Ballet Shoe Review: Body Wrappers A45 “Wendy”

Dancers are always looking for a reliable ballet shoes that will show clean lines and provides optimum comfort. The Body Wrappers A45 Wendy is a good start and tries to incorporate a lot of good new ideas, but overall it missed the mark for me.

The last, constructed of what they called TotalStretch canvas, was not as supple and comfortable to me as I had hoped but instead seemed just average. Which is fine, but I’m not sure why they marketed it as special. They say that it “supports and protects muscles.” While they did line it with a thin foam, I wish they provided info on what they are basing that claim on. They also claim to be antibacterial, which I do really like and I’m guessing was achieved by incoporating a chemical treatment to the fabric.

The last is curved for a right and left fit. The peachy pink color matched BW’s theatrical pink tights pretty well. It’s a prettier color than a lot of other brands have created. I liked how that extended the line, but they were still too light a pink to keep from looking gray after a few classes got them dirty.

I found the elastic drawstring to be a bit too thin, made thinner by its own stretchiness. I am not a fan of elastic drawstrings because they never seem strong enough to actually do anything. (Not that I love cotton either, considering that they offer almost no give – can’t we have a happy medium?) The problem was the same here. I did like the “lingerie elastic” binding and found that part really soft and pretty – it has a hint of shimmer to it. It did get a little fuzzy and frayed in the course of normal use.

My main gripe with these shoes had nothing to do with these superficial issues though and everything to do with the foam-padded heel. I love a shoe that incorporates impact absorption, but this heel pad was a huge impediment to proper fit of the shoe. It seems that BW did not calculate properly for the additional fabric at the heel that would be needed to include the heel pad, so the heel sat about an eighth of an inch below where is should – perfectly placed to irritate the Achilles tendons as much as possible and cause the shoe to come off the heel during jumps. This is just a terrible construction issue. What are the two main things a shoe must do? Stay on the foot and allow proper movement. Because of the poorly thought-out construction of this shoe, it could do neither. Tightening the drawstring only worsened the irritation and loosening the drawstring at all meant the shoe would pop off even more easily. Ironically, the packaging instructs that the shoes fit so well that most dancers won’t even need elastics.

All of this said, if you are a dancer who needs a lower heel – and I know there are plenty of you out there! – this might be the ideal shoe for you. Body Wrappers certainly had some great ideas, and I look forward to checking out their next try. I will continue to post reviews of the many shoes I have worn. Have you tried the Body Wrappers A45 Wendy shoe? What did you think?

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Dancewear en l’air: The Sleek Samurai Leotard

In the immortal words of Miss Piggy, “Hiya!” Yes, whether sheerly for clever marketing or from genuine inspiration, Bloch has created what they call the Samurai leotard, model L2042. But a cool name is not the only thing to like about this ensemble.

Constructed from a “microlux” blend,  the smooth surface is shaped into a curvy silhouette with wide-set and very short cap sleeves. A perfectly placed U back finishes the cut, mimicked by an open metal ring set into the left side of the wide neckline. Placement of the ring creates subtle ruching and a modern, slashed V-neck.

Available in red, black and two pastels, I’d opt for red or black to support the edgy feel of this leo. I’d pair that with black footless tights and a high bun for a look that says… HIYA!

Prepping for Summer Partnering

Partnering in ballet is one of the most exciting classes for many students – but it can be a little intimidating for sure. Students in local schools often find that their partnering opportunities are limited to conventions, rehearsals for specific shows and summer programs. For students seriously interested in ballet who do not have much access to partnering during the year, I encourage attendance at an SI where it’s offered three times per week or daily. (Some otherwise good programs offer it only once or twice a week – or not at all.) When its time to actually take the classes though, the initial excitement may morph into anxiety. What will pas de deux work be like? What if I mess up or can’t do what is asked? What if I don’t like my partner or he doesn’t like me? What if I do like him?

