The Right Leo Size, Every Time!

As much fun as dancewear shopping can be, it can also be frustrating. There is a surprising amount of variation across brands. Pulling a bunch of leos on and off to see what flatters is trouble enough without the added complication of figuring out how the different brands are designed to fit.

As a dancer with a long torso, I found that taking my measurements and doing a little research on size schemes (and I have done that work for you as you’ll see!) took the hassle right out of dancewear shopping.

When it comes to leotard fit, you will need at least four basic measurements: bust, waist, hips and girth. To measure the first three, align a soft measuring tape parallel to the floor and wrapped snugly – but not too tightly – around the fullest level of your bust, the slimmest portion of your waist, and your hips at the hip bone level.* Wear the least bulky top and bottom possible (but nothing so tight it will change your natural size) and make sure you are standing in proper ballet posture with shoulders down and a square alignment for the truest measurements possible. Use a mirror to make sure the tape is wrapped properly for each measure.

Now for the research – which as I mentioned I have done for you! I have created a chart of all the major manufacturers’ ladies’ sizing guidelines for all brands that use a S/M/L sizing structure. (So no Sansha or Grishko, sorry!) You can download it by clicking here: BalletScoop Adult Ladies Sizing Guide. Once you have your measurements taken and written out, you can easily compare them to the chart and circle what size in each brand will suit you best. Voilà – sizing guesswork gone!!

*For pants, shorts and unitards, the hips will often need to be measured at their absolute fullest circumference, usually an inch or two below the hip bones. The waist measurement for pants should be taken at the level where the waist of the pants are expected to hit – that’s usually an inch or two below your actual waist.

Update: If you had trouble printing this size guide earlier, sorry! It is now on letter-sized paper, so should be easy printing now!

Spendin’ Cheese: Affording Your Passion for Dance

Unless you’re regularly receiving full scholarships for your dance tuition and sponsorships for your dance gear and other expenses, you may have heard your parents grumble more than once about the high cost of paying for your ballet (or jazz, or contemporary …). There are lessons, shoes, practice clothes, travel expenses, costumes and many other items to pay for in order to keep you in training.

First, the bad news: Your parents are right to question the worth of your many dance-related expenses. Don’t underestimate how burdensome it can be to support this kind of training on an average family’s salary. Good dance training and supplies cost serious money – often thousands and thousands of dollars each year. A proper dance education is a financial extravagance, and raising a family is financially challenging enough without this additional expense.

Some dancers are fortunate to have parents that can – and zestfully do – contribute to their talented offsprings’ pursuits, but more than half of the aspiring dancers I have known came from average financial backgrounds. So how can you make it all work? What do you do if your parents threaten to stop paying for your training?

There is some good news…

YOU can help.

That’s right, you probably have a lot more influence over this situation than you might think. There is a way that you can ease the financial burden, impress your parents with your dedication to your dancing and encourage them to contribute to your training. How you ask? By working!

Ok, ok, don’t click away just yet. Working doesn’t have to mean slaving away at American Eagle for a few bucks an hour. Though that is certainly an option! (Ah, the zen of folding a gazillion skinny jeans into neat stacks.) As a young dancer, I had a few sponsorships and scholarships, but I paid for a lot of my own training and gear as teenager with money I earned babysitting, teaching the children’s classes at my studio and even cleaning houses.

You don’t need three jobs on top of school and dance to impress your parents and be helpful though! Consider taking two babysitting jobs a week. If you charge $8 per hour, you could easily make over $100 per month. Agree with your parents that if they will pay for your tuition, you will pay for your dancewear, shoes and costumes – but you have to stick to the deal. Make sure you can pay for necessities like pointe shoes first and save up for any extra training programs and travel expenses before buying fun leotards and warm-ups.

