This week’s Dancer/Choreographer shout out goes to Monika Volkmar. Monika began dancing at age 11 at the Brandon School of Dance, in Brandon, Manitoba, training predominantly in ballet, jazz and modern dance. She has trained at such prestigious schools as The Banff Center for the Arts, the Winnipeg School of Contemporary Dancers, and Ryerson University’s dance program, where she has had the opportunity to train and perform with internationally renound teachers and choreographers.
While working towards her BFA in dance at Ryerson, in Toronto, Monika became certified as a personal trainer and began to learn the amazing benefits that strength training can have on dance technique and for injury prevention.
Upon graduating, Monika founded The Dance Training Project, which specializes in providing strength and conditioning training for dancers of all genres (but also for regular people who just want to look, feel, and move better).
Monika is an advocate for dancers stepping into the gym, getting stronger, resistant to injury, and challenging their bodies in new ways. With personal experience recovering from many common dance injuries, her goal now is to teach dancers that strength training can prevent such injuries, and change the way they move and how they feel as people.
In addition to dancing and lifting heavy things, Monika enjoys reading, writing, yoga, cycling, coffee and bacon.
Monika also practices Thai Yoga Massage, and has received her level 1 certification from the acclaimed Lotus Palm school, in Montreal.
Bio provided by Monika
Strength Training Courses for Dancers- www.danceproject.ca/courses
Find out what Monika had to say in this week’s shout out…
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Monika: I was 6. My mom put me in ballet classes at Lethbridge University. I hated it so I quit when the semester was done. 6 years later, after trying and failing at team sports, I realized that ballet wasn’t the only form of dance in existence, and I started jazz classes. Then, when I was 12, I decided to take up ballet again, knowing that it would help with my jazz technique. This time around I appreciated it more, and it became one of my favourite styles of dance.
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to?
Monika: I remember choreographing to Earl Had to Die, by the Dixie Chicks for a grade 7 lip-syncing competition with two other girlfriends. We got second place and won a pizza. But our choreography was way better than the girl who won. Just saying…
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Monika: I suck at free styling. It’s never come naturally to me. But I can tell you WHY I suck a free styling- I find it hard to let go of self-judgement and have my share of emotional blocks. I become very self-conscious when there is no structure to follow. That said, lately I’ve been having more and more moments when I’ve been able to get through these blocks and not judge every single movement, so the best advice I could give is to just stop giving a crap about what other people might think of you, because you should be dancing first for yourself, not for someone else- Dance for your own pleasure, not for that of the audience. Acknowledge your emotional baggage, face it head on, and then make art with it.
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Monika: I don’t consider choreography to be an area I excel in, but I get inspired by the music. Before I even start moving, I like to listen to the song lying on the floor with my eyes closed. I get really inside my head (another reason why I suck at free styling), and sometimes have sequences choreographed while lying on the floor before I even start moving. Sometimes this works well, and other times… Not so much. And going along with the previous question, I need to be in a non-judgmental place mentally, and allow things to happen, whether they work or not.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Dance industry?
Monika: Teacher: Darryl Tracy. I love his classes because he is also a physiotherapist and he is so body aware. His classes just feel so good to do. I always think about my body and how it moves in new ways after dancing with him.
Company: The Australian Dance Theatre. I love strong, physical dancing, and these guys kill it! This is the type of dancing I wish I could do. Gary Stewart (artistic director) is the man.
Educator: Donna Krasnow. I have become engrossed in the new(ish) field of the dance sciences, and recently had the opportunity to speak with Donna (who has a MA in dance science, and is the creator of Conditioning with Imagery for Dancers). We talked about anatomy, training, injuries, and everything in between. She is a huge inspiration for me, as I work to develop my own style of strength training specifically to benefit dancers.
Nikki: Name a Toronto Choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Monika: David Earl! I had the opportunity a few years back to perform the Youth section of his piece Maelstrom, and it was probably the most fun I’ve had performing a piece of choreography. David is such a kind soul, and it was such an honor to dance in one of his pieces.
Nikki: Name one of your favorite artists to work with and why? (It does not have to be a pop star any type of artist that a Dancer would work with i.e.; another Dancer, Choreographer, Musician etc.)
Monika: I have to give a shoutout to Sheldon DeSouza- amazingly talented musician. Throughout the 4 years I studied at Ryerson, he has been my favourite accompanist. He is such a talented musician, and I’m sure most dancers in Toronto who have danced to his music, or have danced for one of his productions, would agree.
Nikki: Are you currently working on any projects?
Monika: Funny you should ask…I am the owner and founder of The Dance Training Project, through which my goal is to educate dancers, of all levels and genres, on the importance of strength training, for injury prevention, improved technical execution, and overall badassery. I work with recreational, professional, and university level dancers, offering strength training courses as well as personal and small group training. I created the DTP as a result of being chronically injured, and after seeing the amazing improvements in my own dance technique through working with a personal trainer myself. It’s really amazing how becoming stronger helps dancers, and it saddens me that the place of strength training in the dance industry is so misunderstood. I write about my experiences training dancers on a regular basis on my blog (www.danceproject.ca/blog). I also practice thai yoga massage, and offer this service to dancers and non-dancers alike. At the moment I am getting ready or the DTP summer program, which will allow dancers to train during their summer off-season, so they can come back to regular classes stronger in the fall. I’m super pumped. I am also teaching a conditioning class called Sweat, Strength and Sweat for P.O.S.E Dance Company (www.posedance.com) on Thursday evenings. And speaking of P.O.S.E, I am also training in Salsa with them, and you can see me performing at their Red Hot Salsa Social on April 27th at Dovercourt House. And I think that’s it… For now.
Nikki: Qualities you believe Toronto Dancers possess?
Monika: Toronto dancers are hungry. I don’t mean because they’re starving artists, but because they’ve got passion. Many of my dancer friends, and dancers I coach, refuse to take no for an answer and do what it takes to make it in the industry- They don’t give up. They give it their all every moment of everyday, and they make things happen. It’s really inspiring.
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Monika: Like I mentioned above- You must refuse to take no for an answer and not let fear guide you. If you can’t get the job you want, sometimes you have to make the opportunity for yourself- like a few of my class-mates who recently started their own dance company (ReActive Dance Theatre). If you are passionate about dancing, then always make choices that allow you to follow this passion. Never be complacent. Reach out to everybody to expand your network, because you never know who might hire you (or who you might hire). And above all, keep positive. The dance industry can be harsh on the mind and body. You will get injured, but you can overcome it, and be a stronger person for it. You will have days when your brain will feel fried, but when things seem down they will always go back up. You can count on it for as long as the tide goes out and comes back in. Oh, and take care of your bodies! Don’t push through injuries, take the rest you need, and make sure you’re strong enough before you start dancing again. But I’m only speaking from experience ;).
THANK YOU MONIKA FOR SHARING YOUR LOVE & PASSION WITH T.D.O.T. XO
CHECK OUT SOME OF THE DANCERS MONIKA HAS HELPED WITH HER STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAMS….