I chatted with dancer, teacher, and Fascial Stretch Therapist Carolyn Schmidt. Boy did she have tons of good insight! I’ve had the pleasure of taking some of Carolyn’s dance classes, which I loved, she’s so funny and yet graceful. I’ve also done a session of fascial stretch therapy with her and let me just tell you, it feels soooo good! You have to try it!
We talk stretching, how to get beautiful 5th position arms in ballet, curling up in a ball and crying when you get an injury, what spices are great anti-inflammatories, easy ways to get better at dance, and so much more…
Without further ado, here’s my chat with Carolyn:
Tell us a bit about yourself 🙂
Hi I’m Carolyn. I am 31, I live in Vancouver and my life and work revolve around the art and science of human movement. I’ve been dancing for 28 years, and teaching dance for 10 years. I teach contemporary dance technique and improvisation to pre-professional dance students on a regular basis, and sometimes teach drop in classes and workshops for the professional dance community and beginner adults too. I am also a choreographer, and have choreographed a number of pieces professionally over the years, along with regular choreography for my students. In addition to that I also produce dance shows from time to time, and I host dance education workshops through the platform ‘VAULT movement projects’ which I co-founded with my colleague Amy Laithwaite.
When I am not doing dance stuff, I stretch people! I am a certified Fascial Stretch Therapist and I work with bodies of all kinds, from professional dancers to office workers, gym go-ers and everything in between.
Tell us about Fascial Stretch Therapy!
Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) is a form of assisted stretching. FST is a one-on-one treatment on a massage table. The client will relax on the table while the therapist moves the client’s full body through ranges of motion they might not be able to access on their own. It is pain free and is very relaxing! FST can noticeably improve flexibility in as little as one session. Multiple sessions can help to reduce chronic pain and tension in common areas such as the hips and shoulders. FST is great for improving posture, recovering from tough workouts and preventing injury, among many other benefits.
How is it different to physio?
FST is focused on stretching, while physiotherapy uses a wide variety of techniques and strength training to help people recover from injuries. Physiotherapists may employ FST or similar stretching techniques if they are certified to do so, and many physios [physiotherapists] recommend FST to patients who really need to improve range of motion. Using FST in conjunction with physiotherapy would certainly be a good combination if someone is rehabbing an injury.
As an FST I cannot diagnose injuries, so if someone comes to me with a serious problem, I will send them to a physio or doctor to get cleared for stretching. Once they are clear, we can make lots of progress together. Many of my clients really enjoy the amount of time we get to spend together, focused on increasing range of motion. Often times you go to a physio and they are working on 4 people at once. I do 60 and 90 minute FST sessions and all my attention is on that one person, so it’s easy to make a lot of progress in just a few sessions.
Tell us about your events coming up!
VAULT movement projects is hosting a Countertechnique workshop March 24-28 with Charles Slender-White from San Francisco. Countertechnique is an amazing contemporary dance training method that I am mildly obsessed with. Info for the workshop is here…
Also I am doing a series of group stretch classes. We have one class left in the first series (Jan 27) but I will be starting up another series in February. These classes are drop in and for people of all ages and backgrounds. No, you do not need to be super bendy to come to these classes!
Follow my stretch therapy page on Facebook and Instagram for more updates on the stretch classes.
What are the main injuries you see in dance?
Hips and ankles for sure.
I personally do not see very many acute injuries in dance (where you fall and hurt yourself suddenly) but chronic injuries are rampant, especially if you dance for a long time.
Injuries in dancers are a complicated beast. Dancers are typically overtrained and hypermobile, and do not have a balanced strength to flexibility ratio. This causes problems over time. Also the excessive use of external rotation of the legs in ballet training can be a recipe for disaster over time if the pelvis is not properly aligned and the surrounding muscles are not supportive enough. Also the repetitive nature of dance training can cause certain parts of the body (mostly hips and ankles/feet) to wear down and cause complicated, sometimes unexplainable pain.
How often should people stretch? For how long?
There is no magic equation for how long someone should stretch for. I am all about quality over quantity. And less is more when it comes to force. Stretching should be gentle and feel nice. If you are stretching and you want to cry, you are probably stretching WAY too hard for what your body can handle and that will cause you to tighten up even more.
As humans we were designed to move. So if you sit at a desk all day long, you should stretch every day. Even just a few stretches in the morning to wake up, then some standing stretches during your work day, and some slower more restorative stretches at home after work. Hold a stretch at a gentle resistance for long enough to feel that resistance start to fade away. This might take 1 minute on some days, it might take 5 minutes on other days. The key is to listen to your body and learn some tools to help you give your body what it needs. If you need some self stretching tools – feel free to reach out to me! 🙂
What are the top stretches you love?
I’m a lover of anything that stretches my glutes. In yoga this might look like a pigeon pose or a figure 4 stretch. I have a whole whack of glute stretches that I do with my FST clients and they are always a favourite.
I also love stretching my lats. Before I did my FST training I didn’t even know I had lats! LOL. Now I am obsessed with stretching them because afterwards I feel more 3-dimensional and my breathing feels deeper. And, it helps me get my arms overhead with less stickiness. Great for anyone who lifts weights, or wants a beautiful 5th position of the arms in ballet 🙂
Love stretching my calves too. Every dancer’s best friend is a good calf stretch.
A stretch and mobility routine focusing on the hips, shoulders, lateral line and thoracic spine mobility. We will be exploring some of these moves and stretches in class on Saturday (tomorrow!). Everyone is welcome. Join us at 5:30pm at One Thousand Rivers 54 E 4th st in Vancouver. $15 drop in. #stretching #mobility #vancouverfitness #movementismedicine #selfrehab #stretchspace #stretchyoselfbeforeyouwreckyoself
How do you avoid injury? Any tips?