If you can’t bring yourself to start working or to use your hard earned dollars to help your family with your dance expenses, it might be time to reevaluate whether dance is truly your passion or just a pursuit. If you enjoy it immensely but decide that you don’t want it enough to make sacrifices like this, you might find that you are happier just taking a weekly class for fun instead of a daily schedule. And that’s worth knowing for your own sanity’s sake! If it is your passion, you will probably find that you feel motivated to contribute and excited to be able to start taking charge of your own dance training.

As a final note: Money is very tight for a lot of people these days. My heart goes out to you if your family is dealing with a loss of employment or other financial hardship. There are undoubtedly situations where young dancers in this economy simply will not be able to continue to train regardless of how much they are able to help out. If this is your situation, know that there is a world of dance waiting for you when you are all grown up and on your own. There is a whole universe of people who started or continued dance after high school due to issues like this, and many of them love and enjoy taking class much, much more than they ever would otherwise.

Ballet in Print: In the Company of Stars

In this lavish 125-photo collection, Gérard Uféras takes the reader on a journey to observe the spectacular beauty of the ubiquitious Opéra Garnier and the intimate world of the Paris Opera Ballet dancers. Uféras spent a year observing the POB, and In the Company of Stars is the result of his brief immersion in their focused world.

Originally a French publication, the English version of this book is currently on sale for about 25% off at Amazon.

Dear CBT: Too Late for Pointe?

Dear CBT,

I’m 21 and studied ballet from the age of 4 until 13. However I gave up and returned at 19 but had to stop due to lack of funds! I have my Bloch pre-pointe shoes and my flat ballet shoes which I do practice on, and I’d never buy pointes without a teacher’s instruction.

I’m looking to getting into training soon again, but do you think its too late to work for pointe?

– Ballerina Interrupted

Dear Ballerina,

Good for you for returning to your passion despite setbacks! First, I just want you to know that pointework is certainly not the be-all end-all of dance or even ballet. Ballet can be beautiful, striking and extraordinary without pointe shoes. I’m pointing this out because, not knowing your health nor seeing your feet, I cannot guarantee that you are eligible, but I will give you the parameters so that you can get going in the right direction.

Provided that a dancer is physician-approved for exercise, the only age-related barriers would really be related to bone strength – too young could mean the bones have not sufficiently ossified, and too old could mean they had reached a point of brittleness. There are other possible roadblocks to your success – genetic predisposition to ingrown toenails, limited flexibility in the tendons and ligaments to make an arch sufficient to get over the box of a pointe shoe and other such issues that are best assessed by a well-qualified teacher and your physician in-person.

Provided that you have no such limitations, the most important thing is for your pointe preparation is to get a quality teacher, preferably someone who has taught adults long enough to understand limitations that they run into and how to relay information in a way that makes sense to them. A good teacher for any age group will enforce a minimum of two ballet technique classes per week leading up and for at least the first year of pointe. You should expect at least two years of re-training to prepare, possible more. If you get there in less time, consider it lagniappe.

If you’ll go to my website homepage, look on the black menu bar and click Pointe Shoes. Read those articles. Then check out the Adult Beginner Pointe link on my blogroll to read about one adult ballet students foray into her first year of pointe. Finally, create an account at BalletTalk for Dancers, where you will find message boards moderated for professional dancers with forums for adult student technique issues and adult student support. Search those two forums for “pointe” – there are some great threads there. I think you’ll find these resources inspirational and substantively helpful for understanding what to expect as a potential adult pointe student. Let me know if you have any more questions after checking them out!

You be the Judge: Choosing Your SI

Have you been accepted to more than one SI? Congratulations! If your parents are considering allowing you to attend but you (or your parents!) are feeling clueless about how to choose one, read on to hear how to find your best summer training experience.

During your SI auditions, not only are the judges assessing you – You should be assessing them as well. Often, the audition is the first stage of substantive contact that a student has with a potential summer intensive school. Whether or not the audition class is also a master class, you should be able to get a feel for the teacher and whether they represent the kind of school you would like to attend. Ask yourself these questions during the audition:\

  • Are they working from a technique that I enjoy and want to learn more about?
  • Is the teacher/auditioner likeable and someone that I would like to be around for six weeks?
  • Is the teacher good at managing the class?
  • Does their audition process foster a professional and efficient learning environment?

