Dancewear en l’air: The Low Square-Back Tank

Prima Soft came up with a beautiful square cut for the back of its leotards a few years ago, and its still gorgeously flattering today. This angular, low cut on a classic tank style, 501, keeps the leo from looking too much like a swimsuit, which is sometimes how a tank leo looks with a low scoop back. The pinched front of this leo is equally flattering.

The versatility of this tank is great. It would look equally beautiful with a wrap skirt or without. Clean lines, classic styling and traditional colors make it ideal for even fairly strict dress codes.

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Tis the Season – for Casting Stress!

Fall audition season is wrapping up and cast lists at tons of schools are either in the works or already posted. Welcome to casting season! Have you been waiting with bated breath to scan your school’s bulletin board for your name? Do you already know what parts you’ll be working on this year? Is it stressing you out? How are you dealing?

You know casting season can be tough. After a year of hard work and maybe a summer intensive or two, a lot of students dream of solo or even lead roles, but not everyone is going to get what they want. If you are still waiting for your cast list to be posted, how should you deal with the pressure of the wait?

When you start thinking about that elusive cast list and all the “what ifs” that you cannot control, turn your mind to the things that you do have control over. Ask yourself, what should I be working on in class to keep improving? What are my goals for this year? Most teachers will be more than happy to talk to you one-on-one about what you need to improve most and how to go about focusing on those issues. Working on strengthening specific areas of your dancing will help you to continue on a path to success regardless of how the casting turns out.

Have you already found you name up on the casting list? Did you get the parts you hoped for? If not, are you motivated to work harder? Or are you busy picking apart the students who got the roles you wanted? If the second one sounds like you, it may be time to take a deep breath. Casting season is often when rumors about favoritism and politics take hold and may start running rampant among students and even – shockingly – among parents. Don’t get caught in this spiral. All it will do is keep you from focusing on you and how to get where you want to be.

I know it can be hard – especially if you have friends or even parents telling you that you deserved the role that Suzie got, but I promise that 99% of the time, casting decisions are made with careful attention to countless factors. For example, different students need different treatment at different times in their growth – Sometimes a students needs to be pushed to handle a solo role, and sometimes they need to be pushed to learn how to dance as a team member or team leader in the corps. Once again, the solution is to shift the focus from other students back to yourself. Focus on your dancing, what you need to do to move forward and how you can work on things that might be holding you back.

Finally, if you got that coveted role you’ve been dyin’ for – Congratulations! But remember, the work doesn’t stop here. An important solo or lead role can mean much longer rehearsal hours and a tougher standard that you need to meet. A lot more may be expected of you than you’ve had to deal with before – and you’ll still need to get all of that homework done! Take advantage of the guidance that your teachers and directors can provide.

However the casting chips may fall, remember congratulate yourself for working hard and getting through a competitive audition process. And get ready to rehearse your butt off!

Is a pro school right for you year-round?

I’ve often talked about how crucial training at a professional ballet school can be for students who aspire to a professional career, a high quality college dance career or both. Here is some great advice from the recent issue of Pointe Magazine about deciding whether a year-round program is right for you – and whether you are ready for it.

Dancewear en l’air: The Two-Tone Practice Tutu

In my recent post on the tutus, I featured this lovely rehearsal piece, C705, by Primadonna Tutus as the example. But such a well-made and economical piece really deserves it’s own post.

This practice tutu comes in classic white tulle. The black and white basque mimics the pointed basque-waist of a performance tutu’s architecture when worn with a black leotard as shown. This is a gorgeous rehearsal piece, but if you are looking to dress it up for a competition or recital, be forewarned that the two-tone feature doesn’t really lend itself to evolution into anything else. Primadonna offers all-white and all-black options if you need that versatility.

The price is nice on this piece and options include a 12″ or 14″ skirt, a hoop on request for $20 more, and either eight or ten layers of tulle. All told, you’ll probably won’t even reach $200 for the most expensive version.

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 3

If you are getting ready to take ballet for the first time, you might want a heads up on what to expect, from what the barre is really for to what the teachers expect from you.

When you arrive, find out where to put your dance bag and purse. If you need to change, find out where dressing or restrooms are available. You should be in your dancewear with hair pulled back and completely ready to walk into class five minutes before the start time.

