Dancewear en l’air: The Tiger Leotard

This leo is so outrageous I just had to feature it for fun today! The Tiger Leotard (scroll down on their long-sleeve leos page to find it) by London-based Wear Moi International – not to be confused with French dancewear company Wear Moi – makes this arresting tiger stripe ballet leotard, which seems reminiscent to me of Oleg Vinogradov’s Knight in a Tiger’s Skin ballet from the Kirov!

Like many of Wear Moi’s leos, this item is created in two different fabrics, in this case a black lycra bottom and the striking tiger print on top. An asymetrical seam connecting the two and extra-long sleeves set off the tiger print with a haphazard and exotic vibe. This style is not for the faint of heart!

Dancewear en l’air: The New Princess-Seamed Camisole

Sleek and sophisticated is what I think when I look at the construction of Bloch’s L2750. This style gives homage to classic shape through flattering empire and princess seams, but brings it to 2010 with updated fabric and a modern cool-toned Steel version. The straps are camisole style, but not too thin that they’ll dig into your shoulders.

This piece is great for class, rehearsal or even a leotard performance. Just add dance shoes.

Dancewear en l’air: The Pro Pad by Ouch Pouch

Toe pads are essential for most pointe students, but some can be bulky and prevent articulation. The Pro Pad by Ouch Pouch is an excellent alternative to traditional pads because it features gel padding only on the top of the pad to protect the toe joints from friction and pressure. The bottom of the pad is fabric only to allow real connection to the shoe and floor.

Fits Like a Glove – For Your Foot! – Part 2

Once you’ve found the best pointe shoe combinations of box, width, vamp and shank, try the remaining shoe or shoes with cushioning. I do not recommend loose lambs wool, paper towels or newspaper. There are so many much better options available these days!

Cushions should enhance comfort and fine-tune the fit; they should not be used to compensate for a sloppy fit! Use as little cushioning as possible. Many dancers who wear no pads find they need at least one of the oval or mushroom cushions. If these are not sufficient, use additional cushions. It is also possible that a narrower box or a box liner is needed to prevent the foot from dropping in too much. If the length and width are correct but there is pain or pressure on the toe(s), more cushions may be needed. Here are some options: Continue reading

Dancewear en l’air: The Corset-Style Camisole

This striking two-tone leotard, 107-ROY from By Marisa, flatteringly mimics of the bodice of a tutu. What makes this item special is the contrasting black trunk and trimming combined with corset-style seaming on the bodice.

This isn’t an item that you want to cover up with a skirt or sweater – add it only to your favorite pink tights to avoid an overly busy look and just let the leotard’s lines accent your own. This leotard is also available with a white or red top by different model numbers.

Dancewear en l’air: The Dramatic Spanish Tutu

Winter ballet season isn’t complete without Nutcracker, and Nutcracker isn’t complete without the Kingdom of Sweets divertissements like the Spanish chocolate dance. Here to get you in the mood for Spanish attitude is Class Act Tutu’s Spanish Tutu Nutcracker Costume. But there is more than one act to this tutu, as it could double with ease for your Kitri variation or pas de deux.

Styled in your choice of red, black or wine tulle under a sophisticated black lace overlay, this tutu features a custom neckline. You can also choose the skirt length and pancake (hooped) or bell styling. This is an exquisite costume with a surprisingly reasonable pricetag.

Dancewear en l’air: The Knit Bolero Shrug

Looking for a warm-up top that won’t hide your beautiful leo? A bolero-length shrug is your answer. Lydia, by Bloch, is a beautiful and well-made option in Bloch’s signature cashmere-like knit blend.

This long sleeve top features ribbing detail at the cuffs and covers you from shoulders to wrists in one of four classic colors. Accessorize with legwarmers or a pretty chiffon wrap skirt to balance this look.

Dancewear en l’air: The Figure-Flattering Character Skirt

Impossible you say? How can a frumpy character skirt possibly flatter your figure? When its a sleek and not ridiculously long wrap style. Thanks to Bal-Togs, you have just such an option with 86, available through On Stage Dancewear.

This style is conveniently available in multiple lengths. I think character skirts look best when they just cover the knee – anything longer is too cumbersome and mature looking. You can’t play the part of a young European peasant if you look like an elderly marm! Also, the wrap cut of this skirt eliminates the frumpy, schlumpy gathers that the elastic-waist versions often have and which can add unattractive volume to the hips. Just make sure a wrap style is allowed in your character class, and then get ready to mazurka!