You can extrapolate a lot about a school from your audition experience, just the same way that they are extrapolating a lot about you from the same brief encounter. Not every student is the right fit for every school – and vice versa! The audition is both their opportunity and yours to assess whether your talent and level will be best cultivated in their environment.

Nowadays, acceptances are more quickly available than ever. Many SI programs will post them online. Once you know what your options are, it is time to employ your power of choice. Using your audition experience and an easy activity, you can ge a clearer picture of your favorites and not-so-favorites. Before assessing the schools who have accepted you though, you need to take some time to decide what you are looking for in a school.

Because consistency in training is absolutely essential for younger dancers, I recommend that dancers stay with their home studio until they reach 13. For students between the ages of 13 and 15, I recommend that SIs be chosen first and foremost for individual attention and nurturing developmental environments, like many rural, suburban and smaller regional programs offer. Conservatory SIs are excellent for this and have the added appeal of offering a taste of their year-round program. Also for younger dancers, splitting the summer between two different programs can be a more realistic option than for older dancers.

From the age of about 15-17, I recommend that students push themselves to attend more competitive programs, perhaps in urban areas farther from home where there may be greater chance of exposure to directors/choreographers and increased development of the students personal responsibility. When the students get to the age of 17 and older, I recommend that they seek out programs that are commensurate with their ability in terms of potential employment – so no SIs without professional affiliations unless they are specifically looking to enter a conservatory year-round. I also recommend that students give special consideration to programs extending scholarship money, which may mean the company has interest in potentially employing the student in the future. At any age, if the student is interested in a conservatory prep school, the appropriate SI should be chosen in order to serve as an audition for the year-round program. (Don’t know whether you want a company school or conservatory? Check out this great article from Dance Magazine.)

Once you’ve decided what kind of program you need, create a spreadsheet or handwrite a chart with your SI options listed down the left side of the page. At the top, make columns with these headings:

  • Techniques:
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

These list is not exhaustive, so be sure to make columns for features of interest to you that I may not have included. Next, indicate the response that you prefer for each feature. For example, a young student leaving home for the first time and her parents might want the options I’ve placed in bold here:

  • Techniques: Cecchetti Ballet, Partnering, Modern & Jazz
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

Once you’ve decided what your preferences are for each feature, fill in the boxes for each school by reviewing the information made available by the school website, in the brochures and if necessary by phone call. Once you have everything filled in, look at what schools have all of your preferred features and which ones are easily ruled out.

It may not be possible to find all the information you need from the school’s publications. If you are looking for real dancers’ and parents’ descriptions of the particular SIs that you review, check out my favorite resource for chatting on all things ballet, BalletTalk for Dancers. Create a free account to view their substantial and comprehensive message boards for virtually all 2011 Summer Intensives. All BalletTalk message boards are moderated by respected ballet professionals.

These activities should narrow your list considerably and give you a better understanding of what you want to get from your summer investment of time and perhaps significant money. The idea is to find the best program for you personally – what’s best for you might not be what’s best for your friend – but don’t stress if you end up with more than one awesome SI option. That’s a good thing! Most known SI programs offer great instruction in a safe environment, so there aren’t many wrong answers when it’s time to choose. And the sheer number of hours you will put in at such a program will virtually ensure that you will see some very decent improvement over the summer. With a little bit of research and effort though, you can help to ensure that you won’t just be headed to a great summer intensive – you’ll be headed to the program of your dreams!

Dancewear en l’air: Elasticized Pointe Shoe Ribbons

I used to cut my pointe shoe ribbons and add an elastic strip to the spot that landed at the Achilles. The extra flex gave some room for the ribbons to expand and contract going from plié to relevé and vice versa. Thanks to Bunheads Flexors, there’s no need for such arduous work on top of all the attachment sewing you have to do!

