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July 2009 Archives

DVD Review: "So You Think You Can Dance: Get Fit"


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Okay, we'll go on record and say that we are BIG fans of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance." Watching young people pursue their artistic dreams -- and dancing their hearts out -- makes great TV! Plus we just love our favorites: Jeanine, Ade, and Brandon.

If you're a fan too (or even if you're not, but you love to dance), you might want to check out two brand new DVD's from the SYTYCD folks: "Get Fit - Tone & Groove" and "Get Fit - Cardio Funk." Both DVD's feature dance workouts in different styles taught by dancers from the last three seasons: Hip-Hop with Twitch (Season 4), Jazz with Katee (Season 4), Cha-Cha with Dmitry (Season 2), Contemporary with Travis (Season 2), Disco with Courtney (Season 4), and Hip-Hop with Lauren (Season 3). 

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The workout routines are short and easy to learn, and there's a dance warmup and cool-down on each disc -- plus bonus interviews with the dancers. You won't get as intense a workout as, say, going for a run or swimming laps, but if you want to do something quick to get started in the morning or just want to dance out some stress, you might find these DVD's to be perfect. They'd also make for a cool activity with friends, a sib, or a parent. We like that they're aimed at people of all ages, and all dancing skill levels.

As SYTYCD producer Nigel Lythgoe says in an interview on the DVD, it's true that not everyone can dance...but everyone can move. And that's what matters -- moving to express yourself, get some exercise, bust out with your buds, shake off some anger or tension...whatever! 

IML's Rating: B+


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It's also fun to get "instruction" from these dancers we've enjoyed watching in the past. IML got the chance to talk to Katee Shean -- one of Season 4's breakout stars -- about this project and her advice for young dancers in general!

IML: Can you tell us about working on this DVD?

Katee: The experience was really fun. There were people from seasons 2, 3, and 4 working on it, and everybody has different stories and different experiences from the show so we all got close real fast. It's the first time any of us had done something like this, and fortunately we were working with fitness trainers who showed us how to instruct people, breaking the movements down. And I think everybody is really excited for the finished product.

IML: Was this your first time teaching dance?

Katee: I do go around the country and teach master dance classes, but this is the first time I'd done something focused on fitness. When you teach dancers in a dance class, there's a vocabulary and certain movements they already know. With these routines, we had to think about how to choreograph and teach them so that anybody could understand them. 

IML: So tell us a little about what you've been doing in the year since you were on SYTYCD!

Katee: The past year has been crazy! I finished the SYTYCD tour, where we did 42 cities. After that, I've been flying to different states teaching master classes, intensives, and choreography. I just finished filming "Step Up 3D" in New York. And I've done some TV stuff too. It's been a whirlwind and I've been working, which has been great. 

IML: Does it feel a little unreal to actually be making a living as a dancer?

Katee: Yes! I'm so blessed to be able to do what I love and be making money from it. I mean, I would do it for free because dance is my outlet, so I really appreciate being able to live out my dream. Being able to dance and travel -- I can't ask for more.

IML: We know you've been dancing since you were little. When you were growing up, especially during the tween and teen years, what did dancing add to your life?

Katee: I think it taught me at a very young age how to be disciplined and stay focused. I wasn't out at parties going crazy. I went from school to dance class to rehearsals...It taught me how to prioritize my time and focus on getting to where I wanted to be. You know, to make time for everything; you make time for homework, for your friends, for your family...and for dancing as well. Growing up, dance was always my passion. If dance wasn't there, I don't really know what route I would have taken! I'm so glad I found it at an early age and kept with it. 

IML: What's your advice for young people who are interested in pursuing dance, but aren't sure how far to go or if they're good enough to "make it"?

Katee: I would not let the fear of not being good enough to ever bring you down! There are so many outlets for dance. You could be working at a theme park, a TV show, in movies, on Broadway. I feel like there's always room for everyone in the dance world. When I started off, I had two left feet...and clown feet at that! I definitely think that if you work hard and want something, you'll keep working until you're satisfied and get to where you want to go. I think at the end of the day, it's the things that don't come easy as a dancer that can be most rewarding. For instance, I know I don't have perfect technique or turnout; my body's not built that way and I'll never have it. But when you get there and achieve something knowing it was hard, instead of having it come easy, it means so much more. 

