have to mention this last one (even though it is a reference book that you must look at in the library and can’t check out), because it has the most beautiful full-color lithographs of Ms. Baker and fellow performers in their Paris revue…

Live life with abandon, the way Josephine Baker did.
–Melissa M.

P.S. Just in case you were wondering about the title, “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes” was one of the more popular songs recorded by Ms. Baker in the English language.

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Hoop — There It Is!

One of my Christmas gifts this year was, much to my surprise, a hoop.

Not a hula hoop, mind you. Er, well, sort of a hula hoop. The shape is the same, but the size and usage are a little different, and the nomenclature has changed. If, like me, you’ve been  completely ignorant of the current hooping renaissance, you can click on over to hooping.org for clarification, or check out the main page for the documentary The Hooping Life, which contains an extensive list of links to other sites about hoops, hooping, and hoopers. You can even, if you’re so inclined, learn to make your own hoop.

Still perplexed?  Check out this hooping routine, one of the many available on YouTube; note the cat’s enthusiasm.

As you can imagine, I am tickled pink:  I have a hoop!  Never mind that I’m a) not a good dancer, and b) clumsier than Tonks on a good day.  It’s a new year, and by golly, I am going to shatter that mousy librarian stereotype by ordering a few instructional DVDs, and, perhaps, a book.  My plan is to learn a few hoop moves, then write another post later in the year reporting back on my progress…or lack thereof. 

Look out, Cirque du Soleil–here I come!  Now only one question remains:  does this new adventure make your heroine a hipster hooper?  Hmmm.

Any other hoopers in the house?

Leigh Anne


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SilverDocs Part 3: Byrne-ing Down the House

Ride Rise Roar is a concert documentary based on David Byrne’s tour for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.  The CD, released in 2008, was a collaboration between Byrne and Brian Eno.  The tour itself, however, featured music from that album and other Byrne/Eno collaborations.

The film chronicles Byrne’s process for putting the tour show together, including adding an unexpected element – modern dance.  The stage show features three dancers performing the choreography of Annie-B Parson and Noémie Lafrance.  The result: a charming, playful, and entertaining production.  I am a dance lover, so the concept appealed to me immediately, but what I most loved was how the work of the dancers impacted all of the other performers onstage, from making the stage equipment part of the choreography, to back-up singers and musicians (male and female) dancing in tutus.   Check out the trailer below and this Wired blog post for a longer review of the film.

While you’re waiting for Ride Rise Roar to become available at the library, why not enjoy some of the many other Byrne- related options we already have.

The Everything That Happens Will Happen Today tour was not Byrne’s first collaboration with dancers.  In 1983 he composed, produced, and performed the music for Twyla Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel.

We also have Jonathan Demme’s critically aclaimed 1984 documentary about the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense.  David Byrne himself directed Ile Aiye (The House of Life) and True Stories. You can also borrow the music of the Talking Heads, or Byrne’s solo albums, compilations, or other productions.

Try one of our biographies if you are interested in reading more about David Byrne or the Talking Heads.  Or check out a book with artists’ interpretations of Talking Heads lyrics.  Finally, you may also enjoy the meandering observations and philosophical musings in Byrne’s book Bicycle Diaries.


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My Favorite Dance Movies

Two upcoming movie releases, the DVD release of Dance Flick (Oct. 6) and the theatrical release of an updated Fame (Sept. 25), got me thinking about my favorite dance movies. 

In the category of “good” dance films (those that actually have good storylines and good acting) I’ll start with All That Jazz (1979). This movie, based on the life of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, is filled with plenty of his signature-style choreography.   Then there is the original Fame (1980).  Not strictly a dance film, Fame follows the drama and trauma of students at a performing arts high school in New York. I recently re-watched this film and had forgotten just how unresolved, and in some ways unsatisfying, the various storylines are, but I still think it’s great. The film inspired a TV series in the early 80s and the upcoming remake with a stellar cast.


It seems that most of the other dance films I’d label as “good” revolve around ballet.  They include Billy Elliot (2000), whose title character is the son of a miner who stumbles on a ballet class on his way to boxing practice.  This movie argues it’s okay for boys to dance!  Then there is The Company (2003), a very realistic portrayal of the world inside a professional dance company, directed by Robert Altman and starring Neve Campbell, who, unlike many actor leads in dance films, has some actual talent (she trained as a ballet dancer before injuries pushed her towards acting).  The film features the actual dancers of the Joffrey Ballet in beautiful pieces that you’ll want to see live.  And, of course, there’s The Turning Point (1977), starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as old ballet friends who have taken different paths, each one jealous of the other.  One became a famous ballerina, the other a mother and dance teacher whose daughter is now pursuing her own career in dance.  Mikhail Baryshnikov stars as one of the male leads, and some of the best dancers of the time serve as guest artists, so the dancing is fantastic.  It was also nominated for 11 Oscars, including pretty much all the major categories.                                     

