Ballet in Print: Raising the Barre

RaisingtheBarreAnyone who knows me knows that it doesn’t take much for me to quickly have my fill of all things Nutcracker. So I couldn’t have been more surprised than to absolutely love Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker, chronicling the author’s crusade to dance with a professional company in Nut after being deterred from the profession years ago as a child (by a teacher who’s name most of you will recognize.) Lauren Kessler is a fabulous writer, and on this journey she takes every advantage of the humor and drama that come along with her goal.

What makes this book so great a read for a dancer in training for the profession – aside from the very funny and thoughtful philosophies she points out about what we do – is the candid and fascinating insight into the mind of a ballet fan. Balletomane is an out of fashion word, but it absolutely applies to Kessler and the many devotees that consistently support the art – your future fan base, if there is to be one for ballet. And to learn how they view dancers, the ballet, dance companies, and what dancers are is nothing short of invaluable for someone who does or hopes to one day create that art. Her love and passion for understanding how and what professional dancers’ do what they do leaps off the page.

Raising the Barre is just the right prescription whether you’re burned out from performance (especially Nutcracker!) or just need some new fresh motivation to tackle your never-ending classes. This is actually one of the most interesting and entertaining books I’ve read about the ballet world, and I have definitely read way too many. Pretty surprising that it was written by someone from outside of the ballet world, though she’s certainly in it now!

Dear CBT: Help for Broken Pointe Shoes?

Dear CBT,

It’s been eight months since I last bought a pair of pointe shoes and my left pointe shoe is already starting to die. My right shoe is completely fine but my left shoe is becoming soft and hard to get onto for pirouettes. I had my teacher check them, and she said my left shoe was dying and that its a good idea for me to start breaking in another pair. I just wanted to know if their is a way to strengthen just my left pointe shoe to get a couple more months out of them. Thank you!

There is a way to use jet glue or hot stuff glue to give pointe shoes a bit more strength. Check out this video by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Maria Chapman to learn how:

As an added bonus, Maria shows how to find the arch point for your shoes, an important part of proper pointe shoe break-in. However I don’t recommend breaking the shank as she does, but gently bending them repeatedly instead.

I wouldn’t want you to think you can get too much time from one pair of shoes though – I went through a pair a week at my training peak. Ballet can be a sadly expensive pursuit! The important thing is to determine if one shoe is breaking in too fast compared to the other one and why. If there is a dramatic difference, it could indicate either an anatomical difference or a technique issue or both. Technique issues, fortunately, can be controlled to an extent. Talk to your teacher about whether you are working optimally on both feet. It’s possible that you are either not “pulling up” properly (shaping the foot with your own muscles and not letting the shoe take over) on the left or that your right foot is not working hard enough.

If this turns out to be only an anatomical issue, you may have a technique solution anyway, so ask your teacher about that as well. If there is not a sufficient technique solution to it, you have a superficial solution of purchasing two pair of pointe shoes – one pair with a shank suitable for the right and one with a harder shank for the left – and pairing them with each other so you have two pairs with a harder shank on the left than on the right. You want to make sure both feet are properly supported.

Thanks for reading and take good care of those hard-working feet!

Ballet in Film: And We Will Dance

Thinking about North Carolina School of the Arts for your summer program? And We Will Dance is a documentary about four dancers at the school and their pursuit of dance. Check out the trailer here and the official website here.

Now headed by ABT and former NYCB principal dancer Ethan Stiefel of Center Stage fame, UNCSA is an academic and talented arts boarding high school with an excellent record for training dancers. During the school year, UNCSA also offers training for students younger than high school. Post high school, UNCSA provides a well-respected BFA program.

Update: Ethan Stiefel has accepted the position of artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and will step down from his post as UNCSA dean at the end of this academic year.