IML: Katee, that is great advice! Thank you so much and good luck to you!

Katee: Thanks! 


We Love A Good Pet Rescue Story


pets6.jpgAnimals are amazing, and most IML'ers think so too! That's why there's a whole section of our Web site devoted to Pets. Pets teach us how to care for others and be responsible; give us unconditional love (and stress relief) when we need it; and sometimes, help bring our families closer together. You can probably tell from our Pets section that we feel passionately about the importance of spaying and neutering your pet, and adopting pets from shelters or rescue groups. That's because pet overpopulation causes tens of thousands of adoptable pets in the U.S. to be destroyed EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Fortunately, lots of small organizations are working to change that, one animal at a time. We heard about a cool contest you can participate in, from Purina Pro Plan's Rally To Rescue campaign. Their "Doing More For Pets" Rescue Stories Contest has chosen 10 incredible stories of animal rescue submitted by small rescue groups across the United States. From now until October 30, 2009 you can read and watch these stories at www.rallytorescue.org and vote for your favorite to win $5,000 worth of pet food. The contest aims to raise awareness and support for smaller rescue groups that are working on the frontlines to save animals from abuse, neglect, and homelessness.

If these stories inspire you to do more for animals in your community, there are many ways you can get involved. Even just educating yourself and those around you can make a big difference! 



Tell IML: What new topics should we cover?


At IML we've always involved real tweens in our big decisions. Over the years, you've told us what you like most about our site, what we could do better, and what you'd love for us to add. We listen to all of these comments and take them very seriously. So now, we're inviting you to help shape the future of It's My Life yet again...

We're going to be adding two new topics to the site in the next few months, but we can't decide which ones! From past suggestions, we've put together a list of issues we haven't covered yet but IML'ers would like to see. Write to us and tell us which two you think we should tackle:

Adoption
Living With A Single Parent
Opposite Sex Friendships
The Arts: Express Yourself (writing, music, dance, drama, visual arts)

Can you think of something that's not on this list? Tell us!

One thing we should mention is that many of you are writing to us about wanting a live chat on IML. Unfortunately we don't have the person-power right now to keep a live chat moderated and safe -- as it would have to be -- although we have talked about having a weekly scheduled live chat sometime in the future. In the meantime, keep those YSI (You Said It) posts coming! We do our best to get your posts approved within 24 hours but sometimes it does take longer if we have a ton of posts to review. We know it's hard to wait and it's totally not the same as chatting live, but we hope it's worth it to know that every post is checked and sometimes edited to make sure it's appropriate and bullying-free.



Book Review: "My So-Called Family"


Here at IML we absolutely love hearing you talk about your families, and it's clear that while every family is different, the big things are pretty much the same for everyone. Just take a look at any You Said It page in our Family section, and you're bound to find a post that makes you think, "Yes! It's the same at my house!"

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We were excited to check out "My So-Called Family" by Courtney Sheinmel (Simon & Schuster). This book was originally released in hardcover last fall, but the paperback edition will be available on September 15, 2009. It's a story that asks the question "What makes a family?" -- a question that forces us to look at how different families can look similar when it comes to what's important.

In "My So-Called Family," thirteen-year-old Leah is different. Her friends at her new school in New York have two parents, but she knows her father only as Donor 730 -- his identity in the Lyon's Reproductive Services catalog. Leah has a loving family, including a mother, a step-dad and a half-brother, but when her brother gets an assignment from school to draw a family tree, Leah realizes she wants to learn more about her own roots...setting off a chain of events that lead to an exciting discovery: she has a slew of half-siblings, including a girl close to her own age.  She's willing to do anything to meet them, even if it means keeping her new family a secret from her mom.

While Leah's situation might be unusual, her quest to find -- and define -- her family leads her to issues we can all relate to, like trying to fit in, navigating a new school, and feeling lonely... not to mention her changing relationship with her mom and the changes her body is going through. We particularly enjoyed Leah's relationship with her five-year-old brother, and her friends' relationships with their siblings provide interesting contrast to Leah's. With writing that's fast-paced and funny, Sheinmel will keep you turning pages until you finally find out how Leah will reconcile her biological family with the family she's grown up with.