Exercises in ballet follow a certain general order. The class is begun at the barre, which you are probably familiar with from movies and TV as a railing that is used by dancers for warm-up. The barre is intended to be a light support. You should always practice at the barre as if you will eventually perform the exercises without it – because you will! Hanging on the barre or gripping it are huge no-nos.

When you walk into class, the first thing to do is introduce yourself to the teacher. Even if you met her during your enrollment, it is helpful for her if you re-introduce yourself.

Next, find a spot at the barre about four to five feet away from anyone else so that you can perform your exercises without kicking or bumping someone else accidentally. There’s definitely an unspoken rule about who gets what spot at the barre. Students who have some seniority usually have favorite spots that are considered theirs. Wait a few seconds before choosing your spot so you can avoid “stealing” one from one of these students.

If it’s the first day of class for a number of students or if it’s the first day of the year, the teacher might go over some class rules. In case she doesn’t though, here’s the basic rundown of what’s expected:

  1. When you are in the studio, speak only when prompted or raise your hand when you have a question, even if class is over or hasn’t yet begun.
  2. Ask for permission to leave the room or leave early, and ask in advance if at all possible. Never arrive late. If you absolutely must, enter the room as quietly as possible. Do not enter or exit the studio during a combination.
  3. Adhere to the dress code. Be neat and clean. Do not wear ill-fitting items or those in disrepair.
  4. At the barre and in the center, do not get so close to others that you kick or bump into them.
  5. Do not compare yourself to others. Work towards your personal best.
  6. Do not leave the room without a thank you, small curtsy or both to the teacher and accompanist. (This is very dependant on culture. Watch the other students.)
  7. No gum chewing.
  8. No jewelry.
  9. Water is the only drink allowed in class.
  10. You are responsible for reading notices, cast lists and keeping track of important dates and events.

The barre exercises will begin with knee-bends and extensions of the leg away from the body. At first, your toes will stay touching the floor, but as the exercises progress, the leg will be extended off the floor in increasing heights. You might also practice balancing on two legs and eventually on one.

After the barre exercises, students work on center practice. As a beginner, these exercises will be similar to the work performed at the barre and may also include small jumps. As you progress, turns will be added and jumps will increase in height and complexity.

Throughout the exercises, the teacher may call out corrections to the class. You are expected to listen and apply them. She may also direct her attention to an individual student and might use her hands to physically move the student’s body into the shape that’s needed. If you are that student, don’t get anxious. Just listen and try to put into practice what she is asking. If its your first day, this might happen quite a bit as the teacher works to get you to understand the steps.

For the last exercise, the teacher might guide the students through a slow bow or curtsy combination called reverance. Once class is over, all students should clap for the teacher as a thank you. They may also then thank the teacher individually with a curtsy. Watch the other students in the class and follow their lead on this. Some teachers do not prefer an individual curtsy and thank you because they need to get to another class and move on with the day.

Don’t be concerned at all if you did not understand a lot of the words used for the steps or if you were limited in what you could do. If you keep going to class, that will change quickly. This is my final post in this three-part series – All that is left is for you to go and take that first class!

Congratulations on trying something new and entering the beautiful world of strength and creativity that is ballet. Enjoy it and good luck!

Dancewear en l’air: The Fitted Knit Boyshort

Everyone needs a cute warm-up outfit that doubles as a cover up. Pair the K.D. Dance NAL6105 short with a sweater like the one featured yesterday, and you have a great combo to wear to and from class. Add a pair of legwarmers for a set to wear while you warm up.

These shorts are available in a whopping 21 colors to match or contrast with practically any leo shade imaginable, and the lightweight fabric warms your hips without adding bulk.

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 2

You have selected a dance school and signed up for ballet lessons. Now its time to shop for your ballet clothes!

Your dance school should provide you with a dress code and a list of stores to purchase the items you need. Don’t go online to buy your first ballet clothes – you will need to try things on and get help selecting styles and sizes. You will need at least one basic leotard, a pair of pink tights, and a pair of pink ballet shoes. If you will be taking more than one class weekly, you may need another set or two of tights and a leotard. Depending on the dress code, you may also wish to purchase a basic short wrap skirt and some simple warm-ups or cover-ups for walking in the halls between classes or for warming up before class. So let’s talk about what to shop for.

