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!

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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!

10 Pointe Shoe “Don’ts”

Fall is nearly here, and with it a brand new crop of beginner pointe students. Are you ready for pointe classes? Perhaps you have scheduled a fitting or are just waiting for shoe-approval from your teacher. Maybe you already sat down with a parent or an older student to learn how to sew your shoes. Or maybe you are even entering your second or third year of pointe.

The CBT sees a lot of mistakes from pointe students in their first few years. Its to be expected, but if you want to jump the learning curve a bit, there are some pointers that can save you time, frustration and embarrassment. So with that in mind …

  1. DON’T rely on your parents. As you may have gathered from the above and prior posts, students should start taking care of their own gear and hair for class sooner rather than later. Having your parents take care of these things implies to your teacher that you are probably too immature to handle really advanced training.
  2. DON’T try to cheat in your sewing with Pointe Snaps or any other such horrid invention. Not only do they totally not work, they stomp all over the traditions of ballet.
  3. DON’T use Knot Keepers or tape to keep your knots in place. By all means, be concerned if your ribbons come out of hiding -Professional contracts used to include monetary fines for dancers that had this happen. But don’t ruin the look of your shoes by cheating with these things. Just learn to tie them properly.
  4. DON’T use rosin on your shoes if you have a marley floor. Here’s where innovation is a good thing. Rosin was used by dancers back when ballet floors were made of wood. It made the shoes slightly tacky to give greater connection and feel for the floor. Marley’s special makeup eliminates the need for rosin, and rosin can actually damage a marley floor.
  5. DON’T force yourself to deal with loose lambs wool or paper towels as your beginner toe padding. Those things are just far too much trouble for even the most advanced dancers these days. Again, the quality innovation and technology in this area is worth taking advantage of.
  6. DON’T overpad your toes. This is a super common beginner mistake. Overpadding prevents you from feeling the floor and pointing your foot properly, which makes the feet look like floppy fish and ruins your lines! Pad within reason, and as your feet become used to pointe shoes, periodically try to scale back your padding by going to a smaller pad or by removing them in favor of spot-padding.
  7. DON’T be afraid to try different shoes for a while. It can take quite some time to find the shoe that fits you best. You’ll probably get a perfectly decent pair the first few times, but its worth it to keep trying different things to find your most perfect match. You have to be prepared to learn the balance point in each new shoe you try, however.
  8. DON’T practice center exercises at home. At least, not unless you like taking off from dancing for six weeks because you sprained your ankle trying to do a piqué arabesque in your kitchen…
  9. DON’T expect too much too fast. Pointe training has to be done gently and carefully in order to reach the desired result. Every pointe student has had to go through the on-two-feet-facing-the-barre stage. You will be beyond that before you know it and glad you put in the time.
  10. DON’T forget to be proud of yourself for all the hard work you’ve put in and for everything you have achieved.

Bun 101

Does your ballet class hairstyle stand up to the force of chaines and multiple pirouettes? Nothing screams “amateur” like hair and hairpins flying. Oh, the embarrassment of the undone bun! But with just a little effort, you can put those pedestrian days behind you.

I expect students to start doing their own hair for class by around age ten. It can take some time to learn how to master the technique on yourself, but not half as long as you might think – usually a few hours of practice is all it takes. Today, you’ll get the 411 from the CBT on how to master this essential skill for dancers.

The basic bun style begins with a ponytail at the crown of the head. This step has to be done correctly in order for the bun to take shape properly. Use a good brush to sweep the hair evenly and smoothly into the pony. Dampening the hair can make it more manageable. Secure it with an elastic that is not too bulky, which will get in the way of hairpins and cause bumps, nor too flimsy, in which case it will need too many wrap-arounds and may break easily. Try to find elastics that are close in color to your hair. Use a light spray of hairspray (Elnett is a favorite of celebrity stylists and is available in a travel size.) to sleeken your wispies, or wait until the bun is complete and use clips to take care of them. Once the pony is in place, brush the hair in the tail to re-smooth it. DO NOT to coil the hair into a bun and then try to wrap a scrunchie or elastic around the bun … Seriously, just don’t!