Flexors come four to a pack (enough for one pair of shoes) and come in two versatile shades of peachy-pink to match practically any pointe shoe. These ribbons are recommended by dance teachers (like me) and physical therapists.

Finding The Best College Dance Program for You

Dancing in a great college program gives you the opportunity to refine your dancing to a professional level through one major while preparing for a “back-up” career with a second major – or to continue doing what you love while pursuing your academics. But as a student making plans for dancing in college, you have more to think about than the average teen. What program is right for me? How tough will it be to find what I need from a college program? Can I find the same or better quality training than what I’ve had up to now? Are there programs that focus seriously enough on my dance genre that I can have a chance to turn pro after college? How do I begin researching good dance college programs?\

According to College Matchmaker, which provides links to and info on thousands of colleges, there are 254 four-year colleges in the U.S. with majors for ballet, dance or musical theater. That’s a lot to consider, especially if you don’t even know what you should be looking for. An excellent place to start your planning is by reading through Dance Advantage’s college guide. This section of the DA website provides invaluable information from how to decide what you are looking for in the first place to how to excel once you are there, plus a nice list of external articles and websites to get you well on your way creating and narrowing down your list of colleges.

There is a lot to be gained by pursuing a higher education while refining yourself as a dancer. If you are not sure whether to even continue dancing while in college or whether to skip college altogether and pursue a career in dance immediately, researching your options thoroughly before deciding can give you a more realistic picture so that you can fully assess all the pros and cons.

What makes the “best” college for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your goals in dance, whether you want to get to a pro level via college or go recreational, and what kind of college dance programs are available to you financially. If you have professional contract offers already and are considering accepting one, you should seriously research your options for pursuing your education in that city, though you may not opt for a dance program at all. During your research, don’t get too hung up on terminology for dance programs (B.A. vs. B.F.A, for example). Focus on the instructor quality, the program’s intensity, class offerings, performance opportunities, facilities and of course where the alumni are now. Good programs will require an audition.

Lastly, consider whether to treat your college education and your dance education as separate pursuits, just as you may have done during your high school years. If you have access to a superior dance school, there may not be a college program available to you that will surpass it, so that it is certainly worthwhile to consider enrolling in the dance conservatory or school to continue with dance while taking non-dance college courses. There is a wide variety of quality in U.S. college dance programs today, but for an idea of what to expect, check out this article from Dance Informa Magazine.

As you can tell, there are many, many options to consider even before you start examining college dance programs. But it’s not as daunting as it might seem! Take control of your college future by delving into the articles and links I’ve provided, and before you know it you’ll be well on your way to planning your college career.

Love Your Dance Teacher? Nominate Her! (Or Him!)

Dance Teacher Magazine is seeking student submissions for their 2011 Dance Teacher Awards. Exceptional teachers may be honored by a Dance Teacher Award at the 2011 Dance Teacher Summit! Click here for submission requirements and nomination categories.

Show your favorite dance teacher how much he or she means to you with a nomination for a Dance Teacher Award!

Update: Dance Studio Life and Dance Life TV are also sponsoring a teacher award program, the Dance Life Teacher Conference Scholarship Program. The DLTC program is held in three rounds of essay, video and finally an editors’ vote. Your teacher could win a scholarship to attend the Dance Studio Life Conference and formal recognition by DSL. Nominate your favorite dance teacher today!

Dance(212) is Back & Focused on Ballet!

A brand new series will soon be presented by Dance(212)! And this time they’ll be focusing exclusively on ballet students’ summer intensive experiences. Check out the preview here, and get ready to meet five exceptional and ambitious young dancers (including Hannah Miller, shown left) with talent and drive to spare. Tune in January 24 for the series premiere!

Getting Accepted: What Are “They” Looking For at SI Auditions?