Before we get started, be forewarned that you may feel a bit strange in a leotard and tights at first. They look and feel very different than street clothes! A question that new female dancers are often too shy to ask is: Should I wear underwear and a bra under a leotard and tights? Most dancers consider the tights to be the underwear and most leotards are made with a lining or shelf bra attached. (Wearing dancewear is very similar to wearing a bathing suit.) If you are not comfortable with this and prefer additional layers, there are many options available specifically for dance that you may choose from. Body Wrappers, Natalie and Capezio offer boyshorts, thongs, bikini cuts, bra tops, leotard-cut underliners and unitard-cut underlines. These are all designed in fabrics and colors that fit discreetly under leotards or costumes and that are moisture-wicking. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to wear streetwear underclothes with your dancewear. Street styles are way too bulky and noticeable, and they can trap moisture and heat that can cause, ahem, issues.

Now for the fun stuff. For your first pink tights, ask for a convertible foot. These tights have a slit on the bottom of the foot so they can be rolled up to the ankle. This is invaluable if you are planning to take other dance classes, like modern or jazz. I would recommend choosing Body Wrappers, Capezio, Gaynor Minden or Bloch tights. These brands offer various fabric choices, so ask the sales person to let you feel the different fabrics and help you choose the proper size.

For your ballet leotard, you should choose something simple in a comfortable fabric and cut. A short sleeve or tank version with a high back is usually best for your first leo to avoid feeling too revealed and to be able to wear a bra if you prefer or need to. Some good leotard brands are Mirella, Body Wrappers, Capezio, Bloch, Grishko, Freed, Sansha and Natalie.

Next your pink ballet shoes. Soft ballet shoes are made in satin, leather and canvas. If your dress code does not specify, try leather or canvas which are what most students wear. Ballet shoes should cover the toes, sides of the foot and heel. The sales person should help you find a size that does not bag around your foot but does not cramp your foot either. For advanced students, I like to see elastic criss-crossed from heel to arch, but on a beginner, I recommend just one elastic across the arch of the foot. Ask the sales person if they sell any shoes with elastic pre-sewn. Look for ballet shoe brands like Fuzi, Angelo Luzio, Capezio, Bloch, Sansha, Freed, Grishko and Principal.

Ballet shoes come in split-sole and full-sole. That refers to the leather pad on the bottom of the shoe. A full-sole shoe has a strip of leather in a footprint shape while a split sole has a pad on the ball of the foot and one on the heel. The idea is that a split-sole highlights and enhances the look of the foot’s arch while increasing ease of motion. It does, but note that a full-sole offers resistance on the arch that can be useful for pointe preparation.

Now to accessorize. Does your dress code allow for a short skirt? If so, make sure you know what colors are acceptable and if there is a minimum or maximum length. If the dress code just says “short”, look for a one-layer skirt no shorter than ten inches and no longer than fifteen. Basically, you want a length that covers the bottom of you leotard when you are standing still, maybe an inch or two longer if you like the look. The most common cut of a ballet skirt is a wrap style that you will cross in the front and tie in the back. If you don’t want that hassle, some pull-on styles are available. Look for delicate chiffon, georgette or tulle fabrics that flow when you move and swirl when you twirl!

Now for your warm-ups. Most teachers do not allow warm-ups during class, but they are great for protecting the muscles after class during cool down and between classes. They also protect against cold A/C. Some warm-ups double as cover-ups. Warm-up options are so numerous, I can’t possibly list them all, but some options include legwarmers, wrap tops, shrug tops, tunics, knit tights, warm-up dresses, knit skirts and shoulder wraps. Try on different styles to find what you like best.

At any age, it is really inappropriate to walk to or from the studio in nothing but a leo and tights. You should bring either a change of clothes or cover-up outfit to wear to and from the studio. A simple cotton dress that you can slip over the head works well for this, as does a sweatsuit.

If you have a gym bag, that should be suitable for your ballet gear. If not, you will definitely want to purchase a medium-sized bag that can fit a change of clothes, a water bottle, your purse and your ballet shoes and warm-ups.

Lastly, your hair. Most ballet schools require that females wear their hair pulled up off the face in a bun or french twist. You should can pick up hairpins, elastics, hairnets and anything else you need at a local drugstore or at the store where you purchase your dancewear.

You have everything you need for your first ballet lesson! Be sure to allow enough time before your class to change into your dancewear and style your hair. And get ready to enter an exciting world of art, emotion, strength and unparalleled beauty. In my next post, I’ll tell you what to expect during your first class!