I avoid injuries by attempting to have boundaries, listening to my body and cross training.
I am a very big and energetic mover by nature and I often get very excited when dancing or exercising and I sometimes do way too much. Over the past couple of years I’ve been learning about boundaries and it’s a challenge sometimes. Some days I just can’t do what I was able to do 10 years ago, although I really want to, and it sucks. Listening to the body is so important. Your body is your biggest teacher if you listen. By listening to my body and saying no sometimes I have learned to appreciate the subtleties of movement which can be very rich.
Cross training is very important for avoiding injuries. If you only do one type of exercise all the time, you will not be balanced and will be more likely to get hurt at some point. It creeps up on you. Lately, I have been doing more Pilates and weight lifting and it is really helping my body stay balanced.
What do you do if you do get injured?
Curl up in a ball and cry.
I am half joking. For me, dealing with my injuries can be all encompassing. Everything I do revolves around my body, and if it doesn’t work, I can be a train wreck. This is something I am working on.
If one of my old chronic issues flares up, I am forced to take a step back. I go back to my basic physio exercises that re-pattern my movements. I do slow, gentle core work. I stretch but very gently. I make sure to get lots of sleep and eat anti-inflammatory foods. When I feel a pain lingering in my body I almost instantly make myself a turmeric latte to fight the inflammation.
Are you quite strict with food? What’s your daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner like?
Not strict at all. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. However, the foods that I want are typically energizing and nutrient dense. I feel better when I eat better, so I try to listen to that. I eat a mostly plant based diet. I don’t even really have a specific time pattern for eating. I’m kinda weird that way. I usually have a very small breakfast, if anything, in the morning. My biggest meal of the day is mid-day. And dinner is something small, usually leftovers of whatever my fiancé made that night, followed by chocolate 🙂 Eating like this is best for my schedule, which can be random.
I eat lots of rice, quinoa, beans, leafy greens like kale and chard, tons of mushrooms, squash, peppers, carrots, beets, potatoes, avocado, tofu…. I like massive curries, veggie stews, roasted veg with homemade mushroom gravy, tacos, buddha bowls..… mmmm.. I don’t really have “breakfast food, lunch food, and dinner food”. I kinda eat the same sort of food no matter what the time of day. Today for “breakfast” I had veggie chickpea curry. It was the bomb!
What are your go-to healthy snacks?
Can’t go wrong with carrots and hummus, or a fresh crisp apple. I also like green juice and smoothies if I am on the go. I am lucky to live in Vancouver and there are a lot of healthy convenience food options everywhere in the city.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it like (ex. Meditation, coffee, journalling, gratitude practice, etc)?
My mornings typically go something like this: Alarm goes off, I ignore it. Goes off again, ignore again and cuddle my fiancé. Goes off one more time and I race out of bed, put on stretchy clothes, put in my contacts and brush my teeth, maybe put on makeup, hair tied back. Go to the kitchen, make coffee, do a few stretches in the living room while I wait for coffee. Put coffee in a travel mug, head out the door. This can all happen in as little as 15 minutes sometimes!
I am not a morning person. If I need to be somewhere on the earlier side my morning “routine” looks like the above. If I have more time in the morning then usually I’ll move a little slower, maybe listen to some music and do a bit of yoga or Pilates in the living room. Maybe I’ll make myself a proper breakfast if I have more time. Every day my schedule is a bit different so it’s hard to get into a set routine. I’d like to get into meditation. I have dabbled in it a bit through meditation classes and yoga but its not something I am instinctively doing on my own yet. I do see the benefits though.
I have gone to some buddhist meditation classes at the Kadampa Centre in Vancouver and have really enjoyed them. They offer buddhist teachings as well as meditation and I find it very interesting and relatable. I should go more often.
Do you do yoga? Why or why not?
I do the yoga! 🙂 I have been practicing yoga to some extent since I was 19 years old. I have had phases where I did yoga often, like multiple times a week, and phases where I do it sporadically. Now I go to yoga classes as a way of unwinding, finding stillness in my mind, and making myself feel even. I like that you do everything on both sides in yoga. If my body feels uneven from doing some whacky choreography I like taking a yoga class to even out. I don’t really use yoga as a way to improve flexibility. I try to work on my strength and mindfulness in yoga classes.
What other forms of exercise do you love, if any?
Pilates! As mentioned before, Ive been doing more pilates lately. I go to weekly mat classes and occasional reformer classes. I found a great mat teacher and his class kicks my butt and makes me feel put together every week. Its addicting!
I am also learning about training with weights. As a younger dancer I never stepped foot in a gym, and when I first started doing squats and lunges with weights I felt like Bambi. Now I love the feeling of the burn and the support it gives my body. Strength training keeps my hyper-mobility at bay and my low back injuries are much better because of it. I keep weights fairly low and reps high. I focus on perfect alignment and working the big supportive muscle groups including glutes, quads, hamstrings and core.
I also just love getting outside and going for a walk or hike in the mountains.
Of course nothing beats a good dance class for the best way to workout and release stress 🙂
What suggestions would you give people who are wanting to get better at dance?
Go to class regularly! Find a teacher or teachers that inspire you and listen, listen, listen! Be a sponge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As a teacher, I LOVE answering questions. A class filled with silent, scared people is the worst. I try to make my students laugh to make the room feel comfortable so they feel safe asking questions and trying new things. Enjoy the journey and understand that it is a journey with really no destination. Even after 28 years I am still learning new things about dance and my body every day. It’s the best.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Nope that’s it! I think I babbled enough 🙂 Thanks Amanda. This was fun!
Thanks so much Carolyn! I loved your answers! So many things I’m going to look into now! And I’m definitely keen for some fascial stretch therapy!
Carolyn can be reached at email@example.com
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