 In the category of “bad” dance movies (those that have ridiculous storylines and/or laughable acting), I have to start with Flashdance (1983).  Not only is it set in Pittsburgh, it’s got a sexy female welder, romance, an underdog takes on the establishment story line, and it made the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt hot fashion.  Follow that up with Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1984), a quintessential 80’s movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. SJP plays a Catholic school girl who loves to dance. Her rebellious friend (Hunt) connives a way to get her out of her military dad’s house and to the audition for the hottest dance show on TV.  Can they pull it off?  Plenty of big hair, bad clothes, and very jazzy dance routines.  I can’t quite decide whether Saturday Night Fever belongs in the “good” or “bad” category, because it’s surprisingly good for a disco movie, but mostly I love it because it is so iconic.  Plus, I’d really love to learn some of the complete routines to try out the next time I go dancing.

Here’s a list of a few other dance movies, all of which I have enjoyed at least once. You can decide which ones are “good” versus “bad”:


Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo
A Chorus Line
Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Happy Feet
Save the Last Dance
Shall We Dance
Staying Alive
Step Up
Step Up 2: The Streets
Stomp the Yard
Strictly Ballroom
Take the Lead
That’s the Way I Like It
White Nights


– Sarah


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Merce Cunningham

On Sunday we lost a legend in the dance world, Merce Cunningham.  In honor of Merce Cunningham’s life and work, here are a few books, CDs, and videos that celebrate his career and collaborations:

  • Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years With Cage and Cunningham, by Carolyn Brown: The partnership between Merce Cunningham and John Cage was both personal and professional. Carolyn Brown, a former dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company writes about their collaboration and work in the Cunningham Company from its early days in the 1950’s to the 1970’s. 
  • Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute: John Cage was the longtime musical advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  This compilation includes recordings of Cage’s compositions by artists such as The Kronos Quartet, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, and Frank Zappa (performing Cage’s notorious 4′ 33″). 
  • David Tudor & Gordon Mumma: David Tudor collaborated with both Cage and Cunningham, and took over as musical advisor of the dance company upon Cage’s death.  This CD contains several of Tudor’s compositions, including a performance of Rainforest with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. 
  • Goddess: Martha Graham’s Dancers Remember, by Robert Tracy: Martha Graham was an innovative dancer who was also the teacher to many dancers who became famous in their own right.  Merce Cunningham, Rudolf Nureyev, and Madonna are among those she influenced.  In this book, many of her former pupils discuss her influence on their own careers. 
  • Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance: This video examines Cunningham’s influence on modern dance.  Interviews are interwoven with performances to give an overview of Cunningham’s career. 
  • Rauschenberg: Art and Life, by Mary Lynn Kotz: Merce Cunningham collaborated with artists in much the same way that he did with musicians.  Robert Rauschenberg worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company during its early years, and this biography explores his life and art. 


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Everybody dance now!

To make one of my biggest understatements of the year, I love to dance. The Twist, the Electric Slide, the Funky Chicken, the Chicken Dance, salsa, polka, disco…. You name it, if I know how to, I’ll do it!

If I don’t know how to, I will check out the dance video and DVD collection in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Film & Audio Department. From historical dance to hip hop, they have instructional videos to help with almost any kind of dance you’d like to do! Depending on what you are looking for, you might also be able to find some downloadable instructional dance videos. Our Overdrive collection, for example, has several videos by Gabrielle Roth, a leading instructor in dance as a meditative or healing practice.

Hooked on Dancing with the Stars? There are many ballroom dancing titles, such as Ballroom Dancing Basics, You Can Dance: Foxtrot, or Cal Pozo’s Step This Way, Volume III: The Latin Dances. We even have Dancing With the Stars Cardio Dance. Inspired by So You Think You Can Dance? Try your hand, or rather, your feet, at Argentine Tango, The Bollywood Dance Workout, or tap dancing. You’ll be reading for prime time in no time!

You may be able to tell by now, but you can dance your way around the world with us! African and Caribbean dance, Bulgarian dance, Israeli, Indian, belly dancing… you get the idea.

Now there’s always youtube. What kind of dance do you want to try? Just type it in with the word “lesson.” You’ll get a mix of quality, but with a little patience you can usually find something! Of course, attending a class isn’t a bad idea, either. I, myself, am signing up for beginning hip hop this fall, after a long time of saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take a hip hop class?” So what are you waiting for? Even if you just want to get out on the dance floor at your cousin’s wedding (or your own wedding, for that matter), you can come to the library and get started!



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