IML's Rating: A-


"Dream Power" Creative Writing Contest


Here's something we know for sure: IML'ers love to write. For proof, check out our My Writing You Said It page and enjoy the amazing stories written by other tweens. It's no wonder. Writing is more than a fun way to let your imagination run wild. When you're feeling like things are totally out of your control, creating your own world through writing can make you Master of the Universe for a little while. Writing also helps us explore our experiences and relationships, and express our feelings about...pretty much anything and everything.

Maybe you're serious about writing and hope to do it for a living someday; maybe you just like to play around with it as a hobby. Maybe you know you're awesome with words; maybe you think you're terrible but do it anyway (although we'd bet you're not as "bad" as you think you are). Whatever your attitude, writing contests are a great outlet for your work! Here's a good one:

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To celebrate the fifth anniversary of publication of the award-winning fantasy "The Dark Dreamweaver," the first book of The Remin Chronicles about a land literally powered by dreams, Imaginator Press is sponsoring a creative writing contest for kids and teens up to age 14. Young writers are invited to write a creative story on the theme of "Dream Power" for a chance to win an 8GB iPod Touch. Four second-prize winners will receive $25 iTunes gift cards, and five third-prize winners will receive $10 iTunes gift cards. An anthology of the winning stories will be published!

Stories will be judged on originality and creativity, writing quality, grammar and spelling, and appropriateness to the "Dream Power" theme. Everyone who enters and includes a self-addressed, stamped envelope with their entry will receive a certificate and a gold "Powered by Dreams" sticker. Entries must be received by October 31, 2009. Contest rules and entry forms are available at www.reminchronicles.com.


Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"


hp1.jpgWe knew this Harry Potter movie was going to be a little different about five minutes in. Harry, when faced with the possibility of meeting up with a pretty waitress after she gets off work, does a quick breath-spray/breath-check combo. Hey Harry! Planning on doing some snogging?

Moments like that are what help make "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" possibly the most honest of all the HP flicks so far...and the most giggle-tastic. Part of the magic of the series is how J.K. Rowling brings her main characters through all the ups and downs of growing up -- fighting with friends, crazy mood swings, crushes, bullies, figuring out who they are as people -- at the same time that they're battling evil to save the world. And while it's always amazing to see the books' magical marvels come alive on the big screen, it's sometimes even more fun to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione be, well, just plain teens. The movie version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was the first to really get this, and this installment, aka HP6, takes it even further...to the point where you may find yourself laughing and nudging your friends more than you thought you would. We love it for that.

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HP6 also kicks the visuals up a notch and does not disappoint with suspense, mystery, and action. Daniel Radcliffe's Harry is strong and stoic and just really cool now, although we kinda miss his moments of weakness and doubt. Emma Watson's Hermione is more real than she's ever been, speaking for every girl who doesn't understand her own heart. It's great to see Ginny (Bonnie Wright) come into her own as a bigger character, and the moments between her and Harry as they find their way to each other are so lovely. And Rupert Grint. What can we say? In the past, IML'ers have crushed on him pretty hard and we didn't see it...until now. Yes, Ron is definitely hot. And hilarious. And amazing on the Quidditch pitch.

One thing we felt the HP6 movie is missing: the tale of how Tom Riddle became Voldemort. In the book, Harry (and readers) learn about Tom's family, childhood, and growing obsession with dark magic. There was something fascinating about Harry comparing his life to Tom's, and seeing how they were alike and different. Most of that has been cut from the film, and that's a shame. The ending also feels less devastating and ominous and scary than it does in the book, almost as if they needed to get the movie wrapped up quickly so it didn't run too long.

So much of HP6 is a setup for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," but you can also look at it as a semi-finale to the previous five books and movies. J.K. Rowling's world is familiar yet still wondrous, the characters are near the end of their journeys, and Harry has slowly gained the knowledge, strength, and love he needs to fulfill his destiny. If you're an HP fan you will eat up every minute of this movie. If you're not so much...well, maybe then you'll just nibble it. 

IML's Rating: A-


The 3 R's 4 R World


Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Hopefully you've heard these words so much lately that you've taken them to heart -- or are sick to death of them. Or both. It's all good, because then you know what they mean!