Summer Intensive auditions are now in full swing, and I’ve gotten tons of great questions from you guys lately about what the SI adjudicators will be looking for! I know you all sometimes feel a lot of pressure about these auditions, but you should know that the adjudicators will make it as positive an experience as possible. Often, your audition fee will be a “master class” fee, and you will have the benefit of instruction and correction from exceptional teachers during the audition class.

I know what you’re really interested in, though, is the nitty-gritty of how your are being judged. Many factors are considered in your evaluation. I like to divide these factors into two categories: physical attributes and performance attributes.\

By physical attributes, I am referring to the body of the dancer. Dancing is a sport (and of course an art), and just like any sport you must have a body that is physically capable of doing the work required. Your adjudicators will be looking for dancers of a healthy weight who have a suitable physical facility for ballet. By facility, I mean dancers with:

  • Good rotation for turn-out
  • Long, flexible limbs
  • Supple muscularity
  • Balanced proportions
  • An overall good “look”

Of particular interest to auditioners might be:

  • Longer limbs combined with a shorter torso
  • A small head
  • High but strong and controlled arches
  • A touch of hyperextension in the knees

Of course, we can’t talk about ballet bodies without getting to the touchy question of weight. I am not going to sit here and tell you that SIs never accept underweight dancers. Sadly, some SIs might overlook an underweight dancer who is able to hobble through an audition, but these dancers generally do not make it far in ballet (or sometimes even that SI) due to their sheer inability to physically keep up. Without a proper muscular structure and proper food intake these dancers inevitably cannot perform as required. One of the saddest things I saw as an SI student was when dancers were sent home from a program for concerns of being underweight or unable to physically keep up. It goes without saying that being overweight will be similarly inhibiting, and that an athleticly slim figure is often preferred. So the most important thing is to be of a healthy athletic weight, and that means being neither over nor underweight.

Physical attributes are secondary to performance attributes, however, and these attributes include movement quality and the dancers ability to … dance! Performance attributes include:

  • Quality training commensurate with age
  • Good basic placement and core strength
  • Coordination
  • Musicality
  • Proper use of plie
  • Good lines
  • Strong and articulated feet
  • Quality port de bras
  • Extension appropriate for age
  • Strength on pointe, if appropriate
  • Ability to understand corrections
  • Ability to apply corrections
  • Ability to pick-up choreography quickly
  • Style and artistic expression
  • Great mental attitude
  • Passion for and enjoyment of dancing

You probably notice that the first ten items on this list are all related to technique. Remember that these adjudicators are not looking for perfection. In fact, up to the age of about 14, they are giving quite a bit of consideration to the dancer’s potential. If you are lacking in technique due to inadequate instruction for example, you can show through your ability to pick up corrections and choreography that you are very teachable and therefore perhaps an excellent candidate. As you get a bit older, however, adjudicators will be looking for a more finished product. By the age of 17 or 18, you will want to present yourself as a dancer who has most of her technique and movement quality at a professional level. They will want someone at that age to be working mostly on artistry with perhaps some technical fine-tuning remaining to be done.

Do not underestimate the importance of the last two items I’ve listed. Showing your love for dance through enthusiasm for learning and enjoyment of movement can and often does cause an adjudicator to give a student a second, third or even fourth look. Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look at all costs! Be present in the moment, attentive, focused mentally and with your eyes, and remember why you are there in the first place … because you love, love, love to dance!

Merde, ballerinas! May you all have an exciting and educational audition season!!

Dancewear en l’air: The Tie-Dye Camisole Leotard

Looking for something new and fun to wear for rehearsals and auditions? Check out Energetiks AL34, a freestyle and feminine camisole leotard with a tie-dye velvet insert on an empire – remember, that’s “AHM-peer” 🙂 – waist.

This statement-making yet simple leo features a studious pinched V-front and a pinched straight back which keeps the tie-dye accent from making it all look too over-the-top. I just love the look of that pinched straight back, which precisely accents the back muscles.