The next part is the where it all usually goes wrong – here’s where you twist the ponytail and start to coil it around its base. What makes or breaks this part is whether the bun is kept close to the head with one hand each time the tail is coiled. If you don’t use a hand to secure the bun against the head as its coiled, you’ll end up with a cone-shaped thing that sticks out and looks, well, absurd.

After one full coil is made around the ponytail base, start inserting hairpins horizontally from the outer edge of the coil into the base, every inch or so of the circumference. Make sure to grab a bit of bun hair with each pin and a bit of hair from the scalp beneath the bun. That’s what connects the bun to your head. If you don’t feel a bit of resistance, the hairpin is probably just sitting in the bun and is not connecting anything to anything. As with the elastics, try to find pins that are similar in color to your hair. I find that U-shaped pins work better than “bobby” pins.

When you reach end, tuck the tail in and secure with a hairpin. Remember to secure wispies with clips; clip your bangs too if your studio requires. Voilá, a respectable bun!

Many dancers opt to also wrap a super-fine hairnet, again matched to the hair, around the bun to lock in bun wispies. Hair spray may be all that is needed for some, though others find these steps to be overkill. Whether you choose to do these steps may depend on the culture of your studio and your personal preferences, but both are must-dos for performances and auditions.

The ballerina bun isn’t just one style, it has many variations depending on the height wear the bun is fixed and what is done with the surrounding hair. A bun that sits very high on the head is generally associated with Balanchine technique, and a bun that sits low is often associated with more old-school techniques and, if the surrounding hair covers the ears a bit, with romantic-era ballets.

Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, play around with different configurations to find the style that suits you best. It’s a commonly held belief that the high bun is preferred for auditions, but the truth is that what’s best for auditions is dependant on what style the company or school is and what you feel most comfortable in. For class, its fun to experiment by adding a braid to your hairline, inverting the pony, braiding the pony or accessorizing with ribbons or flowers. There are tons of options out there – go have fun with your bun!

Etiquette Shmetiquette?

Does it really matter what your hair looks like in ballet class or if you forget your shoes every once in a while? It’s not like its an audition, right? Um … wrong! Every day you set foot in the studio, you are presenting yourself for potential casting decisions, promotions and recommendations by your teachers.

Most schools have an annual recital, but few hold auditions for stage placement and casting. How do you think those decisions are made? They are made based on the technique, work ethic, attitude and etiquette that you show in class every day to your teachers. Class is of course not the same as an audition – it should be seen as a safe place where you can explore and expand your dance vocabulary, take chances and feel comfortable asking questions. But it is important that in daily class you hold yourself to a high standard not only when it comes to your dedication and technical work, but also how you present yourself in general. So what does that mean exactly?

Simply put, you never want to detract from the 110% effort you put into your technique (which I assume you are putting in!) by coming across as lazy, rude or irresponsible. A teacher will have a hard time promoting or recommending any student if the student is technically proficient but simply not up to par when it comes to grooming, manners or dress code. Showing that you are on top of these things can help show that you are ready to take on more, which can solidify a level promotion or lead to an important new understudy role, an assistant teacher position or even a lead role – but I guarantee this works the opposite way as well. (If you read my recent post on promotion to pointe class, you know just how directly it can affect level promotion!)

Setting a personal standard for yourself for class time can be tough sometimes – Remember that you are in total control of it. Especially at an advanced level, it’s easy to get comfortable and start believing that you have earned the right to wear your PJs to class or throw your hair up haphazardly, but I promise this will always detract from your hard work.

In the future, I’ll post on specific things you can do to manage the impression you make and to present yourself in the best light possible. Stay tuned for the details on how to master the hairstyles, look your best in your leos and impress with your professionalism.