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.

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!

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!

Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 1

When is too late to start ballet? What should I look for in a ballet school? Can I become a professional dancer if I start training as a teen? What on earth do I wear?

If you’re a teen that is interested in beginning ballet classes for the first time, these are just a few of the exciting questions you probably have. Ballet is a wonderful activity at any age for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, emotional expression and spending time with friends. Starting as a teen will give you a different experience than if you start young, but it can certainly be as fun and enjoyable. So let’s get to those questions …

I recommend a physical exam with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity, but it is never too late to begin ballet lessons if you are medically able. Your goals in dance are important to consider though. Do you just want to get some activity into your week while spending time with friends? Do you dream of eventually wearing pointe shoes? Do you aspire to a professional career? Do you just want to try something new?

If your goals are recreational, you have chosen a wonderful activity. Ballet is terrific exercise, is very creative and is great for spending time with friends and making new ones. It’s unlike any other sport because it is also a performing artform. You should plan to take classes once or twice a week to progress at a safe pace recreationally.

If you would also like to one day wear the coveted satin pointe shoes, you may be able to reach this goal. However, this will require a bit more dedication than the above. There are many different factors that go into a student’s preparedness for pointe work, including skeletal structure which cannot be altered. Soft tissue malleability is also an issue. Young children have some ability to change soft tissue range of motion, but that decreases dramatically in the teen years. You will need at least two years of twice weekly lessons before you should be considered for pointe training. Whether you are an acceptable candidate for pointe at that time should be determined by a qualified teacher. But rest assured that ballet is incredibly enjoyable and satisfying activity regardless of whether you are on pointe or not!

Now for the toughest question: Can you become a professional ballerina if you start ballet lessons in your teens? If you are very, very lucky and work very, very hard, yes you can. Just ask Darcy Bussell, Melissa Hayden, Carmen Corella or Misty Copeland. But it would be wrong of me not to tell you that those are extremely rare and fortunate circumstances with dancers that were born with a naturally favorable body and facility for ballet and pointe. If you’ve read my article on becoming a professional dancer, you know just how competitive it is, and that is for students who have been training for nearly all their lives! (Of course, it is different for male ballet dancers, who may be able to start in their mid-teens with no problem.)

Training in ballet as a teen can open doors to other styles of dance that are based on ballet technique. Studying ballet can prepare you for success in modern, jazz, contemporary and other disciplines. Because they don’t require pointe training, these styles can be more accessible to teen beginners for potential of professional dance. Also, even recreational ballet training might lead to new college opportunities.

Once you’ve given some thought to your goals, its time to research local dance schools. The easiest way to come up with a complete list of dance schools in your area is to look on www.yp.com. There are a lot of websites that claim to have dance school listings, but most are dependent on the schools initiating that listing, which many schools don’t. If you are interested in pairing your ballet lessons with classes in other dance forms, focus on studios that offer those other forms of dance in addition to ballet.

Because dance can be harmful if taught improperly, it is important to review the training of each teacher you consider. They should have trained with a school that is well-respected in the dance community at large, not just locally, or they should have had a respectable professional career. Thanks to Google, this shouldn’t be difficult to find out once you have the teacher’s bio. Visit the school to get a feel for its suitability. Do the students conform to a clean and professional-looking dress code? Do the classes seem organized and logically-run? Ask if the studio has sprung floors, which minimize injury. Studios should be large and well-lit with high ceilings and with mirror panels covering at least one wall.

If you have dreams of dancing professionally, your ideal option is to enroll in the recreational division of a professional ballet school (one that is affiliated with professional ballet company) and to try audition into the professional training division once you have reached an acceptable level. You may need to audition even to enter the recreational division. Speak to the teacher or the school directors about your options for entry and progression. You will need to take a minimum of one class a day most days of the week to train at this level. Once you have a learned the basics and strengthened your body, this schedule could need to increase significantly.

Hopefully the schools you look at will offer a teen beginner ballet class. If they do not and you are not comfortable in a class with much younger students, look for an adult beginner class. Do not be discouraged if you cannot find either at a good school in your town. Instead, speak to the teacher or director about how far along you would need to be before you can move into a class with students closer to your age. Create a plan with the teacher or director for reaching your goal so you will not feel like you are stuck in a lower age group indefinitely.

Starting ballet classes can be so exciting. Congratulations on choosing such a beautiful and fun activity. In my next post, I’ll help you prepare for your first ballet classes … with a little shopping!