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So now IML needs your help. We're putting together a brand new section of our site called "Green Living," full of advice for tweens on how to accomplish those 3 R's, as well as other actions that will help save our planet's resources. It's not easy to change habits and give up certain things, but we're sure lots of you out there have already found creative and maybe even fun ways to do just that. 

So we want to know: How do YOU reduce the amount of trash you generate? Do you reuse something on a regular basis? Have you and your family hit upon a good formula for recycling? Maybe you and your friends had a clothing-swap party. Maybe you've figured out how to make something rather than buy it new. We're looking for your ideas to include on It's My Life! You can send them to us with your first name and age. If we use your comment on the site, we'll send you a package of groovy IML light-up pens and stickers!


Miley's World: Where Every Day Is Halloween?


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Once again, Miley Cyrus is being criticized for some magazine photos. Last time, many of you posted on our You Said It pages, shocked and upset about what she WASN'T wearing when she posed behind a bed sheet for Vanity Fair. This time it's what she IS wearing in Elle -- clothes that are rather, shall we say, mature -- that's got everyone chattering. 

We not going to offer any opinions as to whether she should have or shouldn't have, but here's what we think makes this whole issue an interesting one to think and talk about: Miley Cyrus isn't your average 16-year old. She's a mega-famous TV actress and pop star. Yes, the really tall black boots and the really tight top would be out of place and inappropriate in school, or in the neighborhood, or even on an episode of "Hannah Montana." But Miley didn't put those clothes on for these things; she put them on for a high fashion photo shoot. 

You could look at it this way: many young people participate in stage productions or cheerleading, and wear uniforms and costumes that wouldn't be right to wear in class or out at a fast-food place with friends. You might play the role of Sandy in your school's production of "Grease," and wear tight pants and a leather jacket, or wear a shorter-than normal skirt when cheering for your school's basketball team. Or how about Halloween?  There's a good chance that you and your friends wear some wild and weird stuff to go to a party or out trick-or-treating. Well, for someone like Miley, who lives her life in the spotlight, many days are more like a school play, or even Halloween, than most people can imagine. Sure, she gets to be a regular girl sometimes, and that's when she probably dresses just like everybody else her age. But most of the time, Miley is actually "on stage "and "in costume," performing her role as a famous pop star. This means she's under tons of pressure from directors, producers, publicists, photographers, and the like to do what they think is best for her career.

If you're confused about all the talk about Miley, or just have really strong opinions about it, this might be an interesting conversation with a friend or parent: Why do you think Miley posed in these very "grown-up" clothes? What would you do in her place, considering all the crazy details of her life? If you knew you were considered a role model to young people, how would that affect your decisions? Tell us what you think!


Book Review: "Alibi Junior High"


There's just something about a new-kid-in-town story that appeals to everyone, probably because the idea of starting over in an unfamiliar place -- at a new school, with new people, with a whole new set of rules -- can be terrifying. It's a good springboard for adventure, so many stories for young people grab onto this theme (you know, like those little tales of "Twilight" and "Harry Potter"). We recently found a great new book that twists it in a way you might not have seen before. 

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In "Alibi Junior High" by Greg Logsted (Simon and Schuster), 13-year-old Cody Saron comes to live with his aunt and start junior high. But Cody hasn't just moved; he's in hiding. For years, he's traveled the globe with his father, an undercover CIA agent who's taught him five languages, martial arts, and some serious spy-skills. But after they survive a cafe bombing meant to kill them, the safest place for Cody is the Connecticut suburbs. Cody finds that the dangers of international espionage are nothing compared to an ordinary day of junior high, where everyone thinks he's a freak, teachers are convinced he's trouble, and something as simple as a first crush leaves him totally clueless. (Too bad he doesn't have IML to help him! He could have gotten lots of advice about Middle School, Bullies, and When Your Family Moves.)

It doesn't help that he's still traumatized by the bombing and has never had any friends besides his dad. The only people he can relate to is his aunt Jenny, whose sister is the mom Cody lost when he was 2, and his neighbor Andy, who's just returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq. Can Cody stay true to who he is and also survive the strange new world of middle school? And who's that guy in the woods who seems to be watching the house?