This limited-edition piece is available in an array of purples, pinks, and reds along with classic black and the cobalt shown here. I would definitely splurge and get the Energetiks tie dye skirt (which I’ll post in un momento) to wear with this fabulous and fun ballet leotard!

Dancers Wanted: Finding Professional Ballet & Dance Auditions

Day in and day out you take class, hear corrections, try to apply them, go to rehearsals, wear out practice clothes and shoes and basically invest countless hours and dollars into your dance education. What’s it all for? For some of you, it’s an excellent way to become physically proficient at a fun sport and art while developing a close group of friends. For others, it’s a stepping stone to your ultimate goal: a professional dance career.

For you special young vocational dancers, I thought you might like a heads up on one of the most vital and constant parts of a professional dancer’s life: Auditions! Auditions may be a part of your career for a very long time, if not all of it. It can be a constant struggle to keep on top of where they are, who’s holding them and what dancers are needed. So in addition to the RSS feeds (on the right) from Voice of Dance and Backstage, I have now added a special blogroll on the right-hand side of this site titled Auditions. Take a look by scrolling down and checking below the regular Blogroll.

On this list, you’ll see links to audition notices from all around the country and the world and links to official audition sites for major dance employers. It’s not all ballet – not every serious ballet dancer finds that there is a place for them or that they even want to be in ballet professionally – but there are plenty ballet auditions as well. I’ll post more in the future about how to enter the exciting but often seemingly scary world of professional dance and professional ballet. As a first step to great exposure in the dance industry, get to planning your SI auditions!

Update: Dance Magazine published a 2011 Jobs Guide in their March issue, and that link has been added to the Auditions list at right. Check it out for the latest company job openings!

Inspiration: Sarah Lane

Sarah Lane is one of my favorite dancers today. I had the pleasure of training at the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program at the same time as Sarah in 2002, where her movement quality, pure line and effortless grace caught everyone’s attention. She had some of the most expansive movement, all placed on a lithe frame of only about 5’2″. Sarah was also as sweet and humble as they come, though she had plenty of bragging rights with a full scholarship to the program and a bronze medal from the Youth America Grand Prix.

Later that year, Sarah won the silver medal at the Jackson International Ballet Competition, the highest female junior medal awarded that year. In August 2003, she was accepted as an American Ballet Theatre apprentice. A promotion to corps de ballet followed in April 2004, and finally a promotion to soloist in 2007.

If you can’t make it to NYC to see Sarah perform, you can see her dancing as the body double for Natalie Portman in Black Swan. But don’t think Sarah was born with golden pointe shoes on – her early training was in a good quality but local-level school in Memphis, and when her training turned serious she sold telescopes at a Discovery Channel store to pay for her competition expenses!

Update: When I realized months back that some of my own students didn’t know that Lane performed the dancing shots for Black Swan, I explained that it was laughable to think that Portman could dance at that level. I didn’t think much of it, however, until reading this article and others about the lack of acknowledgement Lane received for her performance. (Even more forgotten than Lane, Kimberly Prosa assisted with some lighter dance scenes, and Maria Riccetto did the heavy lifting for Mila Kunis.) As a former dancer, I watched Black Swan in order to see Sarah dance. It didn’t really occur to me that no one else was envisioning Lane as they watched – a product of my own dancer tunnel vision. It was obvious to me when they shifted between the two, and I felt that Portman’s awkward beginner posture, paddle hands and sicked feet detracted from the film. Since she could not dance on pointe, however, these shots were few. I hope this unprofessional error will be corrected, but I would like to do my part to publicize Sarah’s superb performance.

Dancewear en l’air: Tee Time

I do not like when students try to wear junk in my classroom (Hellooo, demerits!), but also can’t stand scantily clad students dallying between classes even more. For pete’s sake, put on some pants!  – Or an adorable dancer t-shirt like this one from HD Wear, a up-and-coming ballet t-shirt designer. It’s stylish, covers nicely and makes a cute statement. Better yet, put on both. Now how hard was that?