I promise you that you’re not the only one who feels this way. At many SIs, the majority of female dancers you are with will not have much partnering experience. And trust me, the guys are nervous too – they feel a lot of pressure to “be there” for the girls, and the less experienced ones may be very intimidated by those high expectations. Not to mention that they too have worries about getting steps right and getting along with their partners. Everyone is feeling pressure and nerves, but good pas teachers will do a few things to ease the tension for both sides.

First off, the pairing up will start the class. As you get more advanced, teachers may ask students to pair up on their own, but in the beginning and intermediate levels, the accepted practice is to line up the men and women separately by height and set pairs that match in stature. Some men may be asked to take more than one partner and execute each combination once for each girl. Partnerships might be set for the day, the week or the whole summer program.

In order to get the students comfortable with each other and to ease the tension, the teacher will usually start off with some very basic and often fun trust exercises. (This may be the case even with more advanced classes who are working with new partners.) These should also help both the women and the men feel comfortable with where the guy’s hands will be on the girl’s torso and extremeties. This is often done in a humorous, fun way, and you’ll have an opportunity to get to know each other better, experiment with the exercises and laugh-away some of that initial awkwardness.

From there, exercises will progress slowly with some basic hand-held walks and supported bourees. You might feel like these exercises are not what you came for, but as they say: you have to walk before you can run -or be spun and lifted! So don’t be dissappointed if you aren’t whirled around above the guys head in the first 15 minutes. Trust me that you will greatly benefit from mastering these nuanced exercises. And I think you’ll find that holding an audience rapt while gracefully walking across the stage and maintaining a connection with your partner is much harder than it looks.

Combinations will gradually add difficulty, with supported bourrees becoming preparations for supported pirouettes. Walking hand in hand across the floor may evolve into walking into a supported pique arabesque, which may in turn become a supported promenade. Jumps will start with basic entrechats in place and develop into well-coordinated lifts with running preparations. Before you know it, you will be pulling off multiple pirouettes, finger turns and a variety of fun, basic lifts. All in a day’s work for a dancer, right? By the end of the summer, you may be able to try your hand at some more intricate combinations and harder lifts or perhaps a small piece of classical grand pas choreography.

Dance Spirit recently published an excellent article with a collection of the best tips for partnering newbies from established principal dancers. I am loving this article because it gets down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what it’s like to deal with real-life partnering complications like accidentally hitting your partner and the difficulty of attempting to act as if you’re in love with a guy you barely know! Even many advanced students could stand to learn something from reading it; I remember a lot of women in my advanced classes who just loved to wear those tie-skirts with the ribbons out – not a good idea. So check it out for more details on what partnering class are really like and lots of do’s and don’t’s so you can be totally prepared, calm and collected when you get paired with that cute guy from Iowa for the summer!

Dancewear en l’air: The Thumb-Loops Shrug

Shrugs were all the rage when I was a young dancer, but they gave way to off-the-shoulder, retro sweaters and modern, zip-front fleece jackets in the years that followed. Thanks to Black Swan, shrugs are back!

I’ve always loved shrugs because they offer warmth without covering up your pretty leotard. I posted on the Lydia shrug by Bloch some time ago. Mirella’s black shrug style M1105 is slightly looser in the arms for increased ease of movement and a more casual look. This warm-up also features thumbholes at the wrists for security no matter your port de bras. The long arms are great for a slight bunching. Get cozied up by pairing this piece with similarly bunchy legwarmers.

Dancewear en l’air: The Short Sleeve Mock-Wrap Leo

Trienawear’s Extensions collection is known for it’s super supportive, all-around shelf bra and pretty satin elastic trim. For fuller-busted dancers, this collection is a dream come true. A particularly flattering cut in the Extensions collection is TR1262-C, a short-sleeved leotard with a mock-wrap empire top that creates a classic v-neck cut. These features work together to enhance a slim, hourglass look. A sweet bow in the back of the leotard is an unexpected and beautiful touch.

In addition to the usual black, this leo is available in seven colors, including rich shades like plum, wine and navy, in addition to a lovely sky-blue called porcelain. I would pair this cut with simple, classic pink tights – the cut and details show best without a skirt or warm-ups to distract from them.

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!

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.