The writing in "Alibi Junior High" is funny and honest and feels very real. Even though he's got a unique story, Cody's just one of those characters -- a new kid, an outsider -- who we can all can relate to in some way. We think guys as well as girls will enjoy it.

IML's rating: A (for Alibi!)


Thinking about Paris


paris_katherine.gifWe're still wiping tears from our eyes after watching Michael Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris speak at her father's memorial yesterday. "Ever since I was born," she said, "Daddy has been the best father I could ever imagine. And I just want to say, I love him so much." Then she broke down and hugged her aunt Janet. Her brothers, 12-year-old Prince Michael I and 7-year-old Prince Michael II (aka "Blanket"), didn't speak, but you could see on their faces that they felt the same way.

Do you find the Jackson kids as interesting as we do? Think about Paris. Imagine being 11 and the daughter of one of the most famous people in the world. And not just famous, but infamous -- loved and adored, yet also hated and judged and mocked. You travel constantly and when you go out, say, shopping on your birthday, you have to wear a scarf over your face while fans and papparazzi hound you. Then your dad dies suddenly, and it's not just you and your family grieving. It's millions and millions of people, and his picture is everywhere. 

Paris and her brothers have definitely lived a strange life so far. People are saying, maybe that life will get more normal from now on. But really, are they so different from some other tweens? They've been raised by one parent and never knew the other. They're homeschooled. They've moved around a lot. Their dad was pretty weird, yes -- but aren't all dads weird, even a little, in their own way? And now that they've lost him, they'll be living with relatives and have to rely on an extended family for support. Take away the fame and money and headlines, and in the end they're just kids who face a lot of challenges. Besides, what seems "strange" to us probably feels perfectly "normal" to them.

We wish Paris, Prince, and Blanket lots of strength and hope for the future. May they each find a private, personal way of dealing with a very public death.





DVD Review: "Princess Protection Program"
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Okay, just what is it about princesses? Is it the gowns? The bling? The not-having-to-do-crummy-chores-like-scooping-the-litterbox? Or maybe it's simply the fact that princesses are special (in a good way). As a little kid you might have been into Ariel, Belle, and the gang. Or maybe you always loved dressing up and playing princess with your friends. 

If you enjoyed the Disney Channel Original Movie "Princess Protection Program," it's probably -- in part -- because none of us really outgrow our fascination with princesses. What we at IML particularly liked about this flick is that it actually asks the question, "What does it really, truly mean to be a princess?" and found a fun way to explore that, with a great story about friendship. 

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In case you didn't catch it when it aired on The Disney Channel, here's the story: tomboy Carter Mason (played by Selena Gomez) gets her world turned upside down when her father, who works for a top-secret princess rescue operation (Are there really that many princesses out there in jeopardy? Whatever, it's a movie.), brings home Princess Rosalinda (Demi Lovato) in an effort to protect her from a dictator who's taken over her tiny country. Rosalinda has to blend in as a typical American teen; Carter thinks this intrusion is a royal pain in the butt. Despite their differences, the two become friends and help each other in all sorts of "You go, girl! ways.

The DVD features a new video of Selena and Demi performing the song "One and the Same" and some cool behind-the-scenes footage. In one segment, Selena and Demi talk (and giggle a lot) about their real-life friendship, and how awesome it was to make a movie together. They do seem to really be BFF's (after all, they've known each other since they were both on "Barney" -- that must be like the teen star equivalent of being kindergarten classmates) and super nice people to boot. But of course, it made us wonder:

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If Demi and Selena are really best friends, then they must also, really, fight sometimes. Or at least argue. Because that's part of friendship, right? Do they ever crush on the same guy? Does Demi get mad at Selena if Selena gets invited to some red carpet gala and doesn't ask her bud to come along? What happens if one of them becomes much more successful than the other (say, for instance, Demi wins a Grammy while Selena's music career fizzles, or Selena becomes a huge movie star while Demi can't seem to break out of TV)? We can only hope that they'll work it out. Other celeb BFF's -- like Courtney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Aniston -- seem to be able to keep their friendships strong. Keep the faith, Demi and Selena!

And all the talk about "What does it mean to be a princess?" (which is also explored in the DVD extras, including an interview with a "real" princess, India Oxenburg)...well, maybe that's just something each of us has to decide for ourselves.